Half-Elf Guide 5e

Published on June 11, 2020, Last modified on May 5th, 2022

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What is this guide?

This guide is meant to give you an idea of whether or not the half-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 half-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 Half-Elves in 5e?

Source: Player's Handbook

Half-elves are a race that is split between two worlds. Humans and elves are about as different as you can get when it comes to their perspective on the world around them, this is mainly due to one main factor: time. Half-elves who choose to walk among humans see their friends and loved one’s age, while time barely touches them. Half-elves that live around elves grow restless with the timelessness of the society and tend to mature much faster than their equal aged counterparts.

It is because of this inability to fit in that draws most Half-elves to become adventurers.

Half-Elf 5e Traits

Ability Score Increase: a +2 CHA increase is one of the more common racial bonuses available. What truly makes the half-elf racial bonuses stand out is the ASI that comes along with the bonus to CHA. This means that a half-elf would make a great choice for any CHA based caster because they can always boost their next most important stat. Paladins can boost STR or CON, Bards and boost DEX, etc.

Size: Medium

Speed: 30ft

Darkvision: 60ft of Darkvision is always nice.

Fey Ancestry: This is where the benefits of the Half-Elves better half (get at me humans) really starts to shine, advantage on saving throws against being charmed is going to come up multiple times in the length of a campaign. Immune to sleep effects from magic is less common but can still be important.

Skill Versatility: An absolutely amazing racial trait. Nobody has even said, “wow, I am proficient in too many skills!”. Bards and rogues will love half-elves because it will increase their ability to skill monkey, other classes get to pick Perception, Stealth, or a social ability that they don’t get access to so they can be more well rounded.

Languages: Common, Elvish

Half-Elf 5e Subraces

Aquatic

Swimming Speed: Swimming speed is almost never worth giving up two skill proficiencies. The only exception would be if you are planning on playing a pirate-themed campaign.

Drow

Drow Magic: Forgoing two skill proficiencies for three spells is going to benefit some classes more than others, the most notable class that gets a good deal out of this would be the Warlock.

  • Dancing Lights: Not a particularly impressive Cantrip, although it has its uses. Lighting dark spaces before entering as well as distracting guards the chief among them.
  • Faerie Fire: An often overlooked spell, Faerie Fire is something that should be stocked by all parties. Invisible creatures are a pain to deal with and this provides a great, low-level answer to dealing with it. The spell also has the versatility of simply casting into a crowd of creatures and giving your party members advantage on their attacks against them.
  • Darkness: Darkness is a tough spell to pull off, unless you have the Warlock’s Devil’s Sight.

High

Elf Weapon Training: Most classes that are going to need proficiency with longswords, shortswords, shortbows, and longbows already have them. This is not worth giving up skill versatility for.

Cantrip: Taking a Cantrip of your choice from the Wizard spell list can be very beneficial to the CHA based casters that don’t want the High Elves racial bonuses.

Mark of Detection

Ability Score Increase: This replaces the vanilla Half-Elf racial bonuses and gives a greatly sought after +2 WIS bonus. This is great for Druids, Clerics, Rangers, and Monks.

Deductive Intuition: Adding a d4 to Investigation and Insight is alright, but won’t stack up long term to the bonus you get from skill versatility.

Magical Detection: Detect Magic, Detect Poison and Disease, and See Invisibility are all niche spells. Making them based on your INT modifier makes them even nicher for a race that gets +2 to WIS.

Spells of the Mark: There are some pretty decent spells here and access to 9 more spells isn’t something to scoff at for most classes

  • 1st level
    • Detect Evil and Good: Can be quite useful if you’re suspicious that an aberration, celestial, elemental, fey, fiend, or undead is undercover around you. Solid spell to stock when traveling to other planes.
    • Detect Poison and Disease: Being able to detect poison or disease within 30ft of yourself is definitely a situational effect. Only stock when you think you’ll need it.
  • 2nd level
    • Detect Thoughts: Useful spell for interrogations, or to determine if there are any hidden creatures near your location.
    • Find Traps: Reveals the presence of traps but not their exact location. Definitely not the best use of a spell slot.
  • 3rd level
    • Clairvoyance: Not many situations will call for this spell but it can be useful for scouting.
    • Nondetection: Your campaign will really cater to this spell for it to have any kind of application. This is much more of a DM-focused spell, players often won’t find a use for this once in an entire campaign.
  • 4th level
    • Arcane Eye: A great scouting tool and can be moved as an action, making it a worthy spell to pickup.
    • Divination: This is best used when you’re asking about a relatively straightforward event that will happening in the near future. As with most “message from a deity” spells, it relies heavily on your DM and is intentionally vague which can impact its usefulness.
  • 5th level
    • Legend Lore: Gain some knowledge on things of legendary importance. While cool, it doesn’t do much most of the time.

Mark of Storm

Ability Score Increase: Because you are given the +1 DEX instead of an ASI, this is just a worse version of the Vanilla Half-Elves’ racial bonus for most classes.

Windwright’s Intuition: Adding a d4 to Acrobatics and Navigator’s Tools isn’t great, it won’t stack up to the benefit you get from skill versatility.

Storm’s Boon: Damage resistance is always nice, Lightning damage is fairly common but not as common as something like Fire.

Headwinds: Gust and Gust of wind are extremely niche.

  • 1st level
    • Feather Fall: It’s a situational effect but you’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
    • Fog Cloud: Obscuring an area can be better than it sounds. While inside the fog cloud, creatures are effectively blinded so make sure you use the spell in a way that makes it advantageous.
  • 2nd level
    • Gust of Wind: This spell is usually useless unless you find yourself in a rare situation where you can use it to push multiple enemies off of a cliff.
    • Levitate: Can be used to get up high, or completely remove a melee attacker from combat. Levitate can be good at any level.
  • 3rd level
    • Sleet Storm: Messes with enemy concentration, can extinguish flames, and has the potential to knock enemies prone.
    • Wind Wall: Useful against lots of archers, swarms of flying enemies, or against deadly fog. Other than that the damage is pretty bad.
  • 4th level
    • Conjure Minor Elementals: You can summon the same CR creatures as conjure animals for a spell slot higher, but elementals usually have interesting effects that can be helpful in specific situations. Like conjure animals, your DM gets final say on the summoned creature, but if you make a reasonable request and have a reasonable DM this is a great tool to improve the action economy for your party.
    • Control Water: A very effective spell, but only if you’re around water.
  • 5th level
    • Conjure Elemental: Great spell for a powerful ally. Careful about losing concentration or you could end causing more trouble than you’re solving.

Wood

Which 5e Classes Work With Half-Elves?

Artificer: Nothing here for an Artificer.

Barbarian: Being able to take +1 to CON or STR is not enough to make a Half-Elf Barbarian work.

Bard: The +2 CHA, ASI, and skill versatility make this is one of the better races for the Bard class.

Cleric: The CHA bonus is largely unproductive for Clerics, but increasing two ability scores by 1 allows you to boost WIS and CON/STR/DEX to create a rather well-rounded character. Advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to being put to sleep keeps you healing and buffing your party in dangerous situations. The +2 WIS bonus offered by the Mark of the Detection subrace is very tempting for Clerics as it is not offered by many other races. The spells and racial traits are an added bonus.

Druid: The CHA bonus is largely unproductive for Druids, but increasing two ability scores by 1 allows you to boost WIS and CON/STR/DEX to create a rather well-rounded character. Advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to being put to sleep keeps you healing and helping your party in dangerous situations. The +2 WIS bonus offered by the Mark of the Detection is very tempting for Druids as it is not offered by many other races. The spells and racial traits are an added bonus.

Fighter: Being able to take +1 to CON or STR is not enough to make a Half-Elf Fighter optimal.

Monk: CHA is bad but you can increase DEX and WIS by 1. Proficiency in two skills is also a nice bonus.

Paladin: Half-Elves get a buff to CHA and get two free Ability Score Increases (ASIs). This combined with Dark Vision and two free skills make Half-Elves one of the best races for Paladins.

Ranger: The CHA bonus is largely unproductive for Rangers, but increasing two ability scores by 1 allows you to boost WIS and STR/DEX to create a rather well-rounded character. Advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to being put to sleep is nice. The +2 WIS bonus offered by the Mark of the Detection subrace is very tempting for rangers as it is not offered by many other races. The spells are an added bonus to the Ranger's limited spell list.

Rogue: No +2 to DEX will be a huge burden for Rogues, but skill versatility can be important for skill monkeys. If your rogue is going to be the party's face, you can get away with a +2 CHA, +1 DEX, and pickup Deception and Persuasion.

Sorcerer: The +2 CHA, ASI, and skill versatility make this is one of the better races for the Sorcerer class. The Mark of Storm subrace is particularly tempting because it offers a number of spells while keeping with a solid ability mod bonus.

Warlock: The +2 CHA, ASI, and skill versatility make this is one of the better races for the Sorcerer class. The Half-Elf Drow subrace is great because it provides a couple of useful Warlock spells and won't make you burn any of your precious slots for them.

Wizard: Not being able to pick up a +2 to INT is going to make the Half-Elf a tough go for Wizards.

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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