Elf Warfare Osprey Publishing

Book Retort: Elf Warfare

The Elegantly Deadly Dance that is Elf Warfare

Written by John Diffley

I’ll admit upfront, I have been a longtime fan of Osprey Publishing, especially their historical warfare series.  However, a few years back they started to offer Fantasy and Sci-Fi titles as well, and then branched out into wargames, and I fell in love all over again.  One of their newest offerings is Elf Warfare by the accomplished war game designer, Chris Pramas.  Readers may know him from his Dragon Age RPG, Warhammer Fantasy RPG (2nd ed.), his publishing company Green Ronin, or from the time he spent as Creative Director for Wizards of the Coast and Flying Lab Software.  Once again, his genius shines through in this work suitable as fluff for any number of war games rules, including Osprey’s own Dragon Rampant or Frostgrave if one wished to bring in Elves; more on this later.

Elf Warfare is the third book in an ongoing “Open Book” series of fantasy based Warfare books, by the same author, with the Dwarf Warfare and Orc Warfare books already released.

To start with, Chris offers a unique look at the Elven kindreds, set up using the East Asian version of the five elements: Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood.  From the Gold Elves, to High Elves; from the Wood Elves to the Sea Elves (who dwell, not underwater, but alongside or atop it, so sub clans of River or Lake Elves exist); and finally, to the Splintered Earth Elves, made up of the Moon Elves and their traitorous kin.  Each branch of this Elven family, including that sixth splinter group who will be familiar to all who have played most any Fantasy RPG, especially D&D and Pathfinder, or knows the Nordic myths.  The Kindred section explains each kindred in depth from how they act and where they like to live, but also how they interact with their fellow Kindreds.  They may differ drastically in approach to life, but enemies of the Elves soon learn that an enemy of one is generally an enemy to all, especially the Orcs (who also have their own book by Osprey.) They are well-thought-out, wonderfully described and ready to add flavor to any war game or role-playing game.

Chris then goes on to describe, in great detail, the various weapons and troop types common to the Kindreds, including which types are favored by which Kindred.  Naturally, bow wielding archers, horse archers, scouts, and chariot archers take center stage.  However, spear troops, ranging from thrusting spears to long two-handed pike like spears used to keep enemies at bay while the archers whittle away at them also are a mainstay of most armies.  Sword wielding troops, used to sweep through broken lines, in a blur of motion and death, resembling a most beautiful and horrifyingly violent dance best describes them.  Elite greatsword wielding shock troops are also fully described, used by the Gold Elves and High Elves as foot knights who stand ready to enter the fray.

Numerous cavalry units, including the aforementioned chariots weave their way back and forth on the battlefield, all gloriously written so that the imagination has little trouble seeing them at work. The composite short bow using horse archers are a favorite of mine, given my historian background in Muslim and Mongol armies of the 11th-13th Centuries. Elven horse archers are just as well trained as any real-life Mongol or Turkic ones, and have mastered the real world backwards-shot known as the Parthian shot, where they fire at their enemies as they race away at full gallop, turned in the saddle and only directing their mounts via their legs.  This allows them to race into battle, fire a number of volleys and race back to the baggage train or chariots which are carrying more quivers, as these troops can loose their entire quivers in the span of two minutes or less.

Each Kindred also have unique units that work best for them and for the terrain their Kindred most favors.  This is someplace Chris Pramas really shines, as does the next section where Elven Tactics and Strategies are explained. Readers will find Animal Handlers, Artillerists and Tree Runners, to name just a few of the Kindred unique troop types. Combined, these will allow any RPG gamer or wargamer a wide selection of choices for building an imaginary or miniature army, each choice as valid as the next, given that player’s game style.  A Gold Elf army backed by Wood Elf contingents, if fighting near woodlands, will make a very different force and challenge than that of a Moon Elf and High Elf army.  Mix, match and enjoy.

The final section of this marvelous book records several Elven victories.  Each history is written with skill and a depth of flavor leaving the reader feeling they have just ridden a rollercoaster.  I will refrain from going into any depth here, as spoiling these stories would be a sin.

Anyone who loves Elves, particularly Tolkien or Nordic Elves, should pick this book up and just read it for the sheer pleasure.  However, for anyone who plays any sort of Fantasy game, be it D&D or any wargame with Elves, this is a must read.  You can create a D&D race of Elves with traits found in this book that will be unlike, yet still similar to, a number of Elven sub-races.  As both a DM and a war gamer, I love this book for that fact.  I have an Elven Kindred army for Mantic Miniature’s Kings of War game, and the rule book I purchased is a condensed Players version, so it lacks any of the fluff about the races.  Elven Warfare now will be the fluff I use going forward.  This is the appeal of the book: it speaks to so many games, both by Osprey Publishing and others, and to many readers.

I highly recommend this book to all who love rousing stories of fantasy races in combat, war gamers who want their Elf armies to be slightly different than the run of the mill types, and Dungeon/Game Masters looking for something your players haven’t seen before in the race of Elves.  I will be adding Chris Pramas’ books in this series to my own library, and eagerly await the next.  Thank you Mr. Pramas, for your excellent take on an old trope and for breathing fresh life into it.

John Diffley