Posted by: Jess Riley | October 3, 2008

Theme Week Draenei: Age, Maturity And Experience

I know that lately we’ve been sticking awfully close to the subject of age in roleplay, but thinking back on this topic caused another wave of inspiration. Stick with me, here.

The draenei seem to be immensely long-lived. Lore has it that Prophet Velen, for example, must be tens of thousands of years old. Without knowing an exact life expectancy here, I’m going to run with the assumption that the draenei are more or less immortal unless killed. The youngest draenei player characters you’re likely to stumble upon are, therefore, probably at least hundreds of years old themselves – decades, at the very minimum, and this would be considered very young.

Looking at it from our perspective, we tend to assign approximate age brackets to people of other races with different life expectancies; the ‘elf equivalent of a teenager’ for instance, or the ‘draenei equivalent of a 20-something’. In terms of the culture of the draenei, I don’t think we can put an exact number on it, but let’s assume that a draenei would be seen by society as more of an ‘adult’ rather than an adolescent around, say, 200 – 300 years old. Within the draenei culture, this, and anything younger, would be seen as hopelessly young and inexperienced, still wet behind the ears and needing more guidance.

Now consider two things:

One, if the draenei in general think that, say, a 200 is naive and inexperienced, what do they possibly think of a twenty year old human? Could a four thousand year old draenei ever take orders from a forty year old human – and if they do, what on Azeroth are they thinking as they do it?

Two, if a draenei comes of age at 200 years old, are they in the same state as a human who comes of age around 20? Typically, in roleplay, we see them being played this way – the ‘draenei equivalent of’ that I was talking about above. But really, even though they weren’t ‘of age’ until this time, a 200 year old is going to have considerably more life experience than any 20 year old – unless the 200 year old has led a singularly uneventful life, and the 20 year old has faced things beyond their years. Generally speaking, however, they aren’t going to have the same kind of life experience — and if they don’t have the same kind of life experience, how can we even say that they’re similar?

Both of these points were briefly discussed in the Ask A Lore Nerd column on WoW Insider, but I wanted to go into a little more detail on the subject.

If we look at the real world, children of different ages will act more or less mature at different ages, depending on what kind of experiences they’ve had and how they are treated by society. It is a sad but true fact that children in the real world mature faster when they have to cope with things like abuse, while those who are raised to be more naive seem to ‘grow up’ slower; it takes them longer to reach the same level of maturity and wisdom. Similarly, societies in past years where children were expected to behave in a mature fashion faster, expecting children to come of age at around the age of 13 had much more mature 13 year olds than our modern society, where we have introduced this concept of adolescence.

There is no reason why this would not also be true of the races in fantasy. In the case of an immortal race like the draenei, where the coming of age is marked in centuries more than years, there are these two factors at war: the idea is that as long as society treats them like youths, they allow their ill-wisdom and ill-judgment to stagnate for longer; they are fun-loving, reckless and irresponsible; they, in short, feel no need to actively ‘grow up’ and take control. On the other side of things, they will have experienced more things. In the past, maybe they were more reckless, but war has matured a lot of them faster than society would anticipate. Maybe their elders are despairing for them not taking the time to enjoy their childhood, maybe they themselves fret over the fact that they won’t be getting a 210th birthday party this year, but they’ve had to grow up to face up to the unfortunate reality.

Compared to the 18 year old human who has grown up in war, the 300 year old draenei has had a lot more time to mature and cope with this. The end result is a curious mix, both like and unlike a human adolescent. Certainly, they won’t be as mature, responsible or wise as an adult draenei, but certainly they will appear to possess more maturity and wisdom than the ‘equivalent’ in humans. Further, if a human uncovers their exact age, they will probably be treated with more deference – and how would they react to that?

The concept of what an older draenei would think of a so-called ‘older’ human virtually goes without saying. Just keep these things in mind when roleplaying: what we consider to be normal behaviour for an adolescent isn’t even the same worldwide in the real world, much less in Azeroth. Talk about culture shock.


  1. Figures I’d read this second.

    There are several potential flaws in this post, the primary of which is that any race that is immortal has the singular issue of dealing with a low birth-rate, or they would easily overpopulate a world. And if they did have such a low birth rate, children would be rare, and treasured, of course… but even more importantly, the death of a single person would be an immense loss, irrecoverable even. But this does not seem to be the case. The Draenei throw themselves into combat (for a cause, of course) with almost reckless abandon.

    Perhaps, instead, there is an explanation for the Prophet’s extended lifespan. Perhaps part of it was his constant direct exposure to the Naaru, or a gift from them so he could better lead his people. Or even, perhaps, the name of Velen became a title, so that every leader becomes the new Prophet Velen.

    Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  2. Ekrim, if I remember the ret-conned lore correctly enough, though, not just Velen but all the Draenei have been in heavy contact with the Naaru (hence their racial talent). I would have to say that they’re all very long-lived.

    On top of that, they’re eager to fight for the cause of the Naaru (which is to eliminate the demons/eredar from the universe). I don’t think we’re dealing with a race that has a low birth rate in this case, because the Naaru need a LOT of soldiers, and have a vast battlefield (the universe is a big place).

    Granted, if the war ever ends and the Naaru are victorious, the long lives of the Draenei could cause problems in the long run… but I highly doubt we’re going to be concerned about that for quite some time.

  3. Being human ourselves, we naturally tend to imagine other races based on our own experience. We’ve always seen human life as divided into 3 or 4 periods — childhood/youth, maturity, old age. But for really long-lived races, perhaps we need to think along different lines.

    In fiction where the author controls everything about his/her characters, one can have elves who remain physically immature till 100 or 200. In WoW, where PCs can’t make characters who are physically children, it requires a pretty large suspension of disbelief to play a child-like character in a sprite that looks like all the other adults around. So to RP believably, our characters have to be physically mature, whatever that may mean in terms of years.

    Perhaps to races like the Draenei or Elves, once a person reaches physical maturity their actual number of years lived simply isn’t an issue. If their children are physically mature after 20-30 years, perhaps they’re treated as adults and expected to be as reasonable and responsible as any other adults of the race.

    There likely would be a certain amount of protectiveness for those who didn’t yet have a lot of experience, but if it’s not possible to tell by looking at someone whether they’re 200, 2000 or 20,000, it might not matter much to the people around them. By the same token, your 40 year old human appears to be an adult, so could be taken seriously by the 4000 year old draenei.

    Perhaps if you live enormously long lives, you even forget how old you are. Human birthdays are pretty significant to most of us, but how significant would someone’s 11,345th birthday be? Some of the Draenei NPCs in the starting areas seem to think along these lines, saying things like “How long has it been, a thousand years, ten thousand?”

  4. Long lives does not equate to long periods of growth, actually. Most animals are born in a state where they could quickly defend themselves. Humans have a long period of becoming more mature simply because of their large heads (for all the brain-meat, y’know). If humans were born more similarly to animals, it’d be a heck of a lot messier.

    Parrots are some of the longest-lived animals around, and they have very short periods of maturing, particularly compared with humans. The long period of growth has nothing to do with the human lifespan and everything to do with the size of their heads.

    There is no real biological reason to assume that any intelligent species of a longer lifespan would necessarily have a longer growth period, and from the descriptions of both Draenei and Night Elves, their lives were artificially, not naturally, extended. As such, it seems more likely that they have a small growth period, then hit a certain point and… stop.

    Most Draenei do not stop, from the looks of things. Instead, it seems more likely that the originals were kept from aging when they fled (supposedly until they could reach a suitable homeworld to repopulate their race, though it could be easy to forget such things over that period of time). Likewise, not all Draenei are “willing soldiers.” In fact, until they landed on Azeroth, they didn’t fight much at all. They fled. It was only in finding strong allies that were already at war with the demons and had successfully defended their world from multiple invasions that they turned around to help defend it.

  5. Have to say that I agree with the two last posts. In my opinion, draenei mature reasonably fast compared to their life span. Does not necessarily have to take them centuries and centuries before they mature. And in all honesty, roleplaying anything below the human age of 15 does look really odd. Just go stand next to an orphan…

    I don’t know exactly know how to fit this in, but I feel it’s important to note that time should be looked at as relative when rping your race.
    What I mean by that are the attitudes of different races toward the concept of time itself – not necessarily maturity. Even for humans we are aware that you don’t have to be old to be considered mature, as has been pointed out. But what about time itself?

    For a human, battles and everyday life holds more interest than it may for a draenei.

    I almost sometimes see my draenei character as she watches the little things in time fly by her – she, unlike her human and mortal counterparts being more able to see things in a larger time frame, or the big picture if you will.

    Both immortality and mortality have their positive and negative sides when it comes to roleplay. I find this is often neglected with the draenei, though some people do focus on it when playing elves.

    Ok, I’ll post this now…see if someone has any oppinion on it.

    Still cannot get an idea of how old my draenei is, but yeah…who would count centuries. And…a lady never tells anyways. *winks*

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