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Gazetteer 5 – The Elves of Alfheim

Basic Dungeons and Dragons

  • Publisher: TSR
  • Rules: Dungeons & Dragons BECMI
  • Developer:
  • Reference: gaz5 9223
0e-gaz-05 Alfheim
0e-gaz-05 gaz5 D&D BECMI Alfheim

This is the first Gazetteer to outline a non-human culture: that of the elves. Herein DMs and players alike will find information on elven society, politics, economics, and culture. Fascinating, first-hand details on the fabulous tree-cities are at last available to adventurers. The pageant of elven life hinted at in previous TSR products such as CM7 “The Tree of Life” is now revealed in its entirety.

For players of elven characters, this book is an invaluable resource. Portions of the elven way of life that were cloudy until recently are outlined here in crystal clarity. The same material will be of aid to the DM who uses Alfheim in his or her campaign. “The Elves of Alfheim” is sure to become a staple of any D&D game campaign.

Product History

GAZ5: “The Elves of Alfheim” (1988), by Steve Perrin and Anders Swenson, is the fifth book in the “GAZ” series of Gazetteers for the Known World. It was published in March 1988.

Origins. When they were asked to write “The Elves of Alfheim,” freelancers Perrin and Swenson were given three related books as references: the sourcebooks for the neighboring countries of GAZ2: “The Emirates of Ylaruam” (1987) and GAZ6: “The Dwarves of Rockhome” (then unpublished), and an Alfheim adventure, CM7: “The Tree of Life” (1987). They also received a map of Mystara, which would ultimately cause some problems.

Perrin and Swenson broke up the work by each writing about individual tribes of elves; they then wrote the connecting material together.

Continuing the “GAZ” Sourcebooks. Following in the footsteps its predecessors, “The Elves of Alheim” details one of the countries of the Known World. Thanks to its focus on a dwarven country, it was the first D&D book to detail a non-human culture. Future Gazetteer books would cover dwarves, halflings, orcs, and shadow elves.

Like all of the “GAZ” books, “The Elves of Alfheim” details its country extensively, with notes on history, geography, culture, botany, economy, and politics. More specifically, it follows the style laid out by Known World line developer Bruce Heard in GAZ3: “The Principalities of Glantri” (1987) by providing those details as part of a larger 96-page book. Though mostly for GMs, “The Elves of Alfheim” also included a nice 8-page pullout for players, including rules for creating elves.

Love It or Hate It? Perrin is under the impression that Bruce Heard didn’t like “The Elves of Alfheim”. Heard says he asked Perrin some questions about the book, particularly whether the capital should be less “forest-oriented”, but that he wasn’t unhappy with the results. The question became somewhat moot when Aaron Allston destroyed the Alfheim Forest in Wrath of the Immortals (1992) … though Alfheim probably would have been restored if the Mystaran line had continued.

A History of Elves. Elves entered the RPG world in OD&D (1974) in a form similar to that seen in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954-55). They were a popular race (or class) in early games, but they didn’t appear as the main focus of any books until the 80s.

Other FRP publishers got the jump on TSR in publishing elf splat books. MERP was one of the first out the door with the publication of Northern Mirkwood: The Wood-elves Realm (1983) and Lórien & The Halls of the Elven Smiths (1986); while Role Aids published books on Elves (1983) and, perhaps oddly, Ice Elves (1985) around the same time. Hârn even got into the act with Evael (1986). Perhaps most notably, an elvish RPG also appeared: Elfquest (1984) was a BRP game based on the more bestial elves imagined by Richard and Wendy Pini—and it was designed by none other than Steve Perrin.

While there were thus several elf RPG books out by the time TSR got into the game in 1988, they definitely made up for lost time! “The Elves of Alfheim” was just the first of many elvish RPG books that TSR (and later Wizards of the Coast) produced for use with AD&D. Future sourcebooks included GAZ13: “The Shadow Elves” (1990), PHBR8: The Complete Book of Elves (1992), DSS3: “Elves of Athas” (1993), The Ruins of Myth Drannor (1993), FOR5: Elves of Evermeet (1994), and Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves (1998). There were also a few elf-related adventures for Dragonlance, including DLS2: “Tree Lords” (1991), DLS3: “Oak Lords” (1991), and DLS4: “Wild Elves” (1991).

Expanding the Known World. Many of the Known World “GAZ” books described lands that were previously unknown. However, Alfheim had already received a surprising amount of support. Most notably, there were two adventures set in the area: O2: “Blade of Vengeance” (1983) and CM7: “The Tree of Life” (1987); however, while “The Elves of Alfheim” gives good attention to the major quest of “The Tree of Life,” “Blade of Vengeance” is unfortunately neglected. Other sources for “The Elves of Alfheim” include the previously mentioned GAZ1 and GAZ6 as well as GAZ3: “The Principalities of Glantri” (1987), which introduced flamenco elves (!). Some political details were also derived from X10: “Red Arrow, Black Shield” (1985) and Perrin’s own CM9: “Legacy of Blood” (1987). Whew!

From this basis, the authors created another detailed part of the Known World. One of their biggest challenges was figuring out why there was a forest right next to a desert, in an area surrounded by mountains and cut off from the sea. They decided the answer was a curse which stole the fertility of Ylaruam and gave it to Alfheim. For the actual elves, Perrin and Swenson devised several different tribes, one of which was similar to the barbarians of Elfquest. They also ruled out half-elves. Their original explanation for this was somewhat scientific, but Heard changed it to fantasy reasoning.

Future History. The Known World later got a second book about elves, the aforementioned GAZ13: “The Shadow Elves.”

About the Creators. Perrin is best known for his authorship of Chaosium’s Runequest (1978), but probably was selected as an elf author because of Elfquest (1984). He authored a few Forgotten Realms books around the same time, but afterward largely brought his freelancing work to an end.

Swenson had previously worked on a few books with Perrin at Chaosium; this was his only D&D publication.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons—a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

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By thedarkelf007

I am a long term gamer, I run 6 RPG's a fortnight, host board game, card game and LANs each about once a quarter and have an addiction to buying more games. Games I am currently running are Pathfinder (1st and 2nd Edition) and Dungeons and Dragons (5th Edition).

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