Making Characters Weird: Elves

Mirkwood Scout by JLazerusEB 
is licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

What's included in this post: 

  • Three things to think about when playing an Elf 
  • A table of "Weird" Character Traits for Elves
  • Swapping standard Elf abilities for new ones to make different sub-races or kinds of Elves, such as Ghost Hunters 

This presents the fifth entry in my series on "making characters weird." The idea is to make small, unexpected tweaks to the standard version of different classes and races to create versions that aren't quite vanilla, Tolkiensian fantasy but at the same time are still recognizable and not full-on "gonzo." Everything here is age-appropriate and allow players and referees to work together to help create and define the campaign setting, especially with regard to the different races. 

Perhaps most importantly, this series is very system and edition-neutral. Any rules changes are now included in italics, and where applicable, I've pointed out how to handle such changes for the 1981 Moldvay Basic (B/X) Edition as well as 5th Edition. Players of other editions can use these as a guideline for making any necessary mechanical changes, but by-and-large, this series is about flavor and role-playing hooks, not mechanics. 

So far, I've covered Fighters, Clerics, Thieves/Rogues, and Dwarves). The remainder of the series will cover halflings and magic-users, after which my plan is to revise and refine some of the entries, expand some areas that I didn't cover yet (for example, when I began the series with Fighters, I didn't include notes on "Playing a Fighter..."), and then publish them all in a supplement that will also include similar weird traits and ideas for other common classes and races such as barbarians, bards, paladins, half-elves, and half-orcs, etc. If this is something that you'd like to see, leave a comment below to let me know. 

PLAYING AN ELF

Out of six players in the current campaign I'm running for my daughter (age 11) and her friends, three of them are playing elves. I wanted to give them some context to think about playing an elf in a game like this, as their knowledge of the typical inspirational fantasy media, such as the Lord of the Rings, is limited or even non-existent. Similar to the dwarves in my world, I want them to be able to draw upon the easily identifiable elf archetypes from the fantasy cannon, so I'm asking them to think about the following three things: 

  1. How long have you been alive? The cliché of the long-lived elf is solidified in most fantasy adventure games, but I want my players to really think about what that might mean in terms of how they view the world and everything around them. Have they always lived among the elves so their world-view is based on the lives of other races being fleeting? Have they left their elven kin and been living among shorter-lived races, having to watch their companions and their enemies reduced by the ravages of time? What are some of the major events your elf has seen in world history that are mere stories to other races? Make a short list of two or three events and give that to your referee to help with fleshing out the campaign world. Perhaps your elf witnessed a great migration of humans from the north, fleeing south toward warmer climates, and the effect that had on the environment and on the other native species. Make sure to work with your referee so your events fit within the campaign's structure, but referees should be open to creative ideas proposed by elf players.  
  2. What trinket do you carry? Every elf always carries a small trinket as a reminder of their childhood and to ground them in a world that seems to be constantly changing around them. What do you carry and why did you choose this as your anchor to remind you of your place in the world? 
  3. Do you feel superior? Another classic elf trope is their inborn sense of superiority, being the longest-lived of the sentient races, combined with their talents for both magic and warfare. Does your elf feel a sense of superiority and act with haughtiness when around what you consider lesser folk? Do you consider your self a mentor with a sense of responsibility for teaching and helping the younger races? Perhaps you have no sense of superiority among other beings and bristle when you come across condescending members of your race.     

WEIRD ELF TRAITS TABLE

Sometimes you want to go beyond the standard definition of an elf to make something unique and different. The traits below might be applicable to all elves, or you could pick and choose to make some sub-races of elves have different traits versus other sub-races. It's also possible that the traits below could be unique - a curiosity of a single elf among other, more common elves. 

For more elf variants, see: 


 

Roll

Weird Trait

1

Geneticists: Elves are believed to have genetically manipulated the creation of other races, such as humans, dwarves, and halflings.  

2

Mysterious Origin: Elves are made from memories and dreams.

3

Distant Homeland: Elves are outcasts from Tír na nÓg, Neverland, Valinor, or other cultures’ land of faeries. They are now stuck on their new realm/planet and aren’t happy about it.

4

Creature Affinity: Elves have an affinity with a certain creature. They claim they share the languages of such creatures but cannot share it with outsiders. B/X: Elves gain a +1 Reaction Roll bonus against such creatures. 5E: Elves gain advantage on Persuasion checks to convince such creatures not to attack. (Roll 1D4):

 

1: Insects.

2: Birds.

3: Rodents.

4: Reptiles.

5

Kidnapped Children: Elves are actually human children who were stolen, raised, and changed by faeries. They may or may not know this.

6

Red Heads: All elves in the world have red hair. When a human is born with red hair, which is very rare, they are considered “elf-blooded.” It’s a sign of good luck.

7

Everyone Is an Elf: The elf insists that all sentient humanoid species like humans, dwarves, halflings, orcs, and goblins are just “different kinds of elves.”

8

Descendants: Elves are descendants of… (Roll 1D4):

 

1: Space Gods.

2: Brain Titans.

3: Sentient Trees.

4: Ancient Secrets.

9

Mystical Dance: Elves will only dance with others of their kind. When they do, strange things happen.

10

Unique: You have never seen another elf. Your earliest memories are of living with… (Roll 1D8):

 

1: Humans.

2: Dwarves.

3: Halflings.

4: Goblins.

5: A type of animal (wolves, bears, etc.)

6: Spirits

7: Dryads

8: Alone

11

Debts: You have a fascination with debts. If someone says “thank you” to you, or accepts a gift, it means they are in your debt. Conversely, if someone tricks you into promising them something, you will keep that promise even if it means your death.

12

Innate Magic: Elves are born with their magical abilities (they don’t learn from studying) and each new spell they learn turns into a tattoo on their body that glows until it’s cast. It doesn’t glow again until “prepared.”

13

Ghoul Affinity: Some claim elves are immune to ghoul paralysis because they share the ghoul’s cannibalistic tendencies. Elves don’t entertain these theories, but don’t deny them, either.

14

Magic Inventors: Elves invented (discovered) magic and dole it out sparingly to human magic-users, always keeping the best spells for themselves. Humans resent this.

15

Magical Affinity: Humans have a better affinity for magic than elves. The elves know this but keep it to themselves.

16

Magic Instructors: In the ancient past, Elves made a deal with… (Roll 1D4 on the table below) to learn how to use magic. One day, their instructors will come to collect a debt from the elves:

 

1: Dragons.

2: Fiends.

3: Eldritch Gods.

4: Aberrant Creatures.

17

Ancient Enemies: Elves insist that celestial bodies are sentient beings and one of them is an ancient enemy of the elves. The elves are a resistance force sent to prepare other races for a final battle. Roll 1D6:

 

1: The Sun.

2: The Moon.

3: A Star.

4: A Constellation.

5: A Comet.

6: A Planet.

18

Awakening: You have the ability to awaken a certain part of nature to speak with it to gain very simple yes or no answers, based on the knowledge of the thing being asked. The referee determines how much, and what kind, of information can be gained in this manner and whether the ability gets more powerful as the elf gains levels. This ability takes the place of the second 1st-level spell gained at 2nd level (B/X and Old School games) or your cantrip (5th Edition). Roll 1D4:   

 

1: Trees.

2: Rocks/Stones.

3: A specific body of water (e.g., a river or lake).

4: Fungi.

19

Nature Avatars: Elves are not true demi-humans or humanoids, but instead are the magical avatars of the spirits of nature.

20

Longevity Illness: Elves suffer a form of mental illness due to their extremely long lifespans, causing them to conflate people and events from different centuries when telling stories or remembering experiences.  

 

ALTERNATIVE ELVES

These different types of elves can be created in old-school games such as B/X or Old School Essentials, by swapping out the standard elf racial abilities for new ones. While there are mechanics involved with these changes, the concepts can be easily applied to other versions of the game, such as 5th Edition. 


  • THE GHOST HUNTER
    • Personality: Grim, obsessed, decisive
    • Detect Undead: 
      • 2-in-6 chance to detect undead within 60' 
      • Replaces Listening at Doors
    • Fearless:
      • +1 Saving Throw bonus to against spells or abilities originating from undead
      • Replaces Detect Secret Doors
  • THE FOREST CHILD
    • Personality: Self-sufficient, unconstrained, resilient
    • Hiding: 
      • Gains the Halfling "Hiding" ability (see Halfling in Core Rules)
      • Replaces: Immunity to Ghoul Paralysis and Detect Secret Doors
    • Magic:
      • If you have access to the Advanced Fantasy Druid & Illusionist Spells for Old School Essentials, consider swapping the elf's magic-user spell list with the druid spell list
  • THE SILENT STALKER
    • Personality: Secretive, adaptable, determined
    • Stealthy:
      • Gains the ability to Hide in Shadows and Move Silently as a thief of the same level 
      • Replaces: Listening at Doors and Detect Secret Doors
  • A DYING RACE
    • Personality: Quiet, reserved, and contemplative
    • Ancient Lore:
      • 2-in-6 chance to know information related to ancient history, geography, dead languages, etc. 
      • Replaces: Listening at Doors
    • Stoic:
      • +1 bonus to saving throws versus fear effects (e.g., a mummy's paralyze with terror ability)
      • Replaces: Immunity to Ghoul Paralysis
    • Melancholy:
      • +1 Reaction Roll bonus among other elves
      • -1 Reaction Roll bonus among other demi-humans
  • ADVANCED INVASION FORCE
    • Scouts from another realm/plane/planet to either invade the world, or to prepare it fight against a hostile force
    • Personality: Strict, militaristic, speaks in short fragments
    • Surprise: 
      • Only surprised on a roll of 1 (normally 1-2)
      • Surprise others with a 3-in-6 if acting alone or with other elves of its kind (normally 1-2) 
      • Replaces: Immunity to Ghoul Paralysis and Detect Secret Doors



As always, I really appreciate comments from people, whether positive or negative. Let me know which traits or ideas you liked or didn't like, and feel free to suggest new ones. As I look toward the idea of publishing these in the future, I'm looking to include ideas from the community and will credit them accordingly. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Seghesio 2018 Zinfandel
Listening: "Car Wash" by the Christian McBride Trio, from the album "Live at the Village Vanguard"


Comments

  1. The subject of age and how an older elven character interacts with younger human peers hasn't been addressed enough. Some great stuff here!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting (and specifically, for commenting here on my blog as opposed to social media - it makes it so much easier for find the comments).

      Yeah, I really wanted to push this idea for my players, particularly because they are younger and don't (yet) have the history of having read or watched Lord of the Rings, so the idea of just long how these elves might have lived is kind of lost on them, and they end up just playing humans with pointed ears.

      I've found that, rather than give them a 2-page background of what elves are like in my world, which even my adult players won't bother reading, it's easier to say "please think about these three and get back to me" and to make sure that the three things an elf thinks about are different than the three things a dwarf or halfling thinks about.

      Cheers!

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  2. Interesting take on the elves, I liked the random background tidbits. An imaginative player can go a long way with any of those. Also the three questions are a good way to help a player kickstart a character.
    My more recent musings were on elven society rather than elves as individuals, you can find them here and steal anything that strikes your fancy. http://alesmiter.blogspot.com/2020/10/feudal-wilderlands-part-vii-elves.html?m=0

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. And, yes, the random backgrounds are intended to give a little boost to an imaginative player and/or DM to make their elves a bit different than standard Tolkien style elves. Players might decide their individual elves act like this, while a DM could create an entire sub-race of elves that follow these backgrounds, or perhaps decide all elves are like this.

      Thanks again, and also thanks for sharing the link to your blog. Cheers!

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  3. I very much approve of this, because I don't think rpg elves aren't as weird as they should be, given they are supposed to be otherworldly and fey, and your approach here restores that oddness.

    I like the elves in LotFP, that burn if doused in holy water, because that's the sort of weirdness I think they should have. I had a setting/adventure idea that vampires were the "final form" of elves, returned from the future because they had exhausted their food supply, a concept that was influenced by the elf-like Sheeda from Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers. Present-day elves hated vampires and hunted them down wherever they appeared, because the elves understood what the creatures were and were both horrified and ashamed.

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    Replies
    1. I love that idea with vampires as the "final form" of elves. You should resurrect that setting/adventure idea!

      And thanks - I was trying to restore some of the otherworldliness of the elves, and with all of the races, with this series of posts. I think far too often, with all the options for playable races, they just become like Star Trek races, as "humans with forehead ridges" that are all the same. I think it's really difficult to get into the mind of an alien/fantasy creature, so we all just play them as humans with different ears, and focus instead on the mechanics of mixing race-and-class to maximum combat effectiveness.

      When we do try to roleplay differences, it's very surface-level, cliché stuff like "Dwarves are dour and drink a lot" or "elves are aloof." I'm trying to add more to the arsenal and get out of the comfort zone of how people look at the different races to provide more ideas for role-playing.

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    2. Yes, you're quite right, there's a tendency to see them as a package of modifiers and abilities, but what you're doing here should add a bit more character and interest to them, and give players a hook to use for roleplaying. Good stuff!

      Delete
    3. Thanks very much! I really appreciate the compliment!

      Delete

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