Should Eladrin Be A Playable Race?

Should Eladrin Be A Playable Race?

I like eladrin. They’re like elves, but… elfier. They invoke the mythic feeling of Tolkien’s Eldar elves. And after reading about them in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, I don’t want to let my players create eladrin characters.

Hear me out.

Flavors of Fantasy

I have two distinct tastes where high fantasy is concerned. I predominantly like to play in fantasy worlds even more cosmopolitan than traditional D&D settings. I like worlds where an arcanaloth can run a magic shop down the road from a post office run by an aarakocra. Planescape is a perfect example of this, a setting in which not just humans, but dwarves, elves, and halflings from comparatively mundane worlds like Faerûn feel like fish out of water. It takes fantasy to its logical, madcap extreme.

But I also like fantasy worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or the Earth of Norse mythology, humanocentric realms where elves and dwarves are fantastical creatures on par with the fey or perhaps even fiends. In Middle Earth, elves are an ancient race so magnificent that they cannot remain in the world. They constantly hear the call of the Valar and must return to the Undying Lands of Valinor. They are beings of supreme supernatural power that no human could ever truly match.

D&D is not Middle Earth. Even in the grittier worlds of the D&D Multiverse, like Mordenkainen’s home realm of Greyhawk, humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings share a bespoke equality. They are all common races, as dictated by the Player’s Handbook. By casting elves as one of the common races of the Multiverse, D&D has made elves feel common. This is perfectly reasonable if you want to play a game of heightened fantasy in Planescape or heroic fantasy in the Forgotten Realms, but it does make it difficult to achieve that mythic Tolkienian feeling.

Enter the eladrin. If you want to recapture that mythic feeling in D&D, you should consider never letting your players play as them.

Who are the Eladrin?

“All kinds of elves live in the Feywild, but one subrace — the eladrin — has adopted it as their home. Of all the elves, eladrin are closest in form and ability to the first generation of elves. Some could pass for high elves, but most are distinctly eladrin in appearance: very slender, with hair and skin color determined by the season with which they feel the closest affinity. And their eyes often glimmer with fey magic.”

—Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

Okay, I was being a bit dramatic when I said you should never let your players play as an eladrin, but hear me out. Eladrin are elves who never left the Feywild, and thus are more akin to the elves’ fey ancestors in power and demeanor than their cousins who dwell on the Material Plane. They are to elves as elves are to humans; they take everything fantastical about the elves—their sense of whimsy, their elegant features and graceful motions, and smug sense of superiority—and turn it up to eleven. Even the high elves think it’s all a bit much.  

In game terms, eladrin are an elven subrace that enjoy benefits such as a limited teleportation ability called Fey Step. Their most important trait, however, is their attunement to the seasons. An eladrin’s appearance, powers, and even elements of their personality can change with their season, which they can change whenever they complete a long rest.

Each one of the four seasons of eladrin also appears as a CR 10 monster in the Bestiary section. They’re chaotic neutral, so eladrin are a perfectly reasonable adversary for any group of adventurers to encounter, especially if their actions are harming nature or the Feywild, endangering the object of their powerful obsessions, or even just being a nuisance. As the haughtiest and most fey of the elves, eladrin are prone to fits of passion worthy of an Archfey.

No Players Allowed?

If you’re playing in a typical “heroic fantasy” D&D setting like the Forgotten Realms, the eladrin open new possibilities. By filling a similar mythic niche to the one that Tolkien’s Eldar elves occupied in The Lord of the Rings, the eladrin make it easier for Dungeon Masters to create realms in their campaign setting that possess the legendary mystique of Rivendell and Lothlorien; places just real enough to feel tangible, but also somehow greater than the mundane simplicity of home.

If you really want your players to view eladrin as an exalted people that stand apart from the troubles of the Material Plane, the easiest way to do this is to ask your players not to create eladrin characters. Thanks to all the new lore for elves presented in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, even playing a “regular” elf can be a novel experience.

If the tone of your game isn’t your concern, then you should also consider how an eladrin character will affect the cohesion of the adventuring party. Eladrin are forces of fickle chaos that consider themselves superior to nearly all other living beings. This is all excellent roleplaying fodder, but think about who you’re playing with for a moment. If your players are the kind to make trouble and then try to excuse it by saying “But I was just doing what my character would do,” then including eladrin as a playable subrace will probably hurt your campaign in the long run. Giving your players the option to play as fey or fey-adjacent characters is almost always a bad idea unless you have the emotional fortitude to take your problematic friends aside and try to work out a solution.

A Case for Eladrin as Player Characters

That said, there's no right way to play D&D. I wouldn't let my players create eladrin characters in a game with a mythic tone unless someone pitched me a really excellent reason, but that doesn't mean it could never work. Flatly banning a new player race might be a bridge too far for you. If one or more of your players are excited about this gorgeous and fantastical new type of elf, you should just let them play it. D&D is all about having a shared narrative experience, and your players’ choices should inform the narrative. Even choices as simple as “My character is an eladrin paladin who follows the Oath of the Ancients” can set the story on a wild and unexpected path, and it is your job as the Dungeon Master to embrace the chaos and learn to engage with the curveballs your players throw at you, so long as they’re doing so in good faith.  

Eladrin characters fit cozily into games that embrace the wet-‘n-wild heightened fantasy of Planescape, but they are not so far from home in games of mythic fantasy. Legolas joined the Fellowship of the Ring, after all. In fact, Legolas is an excellent example of an elf (or in our case, eladrin) heightening the mythic tone of a story through his familiarity rather than detracting from it. The entire point of the Fellowship of the Ring was that all races of Middle Earth, even the exalted elves, had to band together in order to defeat the Dark Lord Sauron.

You can heighten the drama of your story if you frame your player’s eladrin character as an ominous portent—a sign that things have grown so dire that even the Feywild has sent its people into the Material Plane. Or, the eladrin character could be an outcast from their homeland, forced to wander the Material Plane estranged from their magical homeland.

Here’s a table of Ideals you can use for eladrin characters to explain why they have left the Feywild and have joined an adventuring party, all while maintaining the mythic feeling of their race. You can use these Ideals instead of (or in addition to) the Ideals suggested by your background.




Duty. I was tasked with leaving the comfort of my homeland to undertake a quest that may save all worlds from destruction. (Good)


Desperation. I fled the Feywild in order to save my own life, and… oh dear. I can’t figure out how to get back. (Any)


Fate. I was called to this world by a mysterious voice on the wind. I suspect it was the guiding voice of Fate. (Lawful)


Curiosity. You humans fascinate me, and… oh, by Corellon, you wood elves are so quaint! I simply must learn everything about you. (Chaotic)


Exile. The Archfey are so fickle, even the tiniest slight could spell exile—or worse. Please, don’t ask what I did… I don’t want to talk about it. (Any)


Despair. I care nothing for the eternal splendor of my homeland. All things were meant to die—and things in this realm die ever so quickly. (Evil)

Eladrin in Your Campaign

Do the eladrin have a home in your campaign? If they didn’t before you read Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, will you try to create a niche for them? Adding new races and creatures to a carefully crafted campaign setting can be an exhausting task, and players asking to create a character of a race you never added to your setting can be the source of many hours of rewriting.

How have you handled eladrin in your home campaign?

James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in a five-room apartment/dungeon in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his two kitten-shaped fey tricksters, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.


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