Game: Moon Elves
Publisher: Dark Quest
Review Dated: 29th, July 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
Wow. I’m surprised. This most recent offering from Dark Quest really impressed me. I was expecting a supplement with about sixty or seventy pages, entirely black and white and a collection of assorted venues. I was thinking of the City Guides from Dark Quest but this, a Culture Guide, is an entirely different animal. The Moon Elves supplement sees elves that are described in wonderful detail and in over 100 pages of colour. If prefer to print your PDFs off so you can read them in bed and are alarmed at the possibility of so much colour then I believe there’s a black and white copy available from RPGNow as well. Whereas the existence of a black and white duplicate doesn’t affect the quality or the contents of the original it is an indication of the kind of superb detail you’ll find in this download.
In the battle of substance versus mechanics Moon Elves marks a real victory for substance. That’s not to say there are no extra mechanics in the download, there are dozens of pages of new spells, items and prestige classes but these offerings don’t begin until well into the document. The first forty pages are dedicated to a well written, thorough and yet succinct description of elven culture and biology. With horror I’ve read reviews or comments from other people where anything other then game mechanics (you know, a new fireball spell available to a new prestige class, etc) has been described as filler, foo or even “white space”. That’s ridiculous, without such text, without such thought RPGs would be stale and bland. The cultural section of Moon Elves breathes life into the elven race, there’s enough here to turn even the most limp attempt to include elves in a fantasy world just because they’re in the core rules into something with life and energy. You’ll find everything from the sort of arts the elves like (and why), through etiquette and social habits to alignment and natural abilities – and that’s just in the first section of chapter one. There is a whole load of work on the life cycle of the elven race and then to pregnancy and why a race that lives hundreds of years does not end up with a family of dozens.
The download focuses on four types of elves: wood elves, stone elves, urban elves and high elves (no, not moon elves). It treats these four wisely and doesn’t divide the rest of the supplement up into four sections or use this as an excuse to repeat the same set of information four times and with only slight alterations. This is why we’re able to continue safely onto areas that are important to elves (both general and specific) and even look at how elven society is organised. Better still and one of my favourite sections (and we’re still just in chapter one) is the list of elf myths. These myths are cleverly composed and well worth reading, its about at this point that it becomes clear enough that this product is better off being used as the basis for an elven culture and not as a token transparent overlay for a world with something of a way of life for the elves already. You’d not be able to use this supplement with, say, Forgotten Realms (but I don’t like FR half as much as I like this offering to the altar of RPGdom) but you could easily import it straight into a vanilla D&D 3e world.
There’s more, of course, and this is all before chapter two. There is a lot of great stuff on elven special days; funerals, marriages, special hunts, naming days, etc… every one of them just weighting to have a plot hung off them. There is also a fair deal on the elfish language and style, tips on how elves might pronounce things and even how they might curse and swear! Just as there is a breed of map-geek gamers you’ll also find (smaller, though) a breed of gamers who go just crazy over languages.
Chapter two, now that’s nearly forty pages later, introduces the first suggestion of mechanics but it certainly doesn’t let go of the wonderful flavour. The elven items in the download often each have half a page of information about them; this really does make the whole product worth its price. Rather than having a crude shopping list style presentation of new weapons and armour (which is something any other gamer could do, I feel) there are sensible observations on the items and notes why the elves like them, how they might make them, why they make them and whether they sell them, etc. The magic items often come with a story behind them, an engaging story which in itself could easily become key to a plot or campaign and it makes a welcome change from “There was a powerful warlord. He died. This is magic axe. It does lots of damage.” That’s not to say the items suggested or offered by this guide are weak or low fantasy; many are either clearly potent or likely to be incredibly dangerous in the hands of sly players.
It’s only when you read 65 pages into the download that the new spells begin. As is standard with this wonderful product these spells are not a token effort. Each one is fully fleshed out and thought out. There’s a whole new collection of Cleric Domains suited for elves and these domains are fully populated by spells. It’s just not by Cleric Domain that the spells are indexed by, the presentation of the spells include class and level tables – and that’s something which seems to rarely happen any more. The Star Halo spell is a whole page long. Space is cheap (cheaper) in PDF and Dark Quest makes best use of that. It’ll be page 82 before you finish reviewing the long list of spells and if you’re used to the page or two which sometimes pops up in supposed racial or class books then these 15+ pages will feel like an entire book in their own right.
Then there are Prestige Classes. As with the reset of the download there is a great deal of helpful information on each prestige class. There are about two pages for each prestige class and every single class is detailed through 10 levels. The prestige classes are not short on their special abilities and many of these abilities are thematic in nature as well as mechanically beneficial (rather than latter which is more common and boring). There are seven different prestige classes and each one is a winner. They’re all strongly elven flavoured and foreshadowed in the rest of the supplement. This foreshadowing helps reduce the risk of these extra classes sticking out awkwardly after the theme heavy supplement.
This is a glowing review for Moon Elves. I love the content. Throughout all of this there are a set of diaries being kept by a pair of half elves as one is introduced to the elves and their culture for the first time. I found myself trying to read both the diary entries and the game text as each page came into view but quickly found this to be too distracting; each separate set is too strong and too rich to be read in a piecemeal way. In the end I had to give up on the diaries, come back once I’d finished reading through 100 pages of elf culture and then reading the diary entries as a separate story. The drawback of this method is that the diary graphic comes to a halt halfway through a sentence and you’re left to scrawl quickly down to pick up the next half of the sentence.
There is a mixture of artwork in the download. It begins and is largely dominated with fine sketches of the slender elven form – the sort of artwork that is stolen by web-users and then used to decorate GeoCities pages along with claims of “My favourite character” – that weird (and illegal) tribute webmasters can give to quality art. Not all of the art is in this delicate style though. The prestige classes are peppered with coloured offerings and although I suspect they might have had a similar pencil sketch as a skeleton once the colouring effect gives a rather more comic-book appearance to it (a bit like the better art on GameWyrd but of a higher quality still). The prestige classes also require the presence of tables and these come in shades of blue. I appreciate the attempt to get away from the black, white and grey tables but I found these seas of blue a little too bold; if download time and size of the document weren’t concerns then I’d push for a patterned background to these tables.
Moon Elves is a pretty product; everything from the front cover, to the artwork and even the alternatively appearing page borders makes it pleasant on the eye. The sheer size of this electronic publication makes it a little hard to navigate though. I miss the presence of bookmarks – which should be standard with any PDF offering. More technically challenging would be internal hyperlinks in the index so a reader can open the document up and then click straight to the matching page mentioned without even having to open the bookmarks. Still, these gripes pale in comparison to overall appreciation I have for this supplement.
My copy of Moon Elves came with the caveat that there would be some small changes made before it was more widely available. I can’t imagine any serious changes would have been made or the quality dipping; in fact, more likely would be the addition of the missing bookmarks and the right to reserve one last spell check.
Moon Elves is $6.95 from RPG Now at the time this review was written. That’s just shy of 7c per page.