Saturday, January 24, 2015

Elves and the Power of Positive Thinking?

I don't use elves in two of my four on-going role-playing campaigns -- I don't have a beef, they simply don't fit thematically -- but when players in my B/X Homeguard Campaign (which does include elves) recently ran afoul of a thoul (a silly ghoul hybrid), it got me thinking ...

Sweet thoul pic by Marchomer, found here.

In D&D, elves are immune to the paralysis caused by the touch of ghouls.  That's not insignificant, because with three attacks per round, a single ghoul can potentially make a real mess out of a low level party.  Consider too that ghouls are likely immune to Sleep and Charm spells (the standbys of low level casters) and that they run in packs of 1-6 (2-16 on dungeon levels below the second!) and that spells big trouble.

So ... Why?  Why are elves able to shrug off ghoul paralysis without so much as a saving throw when dwarves and halflings, who are generally more resistant to effects that cause paralysis (e.g. saving on a 12+ vs 13+ in Basic), cannot?

Could it be all the chocolatey goodness that makes them immune?

I was wondering if it has something to do with how elves are portrayed in The Lord of the Rings.  It's easy to overestimate the influence of LotR on D&D, but still I remembered Gandalf saying,

"In Rivendell there live still some of his chief foes: the Elven-wise, lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power." -- The Fellowship of the Ring

Then again, maybe there was no Tolkien connection at all -- I've read a suggestion that the special immunity to ghoul paralysis possessed by elves was a unique artifact of trying to balance point values among various troop types in the proto-D&D miniatures rules Chainmail (see Giant in the Playground ).

Then, as I was digging around at enworld, I found where Uncle Gary said, "The negative energy of the ghoul is the rason [sic] for its paralyzing ability. Elves, having great positive energy, are thus immune to the effect."

Interesting.  If the DM interprets elves as these creatures that aren't native to the game world and who are only partially present a DM can start to weave a cohesive rationale for the smorgasbord of advantages and special abilities that have been tacked onto elves in the rules over the last 40 years of gaming.  

Here's where my (completely silly) exercise in trying to retrofit a rationale took me:

  • Elves are immune to all undead negative energy effects (level drain from wights, wraiths, specters, and vampires; the aging touch of ghosts, etc.) -- they are simply too charged with positive energy for these afflictions to take hold.
  • Elves have a much higher experience point requirements because they experience the mortal world at a remove -- they aren't ever completely here but rather are mere avatars of extradimensional positive energy-laden creatures.
  • Elves have strict level limits -- they simply aren't present in the same way humans are.
  • Elves are immune to Sleep and Charm spells because their minds aren't actually in this world to begin with.  They are likewise be immune to Feeblemind and illusions as well -- this connects to their uncanny ability to spot conceal / secret doors merely by passing by (2-in-6 vs a 1-in-6 chance).
  • Elves infected with lycanthropy expire (their tenuous connection with this world is disrupted) rather than transform into a new form that isn't an adequate vessel for their positive energy.  Polymorph and similar shape-changing spells slay elves rather than transforming them.
  • Elves cannot be converted into undead, nor can they be raised from the dead by magic.
  • Elves have no access to clerical magic (can't use clerical scrolls or magic items) -- they have no truck with the petty deities of the mortal world.
  • Upon reaching their level-limit, elves withdraw from the mortal world, discorporate, and return to the Great Elfin Consciousness or whatever.

I'm not particularly earnest about any of these suggestions and I don't see myself implementing them in my games (except for having elves physically leave the campaign world upon reaching their level-limit), but it can be fun to see what happens when you grab onto an odd little loose thread in the rules and start pulling to see where that rationale can take you!