Continuing my look at the assumptions of the world that would exist in D&D's fifth edition, I'm going to look at Elves today.
1. Basic Premise
So, the first sentence of the profile (after the Dragonlance quote) states that "Elves are a magical people of otherworldly grace, living in the world but not entirely part of it." This basic premise of elves has two things to talk about--inherent magicalness (what an awful word, can someone give me a better one?) and detachment from the world.
The first is easily explained thanks to the Fey Ancestry trait. But what does this ancestry entail? Are elves what happen to Fey when they stay away from the Feywild for too long? Are they creations of the Fey? Are they crossbreeds of Fey and something more mundane? Do the elves even know?
The detachment is likely a combination of their unusually long lifespan and their alien nature. I've got some ideas I'll share below.
So, according to the PHB, there are two subraces of elf--High and Wood Elf (I know Dark Elves are in the book, but fuck those guys. Seriously.). The long story made short is that High Elves are a little more intelligent and inherently magical and Wood Elves are a little more wise and adept at hiding in natural surroundings. I do find it interesting that Grey/Sun Elves and High/Moon Elves were combined into one category of High Elf.
To me, this means that High Elves remain closer to their Fey ancestors and Wood Elves have embraced life outside the Feywild. Which means, in my game, I'll likely make that extra language that High Elves get Sylvan to further strengthen that connection. I've got a few more thoughts on how I will implement elves in my game, but first...
3. Drizzt/Drow Rant
|You know how a lot of people hate Dragonlance?|
That's how I feel about Drizzt.
First, The Crystal Shard was the first D&D novel I really loved as a kid. I thought it was fantastic. Drizzt was a rad idea, I liked the relationship between Bruenor and Wulfgar, and my exposure to fantasy literature wasn't all that developed, so it didn't seem as tired to me then as it does now. Then Drizzt became the spokesman for the Forgotten Realms and we got oversaturated with him. But what really pissed me off about the Drizztification of D&D is now every single swinging dick gamer wanted to play the "good" evil race. UGH. So yeah, I blame Drizzt for a lot of my annoyance in games. And I liked my Drow mysterious and unknown. Now there is just too much canon out there. And another thing--why do they need to be black-skinned? I'm not going all social justice here, but why should they have such a big target on their back (and face and hands and...)? If I incorporate some kind of Dark Elf into my game, they will be radically different than the ones in D&D canon.
4. Elves in my Game
High Elves. Holding on to their connection to the Feywild, they most certainly have a superiority complex over the rest of the world. Native practitioners of magic, they certainly look down upon the brutish methods the other races use to access the Weave. Bards, sorcerers, and warlocks would be exceedingly rare in High Elf society, Wizards dominating all aspects of magical culture in elven society. The Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster paths are very common coming from the High Elf enclaves.
Wood Elves, on the other hand, use very little learned arcane magic. I'm not sure what separated them from the Feywild, but whatever it was it sent them on a path to secrecy and evasion that granted them the Fleet of Foot and Mask of the Wild traits. They will still have spellcasters, but they will be the more native ones--sorcerers, druids, rangers, etc.
Elven culture is isolated into various enclaves--High Elves out of arrogance (and the location's connection to the Feywild), Wood Elves out of paranoia--but the elven wanderlust mentioned in the PHB does bring elves into the world of man. I reckon that High Elves will send people out for a brief stay in short-lived society to keep an eye on them, make sure there is no threat to the enclaves and possibly some appropriation of culture and technology. The High Elves are too busy navelgazing and reminiscing about Fey times to really be doing any of that work themselves. So, a young High Elf might head out for about 20-50 years then return to the enclave for a century or so to process and philosophize about what they learned on walkabout. The elves on this Grand Tour would certainly be living opulently and refusing to do a lot of the heavy lifting for any endeavors they are involved in. While large swaths of the people hold them in similar disdain as they would some of the more foppish nobility, there is a sycophantic group of romantics and opportunists who form their entourages.
Wood Elves, on the other hand, would keep a lower profile when they move around in foreign circles. They would often interact with human society through interlocutors (maybe a human/half-elf order of rangers and druids). The rare Wood Elf adventurer would likely be ranging about looking for some kind of advantage for the Wood Elves, be they allies or maybe an artifact. I just have to suss out what the big threat to the Wood Elves is.
So yeah, elves.