Monday, January 12, 2015

The Elf

Rules Cyclopedia: Page 25, The Elf Class

Here's an alternative implementation of the Elf Class that shifts the focus from the traditional D&D Elf to something a little stranger and unpredictable. I've had this in my house rules for a while now, but was recently reminded of it by noisms' excellent recent posts about his Faerie Knights. Let me know what you think or how you would hack it.

Prime Requisite: Charisma
Hit Dice: d6
Armor Training: +2 (Medium Armor)

Class Abilities:

Tied To The Seasons:
Elfs are mystically tied to the seasons by a magical grove that is planted on their “birth” in the Unseen Lands from which they hail. 
It is said that when an Elf laughs, wind rustles the branches and leaves of their grove, whilst tears shed by an Elf (often when regarding a thing of beauty, or in mirth or joy) provide rain. Sadness and brooding can produce violent storms. It is night in the grove when an Elf sleeps, and day when awake.
BECMI Rules: an Elf's grove is initially equivalent to 1 hex of untamed wilderness in the Unseen Lands, with a potential to increase in size (by an adjacent hex per level) as the Elf gains experience levels.

Domain level play for Elfs typically takes place primarily in the Unseen Lands, but this is fraught with peril, as conquering a hex typically involves politically embarrassing, winning archery contests, haggling and barter, or sometimes outright slaying another, adjacent Elf as real estate is at a premium.

Level-draining attacks raze a hex worth of wilderness grove, one hex per level lost.
Notably, an Elf's physical appearance and personality will also take on vastly different aspects in relation to their current season.

These quirks may have given rise to the tendency for Humans to try to classify a particular Elf into the more familiar sub-types (High Elfs, Wood Elfs, Dark Elfs).

At the start of play, an Elf can choose or roll on the following table to determine the current season in their grove, and gains the appropriate boons and immunities.

Roll or Choose
Elf Type
Spring Low-Light Vision
High Elf”
Charm Person
Summer Exceptional Hearing
Wood Elf”
Autumn Detect Secret Doors
City Elf”
Protection from Evil
Winter Darkvision
Dark Elf”
Ghoul Paralysis

Here all the “traditional” Elf abilities are preserved, but are not all present in a given Elf simultaneously.
Spring/High Elfs:
Elfs in the season of Spring are at their tallest (often exceeding six feet) and most beautiful to humans. They possess a difficult to quantify savoir-faire, and are said to appear noble or comport themselves with an intrinsically regal bearing that is slightly unsettling and sinister (they possess large, unblinking eyes). Lighter hair colors and eye pigmentation predominate. “High Elfs” tend to be predisposed to political intrigue, courtly behavior, and arrogance. They are the self-styled “Lords” and “Ladies” of the courts and ruling classes of the Unseen Lands, where they favor high places like mountain tops, on which they build impressive castles to exact fealty from Elfs of other Seasons.

I always think of Mucha's Seasons when it comes to these Elfs.

Summer/Wood Elfs:
Summer Elfs shrink several inches from their height in Spring, and tend to broaden and become more sinewy in shape. Their skin darkens significantly and often takes a cast of olive green or loamy brown. Hair and eyes also seem to favor darker shades with tints of the forest, which possesses a powerful draw for Elfs in this Season. Their ears enlarge significantly. Xenophobic, insular, and bellicose personality traits tend to dominate the colloquially termed “Wood Elfs.”

Yes, you guessed it. They look like these guys.

Autumn/City Elfs:
Unfettered by the Superstition that limits them in other Seasons, Elfs in the Autumnal are most at home among other races and civilization in general. Often exceptionally daring and sociable, they work extremely well with others. Hair and pigmentation lighten from their Summer forms, and can even take on a seasonal cast featuring vibrant oranges, fiery reds, and even shades of purplish brown. They are slightly taller than their previous forms and seem preternaturally predisposed to haggling, good-natured trickery, and merry-making.

Have to fit these Elfs in here somewhere. Yes, Autumn Elfs can grow beards.

Winter/Dark Elfs:
When winter arrives at an Elf's grove, their hair becomes bone white or sometimes fall out completely. They are the shortest, rarely approaching five feet tall. Their skin is often eerily pale, with the occasional bluish, almost bruise-like cast. Their fingernails grow sharp and harden into small talons, and they become virtually nocturnal due to a sensitivity to sunlight brought on by their pallor and sensitive vision (their grove is sunlit when they sleep). They are rapacious, carnivorous, and untrustworthy, with an affinity for wolves and other creatures of the night.

Something akin to this, only slightly less “Undead-y.” Slightly. Or if you prefer, go with Shadow Elves.

An Elf may voluntarily shift the season of their grove in the Unseen Lands (moving to the next season in order) at any time, but this is a painful and grotesque transformation that is gruesome to behold when done without the proper attunement ritual (this typically involves fasting for a full day and night, on a full or new moon, or a pilgrimage to their grove in the Unseen Lands).
Rules: An Elf takes 2d6 damage when changing seasons without the ritual. The process takes a number of rounds equal to the highest roll of these two dice. The process can be hastened to a single round at the cost of an additional die of damage.
Entrances to the unseen lands are found in hexes with the usual chance to find hidden/concealed doors (1 in 6). These chances increase by 1 for Wood Elfs in a Forest Hex, City Elfs in a Settlement, Dark Elfs Underground (natural caverns only, or maybe in Swamps), and High Elfs in the Mountains. Chances also increase if the prevailing season is present in the Seen Lands (A snow covered forest in winter, lends a 2 in 6 chance to locate an entrance to a “Dark Elf” for example. While a City hex in the Fall has a 3 in 6 chance of yielding an entrance to the Unseen Lands for a “City Elf”).
Elfs only age (a single year) when shifting from Winter to Spring, lending credence to the oft-held superstitions concerning their immortality. Age to an Elf is a mostly voluntary process, and this seasons their outlook on life with a bit of hedonism and contempt for the more mortal races. They will often spend decades in a given Season, associating with only others of the same. Due to the marked change in appearance, it is quite possible to meet the same Elf twice over the course of your lifetime, and not recognize them.
Rules: Elfs subjected to aging attacks are actually affected normally, but attacks of this nature will also cause the Elf to suddenly shift to the next Season, taking the associated damage. An Elf's natural lifespan is roughly equivalent to that of the human stock from which they are all derived, when they are stolen as human children/babies by a pair of Elfs wishing to breed.
Elfs of venerable age inevitably become exceptionally cautious of changing seasons and will go to extreme lengths to maintain their current forms, for it is rumored that an Elf that reaches the end of his or her lifespan forgets much of this life, becomes quite diminutive in height, broadens significantly, and wizens, becoming a Dwarf. Dwarfs are naturally bitter when confronted by these reminders of their formerly beautiful and graceful states. Elfs, are often disgusted when confronted with their mortality in physical form, which partially justifies the traditional animosity between the two races.
Rules: An Elf that reaches it's Level Limit, instead of retiring from play can choose to begin advancement as a Level 1 Dwarf with the ability to forge Fey Metal and Elf Gold. An upcoming entry on Dwarfs will expound upon this process.
Elf Gold:
Elfs begin play with 2d6 pieces of Elf Gold. These coins appear to be made of purest gold but inevitably turn into gorse blossoms, leaves, acorns, or small gingerbread cakes an hour after being spent outside of the Unseen Lands (subject to Season). The Elf's name appears on the coin in Elfish, along with their stylized profile on one face, and a significant event in the Elf's life on the other.
Elfs use this Gold as currency in the Unseen Lands, and often trade it for things considered strange/unseemly from the real world (feudal serfs from the Seen Lands, songs, sweets, baby teeth, etc). The value of these commodities tends to vary greatly by Season, but an Elf can always acquire more Elf Gold from their brethren in the Unseen Lands by trade or performing services.

Additional Languages:
Elfs possess the ability to Speak (not necessarily write) the following languages in addition to Elf and the nearest local Human dialect: one Seasonal language and the language of one animal species native to their current region and season.

Animal Language (Choose or Roll)
Avian (all manner of birds)
Canine (dogs, wolves, foxes)
Rodents (rats, beavers, rabbits, etc.)
Feline (lions, tigers, domestic cats)
Serpentine (all manner of snakes)
Bovine (cattle, antelope, deer)
Saurian (all legged reptiles)
Equine (horses, mules, unicorns)
Ursine (bears, wolverines, badgers)
Aquatic (bony fishes)


During all seasons save Autumn, Elfs are affected by the Cleric or Magic-User spell Protection from Evil as if they were an Enchanted Creature, regardless of the Elf's actual alignment or intentions.

Cold Iron is Poisonous:
This prevents them from utilizing man-made worked armor and weapons. Instead, Elfs use a legendary alloy colloquially called “Fey Metal” which possesses many of the same properties of high quality steel, but without harming the Elf. Fey Metal can only be forged in the Unseen Lands, by ancient Elfs or more commonly, Dwarfs of exceptional skill. Price is in Elf Gold or feudal services to an Elf Lord or Lady, whose intrigues and machinations often spill out onto the Seen Lands.
Elfs take 1 point of damage per turn of prolonged contact with worked iron and it's derivatives. Attacks with weapons do normal damage. Although this damage cannot reduce an Elf below 1 hit point, the damage cannot be conventionally healed without a week-long sabbatical to their grove in the Unseen Lands.

Sweet Tooth:
Sugar is a mild intoxicant to Elfs, much like alcohol to Humans. It can also be highly addictive.
Elfs must make a saving throw versus Poison each time they consume sugar or food/beverages containing sugar. Failure indicates that they start to suffer the effects of inebriation (a cumulative -1 penalty per item consumed). Once they have partaken, it is often difficult to refuse additional helpings (easily implemented with a Wisdom check). 

Some notes for conversion to 5e:

Although this may work better for Race as Class systems, here are some rough notes for implementation in Fifth Edition.

Tied To The Seasons:
You may determine that each season comes with some associated Ability Score bonuses/penalties, or perhaps different sets of Skill Proficiencies. I haven't thought too much about that, as it seems like it would engender too much bookkeeping or the need for four separate character sheets! Level drain razes 1 mile of their grove per point of damage.

Entrances to the Unseen Lands:
As above, but Elfs instead gain Advantage on Perception (for City Elfs) or Nature rolls to locate the entrance in favorable conditions.

Aging Attacks:
In 5e, I'd potentially allow the player to choose to age the years or shift seasons.

As above but for Protection from Evil and Good. Optionally, Elfs can be rebuked through Clerical Turning in all seasons but Autumn.

Cold Iron is Poisonous:
Elfs have gain the Poisoned Condition after wielding or wearing items made of worked iron or it's derivatives. To remove this condition, they must purify themselves in their grove within the Unseen Lands (a long rest in their grove should be sufficient).

Sweet Tooth:
CON check, DC 10 + 2 per serving. First failure results in the Poisoned Condition (alleviated by a long rest, short rest gives a Save). Must make a WIS check (same DC) after each serving to refrain from continuing to partake. Three successive failures result in the Elf passing out, and waking with a “hangover” and the Poisoned condition. Alternatively, just use the Exhaustion table.

Still to do: Finish up the Seasonal Elf Spell Lists for BECMI. I really like the idea of each Season coming with a corresponding Spell List, and I'll be mining the Druid Spell list, GAZ 5: The Elves of Alfheim, and GAZ: 13 The Shadow Elves for ideas.

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