The Dungeons and Dragons 5e Half Elf: Of Two World Belonging to Both or None?
The half-elf is a popular race for many beginner D&D players who aren't quite ready to jump into the really fantastic or niche races but don't want to be so basic as to go pure human or pure elf. Featuring some of the benefits of both raises, the half-elf can be played a couple different ways and might be really readily accepted or perhaps an absolute pariah based on the campaign setting, DM, or world that this character is playing in.
Jack of All Trades?
Mechanically, the half elf is a great choice if you start out with a really poor or mediocre stat block and don't want to play human or are looking to multi-class later in a way that requires multiple good stat blocks. Perhaps reflecting the starting versatility of their human blood, the half-elf starts out with a useful +2 charisma, but also has the ability to add +1 to two separate stats of their choice. They automatically start with two skill proficiencies of the player's choice, as well.
From the elf side of their heritage they enjoy advantage saving against any charm spell or effect, and they can't be put asleep magically. The half-elf in 5e tends to bend chaotically, as well. They aren't naturally inclined to bend the knee or follow leaders, they value freedom and self-expression, and most have little desire for, or use for, followers. They also have dark vision.
Despite this independence they are often astute students as they know common, Elvish, and also one additional language that is player's choice.
This array of talents and natural versatility means a half elf can be a great choice for many different classes.
Accepted or Pariah?
This is going to vary from campaign to campaign. In many D&D based worlds the half elf finds a natural role as a good ambassador. Being raised in two worlds (human & elf) has taught them the benefits of seeing the best from multiple points of view, having compassion for various peoples, and also understanding the challenges that can come from bullying or simply not belonging. For many half elves this leads to understanding and understanding the importance of being able to move in between different worlds.
The half elf generally isn't going to be gawked at or create a spectacle the way a tiefling, dragonborn, or even a half orc might generate. They will often be a mild curiosity but not much more. Humans often like half elves because they have Elvish grace without that aloofness that is often seen as arrogant by other races, while elves often prefer half elves to humans as they might not be pure blood elves, but they show the endearing energy of humans without the boorishness or short-sightedness that longer living races often disapprove of.
However, there might be some exceptions. In some places a half elf may wear a bandana to hide the pointed ears, and in some campaigns certainly populations of elves may look at half elves with disdain for being mixed blood. If this sounds interesting, or not at all, talk to the DM before a campaign to see if any of these issues might arise.
Half Elf Names
One of the more interesting thing about half elf names is that they usually are based around background. Showing the natural chaotic independence that this race embraces, a half elf raised by humans will almost certainly take an Elven name. A half elf raised by elves will almost certainly take a human name.
What Classes Fit the Half Elf?
The mechanics give the half elf plenty of options when it comes to playing a class, but for those who really love the role playing side of things, the chaotic bent of a half elf definitely pushes some classes to the forefront as opposed to others.
The paladin and cleric would be more unusual choices in most cases, despite having the charisma boost, but there are some notable exceptions. A god of trickery or luck may find a half elf willing to take up a more unusual religious cause, and it is also easy to see how a half elf might fall a bit more on the elven side of things to love nature and start looking at the nature domain.
On the other hand a half elf could make a spectacular bard, warlock, or sorcerer. The magic might naturally show itself creating a wild magic sorcerer, or perhaps the half elf finds to his/her surprise that one of their ancestors had a dalliance with a dragon and long dormant dragon based magic has decided to show itself. The dark vision, advantage on saves, and extra stat boosts can help strengthen a usually less sturdy class.
Bards are a natural fit. The half elf knows how to move between worlds naturally, speaks many languages, and can fit into a wide array of the different colleges of bard that exist. They may love the entertainment, that feeling of acceptance as a grand entertainer, of being able to move from place to place and thus make that "doesn't belong to either world" an actual strength instead of weakness.
The warlock builds can be fascinating. Does the half elf get tempted by a fiend due to anger at not belonging and reckless chaotic living? Do they come into contact with the Fey wild or recklessly gain the attention of a Great Old One? Xanathar's offers some interesting builds. Perhaps a celestial entity touches the half elf, or even something like a unicorn in its natural magic meadow.
Fighter, barbarian, and ranger are classes that don't naturally play into the half elf race nearly as much in most cases. While monk doesn't necessarily optimize mechanically, it is an intriguing race because it plays to loners, travelers, and the chaotic and given the right paths there could be some interesting potential there with a good stat roll.
Interesting Build: Half Elf Rogue
While not obvious based on mechanic, a chaotic neutral half elf rogue could be intriguing. The charisma can allow them to gather information, talk their way into places they shouldn't be, and talk their way out of problems or potential trouble. The extra initial +1 stats can go to wisdom and dexterity and can allow you to build an intriguing rogue not only from the basic builds out of the Player's Handbook but also Inquisitive, mastermind, or even swashbuckler out of Xanathar's depending how you want to play him.
After all, a charismatic half elf rogue swashbuckler could easily be seen as great path to a pirate captain using a combination of charisma and rogue skills.
While it requires an outstanding initial roll, the half elf rogue and bard multi-class can do some really remarkable things at mid-levels really taking advantage of dexterity, charisma, and some specialized wisdom proficiencies. Not to mention the story telling options!
Avoid the "Elf II" Mistake
One of the most common "mistakes" is to play a half elf just like an elf. While that's not necessarily a bad thing if that's what the player wants, the image of an elf could be ranger or druid. While a half elf can certainly play these classes, the elf build mechanically is much more tuned towards these classes than the half elf. At the end of the day a player should play whatever they want story-wise but mistaking these races as interchangeable will rob a player of many of the options that make the half elf such an interesting uncommon race and take away much of the nuance that can lead to some of their finest story telling options.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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