In my A Game Per Year project, my goal has been to read one roleplaying game corebook for every year they’ve been published. However, I soon started to feel that it was hard to decipher how the games were really meant to be played. For this reason, I decided to start a parallel project, An Adventure Per Year, to read one roleplaying adventure for each year they’ve been published.
Elf War is an adventure for the Elfquest roleplaying game. I’ve loved Elfquest comics ever since I read the first albums in Finnish translation as a child. The well-realized, complex characters, the relatable relationships and the emotional drama all drew me in.
The Chaosium roleplaying game published in 1984 has none of those qualities. That doesn’t necessarily mean its bad but the experience is different. After all, ideas like nuanced, personable player characters with complex motivations that shape the flow of play are not standard in today’s roleplaying game design either.
As the focus shifts away from the characters that dominate the comic, the setting comes to the fore. The tagline of Elf War speaks to this: “Hubward Adventures on the World of Two Moons”. (The word “hubward” refers to the Hub Star and means north.)
With this focus, Elfquest becomes the stone age roleplaying game with different tribes struggling to survive in a harsh environment using only rudimentary tools and technology. The elves and trolls are a fantastical element but in the ecosystems and societies portrayed, they’re just differently flavored of tribal societies.
Elf War is largely about overland travel. The characters are sent out on a quest to find other elves, following Cutter’s quest in the comics. They find human, elf and troll tribes, with their open-ended problems that the characters can choose to help with if they wish.
The titular Elf War refers to a conflict between two elf tribes, Plainsrunners and Mountaineers, based on a Romeo and Juliet -type situation caused by Recognition, the all consuming impulse binding two people together that’s a feature of Elfquest. This comes closes to the source material, riffing on the story of Cutter and Leetah.