ELVES (and Fairies): Armed with deadly bows and magical swords, Elves (and Fairies) are dangerous opponents considering their size and build. They can perform split-move and fire, even though they are footmen. When invisible Elves (and Fairies) cannot attack -- or be attacked unless located by an enemy with the special ability to detect hidden or invisible troops -- but they can become visible and attack during the some turn. Those Elves (and Fairies) armed with magical weapons add an extra die in normal combat, and against other fantastic creatures they will perform even better... [CM p. 29]Per the Fantasy Reference Table [CM p. 43], we see the following: Elves have a 12" move rate. They have special abilities A, B, and C (ability to become invisible [Halflings only in brush or woods]; see in normal darkness as if it were light; and split-move and fire). They have missile fire range of 18"; they attack as Heavy Foot, and also defend as Heavy Foot.
So, you see -- Elves as they first appear in Chainmail, following their Tolkien inspiration, are simply uber-everything. Their speed is equal to the fastest men afoot; their armor and hitting power is the same as heavy foot; their missile range is better than normal archers; they can see in darkness; and by default they are invisible and simply cannot be attacked by normal troops unless they wish it. That's a very powerful troop type! (Point value is quadruple standard light foot; double that of dwarves, for example.)
Elves: Elves can begin as either Fighting-Men or Magic-Users and freely switch class whenever they choose, from adventure to adventure, but not during the course of a single game. Thus, they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and still act as Magic-Users. However, they may not progress beyond 4th level Fighting-Man (Hero) nor 8th level Magic-User (Warlock). Elves are more able to note secret and hidden doors. They also gain the advantages noted in the CHAINMAIL rules when fighting certain fantastic creatures. Finally, Elves are able to speak the languages of Orcs, Hobgoblins, and Gnolls in addition to their own (Elvish) and the other usual tongues. [Vol-1, p. 8]This is the OD&D player's description for elves, with its infamous "switch class" language that so many of us have struggled to interpret. Presumably the magic-user class access is what explains how they might get the invisibility power after a few levels. Also, they are given special dispensation to "use magic armor" and still function as magic-users. In addition to this, they also get special detection abilities, numerous extra languages, and a fold-in of their Chainmail special attack abilities. Now for the monster side:
ELVES: Elves are of two general sorts, those who make their homes in woodlands and those who seek the remote meadowlands. For every 50 Elves encountered there will be one of above-normal capabilities. Roll a four-sided die for level of fighting and a six-sided die for level of magical ability, treating any 1's rolled as 2's and 6's (magical level),as 5's. For every 100 encountered there will be a Hero/Warlock. One-half of the Elves in any given party will be bow armed, the other half will bear spears, and all will have swords in addition. Elves have the ability of moving silently and are nearly invisible in their gray-green cloaks. Elves armed with magical weapons will add one pip to dice rolled to determine damage, i.e. when a hit is scored the possible number of damage points will be 2-7 per die. Elves on foot may split-move and fire. Mounted Elves may not split-move and fire, for they are not naturally adapted to horseback. [Vol-2, p. 16]From the Monster Reference Table [Vol-2, p. 4] -- Elves have AC 5, MV 12", and HD 1+1. So: Very much following the precedent of Chainmail, with directly converted armor (as chain-type mail, i.e., same as heavy foot), identical movement, and a special hit dice bonus. Their combined armor & movement seem to violate the rules for player encumbrance, however (and this will be basically carried forward into future editions, as well).
Many of their listed abilities are further reminiscent of the Chainmail text (magic weapons, split-move and fire, etc.) One thing that jumps out for me is the language on being "nearly invisible in their gray-green cloaks", which reads like a naturalistic retcon of their earlier invisibility power (and a quite defensible one). Also, it's a bit unclear if all of the elves in a group have spell ability, or if the player's "switch class" language should mean that they are currently "switched" to fighters-only, or even if they are intended to have no relation at all. One other thing you see in the opening line is the first hint of different "sorts" of elves, which later on will explode into sheer craziness (IMO).
Also, in the magic items section, we see:
Elven Cloak and Boots: Wearing the Cloak makes a person next to invisible, while the Boots allow for totally silent movement. [Vol-2, p. 37]How invisible is "next to invisible"? Are these meant to be the exact same "gray-green cloaks" worn by all elves in the monster description (or, instead, a magic facsimile for non-elves)? Does the color detail mean they only work as camouflage in woodsy surroundings (like the restriction for Halflings from Chainmail)? [Shaking Magic 8-Ball] Reply hazy, try again.
But then, the Greyhawk supplement to OD&D (Sup-I) did a pretty comprehensive re-tooling of all the demi-human races. They all get access to the new thief class (in various multi-class combinations); XP is now mandated as split equally between all classes all the time (a patch over the original "freely switch"?); the level-limits start to be tinkered with in relation to high ability scores. It doesn't explicitly say that elves can wear armor and still act as magic-users, although it does say "When acting in the thief capacity the elf can wear only leather armor." [Sup-I, p. 5] On top of all their other pre-existing abilities, the attached Corrections also give Elves "+1 to their hit probabilities when using sword or bow" [p. 68 in my copy].
Finally, looking at the Swords & Spells mass-combat supplement by Gygax (which I hold in moderately low repute), we see that the fine print for men & elves flip-flop their armor and relative move rates; here, elves are by default more lightly armored than men, and also slower for the same armor type. From the Movement table under the Mass/Line entry, we see: "Elves 9, Lt. Armor 12, Hv. Armor 7... Men 9, Lt. Armor 12, Hv. Armor 6" with this footnote:
The base movement for elves assumes that they have full leather armor and shield or the equivalent. Elves in chainmail are considered as heavily armored. The base movement rate for men assumes chainmail and shield. Men in leather armor, with shield, are lightly armored; men in full plate are heavily armored. [S&S, p. 3-4]To clarify: Wearing leather & shield, elves move 9" but men move 12". With chain & shield, elves move 7" but men move 9". (And it's unclear how elves would even qualify for the "light armor" rate.) This detail isn't something that really synchs up with either earlier or later works.
Advanced D&D (1st Edition)
As always, the text swells in Advanced D&D. Player elves are given the same general abilities as they existed as of the OD&D Greyhawk supplement -- including basic class access, level limits based on abilities, +1 with swords and bows, extra languages (increased some more), infravision, and detection. On top of that, here are some other additions and clarifications:
Although able to operate freely with the benefits of armor, weapons, and magical items available to the classes the character is operating in, any thieving is restricted to the armor and weaponry usable by the thief class...Here we have the first clear indication that elves can wear armor as fighters and still perform as magic-users (even without the need for magic armor as in OD&D) -- and if the line above isn't totally explicit, then the example at the end of the two-classed humans section makes it so: "Note that this does not allow spell use while armor clad, such as an elven fighter/magic-user is able to do." [PHB p. 33] The special move-silently-and-surprise ability reads to me as yet another reworking of their original invisibility power (although it won't work in their default "heavy" chain mail, and the ability is explicitly the same as for halflings now). And the near-total resistance to sleep and charm person -- by far the most useful 1st-level attack spells in the game -- is a very potent one indeed!
Elven characters have a 90% resistance to sleep and charm spells (if these spells are cast upon them a percentile dice roll of 91% or better is required to allow the magic any chance of having an effect, and even then the saving throw against spells is allowed versus the charm spell)...
If alone and not in metal armor (or if well in advance- 90' or more - of a party which does not consist entirely of elves and/or halflings) an elven character moves so silently that he or she will surprise (q.v.) monsters 66 2/3% (d6, 1 through 4) of the time unless some portal must be opened in order to confront the monster. In the latter case the chance for surprise drops to 33 1/3% (d6, 1-2). [PHB, p. 16]
The Monster Manual entry for Elves spans about a page-and-a-half, so I won't replicate the whole thing here. Suffice to say, their basic stat block is again just copy-pasted from prior sources: AC 5, MV 12", HD 1+1, etc. Here, the special surprise ability is at last explicitly linked to woodsy surroundings: "When in natural surroundings such as a wood or meadow, elves can move silently (surprise on a 1-4) and blend into the vegetation so as to be invisible (requiring the ability to see invisible objects to locate them) as long as they are not attacking." [MM p. 39] In addition to the default High Elves ("the most common sort of elf", per player's description [PHB p. 16]), you also get paragraphs on 5 other special types -- the Aquatic Elf, Drow, Gray Elf (Faerie), Half-Elf, and Wood Elf.
Did you notice that second one? A short and cryptic note is all you get here:
Drow: The “Black Elves,” or drow, are only legend. They purportedly dwell deep beneath the surface in a strange subterranean realm. The drow are said to be as dark as faeries are bright and as evil as the latter are good. Tales picture them as weak fighters but strong magic-users. [MM, p. 39]I think this deserves additional commentary. First, this is why some of us had unforgettable nerd-gasms when the drow actually appeared in the subsequent G3 and D1-3 modules. There may be no better example of such perfectly dovetailed marketing in D&D (intentional or not), with an irresistibly enticing hint in a hardcover rulebook, referring to details that were in fact already complete for adventure purposes, and just awaiting publication thereafter. (There are just a few other examples from the same adventure series, like the mezzodaemons and nycadaemons that also get referenced in the DMG.) I suspect that this mystery-connection in the core rulebooks is a major part of why the Drow cast such a permanent, influential shadow on D&D culture and design ever-efter.
One example: These variant Elves were so popular, successful, and powerful, that you got more and more Elven sub-races in later supplements, monster books, etc. By Unearthed Arcana you have all the sub-races open to player characters, including the added Wild Elves and Valley Elves. (Wild Elves in particular got a game-topping, unique +2 to generated Strength, which got noticed once by a player in my campaign, and then banned by yours truly after the single character.)
Also, in the DMG's piece on "Armor, Armor Class & Weapons", you get the first reference to "Elfin Chain" -- a special armor with Bulk: non-, Weight 15 pounds, and Base Movement 12". (Compare to normal Chain with Bulk: fairly, 30+ pounds weight, and Base Movement 9", listed in the PHB for 75 g.p.)
Chain, Elfin, is a finely wrought suit of chain which is of thinner links but stronger metal. It is obtainable only from elvenkind who do not sell it. [DMG p. 27]And on the next page:
Magic Armor: When magic armor is worn, assume that its properties allow movement at the next higher base rate and that weight is cut by 50%. There is no magical elfin chain mail. [DMG p. 28]Keep in mind that the DMG came out fully 2 years after the Monster Manual, and numerous sections read as revisions or errata to the earlier works. Is this another retcon to explain why Elves have had their encumbrance-rule-breaking AC 5 and MV 12" all along? Are all Elves encountered in the wild presumed to be wearing this special armor? Again, the material is suggestive but not completely forthcoming.
In the magic items section, the magic cloak & boots have been split into two separate entries (boots of elvenkind; cloak of elvenkind). In regards to the cloak (usually the more desired of the two items):
Cloak of Elvenkind: A cloak of elvenkind is of a plain neutral gray which is indistinguishable from any sort of ordinary cloak of the same color. However, when it is worn, with the hood drawn up around the head, it enables the wearer to be nearly invisible, for the cloak has chameleon-like powers. In the outdoors the wearer of a cloak of elvenkind is almost totally invisible in natural surroundings, nearly so in other settings. Note that the wearer is easily seen if violently or hastily moving, regardless of the surroundings. The invisibility bestowed is: [DMG p. 141]
So we see that the cloak is now explicitly chameleon-like in its functioning, it is now "plain neutral gray" in color (to make it harder to identify as treasure, I suppose), and the "near invisibility" is given specifics via the attached table. Based on the text that we saw earlier in the Player's and Monster's books, either this item is nearly useless for actual elves, or else all elves are presumed to be wearing them by default (which seems ludicrous, except that drow elves in module G3 et. al. are in fact said to be uniformly garbed in analogous magic garments). Has this item evolved from a core explanation for special Elven abilities (as of OD&D), to a near-orphaned status (here in AD&D)? Perhaps.
In the supplement Unearthed Arcana, for what it's worth, use of the Elfin Chain armor was expanded to thieves (allowing them to operate in it with a bit of an extra penalty), it is included in the magic item treasure tables at bonuses from +1 to +5 (overwriting the previous DMG restriction; in fact, no non-magical type appears in the tables here), and an option is even given for barding unicorns and griffons in it. Slightly different descriptions appear in the sections for thieves, normal armor, and magical armor; here's the last of them:
Elfin Chain Mail is magical armor of a sort that is so fine and light that it can be worn under normal clothing without revealing that it is there. Because of its incredible lightness and flexibility, thieves can utilize it, though it may slightly hinder their activities. However, it is rare for such mail to be sized to fit anyone other than an elf or a half-elf. If a suit of this mail is discovered, roll to ascertain what size of character it will fit... [table follows; UA p. 104]And I can't resist looking at one other Gygax book from this era: the Glossography for the World of Greyhawk (in the 1983 boxed set). The Encounter Tables there include Knights of the Hart of Highfolk, elves and half-elves, mostly mid-level Fighter/Clerics with some Fighter/Magic-Users for support. (Note that in OD&D Sup-I, elven F/MU/C are NPC-only; in the PHB, there can be NPC elven clerics, with PC half-elves as F/C; but by UA errata basically any combination of Cleric is open to PC elves.) Among the notes here are these tidbits:
Elven clerics can and do wield all forms of edged and piercing weapons... Magic-users are armored as esquires but typically carry no shields and use bow and long sword. [Glossography for the Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 4]The language about elven clerics using edged weapons at first seems like some special and noteworthy allowance, except that if they're all multiclassed F/C (as shown here), then that's already covered in the PHB: "Cleric combinations (with fighter types) may use edged weapons." [PHB p. 32]. And it also seems reasonable for fighter/magic-users to go without a shield, assuming that they need that hand free for component manipulations during spell-casting.
Advanced D&D (2nd Edition)
Looking at the 2E PHB, we see a cut in the proliferation of different sub-race types from Unearthed Arcana: "Elf player characters are always assumed to be of the most common type -- high elves -- although a character can be another type of elf with the DM's permission (but the choice grants no additional powers)." Class combinations are likewise trimmed back to something like their 1E PHB status: an elf can be a cleric, fighter, wizard, thief, ranger, fighter/mage, fighter/thief, mage/thief, or a fighter/mage/thief. (Note: No combining clerics with anything else, whereas in OD&D Sup-I and the Glossography, elven clerics were required to be multiclassed with something else. Wow, those clerics just drive me nuts sometimes!).
But other than that, the sum total of all the abilities we've added over time is still included: (1) lots of languages, (2) 90% resistance to sleep and charm, (3) +1 with bows and swords, (4) surprise bonus in non-metal armor (in a group of all elves/halflings), (5) infravision, (6) detection of secret doors, et. al. Still a very desirable racial choice!
The special armor type, now "Elven Chain", is mentioned and given extra allowances in several places in the PHB. A thief is allowed to function in it, with certain penalties (this is a carryover from 1E Unearthed Arcana rules). And now it is the key to multiclass wizards being able to function in armor (which is a pretty big change!):
Wizard: A multi-classed wizard can freely combine the powers of the wizard with any other class allowed, although the wearing of armor is restricted. Elves wearing elven chain can cast spells in armor, as magic is part of the nature of elves. However, elven chain is extremely rare and can never be purchased. It must be given, found, or won. [2E PHB]In the Monstrous Manual, Elves still have the same fixed AC 5, MV 12, HD 1+1, etc., that they've retained ever since their original appearance in Chainmail/OD&D. And likewise, their description is largely the same as what came before, with their abilities basically a restatement of what appears in the player's book. It even includes the same surprise-in-wilderness language with a line about wearing "greenish grey cloaks to afford them quick camouflage" that has been there since OD&D. And then you have the copious 2E extensions on Habitat/Society and Ecology for each of the several different types (Aquatic Elves in particular).
The 2E DMG includes Elven Chain on its treasure list:
Elven Chain Mail: This is magical armor so fine and light that it can be worn under normal clothing without revealing its presence. Its lightness and flexibility allow even bards and thieves to use it with few restrictions (see Chapter 3 in the PHB). Elven fighter/mages use it without restriction. However, it is rarely sized to fit anyone other than an elf or a half-elf. Roll percentile dice and consult the following table to ascertain what size character elven chain mail will fit... [table follows; 2E DMG]Note, as is the case more often than not, that the 2E text is simply a copy-and-paste from the 1E UA text above, with the sentences ever-so-minimally tweaked in places. The table that follows is also perfectly identical to the one in the 1E UA magic items section. However, in a reversal from the 1E UA (and a return to the 1E DMG rule), it does appear in non-magical form, and no magic versions appear. And note that due to changed location of the text, the material has gotten a bit better: the "so fine and light" language that UA reserved only for magic elfin chain is now par-for-the-course for any elfin chain.
d20 System D&D (3rd Edition)
Designers for 3E started being pretty liberal with their changes, keeping some of the flavor with what's come before, and modifying it pretty heavily in places. The elven character race in the PHB includes these listed abilities:
So: Instead of infravision we have low-light vision (which won't be of any use in a dark dungeon). Instead of a bonus with sword & bow we have a simple proficiency allowance. Instead of a large 1-in-6 bonus to find secret doors, we have a fairly meager 2-in-20 addition to searching. Instead of 90% immunity to charm, there is a +2 bonus vs. enchantment magic. The resistance to sleep, however, is now complete (and expanded upon in the elven background, speaking of them as never-sleeping). There are also several bonus languages permitted, and Wizard is the "favored class" (removing an XP penalty that otherwise arises from unequal multiclassing). But the special and powerful move-silent/surprise ability is no longer present.
- Immunity to magic sleep spells and effects.
- +2 racial saving throw bonus against Enchantment spells or effects.
- Low-light Vision: Elves can see twice as far as a human in starlight, moonlight, torchlight, and similar conditions of poor illumination. They retain the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
- Proficient with either longsword or rapier; proficient with shortbow, longbow, composite longbow, and composite shortbow.
- +2 racial bonus on Listen, Search, and Spot checks. An elf who merely passes within 5 feet of a secret or concealed door is entitled to a Search check to notice it as if she were actively looking for the door. [3E SRD]
The monster entry is also a bit different. The basic elf is listed as wearing studded leather and shield, with longsword and longbow (which might make using that shield tricky, but with +1 Dexterity bonus works out to AC15, i.e., the same as AC5 in prior editions). Whereas Elves in all prior editions were uber in the sense of getting HD 1+1, here it is flip-flopped, with Elves by the rules only getting HD 1-1 -- the only creature type in the entire ruleset to get a hit dice subtraction! (This is explained by Elves getting a Dex bonus and Con penalty -- ever since 1E -- here doubled to +/-2, and with the new modifier table now creating a hit-point penalty. But again, they are the only creature type in the entire game to suffer this way, a stark contrast from everything that came before.) And again, pointedly: No special hiding or surprise capacity, which was a core ability since Chainmail (at long last: no mention of the "gray-green cloaks").
Speaking of Wizards and permitted armor: In a reversal from 2E, Elven Chain no longer has special status as the only armor-type that Fighter/Wizards can casts spells in (nor are Elves the only Fighter/Wizards; as you probably know, in 3E any multiclass combination imaginable is openly available to any racial type). As per its mission statement, 3E has generalized armor usage, such that a Wizard with proficiency can now wear any armor s/he wishes, incurring an escalating percentage chance of "Arcane Spell Failure" (from 5% for padded to 40% for half-plate, plus more for a shield). Here is what Elven Chain looks like (from the DMG treasure table):
Elven Chain: This very light chainmail is made of very fine mithral links. Speed while wearing elven chain is 30 feet for Medium-size creatures, or 20 feet for Small. The armor has an arcane spell failure chance of 20%, a maximum Dexterity bonus of +4, and an armor check penalty of -2. It is considered light armor and weighs 20 pounds. [3E SRD]So notice that's not terribly "special" anymore; the language has removed the previous strictures about how incredibly jealous the Elves are of it, and now it is basically just an example of the "mithral" special material type, into which it has been folded:
Mithral: Mithral is a very rare silvery, glistening metal that is lighter than iron but just as hard. When worked like steel, it becomes a wonderful material from which to create armor and is occasionally used for other items as well. Most mithral armors are one category lighter than normal for purposes of movement and other limitations. Heavy armors are treated as medium, and medium armors are treated as light, but light armors are still treated as light. Spell failure chances for armors and shields made from mithral are decreased by 10%, maximum Dexterity bonus is increased by 2, and armor check penalties are decreased by 3. Nonarmor or nonshield items made from mithral weigh half as much as the same item made from other metals. Note that items not primarily of metal are not meaningfully affected. [3E SRD]Note that "mithral" was mentioned as far back as the 1E DMG, but in a very different usage: any magical armor of the +4 bonus level was noted to be made of "mithral alloyed steel" (whereas the +5 level was "adamantite alloyed steel") [1E DMG p. 164]. So we see the the "Elven Chain" type, which started out looking closely connected to the special armor and move rates of uber elves, went through an evolution arc that seemingly grew away from that close connection, and then was finally eclipsed by a different, unrelated mechanic (and the same can be said for the elven cloak and boots, perhaps?).
Book of War
So granted all this complication, and seemingly vast differences between editions of D&D, what was I to do for Elves in my own Book of War mass-combat game? Well, I instituted two different types of Elves: (1) a low-level type similar to standard men (thinking of later AD&D, 3E, or Swords & Spells; appearing in leather at 12" MV or chain at 9" MV), or (2) a higher-level elite type (similar to Chainmail Fantasy, complete with Elfin Chain for MV 12"). Regarding the usual surprise power, I decided to give the low-level type a mundane "hide in woods" ability (as suggested by various language up through 2E), whereas the higher-level elite type are full 3rd-level Fighter/Wizards with the invisibility spell available to all of them (exactly as stated back in Chainmail). There are analogous "elite" types for men, dwarves, and halflings as well, so it makes for a nicely balanced set of options. I figure that whichever "sort" of elf you prefer (pastoral or superhuman), Book of War supports your need out-of-the-freshly-unwrapped-box.
Here's the specific "hiding" ability as it appears in BOW (text between the rules below is Open Game Content as per the OGL):
Hide in Woods: Halflings and elves can be secretly setup in any woods tile. The controlling player makes a note as to location, and then waits to place them at the start of a later turn. If enemies move into that location, then they are placed immediately.
So the idea here is to give elves (and halflings) some kind of hiding ability, but not to ever require adjudication of movement while unseen on the board (assuming a standard game with no 3rd-party referee); once they actually appear, the figures stay on the board for the rest of the game. Obviously, the value of this ability is dependent on terrain -- using the basic random generation, whether any woods tiles appear. The 3rd-level elite elves with their synchronized invisibility magic can be placed basically anywhere on the board without this terrain limitation.
My customary opponent has used these abilities (especially the elites) to devastating effect on me several times. Among the many intriguing lessons from the Book of War game is this: I never truly understood the "orcs hate elves" detail until I was running an orc army and the main force all got shot down by a bunch of sneak-attacking, invisible elves; in my competitive spirit, I suddenly "got" what that animosity really feels like. Also: The elite's ability developed a restriction "excluding the enemy setup zone", because otherwise every game would start off with the elves on the far edge of the board, ambushing the enemy on the second turn from behind (usually a key hero figure).
Hope your Elves aren't working too hard this week!
- Should small PCs move slower?
- Analysis of monster changes in 3E.
- Elfin Chain on Paul's blog (and follow-up).