Thursday, May 21, 2020

Good Elves

The B/X Elf class is lackluster. It doesn't have any interesting flavor, and the huge XP-to-level price tag makes it a chore to play--nobody wants to be stuck with a measly 1d6 HP for twice as long as their compatriots. 

Here are three different ways to handle it, ordered by the degree to which they inhabit the existing vanilla B/X design space.

Option One: Clerics as Elves


The default Cleric kit actually works excellently as a Tolkienian Elf kit, with a few adjustments. I almost think it works better for elves than it does for priests in the pseudo-Greco-Roman polytheism that tends to be the assumed setting of D&D.

Credit: Arihiko Yoshida I think?

Many of the spells available to Clerics are actually rather elf-y; warding off evil, healing wounds and diseases, enhancing the strength and efficacy of their actions. They can wear heavy armor, and fight ably. Even Turn Undead has parallels in the ability of Tolkien's elves to frighten and repel the Black Riders and other servants of the Enemy. 

To convert the Cleric chassis into an Elf, I would make the following adjustments:
  • Remove the edged weapon restriction--elves often wield swords, spears, and bows.
  • On their spell list, replace Snake Charm with Detect Invisible, Sticks to Snakes with Growth of Plants, and Insect Plague with Hold Monster.
  • Remove the need for a holy symbol--the Elf's power comes from their inherent nature, not their worship of a deity. 
  • If this is appropriate for your setting, "re-fluff" spells as magic songs (for instance, Cure Wounds could be a Song of Healing, Protection from Evil a Song of Warding, etc...).
  • Increase the XP progression to match the Fighter if you are using the vanilla B/X XP progression. 
With these few relatively minor changes, you have a perfectly serviceable ready-made Elf that resembles the "source material" far more closely than the Fighter/M-U hybrid that normally exists in the game. 

You could have this class co-exist with vanilla Clerics, or supplant them entirely.

Option Two: Weirdo Iron-Averse Elves


This is something I was workshopping on the OSR Discord. My main design goal here was to take the vanilla B/X Elf chassis (Fighter + M-U with a d6 HD) and add a bunch of restrictions that would A) promote interesting play, and B) justify reducing the XP price-tag to something far more manageable.

The end result is some unholy mashup of Tolkienian elves, folkloric elves, and trad D&D concepts. I took inspiration from the iron-aversion often ascribed to fairies, and the traditional Druidic restrictions on metal equipment.

Credit: John Howe

The prime requisites for an Elf are Dexterity & Wisdom. If an Elf has a score of 13 or greater in both Dexterity and Wisdom they will gain a +5% adjustment to XP earned. If the Elf's Dexterity is 13 or greater and their Wisdom is 16 or greater they will gain a +10% adjustment to XP earned. The Elf requires 2,800 XP to attain 2nd level. The Elf to-hit matrix advances like a Fighter. The Elf saves as the vanilla B/X Elf.


Restrictions: Elves use six-sided dice (d6) to determine their hitpoints. They may advance to a maximum of 12th level of experience. Elves have an aversion to iron, and may not use weapons, armor, shields, or tools made of iron, steel, or adamantine (which bears the same alchemical relation to common iron as gold does to lead); they may, however, use equipment made of copper, bronze, silver, organic matter (animal & plant products), and mithril. Some types of equipment may not be created out of certain materials. See Elven Equipment (at the end of this post) for rules for purchasing or creating such items.


Elves may cast spells as a Magic-User of the same level. (Note: I’m actually really tempted to have them cast spells as a Cleric of equivalent level instead, but I stuck to M-U here for the sake of keeping some commonality with the original B/X Elf. If you give them Cleric casting, probably make their XP progression better. Also, if you’re running this in OSE or some other system w/ Druids, replacing their spells w/ Druid casting might make a lot of sense too.)


Elves must have a minimum of 9 WIS.


Special Abilities: Elves can see by starlight as if it were bright sunlight. They gain +1 to-hit with missile weapons. They have only a 10% chance to be spotted in a natural environment when wearing an elven cloak. They suffer +1 damage per die when struck by weapons made from iron or steel, and +2 damage per die when struck by adamantine weapons, as a consequence of their weakness to iron. 


Option Three: Tolkienian Song-Magic Elves


This is shamelessly ripped from the Tolkien-themed computer roguelike Sil, in which you play an intrepid adventurer plumbing the depths of Angband with the end-goal of stealing a Silmaril from Morgoth's iron crown. The game already runs on sort of TTRPG-logic, with RNG results expressed as XdY dice rolls and whatnot, and most of the rules are helpfully compiled in a PDF manual, so it was a relatively easy process to convert them to B/X-compatible format. This is the least in line with the traditional B/X design sensibilities of the versions I've presented, so keep that in mind.

Credit: Julie Dillon


The prime requisites for an Elf are Strength & Wisdom. If an Elf has a score of 13 or greater in both Strength and Wisdom they will gain a +5% adjustment to XP earned. If the Elf's Strength is 13 or greater and their Wisdom is 16 or greater they will gain a +10% adjustment to XP earned. The Elf requires 2,800 XP to attain 2nd level. The Elf to-hit matrix advances like a Fighter. The Elf saves as the vanilla B/X Elf.


Restrictions: Elves use six-sided dice (d6) to determine their hitpoints. They may advance to a maximum of 10th level of experience. They may use shields and can wear any type of armor, and can fight with any kind of weapon. Elves must be able to speak to sing magic songs.


Elves must have a minimum of 9 WIS.


Special Abilities: Elves can see by starlight as if it were bright sunlight. They have only a 10% chance to be spotted in a natural environment when wearing an elven cloak. They have the ability to sing magic songs; they learn one song per level, either rolled randomly or selected by the player at the Dungeon Master's discretion. The Elf may sing for up to one exploration turn per Elf level. When the Elf stops singing a magic song, they are unable to sing it again until they get a full night's sleep. The Dungeon Master should increase encounter chance while the Elf is singing most songs. At 7th level, the Elf learns to add a minor theme to their song, allowing them to sing two songs simultaneously.


The following songs are available to Elves:


1. Song of Elbereth: Causes fear in intelligent enemies, giving them a 1+[1/3 Elf level] penalty to morale.

2. Song of Slaying: Gain a +1 to-hit and damage for each enemy slain in the previous combat round.

3. Song of Silence: Muffles all sound within 60'. Communication cannot be carried out at distance. Thieves gain a +[5 x Elf level]% boost to Move Silently.

4. Song of Freedom: Elf Saves vs. Paralysis/Petrification at +4, gains +2 to Force Doors, and traps and locked doors within 60' have an [Elf level]% chance each to disarm or unlock themselves.

5. Song of the Trees: Elf is illuminated from within, casting a pure clean light that shines up to 30' brightly and 60' dimly. Any light sources the Elf carries double their illuminated radius.

6. Song of Staying: Elf reduces incoming damage by [1/2 Elf level], minimum 1.

7. Song of Lorien: Foes are lulled into unwariness, and are twice as likely to be surprised. Anyone who listens to this song for a whole exploration turn must Save vs. Magic Spells or be put to sleep.

8. Song of Este: Recover [1/3 Elf level] HP per exploration turn. Elf Saves vs. Death & Poison at +2.

9. Song of Sharpness: Edged weapons gain [1/2 Elf level] bonus to-hit against armored enemies, minimum +1.

10. Song of Mastery: Foes within 30' must Save vs. Paralysis/Petrification each combat round or fail to take any action.



Elven Equipment


Because of their weakness to iron, the elves described in Option 2 require different equipment than most other adventurers. Sylvan or “Green-Elves” might prefer equipment hand-crafted from natural materials like stones, wood, and animal or monster parts, whereas “light” or “high” elves might prefer to use bronze, silver, or the coveted mithril. No such specific restrictions have been placed, but the Dungeon Master may expect players to choose equipment suitable to the culture from which their elf hails.


These rules can also be used by non-elven characters, should they desire equipment made from unconventional materials.


Bronze equipment can be procured in most large towns and cities, but perhaps not in small hamlets. Bronze equipment both costs and weighs 25% more than the steel equivalent.


The following bronze equipment can be purchased: hand axe, quarrels, arrows, daggers, short swords, maces, javelins, lances, pole arms, spears, war hammers, breastplates (as chain), panoply (as plate), crowbar, grappling-hook, hammer (small), spikes, lantern, tinder box.


Wooden, stone, & bone equipment must be crafted from foraged material. They can only be obtained via hand-crafting and barter, and have no fixed price. Weapons crafted from these materials are at a -1 to-hit and damage compared to an equivalent metal weapon. Non-metallic items on the standard equipment list (leather armor, wooden poles and stakes, clubs, bows, etc...) can also be crafted, and are at no penalty to-hit and damage.


The following equipment can be crafted from normal natural materials: hand axe, arrows, daggers, maces, javelins, spears, war hammers, lamellar armor (as chain -1), hammer (small).


The Dungeon Master may allow uncommon materials to be crafted into equipment not on the above list (the fang of some great sabertoothed beast, for instance, might be used to create a sword, or the armor-plated hide of a bulette could be turned into plate-mail). The Dungeon Master should also grant special properties to equipment crafted from the remains of monsters with unique or magical abilities.


Mithril equipment is immensely valuable. Any metallic object may be forged out of mithril. Objects made from mithril weigh half as much as their steel equivalents. The Dungeon Master may allow players to purchase mithril equipment at a major capital or trade center for twenty times the price of the steel equivalent, or for ten times the price at a friendly elf-home or dwarf-hold.


Elven cloaks can be purchased at a friendly elf-home for 150 GP. They are exceptionally comfortable and high-quality travelling cloaks that serve as natural camouflage when used to shield a wearer from view.


Items discovered in adventures will usually be made of iron or steel, unless the site being explored is of great antiquity or of elven provenance. When encountering a piece of metallic equipment, the Dungeon Master may decide what metal it is made of, or roll on the following table:









2 comments:

  1. clerics becoming elves is a good idea, since clerics also sometimes suffer from the same conceptual homelessness as elves do.

    Song elves are probably inspired by Luthien: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beren_and_L%C3%BAthien

    which makes me wonder why they don't get a persuasion spell (since they got a sleep spell).

    If I have a criticism, is that's the elven song spell list is too unfocused. It makes the elf into a generalist. I might cut songs 1, 2, and 6 (the combat-focused songs) and focus on building spells around a stronger theme (sleep? peace? forests?) and maybe making them things that are suitable for ongoing buffs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh wow, I didn't even notice I got a comment!

      Yeah, so the song elf list is fundamentally my testament to my ultimate laziness, since it's basically a one-for-one conversion of the one in Sil.

      This leads to there being some missing pieces, since Sil is a computer roguelike set entirely in the haunted halls of Angband.

      At some point, I would consider re-writing the song elf thing to be more bespoke and less of a quick-and-dirty conversion.

      I also think that Clerics-as-Elves is maybe actually the best idea in this post despite it being the most simple.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete

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