Monday, May 30, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Elves & Dwarves

Those familiar with the works of Tolkien know that the origin of the orc is a deliberate breaking and twisting of elves by the evil guile of Melkor/Morgoth (the main antagonist of The Silmarillion). Given the influence Tolkien seems to have on Holmes, I think it is fair to assume a similar origin for orcs — they are a twisted version of elves (possibly as an attempt at a more malleable slave-version of elves by the humans of the suggested ancient civilization).

Using this as a point of departure, note the languages Holmes grants to the beginning Elf character:

Elves can speak the languages of orcs, hobgoblins and gnolls

Given that orcs are elves twisted beyond recognition suggests that the reason that elves know the language of the orcs is because it is a dialect of elvish. It follows that so, too, are the languages of the hobgoblin and gnoll. This suggests that hobgoblins and gnolls are either other twisted elves or a further twisting of orcs.

This vision is reinforced by the languages given the beginning Dwarf character:

Dwarves can all speak the languages of gnomes, kobolds and goblins.

Holmes essentially calls gnomes chaotic good hill dwarves:

Gnomes are similar to dwarves, whom they resemble. They are smaller, have longer noses and beards and inhabit low-land and hill burrows rather than mountains.

Kobolds are also described as a kind of dwarf:

These evil dwarf-like creatures behave much like goblins, but are less powerful.

The goblin behavior in question suggests that goblins, too, are a kind of dwarf:

They always attack dwarves on sight.

In other words, gnomes are chaotic dwarves, goblins are evil dwarves as are kobolds (possibly even a derivative of gnomes, due to their size). Therefore, the languages given the beginning dwarf character are likely all dialects of the original dwarven language.

This all suggests a very interesting definition of goblinoid, given how Holmes describes the hobgoblin:

Hobgoblins are big, powerful goblinoids

Since the suggested origin of hobgoblins is the elf and the suggested origin of the goblin is the dwarf, the term goblinoid seems to mean any race whose origin is the twisting of a progenitor race (such as elves or dwarves).

Given this statement by Holmes:

At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be.

it follows that should one want to play a gnome, goblin or kobold that one could simply use the dwarf class as a template and, likewise, orcs, hobgoblins and gnolls could use the elf class as a template.


Unknown said...

It also suggests something interesting about a Dark Elf and their relationship to Goblinoids. :)

James Maliszewski said...

This is a really eye-opening post to me. I've read and re-read Holmes more times than I can recall and yet, somehow, I never managed to put all these little cues together to form a conclusion like this one.

Awesome stuff, Fr Dave. Please, keep it up.

Rick Marshall said...

I agree with James. I've read Holmes so many times that I know all of those sentences you quote word for word, yet I never took it that next step to draw the conclusions you drew. Well done.

richard said...

This is extraordinary, and it all makes a kind of sense. Who was doing the twisting in Holmes D&D, I wonder? Simply untwisting them again and using the elf and dwarf templates doesn't seem quite appropriate, working from Tolkien as a source. what about Blake's influence on Tolkien? In Blake, Orc seems to be something like the free spirit of man that is naturally inclined to revolutions. In Tolkien orcs seem more like urban proletariat: creatures bred and kept as soldiers by other entities, but for all their elfish origins they come across as men.

FrDave said...

@James @Rick @richard
Thanks for all the kind words! I am still having fun with this, so more is on the way...

Simply untwisting them again and using the elf and dwarf templates doesn't seem quite appropriate

Personally, I might do a little tweaking, but not much. Look at the way the Drow have been handled over the years, for example. For all intents and purposes, they are Elves even though they, too, have been twisted.

Zenopus Archives said...

Two further thoughts:

1) Kobolds get a +3 on all saves except Dragon Breath, which brings their Saves to the same level as Dwarves, further suggesting they are "evil dwarves" (perhaps they have dwindled like the Petty-Dwarves of Tolkien).

2) I'd suggest that the Dagger +1 vs man-sized, +2 vs Goblins and Kobolds, is of Dwarvish origin. And the Dagger +2 vs man-sized, +3 vs Orc, Goblins and Kobolds, is the work Elvish and Dwarvish craftsman together.

FrDave said...