why are elves included in the core rulebook?


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


they're basically immortal compared to humans and would have a totally alien perspective on life. from a realistic standpoint, they should think about humans the same way we think about a mosquito. sure, they may have their own lives, but they're trying to bite my arm and wait where was I going with this?


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Matthew Jaluvka wrote:
they're basically immortal compared to humans and would have a totally alien perspective on life. from a realistic standpoint, they should think about humans the same way we think about a mosquito. sure, they may have their own lives, but they're trying to bite my arm and wait where was I going with this?

I agree elves should have (on average) a totally different perspective on life. Their Core status is still fine so long as those differences still make them generally okay to to interact with the average group of players in a non disruptive way.

A core difference to their view of short lived ancestries and our view of mosquitoes is mosquitoes aren't sapient.


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Elves have a long lifespan, but they don't necessarily have a long life expectancy. They are as sensitive to blades, illnesses and fire than anyone else. And in a fantasy world, reasons to die are many.

I don't think Paizo will ever answer this question, but the comparison between elves and humans life expectancy may be closer than it looks.


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Pathfinder Pawns, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Matthew Jaluvka wrote:
They're basically immortal compared to humans and would have a totally alien perspective on life. From a realistic standpoint, they should think about humans the same way we think about a mosquito.

Humans are a virus good at spreading. Elves, on the other hand, have already mastered interplanetary travel.


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Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Talislanta is the RPG you're looking for.


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Taking this thread to other side. In my point of view elves can easily become a uncommon ancestry if not the fact they are traditional fantasy class.

Just like happened to goblins way more easily to other ancestries like tengus, rat-folks, lizard-folks even cat-folks and kobolds take their place as common and core race once these races can easily integrate with human society with less life span experience diference of view point.

But the removal of elves will make many people unhappy that's why elves are a core class for 2e and any other fantasy games.


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Matthew Jaluvka wrote:
they're basically immortal compared to humans and would have a totally alien perspective on life. from a realistic standpoint, they should think about humans the same way we think about a mosquito. sure, they may have their own lives, but they're trying to bite my arm and wait where was I going with this?

Because Tolkien.

His stories covered power, greed, fear, industrialisation, with minor references to sexism and genocide. Even in the Arwen arc some minor parts of this problem. Though his stories were racially simplist, and the cultures were largely tribal and not mixed.

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I have removed some posts. While it seems this thread may be a reaction to another thread, I am leaving it open because I think there is a discussion to be had about how alien and different from humans most of the playable species in Pathfinder are and how that translates to how we may roleplay them. But let's try to have an actual discussion and not snide sniping.


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Elven arrogance is a common trope in a lot of fiction, but in all but the most insufferable stories an elf is just as vulnerable to getting punched in the throat as any of us "mere mortals". Hell, in most stories elves tend to get punched in the throat rather regularly.


I feel like there's room to explore the fringes of "how alien can something be to the human experience, but still have enough in common with humanity that it's possible for a (presumably human) player to inhabit them."

Elves are sort of one extreme of this- they are recognizably human physically, but their divergence from humanity is motivated by how their considerable lifespan has affected their culture. Elves living for a long time means they can afford to be patient and they don't breed quickly, which sort of shows how Elvers are antipodal to Goblins along this axis.

But Elves aren't prima facie weirder than like Shisk, so the reason they're core is that everybody who picks up a Pathfinder book has some concept of "what Fantasy elves are like" and diagetically that Elves are found all over but Shisk are not.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Its an interesting subject Valdez poses, because we sort of have this crisis in fantasy right now where fantasy races are being thought of primarily as allegories for different groups of humans in order to critique them socially, but humanization is also considered an antidote to the problem of depicting "human-like non-humans as strange and alien" as a dehumanizing tactic.

Trying to roleplay a different, alien mentality, can create scenarios where they have to be less understandable to human social mores-- the trope of blue and orange mentality, but that can also read lead to real world comparisons where differing groups of humans were considered to think differently because of neurology, and to a lesser extent, culture.

The differing expectations we give them, often puts them in a better or worse part of the spectrum of human morality-- if they don't have the same understanding of kindness they end up understood as cultural or neurological sociopaths, and if they are more consistently kind and empathetic, you run into the 'naturally goodly' race thing where they don't have the same capacity to do wrong.

If we try and avoid moral issues, we still run into the idea of taking human traits and playing them up-- Vulcans in Star Trek for example, end up coming across as ridiculous frequently because their 'logic' is usually out of touch, they come across as emotionally stunted at times 9think of Tuvak on Voyager as my main touchstone).

All of this runs headlong into the 'humans are diverse' path, which frames our range of expression as not-default for intelligent life, which is fair I guess, but then we get back into the territory of the other peoples as being relatively stereotypical, and therefore hard to roleplay, because the player then becomes effectively constrained from employing their own range when the race is in use, or their character effectively stands as a testament to falseness of the idea that humans have a special claim to diversity.

Actually, I've noticed a lot of lore is hard to do because players tend to play from the same perspective-- so even if I write a culture where X and Y are the case, the PC isn't just an exception to the belief, they aren't conscious of the fact that their character's experience and thoughts would be informed by living within that culture-- their character reacts as the player would, especially since the players have very strong opinions on how things 'ought' to be. In a way that's fine, because they're playing out a fantasy of being able to stand up for their beliefs at the table, and having fun doing it, but it means that the act of roleplaying itself has trouble crossing into the territory of actually stepping into a different world and a different mentality, since representing anything they don't believe through a character is verboten. They have strong feelings on the idea of tradition, that preclude accepting a culture in which it is valued. Hell, I have players that chafe at the idea of a fictional world in which there are gods, and that they are uncritically worthy of interacting with as gods-- even the gods of good, even if they're actually presented as being worthy through their actions.

In the end, they have trouble getting into the headspace of people not like themselves, and who don't think like they do-- even when the difference is one of privilege and distance, and consciousness of the scenario itself as a scenario that they want to solve in a particular way.


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To be fair, getting into the mindset of even a different culture is hard, as any perusal of science fiction or fantasy books should tell us. Especially ones from a while back where there's enough distance between us and the authors that the unconscious assumptions stand out.

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What I love about the Tolkien Elves is that they are the ancestors of Orcs and thus of Uruk-Hai, of Half-Elves and thus of Numenoreans, including the Witchking IIRC. Food for thought.


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The Raven Black wrote:
What I love about the Tolkien Elves is that they are the ancestors of Orcs and thus of Uruk-Hai, of Half-Elves and thus of Numenoreans, including the Witchking IIRC. Food for thought.

"Ancestors". That's what like 3 generations ago for them?


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The Raven Black wrote:
What I love about the Tolkien Elves is that they are the ancestors of Orcs and thus of Uruk-Hai, of Half-Elves and thus of Numenoreans, including the Witchking IIRC. Food for thought.

"Ancestors"

Orcs were created from Elves because Melkor (or any Valar) couldn't create life like Eru Iluvatar. So instead he took Iluvatar's creation, corrupted it, and called it his own. That's what evil was to Tolkien, a corruption of good.

The Elves were the First Children of Iluvatar and better than the other races in every way. In the movies there's a scene where Legolas easily outdrinks Gimli. Tolkien didn't bother with things like "balance" because he was writing a story, not a game system.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
The Raven Black wrote:
What I love about the Tolkien Elves is that they are the ancestors of Orcs and thus of Uruk-Hai, of Half-Elves and thus of Numenoreans, including the Witchking IIRC. Food for thought.

Elves as “Ancestors” of the Orcs is being incredibly generous to Tolkien’s worldbuilding. The first Orcs were kidnapped by Melkor from the first generation of awakened Elves. They were tortured and mutilated until they became a monstrous race that Melkor could breed like wild animals. The Uruks were a product of yet more disturbing mystical eugenics.


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Elves are a classic fantasy race and as such a fairly major part of golarion lore and expected PC option.
Most races should have a fairly different outlook to humans, that's part of the fun of playing a nonhuman race.


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dirtypool wrote:
The Raven Black wrote:
What I love about the Tolkien Elves is that they are the ancestors of Orcs and thus of Uruk-Hai, of Half-Elves and thus of Numenoreans, including the Witchking IIRC. Food for thought.
Elves as “Ancestors” of the Orcs is being incredibly generous to Tolkien’s worldbuilding. The first Orcs were kidnapped by Melkor from the first generation of awakened Elves. They were tortured and mutilated until they became a monstrous race that Melkor could breed like wild animals. The Uruks were a product of yet more disturbing mystical eugenics.

Strictly speaking, Tolkien never settled on an origin for Orcs. The version you refer to was published after his death in the Silmarillion, but though it was part of the most complete version of those stories he wasn't satisfied with it and kept attempting to find an alternate origin. Ranging from being beasts without souls but with speech to being corrupted men, to being at least partly the descendants of embodied Maiar in Morgoth's service.

Basically, he struggled with the same "how do we have an intelligent but evil race" question we argue about, just from a more theological point of view.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Though published posthumously, the origin of Orcs presented in The Silmarillion predates the writing of Lord of the Rings, and is in concordance with the statements about the origin of both the Black Uruks of Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard.

The Silmarillion is generally accepted as canonical by most Legendarium scholars - so it is a little hard to hold up a finger and say “well it isn’t official because it wasn’t published while Tolkien was alive.” Throwing out the Orc origin would also necessitate throwing out everything else.


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thejeff wrote:

To be fair, getting into the mindset of even a different culture is hard, as any perusal of science fiction or fantasy books should tell us. Especially ones from a while back where there's enough distance between us and the authors that the unconscious assumptions stand out.

The old Trek problem: alien races are pretty much human (except that all 10 billion members of a species have the same personality traits), since we have no idea what sentient aliens might really be like.


I'm personally convinced something like the Tolkien elves should never be an option in a roleplaying game. Since "you're just better than everybody else because of who your parents were" lands somewhere between "annoying" and "problematic."


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
PossibleCabbage wrote:
I'm personally convinced something like the Tolkien elves should never be an option in a roleplaying game. Since "you're just better than everybody else because of who your parents were" lands somewhere between "annoying" and "problematic."

Reminds me of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG where you just have like a 2% chance to roll elf as your starting race, which amounts to pretty much all your stats being higher than everyone else.


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Very strange that you think such.

I mean after a few levels most PCs have amazing powers compared to the low level masses of the population. The problematic themes you are concerned about can occur in so many ways. They are just so many ways a game or any social situation can spiral out of control into something toxic.

Any race like Tolkien elves in that setting with so many advantages would be need to be balanced with disadvantages. Something which is pretty much a non starter in the current game. Though they did it in PF1 with level costs for certain races.


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Squiggit wrote:
PossibleCabbage wrote:
I'm personally convinced something like the Tolkien elves should never be an option in a roleplaying game. Since "you're just better than everybody else because of who your parents were" lands somewhere between "annoying" and "problematic."
Reminds me of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG where you just have like a 2% chance to roll elf as your starting race, which amounts to pretty much all your stats being higher than everyone else.

Not to mention Traveller where you can get a huge amount of skills or almost nothing, or even just die in character creation.


Pathfinder theme is "heroic" and "good against evil" (these are the main themes the system delivers - they can be modified). It is one of several "general power fantasy" TTRPGs on the market. It does ties itself a little to a setting (the alignment system mostly), but doesn't use mechanics to reinforce a specific theme beyond "heroic" and "good against evil" (and vice versa).

It is just not of its interests to involve the theme "humanity" in your games, so no mechanic is there to encourage you to do so (unlike Vampire: the Masquerade and its Humanity mechanic for example). For this reason it has no problem to include playable and intelligent organisms who their prespective may be alien to humans (this goes beyond the subject of elves).


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Elves were one of the first playable races in the first fantasy RPG. They were there, because the D&D creators were playing medieval wargames with a Tolkien fantasy element (because the battles of 5 armies, and the battles from the lord of the rings rock so hard). and those wargames evolved into D&D. They didn't think through the fluff of elves too much. They assumed that people who were going to play D&D would use their background knowledge of elves from whatever source, and run with it.

Game mechamically, non-humans had extra powers that humans did not, starting from 1st level, but this was balanced in the original D&D and AD&D by limiting the maximum level you could advance an elf to as a player (except as a thief, for some reason). Non-humans were also limited to what classes they could hold. For example, elves could not be rangers (weird, right).

Even back then, there was this nagging issue with regards to elves. If they are so long lived, why do they not dominate the world? Even NPC elves would have centuries to hone their skills, gain worldly knowledge, craft wondrous artifacts, study, explore... People make up all sorts of relatively dumb explainations, like that they are sickly and die off fast, or that they reproduce very slowly, or that they are big-time slackers that spend all their hours playing harps and frolicking (even so, they would get really good at harping and frolicking). The conundrum has not kept elves from being a popular D&D race. There is so much that doesn't make sense about the default D&D fantasy universe, that this issue with elves perhaps only makes D&D more popular, as it gives one something to ponder for a few moments in this all too brief life.


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S. J. Digriz wrote:

Elves were one of the first playable races in the first fantasy RPG. They were there, because the D&D creators were playing medieval wargames with a Tolkien fantasy element (because the battles of 5 armies, and the battles from the lord of the rings rock so hard). and those wargames evolved into D&D. They didn't think through the fluff of elves too much. They assumed that people who were going to play D&D would use their background knowledge of elves from whatever source, and run with it.

Game mechamically, non-humans had extra powers that humans did not, starting from 1st level, but this was balanced in the original D&D and AD&D by limiting the maximum level you could advance an elf to as a player (except as a thief, for some reason). Non-humans were also limited to what classes they could hold. For example, elves could not be rangers (weird, right).

Even back then, there was this nagging issue with regards to elves. If they are so long lived, why do they not dominate the world? Even NPC elves would have centuries to hone their skills, gain worldly knowledge, craft wondrous artifacts, study, explore... People make up all sorts of relatively dumb explainations, like that they are sickly and die off fast, or that they reproduce very slowly, or that they are big-time slackers that spend all their hours playing harps and frolicking (even so, they would get really good at harping and frolicking). The conundrum has not kept elves from being a popular D&D race. There is so much that doesn't make sense about the default D&D fantasy universe, that this issue with elves perhaps only makes D&D more popular, as it gives one something to ponder for a few moments in this all too brief life.

The basic fix for the domination problem in a normal fantasy world lies in simple population growth curves: if elven generations are longer, shorter lived populations have the advantage of more generations and thus faster exponential growth.

In D&D settings this is complicated since high level characters can be vastly more effective than low level ones and it seems at first glance that long life would lead to everyone reaching those high levels. But, since even humans can hit high levels in just a few years, though the vast majority never do, it seems that leveling isn't a simple function of time. That only extraordinary people reach high levels, regardless of race, and while the long lived elves may average a slightly higher level they'll also have less of the extraordinary types simply due to their smaller population.

At the very least, it's easy enough to rationalize any such problems away. :)


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dirtypool wrote:

Though published posthumously, the origin of Orcs presented in The Silmarillion predates the writing of Lord of the Rings, and is in concordance with the statements about the origin of both the Black Uruks of Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard.

The Silmarillion is generally accepted as canonical by most Legendarium scholars - so it is a little hard to hold up a finger and say “well it isn’t official because it wasn’t published while Tolkien was alive.” Throwing out the Orc origin would also necessitate throwing out everything else.

I'm not even sure what "canonical" would mean among Tolkien scholars. It's not so much that it wasn't published while he was alive, but that it's clear from other later writings that it wasn't something he'd settled on. As you say, it predated the LotR and thus would be neither his final thoughts on the matter or something he'd consider himself bound by since it made it into print.

Besides my point is not so much whether it is canon or not as that you can't really draw too much about Tolkien's worldbuilding from it, since he was conflicted on it and never reached a solid decision.


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demon321x2 wrote:
The Elves were the First Children of Iluvatar and better than the other races in every way. In the movies there's a scene where Legolas easily outdrinks Gimli. Tolkien didn't bother with things like "balance" because he was writing a story, not a game system.

That's more of a movie thing than a Tolkien thing - though I agree he didn't worry about balance.

His elves being overall better than everyone else doesn't really ring true to me though. They certainly had some advantages, but it's not like Legolas outshone the others in the fellowship. Certainly not to the degree he did in the movies. The surviving Noldor from Valinor arguably did, but that doesn't generalize to all elves.

In the Elder days of the Silmarillion, the heroes of Men were renowned even among the Noldor.


thejeff wrote:

The basic fix for the domination problem in a normal fantasy world lies in simple population growth curves: if elven generations are longer, shorter lived populations have the advantage of more generations and thus faster exponential growth.

In D&D settings this is complicated since high level...

That fix is not as simple as it seems. Elves would then have to reproduce much more slowly than humans, so that they have children only every 100 years or so. One way that could work is if there were some astronomical event, the alignment of moons or whatnot, that caused both genders to become fertile at the same time, and drove them to mate. It might be something like the 'Amok time' that affects Vulcans. Is it a coincidence that both elves and Vulcans have pointy ears? Is it possible that elves are the ancient, fantastic ancestors of Vulcans?


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S. J. Digriz wrote:
thejeff wrote:

The basic fix for the domination problem in a normal fantasy world lies in simple population growth curves: if elven generations are longer, shorter lived populations have the advantage of more generations and thus faster exponential growth.

In D&D settings this is complicated since high level...
That fix is not as simple as it seems. Elves would then have to reproduce much more slowly than humans, so that they have children only every 100 years or so. One way that could work is if there were some astronomical event, the alignment of moons or whatnot, that caused both genders to become fertile at the same time, and drove them to mate. It might be something like the 'Amok time' that affects Vulcans. Is it a coincidence that both elves and Vulcans have pointy ears? Is it possible that elves are the ancient, fantastic ancestors of Vulcans?

Not really. All they'd need to do is not reproduce until they're in their 40s or 50s. That roughly halves the generation time.

Sure the old elves could keep reproducing, but that's a linear increase. The human kids having their own kids faster is an exponential one.

By the time an elf's kids are grown up enough to start having their own kids, the human's grandchildren will be having kids. Generation length is far more important than generation size.


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In the matter regarding level. It seems very much like a matter of effort and danger not time. Elves (if we go by the 100 years to adulthood) would them be extremely careful to avoid dying early. Which is very understandable when you can live for 750 years withou magic.

As far as being hard to imagine differing cultures. I feel like too many people tend to focus on the wrong stuff which is what leads to the clash. The easy example is, "this race values strength and fitness from a leader". Most people would then assume that they value strategy less, and thus play their characters as even more study than it should be.

If you look at tips to play an elf, most people tell you to consider the age. With few actual recommendations on it. They might mention the "your short lived friends died" and that might have affected you. But few give examples as to how. Even fewer people give examples as to how an elf would act in an elven city. Closest thing are stories like Altered Carbon where you are shown how humans with large life spands act. But those stories assume you need power for the extended life, something elves simply don't need.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
thejeff wrote:
I'm not even sure what "canonical" would mean among Tolkien scholars.

It would mean that in the absence of a replacement origin, the one presented in the Silmarillion is the accepted official origin according to the estate.

thejeff wrote:
It's not so much that it wasn't published while he was alive, but that it's clear from other later writings that it wasn't something he'd settled on.

And just as a cut scene of the magic Arctic police arriving to arrest Zod, Ursa, Non and Luthor doesn't change the released ending of Superman II, the letters indicating alternatives for Orcish origins do not change the released origin in The Silmarillion.

thejeff wrote:
As you say, it predated the LotR and thus would be neither his final thoughts on the matter or something he'd consider himself bound by since it made it into print.

It is his final EXPRESSED thought on the matter as he wrote no revision of it.

thejeff wrote:
Besides my point is not so much whether it is canon or not as that you can't really draw too much about Tolkien's worldbuilding from it, since he was conflicted on it and never reached a solid decision.

And my point, to the other poster before you decided you needed to correct me on Tolkien's content and intent is that calling the Elves the "ancestors" of the Orcs is minimizing the Elvish role in both the versions published in the Professors lifetime and the one published posthumously.


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Pathfinder Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I -really- don't want to insert myself into that argument. But I would like to say that I prefer the published Silmarillion to both his earliest works (The Book of Lost Tales) and his later notes. For instance, Galadriel Version 3 would have been a straight-up perfect superhero, whereas her presentation as one of the through-lines from the Silmarillion to The Lord of the Rings is one of the strongest character arcs in all of Tolkien's fiction. She's much more compelling as written.

Similarly, orcs as the descendants of tortured and twisted elves seems far more appropriate to the story (almost completely told from an elven perspective) than from men (about whom Melkor didn't give a damn for many ages - he hated elves and only later learned to hate men.)

Anyway, I think Tolkien's -intent- is at best academic, as much as I love his writings. Once any author publishes, the writings themselves become the authorities and -intent- is meaningless. What he intended to say is far less important than what he did say, or what any given reader takes from it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bringing this back to the original topic, Tolkien's writings about elves from Feanor through the "Aragorn and Arwen" story in the appendices of RotK actually shed some interesting light on the topic of how tragic can be the misunderstandings between two species with fundamentally different natures. In Tolkien's world, men fell into evil because they envied the elves their immortality, while elves fell from grace (though not always into evil) because they fought to prevent change, using the power of the great rings to stop the effects of time and change within their realms.

As he is close to death, Arwen tells Aragorn that she had always thought that the men who wanted to seize immortality were merely foolish and evil, but now that he was about to leave her, she understood them much better.

There is also a lot about the differing perspectives in the "Athrabeth", a conversation between the elven king Finrod and the mortal woman Andreth about the metaphysical differences between Men and Elves, published in "Morgoth's Ring." It's a must-read for Tolkien fans, but also very solid grist for anyone who wants to role-play a long-lived fantasy character.

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