The ELFQUEST RPG was based off the long-running fantasy comics by Wendy & Richard Pini. Back in 1984, Elfquest was a relatively-new independent comic series published by the Pini’s WaRP Graphics.
The stories were set on the World of Two Moons, a fantasy Earth, chronicling the strife between humans, alien-derived elves, and Trolls. While the comics may at first blush appear to be intended for pre-teen girls, the stories are clearly written for mature audiences. (Most of the early Elfquest comics can be read free at their Reading Room!)
Either the Pinis approached Chaosium, or Chaosium contacted them. It’s always fascinating to see differing recollections.
Then Elfquest began to grow in popularity and circulation, and one publisher approached us for the rights to compile a full-color reprint volume, and another publisher approached us for a novel based on the series, and someone else asked for permission to make t-shirts, and Chaosium glanced Poughkeepsie-way with an eye toward taking our imaginary world and reducing it (by baking and slow simmering, we imagined) into charts and statistics, point values and rulesbooks. And we said, “Sure, go ahead.”Richard Pini, from the Elfquest RPG Foreward
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.Sandy Petersen, 2011 post in rpgeek
The project was given to Steve Perrin, to adapt the Elfquest comics to Chaosium’s in-house Basic Roleplaying (BRP) universal rules system. Sandy Petersen continues:
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.
The consensus with players and reviewers of the Elfquest RPG is that the rules are too complicated with regard to the source material. This reminds me of Middle Earth Roleplaying (MERP), which Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) saddled with their complex Rolemaster rules set, a poor fit for Tolkien’s high fantasy world as seen in the Lord of the Rings.
I think the BRP rules, slimmed down rather than augmented, would have worked better. Chaosium came to the same conclusion, later releasing suggestions for simplified gameplay. These optional rules can be found on a single sheet included with the later print box set I’m profiling today.
Elfquest, 1st edition [BOX SET]
1984 … Steve Perrin & Sandy Petersen & Yurek Chodak … Chaosium 2601-X
Contents: • Elfbook • Worldbook • Map of the World of Two Moons • Example of Play • Reference Sheets • Character Sheets
Printing notes: The box set was later updated with new covers on the books, a two-page Contents sheet with Errata on the flip side of the contents, and a Ral Partha ad on the 2nd page. Plus the “Simplifying Elfquest Combat” sheet I alluded to earlier.
I’ve seen these later sets with Fall 1985 and Fall 1986 Chaosium catalogs, giving an idea of how long the 1984 set was in print.
Elfquest RPG was released as a 2nd edition paperback book in 1989. Three sourcebooks expanded the game as well. See my Elfquest RPG reference page for more info.
The Elfquest box was part of Chaosium’s classic 1980s series of boxes, which I adore. Below is a photo from my personal collection.
The Elfbook (72 pages) contains all the rules.
The Worldbook (36 pages) has all the setting info for the gamemaster.
Given the vast and unique background of Elfquest, it seems a bit absurd that this book is half the length of the rulebook. This was typical of Eighties RPGs that adapted properties: Single-minded focus on rules, rather than assisting the GM with immersion and adventures in the setting that was being adapted. (Midnight at the Well of Souls comes to mind…)
Map is printed on one side.
Charts and Sheets
“Simplfying Elfquest Combat”