Humans and elves have a common ancestry, and are genetically similar enough that they can interbreed.

Half elves are stronger and mature faster than elves but are mortal with less of a natural connection to the supernatural.

They age slower than humans with better sight and hearing and are more dexterous.

The big problem is that they are infertile, making them a genetic dead end.

Give this draw back why would human and elf society not only allow but encourage human and elf pairings and offspring?

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ It's not unusual to read in histories veneration of eunuchs. I'd take it as a given if you presented it that way. They simply do. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Dec 30, 2021 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ Mules are a real life example of the value of hybrids. Charles Darwin called it hybrid vigor. But I think the positive traits of you half elves could be valued, as advisors, or companions. Also when it comes to matters of inheritance it might pose interesting advantages. Perhaps, avoiding issues of direct succession from father to sons with more value placed on adoption and merit when going from generation to generation. $\endgroup$
    – UVphoton
    Dec 30, 2021 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ It already does, or at least used to in the past, many, many times, two examples for you, mules, a genetic dead end considered useful for various reasons, castrato, another example prized for their singing voice. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Dec 31, 2021 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ Cattle yak hybrids are also quite common, ar least wherever there are Yaks. These hybrids are not all infertile, however. Only the males IIRC $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Jan 1, 2022 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ "why would human and elf society not only allow but encourage human and elf pairings and offspring" - well, they'd probably allow it if for no other reason than because preventing consenting adults from privately expressing their love/desire for whomever they love/desire and/or from having children is something you find in dystopian and bigoted societies. The same might apply to encouraging/promoting it, but that would depend on a key question: who exactly is encouraging/promoting it, and how are they doing it? $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 2, 2022 at 4:29

12 Answers 12


Low Elven Fertility, children of superior ability:

ELF: Amongst the elves, females are typically portrayed as having very low fertility. This does not mean that there aren't a lot of jobs elves don't need elves to do. People are power, and the elves simply don't make enough of them. Medieval life is risky, and lots of dangerous tasks are reserved for those with less experience. You don't get to be almost immortal by taking risks. While female elves never risk themselves or mate with humans, young male elves and all half elves perform these tasks; the elves to prove themselves, the half elves because they will never live long enough to advance to the highest ranks. Young male elves who haven't earned a place mating with elf females can mate with humans, or even marry and have entire families in their youth, yet still later mate with elf females later without stigma after they become widowers by their human wives.

Social rules around sex with half elves is likely to be different. As long as an elf has children with other elves, what does it matter what they do with a half-elf lover, wife or husband? Plural marriage with half elves might even be an accepted social norm and fix the loyalties of these half elves firmly with elvish society.

A human woman of low status can birth a child for the elves and give it up for fosterage and be a modestly wealthy woman, bearing human children after. Or they can marry an elf, have a kid, and divorce later and still have support of the elvish community. A slave captured or bought by the elves can gain her freedom by bearing the elves children and be treated with more respect than amongst humans. The human children of these mothers have successful half-elven siblings.

  • I actually designed an AD&D campaign around this, with a displaced Drow family living near the surface building up the ranks of the family by "mass producing" half elves via a successful slave ring. The family head had a magic device that allowed them to control anyone in the bloodline, so loyalty was guaranteed...

HUMAN: A woman has a half-elf child, and the success of her other children is enhanced. They are kindred of elves and of a higher status dealing with elves than other humans. A woman knows her half-elf child will be talented, successful, long-lived and free to take care of their mother (or even their siblings) in old age. Long-lived uncle/aunty half elf may even contribute to the multi-generational success of the family with their experience and connections. Since a human man is obviously NOT the father of a half-elf if the mother is human, that child doesn't inherit, but still contributes to the family success. And if the elves don't always deal with humans, they might deal with half-elves.

Half elves in a wide range of human institutions would be the reservoirs of experience and carrying knowledge, while in theory at least being less entangled in advancing the interests of their own children. While a small percentage of humans in a craft live long enough to be masters, almost all half elves would, preserving skills and information.

I could even envision a feudal kingdom where the alliance between humans and elves is secured each generation with a long-lived half-elven ruler bred from the ruling families of each species. No heir can be named if the two parties can't agree, so each has motive to secure the peace and so maintain their influence.

  • And, of course, there are real-world cases where sterile hybrids have been valued above the fertile. I had planned to mention them anyway, but I give credit to UVPhoton for mentioning it first in the comments:

Mules are a real life example of the value of hybrids. Charles Darwin called it hybrid vigor. But I think the positive traits of you half elves could be valued, as advisors, or companions. Also when it comes to matters of inheritance it might pose interesting advantages. Perhaps, avoiding issues of direct succession from father to sons with more value placed on adoption and merit when going from generation to generation. – UVphoton

  • $\begingroup$ @UVphoton I was going to mention mules, but I gave you credit since you said it first. If you plan on making that an answer later, let me know and I'll remove the quote. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Dec 31, 2021 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ A male human having children with a "single mom" with an elf child would be beneficial since the (half elf) half sibling would be able to take care of the other (full human) half siblings. Thus male humans might not mind at all. The male (or female) elf gets experience raising a family and something to do for a few hundred years before he/she finally settles down with another elf. $\endgroup$
    – philn
    Jan 1, 2022 at 17:16

Q: "The big problem is that they are infertile, making them a genetic dead end. Give this draw back why would human and elf society not only allow but encourage human and elf pairings and offspring?"

Half-Elves are very popular anyway

Little encouragement is needed. Hybrid children will have a good future. Sports, commerce and beauty are important on your planet. The half-elves really shine, everybody loves them, elves and humans. They are safe (!) and attractive sex partners, and they have a very good career perspective, any job from building to sales to the military will fit.

Eugenics experiment

The encouragement for it makes Elve-Human genes mix even more frequently.

That project has a medical (eugenic) purpose, which is regarded ethical on your planet. It is no secret. Elve-Human couples get tax benefits, school assignment and housing priority.. This may all be completely civilized intent, no military purposes like "disposable half-elves on the battlefield" is needed. The half-elves are regarded as citizens with all rights, like humans and elves.


The Eugenics researchers (and the half-elves) would like to find a way, to enable half-elves to breed, to widen genetic diversity.. some scientists dream of 3/4 human offspring some day, like humans with a much longer life expectancy? or a 3/4 elve genome, which could yield Elves with much greater strength..

Your story could shoot down my happy proposal, maybe something will go wrong ?


Some religions enforce celibacy of their representatives, which is also a genetic dead end.

Armies, especially when wars are fought, are also a genetic dead end for those who perish before having kids.

Yet both organizations have been in human history for a long time, and many humans are encouraged to join them.

The same can apply in this case: the benefits of the hybridization overcome the downsides, and also help in controlling the population growth.


It happened in real life once

Between his accession in 1713 and death in 1740 King Frederick William I of Prussia greatly expanded the size of the Prussian Army from 38,000 men to 83,000 men. He became known as the “Soldier King” and his military projects paved the way for his son Frederick to Great to turn Prussia from a relatively minor German kingdom into a great European power. However his chief military interest was in creating his own personal regiment of extremely tall men, known to history as the “Potsdam Giants”. This strange obsession was not just a personal indulgence but also a perverse early experiment in eugenics

No one care's if a soldier is a genetic dead-end, they are made to kill and die.

That's one option, that you could use as the main reason or as one of the many reason why this event is happening in your world.

  • $\begingroup$ Is there any evidence that those tall soldiers were infertile? Or how does this answer relate to this question? $\endgroup$ Jan 1, 2022 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ The Potsdam Giants were considered too special to be sent to combat and were mostly there for Frederick William's viewing pleasure. It wasn't until he died that his son sent them to combat. Fredrick William would also pair the Potsdam Giants with tall women, so as to keep a steady stream of tall men available at his leisure, so they were not infertile. $\endgroup$
    – roan
    Sep 20, 2023 at 14:45

To be able to successfully reproduce, Humans and Elves have to have some kind of recent common ancestor - like Humans and Neanderthals or other prehistoric human subgroups. For them to survive into whatever era of technology and societal development your world is in for this question, they will have had to develop side-by-side in some respect, but since the offspring are infertile (and likely possess other genetic defects, which may only present later in their prolonged lives just like human genetic disorders,) Humans and Elves will most likely still maintain separate communities. This doesn't necessarily have to mean that you have the human part of the world and the elven part of the world, but human and elf communities are not going to be totally homogenized anywhere. For the two species to continually exist, they need to be consistently having children of their respective species. This could be as close as humans and elves living in the same cities but still keeping mainly to their communities within them, or as separate as nations so far from the other species' lands that they've never even seen their distant cousins. I recommend exploring both! It could lead to some really unique social structures outside of this one society where half-elves are promoted.

To circle back to your question now, in the areas where humans and elves live in close contact, these children of both human and elven parents could hold some significance as a symbol of their integrated community. With the fact that elves have a closer relationship with the supernatural and you suggest they are immortal, relations could sour between the groups due to these inequalities, causing social tensions. Inequality of any kind makes it hard to relate between individuals, and if that can't happen, continued socialization between the groups is going to be difficult-especially if they live in the same area. These 'half-elves' (or half-humans, depending on who you ask,) could have a critical position in the social structure of these societies as mediators, or possibly even hold significance in the society's religion, or even politics.

In one example from a worldbuilding project I've been following, the half-elves of the primary community focused on in their world tout themselves as the 'true sons and daughters' of a society founded on the principles of a united community, having many of the attractive attributes of elves, while still being relatable to humans. I imagine it's going to be a similar situation in the society relevant to this question; they are relatable to both groups.

It's also not lost to me the point that your 'half-elves' are universally incapable of reproducing with humans or elves. In an integrated society you have far more opportunity for humans and elves to reproduce than one where human and elven communities are more separate, allowing them to even be promoted at all. If you had a society with a signigicantly smaller population of either species I don't see half-elves as a common occurance or possessing any special status without external influence. Since yours actively promotes a half-elf population, I would also explore the idea of half-elves possibly being more common as the offspring of the upper echelons of this society, in whatever form that might take. Hereditary nobility is, obviously, going to be less attracted to the idea of heirs that can never have children, but perhaps having half-elven children with concubines or second spouses would be more attractive to the nobility in this situation, giving them both an heir and a half-elf to relate to the humans or elves not represented by the nobility. Having the afformentioned relatability to both humans and elves would be, naturally, most effective in a position of power. Communities not focused on hereditary rule would likely be even more attracted to the idea of half-elves, since their ability to produce heirs is unimportant to the fuctioning of said community. I would suggest that communities which put a focus on merit, regardless of their social structure, would be the most likely to promote the presence of a half-elven population.

I hope this helps you out! I hope to hear more about your world in the future, it sounds interesting! [:


Your society has rigid gender roles around women.

They believe that women shouldn't be alone with men, as there is a risk they could get pregnant. This is less followed for lower class women, but for noble women it's held to be very important.

As such, when choosing a guard for a woman, a half elf is a much better choice, as they can't get them pregnant and damage their marriage prospects. As such, the half elves have a lot of prestige and authority as guardians of women.

They are seen as noble, like chivalrous knights, beings who have sacrificed their fertility for great power and honor.


Expand their capabilities. Better eyesight and greater dexterity makes them better artisans, mechanics, and soldiers.

Just because they are infertile does not mean they are non-sexual. Make the females highly sexed and willing to be tent girls, servicing the half-elves in the army.

When reproduction is off the table and people know it, they have a different attitude toward life. Instead of a life devoted to their kids, it is a life devoted to themselves, their knowledge, becoming the best in their chosen field. Aging slower than humans, these half-elves are routinely the best at skilled trades.

We encourage interbreeding because such experts are in short supply and the purebred populations is growing out of control. And even if we don't get artisans we always need more soldiers.

So bang an elf, it is the patriotic thing to do.


Widespread adoption

Hybrid people cannot breed, but can form family pairs and raise children (both hybrid and of both single races) just like everyone else. This is why the culture doesn't see them as a dead end.

On the other hand, they are good for the society just like hybrid plants are good for agriculture. They are stronger, healthier, maybe even smarter. They give their adopted children a competitive advantage that overcomes the generic negative consequences of the adoption.


It’s okay for elves to have human concubines. Maybe male elves have a constant sex drive while female elves only ovulate once every dozen years and are only interested in sex at that point in time. Which would make human prostitutes and concubines quite desirable for the male population.

The half-elf offspring can’t inherit or usurp their father’s position, which makes them “safe” children. After all, they are going to die in a few years anyway (from the point of view of an elf). They are still superior to humans which makes them perfectly suited to send into human realms, use for war, dangerous work and so on.


Because elves like shagging human women

Societies are breathtakingly bad at long term planning, and people with power have always liked doing exactly what they please at the cost of everyone else. In any realistic society, the immortal, magical elves have the power and, therefore, they will be the ones abusing it.

Since the half-elf by-products of the proclivities of elves are inevitable society figures out some way to use them. History has many examples of how bastards and eunuchs were used, the roles of these half-elves are likely to be similar.


They aren't always infertile

If you look into real world hybrids such as mules and ligers, most are infertile. But there are rare but proven and documented cases of fertile hybrids existing.

The reason half-elves are so popular is this.

For the average family, having the 'superior' half-elf child, and hoping to hit the genetic lottery and have one that is fertile is the dream. Not only will your child be able to still continue your line, and pass down the stronger hybrid genetics, but you will have fame and possibly wealth because of this.

From the standpoint of kingdoms or researchers, having as wide of a pool as possible is desirable. Both to simply create these fertile half-elves, but also to try to figure out the how and why. To study the parents and environments that produced the fertile hybrid. To find a way to produce them more reliably.


The simple and common answer is that the local religion encourages this. Maybe the mother goddess is an elf and the father god is a human, so couples with the same configuration are seen as blessed and are favored by the church. If your world is monotheistic then it maybe be a commandment of god; that for every human and elf born there should also be a half-elf born as all are equal in god's eye(s) and they want their followers to stay close and be as family.

Maybe the one god is a half-elf, and they created the two races as sides of themself, and so half-elves are seen as closest to god. In this case, the infertility may be, or at least is claimed to be, the will of god, as half-elves are closest to them, they may not produce children as god did.


They could stabilise the population.

A frequent tension in agrarian societies is the inheritance of land over multiple generations. A society can either divvy the land up between all the relevant children (normally sons, though of course in a fantasy you can do what you want), which means that eventually the family land gets split up into such small plots they can't support a family; or it can restrict inheritance (say, all of it goes to the oldest son) and create a layer of landless people -- a vulnerable and potentially dangerous element.

On the other hand, there was always a need for more hands to carry out farmwork and to look after the elderly, and high infant mortality rates. So subsistence farmers would (and still do) frequently have a lot of children with the hope that some will survive into adulthood -- often, more than can ever be given land in their own right.

A reliably sterile half-elf option could be used to supply the need for farm labourers without splitting up land infinitely.

One possible setup would be for second & third (etc.) sons to marry an elf woman and have half-elf children. Land could be split up by inheritance, but in a few generations would return back to the family when the half-elf died.

Alternatively, half-elves could be barred from inheritance & be obliged to stick around as part of the family household -- one that is less of a threat as they could never have children. This one could also provide a handy source of background angst for any half-elf characters.


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