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Elves – A guide to D&D Races

Possibly the most iconic of the fantasy races, Elves can trace their origin back into mythology, much like Dwarves. Elves are almost a direct counterpoint to Dwarves, being famed for their refined tastes and slender, graceful frames.

Lore and Heritage

Elves are one of the most magical of races and certainly the longest lived. Strongly tied to the natural world and the world of faerie, most fantasy setting position Elves as the eldest race and sometimes one in decline. Elves are one of the ‘Elder Races’ in most settings and with a lifespan of more than half a millennium, they have plenty of time for everything.

As a result of their incredibly long lives, Elves tend to be portrayed as thoughtful, often studious, and calm. They approach learning and training with diligence and dedication and spend decades learning and mastering a skill before applying it.

Individuality is important to most Elves and they are encouraged to find the path that best suits them in life, even if it means trying several different careers or hobbies over many human lifespans. Another by-product of their long lives is that Elves take a long time to form real friendships and they find human lives very short and regimented by comparison to their own.

Defining Characteristics

Elves are slightly shorter than human on average, but still measure between five and six feet tall. They are one of the slenderer races, however, and rarely weigh much more than the average human adolescent.

Male and female alike have the same slender build, are often considered beautiful to other races – although this is the distant beauty of stars and sculptures – and favour long hair. Elves do not have facial hair and little body hair, which can make it hard for some to tell male and female Elves apart as both can appear somewhat androgynous.

Elves are renowned for their grace, both physical and social. This is often expressed through complex art, music, poetry and dance, of through the famed beauty of elven crafts. This often takes the form of slender and organic looking pieces that honour nature, for the Elves tend to live in harmony with the natural world.

Elven society emphasises this idea of harmony with nature and builds space for it into their towns and villages, which can make it seem to outsiders that the Elves live as a part of the forest and not just within it.

Elves in Social Environments

Socially, Elves are known to be haughty, reserved – even stuck up, but they are also diplomatic and expressive. Since many Elves do not even begin exploring the world until they have reached their first century, they are often more confident and surer of their abilities that the shorter-lived races and know exactly where their capabilities lie. They can, however, be slow to learn new things as they prefer to take their time.

Elves can make for wonderful social characters, except for their tendency to arrogance and assumption that other races are somehow ‘lesser’. That said, Elven minstrels, warriors and magic users are among the most commonly encounter adventuring Elves, setting high expectations for those who follow them.

Often, Elves will have encountered many different challenges in their long lives and will often have experienced something similar to many of the social environments that the characters may find themselves in, giving them an insight into ways to resolve it. Elves are also known to have excellent manners and are excellently suited to roles as ambassadors, performers and messengers.

Elves in Combat Encounters

All Elves have at least some combat trainings and all are proficient with some combination of sword and bow – most Elves can use the short bow, longbow, short sword and longsword, although the Dark Elves (or Drow) replace bows with crossbows and longswords with a rapier.

Their natural grace gives Elves a distinct edge with light weapons and armour, making them not only difficult to hit, but also better able to hit their opponents. Elven weapons are well made, light and elegant, often much sought after by others, deadly in the hands of an Elf.

Many Elves have also learned, if not mastered, the secrets of magic and are well known for their ability to charm or confuse their enemies or call on the powers of nature to serve them for a short time.

Elves see battle as just another skill to be mastered and are usually precise and efficient in the way they wage war, careful to conserve the lives they have and strategizing ways to maximise enemy damage while minimising allied suffering.

Reasons to Play Elves

Elves are present in almost every fantasy setting available, so there is plenty of inspiration to draw on! An Elf can be a versatile team member and play any role, although they excel as warriors, diplomats and spellcasters.

If you want to approach your game with the slightly alien mindset of a near immortal, Elves are the choice for you. When playing an Elf, always try to remember that everything is rushing past absurdly fast and only your natural intelligence, grace and superiority enable you to keep track of it all.

Elves are strongly individualist and tend towards chaotic alignments, so it is a great choice for people who want to play iconoclasts who work with others to achieve their own goals, often outside the system.

Reasons NOT to Play Elves

While they’re fast and graceful, Elves are not particularly durable, so if you want to play a tough character, Elves are not necessarily for you. Eve as Fighters, Elves make for better skirmishers than line-fighters and are better suited to high mobility warriors.

Elves can also be quite complex and carry a lot of lore around with them – few Elves are naïve and so can be daunting for a newcomer or someone without a lot of knowledge about the game world. While there are some roles in which Elves excel, such as Rangers, Druids or Wizards, they do not make for particularly good Warlocks (with the exception of Drow) and while mechanically well suited to being a Rogue, their heritage makes it less than ideal.

Elf Mechanics

Elves gain a +2 to their Dexterity score. Their speed is 30 feet due to their grace and longer legs. Elves get the benefit of Darkvision 60 and can see well in darkness and dim light.

Elves automatically have proficiency in Perception. Due to their Fey Ancestry, Elves have Advantage on saving throws against Charm and cannot be put to Sleep by magic. Elves also have no need to sleep as others do, but must spend 4 hours per day in a Trance.

Elves begin with the ability to speak Common and Elvish.

Due to their long existence in most worlds, the Elves have split into three ‘subraces’. You should choose one at character creation:

High Elves: Intelligence +1, Proficient with short bow, longbow, short sword and longsword. One cantrip (even if not usually a caster). One additional language.

Wood Elves: Wisdom +1, Proficient with short bow, longbow, short sword and longsword. Speed increases to 35. Wood Elves can attempt to Hide even when only lightly covered by foliage.

Drow: Charism +1, Darkvision 120, Disadvantage on attack and Perception rolls in direct sunlight. Proficient with crossbow, short sword and rapier. Dancing Lights cantrip at level 1, Faerie Fire spell at level 3 and Darkness spell at level 5.

Written by Rawand Al-Issa

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