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A DM’s Guide to Elves

by Jae

Elves are one of the 9 basic race types for DnD. They’re a staple of fantasy and role playing, being as synonymous with high fantasy as Dwarves. But what makes an Elf an Elf? Whether you’re running Elven NPCs, managing Elf player characters, or setting up Elven civilizations, understanding the core aspects of Elves will help you run a better game. Let’s look at the lore behind Elves!

What are Elves?

Elves are one of the most commonly portrayed non-human races in the whole of fantasy literature. Elves are tall, slender, and graceful. Essentially the polar opposite of the Dwarves, Elves are known to have no facial hair and are quite light-weight for their height. While physically Elves are essentially pretty and graceful versions of Humans, they also have some additional trademark characteristics. They’re known for their pointy ears, unusual variety of hair and skin colors, and vibrant eye shades.

If we look at the stats, they can definitely be on the taller side, but have similar average heights to Humans. While they only weigh between 100 and 140 lbs on average, it does not mean Elves are physically weaker. In fact, Elves gain a bonus to their dexterity to highlight their grace and fairer builds.

Beyond their physical appearance Elves are also distinct in their long life span. Of the 9 base races for DnD, Elves have the longest lifespan, living to be around 750 years old. This long life means that they aren’t considered an adult until they are over 100 years of age, though they are perfectly capable of independence even at younger ages. Elves also decide for themselves when they reach adulthood, though this varies depending on the individual society the Elf is in.

Their long lives also tend to give them an overall patient and calm demeanor. Other races can see this as coming off as aloof and disinterested, which can sometimes result in tensions. Humans may find an Elf’s long life something to be envied and their patience as wasting time that others simply don’t have. Elves also don’t need to sleep and instead trance or meditate for about 4 hours a day.

Elven Society

Elves are classically known to live in wooded areas. They tend to live in villages or small kingdoms and work diligently to intertwine themselves with the land. They often don’t need to modify an environment to live in and simply integrate themselves as part of the ecosystem.

Similar to Dwarven culture, Elves are skilled craftsmen. Having such long lifespans translates directly into being able hone a craft to a point of mastery that shorter lived races can’t even imagine. This dedication to a craft makes their goods highly sought after and their services something that other races routinely vie for. Having an Elf on a Human court is considered a great honor, especially when it comes to roles of instruction or as advisors.

Elves typically settle out of the way of other races and keep to themselves. If an Elf settlement is near that of any other race, more than likely the Elves were there first and just have not moved. In the situation where they don’t like their neighbors, they may decide that they can simply wait for them to leave.

Another thing to note is that Elves do not typically mine. They acquire their metals through trade, usually with Dwarves, and while they want the goods they often find the methods used to procure them distasteful.

Elven Disposition

Elves are all unique in their own right. But if we’re generalizing, they are typically portrayed as stuffy, arrogant, prideful, and smug. This isn’t necessarily how they actually are, but when a Human declares themselves an adult before they’re 20, it seems amusing to an Elf. Similarly, their relationship with nature leads to high tensions when dealing with short lived races willing to extract resources from the land without much forethought or concern.

Elves are known for their long memories too. They don’t quickly forgive grudges. But just like their hatred is held for a long time, so are their friendships; they are known to be quite loyal to anyone who earns that friendship.

Elven Adventurers

Elves commonly go on adventures, set out on quests, or just decide they want to travel for a few hundred years. While they dislike the fast paced lives of the short lived races, they do love to travel and observe the world at their own leisure. Most of the time it would completely normal to meet an Elf who is out experiencing the world, learning about lore and magic, or even just testing their skills outside of Elven society.

Elves join parties typically because their goals align with others. They may take up causes they agree with that are not their own simply on a whim, but they make the decision to do so on their own. It is very rare to see an Elf who has been coerced or cajoled into doing something they don’t want to.

Elven Archetypes

Elves are not always pigeonholed into roles like other races might be. It is very possible to see the nature druid elf or the highly skilled ranger, but elves can easily fit most classes and roles. The role least suited for an Elf is that of the Barbarian. While there is nothing that prohibits them from taking up the class, it would be unusual to say the least. And while thematically an Elf Barbarian is weird, the additional dexterity makes them excel at most fighting roles.

Elves by the Numbers

Elves have a lot of game rule advantages and no innate disadvantages. The base race gets an increased Dexterity score, Darkvision, Keen Senses, Advantage against Charm, immunity to Sleep, and a reduced resting time. Going with either the High Elf, Wood Elf, or Drow sub-races changes your advantages in specific ways, allowing you to have an Elf for any occasion.

High Elves get increased Intelligence and a free cantrip in addition to bonus weapon proficiencies.

Wood Elves have increased Wisdom, faster base movement speed, and an ability to hide in natural areas in addition to bonus weapon proficiencies.

The Drow are the first variant that has a downside. While they gain a Charisma bonus, Superior Darkvision, and their own set of innate spells, they suffer from Sunlight Sensitivity, which confers disadvantage on attack rolls and perception checks when in direct sunlight. Drow also tend to be evil, as most worship the the spider queen Lolth, but this is not a requirement for the sub-race.

Elves in a Nutshell

Elves are versatile and can easily fit into most parts of a DnD game without too many mental gymnastics. Their simple and elegant traits make them a good race to use for both characters and NPCs and because of their many sub-race variants they can be easily shaped into a variety of specialty purposes.

With a little bit of knowledge and preparation, Elven backdrops and NPCs are easy to add to your game. Now that you know the basics, give an Elven settlement a try, weave in some Elf Bards, or simply pit your team against an Elven adversary.

Happy DMing!

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