Today I’m going to step on some toes, but it is something
that I feel needs to be addressed. The game as it sits is fundamentally flawed
in regards to races, and for whatever reason later editions chose to further
widen this gap instead of tightening it. I speak of course of Elves and all of
their super powers that they never really have to pay for. The other demi-human
races have their own bonuses, but they are limited, and appear to be in balance
with the system, but elves, for whatever reason, are seriously overpowered! They
get way too much for free, and there doesn’t seem to be much incentive to not
Munchkin power-gamers always go right to the elf, and
considering that in most of our DM worlds, the Elf is getting pushed out by
men, in a death heavy campaign you’d think that eventually you’ll have all of
the elves accounted for in the world. In my opinion, those that choose to
power-game with the elf are never role-playing them, and just chose them for
the crazy amount of bonuses that they get.
Elves were in the original CHAINMAIL rules, and have stayed
with us through every edition of the game. In the early rules there was a nice
restriction placed upon them which defined them not as a race, but as a class.
Say what you will, as a mechanic this works! At the start of a gaming session, a
PC elf could choose to be either a fighting man or a magic-user, this was
changed in later updates: More powers were granted to the race, and the
disadvantages were minimized. In the 2e rules, the only mechanical
disadvantages are class restrictions (which honestly don’t effect them much),
and level restrictions (which also aren’t very restrictive, as not many
campaigns even get to high levels of play). In later editions, even these small
restrictions were lifted, completely removing any incentive to play humans who
are supposed to be the dominant race.
What do humans get in 2e? Humans can advance 5-8 levels
higher than elves, and humans can be “Duel Classed” instead of the multi-classed
options given to demi-humans. Duel Classing is a very strange rule, and one
that most tables choose to ignore because it is confusing. A human cleric can
choose to become another class, but he can not use any cleric abilities until
his new class is higher than his previous, and he can never go back and improve
his cleric abilities. There is a strategy to creating a Mage/Fighter, but WOW
does that take a long time! I would be interested to hear from folks who have
actually done it. I tried once but found the whole process to be frustrating;
but I’ll probably touch on this in later posts.
The goal of this article is to “Fix” the elf, and balance it
out. The danger with this is obvious, it will affect the NPC elves and the
Monstrous Manual: We don’t want to over-correct, but as things sit, the elf is
just too imbalanced for me.
MORE DM CONTROL
Sub-races of elf are within the domain of DM control. We are
the ones that place them, thus the easiest method of controlling the over-balance
is to keep them where they belong, and don’t let them stray away. If your
adventure is started 8,000 miles away from the nearest elf village, PC elves
are not possible.
The problem with this is that players might get mad, and the
other demi-human races would suffer as well, however the other demi-humans do
enjoy more trade with the humans than elves do.
Another possibility is to have those that really want to
play elves create a very good back-story and be subject to very critical Role-playing
judgments. This would require a Dungeon Master being very precise as to how the
Elf sees his world and what his function is within it. It would also be desired
to have better control over the elf’s alignment.
Player may pick a few special abilities from the list of
bonuses given to elves. This of course would alter the NPC elves if you let it.
Probably the preferred method would be to equally distribute the abilities
between the sub-races of elves. Drow would get infravision, wood elf a bonus to
bow, high elf an automatic chance of finding hidden doors . . . etc.
ALTER THE XP SYSTEM
We can create an alternative XP system for elves which
dramatically slows them down. I’d say that it would be fair to double or triple
the XP needed to gain a level. This would be harsh if an elf is multi-classed,
so perhaps the best fix would be to force all elves to multi-class and just run
it that way.
LOWER THE LEVEL
This is another possibility. I know that many DMs have
allowed high ability scores to affect the level that an elf can max out at, if
we lower the level limit to 9 and allow a system of ability to raise the number
fairly, this would keep the elf in check.
NON-WEAPON PROFICIENCY PENALTIES
Demi-humans must pay for bonus abilities by taking specific
non-weapon proficiencies, such as cooking, singing, instruments, etc. Alternatively,
the DM can create a list of NWP that are only available to elf races; strip all
powers away and add them as NWP so that a player must spend his slots on them.
Or, we can go the other way, Humans get bonus proficiency
slots or alternatively, their available proficiency slots can equal 3, non-elf
demi-humans count as 2, and elves only count as 1; this wouldn’t give more
bonus proficiency slots, they just count as more when checking them during
These things won’t make munchkins happy, but they might even
the playing field a bit. The core rules didn’t specify too much in regards to
their place in the world, which leaves this job up to the DM, to develop them in
a more advanced way that reflects their cultural differences. One thing that is
evident, or implied, is that the elves of today are mere shadows of what the
race used to be. It was probably them that had built much of the advanced
technology, which is evident in the ruins, but was lost from unknown tragedy.
Elves aren’t just humans who don’t need sleep and can see in the dark; they
demand to be role-played differently, with more power comes more difficulty in
playing that individual, and it isn’t cool for munchkins to refuse to role-play
them. If players are capable of running them as they were intended to be ran,
and the DM treats them as elves instead of just another adventurer, then there
probably isn’t any problem with the system as written, but alas, if only we
lived in a perfect world.
Some things don’t make all that much sense when we look at
it, though much of that could have something to do with the old Appendix: N, but
this would imply that we are playing like Gygax, which we might not be. Perhaps
we want to play elves as more Tolkien flavored, or play a breed that is more
fairy in nature? While the rules over elves are considered as CORE, there is
nothing stopping us from modifying them and asking exactly why a mechanic is
I’m not going to go through the entire list, just some of
the things that glare at me.
While I can see a Drow needing this ability, as well as
dwarves, and other demi-humans that prefer living underground, the normal elf
lives above ground and doesn’t care too much for the confinement of the
underdark, so why would he be able to see in the dark? Elves get a bonus
against being surprised, and an auto-bonus to find hidden and secret doors; I think
that it is safe to say that we can remove this power from his innate abilities.
MAGIC RESISTANCE TO
CHARM AND SLEEP SPELLS
This is a hold-over from Chainmail rules that people have
just kept putting in there over and over. It isn’t even a true MR so we can get
rid of that too.
+1 While Using A Bow
Why is this even here? The elf should have to buy specialization
like everybody else, no free-bees, this one can go too, or at least give all
elves the ability to spend weapon proficiency slots on specializing if they
wish, but only for the bow.
If we remove these abilities (or even just a couple of them),
then the elf becomes more balanced with the rest of the races, but one can also
look at the other races and make them more or less appealing as your campaign
world dictates. Perhaps the problem isn’t that the elf is over-powered at all,
but the rest of the races are under-powered?