We currently have no elven player characters in either my on-going group campaign or the solo game I run with my wife. This might be due to the lack of weapon restrictions for magic users (anybody can use anything they can reasonably lift and swing/ fire) or perhaps simply the larger amount of experience points elves need to advance in Labyrinth Lord/ Basic D&D. Or maybe we just don't go for pointed ears.
Whatever the reason, the result is that we haven't yet explored much how elves fit into my world of Avandar/ Urth. Most of my players were made aware (and might even still remember) that elves are rarely born as natives to the Urth, but rather come from the Realm of Faerie, a separate plane of existence. Should a player in my game elect to play an elf, he or she would be required to roll on the following table to see how their character came to inhabit the Realms of Avandar (click to embiggen):
It's a short, succinct table (at least in terms of the number of results) that nevertheless provides for a broad range of actual outcomes as things are interpreted and applied. In its structure and execution it's not particularly singular if you've been playing the game for very long, but it's worth it to me to examine it here anyway. I'm doing so because it's relevant to my attempts to describe how I believe RPGs actually work and provides me an excellent excuse not to finish working on the real follow-up post I owe this blog about players.
Any in-game activity for an RPG is an expression of one or more of the three agents of dice, DM and player at work. This table happens to be all three. The possible results in the right column represent the DM's agency. A set of potential outcomes are being presented that are consistent with how the DM envisions and expresses his world and campaign. The agency of the dice, here to decide, is apparent in the left column. The player agency is exerted by their further defining, specifying or largely ignoring the resulting roll or rolls for their characters. "Yes, I'm an exile... but why? Is my character innocent? Repentant? Bent on returning as a conquering force? Resigned to my fate?" They must recognize the facts of their character's personal history, but aren't compelled to act upon them in any specific way.
Perhaps that last point is most important to me personally... the table strikes my preferred balance between the three agents. While every elf PC must roll on the table, the results can either be embraced or largely ignored. Character actions over the course of the campaign can be informed by, in spite of or completely independent from this randomly determined starting point. If exiled, one can simply not pursue a means of returning. If on the lamb, one can choose for themselves a relatively benign situation from which to flee. And so on and so on. Some players will gravitate toward the dramatic and others will avoid it. This table can accommodate each type. As DM one can, at a future point, twist a seemingly benign result into something more serious or impacting but nothing on the table itself is actually forcing the DM or player's hand to any particular action. By answering these specific questions, though, the character is taking shape as an entity beyond the pencil scratches and die rolls that led a player to the point of rolling on this table.
In actual use, my players are always entitled to make the die roll on this or similar tables for themselves. The details of the results need not be worked out right away, though. A fictional character's back-story isn't necessarily known to even the author in the first scene/ chapter/ episode, so my players and I are likewise allowed some time here. I do like to have these sorts of things worked out by the time a character achieves 2nd level, but that's a guideline more than a self-imposed rule.