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Elfquest» Forums » Reviews

Subject: What went wrong with Elfquest? One of the authors comments rss

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Sandy Petersen
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I'll make this simple. In the 1980s, Wendy and Richard Pini came to Chaosium with the idea that we (Chaosium) would do an RPG based on their comic books, all about heroic elves and adventures.

We met with them, and it took a while to get Wendy on board. She REALLY didn't "get" roleplaying. When she heard that gamers would be allowed to change her storylines, and interact with, or even marry or kill her characters, she reacted very negatively. We explained the situation and eventually she understood. I think. Richard certainly got the picture from early on, and he helped soothe her. Now I look back and it is pretty funny. I suspect what was happening was that she was looking at roleplaying as if it was a film version or something of her works, and she wanted it to remain pristine.

Anyway off we went to do the game. None of us were particularly Elfquest fans at the start. I read all the comics (only the one series then published), and so did the rest of us. Steve Perrin was assigned to be the main rules writer. And here he made one of his few mistakes.

Steve was ALSO designing the third edition Runequest game at the time. Frankly, doing two full-fledged RPGs at the same time is beyond anybody's power, so Steve simplified his task by using Elfquest as a test bed for the Runequest III mechanics.

The problem here was that Runequest III was a hard-core second- or third-generation roleplaying game with lots of fun little rules about critical hits and stat bonuses, and fatigue etc. etc. That was perfect for Steve's gaming group.

But the theoretical fan base of an Elfquest roleplaying game were not hard core at all, at least judging by Wendy Pini! So 14 year old girls who wanted to be an elf maid, were stuck with character stats such as "Constitution". There was even a Sanity-like mechanism in the game, echoing Call of Cthulhu.

Now the Elfquest game always had a potentially limited market - after all, it would presumably only sell to those who were fans of both Elfquest comics and roleplaying games. Now with these rules, the market was further limited to hardcore roleplayers among the EQ fans, and so the game sales, while initially promising, rapidly faded away as word of mouth got around.

As I said, I don't really blame Steve. Probably we should have had spit up the design work between the two games. Note that I am NOT saying I should have been on Elfquest - I was way too busy writing Cthulhu supplements.
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Andy Leighton
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Your anecdote about Wendy is interesting, in the light of a similar, but allegedly much stronger, reaction from JK Rowling.

I had zero interest in Elfquest. Living in a small town in the UK I had never even heard of the comics.
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Non Sequitur
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I saw one of these in a second-hand bookshop a few months ago. It seemed like a bit of a train wreck...

Did anybody realise at the time that the rules were a little too chunky?
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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happysmellyfish wrote:
Did anybody realise at the time that the rules were a little too chunky?

In 1984, "chunky" rules were hot. It just seemed like the natural thing to do in those days. Very few companies were looking at keeping it simple.
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Eric Dodd
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Thanks Sandy. I don't think the White Dwarf review I read at the time really commented on the disconnect between the setting and rules. I think they were appreciative of the stories that the RPG could tell. Maybe the idea was that the GM would be an older brother / parent? Any comments about Larry Niven's Ringworld?
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Non Sequitur
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sos1 wrote:
happysmellyfish wrote:
Did anybody realise at the time that the rules were a little too chunky?

In 1984, "chunky" rules were hot. It just seemed like the natural thing to do in those days. Very few companies were looking at keeping it simple.


Yup, that's what I assumed. Makes you wonder what further blind spots are lurking in the collective gamer mind.
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Brian Leet
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happysmellyfish wrote:
sos1 wrote:
happysmellyfish wrote:
Did anybody realise at the time that the rules were a little too chunky?

In 1984, "chunky" rules were hot. It just seemed like the natural thing to do in those days. Very few companies were looking at keeping it simple.


Yup, that's what I assumed. Makes you wonder what further blind spots are lurking in the collective gamer mind.


Many, I'm sure. Our advantage now is that with far more experience and connectedness the cycle time on evolution is a lot quicker.

To the OP, this is a great little anecdote, thanks for sharing it!
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EQ just came at a bad time. The "percentile system" era of RPGs were alternatives to the D&D d20 system, but just as embedded in crunchy combat-oriented roleplaying. I think EQ needed a rules light rpg, with emphasis on roleplaying over roleplaying.

I think, had ElfQuest been published today, Atlas Game's 14-year-old-girl-friendly "Once Upon a Time" would be a good fit. I'm pretty sure OUAT can be adapted so you "play a character" more like RPGs.

Thanks for the articles!
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Sandy Petersen
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Yes I realized that EQ was WAY too complex and argued for a simpler game. But my Cassandra was bypassed I think at least in part because some people (no longer at Chaosium) simply didn't care that much about the game.
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Jared Rascher
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You know, all of this talk about using a licensed property as a test bed for another game system reminds me of WOTC's Star Wars RPGs.
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Havard Blackmoor
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Really interesting! ElfQuest was one of the first RPGs I GMed. I think Mr Petersen is a bit too harsh on his creation though. We had alot of fun with the game. I do agree that there is room for improvement however. I posted some ideas for improving the game at The Piazza:

http://www.thepiazza.org.uk/bb/viewtopic.php?f=86&t=15233&p=...


Thanks again for posting these thoughts!

-Havard
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