James M. at Grognardia lamented in a recent post his choice of including elves and dwarves in his ongoing Dwimmermount campaign. I can commiserate with his feelings. I've been giving a lot of thought to cultures in my Wilderlands campaign (the subject of a future post or posts), and I've come up with all kinds of (to me at least) interesting twists and ideas for all sorts of human and demihuman races. Yet when I come to elves and dwarves, there's just not a whole lot of inspiration there. They're too hidebound by Tolkien and four decades of D&D. There seems very little fresh ground there.
After reading some entertaining discussion on the subject of female dwarves, I had a thought that I could take a page from Castle Falkenstein and make all dwarves male and all elves female. The two species would be cross-fertile, and all male babies would be born dwarves, all female babies elves. This, of course, has obvious applications as a sort of jokey "battle of the sexes" comparison of dwarfish and elfish archetypes, and seems like a fun tack to take. One problem with that is that a PC in my current campaign is a male elf, and I'm not sure how he'd feel about a mandatory sex change.
Beyond such radical changes, I'm kind of at a loss for how to make dwarves and elves more unique while keeping them playable (i.e. not making elves into xenophobic fae or dwarves into reclusive earth sprites with crow feet, as cool as all that is). In my next D&D campaign, I'll probably ditch dwarves and elves entirely unless it's a setting that does something cool or interesting with them (like Dark Sun or Uresia).