An Excerpt from Elfs by Ron Edwards

Part One


A Note on Spelling and Plurals

The proper modern plural for an elf-type person is "elves." You know this, and the dictionary knows this, and the game authors know this. However ... the characters in this role-playing game do not. They call themselves "elfs" and ruedly insist that anything else is stupid; in fact they also think that anyone else is stupid. "Hey, stupid!" they call out when they see you or me in the streets.

There's no arguing with them, so the game is called Elfs. What can you do?

What is this mess?

You are to play an elf in a generic fantasy-gaming type of world called Nurth. Alas, sometimes prejudices are true: these elfs are cranky, short, self-important, adolescent, cruel, incompetent, greedy, and sarcastic. They are not cute. They are not telpathic. Animals don't like them. They are not wise. There is no elf homeland because no one else wants to acknowledge them. Long-lived and relatively infertile, they are scattered all over the landscape, remnants of a long-destroyed noble heritage and culture. They've degenerated a bit along the way, as demonstrated by their vocabulary -- the people: "elf," the language: "elf," their ancestors: "old elfs."

What does an elf look like? They are shorter than most humans, they have great big pointed ears and long, thick hair, and they have a limited range of childish facial expressions. There are no half-elfs (yeah, as if a human could be convinced to...)*

Your character is an adventurer because his or her priorities are to kill things and take their money away from them. Elfs would be great mercenaries, but they (a) try to cheat the garrison officers, (b) misunderstand contracts, (c) switch sides for better pay or because it's Tuesday, and (d) squabble too much. So adventuring, also known as thinly disguised theft and murder, is what they do.

*This is actually hyperbole, as many of the examples of play incidentally depict Genital-stage elfs (as distinct from Oral- or Anal-stage elfs) boffing other species in an apparently consensual way.

The Whole Point

Yes, this is a funny fantasy role-playing game. However, the real point of Elfs is an RPG-design experiment: To explore the discontinuity between player and character. Todd's a player and his character is the attractively-named Troll's Fart. In most RPGs, Todd wants Troll's Fart to succeed in an action, say an attack, as much as Troll's Fart does (in his fiction way). However, in Elfs, things can be a little different. At times, Todd may be most successful even when Troll's Fart screws up or attempts something especially stupid.

In Elfs, the player is not the character at all. The two may even have very different goals. Troll's Fart's goal comes out of very old-style gaming: Get more treasure than the other guy, bloat his ego, kill all sorts of things with minimal risk, etc. He and the other elf characters go after these things in the most oblivious, butt-scratching, selfish-little-twerp manner possible. However, Todd may sometimes desire something very different and in this game, he or she may announce actions that the character knows nothing about.

For example, Troll's Fart the elf is fighting a four-armed rat thing in a torch-lit underground temple. Troll's Fart wants to swing his trusty axe at the thing's head, but Todd wants Troll's Fart to escape through the door along the wall. We'll deal with the actual game mechanics later, but for now, the possible outcomes are:

It is also perfectly legal for Todd and Troll's Fart to announce the same thing ("I swing at him!"). To figure out how to do all this unusual role-playing, read [the game].

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