Game: Ships of the Elves
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 20th, January 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Ships of the Elves is the next in the Traveller’s Tales series from Mongoose Publishing and if you have Seas of Blood you will know what to expect. I really enjoyed Seas of Blood and rated it 9/10. In Seas of Blood you were given a no nonsense set of rules and suggestions to cover a huge range of sea based roleplaying stuff. Ships came with “floor” plans, cost to build and how much damage they could take. There were sea magic as well has information on what might happen if you try and cast certain spells under water. Monsters, new feats, character classes and even a set of rules for grand naval battles and all this just a sampling of what the comprehensive book contains.
Ship of the Elves does not offer up new rules, feats or anything that should have been in Seas of Blood. Everything that should have been in Seas of Blood is in Seas of Blood. Rather unnervingly for a RPG supplement Ships of the Elves does what the title suggests and tells you about the ships of the elves! To that end you can probably survive not having Seas of Blood and buying Ships of the Elves; you are not trapped with awkward mechanics that don’t make sense without the parent book. If you’re running a game with Sea Elves or just where elves take to the sea (and lets face it, it’s a common enough theme) then the chances are that you’ll be able to draw some inspiration from the ship designs here.
The flavour of the book is very much high fantasy. Some of the more spectacular elven ships are powered by bound elementals and many of the large weapons are also powered by grand magic. The elves of the Mongoose fleet are allied to powerful and majestic giant eagles. There are no stats for these eagles in the book, only notes on the rarity and importance of a bond between an elven captain and the bird. This is probably a good thing, there is only second of hesitation before you remember that the monster manual has giant eagles in it. Its not as if the Ships of the Elves is an adventure and the stats for an encounter are missing; the space saved by not repeating information in this reference style book is put to good use. The mutiny and morale bonuses given to ships with a majority of elves for a crew is a snippet of information that’s squeezed into the same sized side bar as a recap on the eagles’ stats would have used.
I’m becoming to think of my collection of Slayers Guides, Quintessential books, Traveller’s Tales and Encyclopaedia Arcane as a bit of a, well, as an encyclopaedia. In many of the books there is a great sampling of NPCs and Ships of the Elves is no different. On their own the paragraph character sheets for a whole range of elf sailors will be a useful and quick reference for those times you want more meat than just a winged NPC but don’t want to disrupt the game. As a part of the growing collection they snuggle nicely into the sailors already detailed in Seas of Blood and into the mercenaries mentioned in the Quintessential Fighter. The bulk of the book, of course, isn’t given to sample sailor stats but to equivalent information on elven ships.
It’s a thirty two page book, thankfully reinforced at the spine with two staples as to avoid the otherwise inevitable fate of becoming eight loose sheets. One page has to go to the Open License text, one to the credits and with only a few sides given to the introduction and commentary on elven nautical habits you really will find the book is just a collection of ships. I’m normally a fan of the designer’s notes included in the back of most Mongoose books but I do understand why it was snipped in this case.
Oh yes – the ships. As I’ve said the book is written in a prevailing high fantasy theme and so a few of the elven ships are truly fantastic. The colossal Sea Haven is a floating village. On the other send of the scale there are smaller and more mundane ships that would work for a low fantasy setting that’s stretched as far to include elves. The ships aren’t presented in a naval fact file sort of way so you don’t need to be trained sailor to understand what’s going on. Everything is written from a role-playing point of view. One of the best ideas in the book was to present a series of “subtypes” that any ship might include. For example, a magical proposition system is a subtype that gives a bonus to a ship’s manoeuvrability but requires the presence of a high level arcane spellcaster on board. As the ships are detailed there’s a clear summary of the important subtypes involved so you can quickly get a feel of the vessel. The Spindrift Fire Support Ship, for example, is introduced as: Small warship (Stalwart Hull, Elven Ship). The comments in the brackets are the subtypes. The subtypes also make it easy for you to design your own elven craft and keep them within the same sort of game mechanic scope as the rest of the fleet.
Despite the giant eagles and despite the deck plans there is not a single mention of a “poop deck”. Ah well, I can live with that disappointment.