Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making Elves Playable

As I've discussed in earlier posts, my conception of elves is less about Tolkien and much more about the horrible fairies that scared the Medieval mind.  One problem is that I feel like I'm running into is that Elves are becoming too alien to be viable player characters.  While, as my source fiction will quickly attest, I'm not a fine of characters being champions of Truth, Justice, and the Waterdhavian Way,  I'm also not a big fan of letting players play things that should rightfully be monsters.  In the World, monsters aren't just people with Star Trek makeup.  They are terrible creatures with inhuman and inscrutable goals who seek to unmake reality and plunge all creation into darkness. 

Why am I talking about monster PCs in my discussion of Elves?  Because as outlined so far in my thoughts, Elves might as well be monsters.  I've even hinted that one of the spooky beings on my little sandbox map may in all likelihood be an Elf.  If Elves are sinister, capricious, and alien, they not only are dangerous to humans, but also difficult to represent for the player.  At this point handing an Elf to one of my players would be a "you can be an asshat now" licence.  I don't like that.

I see three ways out.  The first, and least palatable to me, is to drastically change my conception of Elves.  I think that what little following and interest I have received -- and thank all of you for that -- has been due to the rather dark take I have on traditional fantasy.  Sanitizing Elves would be both against my natural inclinations and against what makes Nightwick unique in the fist place.  My second option is to say that such accusations are not but peasant superstition.  While an easy answer, I think it has similar problems to the fist.  Finally, I could steal a page from Raggi's book and state that the Elves who are PCs are only those Elves that are exceptional, i.e. don't want to unmake human society for shits and giggles.

I'm still thinking on this, and it may be a long time before I do a quasi-in setting post on Elves.


  1. I don't think I'd allow Elves as PCs in the sort of campaign it seems like you're going for, and I'd personally think long and hard about allowing any non-human PCs at all.

  2. I've thought about it, and for some reason I can't seem to justify restricting Demi-Humans if I have whole races of creatures such as Orcs and Goblins.

    I also think my Dwarves are more or less playable, though the motivation to loot a human Church is suspect.

  3. I' certainly avoid using your elves as a PC race. Make then avilable to players and they'll lose that sense of "alienness" you've cultivated. They will quickly stop being those mysterious, fickle, fey beings who live in the dakrest woods and simply become "Bob's mushroom-hugging relatives".

  4. Well I'll give you a little of my campaign background for elves-see if any of it works for you.

    The Elves as they are known by man are actually half-elves. The children of the true elves "The Sidhe" and their human slaves. When the Sidhe passed through the Veil to the mortal realm they found and subjugated the barbaric human tribes. Centuries later the Sidhe at the head of their human armies came into conflict with the Dwarves. And realized their vulnerability to iron and steel. A vulnerability their bastard children with human slaves did not possess. so they started breeding a whole new race that would be loyal to the Sidhe, the elves; and would keep the dwarves in check and quash the persistant rebellions of the humans.

    Then the cataclysm happened (there's always a cataclysm), and the Sidhe retreated behind the Veil, but the elves were stuck, in a chaotic world surround by an ever-increasing number of enemies. they suffered greatly for their past loyalty to the Sidhe. Now, even though everyone is weary of the conflict, they are disliked most places and are a dour and brooding people.

    And the Sidhe? They can still pass through the Veil, even though it is a struggle, and take their petty revenge on the humans, the dwarves and the elves who failed them (unless they bought their loyalty with false promises of a way through the Veil).

    I don't know how well that fits with your campaign; but feel free...

  5. You could do worse, in my opinion, than to roll the way Dragon Warriors (a game very similar in tone to your own) - no non-human PCs.

    In other words, I agree with Scott. Again.

  6. I think a great image of dwarves for Nightwick would be the traditional image in the mold of Fafnir. Their motives and actions are decidedly neither human nor very nice. Remember that before very recent times, dwarves were not the tough & stocky race which is so omnipresent now. Rumplestiltskin would make a great dwarf in your campaign, I get the feeling.

    As for elves, I would say that they should stay wild, fey and inscrutable. Half elves would be a definite possibility, but I see them as posing as human to avoid being drowned in a lake or burned at the stake. It would fit with the mood if each had some different, odd physical deformity, matched with a completely unique (mild) power of some kind.

  7. Funny the first guy to comment (I'm looking at you, Scott!) had the best idea 2 years ago:

    Similar to Gratuitous Saxon Violence, Scott made the PC Elf a type of Half-Elf/changeling, the child of a fairy and a human. I played one. As long as the Player knows there's no "Elf" race, that the character is a strange hybrid raised among humans with fighting and spellcasting power, then there's little problem. They're like a mutant or something with special abilities normal (full-blooded) humans do not possess.

  8. Given the setting, I'd go for the Changeling as well.

  9. I absolutely love the changeling idea posed by the comments. But you know me, Evan so you probably already know that.