Elves are a staple of the fantasy world. In 5th Edition D&D, Elves and their sub-races influence a vast amount of society and culture, and it can get exhausting trying to understand what makes each one different from the other. Don’t worry; we have compiled a quick lore guide to many of the common (and uncommon) types of elves you may encounter while adventuring in Faerun and the 5th edition.
What are Elves?
The idea of the Elf finds its roots in German folklore, where elves were mystical supernatural humanoids. They possess magical powers and supreme beauty, paired with an ambivalent, dismissive attitude toward the everyman. Generally, most fables characterize them either as agents of good or mischief. They found their literary fame as the tiny fun beings in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and later as key figures in German Romanticist writings of the 1800s. After a lull period, Elves found themselves at the forefront of fantasy focus, thanks to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, who re-imagined the idea of Elves being humanlike and human-sized. From then on, Elves have held a mainstay in fantasy culture, finding their ultimate place as a pillar race of the world of Dungeons and Dragons.
Types of Elves: 5th Edition
The player’s handbook and other sourcebooks for the 5th edition consider elves to be magical people of otherworldly grace, living in the world, but not, at the same time. They are praised for their ethereal beauty and are found among the ancient forests and places of great faerie magic. As people with incredibly long lives, they are a bit arrogant and pretentious to the other races who inhabit the planes of the 5th edition. However, their most recognizable physical characteristics are their leaf-shaped ears, lithe body structure, and lack of body/facial hair. These are the main characteristics of every type of elf, though the elf’s exact look, motivation, and history differ depending on the sub-race. Those sub-race types of elves are:
The High Elves are the fair-skinned graceful warrior and wizard elves from the realm of Faerie or Feywild. Their cities blend architecture and the natural beauty of the forest seamlessly. Culturally they tend to be isolated and aloof to the younger races around them, though personality-wise, they appear to be bursting with emotion.
The reclusive copper-skinned wardens of the forest are the Wood Elves. They are fleet of foot and can be incredibly stealthy. They have a penchant for defending the borders of their forests with tenacity and vigor.
The dark-skinned dwellers beneath the surface are the Drow or Dark Elves. They inhabit the caves and places below the world’s surface like the Underdark. They are considered cruel yet quite intelligent and attractive. They live decadent and hedonistic lives, which leads them to believe that they are superior beings, which then leads to extreme arrogance. Furthermore, their morality comes from the teachings of their evil goddess Lolth.
Arguably one of the youngest races of elves, the pale-skinned Pallid Elves inhabit many of the same places the other elves do, having emerged over the last 100 years from the Pallid Grove. Now these Pallid Elves are exploring the world feverishly with a thirst for knowledge and unrivaled insightfulness.
The Shadar-kai are the elven followers and soldiers of the Raven Queen. They are typically found as enemies who exist between life and death, almost devoid of any emotion. They are old, immortal, and evil. They should never be trusted and should never be bothered.
The water-breathing elven denizens of the deep are known as the Sea Elves. They fell in love with the water at the beginning of time and set out to explore every inch of the deep. Today most Sea Elves reside in hidden shallow coastal communities and live in harmony with other deep creatures.
The Shadow Elves are the once-trapped prisoners of the Shadowfell. They learned to adapt or die, and those who made it back to the material plane are forever changed (and not for the better). Shadow Elves look like Drow at first glance but do not worship Lolth and are not necessarily evil in alignment. They are at home during the night and have magical powers to conceal themselves. They prize vibrant colors because most of their identity and society in the Shadowfell were devoid of the vibrant hues of the material plane.
These types of elves are not a part of the 5th edition, but are easily added to any campaign or setting.
Grey Elves are silver-skinned and faerie-touched with pale golden hair and violet eyes. They are highly (if not the most) intelligent and proud, believing themselves to be the purest form of elven ancestry. Their society tends to be reclusive and divided into rigid monarchies built on the caste system.
Like the Greys, the Valley Elves have the same appearance with some ice blue eyes and golden hair. They are the residents of the Vale and are ruled by the Exalted One and his Drow second in command. The Exalted One is also known as the Mage of the Vale. Considered even more outcast than Drow to most elven races, the Valley Elves serve the Exalted One even to the point of death. However, their society remains unaware of the potential evil machinations of the Exalted One.
The Avariel are the rare elves of the high mountains and forests, away from most creatures. They have feathered wings and appear to be the most delicate-looking of the elven races. Their historical enemies are dragons, who nearly wiped the race from the world long ago. Most common races consider them myths and legends. They are considered the most melodic and possess beautiful voices, so much so that bards worldwide seek to learn their songs. The Avariel society is split between war and peace, with juvenile Avariel spending time living among both sects. Avariel culture values honor and passion equally; they are considered artists in both war and intellectual pursuits.
The Lythari are good-aligned lycanthropes who are very similar to Werewolves, though they do not have a hybrid form. When in wolf form they are friendly and companionable. Regardless of form, the Lythari is uncannily beautiful. As true Lycanthropes, they are born as werecreatures to lycanthrope parents and can be found in packs of no more than 30 among the wood elf lands and on the isle of Evermeet. The Lythari do propagate outside of their race in a ritual of bounding that turns the other party into a Lythari as long as there is consent to the transformation. This leaves a permanent scar resembling a wolf bite on the transformed.
Moon Elves tend to be the friendliest to outsiders and humanity, unlike other elven races. Moon Elves have icy-hued skin and deep colored eyes, which all exhibit golden flecks throughout their iris. Moon Elves tend to be the ancestors of most half-elves. They were considered part of the High Elf subrace at one point in history, but their disdain for isolation and complacency led them to be more brash and impulsive than their cousins. They believe that interacting with the other races, especially humans, represents the best way to spread the Elven values and strengthen their culture. Typically, they tend to be nomadic and loosely organized and are ideally suited to the life of an adventurer.
Due to 2,000 years of being hidden away in the extraplanar redoubt they called Sildeyuir, the Star Elves have slowly returned to the world. They are aloof and cautious since they are unfamiliar with the world around them. Historically they prefer isolationism and fear war-like and expansionistic tendencies of the other standard races, which was the reason they hid away for 2,000 years. Star Elves look similar to the Moon Elf with light skin and hair of gold, red, or silver.
Sun Elves (or Gold Elves) recently returned to the world after abandoning the world due to beliefs of being genuinely superior among all races and types. They are considered the most arrogant and warlike of the elven races. They are bronze-skinned and are colored like the different types of celestial stars. They are patient and deliberate in their actions, and while being less versatile than other types of elves, they can master anything they put their minds to. All Sun Elves have great aptitude in martial combat and prefer to finish any military engagement as fast as possible. Socially they are separated by a hierarchical structure based on prestige.
The Grugach or Wild Elves represent the reclusive and feral subrace of elves; they value stealth and nature above all. They are rarely seen by other races and blend in well with nature. They are of a heavier build and darker skin than other forest-dwelling subraces. Wild Elves tend to abstain from much clothing, opting for tattoos, feathers, body paint, and other decorations. Many races consider Wild Elves quiet, yet quick to violence if threatened. Wild Elves often prefer to wipe the memories of trespassers versus killing outright. However, Wild Elves are also trustworthy and loyal to anyone who can slowly earn respect and admiration. Wild Elf society is tribal and unable to use powerful magic, though they perform many ceremonies, feasts and hunts for the gods.
These elves are the descendants of Aeren, a mythical hero who freed these elves from captivity by the Giants. The Undying Court rules them a group of resurrected ancestors of the Aerenal Elves, called Deathless. Good positive forces resurrect them. However, they oppose necromancy and undead creatures governed by negative evil forces.
Dark Sun Elves
From the 2nd edition, the Dark Sun Elves are a group of tribes who live in the dunes and steppes of the desert. They are considered great sprinters who love raiding and warfare. They are very tall, tanned, and weather-scarred. Their towns and cities tend to be built into the rocks and cliffs around their land. Each tribe is often at war with the others and any outsiders. However, an outsider can achieve acceptance into a tribe by a remarkable feat or a great sacrifice on behalf of the tribe. Culturally, each tribe values different things and no two tribes look alike in function.
Like the Wild Elves, Painted Elves live in petrified forests that they claim were once their ancestral homeland. They take their name because they use dyes and paints to camouflage themselves amongst the petrified forest. Most common races avoid the forests the Painted Elves live in since it offers little in the way of treasure or value. Once their boundaries are crossed, Painted Elves are quick to violence and can quickly turn on “guests” at any provocation.
Rockseer Elves are the rarest of all elves and live far, far below the earth, with no knowledge of the surface elves. They are nearly 8 feet tall and very pale-skinned with long, fine silver hair and icy blue eyes. To most outsiders, Rockseer Elves are gender-indiscriminate. Historically, they hate the Drow and will go to great lengths to avoid them and will shun most outsiders who venture into the great depths below the world. Not much is known of their culture and habits below the earth, but explorers have found fragments of plant fiber clothes and expensive jewelry.
Wrapping Things Up
Elves are among the most extraordinary of races in the 5th edition. They can add fantastic interactions and situations in whatever campaign world or setting you are planning. Additionally, a player character from any of these types of elves is sure to be a show stopper and a fun time. Remember, most types of elves are proud and arrogant, providing you the chance to let that inner snob come out a bit more! Finally, elves have a rich history in the world of Faerun and the 5th edition, and we hope you found our Quick Lore guide helpful!