Roleplaying games are fun, and have two interesting side effects:
Side effect the first: they are good for learning a foreign language: my brother learned English through Dungeons & Dragons, and the little French I know I learned from the Sans Detour French edition of Call of Cthulhu. We talked about that already.
Side effect the second: they are a great tool for discovering new books to read and (sometimes) new movies to watch. There is the old Appendix N in Dungeons & Dragons, of course, and the bibliographies of games such as GURPS Transhuman Space, Eclipse Phase and Trinity, that make for an excellent introduction to some of the best science fiction and science non-fiction, but there are also games based on literary works. The already mentioned Call of Cthulhu led a number of people to discover the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Supernatural Horror, and the Elric/Stormbringer games were probably a gateway to the works of Michael Moorcock for a whole generation.
In my case, one of the best things I discovered through roleplaying games was ElfQuest. Because I played the game before I read the comics.
So sue me.
Richard and Wendy Pini started the series in 1978 as an independent comic, following the quest of, you guessed it, elves, in a place called The World of Two Moons. Hard pressed by their iron-age human neighbors, the elves of the Wolfriders clan embark on a lengthy odyssey across their world, basically to discover what went before and find a few answers to their existence.
They will meet many cultures and variants of their own ilk, and finally discover the truth about their ancestors.
I am not a fan of ElfQuest, meaning I don’t own a complete set of the comics (the series’ been going for 40 years, and only recently it was announced that there will be no more issues), I don’t have gadgets, merchandise or T-shirst and stuff, and I never cosplayed as one of the Wolfriders.
But I like ElfQuest a lot.
The series is graphically breathtaking, with a HUGE cast of characters, and the story is smart, complex, challenging and deep, sprawling and intricate.
You get adventure, romance (maybe a little more romance than a 13-years-old me was very happy with), intrigue, passion, danger, monsters, politics, humor and drama.
It is “adult” without being brutal, or unnecessarily racy, and it’s the sort of comic book that can be enjoyed by kids and adult, and re-read through the years to catch elements that we missed in the first go.
It’s absolutely great, and really Wendy and Richard Pini’s are the only elves I really like. You can keep your Legolas.
And the roleplaying game is not half bad.
Not at all.
It was actually the third game I ever owned (after the Italian I Signori del Caos and a 3rd edition Call of Cthulhu).
It runs on a modified Runequest/BRP engine, and as such is simple and robust, and it’s perfectly self-contained.
ElfQuest has now long been forgotten in my country, and I sometimes talk about it and get sideways glances like I’m some kind of weird old men.
But for my money, it’s still the best fantasy comic out there, and one of the best fantasy universes ever developed.
The word saga is not misplaced with this one, and for all its eleven characters there is very little of high fantasy or Tolkienesque derivative in this setting.
This, too, is probably an example of that fantasy interregnum in which Tolkien’s and Howard’s stories were “just books” and not a religion or a template to be used to manufacture infinite clones.
And in case I made you curious about ElfQuest, here’s the good news: you can read a lot of ElfQuest comics online and for free, and legally.
All you have to do is check out this page.
Give Wendy & Richard Pini’s elves a try.
You’ll hank me later.