Elfin Chain Follow-Up

Thanks to Delta for pointing out the location of Elfin Chain in the DMG (p. 27):

Chain, Elfin,  is a finely wrought suit of chain which  is of  thinner  links but stronger metal. It is obtainable only from elvenkind who do not sell it.

It is mentioned once more on page 28, in a section about magical armor:

When magic armor  is worn, assume  that  its  properties allow movement of  the  next higher  base  rate and  that weight  is  cut  by 50%.  There  is no magical elfin chain mail.

Besides a comment about it being immune to the Heat Metal spell and a row in the encumbrance chart, those are the only references to elfin chain in the DMG.  As such, I think it’s pretty clear that it was not intended to be handed out to players.  It’s explicitly not purchasable per the description, nor does it show up in the treasure charts.  However, as we can see in A1, this did not deter players from obtaining it and DMs from handing it out.  As such, we see it show up in the treasure charts of Unearthed Arcana.  What’s more, we see magical versions of to +5 enchantment (Unearthed Arcana, p. 88), which directly contradicts the second quote above from the DMG.

Delta claims that this ultimately started as an attempt to explain the unusual movement rate of elves in Chain Mail.  It’s a reasonable explanation, and I find it thus fascinating how strongly the idea took hold in the D&D community.  Clearly this item is the grand-father of mythril, a concept now thoroughly enmeshed in the fantasy genre.  Sure, the true source here is probably the armor Tolkien gave to Bilbo, but I suspect that the fantasy-consuming culture at large is responsible for its increased significance.  I’m tempted to go back and re-read the parts focusing on this armor in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, to see if as much significance is given to it as in the movies.  I suspect not.

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5 Comments

  1. Geez, I hope I didn’t bring a curse to your blog… anyway…

    Note that the 1E DMG has a separate and distinct reference for mithral. In the notes for magic armor, you get this specification on material requirements for high bonuses: “Armor of +3 bonus is of special meteorite iron steel, +4 is mithral alloyed steel, +5 is adamantine alloyed steel.” [p. 164]

    In 3E the two ideas were merged, as you point out, such that elfin chain was by definition chain made of mithral. [3E DMG]

  2. …side note: If you look up the 3.0E “elven chain” (light-weight mithral), right before it you’ll see “dwarven plate”, which serves much the same purpose — medium-weight mithral, thereby allowing dwarves one-step better movement category. Which also looks a lot like the “field plate” as it first appears on that same 1E DMG p. 27. And if you look closely, both of these items show up in BOW.

    http://www.zombler.org/files/srd30a/magic_armor.htm

  3. The first post by that commenter I was willing to allow as good natured humor though in poor taste. This one, however, was just abusive and full of less veiled obscenity. So into the spam filter it goes.

  4. Yeah, it does seem like the authors could not come to a consensus as to whether mithril was inherently magical or not, nor therefore whether it could be further enchanted. For my own uses, I like the idea that elfin chain is its own special thing whether inherently magical or not. I don’t reduce weight of magical armor in my games, nor allow magical elfin chain, thus allowing chain armor that’s light as normal clothes to be in a class of its own and still highly desirable in its own right.

    BTW, I have to say that I don’t like the change from “elfin” to “elven”. Which is odd because I do prefer “dwarves” to “dwarfs”. Somehow “elfin” just sounds a little more fantasy/fairy tale to me, which I think is a good thing.

  5. I agree with all that. I think it highlights the attempted retcon: “uh, elfin chain is this special thing all elves wear, but only elves, and you can’t get it, and it’s not for sale, no one ever lost it to appear in treasure tables, and it can’t be made magical”, which is really not sustainable in the broader context of the system.

    And I originally wrote “elfin” above, stared closely at the 3E language to which I was referring, then had to backspace and rewrite it, snarling a bit.

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