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  • D&D 5e: Let’s Build an Elf!

    July 14, 2021 9 min read

    Author: Rhenn Anthony Taguiam


    Meta Description: Elves in D&D 5e make their presence known for their grace and longevity. However, players don't need to settle for stereotypes for their D&D 5e characters.


    An Elf in most stereotypes are graceful, mystical, and ever-so-beautiful creatures in societies as old as time, with mysteries no other mortals can dare to understand. In Dungeons & Dragons 5e, Elves have the same characteristics. Elves in any D&D 5e campaign setting are almost ageless, refined in their selected crafts, and have an intricate connection with the arcane and the life around them. Players interested in making Elves might find it difficult to make a unique character, as they tend to be “locked” in stereotypes concerning their grace and splendor. However, Elves don’t always have to be Rangers, Druids, or even Wizards.


    In this guide, we’ll take a look into the innate characteristics that make Elves wondrous and mysterious at the same time. However, we’ll peek past the stereotypes and use what the sourcebooks offer and create an Elven character that can add an element of excitement to your adventuring party.

    Basics: The Traits

    Thanks to their keen senses and grace, Elves can take advantage of their innate Dexterity to serve as nature’s guardians or a stalwart presence in the realms. Unlike other races, Elves show affinity to magic and the mysteries that lie in nature. They have these traits:


    • Ability Score Increase: DEX + 2
    • Age: Elves claim an adult name at 100, and they can reach about 750 years old.
    • Size and Speed: Medium (5 to 6ft tall, slender builds), 30ft walking speed.
    • Alignment: Due to their long lives, Elves appreciate their freedom, making them lean towards Chaotic alignments. However, their strong belief of protecting the freedoms of others make most elves lean towards Good as well.
    • Racial Features: Elves enjoy these special characteristics:
      • Darkvision, which gives Elves the ability to see 60ft into dim light as though it were bright. Likewise, they can look into darkness as though it was dim, except they can’t see color in darkness.
      • Keen Senses, which makes Elves proficient with Perception.
      • Fey Ancestry, which gives Elves an Advantage on Saving Throws against charming magic. Moreover, they can’t be put to sleep.
      • Trance, which describes the Elven disregard for sleep. Unlike other races, Elves only need 4hrs of sleep to benefit from the usual 8hrs of sleep that Humans need.
      • Languages, of which Elves can speak Elvish and Common. Bards usually earn Elvish to add the beauty of Elvish songs to their repertoire, as Elvish has fluid grammar and subtle intonations.


    Elven Subclasses

    Players can choose to be High Elves, which demonstrate an Elf’s attachment to their magical roots and mastery of martial movement. They gain these additional benefits:

    • Ability Score Increase: INT + 1
    • Elf Weapon Training, which makes High Elves proficient with the longbow and the short bow, and the longsword and the short sword.
    • Cantrip, which lets the High Elf have an extra Wizard Cantrip of their choice. Their INT serves as their Spellcasting Ability.
    • Extra Language, wherein the status of the High Elf lets them learn another language of their choosing.


    Moreover, players can have their Elves defend their homes in the forest with Wood Elves, who appear wild and connected to the flora and fauna in their realms. Their skin appears copperish with hints of green. They have these benefits:

    • Ability Score Increase: WIS + 1
    • Elf Weapon Training, which gives Wood Elves proficiency with the short bow and the longbow, as well as the short sword and the longsword.
    • Fleet of Foot, which increases their base walking speed to 35ft.
    • Mask of the Wild, which grants Wood Elves the ability to hide despite having only light obstruction - mist, falling snow, heavy rain, foliage, and other natural phenomena.


    Lastly, players who want their Elves to have a deeper connection to the Feywild can make Eladrin, whose nature as Elves make them both a part of the Material Plane and the twilight realm. They have these additional benefits:

    • Ability Score Increase: INT + 1
    • Elf Weapon Training, of which the Eladrin gains proficiency with the longbow and the short bow, and the longsword and the short sword.
    • Fey Step, which gives them the ability to cast Misty Step once every short or long rest.

    Elves: The Best Classes

    As beings with long lives and natural Dexterity, Elves tend to showcase innate mastery of whatever craft they choose. Technicalities-wise, Elves make great Rangers and Druids that guard the forests and their homes, with their Dexterity providing ample ways for them to skillfully navigate difficult terrain and avoiding traps.


    However, Elves reliant on flavor show more variety in terms of classes, all of which try to show their grace and natural abilities. These include skillful Wizards and Warlocks tapping into unknown power.


    If you’re looking into classes that benefits from both the Elves’ natural traits and their potential for flavor, here are some that might fit your fancy:


    • Monk: Thanks to an Elf's longevity, they have more than enough time to perfect their body and refine it as though it's a musical instrument. As a Monk, Elves treat combat as dance, with each strike simply a note in a composition that leads to either them or their opponent dead. Elegance is an Elf's piece de resistance, something a Monk can fully show and demonstrate.
      • The Monk enjoys Saving Throws under STR and DEX, which the Elf’s DEX bonus could greatly add to. Moreover, the natural nimbleness of the Elf lets them enjoy skills such as DEX (Acrobatics) and DEX (Stealth).
      • In terms of starting equipment, an Elven Monk can start with a short sword or a simple weapon of their choice, of which they can benefit from their Elven weapon training.
      • Unarmored Defense lets Monks use their natural DEX to form their AC (10 + DEX Mod + WIS Mod), meaning an Elf with a DEX/STR/WIS Mod may very well start with a fairly decent AC.
      • Given how Ki relies on WIS as part of its Ki Save DC, perhaps the Wood Elf’s natural WIS bonus may make them efficient Monks. An Elven Monastery may be an interesting addition to your setting’s Elven society.


    • Ranger: Elves tend to be very solitary and protective creatures, often living close to nature and their other habitants. It makes sense for Elves to be Rangers - protecting their homeland and scouring the land for potential threats they may need to eliminate for the good of their realm.
      • The DEX-reliant Ranger seems to be a perfect fit for Elves that have a bonus in DEX. As such, players have the option of taking full advantage of a Ranger with a range-based DEX build, or dabble a bit into melee by allocating some points in STR and CON.
      • Any Elven Subrace with Elf Weapon Training can easily help Rangers acquire the means for Two-Weapon Fighting, which in itself makes them extremely deadly in combat thanks to their unhindered additional attacks. This perk, coupled with advantages from their Ranger Archetype, can make them lethal against specific foes.
      • An Elf Ranger’s chosen archetype may represent their attachment to their home, especially thanks to the versatility offered by Fey Wanderer or even Horizon Walker. Moreover, they can take on more role-specific Conclaves such as the Monster Slayer, the Hunter, or the traditional Beast Master.


    • Wizard: Elves, with their penchant for the refined, make great Wizards. Unlike Sorcerers that rely on the pure natural energy of the arcane, Elven Wizards may find it reasonable and objectively "proper" to find mastery in the arcane arts through study and practice. Discipline is key in the arcane arts, and an Elf has more than enough time to fill their spellbooks with spells that can decimate their foes.
      • Despite the Base Elf’s lack of any supplemental Ability Score bonuses for Wizards, Subclasses Eladrin and Wood Elves make great Wizards thanks to their INT bonus. Moreover, their potential proficiencies on INT (Arcana), INT (History), WIS (Insight), INT (Investigation), INT (Medicine), and INT (Religion) can make for very flavorful and useful Wizards.
      • Thanks to the Elf’s natural DEX Ability Score Bonus, their Wizards have higher chances of dodging attacks from other Spellcasters.
      • Moreover, the Elven trance can help Wizards earn their Spell Slots much faster, as normal resting periods for short and long rests become much shorter for them. This advantage makes Elf Wizards more prepared for surprise encounters.


    • Artificer: Elves often get typecast as solitary creatures with no desire for progress, as their longevity doesn't demand them to innovate. An Elf Artificer denies and defies this stereotype, as Artificers want to innovate and find ways to combine the mystery of the arcane and the practicality of technology. Their presence alone may make them an anomaly in most Elven societies, which in itself adds a layer of thrill to any adventure.
      • If based on Ability Scores alone, a High-Elf or an Eladrin will make incredible Artificers with their INT bonus, albeit unique given the former’s attachment to nature and the latter’s connection to the Fey.
      • While the Artificer doesn’t have any DEX-reliant skills, an Elf Artificer may benefit from the starting light crossbow and 20 bolts, given the DEX-based attacks. Moreover, if your DM includes firearms in the campaign, an Artificer may take advantage of them given their proficiency with them.
      • If a player makes a DEX/INT-based Elf Artificer build, they can enjoy attacking enemies from afar and tinker items for the rest of the party to use. Moreover, the Artillerist specialization makes full use of the Elf’s nimbleness and accuracy. Lastly, given the Artificer’s ability to enchant items, the natural knowledge of an Elf regarding the arcane may give the party an incentive on WIS (Insight) and INT (History) checks.


    • Bard: A lot of songs in a Bard's repertoire often get attributed to ancient Elven songs and scriptures - and as such it makes sense for an Elven Bard to leave their realm to explore the world and share the gift of Elven ballads and songs to them. Thanks to the long lifespan of Elves, they may find exploring the world a breeze.
      • Elves don’t make good Bards stats-wise, but their features do enable players to make Bards with a knack for long-ranged fighting. Thankfully, their DEX bonus does fit the Bard’s Saving Throw Ability Scores of choice.
      • Moreover, a player who chooses an Elf Subrace may enjoy perks thanks to Elf Weapon Training and their years of experience. With these traits, an Elf Bard starting with a longsword may instantly get Proficiency Bonus with their hits.
      • Since a lot of Bard abilities refresh after short or long rests, the Elven trance can cut this waiting time in half, as the Trance lets them benefit from a long rest for half the time (4hrs instead of 8hrs). This perk becomes helpful once Bardic Inspiration, Song of Rest, and Font of Inspiration becomes more powerful.


    Ancient Wonders: Character Backgrounds

    Most Elves in popular fantasy fiction live long lives, often showcasing their mastery (and often corruption) of the mystic arts and their skill in combat. They tend to be reclusive, alienating, and afraid of intermingling with other races - which makes sense, having lived very long lives. As such, Elves tend to be the most graceful, most beautiful, and the most talented people others may encounter in their lives.


    However, players who want to take a spin to the Elven concept may do so gracefully, thanks in part to these interesting character backgrounds:


    • Cloistered Scholar (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide): Elves often find themselves in the position to learn as best they can about their heritage and the world around them, making sense for them to spend the first few hundred years of their lives studying in institutions specifically designed to teach them of Elven heritage, culture, and other aspects of learning. A Cloistered Scholar’s introduction to any adventure may be the call to research, a life-long goal of adventure, or simply an innate curiosity.
      • Tools: None
      • Language: Learn any two additional languages.
      • Proficiencies: INT (History) and choose one: INT (Arcana), INT (Nature), and INT (Religion).
    • Far Traveler (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide): It’s not like an Elf to be separated from the rest of Elven society, given their preference to stick with their kin and to appreciate the kind of life nature has given them. And yet, an Elf who is a Far Traveler has seen places others have yet to see - for reasons only they can understand.
      • Tools: Choose one: Musical Instrument x1, Gaming Set x1
      • Languages: Learn one additional language.
      • Proficiencies: WIS (Insight), WIS (Perception)
    • Investigator (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide): Elves maintain order in their society not through sheer tradition, but with a strict set of rules. In fact, Elves have been so effective in implementing these rules that, unlike other societies, their culture remains intact and, most especially, lawful. An Elf Investigator may have been hired to investigate a crime or a situation in the outside world that should only concern Elves.
      • Tools: None
      • Languages: Learn two additional languages.
      • Proficiencies: WIS (Insight), INT (Investigation)
    • Sage (Player’s Handbook): In the many years of an Elf’s life, they have begun unraveling the many secrets of the multiverse and the planes around them. An Elven Sage may have finally chosen a life of adventure to prove the legitimacy of their readings, or to see everything in a new life after their studies.
      • Tools: None
      • Languages: Learn two additional languages.
      • Proficiencies: INT (Arcana), INT (History)
    • Soldier (Player’s Handbook): An Elven Soldier’s loyalty stays with the Elves, but an unexpected event may have forced a Solider out of their company or team. It could’ve been war, being lost on the way to a station, or being embroidered in military politics that slowly unveiled into a multiverse conspiracy.
      • Tools: Gaming Set x1, Vehicles (Land)
      • Languages: None
      • Proficiencies: STR (Athletics), CHA (Intimidation)