Elf Guide 5e

Published on July 15, 2020, Last modified on May 2nd, 2022

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What is this guide?

This guide is meant to give you an idea of whether or not the elf will be right for your 5e 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

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything Update

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything has added the "Customizing Your Origin" option that may affect the ability score increases, languages, and proficiencies in this guide. To read more about this, visit our D&D Race Guide.

What are Elves in 5e?

Source: Player's Handbook

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.

Elf 5e 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 5e Subraces

Aereni High

Very similar to the PHB high elf, except the Elf Weapon Training is traded out for one skill or tool expertise.

Ability Score Increase: +1 INT is a decent ability score for INT-based casters.

Aereni ElfBeing double your proficiency bonus for a chosen skill is a straightforward but really solid pickup at 1st-level. Keep in mind that you need to have the skill or tool proficiency at 1st-level to be able to apply this ability to it.

Cantrip: A free wizard cantrip is awesome. Check out our wizard’s guide to read about which cantrips are best. INT is your spellcasting modifier so make sure to choose a spell that doesn’t require INT if you’ll be dumping the stat.

Extra LanguageThis will likely come in useful once or twice in a campaign.

Aereni Wood

Very similar to the PHB wood elf, except the Elf Weapon Training is traded out for one skill or tool expertise.

Ability Score Increase: +1 WIS and +2 DEX is exactly a perfect ASI array for certain classes.

Aereni ElfBeing double your proficiency bonus for a chosen skill is a straightforward but really solid pickup at 1st-level. Keep in mind that you need to have the skill or tool proficiency at 1st-level to be able to apply this ability to it.

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.

Eladrin

Ability Score Increase: +1 CHA will help make this subrace more viable for a bunch of CHA based casters. It’s also one of the more beneficial ability scores due to its importance in social situations.

Fey Step: A free casting of misty step once per short rest is amazing. Pretty much any build is interested in this awesome movement option. The misty step also gets a bonus effect when you reach 3rd level based on the season you choose:

  • Autumn: Being able to charm up to two creatures in the same bonus action as misty stepping is solid value. The biggest downside here is that while the creatures may not be able to attack you, they can attack your friends. This is best if you are the glass cannon of the party and have some tanks that can soak damage in your stead.
  • Winter: Frightened is a stronger condition than charmed as it applies the debuff to the creature whether or not they are attacking you. The effect only targets one creature and lasts for a maximum of one round, which bring the effect on par to autumn’s effect.
  • Spring: Being able to misty step a different member of your party is a niche ability but can be quite powerful depending on party composition.
  • Summer: Definitely the best of the bunch, especially if you stack into CHA. Being able to dish out five damage to all the creatures within 5 feet in the same bonus action as misty stepping is an excellent use of resources. 

Eladrin (Variant)

Ability Score Increase: +1 INT helps make this race more viable for INT casters.

Elf Weapon Training: This is quite an unnecessary trait for the builds that will want to use this subrace. Rogues and rangers already have all the proficiencies they need and INT casters have no need for these.

Fey Step: A free casting of misty step once per short rest is amazing. Pretty much any build is interested in this awesome movement option.

High

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.

Mark of Shadow

Ability Score Increase: +1 CHA makes this subrace very tempting to a lot of builds. Not only will it help with spellcasting modifiers, but CHA is never wasted in social situations.

Cunning Intuition: Performance checks may not come up a whole lot, but being able to add a d4 to all Stealth checks is excellent.

Shape Shadows: Minor illusion is one of the most versatile cantrips out there and invisibility is amazing for sneaking, getting the drop on enemies, and can be used defensively in a pinch.

Spells of the Mark: There are some amazing spells in this list. Pass without trace is an insanely good party buff that’s normally restricted to the druid and ranger class and great invisibility is one of the most efficient combat buffs in 5e. Beyond those amazing choices, there are still plenty of utility options that can round out the spell list of most casters.

  • 1st level
    • Disguise Self: Great 1st level infiltration spell.
    • Silent Image: This spell offers great utility for a 1st-level spell. Being able to move the image anywhere in 120ft and make it appear like it’s moving makes it quite a bit more effective than minor illusion and will certainly help when you need to bamboozle an enemy (or watch some fantasy TV).
  • 2nd level
    • Darkness: Good way to cut off an opponent’s visibility. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer much of a strategic advantage unless someone in your party can see through magical darkness.
    • Pass without Trace: If you are infiltrating an area with your party that you are unwelcome, the +10 bonus to Stealth is massive.
  • 3rd level
    • Clairvoyance: Not many situations will call for this spell but it can be useful for scouting.
    • Major Image: Much like silent imagemajor image is really only limited by your imagination. A 20ft cube is quite the space to play around in and fit just about any creature (within reason).
  • 4th level
    • Greater Invisibility: Being able to attack or cast spells while invisible is a huge upgrade from regular invisibility. Give it to a melee party member and watch them get advantage on every attack and disadvantage on attacks against them, bonus points if it’s a paladin or rogue for extra crit + Divine Smite / Sneak Attack potential.
    • Hallucinatory Terrain: This is more of a DM-spell than a player-focused on. Particularly creative players will be able to find a use, but most of the time this is unnecessary.
  • 5th level
    • Mislead: Pretty decent scouting spell or opportunity to plan an ambush. Pretty high spell slot for the meager effect though.

Pallid

Ability Score Increase: +1 WIS will help with some class’ spellcasting and will almost never go to waste as it can help with the all-important Perception check.

Incisive Sense: Always getting advantage on Investigation and Insight checks is a very strong ability for classes that are interested in such abilities. 

Blessing of the Moon WeaverLight is particularly impressive and sleep is only really useful at low levels. Once you reach 5th-level and pick up invisibility, this feature certainly becomes worth it for certain builds.

Sea Elf

Ability Score Increase: CON is always welcome, though this does limit this subrace to classes that are interested in DEX. 

Sea Elf Training: the spear, trident, light crossbow, and net are all quite interesting weapons, and getting proficiency at 1st-level can enable some unique builds. However, these fringe cases are usually suboptimal.

Child of the Sea: Getting a swimming speed and the ability to breathe underwater are decent features, though their efficacy is really campaign-dependent. 

Friend of the Sea: Being able to communicate with beasts that have an innate swimming speed is very situational. Unless you want to RP Aquaman.

Languages: Aquan is a definitely a situational language to learn.

Shadar Kai

Ability Score Increase: CON is always welcome, though this does limit this subrace to classes that are interested in DEX. 

Necrotic Resistance: Necrotic damage is a relatively common damage type, which makes this a solid passive feature to pick up at 1st-level. 

Blessing of the Raven Queen: Essentially a free misty step once per long rest. At 3rd level, you also gain resistance to ALL damage until the start of your next turn when you use this ability which can greatly help with survivability in tight situations. This is a really solid ability, but the long cooldown time makes it less than ideal.

Valenar High

Very similar to the PHB high elf, except the longsword and shortsword proficiencies are traded out for proficiency for scimitar and double scimitar.

Ability Score Increase: +1 INT is a decent ability score for INT-based casters.

Valenar Elf: The double scimitar is quite a unique weapon. It’s two-handed but doesn’t have the heavy property. It does 2d4 damage which puts it on the same playing field as a longsword or battleaxe. And, as a bonus action, you can make an attack that deals 1d4 but also allows you to add your damage modifier to it. This makes it a better choice than two-weapon fighting in most cases. This can allow fighters who are interested in attacking with their bonus action to be able to take the Defense fighting style, as opposed to Two-Weapon Fighting. That said, this is a very narrow situation in which it is viable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with finesse trait and needs the Revenant Blade feat in order to make it viable for DEX-based classes. The Revenant Blade feat does make the choice tempting because, on top of being able to attack with DEX instead of STR, you can increase either your DEX or STR, and gain +1 AC while wielding a double-bladed weapon.

Cantrip: A free wizard cantrip is awesome. Check out our wizard’s guide to read about which cantrips are best. INT is your spellcasting modifier so make sure to choose a spell that doesn’t require INT if you’ll be dumping the stat.

Extra LanguageThis will likely come in useful once or twice in a campaign.

Valenar Wood

Very similar to the PHB wood elf, except the longsword and shortsword proficiencies are traded out for proficiency for scimitar and double scimitar.

Ability Score Increase: +1 WIS and +2 DEX is exactly a perfect ASI array for certain classes.

Valenar Elf: The double scimitar is quite a unique weapon. It’s two-handed but doesn’t have the heavy property. It does 2d4 damage which puts it on the same playing field as a longsword or battleaxe. And, as a bonus action, you can make an attack that deals 1d4 but also allows you to add your damage modifier to it. This makes it a better choice than two-weapon fighting in most cases. This can allow fighters who are interested in attacking with their bonus action to be able to take the Defense fighting style, as opposed to Two-Weapon Fighting. That said, this is a very narrow situation in which it is viable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with finesse trait and needs the Revenant Blade feat in order to make it viable for DEX-based classes. The Revenant Blade feat does make the choice tempting because, on top of being able to attack with DEX instead of STR, you can increase either your DEX or STR, and gain +1 AC while wielding a double-bladed weapon.

Fleet of Foot: Extra movement speed is never wasted.

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

Wood

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.

Which 5e Classes Work With Elves?

Artificer: Elves get a DEX bonus which can somewhat help the miserable AC of an Artificer. High Elves get an INT boost and a free cantrip of your choice, as well as an extra language for your roleplaying needs.

  • Aereni High: The +1 INT is quite useful, as is the free wizard cantrip and skill expertise.
  • Eladrin: +1 CHA will be a minor benefit in social situations. The free casting of misty step is certainly interesting to the artificer due to their lack of spell slots. Unless you pump your CHA quite high, the bonus effects won't do much so it might be worth going with the spring effect because it doesn't use CHA.
  • Eladrin (Variant): +1 INT is pretty decent on top of the +2 from the parent elf features. The free casting of misty step is very appealing to help with your mediocre spell slots.
  • Mark of Shadow: Even though the ASIs don't align with the artificer's priorities, the spells learned are too good to ignore. If you want some stealth options as an artificer, the Mark of the Shadow is one of the best ways to get it.

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.

  • Aereni High: +2 DEX isn't bad as it can help with AC and stealth. The INT will likely be wasted but the free cantrip is decent.
  • Eladrin: Great ASI array and the misty step's effect will be potent due to your stacked CHA modifier.
  • Mark of Shadow: Awesome ASIs, stealth and performance bonuses are always welcome, and a free cantrip and casting of invisibility makes this an excellent pick for most bards. The spell list has some overlap, but there are quite a few options that make it worthwhile. Namely pass without trace.

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.

  • Aereni Wood: 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. Clerics will more often than not prefer the Aereni's skill expertise over the weapon proficiencies granted by the PHB race.
  • Mark of Shadow: Even though the ASIs don't align with the cleric's priorities, the spells learned are too good to ignore. If you want some stealth options as an cleric, the Mark of the Shadow is one of the best ways to get it. This can even be beneficial to heavy armor builds because it allows for a d4 bonus to your disadvantaged Stealth checks and allows you to cast pass without trace to help offset your negative bonus.

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.

  • Mark of Shadow: The +2 DEX from the parent elf race is welcome, and the +1 CHA can help in social situations. The bonus to stealth, free mage hand and invisibility, and the solid spell list make this a great pickup for druids with stealth in mind.
  • Pallid: Great ASI array for druids and the free casting of invisibility is solid utility.

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.

  • Aereni Wood: Great choice for a finesse or ranged fighter. The +2 to DEX will help pump their primary ability score and the passive features granted by this subrace are extremely synergistic. The skill expertise will go much farther than the weapon proficiency of the PHB wood elf because fighters already get all the weapon proficiencies they need.

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.

  • Aereni Wood: Perfect ASI array and very synergistic passive race features.
  • Pallid: Monks are interested in both DEX and WIS, which this subrace provides. The free spells are decent options to help with utility.
  • Shadar Kai: DEX and CON are both great ability scores for monks. The bonus resistance and the teleportation ability will help with battlefield mobility and survivability.

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.

  • Eladrin: Interesting ASI array if you're going for a DEX-based paladin. Unfortunately, STR-based paladin's are usually too multi-ability dependant to give up a bonus to STR or CON just for misty step.
  • Mark of Shadow: No STR or CON, so paladins choosing the Mark of Shadow will likely be focusing on DEX fighting. While you may not be able to build a particularly tanky Mark of Shadow paladin, they will have tons of utility due to the extra spells and bonus to stealth.

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.

  • Aereni High: +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.
  • Aereni Wood: The perfect race for a ranger. +2 DEX and +1 WIS is exactly what you're looking for and the passive abilities can help with mobility and stealth.
  • Eladrin (Variant): +2 DEX from the parent class makes this a decent choice. The free casting of misty step is beneficial for maintaining a ranged distance from enemies.
  • Mark of Shadow: +2 DEX is great for a ranger, and so are the various buffs to stealth. The expanded spell list, as well as the free mage hand and invisibility, will go a long way to help with the ranger's utility.
  • Pallid: Great ASI array for ranger and the free casting of invisibility is solid utility.
  • Shadar Kai: DEX and CON are both great ability scores for rangers. The bonus resistance and the teleportation ability will help with battlefield mobility and survivability.

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

  • Aereni High: A +2 to DEX, Darkvision, proficiency in the Perception skill, and a free cantrip from the wizard spell list. This is very much so what rogues are looking for and Arcane Tricksters will certainly enjoy the +1 to INT.
  • Aereni Wood: +2 DEX is exactly what rogues want. The +1 WIS will help with the all-important Perception skill. The ability to hide better, move faster, and the extra expertise are all things that rogues are interested in.
  • Eladrin: +2 DEX and +1 CHA is a solid starting array for a rogue. The free misty step is pure gold for rogues as it's extremely useful for sneaking as well as combat. Because rogue's are usually get single-ability dependent, they'll be able to pump their CHA to make the most out of the misty step's bonus effect.
  • Eladrin (Variant): +1 INT isn't what you're looking for, but you already get +2 DEX from the parent class so it's alright for the single-ability dependent rogue. The free casting of misty step is an excellent utility option both in and out of combat.
  • Mark of Shadow: +2 DEX is exactly what rogues are looking for and the CHA can be beneficial for social situations. The buff to Steath synergizes extremely well with the rogue's gameplan, and so does the free casting of minor illusion and invisibility. Unfortunately, rogues as-is aren't able to use the Spells of the Mark, but Arcane Tricksters will be able to and they will become nearly unstoppable sneaking-machines.
  • Pallid: Great ASI array for rogue and the free casting of sleep and invisibility are both amazing options when sneaking.
  • Shadar Kai: DEX and CON are both great ability scores for rogues. The bonus resistance and the teleportation ability will help with battlefield mobility and survivability.

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

  • Eladrin: DEX for AC and CHA for spellcasting makes the eladrin's array a solid start for a sorcerer. The free casting of misty step and it's bonus effect will be excellent utility.
  • Mark of Shadow: DEX and CHA bonuses are both welcome and the extra castings plus expanded spell list will go a long way to help the sorcerer's lack of spells known.

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

  • Eladrin: DEX for AC and CHA for spellcasting makes the eladrin's array a solid start for a warlock. The free casting of misty step and it's bonus effect will be excellent utility and will help stretch the warlock's measly spell slots.
  • Mark of Shadow: DEX and CHA bonuses are both exactly what warlocks are looking for. The free minor illusion and invisibility go a long way to help with  the warlock's meager spell slots. The expanded spell list isn't ideal because most options can't be upcasted.

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.

  • Aereni High: Aereni high elves get a DEX bonus which can somewhat help the miserable AC of a wizard. They also get an INT boost and a free cantrip of your choice, as well as an extra language for your roleplaying needs.
  • Eladrin: +1 CHA will be a minor benefit in social situations. The free casting of misty step always interesting to a wizard. Unless you pump your CHA quite high, the bonus effects won't do much so it might be worth going with the spring effect because it doesn't use CHA.
  • Eladrin (Variant): +1 INT makes this a viable pick. The +2 DEX helps with AC and the free casting of misty step is exactly what you're looking for as a wizard.
  • Mark of Shadow: +2 DEX is okay but not INT makes this suboptimal. The buffs to stealth and free minor illusion and invisibility are nice, but the spell list has significant overlap.

Sources Used in This Guide

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. Outside of writing for Arcane Eye, Mike spends most of his time playing games, hiking with his girlfriend, and tending the veritable jungle of houseplants that have invaded his house. He is the author of Escape from Mt. Balefor and The Heroes of Karatheon. Mike specializes in character creation guides for players, homebrewed mechanics and tips for DMs, and one-shots with unique settings and scenarios. Follow Mike on Twitter.

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