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D&D (2024) Elf

Yaarel

He-Mage
With an increase in design space in mind, something like the following for the Elf race:



ELF
Elves are beings of magic. The first elves are beings of thought changing their forms at will. But when entangling the creation of the material realm, they lose their mercuriality and persist as humanlike creatures within the fey realm. Individuals exhibit a fateful appearance of enchanting beauty and stunning success. These elves explore new magics in other planes of existence, and adapt there. Some materialize into creatures of flesh and blood.

ELF TRAITS
Creature Type:
Humanoid
Size: Medium (typically 5-6 feet tall)
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 750 years on average

As an Elf, you have these special traits.
Fey Ancestry. The fateful realms of the feywild are part of you. You have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Charmed Condition on yourself.
Innate Spells. You personify the magic of spellcasting. You gain spells you can cast innately. Each time you advance in character level, you can swap one innate Spell to make an other Spell of the same level innate. Choose any two cantrips. You can choose Darkvision or Waterbreathing in place of a cantrip. Choose any level 1 spell and any level 2 spell. You can cast these Spells innately without any component once after each Long Rest. When you reach character level 3, you can instead cast the level 1 Spell innately once after each Short or Long Rest, and likewise when you reach character level 5, the level 2 Spell. You know these Spells. You can also cast them using any Spell Slots you have of the appropriate level. Each elven culture promotes certain spell choices. See the Elven Culture table for the typical choices of your elven culture. You can choose atypical spells.
Trance. You dont need to sleep, and magic cant put you to sleep. You can finish a Long Rest in 4 hours if you spend those hours in a trancelike meditation. You dream wakefully during your trance, often reliving earlier experiences, and remain conscious of your surroundings.

ELVEN CULTURE: TYPICAL SPELL CHOICES
Astral:
Light, Sacred Flame; Bless, Misty Step
Detection Mark: Darkvision, Guidance; Detect Evil/Good, Augury
Drow: Darkvision, Dancing Lights; Faerie Fire, Darkness
Eladrin: Frostbite, Sacred Flame; Charm Person, Misty Step
High: Prestidigitation, other cantrip; Detect Magic, Misty Step
Palid: Darkvision, Light; Sleep, Invisiblity.
Sea: Darkvision, Waterbreathe; Speak with Animals, Enhance Ability
Shadar-kai: Darkvision, Resistance; False Life, Misty Step
Shadow Mark: Darkvision, Minor Illusion; Disguise Self, Darkness
Storm Mark: Booming Blade, Thaumaturgy; Fog Cloud, Warding Wind
Wood: Darkvision, Druidcraft; Longstrider, Pass without Trace



Here as cultures, all of these kinds of elves and half-elf marks are already 5e official. Not listed here are additionally the 5e Magic the Gathering kinds of elves. To have only one Elf race that allows the player to choose each spell, is the only way to manage all of these many different kinds of elven traditions. A DM can make one or more elven cultures prominent in a setting. Some spell listings represent a concept, like Shadar-kai having False Life in place of temporary damage resistance while retaining its shadowfell theme.

There needs to be only one Elf race in D&D. This race can diversify into many cultures. The Elf is much like the Human that also comprises many cultures. A difference is, the elven cultures mainly distinguish from each other by means of mastering different magics.

I feel One D&D gets it right by having each kind of Elf differ from an other by means of the innate spells it exhibits. However, I feel it gets it wrong by essentializing each culture. Instead, make the spells a player choice. An Elf character can choose the spells to cast innately. A player character may or may not be typical for ones culture.

Backgrounds supply any skill proficiencies, such as Perception, Arcana, or whatever, depending on the elven concept.
 
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Yaarel

He-Mage
The One D&D Elf race seems to balance well compared to other One D&D races. That said. The 1dd (One D&D) design space for a race, generally, might be too small, even tho it is so because a background feat is now standard. The 1dd Dragonborn tends to disappoint dragonborn players who look at the Fizbans dragonborn. Similarly, the 1dd Elf disappoints those who look at the Spelljammer astral elf and the elves of the Monsters of the Multiverse. Fizbans, Spelljammer, and Monsters of the Multiverse feel like a satisfying amount of design space for a race − and remind me of the satisfying 4e races.

Possibly, 1dd can add cultural backgrounds whose feats can fill in the missing design space of a race. For example, perhaps a background feat for the High Elf grants Misty Step pro bonus times per long rest. Of course, other races can also be part of this culture as well, to learn the High culture techniques to Misty Step. Or possibly, a future 1dd increases the race design space.



Note. The Darkvision spell itself can allow a choice between 60-foot range, or else sensitive at 120-foot range. Darkvision can easily be a cantrip, instead of a level 2 spell.
 
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Yaarel

He-Mage
According to the recent descriptions, such as Monsters of the Multiverse, the playable Eladrin is humanoid, not fey. But there are "fey (elf)" Eladrin in the bestiary. Even so, the first elves are celestial, not fey. So perhaps, humanoid is the most applicable creature type after all. This humanoid type relates to somehow entangling the fates of the humans in the material plane.

Hypothetically, the playable creature type would allow a choice of humanoid, fey, or even celestial. But then why not Shadar-kai be shadowfell "shadow" creature type? And if so, why not let the elf choose any creature type, maybe especially elemental as beings of soil or sun? At this point, one might as well stick with humanoid as the default for every elf.

So rather than a Celestial Ancestry, or a Fey Ancestry, the Elf is simply a Humanoid who is "Fey Touched", which seems an accurate enough description according to the various elven traditions.
 

Yaarel

He-Mage
Heh, the Tolkein elves definitely lack darkvision! In the Rings of Power TV show, a main elf character, Arondir, needs to use a lantern to explore an underground tunnel.

Tolkien correctly emphasizes beauty as a central archetype of the elf concept. Tolkien tends to reimagine folkbelief concepts as if an "exotic" human ethnicity, but hints of the reallife archetype are there. The elf is a personification of fate whence magic. In the context of an imagery of fertile sexuality and famous success, it is beauty that proves to be the central elven archetype. The beauty is why different kinds of folkbelief beings came to identify as an "elf" during medieval and early modern periods. An elf can exemplify the beauty of any human ethnicity.

I updated the first post for the Elf description to mention the salient elven archetype of beauty and success.



By the way, I notice in the UA One D&D, both lowercase "elf" and capitalized "Elf". As far as I can tell, the capitalization refers specifically the rules for the Elf race, whereas the lowercase refers generally to "elves" inworld in the narrative of the setting. I like this. Likewise, "humans" inworld, but "Human" race stats.

I am less clear about elven cultures. For example, High Elf and Wood Elf are capitalized in the context of the rules for them. But inworld, to say a "High elf" or a "Wood elf" refers to a specific culture and is like saying a "Mozambique human" or an "American human" or a "Glaswegian human". But I havent noticed capitalization for the elf done this way.

Relatedly, I notice SPELLS ARE NOW CAPITALIZED! Yay! In other words, treat the names of spells like the names of songs: capitalize and italicize them. So, Dancing Lights, Fireball, Wish, and so on. The combination refers to the technical rules of a specific spell. At the same time, in a casual context where it is less convenient to italicize, one can still make the technical names stand out by means of capitalization, Dancing Lights, Fireball, Wish, and so on.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
The One D&D Elf race seems to balance well compared to other One D&D races. That said. The 1dd (One D&D) design space for a race, generally, might be too small, even tho it is so because a background feat is now standard. The 1dd Dragonborn tends to disappoint dragonborn players who look at the Fizbans dragonborn. Similarly, the 1dd Elf disappoints those who look at the Spelljammer astral elf and the elves of the Monsters of the Multiverse. Fizbans, Spelljammer, and Monsters of the Multiverse feel like a satisfying amount of design space for a race − and remind me of the satisfying 4e races.

Possibly, 1dd can add cultural backgrounds whose feats can fill in the missing design space of a race. For example, perhaps a background feat for the High Elf grants Misty Step pro bonus times per long rest. Of course, other races can also be part of this culture as well, to learn the High culture techniques to Misty Step. Or possibly, a future 1dd increases the race design space.



Note. The Darkvision spell itself can allow a choice between 60-foot range, or else sensitive at 120-foot range. Darkvision can easily be a cantrip, instead of a level 2 spell.
It is indeed possible that for the sake of backward compatibility, 1dd race + background feat = base Monster of Multiverse or PHB race power level.
 

Yaarel

He-Mage
It is indeed possible that for the sake of backward compatibility, 1dd race + background feat = base Monster of Multiverse or PHB race power level.
Huh. I can see how treating an earlier race as if already combining a background feat can work. Still, the design space of earlier races seems too inconsistent for this approach to work well. Also, I assume the UA playtest wants the 2014 PH (Player Handbook) race characters to also get a free background feat.

The design space of the PH races is unequal in terms of balance. Arguably Variant Human followed by Half-Elf then Wood Elf are most powerful, and eventually Dragonborn then Halfling are least powerful. The increments in between are small but each extremity is noticeable compared to each other.

In my experience, the Wood Elf having +5 to speed is more powerful than the designers seem to assess. To put it humorously: when the party is fleeing a dragon, a player doesnt need to be the fastest, but only faster than the slowest. But this principle applies to typical situations like "kiting" from a distance. The boost in speed is fun and flavorful, and doable at level 1, while at the same time very valuable. The boost in speed is enough to make the PH Wood Elf one of the stronger races, whereas the PH High Elf is mediocre.

When making ability score improvements nonracial, the PH race ranking alters somewhat. Note, even the new versions of races in MMM (Mordenkainens Presents Monsters of the Multiverse) seem unequal to each other. For example, the races with full flight are more powerful.
 

Yaarel

He-Mage
The flavor of the Elf is magic.

Some players esthetically prefer the gaming mechanics to be diverse, thus prefer to avoid the use of spell mechanics for race traits. Nevertheless for the Elf race specifically, to spellcast is precisely appropriate flavor. For the Non-Elf races, traits other than spells sometimes feel better.

Looking thru the recent races in MMM (Mordenkainens Presents Monsters of the Multiverse), the following races have traits that utilize spell casting. Typically these races gain a spell at character levels 1, 3, and 5.

Aarakocra (flight and at 3 Gust of Wind)
Aasimar (Light cantrip)
Deep Gnome
Duergar
Fairy (flight and spells at 1, 3, and 5)
Firbolg
Genasi of Air
Genasi of Earth
Genasi of Fire
Genasi of Water
Githyanki
Githzerai
Kobold (Sorcerer cantrip)
Triton
Yuan-ti

Notably MMM Eladrin has Fey Step as a trait rather than the Misty Step spell. Similarly, Shadar-kai (and Spelljammer Astral Elf), and other traits for Sea Elf.

Like the Elf archetype, the Fairy personifies fate-whence-magic. Spells make sense. Think fairy godmother. The question here is balancing flight.

Other races having spells feel more debatable.

The Gith flavor is psionic, and a psionic spell might make sense, but a nonspell trait that still has the psionic tag can make sense too.

Nature beings probably include Genasi who derive from genies. Innate elemental spells might make sense. Are Tritons spellcasters in a similar sense?

The Aarakocra might Gust of Wind psionically?



In any case, an Elf exhibiting innate spellcasting makes sense.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
while I accept the premise that Elfs are inherently magical creatures I do think that there is fae too much reliance on spells in 5e which could instead be just abilities. Sure Misty step and Light are probably magical but do other things need to be?

for instance I’d much rather Aarakocra just having a natural ability to generate a Gust from their wings which can push a person 5ft backwards or knock over an object. Give them a feat to increase it to 15 ft.

and why isnt Longstrider just a trained Runner ability?

that said I do like that you have managed to condense Elf down to a single creature with a wide variety of cultural traits
 

Yaarel

He-Mage
while I accept the premise that Elfs are inherently magical creatures

I do think that there is fae too much reliance on spells in 5e

which could instead be just abilities.
Yeah, for the Elf spells feel ok.

But for many Non-Elf races, spells can feel a less appropriate flavor.

For example, I had to look twice at the Triton casting spells. At the very least, the Triton being a spellcaster − with spell flavor − changed my perception of a what a Triton is.

and why isnt Longstrider just a trained Runner ability?
I agree moving faster can be nonmagical.

In D&D, speed can be powerful in combat, so there is a need to ensure mechanical balance. But there is no need for a high speed to be magical. Many reallife creatures move super-fast. Also some humans move much faster than other humans, and for longer amounts of time.

The Wood elves manifest the Longstrider spell for the purpose of speeding magically.

But other races can increase speed in nonmagical ways.

for instance I’d much rather Aarakocra just having a natural ability to generate a Gust from their wings which can push a person 5ft backwards or knock over an object. Give them a feat to increase it to 15 ft.
For a nonmagical Aarakocra, probably avoid wind control?

A humansize creature seems less like to generate that much windforce in that way nonmagically.

that said I do like that you have managed to condense Elf down to a single creature with a wide variety of cultural traits
Yeah, I like how there is finally "one elf to rule them all". I also like how the spell traits emphasize its magical flavor.
 

Yaarel

He-Mage
POPULAR WOOD ELF BACKGROUNDS
The background features here are popular in various Wood Elf cultures, whether prestigious or common. When you create a background for your Wood Elf character you can choose from these or other features. Wood cultures tend to inhabit forest wildernesses in the material plane and to value the magic of primal life and elemental animism. The cultural descriptions span the editions of D&D, from 5e Wood Elf, 4e Elf, 3e Wood Elf and Wild Elf, to 2e and 1e Wood Elf and Grugach.

Popular Ability Scores. Either +2 to one and +1 to an other, or +1 to three: Dexterity, Wisdom, and Strength.

Choose two proficiencies from the skill list [and weapon list].
Skill. Animal Handling, Athletics/Acrobatics, Insight, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Slight of Hand, Stealth, and Survival.
Weapon. Longbow, shortbow, longsword, shortsword, spear, javelin, lance, and net.

Choose a tool set or mount.
Tool Set. Brewers, Cobblers, Carpenters, Cooks, Leatherworkers, Potters, Smiths, Weavers, Woodcarvers, Herbalists, or Poisoners.
Mount. Deer (stats for warhorse), Giant Owl (stats for giant eagle), or Giant Lynx or Leopard (stats for tiger or dire wolf). Consult with your DM about having one of these or other Large Beasts as your friend and mount.

Popular Languages. Common, Elvish, and Sylvan.

Choose the Elven Accuracy feat, or one of the other feats from the following lists.
5.5 Feats. Alert, Crafter, Healer, Lucky, Magic Initiate, Savage Attacker, Tough, or Tavern Brawler.
Tashas. Chef, Crusher, Fey Touched, Fighting Initiate, Piercer, Poisoner, Skill Expert, or Telepathic.
Xanathars. Elven Accuracy or Wood Elf Magic.
Players Handbook. Athlete, Charger, Durable, Elemental Adept, Grappler, Mage Slayer, Martial Adept, Mobile, Mounted Combat, Observant, Polearm Master, Resilient, Ritual Caster, Sharpshooter, Skulker, Spell Sniper, or War Caster.



Hopefully, 5.5 will create new backgrounds and feats that are specific to each of the various Elf cultures across the D&D traditions. A setting that has one or more Wood cultures, such as Forgotten Realms, can detail more of it.

Wood cultures include other background features, but the popular ones can enjoy an ancestral sanctity and respect. Consult with the DM for the specific institutions in the setting that a Wood Elf character might be a member of. Each player creates ones own background for a Wood Elf character. When a background diverges from the popular features, figure out how it can work within the larger elven culture. Such characters help diversify the Wood culture, bringing verisimilitude, while also informing a self-identity with the Wood culture as a whole.

Note. The One D&D background format doesnt offer weapon proficiencies. It needs to. Many elven cultures have weapon training traditions. Yes, a feat can grant weapon proficiencies, and likely the class of the character already has the traditional elven weaponry anyway. Even so, for the 5.5 background system to update elven cultures easily, it must supply a missing traditional weapon when sought. I dont think a character needs to master every cultural weapon, but it can help to master one of them. In the meantime, the DM can allow a player to swap a background skill for proficiency with one martial weapon.



WOOD CULTURES

Within the Wood Elf cultures, backgrounds tend to organize around the values of primal life magic, elemental animistic magic, materiality, forest wildernesses, and druidic Wisdom. Yet within these Wood cultures there are also divergent backgrounds, such as Intelligence wizardry traditions, such as elemental, and Charismatic paladin orders, such as Ancients. These pluralistic traditions evolve in the context of the popular Wood backgrounds and are in relationship to them.

The context of a Wood traditional weapon is for hunting and self-defense. Unlike bow and spear, the only purpose of a sword is to kill fellow humanoids, and is exclusively for self-defense. Many Wood cultures primarily organize around extended families. In these societal structures, the elders of the wider family influence the group decisions among the related households. Each family has its own militia of mages and gishes, whose primary duty is to defend the family. Armies form when families make alliances with each other. Notably, the Wood cultures often celebrate physical prowess and athletic stunts, often death-defying across the treetops. Because of this bodily athleticism along with a reverence of the material plane of existence, the human martial traditions such as fighters and rogues can find some respectability.

Bows and spears are hunting weapons, such as for deer and boar, respectively. There are two conflictive themes within Wood cultures. Likely both are present in a particular culture. One, the elves are effective hunters treating the animals of their hunt reverently as cycles of nature, using all parts of a slain animal respectfully, and often magicking their leatherwork and furs with the primal lifeforce of these animals. Two, the elves are strictly vegetarian and never kill animals. They coexist and communicate with animals, grow up with them as personal friends, and sometimes formally adopt them into ones family as siblings.

Wood elves are known for their luxurious durable clothing made by hand and magic, such as Elven Cloak and Elven Boots. Materials include furs, leathers, intricate plant fabrics, and vibrant dye colors. They design some for camouflage.

Many Wood cultures never kill plants, especially trees. They carefully extract their resources like fruit and wood while keeping the plants healthy and well. They shape and weave living trees to form homes and catwalks across the treetop branches. The structures are unnoticeable from the outside and opulent within. They farm in ways that preserve the complex ecosystems, seeming wild and natural yet extraordinarily verdant and abundant. A Wood culture traditionally migrates nomadically or settles in a remote tree town, or both while linking trade routes and migratory stations.

Wood cultures revere the features of nature as members of the community. Life magic and elemental magic are holy. Often druids function both as the pastors of ancestral sacred communities and as the warriors of a family.



RACE VERSUS BACKGROUNDS

Elf Race

The original post designs the Elf race: Fey, Trance, and Innate Spells.

This can represent all of the official elves in 5e, and even all of the elves across the editions of D&D, from otherworldly Grey Elf and musclebound Grugach to runner Athas Elf and shapeshifter Dargonesti Elf.

The choice of Innate Spells seems the only way to feasibly include the entirety of the D&D traditions. The design mechanically actualizes the elven affinity with magic.

5.5 Elf Backgrounds
The nonmagical aspects of many D&D Elf tradtions − like sword and bow, drow rapier and handbow, grugach spear, etcetera − work better as a background.

Looking at what 5e has so far, explore how the 5.5 backgrounds for an elven culture can look.



ELF CULTURES

The 5e Players Handbook mentions nonmagical cultural features.

Each of the 5e Elf "subraces" additionally mentions other related elven cultures from other settings across earlier editions of D&D, including Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. They too inform elven cultural features.

Note, a race cannot have an alignment, but the goals of an organizational faction, such as a Paladin order or a Druid community, can. Members of a specially aligned organization "typically" adhere to it.

ELF (MULTICULTURAL TRENDS)
Ability: Dexterity
Chaotic Good Alignment
− "Freedom, variety, self-expression", and "protect others freedom"
Skill: Perception
Languages: Common, Elvish

HIGH (CULTURES)
• 1e Grey, 3e Grey, 4e Eladrin, DL Silvanesti, FR Sun
• 1e High, 3e High, DL Qualinesti, FR Moon

Abilities: Intelligence and Charisma (4e Eladrin)
− "keen mind and mastery of magic", "magic, art and artistry, music and poetry", "bards", "songs and poems are famous"
Weaponry: sword (long/short) and bow (long/short)
Languages: any additional language

WOOD (CULTURES)
• 1e Wood, 1e Grugach, 3e Wood, FR Wild
• 3e Wild, 4e Elf, DL Kagonesti, FR Wild

Abilities: Wisdom and Strength (1e Wood/Grugach)
− "keen senses and intuition"
Neutral Alignment (1e Wood/Grugach)
Weaponry: sword, bow, spear (1e Wood/Grugach)
Additional Language: Sylvan (1e Wood / 4e Elf)

DROW (UDA CULTURE)
• 1e-5e Drow, FR Drow
Abilities: Charisma (3e-5e), Wisdom (1e/4e Drow), and Intelligence (1e-3e)
Weaponry: rapiers, shortsword, and handbow
Additional Language: Drow Sign (1e-3e Drow)

The nonmagical cultural features work well as background.

Each elven culture has many backgrounds. A few backgrounds, say 4 to 13, can be prominent, whether frequent or prestigious. For the game, these few backgrounds communicate the tropes and themes that help make the culture salient and vivid.

As a DM, try avoid turning these tropes into a cultural stereotype, by ensuring individuals and groups who diverge from the tropes. The diversity enriches the culture and feels verisimilitudinal. Especially the 5e Players Handbook Elf champions freedom and nurtures individualistic self-expression.
 
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