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Elf 5e

Elf 5e

Table of Contents:

Your Guide to Playing an Elf in Dungeons and Dragons 5e

What are the best elf builds? How long do elves live in D&D?

Read our guide to answer all your questions for elves in Dungeons and Dragons. The elf isn't going to be a strange race to anyone who has spent much time in the fantasy adventure realms. In fact, they might be the most widely known and recognized race outside of humans. Elves can be a mixed bag as far as reputation goes. There is no denying the wisdom that comes from up to 7 centuries or more of life, and the love of art, beauty, and nature are traits that many of the other races appreciate and even share. However, their obviously graceful and otherworldly nature that comes from Fey bloodlines and measured approach can often be seen as aloof or even arrogant...and not always unjustly so!

With so many centuries to master and hone their crafts and passions, only a fool would take any elf opponent lightly. While more reserved than many of the other races it is still fair to say that elves have a reputation for loyalty and fierce determination. While rare is the story of an excited elf, once an elf sets their sights on a goal or task, they will pursue it with an unrelenting focus that even a dragonborn would admire. Though slow to make friends or enemies, an elf friend is purely loyal for a lifetime, and an elf enemy will haunt a target's dreams - likely for a very short and cut-off life.


elf dnd 5e

Overview of Elves

Because of their long lives elves view time very differently. An elf might mature relative to a human when young - they are fully capable at a couple decades of age and yet they are considered a child until they are at least 100 years old. Individual elves are responsible for declaring themselves an adult, and names play a very interesting part of this in elven culture.

An elf chooses a new name for themselves. They choose a name for themselves to be used to distinguish themselves as in their adult stage of life. The family name could be kept in elven, or some will translate it into common when traveling. This depends on the individual preferences of the elf.

Mechanically, there's a lot to like about this race. Right off the bat all elves get +2 to their dexterity stat block. They come with darkvision and automatically have keen senses meaning all elves are proficient in perception - a pretty important skill in 5e D&D. Because of the Fey ancestors from the elf bloodline, all elves have advantage on any saving throws against being charmed and they can't be magically put to sleep. It's also worth noting that a full blooded elf is the only race immune to the ghoul's paralysis attack. A long rest for an elf is only 4 hours as they meditate/trance instead of sleep.

3 Sub-Races of Note

While it is easy to imagine the elf as one group, there are actually three sub-races of elves noted in the Player's Handbook and each sub-race of elf slants things towards a different set of classes. Choosing between these three classes should be done with great care to get the most out of any elf character.

High Elves

High elves take many forms. Some can be quite friendly, and some can be quite arrogant. High elves are synonymous with understanding basic magic, and that tends to hold true. As such all high elves get a +1 to starting intelligence as well as a free cantrip from the wizard's list of spells regardless of what class the character plays. High elves are scholars who in addition to common and Elven, will also know one more language of the player's choice. This sub-race still has all the weapon proficiencies that are generally associated with the elven race and can be seen in the Player's Handbook.

Wood Elves

This is likely the sub-race that most people have in mind when they think about the traditional elf. Deeply tied to nature and the natural world, they know how to move lightly and quickly which is why their base speed is 35 feet instead of the normal 25 or 30. Members of this sub-race also received a +1 wisdom bonus to their stats on top of the +2 to dexterity all elven characters receive, which also makes them absolutely made for the ranger class. This connection to the wild even gives them a useful ability known as "mask of the wild" which allows them to attempt a hide action even when the only things around are natural things like foilage, heavy rain, falling snow, or poor weather. This is enough for a good wood elf to attempt to blend in seamlessly from searching foes or predators.

The Drow

Popular as a creative option, and in large part because of R.A. Salvatore's famous character Drizzt Do'Urdern, almost every single drow is evil, and even those who don't wish to be will find massive racism and difficulties because of the pain and suffering the drow consistently afflict virtually everyone with. They are often considered enemies rather than a playable class - so even the Player's Handbook instructs potential players to ask a DM if this is acceptable rather than just assuming it is.

However, the drow do get a +1 charisma boost to their stat block and their darkvision is exceptional reaching out a full 120 feet instead of the 30-60 feet limiting most creatures. All drow know the dancing lights cantrip, can cast faerie fire once per long rest at level 3, and at level 5 learn to cast darkness once per long rest. Weapon proficiencies tend to be for sneakier weapons: hand crossbows instead of bows, rapiers instead of longswords, etc.

Also notable: the drow have a distinct disadvantage in sunlight. Literally, in fact. All sight-related attack rolls and perception checks are at disadvantage when the drow or the target or the area is in sunlight.

Best Elf Classes

A lot of this depends on which sub-race a player goes with, but there are several obvious ones. Mechanically, as well as thematically, wood elves are great choices for both rangers and monks. This takes advantage of the natural stat boosts and these are classes that fall in very neatly with this race's perspective on the greater world. A dex-based fighter (read: archer) is also an excellent choice for this race, and while a bit more uncommon for someone willing to weave an interesting backstory rogue is another class worth looking at. Thematically druid makes perfect sense as well.

High elves are a great choice if you want to go the wizard route, and although maybe not as min-maxed as wood elves they still make great rogues, rangers, and monks. An elven bard is a bit hard to imagine, but once again, an intriguing character with the right backstory in play.

While not ideal for barbarian, paladin, or cleric, this doesn't mean that they can't be done - the player is just reliant on a slightly better than average stat roll to get the most out of any setup like that and an elf barbarian...there has to be a story behind that character!

Drow have a plethora of options as well. A drow trying to be good makes perfect sense as a gloomstalker ranger from Xanathar's Guide, and players wanting to take advantage of that charisma boost could look at sorcerer or warlock. Warlock could make a lot of sense thematically with a drow who defies Lloth, the drow spider queen (goddess) as they search for a patron to give them the power to escape and pick a wildly different path.

Whether looking for something creative or just having an itch to play that traditional druid or ranger, the elf race is one that has plenty to offer new and veteran players alike.

What are the subraces of elves?

 Aereni High Elf

This type of elf is pretty close to a normal high elf, but with an arguably better proficiency trait. It’s unique to the Aereni culture from the Eberron setting.

Aereni Wood Elf

This type of elf is pretty close to a normal wood elf, but with an arguably better proficiency trait. It’s unique to the Aereni culture from the Eberron setting.

Dark Elf (Drow)

The drow are elves of the underdark, their origins and true nature has shifted over the years and editions, but they’ve remained predominantly evil and intertwined with dark forces. Mechanically, they gain some powerful racial spellcasting in exchange for a nasty weakness to light.



Eladrin are essentially elves that’ve been doused in a bucket of feywild magic. They’re much more spritely, and have 4 different varieties, one for each of the 4 seasons. Mechanically they forgo a lot of good proficiencies and spells but gain a very useful teleport ability. 

Eladrin (Variant)

This was essentially the original version that got reworked into the current Eladrin, but it’s still legal to use. It trades their unique teleport with a straight up misty step and gains an Intelligence bonus instead of a Charisma bonus.  

High Elf

High elves are the intelligent, magical, and noble among the elves. At their best they’re cultured and academic, at their worst they’re stuck up and prudish. Mechanically they’re best suited as wizards with an Intelligence boost and a free cantrip.   

Mark of the Shadow Elf

 This is one of the dragon marks out of Eberron and is usually limited to that setting. They’re typically assassins and give you some very nice stealth abilities and spells.   

Pallid Elf

Think of these as magical albino elves. They’re unique to the Wildemount setting and are frankly a little overpowered. They gain permanent advantage on Intelligence (Investigation) checks and Wisdom (Insight) checks alongside some powerful racial spells.  

Sea Elf

Not quite a triton, not quite a normal elf. Sea elves are exactly what they sound like, they forgo the racial spells and proficiencies provided by other subraces in exchange for a swim speed and underwater breathing.


 Also called shadow fey, think drow but significantly more pale and goth. Mechanically they’re very similar to Eladrin with an ability similar to misty step, but these guys also nab a sweet resistance to necrotic damage. 

Valenar High Elf

This type of elf is pretty close to a normal high elf, but with an arguably better proficiency trait. It’s unique to the Valenar culture from the Eberron setting.

Valenar Wood Elf

This type of elf is pretty close to a normal wood elf, but with an arguably better proficiency trait. It’s unique to the Valenar culture from the Eberron setting.

Wood Elf


Wood elves fill out the nature warden elven tropes. At their best they’re intuitive and wise, at their worst they’re anti-social and xenophobic. Mechanically they pick up a point of Wisdom, and they snag extra movement speed which can work wonders.

Elf FAQ's

What is an elf's lifespan?

Although elves reach physical maturity at about the same age as humans, the elven understanding of adulthood goes beyond physical growth to encompass worldly experience. An elf typically claims adulthood and an adult name around the age of 100 and can have a lifespan of 750 years old.

How much do elves weigh?

Elves official weight range is between 130 - 170 pounds. 

What color hair can elves have?

When making a character, you can always go off model, but if you’re looking for what type of hair is normal for them that largely depends on what subrace of elf you choose:

High elves tend to have black or dark brown hair.

Wood elves tend to have copper-red or blonde hair.

Pallid elves almost always have bleached white hair.

Drow hair is usually white, pale yellow, or more rarely silver or copper in color.

Shadar-kai hair is usually black or stark white.

Eladrin hair is almost always tied to their “season”, bright earthy tones for spring, white for winter, etc.

Sea elf hair is usually blue-green, black, silver, or rarely red.



elf 5e video guide


Enjoy this Guide? You May Also Like:

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New to find a D&D Group? Check out our guide on How to Find a D&D Group.

Want to play an elf from the stars? Check out our Astral Elf 5e guide!

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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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