Posted on December 28, 2019
Review: Elves Companion for Chivalry & Sorcery
The Elves Companion (affiliate link) for Chivalry & Sorcery was originally published for Chivalry & Sorcery 3rd Edition in 2000. Note that I am reviewing it with a view for its use with Chivalry & Sorcery 5th Edition.
The Elves Companion is available from DriveThruRPG as a scanned PDF from the printed original. Although the scan is very clear and the book is easily readable, it has not been OCR’d. This means you can’t keyword search the PDF nor copy and paste from it nor use other text manipulation tools. That said, the 58-page PDF is only $4, less than scans of old D&D modules (which are, generally, OCR’d). So this is far from a modern, hyper-functional PDF like the C&S 5th Edition PDF (previously reviewed here). As you’d expect given its age, the interior is all black and white, laid out much like Chivalry & Sorcery: The Rebirth was laid out – which was very much how most non-WoD RPGs looked before Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. It does print out nicely and with much less ink than the lavish 5th Edition PDF though!
If you can get past these cosmetic and format issues, though, the content is rather worth it. These elves are not your typical D&D elves. The Elves Companion combines Celtic mythology with a sprinkling of other sources, and grounds the Elven Nation in the sort of concrete terms you expect to find in a roleplaying game sourcebook. The “assumed setting” of the Elves Companion is the same assumed setting as Chivalry & Sorcery itself – our own world during the medieval period. Marakush-specific material is also included – but as an appendix (and a sidebar on page 20). Elven society is presumed to exist on the fringes of human society in the medieval world – generally confined to deep forests, where the elves may actually be the source of legends like Robin Hood. Elves deal more easily with pagan human societies than with the humans of the Abrahamic religions. It can be challenging, at times, to imagine how elves could dwell even in the forests of medieval Western Europe, but I think this is caused by our modern perspective on the world as intrinsically observable and thus knowable. In the medieval world, “civilisation” was not ubiquitous – it was bounded by city walls, erected against a wild and hostile world, and the deep, dark forests were impenetrable and alien. If the peasants tell stories of elves in the forest, perhaps their tales are true?
The elves themselves are related to the faeries of Celtic mythology, but they are doomed by the Blight, a product of human progress at the expense of the Earth. Their bloodlines have become impure, leaving only a handful of increasingly inbred “True Elves” as their ultimate ruling class, who sit on top of a hierarchical society, rarely if ever seen by the the “Half Blood” (as distinct from half-elven) majority, the great unwashed of the Elven Nation. The Half Blood proletariat are supervised by the Noble Elves, who serve as the gentry and bourgeoisie of the Elven Nation, underneath the Pure Blood True Elves. Even the Half Bloods are higher than the Lost Bloods, the contemptible excommunicates who have committed such unthinkable crimes as breeding with humans (creating half-elves), or working for humans. This hierarchical elven society is profoundly different from the societies of the increasingly generic elves of modern D&D, and most other fantasy roleplaying games. Unlike the elves of many modern “high fantasy” settings, the elves of the Elves Companion feel genuinely non-human.
Although largely a sourcebook, and written for another edition at that, the rules in the Elves Companion seem generally compatible with Chivalry & Sorcery 5th Edition. Many of the character creation modifications in the Elves Companion, and elf-specific tables for social class, build, father’s vocation etc appear in the 5th edition book itself. The expanded rules and tables for elven longbows appear to be 5th edition compatible too. It is a little unclear to me whether the rules point for half-elves (p31) which appear in the Elves Companion still apply in 5th edition though – it seems that creating a half-elf in 5th edition is more or less the same as creating a human character, but the player selects the “Fey Blood” special ability/talent. The other “rules points” which appear throughout the Elves Companion seem largely 5th edition compatible. Most significantly, the Elves Companion adds the Wardens Mage Mode and Elven Mage Mode, which are referred to in the 5th edition PDF for elven characters but do not appear there. Appendix A contains new vocations, and unless I have overlooked a skill or two which has been revamped, these appear to be completely compatible with 5th edition. Appendix B contains a bestiary of creatures associated with the elves, and though the stats for these creatures are presented differently from the Bestiary chapter in the 5th edition PDF, the necessary stats seem present and I am fairly confident these creatures could easily be used in a 5th edition game. This concludes the “new rules” for 5th edition content in this sourcebook, although there is also Appendix C which adds rules for creating elven characters in Chivalry & Sorcery Light.
The Elves Companion concludes with two scenarios, one set in Marakush, and the other set in medieval Europe (in northern Scotland specifically). These are both brief scenarios (1.5 pages long each), intended for elven player characters, which makes sense given the book they appear in. Both present a hook in the form of a mission bestowed upon the party by a noble, and then barebones details of the journey and adventure which follows. Both seem serviceable and potential good starts for a longer elven campaign. In the scenario set in Scotland, I could see the potential to have human (or even dwarf) player characters join the elven party during the course of the adventure, although I am not sure I really see “mixed” parties working in the historical setting as well as they might in Marakush or other fantasy worlds.
In fact, after reading the Elves Companion, and seeing how “alien” elven characters are from a human perspective, I do wonder how well they would fit into a predominantly human adventuring party. Modern D&D simply assumes a mix of player character races is normal in an adventuring party, and if we are honesty we must concede that modern D&D doesn’t trouble itself terribly with helping us suspend disbelief as to how an extremely heterogeneous adventuring party could be formed or function. Most adventuring parties are hardly forged in response to apocalyptic circumstances like the Fellowship of the Ring in D&D – most typically, the characters are presumed to know each other beforehand and/or meet in a tavern. This hardly seems satisfying or consistent with the verisimilitude Chivalry & Sorcery strives for. Having read the source material in the Elves Companion, I find it difficult to believe that most elves would mix with humans to any considerable extent – only the Lost Bloods would seem to me to make an appropriate member of an adventuring party in the D&D mould. This isn’t a drawback or a problem from my perspective – frankly, one of the main appeals to me of Chivalry & Sorcery is a more grounded, believable fantasy world, and insofar as “adventuring parties” should even exist in such a world, they would be largely culturally and socially homogeneous. However, I know that many of my gaming friends have a strong aversion to homogeneity amongst player characters – they want to play a variety of different races in particular, and I am still not sure how I will facilitate that as a Chivalry & Sorcery Gamemaster.
At $4, the Elves Companion is an outstanding value purchase, even though it is a “flat” PDF constructed from a scan. If you are planning on running a Chivalry & Sorcery game in medieval Europe or Marakush, the Elves Companion is an essential purchase. If you are building your own world for Chivalry & Sorcery with your own “bespoke” elves, then it is still worth reading the chapters about character creation from the Elves Companion so that you can better understand the elven character generation rules in the main book, which will help you better understand how to customise them to achieve your design objectives. It has certainly given me a lot to think about in terms of my own world-building.