[Review] Elves (AD&D 3PP); Tolkien Wept

Elves (1983)
C. Fitzgerald Carr & D. Carr Jr.
Levels 4 – 7

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor role aids elves

Elves for Role Aids represents an early stab at a supplement that would become almost synonymous with late Silver Age DnD; the Splatbook! Complete books of Elves, Complete books of Dwarves, Complete Books of Mexicans; no species, class or part-time job was deemed too insignificant to devote entire volumes of drivel too in what was quickly becoming the SOP for squeezing ever more dollars from an increasingly fat, illiterate and neckbearded hobby, an audience no longer consisting of Nietzschean Supermen who forged their own epics from the primordial chaos of an uncaring and meaningless universe and craved but a monsterous manual and a phb to aid them in their way but droopy-eyed, bloated landwhales with Bucknard’s Everful Purses and capable of communicating only in pop-culture references. What better way to start off November then by examining a splatbook that was made in a time when there was actually a demand for such a thing?

Elves is similar in structure to Dark Folk but has a greater degree of coherency, the description of each elven subrace is followed by an adventure (vaguely concerning) that subrace, each seperate adventure is part of a greater bid to recover the heirlooms of Annoc and vanquish the evil Morda, which ties into the general history and mythology of the Elves described in the opening passages. On paper this means it should perform much better then the interesting but uneven Dark Folk but as so often happens, reality is a messy and complex thing.

The opening of Elves wisely concerns that most iconic of fantasy races in a time when one had to suffice with 3 paragraphs of text in the Phb and what nuggets of wisdom one could glean from the Appendix N and seeks to provide notable lore in the form of culture, habits, religion and history for use in your DnD game and then unwisely decides to do so in the most retarded way imaginable: By ripping off the Silmarillion.

A little-known gem from an obscure author of Dnd fiction

Like most races in DnD, Elves are already one Poul Anderson novel [1] away from a copyright infringement lawsuit. The Carr dynasty’s hubristic endaevours to invoke the wrath of the Tolkien estate by exacerbating this problem further might be seen as almost laudably defiant but the devil is in the details friends. Not only does Elves imitate Silmarillion, it does so poorly.

In Tolkien’s impenetrable masterpiece of fantasy mythology the world is a beautiful and complex melody of the supreme deity Iluvatar, who first sings forth the lesser gods [2], with the mightiest of them Melkor [3], exploring the Void before the creation of the world and growing apart from his brothers, and thus desiring to create a world for himself.  Since only Illuvatar can master the Fire Unquenchable which is used to create, Melkor can do little but spitefully destroy the works of his Father or attempt to corrupt them to his own designs, deep down knowing his defiance is ultimately in service to Iluvatar. The world is a grand, inter-locking, tragic harmony of different forces and entities that makes sense and is organized hierarchically.

Elves imitates this framework but like the most grating of derivative works it fails to grasp the subtleties, making the imitation all the more egregious. The supreme creator deity splits into multiple parts with one of those parts, Morda, taking no part in the subsequent creation event because he is ‘of the Void” and instead decides to take shit over everyone’s designs. Morgoth destroys two lamps of heaven, two celestial trees and steals the three simarils carven to reflect their fire, Morda contents himself with stealing the single lamp of heaven and keeping it for himself until it eventually shatters and becomes shards, which are forged into artifacts or something. Need I recount the myth of the elven hero Annoc stealing back the shards and together with the Gods of Elves beating up Morda and throwing him into the Void beyond? A magnificent tale is butchered and regurgitated with all of its subtleties lost and fails wholly to incorporate the differences between Middle-Earth and the framework of DnD.

Then to explain the Fall of the Elves, Elves sets out the history of the Elves after the destruction of Morda, with a whopping 30 generations of Peace before they get into a big tussle fight with invading mankind and largely get their assess kicked, prompting a new dark age. I HATE HOW THIS IS HANDLED. Even though superior reproductive ability is a perfectly valid reason to lose a war to a technologically inferior opponent, especially after 30 generations of slothful decadence and elf buttsecks, I HATE how it is done in Elves.

The War of Races was mostly a guerilla action, with both sides making hit and run raids on farms and villages.

Uh why? Why should the elves, who have honed their arts of war against the hordes of the void itself deign to bite like gnats when they have 30 generations of infrastructure, tactical doctrine, metalworking and magic to aid them. Why not instead use, say, elf cataphracts and heavy cavalry, which are actually fantastic against a numerically superior opponent concentrated in tiny villages and armed with primitive weaponry?

But also:

The War of the Races drove most of the Elves and Humans out of their Cities, severely depopulating the region.

Again, you’d expect a guerilla war to drive people to seek protection behind walls of stone rather then disperse across a large area so they may be easily picked off or finished peacemail [4]. Perhaps I am an idiot and this is actually counter to military history. I guess Teutoburger Forest wasn’t exactly a straight up fight but I don’t think two armies of 20.000+ going at it count’s as a guerilla war either.

Take something like the Nonmen from the Bakker’s Second Apocalypse series, fantastic fiction that is clearly influenced by Tolkien but which could not be any more different in terms of underlying themes if it was rewritten as a sequel to High school musical. The Nonmen, which are so powerful they live in vast, hollowed out mountains and are absolute masters of warfare and sorcery before the humans even manage to get to written language, enslave the tribes of men that arrive from the east and are only defeated when they are decimated and broken first by their enemy, the Inchoroi.

Themes and ideas from Tolkien are ripped and thrown together willy nilly without any of the underlying coherence, majesty, symbolism or intelligence that made them so potent in the first place. To have the creation myth of Middle Earth vulgarly Xeroxed in smudgy cartoon fashion onto a used newspaper and thrown into DnD world alongside a dozen others is a literary Nirnaeth Ardoenidad. Die Ring des Nibelungen as performed by a jostiband.

You want a good example of Elves given a completely different backstory that is compatible with their somewhat kitchen sink dnd-esque world yet retaining most of the feel of Tolkien? Warhammer! Different origins, different wars, different tragedies yet still 85% Tolkien in feel! Arrogant, tragic, hostile yet also magnificent, WHF elves haerken back to First Age Elves while seldom falling into teeth-gnashing Tarnowski style copy-pasta! The essence is retained although the content differs.

Elven deities are described, at least the book refrains from giving the gods themselves any stats, keeping their nature as fundamentally above that of mortals, which I actually kind of appreciate. Avatars have hit points and are capable of interacting in limited ways with the mortal realms, but it is made abundantly clear that a deity manifesting in the mortal realm would have infinite statts. Something is mumbled about deities never entering battle to save their worshippers but like a cross-eyed inbred  Elves never manages to connect the dots and figure out a perfect reason for the Gods not directly acting within the world of men, a reason outlined in the Silmarillion; A War between Gods in mortal realms is a CONTINENT SHATTERING, WORLD DESTROYING AFFAIR.

Portfolios are the greatest hits of the nature and elemental deities without any of the majesty or awe-inspiring immensity that should make them compelling. Conceive of the most asinine portfolio for nature deities imaginable, then strip out any compelling relationships between the deities. Include some notes on the type of miracles they can grant to worshipers in case the suffering GM, forced to wade through reams of inane blather desperately in search of a gameable idea, cannot conceive of the type of miracles a deity whose portfolio includes “All-Swimming-Things” could grant to worshipers.

There’s the mandatory section on elvish subraces which is similarly unimpressive but not glaringly offensive. The inclusion of a race of Elder Elves, de Tuatha de Danaan, with abilities like unto the elves of old is puzzling since it postulates the existence of an unexplained plane of Faerie, WHICH IS NOWHERE MENTIONED IN THE CREATION MYTH. I like it that for the first time many of the silent assumptions behind elves are finally codified or explored in a way that isn’t dumb, derivative or asinine. The degeneration of the elf compared to its ancient progenitor is made explicit, the lifespan of most elves is only half of their primordial sibling and the cause for many of the elven supernatural abilities like darkvision and preternatural hearing, an extension of their existence into the Ethereal Plane, is an elegant solution that is entirely coherent with other creatures in the DnD multiverse.

The subraces of elf proper are refreshingly devoid of a systematic treatment of minute differences in starting abilities of interest only to subterranean variants of neckbeard or gamers on the spectrum and instead lists the subraces per origin along with some minutiae like lifespan, general culture with notes on different abilities scattered throughout the text with a sort of off-handed flippancy that reminds me fondly of my skateboarding days (just kidding, I had in-line skates). The only subrace that manages to somewhat break free of the tyrannical mould forced upon it by a lazy and uncaring author is the Ice Elf. Aaaah the Ice Elf, driven from its home by invading human tribes, it makes its lairs on the snow-covered peaks and plateaus of the highest mountains. Of shorter lifespan and culled by ferocious predators, killer ice-storms and their continuing degeneration, the more you read of Ice Elves throughout the book the more you kind of start to dig them. The rest of the races may dejectedly be categorized as high elves, wood elves, grey elves (neutral), prairie elves, curry elves demi-elves and dark elves.

Culture is treated in general fashion and further specified with each sub-race. Elves have kings like in Tolkien, but also councils like in Tolkien. Their language is the language of elves.

If after this overview you have not desperately reached for a bottle of laudanum, searching in vain for respite from the torture of a hellish universe ruled by a cruel and sadistic demiurge, the book proper is divided into a series of chapters on each subrace. Each subrace has a sample settlement (godawfully inane), notes on unique abilities, culture, physiology and unique magic items, followed by an adventure.

Unlike Dark Folk the adventures are connected into a single grand quest across the sample setting, with the PCs seeking to re-assemble the heirlooms of Annoc to fight the evil Morda. The scope of the quest is actually given an appropriate size and length, and each adventure concerns the reclamation of a single artifact.

The cities are trash. The wonder and majesty of the elves is rendered banal and sterile. Forget descriptions of ancient battles, structures crafted with long lost arts or hooks and quests galore, instead an endless desolation of city map followed by entries for mundane shopkeepers. Endless lists of silver-smiths, tavern keepers, continual light lamp salesmen and tavernkeepers. Dreadful.

Part 1: Wood Elves. 

The Free City is the possibly the most egregious entry in the whole supplement, being of interminable length and offering truly astounding quantities of mundane shops, mundane patrol schedules, the aforementioned Continual Light Shoppe and a House of Joy filled with disease ridden harlots, presumably Elven, just to further strip the noble wood elf race of any dignity it once held. Instead we are confronted by this ramshackle edifice to consumerism, debasement and industry. This is the only city that has anything in the form of adventure, a malicious thieves guild plies its ignoble trade amid the hollowed out oaks of a greater civilization. I am astounded the elves are not described as covered in filth, inbred and alcoholic.

The Section on Wood Elves is tolerable and at least somewhat plausible. Wood Elves are yokels who are largely self-sufficient, stick mostly to farming and producing cloth [5] and are on the whole, a lot better fleshed out then they have any right to be. Younger generations of Wood Elves lack the patience of their older kin and increasingly resort to using dead wood for their hovels, which is threatening to cause a schism, and female wood elves are considered property until they married, an eminently sensible tradition for an agricultural society that adds a rare touch of versimilitude.

Wood elf abilities are off-handedly referenced throughout the text, albeit vaguely, perhaps the sperglerian treatment does have a certain merit. Unique magic items include the elven bow, which is grown rather then carved and provides a +2 to hit and damage, +3 to hit if it is bonded and may only be used by elves under pain of damage. There’s also a vastly expanded section on the creation of the Elven Cloak, displaying massive elf-wankery from before the time such tendencies were rightfully buried by collective hissing and shaming followed by an admirably restrained section on the heirlooms of Annoc, which have simple abilities appropriate to their stature as minor artifacts.

Information in Elves is never grouped in one place where one would logically look for it but always dispersed throughout the text, requiring minute and careful study of each syllable for full comprehension and rendering an already joyless experience even more joyless.

The Elves’s Search is the opening adventure and opens by breaking virtually every rule of decent adventure design in terms of both content and format that the experience is hard to describe, perhaps analogous to being subjected to multiple hit-and-runs from Segway drivers.

The party is enlisted by the high council of the free city, all of which are described in detail even though they are never heard from again, but not before one of the players has their favourite weapon stolen by the thieves guild, with no way to prevent the theft [6]! And no you cannot recover it!

The Dark Elves have been able to relax the chains that bind Morda somewhat. The Four items of Annoc must be returned to the city of Avalin if he is to be imprisoned once more. The characters have been chosen by the Goddess to do this thing so they are not allowed to refuse.

First some good things. The adventure gives this momentous ordeal the space it desires, dividing it up into five different quests all interconnected. The second is that the elven cities you meet are generally friendly and will give the characters what help they would give to support such a momentous occasion. PCs are given escorts through friendly terrain and aid in the form of retainers and men, should they ask. I liked that.

The adventure tries to capture the feel of Lotr by including lots of overworld travel, enigmatic NPCs, mysterious locations and so on. There is only one hostile encounter. The characters get a prophecy from a lady of the lake and be asked to stay for dinner. The scene is nice but that’s all it is, a scene, no gameplay.

The only meaningful encounter is with, line up your shots, an evil carnival (drink), with a blimp that emits a field that protects characters from detect evil (drink), that will attempt to cajole that characters to stay the night so they may be picked off individually. The NPCs are pretty good if utterly incompatible with the style of the rest of the adventure: A ratty dwarf that increases in Strength as his rage increases, a disease-ridden cleric, a circus strongman, a dark elf troupe leader called Mr. Dark etc. etc. What style are we trying to evoke? [7]

The Magical Balloon may be used to shave off some journey time by the adventurers until they arrive at the location of the first item, the Forest of the Tree Lords. As one would expect, the Tree Lords, being creatures of Good, have no trouble giving the Item into the keeping of the characters.

Uh…the end of Part I. Style is…nice I guess? Stealing an item is uncool, and most players want some actual gameplay, the proof against alignment detection is a dick move though to its credit the adventure allows for a 30% chance that the NPCs will do something evil because they can’t control their tendencies. It’s not valueless and it might be a nice intro for the rest of the adventure to follow but there are manifold glaring errors.


To be continued. It’s good to be back.

[1] The Broken Sword
[2] The Valar: Melkor, Manwe, Ulmo, Aulë, Oromë, Namó, Irmo, Tulkas and their ladies, who I will not mention because their portfolios are relatively similar, with the exception of Nienna lady of mercy. They are further subdivided into the Aratar, the greatest of the Valar, which consist of 8 Valar. Morgoth is not included in this selection.
[3] Later called Morgoth Bauglir
[4] See also, Defeat in Detail.
[5] Unlike later supplements Elves seems to grasp that even primitive civilizations can’t spend all their days frolicking in the woods or consigning the souls of fallen deer to mother nature.
[6] Generally at this point you grab the bottle by the handle and then crack the end on the table
[7] Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradury?

15 thoughts on “[Review] Elves (AD&D 3PP); Tolkien Wept

  1. Nice to see you enjoying yourself in a review. It reminds me of a (in the bar) summary of a conference talk a colleague had sat through: “Whilst you may have seen this problem before, have you ever seen it done this badly?”
    I was also amused by your tales of the USA, but a little disturbed how easy it is to persuade people to wear bald eagle masks. Welcome back.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good on you, Prince, for highlighting the fact that the ODD/ADD1 elves were based on Anderson, despite what the Tolkien-loving fanbase thinks. ADD2 was altogether too ‘elfy’ and the Forgotten Realms setting took this elf-wankery to obnoxious heights. Let’s bring back the Andersonian elf, which is a terribly frightening foe for a normal human, but no match for an experienced human hero.


    1. I think its another case of surface mimicry without tapping into any of the deeper themes. I like the Andersonian take of elves as inhabitants of Faery, terrible and magnificent, as much as Tolkien’s take of the Elves as the first children of God and in harmony with creation. Both have tremendous potential, though the Andersonian take is arguably more compatible with S&S.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What amazing powers would one get from the Book of Mexican?

    (On the Product.)
    The Book is based on The Silmarillion

    I mean there are worse books to be based off of. Still, watered down Silmarillion sounds as appealing as watered down alcohol.

    More subspecies of elves to try and appeal to everyone’s favorite flavor.Except those ice-elves, they sound legitimately cool as an idea. But thinking about that, I don’t believe anyone has ever went the Tolkien way of having Orcs being corrupted elves. (If I’m remembering the origins of Orcs right.) Why has nobody cribbed that yet?(Well besides the Elder Scrolls Series)

    “Their language is the language of elves.”
    And when I speak, I speak the language of Human.

    “I am astounded the elves are not described as covered in filth, inbred and alcoholic.”
    Actually,this reminds me of a book series called “Monster Hunter International” where there are elves exactly like this. No inbreeding though, but they are Americana Trash Hillbillies with a obese auger for a matriarch. They are still on the side of good though.

    “Information in Elves is never grouped in one place where one would logically look for it but always dispersed throughout the text, requiring minute and careful study of each syllable for full comprehension and rendering an already joyless experience.”

    I freaking hate non-categorized work.

    Besides that I can’t wait to see more generic fantasy elves in this product.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. [Book of Mexicans]

      I think you can fill that one by yourself in if I give you some keywords: Sombrero, Dios dos Muertes, Tequila, Bull-fighting, Jalapenõs etc.etc.


      Orcs as corrupted Elves is so iconically Tolkien perhaps they felt THAT of all things would be presuming too much. I love the idea of Orcs as creatures of evil and I think one of the worst innovations is their gradual shift into more sympathetic noble savages ah la Forgotten Realms or World of Warcraft. Mystara had them as the reincarnated souls of criminals and villains, which I found to be the best take thus far. The best, most terrifying take on Orcs are Warhammer Fantasy Beastmen.

      I think Orcs as a playable race has done a lot to alter their shift from Always Chaotic Evil, which is why I will argue that we need to reverse that shift. DnD needs less playable races, not more.


      I haven’t burnt my paws on Larry Correia as of yet and I don’t have a lot of affinity for Urban Fantasy but his House of Assassins stuff looks promising.

      [Generic Elves]

      I liked their take on Dark Elves, and as for the rest, wait and see.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. [Book of Mexicans]
        Sadly there are no playable Mexicans in my game worlds because an interdimensional, slighty pinkish Overlord build magic walls of blessed concrete around all their lands :-/

        [Tolkiens Orcs]
        The funny thing is, that Tolkien never really decided or confirmed if his orcs were really corrupted elves or men or something else. Granted, the corrupted elves theory makes the most sense but opens up a lot of strange implications (Do orcs age? Do their souls go to the Halls of Mandos after death?)
        He argued in one of his letters (Letter 153), that Melkor could have made the orcs from whole cloth as an independent subcreation … only to then confirm, that that was not what happened :/

        The irredeemable evil of orcs seemed to have bothered Tolkien too. Redemption trough god was a big deal for him and it seemed, he was never really happy with the implications, that the orcs were irredeemable. Still he didn’t manage to find a good solution … so all the orcs in the Legendarium are pretty bad guys .. though they sometimes show virtues of the nobler races like loyality or bravery.

        [Playable Races]
        Yeah … less is sometimes more.
        I once played a Pathfinder convention one shot were we had a Tengu thief, an Asimar Paladin, a Ratfolk alchemist and a water elemental hybrid wizard… I played a human fighter and was somehow the odd one out -.-
        I never got the need for some people to play the most outrageous races and classes just to be special … I rather play a human fighter and make him special trough my/his deeds in-game.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. [Evil Orcs]
        Orcs have always been a good solid bad guy, and while I can get behind the idea that not all are bad or good, it seems like it’s always looking at it from a human centric view. Orcs are not human, and it seemed to me that Tolkien managed to play that off, maybe not purposefully, but that orcs were alien creatures, fundamentally different. I tend to run orcs as biological weapons, twisted versions of other races bred for the purpose of war, and thus have enhanced strength, pain tolerance, and other biological enhancements, letting players who want to play the “half-orc” as just carrying the recessive gene of “orcism”
        [Playable Races]
        Preach it. I see so much of this focus on being special right at character creation with some weird race combo. Let your deeds speak for themselves. Earn your notoriety.
        [Prince’s Journey to the West]
        Welcome back warfighter. Glad your journey to the land of fried food and freedom went well. Glad to see you back in form

        Liked by 1 person

      3. [Evil Uruk] I agree: Orcs should be alien. Non-human. Irredeemable by design. The Enemy. I think Patrick Stuart did a nice take on that recently, for this weird tabletop-miniatures-project he did some writing for. Also Arnold K (I think) once did this “The gods hate orcs” post that was pretty good at explaining (but humanized them too much, I think). I think if you need vile and inhuman monsters in your game, orcs are alright to go for. If you’re gonna humanize them though, there is no real need for them. Then you can just use humans instead.


    1. I only read it about two years ago. There’s a strange consensus among Tolkien fans that its hard to read. Hogwash. A beautiful, rich tapestry of legends and myth, breathtaking in scope and complexity.


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