Beginner's Guide to Half-elves
Half-elves are one of the most popular races to play in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. They have mechanical advantages over other races, a lot of versatility in their bonuses, as well as an angsty roleplay hook by being alien in both human and elven societies. Also, half-elves may just be the objectively best player character race in DND.
Half-elves are a marriage of the best qualities of both humans and elves, with nearly no downside. While their human heritage prevents them from living quite as long as their elven parent, they live long lives by the standards of other races. While a cautious elf can live into its 500s, a half elf won’t likely make it out of its 180s. They will live to see nearly a dozen generations of their human side’s descendants, while failing to outlive their parents in all likelihood. But in return for their relatively shorter lifespans, a half-elf retains their elf parent’s darkvision, natural charm, and their innate resistance to certain magics, along with a telltale pointed tip to their ears. From their human side, a half-elf inherits that intrinsically human drive to master the world around them. Half elves easily pick up skills and trades that they set their minds to. They are typically broader than their elven kin, and the men are able to grow facial hair.1
Because of these advantages, it is conceivable that half-elves would be a desirable breed in the multiverse, and that humans and elves might often intermingle in hopes of creating more. However, half elves live a strange life that is not wholly suited to human or elven societies. To a half-elf, elven society grows tiresome, as their restless nature urges them to seize the day while the elves around them savor them. Likewise human society lacks eloquence and seems hasty and rushed. Elven peers live as children far longer than a half elf, and human peers waste away and die all too soon.
Half-elves face these struggles even when elves and humans get along. They face even greater challenges when tensions run high between the races they spawned from. At times when elves and humans are at war, a half-elf is likely to be shunned by both sides, losing the place they call home.
In most settings, there is no country or kingdom of half-elves. They blend into human and elven societies when they can. Their vagrant nature coupled with their inherent ability to see life from multiple perspectives gives them a unique qualification for diplomacy. Their elven eloquence and grace coupled with their results-oriented human drives creates a pairing well suited to statecraft. These same skills can be put to more nefarious uses as well, making half-elves talented con artists and spies.
Thanks to their inherent charm and their adaptable human genes, there is very little half-elves are not suited for in terms of DND classes. Half-elf bards are incredible virtuosos whose increased charisma and skill versatility make them peerless at their craft. Half-elf rogues and possess a wider array of skills than the norm. Half-elf-sorcerers, half-elf warlocks, and half-elf paladins stand head and shoulders above those of other races as well. While most races lean toward particular races with their natural advantages, there is hardly a poor choice for a half-elf.
While we don’t often editorialize these beginner’s guides on the Dungeon Feed, half-elves are probably the best race to play in DND 5e from a purely mechanical perspective. They objectively have more versatility in their racial traits than all other races. They gain 4 Ability score increases, two of which can be put into any score you choose! This alone is unmatched by any other race in the game! Add to that their darkvision, resistance to inconvenient charm magic, and two racial skills of their choice…
Somebody at WOTC loves half-elves a lot, just sayin’.
As per the Player’s Handbook, if you make a half-elf in DND 5e , you benefit from the following…
Ability Score Increase
Your Charisma score increases by 2, and two other ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
Half-elves mature at the same rate humans do and reach adulthood around the age of 20. They live much longer than humans, however, often exceeding 180 years.
Half-elves are about the same size as humans, ranging from 5 to 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Thanks to your elf blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.
You gain proficiency in two skills of your choice.
You can speak, read, and write Common, Elvish, and one extra language of your choice.
When playing a half-elf, it is important to consider your character’s elven heritage. While all humans are humans, not all elves are just elves. The wide variety of elves across the world means that there is an equally wide variety of half-elves out there. Aside from the generic sort, a character may be a drow half-elf, a wood elf half-elf, a high half-elf, or of sea elf descent. Depending on your bloodline, you may choose to trade your Skill Versatility for a more thematically appropriate racial feature.
A half-elf of aquatic heritage can forgo Skill Versatility and instead choose a swimming speed of 30 feet.
A half-elf of drow descent can forgo Skill Versatility and instead choose the drow’s Drow Magic.
High Elf Descent
A half-elf of moon elf or sun elf descent can forego Skill Versatility and instead choose the high elf’s Elf Weapon Training or Cantrip.
Wood Elf Descent
A half-elf of wood elf descent can forgo Skill Versatility and instead choose the wood elf’s Elf Weapon Training, Fleet of Foot, or Mask of the Wild.
To play a half-elf is to play a mudblood misfit in D&D, but with none of the mechanical disadvantages that one might imagine that role entails. What is your favorite thing about half-elves? What sorts of half-elf characters have yo played, and what did you think of them? We’d love to hear about them! Reach out to tell us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in our ever-growing Discord!
Rob Franklin (thedndwannabe) has been a Dungeon Master for many years, and has a deep passion for roleplaying games. He runs the MistyMountainStreaming channel on Twitch, our Misty Mountain Gaming YouTube channel, and is cohost of the Bardic Twinspiration D&D podcast. He also enjoys bourbon, From Software games, and his dog Bigby.