|Elf-like creatures (water nymphs, actually, which were Greek but are here portrayed in a neo-Raphaelite romantic style that mirrors that of Elves and how they were depicted in the Victorian period) drawing a man to his death|
Which leaves us, now, at this juncture, with elves to talk about. We have two radically different conceptions of elves that stand at odds with each other: the playable Dungeons and Dragons fantasy-type elf, and the elf of mythology. Mythologically, stemming from those cycles, elves are a dangerous, capricious, inhuman, almost monstrous people inhabiting a land that exists side by side with ours but through a sort of veil. These Fair Folk or Good Folk (and you must always call them that for fear of offending them) are not the mystic tree-hippies or detached sorcerers of modern fantasy.
In their mythological origins, elves are much more akin to awful spirits than they are to men. Their ways are inscrutable. They may invite a commoner to dance and refuse to let them go until they die of de-hydration. They may causally invite someone over for a few drinks only for that person to find that the world has passed beyond all recognition and a hundred years have gone by while he was away. Elves are capricious, and seem incapable of understanding human beings.
I've striven to integrate this portion of the elvish mytho-spirit into the elves of the 10th Age. They are long-lived, and therefore find the tribulations of men somewhat amusing. They form deep attachments that they can break in an instant. They are fond of deals and tricks, and often have a somewhat perverse sense of humor when it comes to the other races. Still, this doesn't cure the main problem.
The tension is that elves of Celtic myth were about fear and the unknown and they were essentially inhuman. In a game like D&D, we're asking people to portray these roles, to inhabit them, not only as an actor might inhabit a role, but as a method actor might. How can we properly expect players to be elves as depicted in the myths? For that matter, how could we even want that, considering it would make playing the game as a party impossible or unpleasant?
Some of the work might be done in separating out the other "fair folk" from the elves and giving playable elves a more grounded base in the everyday realm of mortals. Pixies, nixies, sprites, griggs, atomies, leprechauns, and various others can still fill the traditional trickster role without too much trouble.
In order to make elves playable, they must be at least somewhat tame. They must be brought back from that terrifying wild place that they reside in mythology. Yet, I would argue, in order to preserve that which makes them elves, they cannot be wholly tame. They must be at least somewhat strange, other, outre, and unapproachable. To strike this balance... ah, that is the problem with elves.