Elves & Espers: The Concept

Elves & Espers was inspired by some of Jeff Rients’ posts on Encounter Critical and other “faux retro” games, and is my take on “What if D&D had been an SF game instead of fantasy?”   There would be Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and all that Tolkein stuff, but instead of going into dungeons armed with swords and magic, killing things and taking their stuff, they’d be going into dungeons armed with blasters and psionics, killing things and taking their stuff.  The technology of the setting would actually be based on magic, or at least Clarkean (sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic) tech with old school Thrilling Adventure Stories SF trappings.  You know: jet packs, space suits with bubble helmets, boxy robots with claws for hands carrying off Earth women, psychic powers without any of the mystical mumbo-jumbo, blast pistols and Giant Electronic Brains running cities.  With Elves.

I’m not hard-core enough to take it all the way back to white box D&D, despite that being where I got my start in RPGS, so I settled for Mentzer Basic D&D era mechanics.  I rejiggered the classes into Troopers (StarWars stormtroopers), Scientists (Spock), Rogues (Han Solo), Monks (Jedi), Espers (serving the MU and the healer role), and Engineers (Scotty).  Every class had some spell-casting ability, generally through a focus: e.g. Scientists were equipped with Pentacorders, which were boxes with an imp bound into a pentacle that functioned something like a tricorder.  Troopers had their MultiGun, letting them cast destructive spells like Magic Missile and Fireball.  Etc.

So what happened?

We played a couple of times.  I made an introductory scenario where the party were all exiles from a hidden domed city called the Enclave which dated back to pre-apocalyptic days (more or less ripped off from The Vault from Fallout, which I’ve never actually played but Doug once used as the basis for a disastrous campaign).  They were kicked out for having psych profiles that indicated that they were too restless and adventurous for the static social order of the Enclave, so they were teleported via a one-way gate to the outside world.  There was also some froo-fra about time running differently in the Enclave, so even if they found a way back in, everything they knew would be long gone.  (I’ve found that with my players, it pays to shut off avenues like that well in advance to keep them from getting any ideas.)  They appeared in the middle of a valley that had been the site of an ancient battle, the entire floor of the valley covered in the wreckage of vast war machines and bones..mostly human, elf, and hobbit, but with some unrecognizable types mixed in.  They had some adventures, first fighting off some Giant Sonic Caterpillars, then exploring a wrecked tank that was still active enough to toss ball lightning at them, and finally delving into an abandoned power-station.  And then we stopped.

There wasn’t any specific reason or incident, but I was finding it a bit of a chore to GM because I was trying to use an incompletely-baked hybrid of Classic D&D (hit-points, THAC0 and the like) with the SF elements and a more consistent trait test mechanic and I’m the only one in the group who really has any interest and enthusiasm for the retro systems and not just retro-ish settings.  It didn’t seem like helping me playtest my franken-classic rules was entirely fair to my players; if they were going to suffer through teething pains of play-testing a system, it really ought to be for something where the end result would be a system they’d actually want to use.  So we never officially ended the campaign, but each week as we decided what to play, Elves & Espers wasn’t coming up.

Recently, though, I was looking at my setting notes and deciding that I really liked some of the stuff I came up with, so I decided to try it again with Savage Worlds as the system.  SW seems to be poised to become our default system of choice.  Our group more or less divides into those who care about the mechanics, and those who only care that they don’t get in the way (and will just punt and tell somebody else to roll for them if it gets too involved).  So far several of us quite like SW, and nobody has any strong objections, but we’ll see how it holds up once that shiny-new-system smell has worn off.