Elf 5e Guide

Published on July 15, 2020

What is this guide?

This guide is meant to give you an idea of whether or not the Elf will be right for your character build.

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your Elf . This color coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.

  • Black is a trait shared by many races and or will not impact the effectiveness of your character build
  • Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
  • Orange is an OK option
  • Green is a good option
  • Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
  • Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized

What are Elves?

Elves are a magical people of otherworldly grace, living in the world but not entirely part of it. They live in places of ethereal beauty, in the midst of ancient forests or in silvery spires glittering with faerie light, where soft music drifts through the air and gentle fragrances waft on the breeze. Elves love nature and magic, art and artistry, music and poetry, and the good things of the world.

Elven Traits

Ability Score Increase: +2 DEX is the most common double racial bonus. 

Age: Elves reach adulthood at 100 years and can live to be 750 years old.

Alignment: Elves tend to lean towards chaotic good, with the exception of Drow whom are chaotic evil more often than not.

Size: Elves are medium creatures, typically 5-6 feet tall.

Speed: 30ft walking is standard

Darkvision60ft

Keen Senses: Free proficiency in Perception is always welcome. 

Fey Ancestry: Advantage against being charmed and being unable to be put to sleep by magic will come in handy in some tough situations.

Trance: The elf’s trance is seemingly innocuous but it is quite powerful upon closer inspection. First off, remaining semiconscious allows you to be surprised less often. Second, only having to sleep for 4 hours will allow casters (specifically Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks) the ability to wake up before the rest of the party, cast a spell, and then short rest to get the spell slot back. This can be extremely powerful given the right spell and the right circumstance. 

Languages: Common and Elvish

Elf Subraces

Unlike Dwarves and Elves, the Dragonborn subclasses completely replace the racial bonuses, breath weapon, and damage resistance from the primary race

High Elf

Ability Score Increase: +1 INT is a decent ability score for Wizards, thought they will typically more drawn towards the Gnome’s +2 INT.

Elf Weapon Training: The shortbow and longbow proficiencies can actually make a difference here because they are useful for casters, though they are often not more powerful than Cantrips. Especially after level 5.

Cantrip: A free Wizard Cantrip is awesome. Check out our Wizard’s guide to read about which Cantrips are best.

Extra Language: This will likely come in useful once or twice in a campaign.

Wood Elf

Ability Score Increase: +1 WIS is the best PHB races get. This combined with the +2 DEX is really nice for Rangers, Monks, and Druids.

Elf Weapon Training: The shortbow and longbow proficiencies are great here because Druids and Monks, two classes that are very likely to choose a Wood Elf, do not have proficiencies here. That being said, they aren’t particularly effective for those classes, but they are certainly nice to have.

Fleet of Foot: Extra movement speed is never wasted.

Mask of the Wild:  Being able to hide when only lightly obscured is great.

Drow

Ability Score Increase: +1 CHA is an interesting combo with +2 DEX. Not many classes will take DEX as their main stat increase and then buff CHA except for maybe a Valor or Swords Bard or a Swashbuckling Rogue.

Superior Darkvision: This may come in handy once or twice, but typically 60ft of Darkvision is good enough.

Sunlight Sensitivity: Not being able to go out in sunlight without taking disadvantage on attack rolls and Perception checks is a massive downside of the Drow

Drow Magic: Dancing Lights is a fairly limited Cantrip. Faerie Fire is great. Darkness can be useful but is a tough spell to workaround. 

Drow Weapon Training: Not great additions to the weapon proficiencies here, especially for the classes that will be frequenting the Drow.

Which Classes Work With Elfs?

Barbarian: Nothing here for a Barb.

Bard: Elves get a DEX bonus which can somewhat help the AC of a Bard, and can give melee Bards a boost with attacking. Proficiency in Perception and having Darkvision is useful.

Cleric: DEX is good for initiative and light armor capabilities and Perception pairs well with the Cleric’s presumably high WIS score. Advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to being put to sleep keeps you healing and buffing your party in dangerous situations.

Druid: DEX is good for initiative and light armor capabilities, and Perception pairs well with the Druid’s presumably high WIS score. Advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to sleep keeps you healing and helping your party in dangerous situations. The Wood Elves’ Small WIS bonus, increased walking speed, and Mask of the Wild. A good choice.

Fighter: You’re likely not going to play an Elf unless you are a Finesse Fighter or Archer. Elves get a bonus to DEX, free Perception proficiency, and Darkvision, all of which are very important for DEX based Fighters.

Monk: Proficiency in Perception is great; Perception is the best skill in D&D 5e. In addition, the DEX score increase of 2 pairs perfectly with the Monk’s game plan.

Paladin: You’re likely not going to play an Elf as a Paladin. Elves get a bonus to DEX, free Perception proficiency, and Darkvision, all of which aren’t very important for Paladins.

Ranger: +2 DEX is exactly what you are looking for with a Ranger. Advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to sleep is icing on the cake.

Rogue: A +2 to DEX, Darkvision, and proficiency in the Perception skill. Nice!

Sorcerer: Elves get a DEX bonus which can somewhat help the miserable AC of a Sorcerer.

Warlock: Elves get a DEX bonus which can somewhat help the AC of a Warlock. Proficiency in Perception and having Darkvision is useful.

Wizard: Elves get a DEX bonus which can somewhat help the miserable AC of a Wizard. High Elves get an INT boost and a free cantrip of your choice, as well as an extra language for your roleplaying needs. What’s not to like?