Persuasion Check: Unearthed Arcana – Elf Subraces

Another month, another batch of playtest rules from our good friends at Wizards of the Coast. This month, following up on September’s positive feedback on the eladrin subrace, we get four more elf subraces, each distinct from each other and those already existing.

This includes the winged avariel, the primal grugach, the hardy sea elves, and the mysterious shadar-kai. Spoiler: I like each and every one of them; keep reading to find out why!

As a winged subrace, I personally may have an issue with allowing an avariel in my game, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good option to have out there. I’m actually quite fond of the idea, but at lower levels I can see flight squandering many of my typical traps and tricks that I would use against the party. To find out how this subrace stacks up however, I decided to weigh it against not the other elves, but against another flying race: the aarakocra.

Both races have a +2 Dexterity bonus, know Auran, can’t fly in medium or heavy armor, and are medium creatures that know their own language. That leaves a good room of difference between the two. For example, avarial have a flight and walking of 30 ft, while aarakocra can fly at an astounding 50 ft but walk at 25. Aarakocra get a +1 to their Wisdom and are proficient with their talons doing 1d4 slashing damage. On the other hand, avariel trade that +1 ability score bonus and damage for darkvision, proficiency in Perception, advantage on saving throws against being charmed, can’t be put to sleep magically, and trance.

From the get go, I would say these two are a bit evenly matched. The talons could be useful, but I see people going for an aarakocra more for the high flying speed and wisdom bonus, whereas an avariel may be suited for a well rounded character of any class. Of course, this is D&D, and your reasons for choosing one over the other are your own. Regardless, avariel get a thumbs up from me.

I know not much of the Greyhawk setting beyond the deities, but the grugach are making me want to change that. While your typical wood elf would be fast, wise, and one with the world, the grugach presented here are more primal, featuring strength and ferocity over wisdom and speed. Interestingly enough, in the Player’s Handbook, the section on Wood Elves say that the Wood Elf profile would be used for the grugach, but I’m happy all the same to see this entry.

What sticks out to me the most about the grugach are how far they appear to be from even their wood elf brethren. They trade the movement speed, wisdom, and stealthiness of their forest dwelling kin for strength, weapon proficiencies, and a druid cantrip of their choice. Oh, and they trade knowing Common for Sylvan.

Right away I like the addition of an elf with a Strength bonus, and adding the spear, shortbow, longbow, and net as proficiencies are great. I actually love the addition of the net proficiency, and I would hope a player using this subrace would make good use of that.

Quite frankly, there isn’t much to say other than I like it as an alternative to our current wood elves, and would welcome one at our table. Thumbs up for sure!

Sea Elves
While they may be the least interestingly named of the subraces presented, they are awesome all the same. These are truly elves not just of the ocean, but of its depths as well. With an affinity for the Plane of Water, these elves give the water genasi a run for their money, so let’s see how they compare.

Both sea elves and water genasi can walk and swim 30 ft and can breathe air and water. That’s actually a little less in common than I thought at first, so let’s run through what sets them apart. While the sea elves enjoy a +2 Dexterity and a +1 Constitution bonus, water genasi enjoy a +2 Constitution with a +1 Wisdom bonus. Neither of these are better than the other, and could easily be suited for different or the same class. Sea elves know Auqan, while all genasi know Primordial, which includes languages like Auqan and Auran as dialects of it. The genasi also have resistance to acid damage and know the Shape Water cantrip, and eventually learn the Create or Destroy Water spell, which they can innately cast once per day. On the other hand, elves still have darkvision, Perception proficiency, their advantages against charmed and immunity to sleeping, and specifically sea elves can communicate simple ideas to Small or smaller beasts with a swimming speed, and have proficiency with the spear, trident, light crossbow, and net. There’s that net again, and I still love it.

I think both of these, like the aarkocra and avariel before them, can go either way based on your personal preference for either flavor or if you think the features of one would better augment your character than the other. Still, sea elves get a thumbs up for me.

And finally we come to the shadar-kai, who are sworn servants of the Raven Queen. While again I’m not super attuned with the lore, I like the idea of these elves being somewhere between life and death and their bodies being covered in modifications a la piercings and tattoos. Gives them a cool aesthetic, and instantly makes me like them more than the drow (full disclosure: I’m not a fan of drow to begin with).

Speaking of their underground counterparts, they appear to be the closest comparison we can make, so lets see how these shadar-kai fare against them.

Obviously both share the base elf stats, and both also share an additional +1 to Charisma, which must be because everyone loves the half-dead and evil variants of elf. One thing the drow have over the shadar-kai is an extended darkvision out to 120 feet, but that comes with the cost of sunlight sensitivity. The drow also have some weapon proficiencies where the shadar-kai have none, but the defining difference is in their magic.

Drow automatically know dancing lights, and eventually gain access to faerie fire and darkness, both of which are good thematically. On the other hand, the shadar-kai get a choice of three cantrips (chill touch, space the dying, and thaumaturgy, all of which are greatly thematic) and a special ability called Blessing of the Raven Queen. This allows them to, as a bonus Action, teleport up to 15 feet once per rest AND they gain resistance to all damage until the start of their next turn. Much like the Fey Step ability of Eladrin, it’s important to note that with this they will still be able to cast any spell of any level on their action, rather than just a cantrip as if they have cast Misty Step.

Quite frankly I’ll take a shadar-kai over a drow any day just for the lack of Sunlight Sensitivity, and the damage resistance on the Blessing makes up for the short range compared to the eladrin ability. Shadar-kai get a big, brooding thumbs up from me.

That’s four thumbs up for four new elf subraces, and I’ll welcome them (except maybe avariel) at my table any day. I like that they are doing something similar to what they did with last month’s tieflings, giving us a variant with each of the five other ability scores along with the racial Dexterity bonus, and even one without! That means if it’s super important that you play an elf and they have good stats for your class, you should be in luck.

Let us know what you think in the comments and across our social media. Be sure to read the release for yourself and find which new flavor of elf is right for you!

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2 Comments on “Persuasion Check: Unearthed Arcana – Elf Subraces

  1. Not to sound nitpicky, but before 4E, Wood Elves did give a strength bonus instead of dexterity. In the Monster Manual 1, under the elf subraces, wood elves receive +2 Strength, -2 Intelligence, and a favored class of Ranger, in addition to all the other traits of the elf.


  2. Not to sound like I’m being nitpicky, but in 3.5 the Wood Elf subrace gained +2 Strength and -2 Intelligence in addition to the standard elf traits, and also got Ranger as a favored class to replace the standard elf traits.

    It was in 4E that the wood elf was changed to be a Dexterity and Wisdom race.


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