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In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, elves are a fictional humanoid race that is one of the primary races available for play as player characters. Elves are renowned for their grace and mastery of magic and weapons such as the sword and bow. Becoming physically mature by the age of 25 and emotionally mature at around 125,[1] they are also famously long-lived, capable of living more than half a millennium and remaining physically youthful. Possessed of innate beauty and easy gracefulness, they are viewed as both wondrous and haughty by other races; however, their natural detachment is seen by some as introversion or xenophobia.

There are numerous different subraces and subcultures of elves, including aquatic elves, dark elves (drow), deep elves (rockseer), grey elves, high elves, moon elves, snow elves, sun elves, valley elves, wild elves (gruagach), wood elves, and winged elves (avariel). The offspring of humans and elves are known as "half-elves" among humans, and as "half-humans" among elves. In 4th edition, the eladrin are high elves.

Publication history[]

Dungeons & Dragons (1974–1976)[]

The elf first appeared as a player character class in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons.[2][3] The aquatic elf was introduced in the 1975 Blackmoor supplement.[4]

Gary Gygax claims Dungeons & Dragons elves draw very little from Tolkien.[5] Elves in Dungeons & Dragons are immune to paralysis as a holdover from a game balance adjustment in Chainmail.[6]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977–1988)[]

The elf appeared as a player character race in the original Player's Handbook (1978).[7][8] The elf also appeared in the original Monster Manual (1977), with subraces including High Elf, Gray Elf (some of who are also called Faerie), Black Elf (also called Drow), Wood Elf (also called Sylvan), and Aquatic Elf.[9] The grugach, valley elf, and cooshee (an elven dog) first appeared in Dragon issue #67 (November 1982) in "Featured Creatures", an ongoing series of articles where Gary Gygax released information on official creatures before their release in the upcoming Monster Manual II. The grugach, valley elf, and cooshee then appeared in the original Monster Manual II (1983).[10] A number of elven subraces were presented as character races in the original Unearthed Arcana (1985).[11]

Dungeons & Dragons (1977–1999)[]

The elf appeared as a character class in the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977).

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989–1999)[]

The high elf appeared as a character race in the second edition Player's Handbook (1989).[12] The high elf also appeared in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989).[13] Several elven races were detailed as player character races in The Complete Book of Elves (1992).[14] Supplements focused on elves in specific campaign settings include Comanthor: Empire of the Elves, Elves of Evermeet and Elves of Athas.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition (2000–2007)[]

The elf appeared as a character race in the third edition Player's Handbook (2000),[15] and in the 3.5 revised Player's Handbook.[16] Elves were detailed for the Forgotten Realms setting in Races of Faerûn (2003).[17] Elves were one of the races detailed in Races of the Wild (2005).[1]

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008-2014)[]

The elf appeared as a character race and as one of three in a family of elven races — the sylvans, the drows, and the eladrins — in the fourth edition Player's Handbook (2008). The elf appears in the fourth edition Monster Manual (2008).[18]

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014-)[]


Physique (3rd edition)[]

Slightly shorter than the average human, elves tend to be slender and graceful (this is reflected in a bonus to Dexterity and a penalty to Constitution), averaging between 4½ to 5½ feet tall and weighing 95 to 135 pounds. Males are slightly more muscular on average, though there is little difference in height between the sexes and neither sex grows facial or body hair. Their features are generally angular and defined, including long, pointed ears and wide, almond-shaped eyes. Most elves have fair skin and dark hair, though this is no more true of all elves than it is of humans. They have a reputation for careful grooming, more so than perhaps any other race. This frequently extends to their clothing, which is luxurious and well-kept, though not to the point of impracticality.

Elves do not sleep as most other creatures do, instead falling into a four-hour restful trance. Consequently, elves are unaffected by sleep-inducing spells and effects, and are able to remain active far longer than other races.

Elves also do not age as other creatures; their physical appearances remain constant from achieving physical maturity to death. Elves do grow physically weaker and mentally stronger as they grow older, and accumulate a "glow" from the strength of their souls as they age.[1]


In several campaign settings, elves have their own pantheon often known as the Seldarine; this pantheon usually consists of the leader Corellon Larethian, as well as Aerdrie Faenya, Deep Sashelas, Erevan Ilesere, Fenmarel Mestarine, Hanali Celanil, Labelas Enoreth, Rillifane Rallathil, Sehanine Moonbow, and Solonor Thelandira. Other elven gods may be present in different campaign settings.

Campaign settings[]


The elves of Greyhawk include the standard aquatic, dark (Drow), grey, high, and wood (sylvan) elves described in the core rule books of various editions of the game.

Additional non-good elven types created for this setting include the snow elves,[19] valley elves,[20] and wild (grugach) elves.[20][21]

Forgotten Realms[]

The various elven subraces are more prominent in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, and Faerûn boasts several major subraces. They differ physically from typical Dungeons & Dragons elves in that they are as tall as humans (5′9″ on average), or even taller. The exception are the Drow, who are of standard D&D elven height. In Faerûn, surface elves call themselves Tel-Quessir which means "The People" in the elven language. In 4th edition, most of the elven subraces were classified as drow, eladrin or elves.

The history of the elven race is marked by great empires and a gradual decline and retreat from the mainland Faerûn. The elves first came to Abeir-Toril from the plane of Faerie more than twenty-five millennia ago. The first wave of elves to arrive were the green elves, lythari, and avariel. The second wave included the dark elves, who arrived in the jungles of southern Faerûn, and the sun and moon elves, who arrived in the north. Not long after, the aquatic elves arrived in the Great Sea. After the second wave of elven immigrants arrived, the Time of Dragons ended and the period known as the First Flowering of the Fair Folk began. The elves settled into five major civilizations along the west and south of Faerûn during this period. Along the Sword Coast, the sun elves established Aryvandaar and Shantel Othreier, and the green elves established Illefarn, Miyeritar, and Keltormir. To the south, in present-day Vilhon Reach, the green elves also created the nations of Thearnytaar, Eiellûr, and Syòpiir. In the forests that once covered the Shaar, the moon elves established Orishaar, and the dark elves established Ilythiir. All of these realms were gradually destroyed as a result of the Crown Wars, which made way for other elven realms.

Their once expansive realms have shrunk back in territory and prestige due to the influence and expansion of the younger races, particularly humans. They remain influential, however; much of the shape of Faerûn is influenced by conflict between the various subraces of the elves.

The elven subraces of Faerûn include the following:

Aquatic Elves or Sea Elves (Alu-Tel'Quessir)
Aquatic elves are also known as sea elves. They live beneath the waves of Faerûn and can breathe water as easily as their cousins on land breathe air. They can also breathe air but for a very short period of time.
Template:D&D Wikibook or Winged Elves (Aril-Tel'Quessir)
The avariel are very rare in Faerûn, since they have been hunted nearly to extinction by various dragons. Avariel remain in any number in only one place—the Aerie of the Snow Eagles, a secluded mountain home in the north. Avariel maintain good relationships with aarakocra, and those in the Aerie of the Snow Eagles have recently reestablished contact with their cousins in Evermeet. The avariel make their homes in open areas, and take immense joy in flying. They absolutely abhor and detest being inside, underground, or otherwise restricted from the open sky. The avariel are known for their fierce clerical tradition, as devout worshippers of the Seldarine sky goddess Aerdrie Faenya.
Once known only as dark elves, one of their greatest kingdoms was Illythiir. They were transformed into drow and banished to the Underdark when their matron goddess Lolth broke from the primary elven pantheon. Of all the elves they are the only ones that are inherently evil and hate their cousins with an undying passion. They are smaller than their cousins, both shorter and thinner. In addition, their skin resembles polished obsidian, and their hair is snow-white or silver. Their eyes are almost inevitably red, gleaming with the hatred for their surface dwelling cousins. In 4th edition, the drow are a separate race rather than an elf subrace.
Dark Elves (Ssri-Tel'Quessir)
Recently returned into the fold of the true elven race. These former Drow now live on the surface in the city of hope. They have brown skin and black hair and have been cleansed of all drow traits. They are protected once again by Corellon Larethian.
Lythari (Ly-Tel'Quessir)
The lythari are a subrace of elves who can transform into wolves. Unlike most werewolves, they can transform at will and keep their minds while in wolf form. Because the lythari have changed so far from their elven roots, most Faerûnian scholars now consider them a separate race from elves.
Moon Elves or Silver Elves (Teu-Tel'Quessir)
The moon elves are the most common of all the elves in Faerûn and are also known as silver elves. They typically have fair skin and hair that runs in hues from silver-white to black or blue. While human style hair colors are rare, eye color can be remarkably similar, with colors ranging from blue to green. The majority of the half-elves in Faerûn come from parings between humans and moon elves. In 4th edition, moon elves are eladrin.[22]
Star Elves or Mithral Elves (Ruar-Tel'Quessir)
This subrace left the forests of Yuirwood for an extraplanar realm known as Sildëyuir. They have recently considered returning due to increasing threats by the alien nilshai.
Sun Elves or Gold Elves (Ar-Tel'Quessir)
Sun elves are primarily found upon the island of Evermeet and because of this, they are less common across the rest of Faerûn. With bronze colored skin; gold, black, or green eyes; and gold, blond, black, or (rarely) red hair, they are also called gold elves. Sun elves are less physically fit, but more intellectually advanced, than their counterparts. Sun elves are the primary practitioners of elven High Magic, and are among the greatest magic-users of Toril, both arcane and divine. In 4th edition, sun elves are eladrin.[22]
Wild Elves or Green Elves (Sy-Tel'Quessir)
The most reclusive of all the elves, the wild elves pride themselves on their isolation and skill at keeping hidden. Their skin tends to be brown and they have similar colored hair which lightens with age. In 4th edition, wild elves are elves.[22]
Wood Elves, Copper Elves, or Sylvan Elves (Or-Tel'Quessir)
Wood elves are a reclusive subrace, preferring to live in such areas as the High Forest. They place more emphasis on strength than learning. Wood elves are considered by other elven subraces (particularly the austere sun elves) to be boisterous and hedonistic. They have a zest for life and pleasure. According to Races of Faerûn (which was published in March 2003 and only mentions aquatic elves, avariel, drow, lythari, moon elves, sun elves, wood elves, and wild elves), wood elves are the only elven subrace that is native to Toril. They slowly formed for centuries from some of the other elven subraces after the last Crown War. They see their realms as the natural successors to past nations such as Eaerlann and Cormanthyr. In 4th edition, wood elves are elves.[22]
Vil Adanrath
Lythari that have been separated and live in the Endless Wastes.


Once the slaves of the giants of Xen'drik, the elves of Eberron immigrated over time to the continents of Aerenal and Khorvaire, establishing nations and distinct cultures on both. Most notable are the elves of Aerenal, whose culture revolves around the veneration of the Undying Court.

Dark Sun[]

Athasian elves are hostile nomads, marked by savage dispositions and a deep distrust of outsiders.[23] An Athasian elf stands 6½'–7½' tall. They are slender, lean, and generally in terrific physical condition. Their features are deeply etched into their weather-toughened faces, and their skin is made rough by the windblown sands and baking sun of the wilderness. The dunes and steppes of Athas are home to thousands of tribes of nomadic elves. While each tribe is very different culturally, the elves within them remain a race of long-limbed sprinters given to theft, raiding, and warfare.

The 2nd edition product Mind Lords of the Last Sea introduced a new offshoot of Dark Sun elf. The people of Saragar call them "ghost elves" for their fair complexions, light blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Ghost elves are elitist and xenophobic, and live almost exclusively in the city of Sylvandretta. To maintain a pure bloodline, they have inbred for millennia, resulting in their lighter appearance and halving their lifespan compared to other Athasian elves.[24]


The elves are the largest political and military presence in space; at the time of the original Spelljammer: AD&D Adventures in Space boxed set, the elves had just completed a remarkably successful extermination of interstellar orcs and goblins throughout the known universe.[25]

Other subraces[]

Dark Elves[]

Main article: Drow (Dungeons & Dragons)

Grey Elves[]

Also known as Mountain Elves,[citation needed] these elves are the most noble of elves, yet also the most arrogant. They are of higher intellectual capabilities than other elves, but, despite the fact they are taller than high elves, they are physically weaker. They live in isolated mountain strongholds, and rarely allow access to outsiders. They have silver hair and amber eyes, or gold hair and violet eyes, and wear clothes of white, silver, yellow and gold, and usually wear regally colored cloaks.

High Elves[]

High elves are the "celestial elves" or "sun elves", and most commonly encountered by other races, and the most open and friendly of their kind. They travel to other lands more than other elves. They are generally dark-haired and green-eyed, with very pale complexions the color of new cream. They simply do not tan, no matter how much time they spend under Oerth's sun. High elves prefer to wear light pastels, blues and greens and violets, and often dwell in homes built into living wood, high in the trees.

In 4th edition the Eladrin are the High elves.

Painted Elves[]

This subrace resides in painted deserts and petrified forests, preferring a druidic lifestyle.[citation needed]

Rockseer Elves or Deep Elves[]

"Rockseer elves are the rarest of all elvenkind. They are far taller than most of their kin, with a few reaching almost to eight feet in height. An average weight for a Rockseer is between 120 and 140 pounds, with little gender difference. Rockseers are very pale skinned, and they have no body hair. Head hair is extraordinarily fine, always worn long, with the appearance and texture of exquisitely fine silk. The hair is silver, and eye color is a pale, almost ice-blue. They are androgynous in appearance, making it difficult for outsiders to tell males and females apart.

"Rockseers have been separated from the rest of elvenkind since mythic times. Their own history tells that they were cowards at the great battle of Corellon Larethian and Lolth, fleeing the combat and taking refuge far below ground. They have no knowledge of surface elves. They know of the Drow and hate them, avoiding them whenever possible. They are extremely seclusive and shun the company of all other races, including the Svirfneblin. The only exception to this are pech, with whom Rockseers sometimes form friendships."[26][27]

The deep elves are found in 1996's Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Three, but originated in the Night Below boxed set campaign published in 1995. In a subplot of Night Below, the player characters can reintroduce the exiled Rockseers with the rest of elvenkind and reconcile them with their god, Corellon Larethian.[28]


Main article: Half-elf (Dungeons & Dragons)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Williams, Skip. Races of the Wild. Wizards of the Coast, 2005. ISBN 0-7869-3438-7
  2. Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson. Dungeons & Dragons (3-Volume Set) (TSR, 1974)
  3. Tresca, Michael J. (2010), The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, McFarland, p. 62, ISBN 078645895X<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Arneson, Dave. Blackmoor (TSR, 1975)
  5. "Tolkien had them taller, more intelligent, more beautiful, and older than humans; in fact, he made them quite similar to the fair-folk, the fairies. The elves of the AD&D game system borrow two names (gray and wood) from the Professor's writings, and that is nearly all. They are shorter than humans, and not generally as powerful." Gygax, Gary (March 1985). "On the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien on the D&D and AD&D games". The Dragon (95). pp. 12–13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Ever wonder why elves are immune to paralysis? As far as we can figure out, that immunity came from a game-balance issue in the original Chainmail rules, which mostly covered medieval warfare (with a fantasy supplement that spawned the game we all play today). Masses of low-cost undead troops were beating up high-cost elf troops, so the 'elves are immune to paralysis' emerged as a balancing factor." Noonan, David (2007). "Interlude: Birth of a Rule." Rules Compendium. Wizards of the Coast. p. 13.
  7. Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games. Prometheus Books. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-87975-653-5. 
  8. Gygax, Gary (1978). Players Handbook. TSR. ISBN 0-935696-01-6. 
  9. Gygax, Gary. Monster Manual (TSR, 1977)
  10. Gygax, Gary. Monster Manual II (TSR, 1983)
  11. Unearthed Arcana, by Gary Gygax, published 1985, ISBN 978-0-88038-084-3
  12. Cook, David (1989). Player's Handbook. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-716-5. 
  13. Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume One (TSR, 1989)
  14. McComb, Colin D. The Complete Book of Elves (TSR, 1992)
  15. Tweet, Jonathan; Cook, Monte; Williams, Skip (2000). Player's Handbook. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-1550-1. 
  16. Tweet, Jonathan; Cook, Monte; Williams, Skip (2003) [2000]. Player's Handbook v.3.5. revised by Andy Collins. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-2886-7. 
  17. Boyd, Eric L.; Matt Forbeck; and James Jacobs. Races of Faerûn. Wizards of the Coast, 2003
  18. Mearls, Mike, Stephen Schubert, and James Wyatt. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2008)
  19. Reimer, David (March 1990). "In the Frost and the Snow". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR) (#155): 26–29. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Gygax, Gary (November 1982). "Featured Creatures". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR) (#67): 10-11. 
  21. Breault, Mike, ed, et al (1990). Greyhawk Monstrous Compendium Appendix. TSR.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Baker, Richard (August 20, 2008). "Locked: The one and only "Ask the Realms designers thread" 4". Wizards of the Coast Community. Archived from the original on December 12, 2012. Retrieved December 12, 2012. "The editors pushed hard to get FR as close to core D&D terminology as they could, so they tended to be really aggressive on calling sun elves, moon elves, etc. eladrin." 
  23. Swan, Rick (September 1992). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR) (#185): 65–66. 
  24. Smith, Lester W. (1996). The Wanderer's Chronicle: Mind Lords of the Last Sea. TSR. p. 47.
  25. Rolston, Ken (February 1990). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR) (#154): 59–63. 
  26. Sargent, Carl (1995). Night Below. TSR.
  27. Pickens, Jon (1996). "Elf, Rockseer". Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Three (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR): 40-41. 
  28. Sargent, Carl (1995). Night Below. Book 3: The Sunless Sea. TSR, pp. 2-4, 38.

Further reading[]

External links[]

  • Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves: AD&D Second Edition source book for the Forgotten Realms contains information on the physiology, history, culture and mindset of elves