The glorious world of elvenkind shines from these pages!
Detailed in this tome are their societies, rituals, and myths - and their physiology and psychology. Descriptions of every kind of elf abound. Rounding out this information are 11 new kits; new optional rules and suggestions for running elven campaigns; and special elven equipment, spells, and magical items.
Forget what you thought you knew about elves - The Complete Book of Elves sheds new light on this mysterious race!
Colin McComb, author of The Complete Book of Elves (1992), recently gave a somewhat unconvincing apology as part of a Kickstarter reward: Book of Elves has a reputation of being the most over-powered 2e Complete book. McComb states that, for his first professional RPG project, he chose to balance fantastic, creative ideas with roleplaying checks and balances instead of mechanical constraints. He's clearly still proud of his work, as he has a right to be, and while he's apologizing on film you can still see that he loves this book.
I can see why. The Complete Book of Elves is much like The Complete Bard's Handbook in that it's filled with really clever, fun, creative ideas that happen to shove game balance out the window and wave it goodbye as it plummets, laughing and singing all the way, to the stony ground below.
Individually, each small rule doesn't cause too much fuss. If they are taken collectively, though, a DM needs to be strict in order to prevent elven PCs from quickly overshadowing other characters.
What I like about this title, though, is that, even with the problems outlined above, it's a rich collection of imaginative ideas and clever design. The non-crunchy flavor text is a superb description of how to play an elf. As a testament to its place in the D&D oeuvre, a few of the kits first introduced here (such as the spellfilcher and bladesinger) have made it into every edition of the game since.
An Elf by Any Other Name. The book starts by delving into elven history and mythology. Not a lot had been written about this previously, and McComb expounds on the creation myth, the shooting of the chief orcish god Gruumsh, and the split that created the drow elves. Elven sub-races are explained for every campaign setting, with rules, history, philosophy and culture discussed. The elven tree of evolution, showing a unified approach to elves in different campaigns, is particularly interesting.
It's in the third chapter, "Physical Attributes," where power inflation starts to appear. McComb gives elves the ability to empathically share their feelings in exchange for combat bonuses, gives them resistance to heat and cold, suggests that they are largely resistant to diseases, and provides them with the ability to "manifest." Best described as the ability to suddenly loom large and become imposing, manifestation admittedly has little game mechanical impact outside of roleplaying.
Elven society, mental attributes, elven holy days, elven myths, death, dwellings, all are discussed with respect and reverence for the race. I think it's this reverence - clearly inspired by Tolkien's beatific elves - that rubs some people the wrong way: Despite the remarkable creativity, it's not uncommon for someone reading these chapters to intone, "Who's the prettiest? Elves are the prettiest!" It's perhaps hard to relate to a race that often lives in such an ethereal, gentle state of grace.
One Bow to Rule Them All. Optional rules expand an elven PC's power. Level limits are extended. Bonus proficiencies are granted. Special fighting styles such as bladesinging are explained, and seven new archery techniques are explained. These allow an elf to shoot out mounts beneath riders, shoot two arrows on one bow, shoot bows with their feet, hang upside from trees by their feet to shoot bows, shoot up to 5 arrows in one round at an accuracy penalty, staple people to trees with arrows, and use a trick shot for special effects. All are cool, creative techniques... but they're techniques that give elves extra combat power without allowing the techniques to non-elven archers as well.
Elven kits share the same flaw. They make elves tremendously fun to play, at the expense of possibly unbalancing play. Special hindrances are often roleplaying-based, while special benefits are usually mechanical in nature. In the hands of a player who is willing to let roleplaying slip a bit, this is undeniably problematic.
All that said, this book is a still a trove of good ideas, especially when it comes to rounding out elven society and understanding where your elven PC comes from. Its reputation for power inflation may be justified, but the vast majority of the book is filled with superb roleplaying advice and racial background.
And hey, any rules supplement that triggers an apology when the Kickstarter hits $2.5 million has to be worth reading for that reason alone.
About the Creators. Colin McComb is the creative lead on inXile's recently Kickstarted RPG Torment: Tides of Numenera, which uses Monte Cook's upcoming sci-fi/fantasy game setting Numenera and follows the creative vision of Planescape: Torment. The award-winning designer has written dozens of games and adventures for TSR and Paizo Publishing.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.