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Dwarf or Elf: Best Fantasy Race

Fantasy books and RPGs are awash in strange races, ranging from the standard centar to the more esoteric orcling, but in most books the big three races hold sway: Humans, Elves and Dwarves. Not wanting to seem racist by promoting our own species as (clearly) superior, we’ll limit ourselves to the other two to see which will reign supreme.

As always, I’m joined by fellow fantasy author, and all-round academic extraordinaire, Daniel E. Olesen.

Daniel: I can’t believe this needs explanation. Elves are superior to Dwarves in every fashion except one - dying. With the Doctor Who reference out of the way, I will deign to explain nonetheless. Elves are tall, Dwarves are really short. Even humans acknowledge that the taller, the better. The fact that I am 196 cm (6’4) has no bearing on my opinion on height, but you already respect my argument a little more because you now imagine a tall person stating it.

Regardless of which fantasy realm we are in, Elves always enjoy greater longevity than Dwarves (with Tolkien clocking in at actual immortality). Apart from this being awesome in its own right, getting to live longer, this allows Elves to hone their skills in every capacity. As warriors, artists, craftsmen, Elves just get to become better due to having more time available.

Elves are also much more versatile, enjoying the advantages this brings. In terms of war, they traditionally excel at bow, sword, and spear to name a few. This allows them to have excellent ranged infantry, strong duellists, or fight in close formations. Dwarves rely on weapons of brute strength alone, limiting their tactical options (and those beards must get in the way all the time).

When it comes to habitat, Elves inhabit both cities of splendour or tranquil forests, once again allowing them a wide range of choice. Dwarves get to live on a rock. I’m guessing their surly disposition is due to a lacking sunlight and access to nature; it is the equivalent of living in a Soviet era concrete bunker.

Matt: You know, when I was a kid up until my early 20s, I probably would have agreed with you as to the superiority of Elves, and know there was a very long period there when every RPG character I made was of Elvish descent. Which probably had nothing to do with the bonuses to dexterity over constitution.

No, it probably had more to do with the fact I resembled an Elf at the time, what with my inability to grow facial hair and arms thinner than your argument. Because, and let’s be honest here, all iterations of Elves look like 12-year old girls. And that includes the male Elves. There are many different renditions of Elves (I always thought they were shorter than humans), but all pretty much agree on their smooth cheeks, lithe limbs, haughty nature, and arrogance towards the other races.

Compare that to the archetypical Dwarf, whose testosterone is so through the roof he might in fact trip over his beard (or “her” beard in some iterations). All that overflowing masculinity means he’s got the thick arms required to wield that ax or hammer; the same hammer he has the blacksmithing skill to use to make mail (which sounds like “male,” oddly enough) thick enough to deflect those silly Elven arrows. And you know what makes those arrows even sillier? Putting them up next to a Dwarven ballista, or any other siege weapon Dwarves have the architectural wherewithal to knock out in an hour.

You may find solace in your Elven tranquil forests and “cities of splendor,” but how long do you think either would last if a Dwarven army turned their weapons of war upon them? They may have taken many Elven lifetimes to build, but only an afternoon for the Dwarves to destroy with their superior technology.

And that’s just examining their physical attributes, and not focusing on the fact Elves always represent the haughty aristocracy of any fantasy world. They’re the wine drinkers, clinking their crystal glasses in their tall towers as they tut their tongues at the lesser races. Dwarves, on the other hand, drink their dark ales, hard liquors, and are the salt of the Earth. Probably because they spend so much time under said earth.

Daniel: I was tempted to stop reading after you pointed out beards on female Dwarves because nothing more needs to be said. Even as our society becomes increasingly tolerant, I am willing to bet that every reader of this does not want beards on women or to have a beard if a woman. At least with Elves, the worst you have to accept in this department as a man is the equivalent of a smooth shave. And just imagine how much time they save, the women included. No shaving of the legs necessary here. Elves are by nature just much smarter creatures, biologically speaking.

I might feel threatened by these Dwarven “engines of war”, except as you point out, their builders are a race of raging alcoholics. I have my doubts that work safety standards and industry codes are up to snuff. And in any iteration where Dwarves have such capabilities, I would wager that Elves possess magic of equivalent power and potency. See, Elves are again superior because while they can both be incredible craftsmen, they also channel unimaginable arcane powers, giving them full range of choice. The only reason Elves don’t bother with spending hours hammering a ballista together, dragging it to the battlefield, loading and shooting, is because they will just bring a wizard throwing fireballs.

Matt: Damn. I’m sitting here racking my brain for a good example of a Dwarven magic user and am coming up blank, so you might in fact have me there. At least until I consider all those magic weapons of Dwarven design. And, you know, their work with your vaunted Mithril and all, which can be worn by anyone, be they Dwarf, Human or Hobbit. So instead of their magical prowess being temporary and self-serving, Dwarven magic exists past a single use and is utilitarian for anyone, regardless of race.

But the more times I type the word “race,” I find myself wondering why it is you and I feel so comfortable summing up each of the fantasy races with specific attributes. I mean, if we were to make the same broad-stroke summations about any human ethnicity/ culture/ religion, we’d be immediately (and rightfully) accused of racism. Yet we have no compunction stating how all Elves are arrogant or all Dwarves drunks.

So, to continue that idea to its natural conclusion, does this mean we’re racist for just discussing this?

Daniel: We are two white, straight males in Western society. Everything we say is offensive on some level. At least with Critical Hits, we restrict our abuse to fictional characters.

Matt: I guess everyone’s a little bit racist when they make broad sweeping statements towards groups, especially in the Fantasy genre, where we actually have other races.

But at least we’re not nearly as racist as Sci-Fi fans. All of them are objectively the worst.


16P1L9W1L where you cook one animal as if three animals stuffed inside each other.

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MD Presley is a screenwriter, blogger and occasional novelist… which basically means he’s a layabout.  He has written two books on fantasy worldbuilding, and teaches worldbuilding techniques, tricks, and tips at Forging Fantasy Realms once a week on YouTube. 

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