Thursday, 29 August 2019

Elves as Tourists



I have spent the last week on holiday in rural Britain. What this tends to mean these days, whichever county you are in (be it Devon, Dorset, Derbyshire or Dumfries) is a kind of bourgeois paradise of delightful rented cottages in picturesque chocolate-box villages full of antique shops, grand old country pubs (all of which seem to be called the White Horse, the White Hart, the Turk's Head or the Fox and Hounds), smart cafe-bars, boutiquey art galleries and impeccably preserved medieval churches and castles. I was going to say that the only difference you get between Scotland and England in this respect is that in the former there's also whisky distilleries - but you also get them in England now as well.

I love exploring my country, which manages to pack astonishing variety and regional flavour into a pretty tiny and absurdly densely-populated space. But I am always struck, when I do so, by the feeling that there is something deeply weird and possibly morally corrupting (in some sense I can't quite identify) about a billion posh people suddenly descending on picturesque pastoral locations every weekend and school holiday and transforming them into their own idealised versions of country living. And that's not to mention all those who choose to retire to such locations, or use them as second homes, or even live in them but spend all their time commuting to the nearest city. Bourgeois people running the show in urban Britain, you sort of expect, but there's something galling about them doing it in the countryside too.

Speaking to relatives (a branch of my family live in one of the most famously picturesque areas of the country), the thing that annoys them is not so much that all this enforced poshness pushes up the cost of living and particularly the cost of housing - though that does, of course, annoy them. It's that it makes them feel like outsiders in their own homeland - their own community activities and their own tastes being drowned in a sea of middle-class frivolity. Where once they had pride in their jobs, their social circles and their roots, they are now forced to dance attendance on the capricious tastes of their society's elites in order to scrape what living they can in the service industry. Nobody ever asked them if they wanted that. It just sort of happened.

Thinking about all this got me imagining a world in which elves visit human societies as tourists. Much as a modern wealthy person visits rural areas in his own country or goes on a grand tour of South East Asia or Latin America, elves - richer, more powerful, more educated - might also choose to savour the texture of life on a lower rung among the humans, so to speak. And if they did it often enough, entire human settlements - maybe entire human regions - would develop to cater to these visitors. Their economies would come to revolve around pleasing the whims of their eccentric and capricious overlords. Their local delicacies would be tweaked to suit the elven taste buds. Their young men and women would learn to exaggerate whatever characteristics the elves found attractive. They would begin producing pastiches of elven goods to make their visitors feel at home. They would all have to learn elven. They would even end up giving up their "charming and rustic" homes for periods of time so that elves could get to experience life at a different pace. They would become essentially parasitic and utterly reliant upon the elven tourist gold piece. Maybe, in time, they would lose any sense of connection with their own cultural practices, performing them rather as quanit, superficial museum pieces for the entertainment of their visitors.

The question then becomes: how does one make such a campaign setting dynamic? The possibility that first pops into my head is what happens when suddenly one day, the tourists stop coming? Now these people, who have spent generations catering only to the pleasures of the elves, find themselves horribly exposed to reality - and without anybody to protect them.

38 comments:

  1. I've seen many a King's or Queen's Head but I've never seen a Turk's Head. I've not been further north than Norwich so maybe it's a regional thing.

    We get priced out down here too as the whole place is full of either Londoners buying second homes or people who work in London so are never actually down here.

    I love the elvish tourist idea. So much potential there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Turks Head is a knot, I always wondered if it’s prevalence or in pub names is something of a 18/19th century naval holdover. But then again I think a Turks head is a valid heraldic image.

      Delete
    2. There are loads of Turk's Heads all up and down the country - you must be drinking in the wrong places, Kelvin!!

      Delete
    3. Mr Google tells me there's a brace of Turk's Heads in and around London, a flurry of them between Warrington and Skegness, and a scattered couple of them elsewhere. The nearest to me is in Staines, it seems.

      Delete
    4. Go there and report back.

      Delete
  2. I'm sure Crimson Exodus was about 'the elves just sailed off', and the unrelated Crimson Blades had the magical dark elf types disappear. The humans left behind either embrace the freedom, bicker and war, search for new gods or crave the old days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not heard of either, but I like that as a concept.

      Delete
  3. Has that not been going on in England at least as long as there has been a gentry class?

    Tourism more generally does seem like something long lived elves would be interested in, but more to complain about what the locals have done to the place "lately", where lately is a function of the last few generations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not really - in the old days the gentry were almost entirely rural themselves (still are, mostly). I think the phenomenon of urban middle-class types going to the countryside is a fairly recent phenomenon (19th century anyway).

      Delete
    2. The situation changes entirely once cars come onto the scene. Prior to that the gentry generally had to actually live in the picturesque landscape they were commandeering, and the daily life of all classes was a lot more hands-on and rural anyhow (compared to today at least). The idea of living in an upper class bubble and commuting to the sticks when you feel like it is a modern luxury.

      Delete
    3. Haha --- only a European (or an elf) could complain about a practice that has been happening for two hundred years and characterize it as a "fairly recent phenomenon"!

      Delete
    4. Ha. Fair enough.

      The landed gentry are still there in a lot of these places, and I think they despise the tourists and second-homers even more than the other locals do.

      Delete
    5. "The landed gentry are still there in a lot of these places, and I think they despise the tourists and second-homers even more than the other locals do."

      And there are your dwarves for this setting!

      Delete
  4. The thing about living in the United States is that if you travel any distance at all, you feel as if you're in a different part of the world altogether. From the Rocky Mountains to the palm trees of Florida, to the vast deserts around the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, to the swamps of Louisiana, the list goes on. We're in the Midwest, meaning thousands of square miles of rolling plains and corn and wheat fields (though even here the culture and terrain can be quite varied - for instance, Chicago down the road from grain silos). I think for us, any trip becomes a person out of that culture. In some places, like California, you go from broiling deserts to snow capped mountains and Redwood trees big enough to drive cars through, all in a day trip. It makes you think of how such a change of culture and outside tourist feel can be within a short distance map-wise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, although I think density of population has a big impact there too. The UK doesn't have as much physical diversity but it is amazing how much culture (and language even) changes within very short distances.

      Delete
  5. Don't think you'd need much of a specific hook to make this an interesting setting for the PCs. I'm sure my PCs would end up picking fights with the annoying bourgie elves and the fallout of that just writes itself.

    I'm American and in comparison to the UK the place is so big that even in really touristy areas there are whole swathes that have escaped the ravening hordes of tourists so you can clearly see the difference hordes of tourists make.

    I remember a made for TV movie being made in my home town and they had the crew nailing lobster traps to the walls of the hardware store to make the small Maine town look more like a small Maine town. They also trucked in so many 500 pound bags of mashed potatoes for the snow.

    You can complain a lot about the horrors that the tourists have inflicted on places like Freeport *shudders* and then there's the places with lots of "summer people" (rich usually old people who come for the summer to stay in their second home) who usually have a smaller footprint since however annoying they may be there aren't as many of them but have a shit-ton of money to hire caretakers etc.

    But then you go to the places where there AREN'T tourists and you can really see the difference. Driving up to New Brunswick in Maine you end up getting past where the tourists ever go and you get lots of crumbling, windswept, empty creepiness. Hard to have a local culture that functions with no money and no reason for young people to stay and tourists have money...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shirley Jackson has a great short story called "The Summer People".

      Delete
    2. This last week I was one of those horrid people in Freeport...

      Delete
  6. Any time a region loses its native industry you will have an increase in sickness, crime, dependency, suicide, and an exodus of talented people. Every industrial town throughout the West has seen it to some extent. It would be little different for the people of the elves.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Who wants to play in a fantasy setting that in essence resembles modern consumer society? I know it's been part of D&D from the start, with its price lists for everything from a 10' pole to a a resurrection at the local temple, but I've always found it deeply unattractive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I think the interesting thing would be making it so that it is not like modern consumer society, but something different again. (I agree with you about finding that aspect of D&D unattractive.)

      Delete
    2. Maybe, but it seems very difficult to pull off. Players & GMs tend to fall back on modern consumerist logic even in settings that are supposed to be far removed from our own time. The average "medieval" D&D fantasy world is often in many ways just a freewheeling reskin of our own. Some people would of course say that is what makes it relevant to the players.

      Delete
    3. Yep. This is a problem but unavoidable I think. It is very hard to step outside of a mindset you have been inculcated in since birth.

      Delete
  8. Tourism has become a horror. Our towns are becoming amusement parks for the visitors, an artificial replica of what was once a real town. But now indeed it has to look "authentic" with authentic shops, restaurants, etc., all catering to the visitors.

    Cfr. what cities such as Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam, Bruges, ... are going through these days.

    I have family living in Bruges (although in one of the 'normal'areas of town), and they avoid the tourist quarters like the plague. They do call an "amusement park that happens to be located in our city's centre. Why should we go there?".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, places like Florence and Venice are pretty much unlivable, I imagine.

      Delete
    2. IIRC there are few residentual areas in Venice and most everyone commutes in.

      Delete
  9. I'm actually doing something a little like this in my Aquarian Dawn setting with the titular Aquarians. The setting is intended as a "spiritual successor to traditional fantasy", in which the High Age of Man has come to an end, and a new age is beginning, and humans have to come to terms with the fact that their era has passed. The Aquarians aren't so much tourists per se, but they are beginning to colonize human (and other species') kingdoms, and those kingdoms' cultures and economies are being heavily affected by the Aquarians. I've posted a fair bit about the setting on my blog: Weird & Wonderful Worlds (see the Aquarian Dawn tag), but I have an unpublished post that heavily fleshes out the main location of my current Aquarian Dawn campaign, Howlston, where this is most exemplified.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Would that make half-elves the result of sex tourism?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Readings this reminds me that on my recent trip to Thailand my Mom compared the Siamese to elves, to which I pointed out that we probably look something like trolls to them. From which sprang a terrifying idea in my mind that demi-humans are just foreigners who get warped by the stereotypes of the place they are. Like a "dwarf" in his home country is human of a certain culture, a "dwarf" who spends too much time abroad will get shorter and grumpier and inexplicably better at metalwork despite his personal history. Alternatively if they make an effort to resist those stereotypes they become more like the local culture. I would develop this idea further but this idea would probably lead to a fictional world where fascism is common and almost reasonable, which isn't a thing I want to support.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is such an interesting idea.

      Why would a fictional world where fascism is common seem like you were supporting it? It would be a really interesting variant on dystopian themes.

      Delete
    2. The way I think about it, fascism is bad because it's a shitty model of reality and I don't want to make settings that reinforce those ideas. Like the "orcs are like people in every way except they only do violent and evil things by definition, so it's ok to murder large swabs of them."

      Thought upon reflection, this idea doesn't make fascism justifiable. It makes isolationism and discouraging travel a reasonable set of biases for a community to take.

      This also fits well with the idea that evil humanoids are grotesque caricatures of people. Arnold's ogres could be caused by the same processes but done deliberately on a small scale. http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2016/01/ogres-and-their-hungry-kin.html

      Delete
    3. "orcs are like people in every way except they only do violent and evil things by definition, so it's ok to murder large swabs of them" - isn't that kind of the underlying morality of D&D in general?

      Delete
    4. True, and that's the part of D&D I don't like. I'm much more partial to the romantic fantasy school of thought.

      I'm not against players killing things and swabbing their stuff, I just don't think they need an easy moral justification for doing so.

      Delete
  12. It does lead to wonder if tourism is *ever* ethical :/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a person who grew up in a tourist destination getting a summer job for two bucks over minimum wage with as many hours as I wantes was pretty nice in high school.

      Areas nearby that weren't tourist centers had really slim pickings job-wise.

      People are willing to put up with a lot for some money coming in.

      Delete