In B/X and its race-as-class progeny, Elves are pretty straight-ahead Magic-User/Fighters. Which is fine, but I think pretty flavorless on its own. When approaching my restatement of this class, I've tried to keep two main points of reference in my head.
- The first is the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair, and other faeries, from the excellent Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell. Aspects of that vision of faeries that I want to evoke include: A sense of alien motive and anti-logical/fairytale understanding of the world. Dangerous whimsy. Dancing, secrecy, people falling under the spell of the faerie. The idea that Elf magic is a fundamentally different thing than human magic: it's more instinctive, primal, and definitely doesn't involve reading or writing of any kind. The idea that Faeries don't necessarily see people and inanimate objects as fundamentally different things. Names.
- The second is the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings version of elves, and especially action hero archer Legolas. Because I'm writing these rules both as a statement of how I like to do D&D and also as a useful tool to introduce people to the game. And LotR is huge influential, so it seems pretty likely that a friend would see Elf as a class option and be inspired to play a Legolas-like character. I want to support that friend in playing the elf that they're excited to play.
A couple of other models of Elf I have kicking around are actual Tolkien elves, something more like aliens (lost time, for example), the Drow monster/D&D race, and D&D classes like the Ranger, the Druid, and the Cleric. I dropped the Cleric class entirely and expanded the magician (magic-user) to cover some classic cleric functions, and the Thief class could easily be played like a Ranger, but there's nothing wrong with a little overlap.
I'm trying to fit the above influences into the loose template I've established, which is that each class includes:
- A piece of starting gear (for a fighter, that's a weapon of the player's choice, for the thief, it's lock picks)
- A couple of special abilities- things that the class can do that aren't represented in the level advancement table, so things that aren't just good hit points and saving throws.
The only class so far that really breaks that mold is the Magician, which gets a whole separate booklet of spells. I'm fine with that partly because it's the exception that helps establish the rule and partly because it actually fits with the book-learning paradigm of magicians.
The problem with the Elf is that there are a lot of special abilities I want to fit into the class in order to have it evoke the kind of feel - and variety of influence - I'm going for. The way that I'm handling that right now is with a random table of abilities to roll on at the first level and every even-numbered level afterwards. My thinking is that the randomized thing fits fairly well with the unpredictable faeries of JS&MN. There's also the fun of surprising the player a little with an unusual ability.
But I would love to figure out a more elegant solution, even if that involves killing my darlings to some extent.
I'm still searching for the solution, and I'd be grateful for any feedback, but in the meantime I'll post the most recent Elf special ability random table: