Character building is the first step of starting a new D&D campaign or jumping into an existing one. Whether you’re a new player or a veteran, there are a lot of races out there to choose from. You’ve got your Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Tiefling to name a few. Some of these races have multiple subraces that you can choose from. The Elf race is no exception.
Due to bias preference, this D&D Race Guide will focus on the Elves.
To start with, there are six elf subraces to choose from and I will go into detail on what each subrace offers and what classes works well for each subclass. I’ll be using the Player’s Handbook and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes for this information.
Any elf starts off with these traits. Dexterity score increases by 2 automatically. Age isn’t really an issue with them as they can live to be 750 years old (normally). Elves tend to lean more towards the good side of the alignment chart. The only exception to this would be the Drow, but more about them later. The size of an elf will be considered Medium as they will only encompass one square on any D&D map. Base walking speed is 30 feet and you also get Darkvision, which lets you see in the dark and in dim conditions. Darkvision extends to 60 feet.
Elves get proficiency in their Perception skill and they also get advantage on saving throws against being charmed and you can’t be put to sleep by magic. Instead of sleeping, elves go into a meditating state and it’s the equivalent of a long rest. As an elf, you can read, speak, and write Common and Elvish. Since all elves receive a boost to Dexterity, Monks, Rogues, Rangers, and dexterity based Fighters can fit any of the subraces, although some do it better than others.
The High Elves are the first of the subraces. These are the more hoity toity type of elves. This subrace gives an increase to your Intelligence score by 1. You are also proficient with a long-sword, short-sword, short-bow, and longbow. You get one cantrip of your choice from the wizard’s spell list. Your Intelligence is your spell casting ability for it.
Some classes that work well as a High Elf are Rogue (arcane trickster), and Wizard.
Next, we have Wood Elves. These guys are your nature enthusiasts. If you go with this subrace, your character benefits from a +1 to Wisdom. You also get proficiency, much like the High Elves, with a long-sword, short-sword, short-bow, and longbow. However unlike the High Elves, Wood Elves have a walking speed of 35 feet. Another cool thing to note is that the Wood Elves get a feature called Mask of the Wild. Essentially, your character can attempt to hide even when you’re lightly obscured.
The classes that work well with the Wood Elf are: Cleric, Druid, Ranger, Monk, Rogue (Inquisitive).
Drow (Dark Elves)
The first thing that comes to mind when I think Drow is a famous ranger by the name of Drizzt Do’Urden. Most Drow tend to be more on the “evil” side of the spectrum. As we all know, Drizzt is the exception. However, that’s not to say that your D&D character can’t be a good aligned character, but let’s be honest, who’d want to play Lawful Good?
Drow receive a +1 boost to their Charisma score. Unlike the other subraces, Drow get Darkvision radius of 120 feet. It’s all good in a dark cave but outside it’s not so great. Drow have sunlight sensitivity which means that you’ll have disadvantage on your attack roles and Perception roles that deal with sight. Like the High Elves, Drow do get some magic. They automatically know the dancing lights cantrip and, at 3rd level, they know faerie fire, but that’s not all. At 5th level, Drow can cast the spell darkness.
Like the other two subraces, Drow get proficiency with weapons like rapiers, short swords, and hand crossbows.
Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Paladin, Rogue (swashbuckler) are the classes that are optimized for the Drow.
The Eladrin are the elfiest of the elves. These guys have spent the majority of their time in the Feywilds. These guys are really interesting. As an Eladrin, you get a +1 to Charisma. You also get, as a bonus action, Fey Step, which allows you to magically teleport up to 30 feet away either once you finish a short rest or a long rest. At 3rd level, Fey Step gets upgraded a bit more. It gains an additionally effect base on your current season. If these effects require a saving throw, your DC is 8 + proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier. Fey Step works like the spell Misty Step except with an added effect.
What did I mean by season? Well, the Eladrin are able to change their appearances to one of the four seasons. This can be done only once a day aka once per long rest. Each season has different effects, and as mentioned above, these effects come into play at 3rd level.
Embodying Autumn, the Eladrin, after using Fey Step, two creatures of your choice that you can see within ten feet must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be charmed for a minute or until your companions deal damage to said creature.
For Winter, one creature of your choice that you can see within five feet, before you teleport, must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be frightened of you until the end of your next turn.
Spring has it where you can touch one willing creature within five feet of you and they teleport in your stead. This creature appears within thirty feet of you that you can see.
Lastly, we have the Summer Eladrin perk. Immediately after Fey Step, each creature of your choice, within five feet, takes fire damage equal to your Charisma modifier.
If you’re looking to play an Eladrin, the Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer, Warlock, Rogue (Swashbuckler) classes are the one who’d choose from.
Sea Elves are exactly as they sound. They live in small communities on the Elemental Plane of Water. This is why they have a swim speed of 30 feet and they can breathe both air and water. Sea Elves are proficient with the spear, trident, light crossbow, and net. Unlike the other elf subraces, Sea Elves get a +1 to their Constitution score.
Whether it’s the fact that they live on the Elemental Plane of Water or not, Sea Elves can use gestures and sounds to communicate simple ideas to any beasts that has an innate swimming ability like sharks.
The Sea Elf subrace works really well with classes like Barbarian and Fighter due to that boost in their Con score.
Last but certainly not least, we have the Shadar-Kai elf subrace. These guys have spent countless years in the Shadowfell sworn to the Raven’s Queen’s service. Strangely enough, they also get a +1 to their Con score and they’re also resistant to necrotic damage.
The Shadar-Kai can also magically teleport. Their range extends to 30 feet to an unoccupied space. This trait can’t be used until you’ve finished a long rest. Like the Eladrin, this trait called Blessing of the Raven Queen, gets an upgrade at level 3. After using this ability, you gain resistance to all damage and it last until the start of your next turn.
Similar to the Sea Elves, the Shadar-Kai perform very well as a Barbarian or a Fighter.
Whether you’re a new player or a veteran at Dungeons and Dragons, there are a lot of choices to choose from when creating a character. The Elf race itself has six subraces all with their own unique qualities. Each subrace has it’s optimized class that really lets the chosen elf subrace shine. However, it is important to remember that this doesn’t always have to be the norm. I, myself, have made a Shadar-Kai Cleric. While this might not be the most “optimized” combination, I still made my character. I strongly believe that Dungeons and Dragons is about having fun and trying out different combinations for both races and classes. Plus, it does helps that the point buy system exists. So, if it comes down to the wire, and you’re still not sure which elf subrace to choose, go with the one that sounds fun.