Variant Elves. Velves?

Following the release of the Tiefling subraces – both in the 2015 Unearthed Arcana material and the more recent preview from last month – Wizards of the Coast have decided to add a little more variance to the traditional elf archetypes: High Elves, Wood Elves and Drow will be joined by the Avariel, the Grugach, Sea Elves and the Shadar-kai.


Avariel

flying elf
I’m flying!

“Avariel are said to have the most beautiful voices of all the Tel’Quessir, and their songs are greatly sought after by bards of other races.”

A race of primordial elves from a time when the world was a happier place, the Avariel decided that the best way to impose their winged superiority was to upset the local dragon population. It didn’t go well. Still, pockets of resistance still exist both on the material plane and in the plane of air.

Traits

Flight: You have a flying speed of 30 feet. To
use this speed, you can’t be wearing medium or
heavy armor.

Being able to fly is an incredibly potent boon to have, even into the levels where it becomes more commonplace. Both the Wings of Flying and the Winged Boots require attunement, so a free source of flight which matches your base movement speed is hard to critique. The restriction of light armor pushes this towards casters, but offers a lot of potential battlefield control – and will also give your elven light cleric that extra angelic boost as their fireballs rain from the sky.

Languages: You can speak, read, and write
Auran.

Good for having a discussion with an Air Genasi or Smoke Drake, but otherwise situational at best.


 

Grugach

grugachgrumpy
Nyeh!

“Every copse of trees becomes a sniper’s nest, and each forest meadow is an ambush point. The grugach set pits filled with stakes, snares that leave an intruder helpless to grugach arrows, and other snares designed to kill rather than capture.”

Wood elves, but nastier. Imagine your archetypal guardian-of-the-realm forest-dwelling elf, but rather than extolling the virtues of druidism, the Grugach elves extol the virtues of anthrax. It would be disingenuous to suggest that they have totally abandoned their roots in nature as they do maintain a love for house, home and hamster – but also a kinship with traps, ambushes and murder in protection of their realm. Factor in the idea that they’re so inclusive that they make other elves antsy, and you have a grittier, hardier variant to bring to the table over your more stereotypical elf.

Traits

Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score
increases by 1.

Filling in a gap in the ability score for elves – intelligence, wisdom and charisma already covered by the default subraces – could potentially help to foster the growth of more elven fighters and barbarians. Perhaps meager on its own, but more potent when remembering that these subraces also carry over the default starting statistics of an elf – notably a +2 to dexterity. Melee players, this is for you.

Grugach Weapon Training: You have
proficiency with the spear, shortbow, longbow,
and net.

These tools of the trade work perfectly for a merciless hunter, and notably expand on the standard “I’m good at bows!” that their elven kin chant from the trees. Spears aren’t martial weapons, but they can be thrown a good distance, as well as being a versatile d8 smacking stick.

Cantrip: You know one cantrip of your choice
from the druid spell list. Wisdom is your
spellcasting ability for it.

A valiant effort to challenge wood elves for the mantle of “Ultimate Druids 2017”. Druids have great spells, but slightly more average cantrips. Druids are well known for Shillelagh and the ability to stack wisdom, or pulling mooks off of ledges with Thorn Whip. Still, picking up Produce Flame for a ranged cantrip option on a monk, or even the new Unearthed Arcana cantrip Primal Savagery to give your caster a bit more potency in a jam might not be a terrible call.

Languages: Unlike other elves, you don’t
speak, read, or write Common. You instead speak,
read, and write Sylvan.

Woah, Wizards went deep on the introversion. Lots of backgrounds grant you access to additional languages, but it is equally hilarious to imagine roleplaying a murderously grumpy elf who cannot communicate with anyone in the party.


Sea Elves

underthesea
This kinda speaks for itself, right?

“The special acoustics of a watery environment lend themselves to music, and sea elves are exposed to the eerie and beautiful songs of the whales and other denizens of the deep. It is not surprising that aquatic elven bards have a range of powerful and evocative songs.”

Stepping away from their land-borne brethren, the Sea Elves call the shallows of the world’s oceans home. The playtest material doesn’t expand much on the nature of these elves, and therefore it can be extrapolated that these guys carry their affinity for nature into the drink with them.

Traits

Ability Score Increase: Your Constitution
score increases by 1.

The final piece in the ASI puzzle for elves, constitution serves as a pretty versatile stat. CON saves are bastards to fail, and concentration checks are vital for casters. Beyond that, although it may not offer the wisdom bonus that is so beneficial to a ranger, constitution is a nice catch-all statistic – perfect for a dexterous fighter or coral-wearing barbarian.

Sea Elf Weapon Training: You have
proficiency with the spear, trident, light
crossbow, and net.

I mean, it wouldn’t really make sense if these guys weren’t proficient with tridents, would it? Although statistically indistinguishable from the spear, the trident is a flavorful choice of armament for any creature of the sea.

More notably, WotC have elected to give Sea Elves an affinity with light crossbows in lieu of the traditional bow. This can set up some pretty saucy combinations with the Crossbow Expert feat, which lets you make a bonus action crossbow attack after making an attack with a one-handed weapon. No disadvantage with crossbows in melee means you can net something – giving yourself and your friends advantage on your attack rolls – and shoot him right in the chops for deigning to get in your grill.

Child of the Sea: You have a swimming speed
of 30 feet, and you can breathe air and water.

Thematically appropriate, campaign dependent. Grappling foes and dragging them into the water until they drown might work out for you, but if you’re rolling a Sea Elf with that in mind then I might recommend you also seek a guidance counselor.

Friend of the Sea: Using gestures and sounds,
you can communicate simple ideas with Small or
smaller beasts that have an inborn swimming
speed.

Again, thematically appropriate – and also a nice ribbon for roleplaying purposes. If you can express the virtues of you being supreme ruler of the ocean through the medium of gestures and whistles, you can slowly (but surely) start to build up your aquatic army. Get enough of them and harass your DM to turn them into a swarm, and those pesky land-walkers won’t know what hit them.

Languages: You can speak, read, and write
Aquan.

Much the same as the Avariel’s ability to chat wind, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone to converse with. Try and commit a few bubbly curse words to memory for yelling when you charge into battle.


Shadar-kai 

sylvanasgif
For the Raven Queen!

“All shadar-kai were subject to the “shadow curse”, doomed to lose their souls to the “dark powers” of the Shadowfell. The “shadow curse” sapped their will to live and filled their hearts with ennui, melancholy, and utter sadness.”

The most functionally creepy of the elves, the Shadar-kai are bound to the service of the Raven Queen – that’s the unofficial “God of Death”. With skin as pale as a flat white, sporting tattoos and adorned with eerie piercings, these Shoreditch hipsters take frequent breaks from gentrifying the Shadowfell and moonlighting in artisan cafes to shake things up in the material plane on the boss’ orders.

Traits

Ability Score Increase: Your Charisma score
increases by 1.

Just like the Drow, these guys are master chit-chatters. Great for your bards and dexterous paladins, though the latter might have a hard time coming to terms with their ties to the dead.

Cantrip: You know one of the following
cantrips of your choice: chill touch, spare the
dying, or thaumaturgy. Charisma is your
spellcasting ability for it.

Necromancy cantrips granted by the Raven Queen herself. Chill touch is a nifty d8 cantrip with a 120 feet range and extra detriment for undead targets, while spare the dying can stabilize anyone about to cross over to the Shadowfell who hasn’t expressed enough interest in trying out your chai tea lattes. Thaumaturgy is a fantastic roleplaying cantrip with lots of flavorful applications.

Blessing of the Raven Queen: As a bonus
action, you can magically teleport up to 15 feet
to an unoccupied space you can see, and you gain
resistance to all damage until the start of your
next turn. During that time, you appear ghostly
and translucent. Once you use this ability, you
can’t use it again until you finish a short or long
rest.

Oh boy, here’s where the coffee money is made. A racial bonus action misty step with a shorter range is top drawer, recoverable on a short rest for extra win. The distance might restrict it to a get-out-of-jail free card (perhaps literally) twice or thrice a session, but the damage resistance until the start of your next turn after use is delicious.


All things considered, these seem distinct enough thematically to be a great addition to any roleplaying group. I’m not entirely sold on the grugach being thematically different enough from wood elves, but I can see where Wizards have tried to establish two different types within a fairly different setting. The other three stand alone as very solid choices.

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