My 7 year old son and I have pitted the Elves against the Dwarfs -

The Elves control the sky - they have airships, gliders in their cloths that enable gliding from airship to airship, and bridges between the airships.

The Dwarfs control the underground - living in great underground caves, tunneling from place to place via giant tank-like vehicles with drills attached to their fronts and ends.

Between the two races, earth and sky, floats the ominous Everboom - a perpetual cover of stormy clouds, where lightning cracks every few seconds, everywhere (which is a good reason to keep to the underground and very high in the sky).

The two races are at war on the ground (still figuring out the details of safely moving through the Everboom), so there should be battles and victories galore, and so on and so forth, and glory to the young story teller. But the teller would have none of that -

My son wishes for the two races to be at war but to never be able to complete a battle. In other words - military engagements without a defining outcome. He simply doesn't wish for either of the races to win in any battle, saying that the soldiers shouldn't want to fight - though obviously, he wants them to have do go to battle. The reason for this is a mix of a kid's excitement over cool fighters with cool fighting techniques + cool shiny weapons, and a pacifistic gentle soul.

So I was telling him about evil generals that force their unwilling soldiers to go to war, to which he justifiably replied that the soldiers won't have cool fighting techniques + cool big weapons, if they don't really have their heart in the fight. I started suggesting some honor system that would make it viable to have a warrior caste where the guys want to fight each other for honor without killing or something like that, but the boy is too smart and realized that in such engagements, there would be winners and losers and deviations from the honor code, and these would lead to killings and taking-overs of desired resources and/or land.

We need armies that wish for war, will ferociously have it out at each other, and when their opponent is vulnerable for the final blow, will say: "See you next time" and go home. Kind of like in kids' tv shows.

Sigh - What would be a good reason for a couple of races to want to have serious battles, without wishing to defeat, or take anything from, their opponents? I would love a sociology/psychology answer, but will prefer one that includes the world's unique physical aspects (the sky/underground factors, the Everboom storm and methods of safe travel through it).

There's a bit of magic to be had in the kid's stories, so a very minimal amount of magic is allowed for the answer, but no "A-wizard-cast-a-mystery-spell-over-everyone's-mind" - We're 7 years old, you can't hand wave our troubles away.

EDIT: Few casualties are allowed in the fights, but everyone will be childishly shocked and sad when they happen.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd suggest that the current status quo benefits the ruling elite, but that might be too high concept for a kid show. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me a lot of a Perpetual War as described in 1984 [1]: $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ "My 7 year old son and I have pitted the Elves against the Dwarfs -" Awwwww (upvote!). Now I should probably read the rest of the question... $\endgroup$
    – xDaizu
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 7:37
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    $\begingroup$ Wait, your kid is seven and he's already chewing through D&D rules? Get the boy a computer and teach him programming. Do it now. A plastic mind is a terrible thing to waste and if you can teach him the logical syntax necessary for programming early, he'll have a bright future (even if he doesn't become a programmer). Unity3D is free, as is Unreal 4, and both have pretty low barriers to entry and have tons of tutorials for beginners. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ "...there would be ...deviations from the honor code ..." Don't take this as political rabble-rousing - but it amazes me that your 7 year old just summarized the problem with poorly trained, largely unsupervised police forces around the world. Well done, young man. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 23:10

25 Answers 25


Different approach, after the Comment on my other answer:

Maybe that's just how immortal (or very, very long-lived people) always fight - it's how it's always been. Dwarves have fought each other like that because, well - for a human with a finite time to live, dying for a cause to make the (short) life of their children better may seem like an OK deal. If you, and your children, can live forever? Dying for something is a bad deal unless you would die without that thing anyway. A couple bruises and a broken leg though, that's ok. Ditto for the Elves - and when Dwarves and Elves met? They didn't know any other way to fight, so they fought each other the same way.

And obviously, if taking someone's life is just not done, the shocked reaction when it does happen would be expected. Nobody's TRYING to kill the other guy, just punch them around to make them see reason (or hand over the thingy we're fighting over)

Now, why are they fighting, and why do they HAVE to fight? Of course it could be resources, but I think a better explanation might be:

The Dwarves are fighting the Elves because they, with their skyships and all the flying around, are endangering all of Existence. Birds belong in the sky, they have wings - Elves and Dwarves should stay on the ground. THAT is what causes the Everboom. If not for those pointy-eared flighty buggers, the surface would be a nice place to live!

The Elves on the other hand, are fighting the Dwarves because they, with their digging everywhere are hurting the land. The earth itself cries out in pain, as evidenced by the everboom - which is obviously caused by this atrocious behaviour of the dwarves. If not for those tunnelling cretins, the Elves could land on the earth without fearing the everboom.

Who of them is right? Are they both wrong? Do their rulers actually believe that, or just pretend to so they can motivate people to go to war? That's up to you to decide :)

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    $\begingroup$ I like that a lot. Gonna teach my kid something about life and death, war and peace with this answer. This goes nicely with @T-Saurus 's answer about identity conception and some toughness answers, along with the idea about a benevolent intelligent nature/secret third party that directs nature to moderate agressions. Might be the source of immortality. Cheers! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the idea that each race has their own explanation for why the Everboom exists. You don't even necessary have to explain why it actually does, as long as you establish that the dwarves think it's one thing and the elves think another. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ This really reminds me of the snow globe in Neverwinter Nights. In there, you have immortal, respawning dwarves fighting immortal, respawning dryads endlessly. (Spoiler alert!) If you follow the story, you find out that they were the servants of a white dragon (who made them immortal so they could serve him for all eternity), but he turned them against each other after some uprising so they wouldn't unite ever again in order to overthrow him. $\endgroup$
    – hoffmale
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 17:05

What your son wants, and in fact you describe /and when their opponent is vulnerable for the final blow, will say: "See you next time" and go home./ is counting coup

Any blow struck against the enemy counted as a coup, but the most prestigious acts included touching an enemy warrior with the hand, bow, or coup stick and escaping unharmed.1 Touching the first enemy to die in battle or touching the enemy's defensive works also counted as coup.2 Counting coup could also involve stealing an enemy's weapons or horses tied up to his lodge in camp.2 Risk of injury or death was required to count coup.3

Escaping unharmed while counting coup was considered a higher honor than being wounded in the attempt.2 A warrior who won coup was permitted to wear an eagle feather in his hair.2

This was a Plains Indians thing and makes for pretty bottomless cool reading. Make sure he saves the references because if ever there were material for a project, this is it: Indians, fighting, but ultimate pride of place going to the one who wins without doing violence.

You could riff on this: the coup stick

black and white image of Indians source

has endless possibilities.

The Plains Indians also have creatures called hekoya, or sacred clowns. They do everything backwards. They are also called Thunder Beings. Perfect residents of the Everboom. They can enforce the coup system, and award extra glory for especially hilarious coups: like shaving a fallen Dwarf's beard, or gluing an ugly beard onto an elf. Haw haw!

Hekoya drawing Hekoya Heyoka with mask drawing source

Last and the root of the problem: your son likes the dwarves and likes the elves. What they need is an uneasy unity against a common enemy. Maybe 7 is too young for Lord of the Rings, but that is what they did with Gimli and Legolas. The beauty of the Monster War is that the elves and dwarves can still count coup or compete with one another, even as they work together towards their common purpose.

gif of Gimly saying "That still only counts as one!"

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    $\begingroup$ I gotta admit, I really love this as an answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ This would have been my answer. $\endgroup$
    – nijineko
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ Can't resist mentioning that I (as a young adult) first saw the phrase “counting coup” in Lee Killough's novel The Doppelgänger Gambit, where it was future-slang for … something that need not concern the child. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ We are overlooking the fact that counting cops were regarded with that much prestige because war between indian tribes was extremely vicious and cruel. You proved your bravery, basically, because you were attempting something insanely risky. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ hmm, I'm gonna have to go with @Rekesoft on this one. I love this answer like everyone else, and will definitely do something with that sacred clowns thing, my kid will be so happy :-) But he wants them to go to serious war against one another (it's one time when he's scary-serious, demanding destruction and mayhem), so to continue what Rekesoft said, the answer either keeps them from being serious about doing battle, or doesn't give them a reason not to kill each other in case they're serious. With a combination of super toughness/3rd party using nature avoid slaughter, I can sell this :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 15:04

There is something essential to be harvested on the surface of the planet. Some plant that blossoms randomly on surface of the planet.

The two races don't really want to obliterate each other (and don't have the means to do it, even if they wanted).

Gigantic battles happen wherever the "something" sprouts and subside as soon as it has been fully exploited.

Variation on the theme:

Make the Elves and Dwarfs be part of the same three-forms race:

  • Elves: males living in the skies.
  • Dwarfs: males living underground.
  • Dryads: females living in the forests.

Whenever one of the Dryads is ready for "marriage" (whatever form You want to explain to a 7-year old child ;) ) we will have a huge tournament to chose the "husband".

Dryads would be willing to abide to the winner, but would sneer to any "unchivalrous" attitude.

You can have your battles with the shiniest armors and weapons with as little actual spilled blood as possible (essentially just the inevitable mistakes).

You can have further variations on the theme having the two main races to prove their warriorship before marriage with a woman of his own race or stipulating some need of "blood exchange", if single-sex Nations are too far-fetched for your needs.

Mixing of the two:

In order to marry both Elves and Dwarfs need to gift to their beloved maiden a rare flower and so a siege is in act where the plant is about to blossom, but, since maidens from above and below will be watching, warriors need to play fair.

  • $\begingroup$ Why would they not kill each other during the fights? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Bellerophon: I'm not sure I understand Your objection. As I understood the question there will be causalities in battles, but they wouldn't carry to "homeland", so neither race would be in real danger, although the fighters will. It all depends on the interpretation of "opponent": if that is the "other" race then my answer holds, if it is the individual warrior then, of course, it doesn't. $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ Edited the Q to allow for few casualties. In gigantic battles over any resource that's truly desirable, we might expect loads and loads of casualties, and this is where my problem lies. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ Right! The variation will actually make sense to my son (little mom tells big dad how to behave). Not sure about the sex issues though. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Nahshonpaz: I don't know your son, but I'd leave completely out sex and speak about marriage, instead. That is (usually) well understood even before the implied "technicalities" are uncovered; it would also give you the chance to elaborate on the huge feasts where several "relatives" are invited with other chances to boast their hypertrophic warrior personalities ;) $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 14:45


What you describe is a sports tournament.

People meet, compete, somebody wins. And then everybody hug and go home.

People do this today in fencing, kendo and other martial arts.

As @Baldrikk wrote in a comment, in medieval times, they had tournaments which would look very much like a battle. Though in those days people dying in a tournament was not uncommon so this may a bit fierce for your purpose.

In between the tournaments, people train with others on their own team. This training can get pretty fierce too.

The prize can be those rare resources suggested by others.

There will be rules, the most important will be "No Killing or Maiming!" The penalty should at least be that the guilty part can no longer take part in these tournaments.

People on both sides have heard that once long ago people were actually fighting seriously over these resources. Both sides agree that the sports tournament is a better idea.

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    $\begingroup$ So, basically a medieval tournament? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tournament_%28medieval%29 The fact that we actually did this makes it more believable. Also, the main event was the meele, which was basically two armies clashing in battle, just, without an actual war going on, which fits the question pretty much exactly! $\endgroup$
    – Baldrickk
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Baldrickk Yes! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 10:23

The Elves and Dwarves cause the Everboom

Nature itself opposes the very existence of the two races, destined to destroy each other. Wherever they meet natural disaster follows. Their only hope for peace and survival is the annihilation of the other. They are forced into eternal war, whether they hate the other or not, out of necessity. Coexistence isn't just a dream, it's an impossible fact of their reality.

But as they meet in battle a greater consequence shows itself. As the two draw closer and in greater numbers the effect intensifies. In the heat of battle with armies charging one another the storm grows to unfathomable strength, unsurvivable to either the Elves or the Dwarves.

And so as they clash in a battle for their own survival within hours or even minutes they are again forced to retreat as the storm grows in intensity, threatening to do more damage than the battle itself. To stay would be a suicidal move that would wipe out both armies entirely.

  • $\begingroup$ What if both of their blood is required to fertilise the everlight tree. $\endgroup$
    – KalleMP
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ Not exactly what I'm looking for, but I could do something with that... More of a benevolent intelligent nature or something/one that directs nature. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ What would make this answer better would be to modify "Nature itself opposes the very existence of the two races" to "the weapons used by the warriors intensifies the Everboom." That way it is a natural consequence of the fighting and as the fighting intensifies the Everboom scales up. Perhaps the weapons are metals swords and the battle is on a flat plain. The swords draw the lightning, but they are so much more effective than wooden weapons that they must be used in battle. This way you have a justification for weapons that increase Everboom and a reason to use the weapons anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 16:59

Maybe the Elves and Dwarves hate each other, but it's like with the Skeksis and Mystics in The Dark Crystal: whenever an Elf is injured or killed, their counterpart Dwarf magically suffers the exact same injury, and vice versa. (Ancient curse etc.)

So, like a lot of real-world civil wars, it keeps going as an endless cycle of revenge. Neither side can afford to just massacre the other, and if a clear winner ever started to emerge, the losing side would have the nuclear option of mass suicide.

The two sides have to maintain an iron curtain and avoid mingling, because neither side wants the other to know who is paired with whom – if the enemy had that info, they could torture or kill your leaders and generals by sacrificing one of their own side.

  • $\begingroup$ This is quite clever. I like it. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ This is what I was thinking. Using @ZioByte's trisexual idea, the females always have twins, one dwarf and one elf that are linked in some real or magical way. We know there is quantum entanglement with two photons - if the quantum entaglement came up into the macroscopic world the elf and dwarf could be linked to feel and react to pain in the other. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ I love this idea too, but there is a potential issue: if this were the case, wouldn't it be better for them to not fight at all? The prospect of killing one of the other side will only end up weakening your own army, so there's no incentive for any fighting to take place. It's a war of attrition that neither side can win. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ That's certainly the biggest flaw. Of course, wars happen all the time when peace would make more sense, so you could plausibly just ignore the problem. But there does need to be something that both sides constantly compete over, like rare magic mushrooms or whatever. $\endgroup$
    – bobtato
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 12:26

Edit: By the time I finished writing my post, others already proposed those alternatives. Oh well.

I can think of three alternatives that weren't already proposed:

  • Make them inherently good-hearted

There could be numerous personal reasons for the soldiers of your two armies to strike the opponent down, but refrain from landing a fatal blow. They could be fighting for centuries already, with each individual knowing almost every other opponent in the battlefield.

Giving your name to your opponent when you're defeated could be a cultural thing, for example. Then, the winner will remember it, the loser will remember his opponent's face and try to defeat him the next time they meet. It's a matter of honor now.

This could ensure fair, perpetual fights with possible rivalities towards a particular opponent, leading to even more heroic, cool, or even unpredictable actions (IE: Saving your opponent from an accidental death, to be able to try to beat him again next time).

The trick here is just to determine how those cultural rules were introduced in the first place.

  • Make them tough.

Like, extremely tough. Survive-a-fall-from-the-miles-high-elf-ship tough. Battles would last for days, but wouldn't come to any significant conclusion. Both sides would go home, exhausted, with a few scratches and bruises, and set their next encounter a week or two later.

Elves are known for their incredibly efficient, instant regeneration abilities, making them nearly invincible, whereas every dwarf master armor crafting so well that they're almost undamageable, on top of their near-perfect defensive techniques, rushing to protect a wounded soldier in the extremely unlikely event of one of them being hurt. (Think of something like a phalanx on stero- I mean, dwarfoids.)

  • War as a hobby

When you live for centuries (or millenias), even gliding between ships, or stacking gold in your vaults gets old.
Your population needs something else to do, something they can find enjoyment with, something that involves a foreign factor that they don't quite master.

War is the perfect anwser.

But you decide to make it a long-term anwser, instead of a short-term one. You're lucky, your potential opponent has the same thoughts on the matter. So, instead of trying to actively reduce the other population's numbers by killing them, you both agree that it should rather be considered as a sane hobby.

Thus, you both greatly reduce the lethality of your weapons, and teach your soldiers to spare a vainquished opponent, and to accept when they're defeated themselves.
Both populations slowly start to consider "War" as a fun hobby, and realize that without opponents, their favourite sport wouldn't exist.

Some even say that after a battle, they saw a dwarf and an elf share their respective beer. Both had to be evacuated shortly after.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Exoset! Interesting answer. If you haven't already and you have a moment time please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ You got something with the toughness+hobby thing. Maybe with a background of historical massacres from before they got around to being invincible. Cheers. The part about good-heartedness, however, is so 6 year old :-) I tried already and the boy doesn't want any of that. In his mind, dwarfs and elves are at each others throats, different species and all that. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 14:56

Gonna answer this inspired by my most hated scenario in video games:

Healing vs regeneration

Elves got healing magic, while dwarfs got tough body and regeneration.

They can engage in battles, but they can't really inflict casualties on either side. Everytime they battle, it will get dragged days before they get bored and withdraw themselves.


I think your son is looking less for a war and more of a conflict. You don't want the two sides to have a desire to obliterate each other, but you do want conflict to occur. Conflict like this is inherently undesirable, so you're going to need something to encourage them to fight... forever.

I think there's a few good answers here which hit on a common pattern: The two sides need to be fighting "for" something rather than "against" each other. They must be trying to gain something to warrant risking life and limb. A common pattern we see in answers here is to have some resource on the surface under the Everboom. You need something up there worth having so that these fights are part of life, rather than just part of death.

A static resource will be impossible to balance. One side will always manage to take more than the other. However, a dynamic resource is what you really need. You need something very lifegiving and energizing that is part of something much greater than both armies. A Gaia of some sorts. Something that they bring back to their homes that is worth clashing with the enemy every now and then.

I'd suggest a lifegiving charge caused by the Everboom itself which accumulates on you while you are in the middle grounds. This might be harvested simply by going there, collecting some on you, heading back to home, and letting it shed off you, but to get the combat you want, you need something more.

If you're willing to bring a Gaia like force into play, we can reward "living more full lives." Have the accumulation take on a more powerful form if you are living your life to the fullest while harvesting. The most powerful Everboom mana brought back to the cities is that gathered by those with a passion in their eyes and a thirst for whatever life brings them.

Naturally, the Elves and the Dwarves are going to develop their own individual unique styles of lives, and they will eventually clash. Some will learn to live their life to the fullest wielding cool weapons and doing awesome techniques in combat with their opponents. However, this combat would not encourage seeking a total victory. Your son clearly knows that such a victory is hollow. What rings true is standing contested on the battle field and holding your head high.

At an adult level, this system also permits interesting runaway situations. If you want to have people's thirst for life be amplified by having more of this mana on you while you search, it will naturally bootstrap its way into conflict with this positive feedback loop. However, the system also puts the breaks on these runaways, if one side ever start oppressing the other, it stops being a "live life to the fullest" and starts being a "mop up squad" job which clearly won't be as effective. As such, the "mop up squad" wont bring back all that much more mana than the peaceful collectors that collect far from the war fronts, but do so with a passion all their own.

  • $\begingroup$ Barring the immortality answer which I set as the correct one, yours is one to take the story to great new heights. I love it as an adult but I'll have a hard time explaining to Liraz. Will try though. Thx! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 10:38
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know what sort of worldbuilding style you and your son have chosen, but one approach which would be very powerful for this sort of world is a very bottom up approach. Explore individual young characters as they interact in the Everboom far from the front, trying to discover what living life to the fullest means to them and slowly work your way outward. You can have some fun with symmetry -- the more involved your son gets, the more you guys work towards characters that are on the front line. If he starts getting lazy, start falling back to the more peaceful ways of gathering. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 14:46

The reason for fighting could be to impress a third party rather than killing your enemies.

For Example Dryads could cultivate a seed that grows into a tree that could produce large amounts of food quickly in harsh environments, such as on Airships or Underground. Possessing this could alleviate the need for foraging on the surface for a while until the tree dies, freeing up time for many Dwarves / Elves.

Alternatively Goblins could produce navigation machinery that can equally be used for Airship Guidance or Digging valuable deposits underground.

Neither the Dryads or Goblins want to see many deaths, but could want their valuables sold/gifted to the most worthy or they enjoy watching the sport of combat without death. These Valuables give a good reason for the Dwarves / Elves to commit to full scale combat with their best weapons and warriors, but not go for the kill.

While either race could overpower the Dryads / Goblins and take the treasure by force, they would then not produce any in the future so no one want to solve the issue by force.


It's really a simple matter: Don't make them actually be at war.

Keep most of the elf and dwarf population as gullible as possible while having messengers from their rulers to speak to them saying that victory is nigh. But after a short while have the messengers pronounce that their armies has lost everything that they have "gained" from the other side.

How would you keep the populace from questioning their overlords? Attack your own citizens with long-range siege projectiles and say the elves or dwarfs did it depending on the society in question. Getting your citizens riled up in a blind frenzy over the opponent makes them much more susceptible to propaganda.

You could have a sort of secret police also patrolling the civilizations looking out specifically for those who ever doubt the ruling caste and ensure they remain in a quasi god-like status.

The Everbloom was deliberately placed to deter either side from actually encountering one another and to increase xenophobia between the races by saying to the peoples that the other side is inhabited by barbaric knuckle-draggers. After all, how can you sympathize with someone and their culture if you never meet them?

Why would the elf and dwarf leaders do these things? For power, just as simple as making sure that a select few get to live luxuriously while everyone else gets to toil just for them.

To quote from Nineteen Eighty-four: War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.

  • $\begingroup$ Not quite the answer I need (need it to be actually war) but I'm gonna do something for the boy with the secret police thing. He'll like that. Cheers :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 12:32

Everboom is clearing out at certain times in a year, but only for short period, allowing both parties to come to the ground and harvest food (or whatever resource on the ground).

When they met, of course there will be competition on the food, but only 1 or 2 engaged in combat, while the others hurriedly harvesting before the storm comes back. The battle only lasts minutes, and most concludes with both injured, but only rarely killed.

  • $\begingroup$ You put up two answers that fit what I need. Why not make one answer out of them? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ Both approach the question differently. You need not to use both of them, but either already solve the problem, that's why I posted them as two separate answers. $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 12:33

While the dwarves usually inhabit the under-plane and the elves their great airships, the two are at war. Not a full-scale, destroy-the-enemy-at-all-costs kind of war, but a war over old hatred. A war that you're trying to stay alive, and also keeping your enemy from discouraging you from that goal.

In movies, TV shows, comic books, and so forth, there is usually a big bad guy that the good guys are trying to stop; but, if the good guys were constantly defeated by the bad guy, the ending wouldn't make sense when they finally triumph. Instead, the bad guy sends mooks: faceless, nameless, easy-to-beat, throw-away characters. The good guys are worn down by the mooks, making the final battle exciting and climactic.

What your world needs are mooks; when the elves and the dwarves fight, they don't actually fight each other, but the mooks. The dwarves, being tough engineers that live among the rich deposits of ore, have built rock golems and tough defenses to keep the elves at bay. And likewise, the elves, with their love of nature, make tree golems and forests woven into walls and other defenses.

The dwarves guard the entrances to their tunnels, fortifying the area and building armies of mindless rock golems. The elves, threatened by the heavy hordes they see amassing at their border, launch attack after attack at the war camps they find. Their goal isn't to kill, or even injure, but to de-weaponize their enemy. Once they've razed the fortifications and destroyed the rock golems, they retreat, their job complete.

On the other hand, the elves feel the need to defend the few breaks in the clouds that can be used as landing spots, and will sprout entire forests to weave into great walls; the landing platforms are guarded by armies of mindless tree-golems. The dwarves, seeing the elves amassing an army on their very doorstep, send out raiding parties to burn the lofty strongholds to the ground.

Both sides attack each other, in daring raids of danger and force, and both see the other as a threat, but the only casualties are the "automated defenses" - the golems and the fortifications.


Elves are deficient in vitamin D production, and dwarves produce too much beta carotene. Making each other's homeland a wasteland to the other. The ground will be fought over forever, but neither is interested in settling the other's territory.

Too much beta carotene makes humans sensitive to sunlight, and lack of sunlight makes it difficult to produce vitamin D.

The only reason they fight in the first place is to compete for enough resources to get back home. They say, "See you next time! Ha ha!" as they wave back at you after stealing the vessel you've been constructing for the past seven months.


Elves and Dwarves both live long lifes - and reproduce slowly. Any soldier who actually dies would be a great loss to the race/kingdom. And they know this about each other.

But there's still stuff to be fought over (ressources, prestige, what have you), so they have to fight. How do you avoid the enemy mercilessly slaughtering your men if you lose a fight?

By showing mercy yourself

The instant one side starts killing off the losers, the other side would do the same. So to avoid having your OWN people killed when you lose, you avoid killing the other side's men when you win. Nobody wants this war to become an ugly chain of weeping widows and orphans questioning why their ruler allowed their husbands/fathers to die, so everyone sticks to the honor system of "don't kill the losers".

/edit: this would even explain the cartoonish shock when someone does die - "oh shi..., I hope they don't think we did this on purpose and broke the honor code!"

  • $\begingroup$ I think this might be the best answer I got so far, as far as intention to do real battle goes. Maybe without the honor "code" as a code, rather an unspoken basic instinct thing, in an immortal person's mind. Care to elaborate on that? Might need to combine this with other answers though, I'm looking for a must-make-war situation $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Nahshonpaz I started editing my answer to work that in, but then went off on a tangent and ended up with something that had not much to do with the original... it didn't feel like an edit anymore, so there's a new answer from me^^ $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 9:44

Though they are different creatures entirely, they could have a shared cultural view of war similar to that of the pre-Shaka Zulu.

They meet at predetermined places at predetermined times, do some light fighting, throwing spears or whatnot, and eventually just get bored and leave. Whoever "won" takes a prize of some sort, but that's mostly it.

This happens because both sides have low populations and don't have independent military structures: the soldiers are also farmers or doctors, etc. Taking battles too seriously risks losing essential personnel, personnel seen as more important than whatever they're fighting for at that moment.


One possibility to have the different races battle without defeating the other is to make it physically impossible for them. You could make both races send out armies to attack the other, but they can't find the opponent's armies in the Everboom. The other is to have them fight against a common enemy, or to compete for a resource. Have the two races start to attack each other, then have a bigger threat come and force the two races to stop attacking each other, or have them race to momentarily appearing resources. Neither would be at war for fear of total annihilation, but would cope with small skirmishes.


Dwarves might have a slow breeding rate yet still make babies at an absurdly higher rate than elves, while elves use their nasty illusion magic to avoid getting killed because they're squishy.

The elves simply tend to win quickly in a fight, overwhelming the dwarves with magic and, apparently, flight technology or they get slogged down. If the latter happens, the dwarves can close to their devastating range and almost always win.

Dwarves must have developed a pretty impressive anti-air arsenal early or they would have already lost. They would still need to tend to win since they can't chase the Elves down and the reverse isn't true. Otherwise, the dwarves would need to repopulate at an even higher rate to make up for the fact that you've granted their foe unchallengeable air superiority. Dwarves need something to stay hard to kill by elves, though, to even the fact that the elves can simply flit off.

With the population recovery rates different, elves would know that even losing one warrior is a major blow to their faction, and are well aware that a dwarf is deadly up close, so they would skedaddle as soon as things get, shall we say, hairy.

Tuned appropriately, the conflict would be a long-term stalemate. The storm itself can set a limit on following up on an overwhelming victory which can prolong the conflict by making such things less strategically relevant. If you have set things up such that elves are medivac-ed out and healed magically, and dwarves generally stabilize if not killed outright, you'd also have an explanation for increased survival, but not anything like you describe.

Your problem is that there isn't any realistic way to prevent death on both sides unless neither side is in any real danger. Well, I suppose you could have the fight through proxies that can be killed or destroyed.

Considering the history provides some interesting options: The storm could be a defense the dwarves came up with to deal with the elf air force. Could be part of the elf spells to stay up, too. The airships of the elves could be their response to the dwarves beating on them in an earlier age. The dwarves could be angry about abuses from the elves hitting them and flying away for generations, weakening them.

It also makes very little sense that the stalemate is considered a good thing by either faction, so you might consider what plans these factions might have to break it. Capturing a few working airships, for example, even if it costs a few good beards, seems like an obvious strategy. Trying to figure out a scheme to aim and disrupt the portals to the surface the the dwarves use without needing to engage also makes sense. Some might be seeking a diplomatic solution.


In the fear of making this a political discussion, but still finding this just too good of an argument, I would like to point your attention to the longest-ongoing territorial rivalry in the last centuries: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for "inspiration". (Please refrain from making this political and only relay criticism of my argument.)

What makes this conflict so devastating and eternal, even almost unresolvable as many commentator fear, is one thing: identity. Deeply entrenched in both cultures, and self-awareness, is the understanding that they have been wronged by a wrongful oppressor. Due to the sense of victimhood and fighting over something that lies mainly in the past, a so-called "enemy image" (from German: Feindbild, see [1]) is constructed and embedded in the self-perception. Allowing that enemy to be granted part of the "cake" would mean accepting that a vital element of identity is obstructed and put into question. For many people, as soon as a belief, a value or an opinion becomes an identifier, further discussion is futile. It renders its former status invalid, and shifts to becoming an ideology. When that happens, all conflict will become endless, because it goes to the core of an individual's self, identity (am I becoming a broken record?).

How this could play out in your story is with a benevolent, pacifist king, i.e. your son, that does not want blood to be spilled in the name of an eternal war, but that allows for poisonous weaponry to be used to stun the opposing force. At the end of a day, losses are counted. (This might give an advantage to the more filigree elves and their master archers, contrasted to brute force of dwarven warriors).

[1] See this great discussion in German about the concept and its implications in the Middle East tensions here

  • $\begingroup$ If we change the first paragraph to say Elves-Dwarfs conflict (the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a very good example but as you mentioned - a touchy one, that is very related to my and the boy's thinking, lets not go there) - the identity issue is embedded throughout fantasy writing, specifically where race and different geography inclination is set in a kid's mind (e.g sky vs underground). I'd like to ask that you elaborate on the solution. Pacifism fails in the face of an armed enemy. That where the conflict stems from and orders to use stunning weapons aren't gonna stop aggression. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 8:50
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    – Secespitus
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 8:56

In ancient times the Dwarfs and Elfes lived peaceful at the surface. Then, for some long forgotten reason, a terrible war started. This war lasted for a long time, terrible crimes where commited, cities turned to ashes and children and elders slaughtered.

The war raged on until both sides where close to extinction. When both sides rallied for a last, deciding battle, the Gods had enough. A terrible storm formed, growing and growing, until finaly it covered the whole survace. The Dwarfs tried to hide in their underground Strongholds, while the Elfes climbed into their latest warmachine, a class of flying ships and retrated to the sky.

Both sides had a hard time, barely surviving by diving into the storm for short periods, scavaging the ruins of their once great civilisation, until they found that slowly the magic of the storm cristalled in a form of glowing gems. The magic of the glowing gems allowed the dwarfs to build their underground vehicles, but more important, magic Laterns that shined true sunlight and allowed them to build farms deep in the caves. The Elven on the other hand used them to build giant floating farmships and whole cities in the sky.

Now small Parties of the boldest Dwarfs and Elves scout the Everboom, searching those gems to keep their civilisations running.

Obviously those scouts meet now and then, and both need to secure the gems. But the Stories of the Gods wrath is well embbeded in their cultures so instead of a all out Fight, they meet to ritualised Duells in the middle of the field.

Great honour awaits those that best their rival, but if they kill him honour (and the fear of the Gods) forces them to pay for it. They leave their clans and families and turn themselfe in to the family of the killed, honourbound to do their best to repay by taking the place of the dead instead.


What if the battles were rites of passage that the tribes had to pass through to achieve Nirvana. They keep trying to have the most noble battle where all their sides combatants behave in a 100% noble manner and then they can all resurrected.

The elves and dwarves are both trying for the same prize and only ONE can be saved.

Blah blah bla.


I'd write gaps into the Everboom, eyes of the storm that could be hundreds of kilometers or more across. As these gaps form and move, the two races could battle there while scrambling to retrieve a resource while it is exposed.


By limiting the possibilities for a big war with loads of deaths, the war could be prolonged (i.e. endless) and only occasionally mortal.

Let's say the war is for a resource which is only present at certain times - as suggested by others as well. "The nectar of the glowing Myrados-plant can be harvested in full moon only".

Now limit the space: "The glowing Myrados plant grows on tiny patches of land, present in the deep and dangerous Gleerphil - a huge swamp land in which you must travel very carefully and with no heavy load."

Only being interesting around harvest time, and impossible to secure by using a huge army, the Myrados in the Gleerphil sparks conflicts on a regular basis. Sometimes one of the parties might send ten warriors, other times just one. Depending on weather etc, the different strategies have varying chance of success. And whoever wins, there will always be a chance for revenge at the next full moon.



The Elves and Dwarves are actually ancient trade partners. The elves need minerals mined by the Dwarves, while the Dwarves need rare gases only available for collection to the Elves. However, they do not have a proper market economy and thus don't know how to adequately price their wares for trade. So they fight each other almost to the death, and the victor gets to demand a greater share in their next trade negotiation.


Part of the reason that their conflict is so bitter is that when one side or the other runs low on the traded resources, it causes great pain and suffering for the local population. The Dwarves need gases for both energy and medicine, so a medical gas shortage leads to greater illness amongst the Dwarves. The Elves need to repair their airships which are often damaged by stray lightning from the Everboom, and when one fails catastrophically, some families must cram aboard their neighbors' airship, leading to overcrowding, food rationing, etc.

The conflict is as much about venting the rage of these perceived induced sufferings and indignities as anything else. But because Elves don't really want to run around the ground, nor Dwarves want to fly through the sky, conquest is simply out of the question. And because of their codependence, annihilation is also suicidal, even though both sides despise the other bitterly, and blame each other for their suffering.


The rulers of each faction cannot really contain or reduce the pain and suffering of their peoples, because neither side has the leverage to force more trade. Or because both populations are at the limits of resource extraction, and more trade could not occur even if they desired it. So they rely on the glory of battle to appease their subjects, and hold great celebrations when their side has scored a major victory.


I would suggest that they buy their arms through a third race. The weapons are better than what they can make, but suffer 'durability issues' that are actually a form of planned obsolescence.

The third race profits greatly from the war, and more warriors means more purchases. Could even add in that the primary resources they fight over are what the third race charges for the weapons.

Makes the dwarves and elves both capable of being the good guys and adds some later plot hooks if the story ends up in the direction of discovering the ruse.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Chris! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 11:28

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