I’ve just posted the latest update to Alayne’s Story over on the WoW RP forums. This week’s update brings the goblins into play.
Writing goblin points-of-view has actually been kind of tricky for me. I’ve set myself several rather difficult challenges with Part IV and the goblins are one of them. I’m still working on smoothing them into the story without causing too many conflicts between their inherent personalities and the personalities of the main cast.
Speaking of the cast — I’m working on updating the Cast of Characters page with some of the recurring characters like Tau’re, Tam’ara, Jez’ral, and Mir’el.
Anyhow, back to work!
Evolution, magic, and blood elven racial reproductive capacity.
Alternate Title: G has way too damned much free time.
This is the first post in a series explaining how I assign lifespans, fertility periods, and social structures for races in my writing. I’m using the blood elves from Alayne’s Story as the primary example here but these rules also apply to the E’lei’anshu in The Unexiled and to other races in other stories I’ve written. Basically, I get tired of having to lay out these arguments to individuals so I’m compiling the whole lot here. Also, I get really irritated by the idea that races that live well beyond the human average are somehow governed by completely different biological rules while existing on the same world as humans (who, for some reason, are always bound by these rules).
A few primises before we start:
1) NOTHING overrides a biological imperative!
2) Not everything will be explained by magic.
3) Explanations (magical or non-magical) must be internally consistent
Right, I get a lot of comments on the ages of the characters in Alayne’s Story. At the start of the story proper (the post-Prologue introduction), the characters are the following ages:
Alayne: 17 years old
Ger’alin: 22 years old
Zerith: 23 years old
Dar’ja: 19 years old
Callie: 16 years old (physical) — 20 years old (chronological)
A note about Callie: since she’s Forsaken, her aging process has completely halted. She was sixteen when she was taken by the Plague. So, she’s not going to physically age. I include her in this list only because I do get questions about her age and some of the things she’s said and observed. The explanation for why she seems older than sixteen is because she is — chronologically. She’s also been through some pretty harrowing experiences that have a way of forcing people to mature a bit more quickly than they normally would.
Okay, so, the number one complaint I get is that the elven characters are still “children.” In a sense — that’s true. According to the social norms of elven society (pre-WarIII), they would be children. But, they’re children in the sense of “being too young to be held completely accountable for their actions and too young to be forced to support themselves full-time.” So, they’re children in the same sense as someone who is in their last year of high school (age 17) is a “child.”
But…but…elves age more slowly…!
Right, this has to be the most misunderstood trope in fantasy of all time. Races that have longer lifespans than humans do age more slowly…once they’ve reached full physical adulthood! They spend no more and no less time as infants, children, prepubescents, and pubescents than any other race. The only difference is when they move into “youth” or “early full adulthood” they begin aging more slowly. How do I (and most other fantasy writers) figure this? Remember those premises I put at the start? It’s time to expand on them.
1) NOTHING overrides a biological imperative.
The only way you can get around a biological imperative is to create an entire species that does not reproduce according to normal biological rules (ex: a race that is asexual or a race that reproduces through completely artifical methods). The minute you have a di-sexual race that reproduces using sexual means (regardless of what exactly those means are), you have to start accounting for the usual biological imperatives. I don’t care if that race lives one year or one thousand — if they reproduce by any form of sexual congress, they are bound by those rules. Magic, prophecy, science — nothing will override those imperatives! NOTHING.
So, what is a biological imperative? A biological imperative is any rule that enforces the following statement: Adapt and survive. When you boil down all evolutionary theory to its most basic, that is the ultimate command: Adapt and survive. Now, let’s look at the common biological rules that support that statement.
1) A creature must survive to reproductive age — Any creature that cannot have enough of its species survive to reproduce will go extinct.
2) A creature must desire to reproduce — Any creature that does not desire to invest the energy in reproducing will go extinct.
3) A creature must be able to invest in caring for its young during their vulnerable stages — Any creature that cannot or does not care for its young will go extinct unless the young can care for itself.
4) A creature must not reproduce more heavily than predation or food supply can tolerate — Any creature that overbreeds will face mass die-outs until the population returns to an equilibrium with the environment.
Okay, so, how do those statements cause me to figure that blood elves are physically mature by an average of 18 years of age? Simple. Let’s break it down.
1) A creature must survive to reproductive age — In this case, we’re dealing with humanoids. Given the complexity of any humanoid, evolution will put pressure on that being to be born very small and completely helpless (creating a high-cost investment on the part of its parents). Humanoids are born with no native weapons — no claws, no sharp teeth, no swiftness. They survive by using their brains (brain size relative to the birth canal is the actual primary biological pressure on how large a baby can be). So, without the early survival tricks that animals have, humanoids cannot afford to be born any more fully adult than they currently are. However, they also cannot afford to spend any more time in their vulnerable infancy and childhood than they have to.
Now, it would seem from that that a humanoid would grow rapidly, reaching adulthood within five years. This is where metabolism comes into play. Any creature that grows that rapidly will starve to death or will only survive if they are part of an extremely small population set in an extremely abundant environment. The sheer amount of chemical energy that the average human child expends growing from birth to pubescence is staggering. If they grew any faster, the human population would be unable to achieve replacement — let alone expand! (See, rule #4 kicks in here).
So, any humanoid child will be pressured by evolution to grow at a sustainable rate. This usually happens in “spurts” with periods of recovery and adaptation between them in order to allow the humanoid to accustom themselves to their new height, weight, and strength. Remember tripping over your own feet when you started your first growth spurt in adolescence? Imagine if you’d only had one spurt where you grew a full meter (three feet) in less than a year. Growth that rapid — if it didn’t kill you — would require much more time spent in the vulnerable “learn and adapt” post-growth phase which evolution most emphatically does. not. want.
Okay, so what we do to calculate out the length of humanoid infancy, childhood, and pubescence is to set the bound on size and complexity at birth and then extrapolate from current known data (meaning “we know it takes X years and C joules of energy in humans today”). Since most writers are not going to sit down and envision a completely different set of data for each race, they’re going to say “current human average size at birth scaled to baseline human adult proportions” (meaning, yes, dwarven babies will be much smaller than human babies). So, since elves in Warcraft are only one foot taller (on average) than humans in adulthood and their musculature is roughly equivalent, elven and human babies will be around the same size — +/- a few inches and pounds. With that as the starting point, elven children will age to adulthood at roughly the same rate (give or take one extra year) in order for rule #1 to be satisfied.
3) A creature must be able to invest in caring for its young during their vulnerable stages — No, I’m not forgetting #2. I’ll get to it later on.
Above I’ve laid out the reasoning for rule #1 creating a bound of 18 years on elven physical adulthood. Now, it’s time to look into the pressure that rule #3 brings to bear on that.
If any of you have children, surely you understand the energy commitment that raising them to self-sufficiency requires on your part. For the rest of us who don’t have children, know that it takes a lot of time, energy, and resources to raise a child from birth to self-sufficiency. I’m not just talking about the 2 am feedings or the buying the latest toy here. I’m talking about the time taken from hunting/gathering/productive work to invest in caring for a helpless infant. From birth to about one year, a child must be fed by its parents — it cannot feed itself because it cannot estimate how much its mouth can hold relative to what it has in its hand (not to mention that hand-eye coordination is still being worked on). So, that’s easily an hour a day spent just putting food into the child’s mouth and monitoring them for choking. A child also cannot dress itself, cannot move under its own power, and cannot protect itself from danger (hell, a one year old has no concept of danger). A child cannot clean itself, cannot monitor its health, and cannot keep its environment clean and safe. A parent has to do that. And that’s easily twelve hours a day spent on handling those tasks.
Imagine if infancy stretched on longer than two years. Do you think any humanoid would reproduce to replacement levels were that the case? Do you think that even a medieval level of technology would be possible when a parent could be unable to labor directly for their survival for close to two years?
But childhood could be longer…
Not really. Once a baby is about two years old, it can put food in its own mouth, can communicate on a very basic level, and can move under its own power. However, the child is also preparing to undergo a huge number of growth spurts over the next five years until it reaches its prepubescent lower-bound in height and weight. The parent no longer has to monitor the child as closely and the child can (and by this point should) be bonding with other caretakers, freeing up the parents to work directly towards their own survival (though the parents will still be primarily in charge of caring for their child). If childhood lasted an extra five years (let alone the twenty I’ve seen posited as “reasonable”) before the child was self-sufficent, you’d run into the exact same problems you’d see if infancy were merely doubled in duration.
Well, they could be prepubescent longer…
Chemistry says otherwise. The slowed period of physical growth that precedes pubescence (roughly age seven to age twelve) brings with it a host of biochemical processes getting ready to fire up. Once a certain catalyst is reached, those processes will fire. And, for the species to keep in equilibrium with its environment and with the biological imperative to reproduce, this period of prepubescence cannot stretch on for more than seven years. This is the period of time where the child is learning the basics of self-sufficency. The child can feed itself without assistance and can begin to learn how to determine if something is edible or not. The child can begin to handle basic food-preparation tasks (but will still lack the manual strength and dexterity for some fine work which is why you don’t give your eight-year-old a butcher knife and tell him to carve the turkey!) The child can also clean itself, keep its environment mostly clean, and can understand and anticipate environmental changes (weather and seasons). However, until the child has mastered the basics of food-preparation, they cannot begin picking up the basics of health-monitoring. And, mastery of food preparation requires manual strength and dexerity that will not be gained until the next series of growth spurts so…no, prepubescence can’t last much longer than it already does.
So, positing one year of infancy, six years of childhood, five years of prepubescence…we can conclude that the average elf will hit puberty at around 12 to 14 years of age (there is a tolerated variance of two years in childhood and prepubesence combined).
So, you just make puberty last longer…
Sweet baby Jesus do you have any idea what that would do to society? Puberty is a time of extreme turmoil in biochemical terms. Males are being flooded with a steady dose of testosterone which makes them extremely aggressive, territorial, and domineering. Females are being flooded with ebbs and tides of estrogen which causes weight gain and cyclical mood swings. Both sexes are undergoing rapid gains in height (putting pressure on bones) and changes in musculature. Females are also having their torsos undergo radical development as their mammaries swell and develop and their hips widen and shift positions for the purpose of eventually carrying and giving birth to a baby.
Even if you did smooth all that out over an additional decade…evolution is going to bite you in the rear. Biochemically, you can’t “delay” this much because once the threshold for menarche has been reached in females, the catalyst for puberty is unleashed and it ain’t slowing down. The goal of puberty is to get the child into reproductive adulthood as quickly and efficiently as possible so that the race can carry on.
Not to mention — would any one in their right mind want to prolong puberty? Pubescence is the worst time in a person’s life, generally. So many rapid changes. So many confusing emotions. The biological imperative is making itself known for the first time. And people honestly think prolonging this would result in a stable society capable of medieval level technology? The mind boggles.
So, taking our calculation from earlier and setting a bound of seven years pubescence (with significant drops in physical development near the end), we can estimate that the average elf will reach physical adulthood no later than age 18 to 20. By the time an elf is 20 years old, they will have their adult musculature, height, and shape. They’ll be completely self-sufficient in terms of feeding, clothing, cleaning, and monitoring their health. They’ll have a very good grasp of social graces and acceptable behaviors and they’ll have gotten accustomed to and gotten a grip on the conflicting emtions caused by the rush of adult hormones.
That’s enough for now. Stay tuned for the next post in this series where we’ll explore elven reproductive cycles, expanding on rules #2 and #4.
I’ve just posted the latest update to Alayne’s Story over on the WoW-Europe RP forums. Head over there and see how the crew is coping with some of the events that happened before the Shattering.
I’m still working on The Unexiled and have tenatively set a target date for finishing the first draft. My company sent me to a project management seminar this week and I am planning to use some of the tips I learned there to help me better schedule and pace myself with working on Alayne’s Story and The Unexiled (while also actively raiding).
And, I’m going to get off my ass within the next few weeks and fix the progress bars the way I wanted to do, add The Unexiled back up there, and get a few other things I’m working on closer to a state of completition.
Anyhow, back to work.
Well, I had a decent Christmas break even though everyone was sick. I managed to get Geralin up to level 85 and have now run every dungeon with him. My guild is starting to raid again so seeing those encounters will help me with more material. And, I’ve just posted the latest update to Alayne’s Story over on the new WoW RP forums.
Work continues slowly on The Unexiled. Mostly because I’m still getting back into the knack of balancing my time again.
And now, back to work.