Jun 17, 2020

Making Sense of the OD&D Elf

Much has been said about the 1974 OD&D Elf, it is a bit of a strange class. On one adventure it is a Fighter on another it is a Magic-User, but it can't be both at the same time. It is awkward and somewhat unwieldy when running an OD&D game. How can we make a better version that also remains true to the integrity of the system? The core idea is you have a character with good fighting ability and some magic ability. Sounds a lot like a cleric, so perhaps it has similar spell progression. If you give an Elf the combat ability of a fighter and also spells there will need to be a balancing factor, so what if it had the experience progression of a Magic-User, and is limited to the 8th level? With this in mind we can give the Elf attacks and saves like a fighter full time.

How do you give level titles to an Elf? OD&D doesn't even address this. The authors of Basic simply smashed Fighter and Magic-User titles together and ended up with this:

  1. Veteran-Medium
  2. Warrior-Seer
  3. Swordmaster-Conjuror
  4. Hero Magician
  5. Swashbuckler Sorceror
  6. Superhero Necromancer
  7. Lord Wizard
  8. Lord Wizard 8th

These titles sound epic and compelling in a generic fantasy sense, who doesn't want to play a Superhero Necromancer! However, these titles don't really fit an Elf and are a bit strange. What can be done about that? Besides the obvious problem of race-as-class, which is only murkily suggested in OD&D and codified in Basic, level titles are always a bit awkward. And yet they unquestionably add flavor to vanilla fantasy. I don't have an answer yet, I'm still mulling it over. So for now Level Title is: Elf.

With all this in mind I present the 1974 OD&D Elf Class:

Elves are at once Fighting-Men and Magic-Users and thus they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and weapons usable by either Fighters or Magic-Users. They select spells from the Magic-User list.

Elves with a Dexterity of 14 or more reduce enemies' attack rolls by 1 per point of Dexterity over 14.

Elves are able to locate secret passages  and hidden doors on a roll of 1-4. They sense any secret door they pass, a 1 or a 2 indicating that they become aware that something is there. Elves have the ability of moving silently and are nearly invisible in their gray-green cloaks, reduce in half any chance anyone has of detecting the elf. Elves armed with magical weapons will add +1 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: move half their normal movement, fire an arrow, then move the balance of their normal movement. Mounted Elves may not split-move and fire, for they are not naturally adapted to horseback. Finally, Elves are able to speak the languages of Orcs, Hobgoblins, and Gnolls in addition to their own Elvish and the other usual tongues.

Alternate Combat System:

As for the Level Titles what can be done? I dunno. Adolescent, adult, village elder? Forest Warden. Nature protector? Orc slayer? Low elf, mid elf, high elf? There probably is a good approach. If I hear of one, I'll update this post.


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