To Elfland and Back
To Elfland and Back is a beautifully illustrated zine written for Fae Jam 2020, which reminds me of an expanded one-page roleplaying game taking players to the realm of the Fae to retrieve a stolen object. The zine is designed for 2-6 players and has a variable play length. There’s a lot of potential game packed into these fourteen pages.
Note: Planar Compass provided a review copy to Rolling Boxcars for this article. If you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review, please visit our Product Review Request page.
Players take on the role of medieval townsfolk in a generic fantasy world. Character creation is a short three-step process—roll or choose a job, write down 3-4 possessions, and roll or choose a personality. The Referee takes on the role of all Non-Player Characters. Referees are expected to create “their” version of Elfland; to aid in this effort, the authors provide various tables to help flesh out Elfland and their stories. Rolling Boxcars staffer, Stephen, would like to add that Bernard Sleigh’s illustration “An ancient mappe of Fairyland” would make a great resource for this game.
To Elfland and Back is very much an “indie” game in its design. It’s a simple story game with players traveling to the realm of the Fae to retrieve a stolen object. The game is played out through a series of scenes with the Referee describing each and asking the players what they want to do. The players, then, in turn, describe their actions, with the Referee describing the outcome of their actions. This continues scene by scene until the game comes to its conclusion.
As a story game, it is light on rules. In fact, there is only one game mechanic, and that is a simple d6 “Challenge Roll” used to resolve all uncertain situations. Results range from—Failure (1), Success with consequences (2-3), Success (4-5), and Success with fantastic results (6)—with the Referee embellishing the narrative as needed. Rolls can be adjusted with Advantage or Disadvantage, with the player rolling 2d6 and taking the best or worst result. With no other rules provided, should Referees find themselves in a situation where a clear rule is needed, they are encouraged to house rule these situations. Although with the narrative nature of the game, the resolution mechanic should have most cases covered.
The zine is beautifully illustrated and presented as a full-color illuminated manuscript, which fits the game’s theme quite nicely. The layout is simple, being primarily charts and illustrations, and very easy on the eyes. The illuminated manuscript aesthetic is a wonderful companion for this medieval story game.
Admittedly, at first, To Elfland and Back came across as a little daunting. I find games with limited rule structures a little intimidating. I like clearly defined rules and boundaries. However, the more I thought about it, the less intimidating I found it. I quickly realized I don’t need rules for every situation, but instead, I should let the players interact with the story. For example, if the players follow a pixie into Elfland and confront them about the stolen item, how they interact with the pixie and the Challenge roll outcome should drive my response—not black and white rules. See, not so daunting, after all!
Short story games such as To Elfland and Back are well suited for conventions and as a pickup game. There are virtually no entry barriers, playtime can be tailored for the group or the event with ease, and it requires little prep on the part of the Referee. This is one game that will be going in my convention, “Go Bag.”
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