This was something that emerged as an artifact of game play in the Chainmail war game that preceded Dungeons & Dragons. But where did it come from?
Generations of gamers have puzzled endlessly about this enigma. Some cite Tolkien. The official early explanation was derived from Poul Anderson’s depiction of elves being soulless. There have been plenty more. None of them ever quite hit the mark. I’m a firm believer that a roleplaying game’s rules should model the literary or legendary source. In this case, it goes without a real explanation.
I’m content to play a game with peculiar rules, but once I decided to become an author, I had to know the answer! You cannot write about characters you do not fully understand. Just what is this peculiar trait?
Context is key. First, what is a ghoul? Then, what is an elf? The answer to elven immunity appears by juxtaposing Jack Vance’s Mazirian the Magician and Basic D&D.
Mazirian later wondered if the ghoul had cast some sort of spell, for a strange paralysis strove to bind his brain. Perhaps the spell lay in the sight of Thrang’s raging gray-white face, the great arms thrust out to grasp.
She had set out with but two spells, the Charm of Untiring Nourishment and a spell affording strength to her arms —the last permitting her to hold off Thrang and tumble the temple upon Mazirian.
Juxtaposing the literature with the game design, the answer emerges. Elves aren’t immune to the paralyzing touch of ghouls. They can cast a spell that counters it. The original oversimplified game rule falls away as a relic of Chainmail that should never had made the conversion.
I hope you gamers, and in particular, writers out there enjoyed this post. Now, whatever you do with your particular take on elves, at least you have an explanation for what is actually happening in this particular situation.
(Please note that the illustration used above is fair use. However, if I am mistaken, please let me know and I will remove it without hesitation.)
See you around the web!