Half-Elf 5E Race Guide | Tips and Builds for Half-Elves in D&D

half elf 5e

When a human and an elf love each other very much, sometimes you create the most powerful race in the game. The Half-Elf was introduced in the Player’s Handbook of Dungeons & Dragons 5E and has solidified itself as a great option. In-game, every race loves the Half-Elf, and out of game, nobody can deny that these guys are great for any class you’d want! However, they can be some of the more confusing creatures to pilot. Check out our Half-Elf 5E guide for some tips on how to build them!

Half-Elf 5E Lore

Half-Elves are in a weird spot in society. Visually, a Half-Elf has the body shape of a human, with some aspects of elven nature; they’re slightly skinnier, have some pronounced ears, but otherwise look very human. Their eyes might be the easiest indicator of their elven nature, being piercing and wise naturally.

Amongst humans, Half-Elves are almost revered for their insane potential and incredible socialization skills. They are naturals at almost any task they take on, being graced by their elven parents, and can take on a nearly infinite amount of tasks… However, a Half-Elf amongst humans quickly feels the effects of immortality, as their friends grow up much faster than them… And pass away much faster as well.

Among their elven parents, they instead feel much the opposite. They are seen as too energetic and restless, as they desperately want to take on tasks that elves consider unnecessary. They have trouble making friends due to their youth, and their childhood friends will live much, much longer than they can. 

So, set in a limbo between their two parent races, Half-Elves tend to begin exploring the world. They feel fine when alone, and thus can spread their talents throughout the continents that they grace. They make quick friends with other races, as most see Half-Elves as good, honest people… Though some elves might consider them agents of humankind. A Half-Elf doesn’t need to become an ambassador or diplomat, however; their human side allows them to take on all sorts of roles, from vagabonds to artists. A Half-Elf can be very many things, leading to most races considering them to be about the same level as humans. This can be good or bad for the half-breeds, since humans are often accepted but rarely adored.

Half-Elves tend to fit one parents’ name scheme or the other. Check out our Half-Elf naming guide for more info.

Half-Elf Attributes

Holy crud are these guys good! Their base stats are as follows;

  • +2 Charisma, +1 to Two Other Attributes. Charisma is an alright mental score. It applies to a rare saving throw, and some of the more oft-used skill checks in the game. As long as you’re the party’s talker, you’ll be quite happy with Charisma. However, the flexibility of two more +1s means that you can take on a limitless number of rolls. Throw them into Dex and Con for a tanky half-breed, or Strength and Con for a frontliner/Paladin role. This is such an insanely strong lineup of stats, that it’s insane that WotC allowed it to happen!
  • Medium Size, 30 ft Speed. The usual. You don’t have insane height or weight to work with; no other race will be jealous of this.
  • Darkvision. You can see in the dark, which is great for casters and rogues alike. You don’t need torches, which allows you to more easily sneak up on creatures or subtly find their hiding spots. Legitimately useful.
  • Fey Ancestry. Charmed is an annoying status effect, so having two chances to roll against it is nice… Though it’s admittedly a bit rare. Even rarer than charm is magical sleep effects, but it may come in handy if you’re ambushed or against specific bosses.
  • Skill Versatility. Whoa, two free skills? That’s amazing! This can round out your tool kit for out-of-combat situations soundly; get your Acrobatics on your Wizard, or Perception on your Cleric. Try and choose some skills that apply in as many situations as possible and that your class doesn’t give you. That’d be the best use of these proficiencies.
  • Languages. Elven is fine; usually only spoken by elves, but it’s fluffy enough to get you in with aristocrats. The free language can be spent on more well-known languages, like Giant or Draconic. Talk with your DM, just in case it might be better for you to have a niche language like Aquan or Sylvan.

Aquatic Elf Descent (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)

The Half-Aquatic Elf can replace Skill Versatility with one of these options;

  • Swim. Swim speed is nice, especially in aquatic campaigns. However, this is only ever better than Skill Versatility if you’re going to spend 99% of your time in the water. Otherwise… Skill Versatility is insane.

Drow Descent (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)

The Half-Drow can replace Skill Versatility with one of these options.

  • Drow Magic. Dancing Lights is reasonable, if your party has a few people who can’t see in the dark. Faerie Fire is good early anti-invisibility, and is also a fairly good offensive spell if you’re light on Concentration spells. Darkness is… rarely useful, usually only as an escape tool or a setup for some sort of vision-based combo. Still, this is a reasonable replacement for Skill Versatility if there are people without Darkvision… And if you want to have anti-invisibility tech.

Moon/Sun Elf Descent (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)

The Half-Moon or Half-Sun elves can choose between these two abilities, instead of Skill Versatility.

  • Elf Weapon Training. These are some dang good weapons… Though really, the only one that matters a lot here is Longbow. Longsword can be useful for melee builds, but all Strength classes that want to use Longsword will have proficiency in it. Maybe if you want to go for a weird Cleric build…? But Longbows aren’t naturally used by some classes, like the Rogue, that would like it. Worth losing versatility if your build relies on the weapon.
  • Cantrip. Cantrips are strong. Really strong. But are they as strong as two skill proficiencies? Probably not, most of the time. This does get stronger if you have high Intelligence, likely because you’re an Artificer or Wizard yourself.

Wood Elf Descent (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)

The Half-Wood Elf can choose to replace Skill Versatility with one of these three options.

  • Elf Weapon Training. Like the Moon/Sun Descent, this only works if you really want a build that uses Longsword, Shortsword, Shortbow, or Longbow. Otherwise, it’s better to have the out-of-combat utility.
  • Fleet of Foot. 5 foot movement speed is really good. Legitimately! Going from 6 to 7 square movement is great for mobility and conquering the early game. However, this boon probably won’t overcome Skill Versatility. If you feel like you don’t need the extra skills because you’re a Ranger or Rogue, this is a good choice.
  • Mask of the Wild. Probably a bit too niche. If you have a druid on your team, then the potential is there. However, most of the time, you’d rather just have the two skills.

Mark of Detection (Eberron: Rising from the Last War)

This Dragonmark is from the Eberron setting, and might not fit into most campaigns. If you choose this, you replace your Ability Scores and Skill Versatility.

  • +2 Wisdom, +1 Any Other. Wisdom is, in my opinion, superior to Charisma. It’s the much more popular saving throw to target, and Perception is the most rolled skill check in a standard D&D campaign. So that’s nice, but compared to normal HE, you’re dropping a +1. That’s huge! That means you can only get your +1 into a single other defensive or offensive stat. A major loss in potential tankiness or damage.
  • Deductive Intuition. These are both somewhat niche, but you’ll roll a lot of these checks in a non-combat campaign. That can be nice, since it’s hard to get a +d4 in skill checks… Though one could argue it’s harder to get two free proficiencies.
  • Magical Detection. Three rather good detection spells… Although, how often you could throw these out is another question. Detect Magic is an obviously fantastic spell, but Detect Poison and Disease is much more niche, and See Invisibility requires you to have one heck of a hunch.
  • Spells of the Mark. Good choices for either Cleric or Druid, since a handful of these spells aren’t on their lists. You can be a good Diviner here.

Mark of Storm (Eberron: Rising from the Last War)

This Dragonmark is from the Eberron setting, and might not fit into most campaigns. If you choose this, you replace your Ability Scores and Skill Versatility.

  • +2 Charisma, +1 Dexterity. A strict downgrade to standard Half-Elf builds. Admittedly, that +1 was probably going to go into Dexterity, but you lose a lot of versatility here. Charisma is still fairly niche, Dexterity is fantastic. Far from bad, just worse than base.
  • Windwrights Intuition. Acrobatics can be rolled a ton, depending on where you find yourself in a particular dungeon. Navigator’s Tools… Well, if you’re on a boat, you’re in tip-top shape! Otherwise, Survival tends to just be better.
  • Storm’s Boon. Lightning damage… That’s fine? You won’t get struck by lightning too often, especially compared to Fire or Cold. But, this is still a completely reasonable source of DR.
  • Headwinds. Really fun for a sailboat campaign! Gust is extremely niche, since it has some pretty heft limitations. Gust of Wind is a bit stronger, and can more easily counter some enemy strats. Still not exactly something you want to have in the holster at all times.
  • Spells of the Mark. Bards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks all want to have some of the spells that this list offers. That’s pretty amazing for you! Winners include Wind Wall and the Conjure Elemental spells.

Class Options

Similar to humans, Half-Elves can succeed at any class that they want. There are some classes that Half-Elves are a little bit worse at… But let’s be honest. They can do anything.

Good Classes for Half-Elves

  • Barbarian. Thematically, these guys have no reason to be a Barbarian. However, you can get +1 Strength, +1 Constitution, some great anti-magic utility, and great skills. You’ll be plowing through enemy lines… Though, you might want to consider being a Half-Orc for this job!
  • Bard. Perfection. Half-Elf bards are unstoppable. Great stats, great utility, the best skill power in the game… Heck, you’ve even got Darkvision! There’s almost no flaws in this build type!
  • Cleric. Mark of Detection makes Cleric Half-Elves worthwhile. Normal Half-Elves waste a bit too much stat power (though not much at all!) compared to the Mark. If you want to go normal, then you’re rewarded with better skills. The Mark just has better utility and great divination magic.
  • Druid. Once again, Mark of Detection makes this option significantly better than traditional Half-Elf (though traditional Half-Elf can be a fine Druid! Diplomat bear!). You can get Dexterity or Constitution, get some skillpower, and even learn some good Divination! Great choice.
  • Fighter. Yup, Fighters are fine too. You can boost whatever Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence mixture you’d like! You can get enough skill power to be worth something out of combat, become the backup face to the party (or the intimidator)… The Darkvision even comes in handy!
  • Monk. Because of the flexibility of Half-Elf (or the pure stats of the Detection Mark), Monk can work fine. You might be a little low on damage compared to other races, but your out-of-combat utility will be ginormous!
  • Paladin. One of the best Paladins in the game. Strength, Constitution, Charisma. Great out-of-combat abilities. Resistance to Charmed… You can’t get much better than this! Your early damage might be lacking, but your lategame spellcasting and health certainly won’t!
  • Ranger. Ranger Half-Elves are fine, though perhaps investing a bit too much into Charisma. Speak for the trees, brother! Alternatively, you can use Mark of Detection to become the world’s best tracker.
  • Rogue. If you’ve ever wanted to talk yourself out of any situation, Rogue Half-Elves are the right place for you! Half-Elves have everything a Rogue can dream of; if you don’t want the extra skills, the Wood Elf variant has some options to work with! This is an insanely good combo.
  • Sorcerer. Extremely powerful class for Half-Elf. Great casting, you can boost Constitution and Dexterity, amazing out-of-combat skill checks… Goodness, if you want to take over a party, this is the pick for you! Not many other races can even attempt to reach this level.
  • Warlock. This is arguably the best Warlock races as well. Huge Charisma, great options for defensive stats, some extra skill proficiencies… You’ve got yourself some build options inside of this race alone! That’s how insane Half-Elf truly is!

Bad Classes for Half-Elves

As a note; by “bad classes,” I mostly mean “there’s better picks.”

  • Artificer. Half-Elf Artificers aren’t horrifying, or anything. They’re just not quite amazing. +1 Int is far from bad, but you’re wasting just a little bit of stats; Artificers have no use for Charisma at all, and receive enough skill ranks that Skill Versatility isn’t really required. Artificer is a unique class, though, so if you really want to fill the role that an Artificer has, then no one will stop you.
  • Wizard. Wizard is far from bad, too. You can get +1 Int, Skill Versatility and Darkvision are both nice… So why is it down here? Well, the answer is simple; why not be a Sorcerer or Bard instead? Those classes can handle the same roles that a Wizard can, without sacrificing some of your spell power for it. Half-Elf Wizards won’t do poorly at all, but you can get a tiny bit more efficient.


The Half-Elf may be ostracized from Human and Elf societies, but it’s probably just because of how good they are. Try these guys out whenever you want to make any class, but especially classes who are just here to have a quick chat.

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