A Game Per Year: Elfs (Bonus 2001)

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

The cover of Elfs

Elfs is a humorous roleplaying game by the Forge guru Ron Edwards. It’s been designed to illustrate a single idea: A character can have different goals than the player. For example, maybe the character wants to win but the player finds it more interesting to lose.

This idea has been codified into the game mechanics in such a way that you can get a bonus to a roll if you express your goals as a set of two conflicting aims. The result of a successful roll of this type is a situation where your character fails in a humorous way but you as a player get what you want.

It’s funny to read this because its core conceptual idea is also foundational to my own play culture. What struck me was modeling it through mechanics. For us, it’s been such a part of the play culture that a game mechanical implementation never occurred to us in a serious way.

In the roleplaying games I play, it’s typical that in action scenes players strive to make their characters succeed but social scenes are often played for failure. This leads to the kind of scenarios you saw in Eighties Spider-Man comics, with competent people who’s private lives are a mess. That makes sense because messy private lives are often fun to play in roleplaying games.

In Elfs, the characters are short, dumb and criminal elfs (spelled like that) motivated by greed, like in a scatological, lowbrow version of Elfquest. There are three personality types: oral, anal and genital. Oral characters are focused on food, anal on farts and genital on sex.

The game ends with instructions on how to implement the Elfs playstyle into other fantasy roleplaying games, using their settings as the stage on which the elf rascals cavort. It’s a fun idea, using the game as a hack on other games. Many people have suggested a similar use for my Bad Sex: The Roleplaying Game, using it to model bad sex in the games they play.

Related Post