Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Origins of the PCs: Half-Elf

Born of two very different races, half-elves have both human and elven blood. Although they have a unique perspective on both human and elven cultures, they can never fully integrate into either. At best, they are friendly diplomats, able to use their childhood experiences to help people come to understandings. At worst, they are bullied and hated and as a result become bitter and angry.

Half-elves are one of Dungeons and Dragons' core races and has its origins in Norse mythology. After being featured in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, half-elves became more popular, and as a result, more widespread in the fantasy genre.

Half-Elf Strengths

  • Access to low-light vision
  • Immunity to sleep spells and effects
  • Bonus to saves against enchantment spells and effects
  • Bonus to Diplomacy, Gather Information, Listen, Search and Spot checks
  • Considered to be an elf for the purposes of effects and for meeting prerequisites

Half-Elf Weaknesses

  • Lacks the senses and martial training of their elven parent
  • Lacks the diversity of their human parent

Playing a Half-Elf
In theory, half-elves combine all the intellectual strengths of an elf with all of the physical strengths of a human. In practice, this is not the case.

Half-elves are somewhat paradoxical, at least when looking at them from a numerical standpoint. They possess bonuses to five separate skills, with a total combined bonus of +7. This puts them just behind halflings in terms of their total combined bonus, but ahead of them in the number of skills they receive bonuses to. Beyond that, they have the low-light vision and resistances to sleep and enchantment effects of their elven parent as well as the open favored class of their human parent.

The half-elf's only defining characteristic is their lack of definition, in that they have no one ability or feature that differentiates them from either humans or elves. In fact, it wasn't until they received their racial bonuses to Diplomacy and Gather Information skill checks in 3.5 Edition, that they started to get their own niche (as shallow as it may be): that of the diplomat.

Half-elves are in the unique position of being able to access spells, feats and prestige classes that are restricted to the elven race, as well as those restricted to 'half-human' races. They also can obtain a small number of 'half-elf' specific features that can provide them with some further customization.

Half-Elf Variations
Even though half-elves are not a 'true' race, there are still a wide variety of variants that prospective half-elf players may want to consider.

Athasian (Dragon Magazine #319) - Hailing from the Dark Sun setting, the half-elves of Athas have a higher Dexterity score, psionic points which increase at certain points as they level, along with access to in-born psionic powers they may manifest. They also gain a bonus to resist Illusion spells and effects. As a trade-off, they lose their bonus against Enchantment spells and effects, their immunity to sleep, and have a +1 effective character level. While this is a great choice for a Dark Sun campaign, the race is likely not suitable for other settings.

Aquatic (Races of Faerûn, Stormwrack) - Born from a union between aquatic elves and humans, aquatic half-elves have a swim speed, but lose their bonuses to Diplomacy and Gather Information checks and must keep close to the sea. While this can be a great choice for sea-based campaigns, their penalties make this a poor choice for other settings.

Arctic (Unearthed Arcana) - Arctic half-elves do not gain a bonus to Diplomacy checks, but instead gain one on Survival checks. This race is a great choice for a wilderness-based character, especially a ranger or barbarian.

Desert (Unearthed Arcana) - Desert-born half-elves do not have their elven-based bonus to Listen checks, and instead gain a bonus to Sense Motive checks. This means that desert half-elves are slightly more powerful than their mundane kin, and are a great choice for a diplomatic-styled character.

Drow (Races of Faerûn) - Half-drow characters are almost identical to normal half-elves, except that they are also considered to be drow for special abilities, effects and meeting prerequisites. Since this article is focused specifically on half-elves, we'll be dealing more with choices for half-drow and their variants in an upcoming Drow-based Origins of the PCs.

Fire (Unearthed Arcana) - Born from a union of fire elves and humans, fire half-elves possess a bonus to attack creatures with the water subtype (which includes extraplanar creatures from the Elemental Plane of Water), but suffer a penalty to saves against spells, spell-like abilities and supernatural abilities created by these same creatures.

Forestlord (Dragon Magic) - Forestlord half-elves have green dragon blood coursing through their veins and providing them with unique abilities. They gain the dragonblood subtype, have the ability to teleport between trees a limited number of times per day, gain Hide as a class skill and Sorcerer as a favored class. In exchange, they lose their bonus to saves against Enchantments, as well as their bonuses to Diplomacy and Gather Information. In addition, they suffer penalties if they attack or attempt to harm a green dragon in any way.

Jungle (Unearthed Arcana) - A somewhat more primal branch of their family tree, jungle half-elves lose their more civilized bonuses to Diplomacy and Gather Information checks. In exchange, they gain bonuses to both Bluff and Sense Motive, making this a great choice for a sneakier character.

Class Suggestions
Half-elves are primarily skill-based characters, since their racial bonuses give them a head-start. Since they're so open-ended, they can do well in any path, often better than other core races can. A half-elf can just as easily become a barbarian or a wizard, whereas a half-orc character would need to be better worked to fit one of those roles.

With their focus on social skills, half-elves do fairly well in early levels as bards. Somewhat more diplomatic than other characters, they tend to make excellent faces for the party. This focus was not lost when the half-elf bard substitution levels were introduced in Races of Destiny. These remove their ability to countersong and use suggestion in exchange for a diplomacy-based calming effect and command ability as well as provides them with a slightly larger number of social-based spells in exchange for a smaller number of spells available per day.

Half-elf rogues can skulk with the best of them. The high number of skill points that they receive allows them to focus both on social skills as well as any other skills they want or need. With proper feat selection, these kinds of characters can easily become jacks-of-all-trades (see Feats below).

Half-elf rangers have a definite urban-focus and generally do better in roles where they hunt after intelligent creatures rather than animals or monsters. The half-elf ranger substitution levels introduced in Races of Destiny provide them with the Urban Tracking instead of standard Tracking, as well as allowing them to use Gather Information faster without penalty. They also have a more urban focused spell-list and can take 10 on a number of skills even when under pressure.

Half-elves who want to take to the front lines do well as the skilled and agile swashbuckler (Complete Warrior). Combining martial skill-focus and emphasis on intelligent combat, this combination works well, especially when combined with feats such as Improved Feint.

On the surface, the standard fighter is a less attractive option than the swashbuckler for half-elf characters. The half-elf fighter substitution levels from Races of Destiny help to mitigate some of the drawbacks. They receive Bluff, Diplomacy and Sense Motive as class skills as well as a couple more skill points per level, the equivalent of the Weapon Focus feat for the longsword and rapier, the equivalent of the Two-Weapon Fighting feat when fighting with a longsword and rapier in one hand and a dagger in the other (as well as increased AC when fighting defensively with those weapon combinations) and the ability to use Bluff or Diplomacy while fighting defensively to gain an attack bonus in the next round, all in exchange for some bonus feats. This class works alright on its own, but when combined with the swashbuckler (see above), the character is even further improved due to the synergy between the two groups of abilities.

The marshal (Miniatures Handbook) is a character designed to lead a party, and they can use their ability to project auras and grant move actions to quickly turn the tide of battle, even if they aren't taking a hand in the fighting. A half-elf marshal with maximum ranks in Diplomacy has a +9 bonus to Diplomacy checks at 1st level before any ability score modifiers are factored in. If the character takes the Negotiator feat, that bonus can be increased to +11. If the character has a Charisma score of 18, that can be brought up to a grand total of +15.

As jacks-of-all-trades, half-elves do quite well as factotums (Dungeonscape). Not only are they the most skilled of all classes, but they also have the ability to gain temporary bonuses to any skill they possess at least 1 rank in. Combined with the class's numerous abilities, both mundane and magical, a half-elf factotum can be quite a formidable character combination.

Although they possess little in the way of offensive spell power, the beguiler class (Player's Handbook II) is one of the best choices for the half-elf. It allows the character to feint in combat to cast their spells more effectively. If the character takes the Improved Feint feat, they can eventually feint in combat as a swift action, making them truly dangerous. If combined with a class that has a sneak attack, such as rogue, they can be equally deadly by spell and sword.

Like the marshal, the dragon shaman (Player's Handbook II) makes for an excellent party leader, and can use their aura to assist their allies in combat. They are definitely more hands on due to their natural armor, breath weapon, spell-like abilities and healing abilities. In addition, the isolation that some half-elves can experience during their youth can make an excellent hook to draw them towards service of dragon-kind.

Most half-elf characters can benefit from the half-elf paragon class (Unearthed Arcana). Doing so provides them with bonuses to all their racial skill bonuses, a bonus to all Charisma-based skills, a bonus feat and an increase to one ability score of the player's choice. To maximize the benefits of this class, the character should also have previous levels in a spellcasting class. Half-elf paragons may also take levels in either the elf paragon or human paragon class. The human paragon class is much more versatile and likely the better choice, but characters with wizard levels will want to consider the elf paragon instead.

Feat Suggestions
Not surprisingly, half-elf racial feats are focused exclusively upon their skills. Due to their heritage, they also have access to feats available to half-human characters, as well as those available to elves. Because they are very open, the half-elf's class is going to be the stronger influence in their feat selection, but here are some suggestions:

Skills to Pay the Bills
Since half-elves are so skilled, they benefit the most from feats that make their skill selection efficient. The Complementary Insight feat (Races of Destiny) improves synergistic skill bonuses the character receives by +1 (to a total of +3), allowing them a benefit for branching out their skills. For characters with fewer skill points available, the Elf Dilettante (Races of the Wild) is an excellent choice, both providing them a bonus to using untrained skill checks and allowing them to make untrained skill checks on skills that normally do not allow them.

Being Human
Although half-elves are treated as being elves, they are not treated as being human. The Human Heritage feat (Races of Destiny) provides them with the human subtype, allowing them access to feats and prestige classes restricted to the human race. It also provides them with 4 extra skill points, which can be helpful to many characters. In addition, the Diverse Background feat (Races of Destiny) can also provide them with one additional favored class of the character's choice which can assist with builds that feature heavy multiclassing.

X-Treme Dipomacy
If you find yourself regularly having trouble with bad rolls when showing off your Diplomacy and Gather Information skills, consider the Sociable Personality feat (Races of Destiny). This allows you to reroll a bad Diplomacy or Gather Information skill check, but you must keep the reroll. The Master Manipulation feat (Player's Handbook II) allows you to use Diplomacy checks to distract targets or to turn the tables on an opponent who failed to successfully Bluff you. The Wanderer's Diplomacy feat (Player's Handbook II) allows you to use Diplomacy checks to find expensive purchases in smaller communities, use Sense Motive to understand the basic gist of somebody who's language you can't understand and use Bluff to temporarily make somebody more friendly towards you.

It's My Destiny!
Because half-elves are also half-human, they qualify for the Destiny tree of racial feats introduced in Races of Destiny. Heroic Destiny allows the character to add 1d6 to any one of a number of different kinds of rolls or checks. Protected Destiny allows the character to reroll a saving throw once per day as long as you originally rolled a natural 1. Fearless Destiny allows you to stabilize with -9 hp once per day instead of dying. While not extremely useful in ordinary circumstances, these feats act like insurance for the character to keep them from dying or being seriously injured. Half-elf wu-jens could combine these with their own particular tree of spirit feats from Complete Arcane and Complete Mage to create a character capable of changing almost any failure into a small victory. These abilities can also be augmented through the use of the Luck feats from Complete Scoundrel.

Prestige Class Suggestions
Half-elves do have a pair of prestige classes available exclusively to them and have access to a number of prestige classes normally available to elves. The name of the game with half-elf prestige classes is diversity, and these prestige classes provide a number of useful abilities that help them branch out.

Bladesinger (Complete Warrior) - Bladesingers are lightly armored warriors who use special training to augment both their swordplay and magical abilities. Any combination of arcane spellcaster and warrior can meet the prerequisites for this prestige class. Swashbucklers work best for meeting the combat-related prerequisites and could be easily combined with a class like bard, beguiler or wizard to make a potent character.

Champion of Corellon Larethian (Races of the Wild) - Good-aligned half-elven warriors could easily take levels in this prestige class, although paladins, knights (Player's Handbook II) and fighters will find it provides more benefits. Bonus feats, damage bonuses, a healing ability, a special attack and the ability to wear heavy armor with fewer impediments can all be obtained through this class, turning an already formidable warrior into an extremely powerful one.

Mindbender (Complete Arcane) - Non-good half-elven spellcasters can meet the prerequisites for this prestige class with relative ease. Their dual mastery of enchantment spells and mundane manipulation is an excellent draw. The hallmark of this class is its ability to obtain magically manipulated allies through charm and dominate abilities, while being able to use telepathy to help control the flow of information among allies. Half-elf beguilers do particularly well with this class.

Olin Gisir (Lost Empires of Faerûn) - Arcane spellcasters, especially bards will want to consider the Olin Gisir. They receive a number of skill bonuses, bonus spells and can choose from several secrets, much like the Loremaster (Dungeon Master's Guide). Although they don't gain much in terms of class features, their full spellcasting progression ensures that they're still balanced with the rest of the party.

Outcast Champion (Races of Destiny) - The outcast champion focuses on their allies. They have an aura that provides a bonus to Will saves, can make a special smite-like attack against opponents who have damaged an ally, can go into a rage-like state when seriously injured (and later share this with allies) and are better at using the aid another action. With extremely easy prerequisites to meet, almost any half-elf can take levels in this class, although it can be very helpful for martial classes or classes in a leadership role such as the marshal or dragon shaman.

Scar Enforcer (Races of Destiny) - The scar enforcer is the sworn enemy of both human and elven kind. Their class features are from a combination of several standard classes: ranger, paladin and rogue. With favored enemy, smite attacks, sneak attacks, the ability to hide in plain sight as well as a spell-like ability and some moderate spellcasting, almost any evil character can benefit from this class. Rogues, bards, beguilers and even characters with a few levels of assassins can find much from taking levels as a scar enforcer.

New Material

Avariel Legacy [Racial]
You are descended from the avariel, the reclusive winged elves. This unique heritage has given you strength and skills beyond that of most half-elves.
    Prerequisites: Half-elf with avariel ancestry.
    Benefit: You gain a +4 racial bonus on Jump checks. You also receive Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bolas).
    Special: This feat may only be taken at 1st level.

Elven Weapon Proficiency [Racial]
Unlike most half-elves, you received traditional elven weapons training during your youth.
    Prerequisites: Half-elf.
    Benefit: You receive proficiency with the longsword, rapier, longbow (including composite longbow) and shortbow (including composite shortbow). You may make attack rolls with these weapons normally.
    Special: This feat may only be taken at 1st level.

Lythari Legacy [Racial]
One of your parents was a lythari, a race of naturally lycanthropic elves. Although you don't share their gift, some of their power runs in your veins
    Prerequisites: Half-elf with lythari ancestry.
    Benefit: You gain a +4 racial bonus on Survival checks. Survival is always a class skill for you.
    Special: This feat may only be taken at 1st level.

The Two-Faced
Symbol: A silhouette of a face that is one-half human, one-half elven.
Home Plane: The Concordant Domain of the Outlands
Alignment: True Neutral
Portfolio: Community, compromise, pacts
Worshippers: Diplomats, half-elves, merchants
Cleric Alignments: N, LN, CN, NG, NE
Domains: Community*, Cooperation, Elf*
Favored Weapon: Club
* Can be found in the Spell Compendium

Finibus was a half-elven diplomat who, legends say was able to negotiate himself into deification. Completely neutral in all things, he exalts the virtues of negotiation between all people. His worshippers are predominantly half-elves, although half-orcs and other half-human races have also been known to follow him.

Because his merchant worshippers often turn a profit based on his teachings, his detractors have come to call Finibus 'the two-faced'. Although an insult, Finibus sees this epithet as very appropriate, and in good-humor he has adopted it as his title.

There are no two groups so far removed from one another that they have nothing in common. Foster negotiation and both peace and wealth will follow.

Clergy and Temples
Finibus has little in the way of actual clergy or temples, and is mostly worshipped in small home shrines. In half-elf communities (which are rare), a small temple may be dedicated to Finibus. Clerics of Finibus are uncommon, but often find their callings on the road, broking peace and fostering cooperation between neighboring communities, usually human and elven.

Cooperation Domain
    Deities: Finibus
    Granted Powers: Add Sense Motive to you list of cleric class skills. You gain Negotiator as a bonus feat.

Cooperation Domain Spells

1 - Remove Fear
2 - Calm Emotions
3 - Prayer
4 - Imbue with Spell Ability
5 - Righteous Wrath of the Faithful*
6 - Heroes' Feast
7 - Aura of Vitality*
8 - Brilliant Aura*
9 - Unbinding*
* Can be found in the Spell Compendium

Did you like this article? Then try:

Bookmark and Share