Monday, January 14, 2019

A Matter of Mayfair Games & Elves - More OSR Campaign Commentary

Way back in the mists of time in Nineteen Eighty Three Mayfair Games had the Role Aids line of products. They offered an inexpensive gap to help fill in some of the gap that was left in the mythology of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition at the time. Over the weekend I got together with some friends to discuss  Elves Book as a possible source for my upcoming OSR Castles & Crusades campaign. It was an interesting night to say the least.

Elves has a very innovative set up to its layout. The dungeon master is presented with different Elven adventure locations, NPC's, & adventure set ups that relate to the different Elven race variants that are presented in the book. Once again its got that classic AD&D pseudo Tolkein Dungeons & Dragons race out of pop culture legend.

Which is fine because it doesn't violate what I want to do in terms of my campaign mythology. According to the Wiki Entry on Mayfair games Elves; 
"Elves is a supplement describing elven characters and the various elven cultures, history, and gods. With six scenarios for elf characters, levels 4-7, one for each type of elf: wood elves, grey elves, dark elves, high elves, etc"I don't agree with the old take from Robert Dale review of  Elves for White Dwarf #57;"Robert Dale reviewed Elves for White Dwarf #57, giving the book a rating of 3 out of 10 overall.[3] He called Elves "execrable, excruciating and extortionate", stating that "the price should dissuade any self-respecting gamer" from buying it.[3] He felt that the purpose of the book, to aid roleplaying, is negated by the pseudo-scientific style in which the material is presented. He found that the adventures in the book were not specifically designed for elves.[3] Dale concluded that Elves was a "merely amateur" rehashing of "widely current material lacking the redeeming features of a coherent setting or adequate presentation."" This is a really harsh view of the 'Elves' product in my mind & given the varying quality of Mayfair material its easy to see his opinion. But remember that Elves was made in Eighty Three & we only had Dragon magazine to disseminate 'official' material to the dungeon masters.  This fits in with the overall history of Mayfair Games Role Aids of the time; 
"Elves was written by Cheron Fitzgerald Carr and Delbert Carr, Jr., with Daniel GreenbergAnne Jaffe, and Sam Shirley, with a cover by Janny Wurts, and was published by Mayfair Games in 1983 as a 96-page book.[1] A second printing was published in 1985.[1]
After the publication of Dwarves, the fourth Role Aids supplement, Mayfair Games published additional AD&D Role Aids supplements quickly and in volume. The line featured many adventures as well as an increasing number of source books, including race- and class-related books like Dark Folk (1983), Wizards (1983) and Elves (1983). Each product proclaimed its use with AD&D, though the disclaimer was soon moved to the back cover.[2]:"

In my games the Elves are the Huldra ("hidden being") from the  Scandinavian languages. They were bred as a slave race for the gods of Fairy. They are all that remains of a race of extinct gods that parished across the planes. They have spiritually degenerated in some areas but traces of their elder leaders remain; 

"The Old High German word alp is attested only in a small number of glosses. It is defined by the Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch as a "nature-god or nature-demon, equated with the Fauns of Classical mythology ... regarded as eerie, ferocious beings ... As the mare he messes around with women".[104] Accordingly, the German word Alpdruck (literally "elf-oppression") means "nightmare". There is also evidence associating elves with illness, specifically epilepsy.[105]
In a similar vein, elves are in Middle German most often associated with deceiving or bewildering people "in a phrase that occurs so often it would appear to be proverbial: die elben/der alp trieget mich ("the elves/elf are/is deceiving me").[106] The same pattern holds in Early Modern German.[107][108] This deception sometimes shows the seductive side apparent in English and Scandinavian material:[105] most famously, the early thirteenth-century Heinrich von Morungen's fifth Minnesang begins "Von den elben wirt entsehen vil manic man / Sô bin ich von grôzer liebe entsên" ("full many a man is bewitched by elves / thus I too am bewitched by great love").[109] Elbe was also used in this period to translate words for nymphs.[110]
In later medieval prayers, Elves appear as a threatening, even demonic, force. For example, there are prayers which invoke God's help against noctural attacks by Alpe.[111]Correspondingly, in the early modern period, elves are described in north Germany doing the evil bidding of witches; Martin Luther believed his mother to have been afflicted in this way" 

This fits some but not all of the basic adventure conceits of Castles & Crusades "The Codex Celtarum". The fact that many of the ideas of various Elven nation states & tribes being part of the roiling chaos of Fairy. Brian Young does a really good job of taking the various Celtic mythological elements & presenting them in a viable & yet playable way.


We seem to have this view point that Elves are at once familiar & yet utterly alien to the human race. The fact is that half Elves are a perfect example of the utter alieness of these creatures. They are like humans but simply better. Stronger, faster, better reflexes, more attractive, & much longer lived. All of these up point the fact that Half Elves don't fit into Elven or human society. Why would creatures who are almost immortal breed with humans?!  Half Elves are the perfect filter between Elves & humanity. 
Elves with their patience, longevity, emotional capacity for violence, interactions with humans, and how they treat half-elves all speak of a race on the ragged edge of extinction. Sure this might take another million years or so but this is the blink of an eye to a race that lives for two thousand or more years. 

To humans these beings were gods or at least lesser godly spirits. But one thing I'm not going to be doing is shedding a spot light on all of the divine mysteries of the campaign. The Role Aids products varied in their setting  background  material & divine gods. Why?! Because various authors & designers were used on the books. So many setting & campaign elements don't jive together coherently. I'm going to let the players fill in the details in the matter of the gods & their various wars with the Elves. The History & Lore of Elves in Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons  has me even concerned. But that's going to be put on the back burner. I'll be using the Elven race as a light snack for all kinds of horrors in the more modern age end of the campaign. But time & again I've seen Elven adventurers used as a part of some pulp or super hero group in various table top role playing circles. 

Now given Amazing Adventures! Rpg 's  Book of Powers is easily available its pretty simple to convert or create a wide variety of Elven & sub Elven races as needed. There are even more options on the table given some of the OSR titles on the market.

Sure it sounds like I'm offering a lot of great PC options at the table but actually what I'm doing is setting up the players for all kinds of future mayhem! There will be a price to be paid coming up!

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