Unearthed Arcana: Elf Subraces Analysis

For the month of November we are presented with even more race options. This time it’s Elves. Let’s jump into it.

We get four Elf subraces, the Avariel, the Grugach, the Sea Elf, and the Shadar-kai. They aren’t new to the D&D lore and for two of them, the Avariel and the Sea Elves, we have gotten a tiny bit of lore in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (page 106 for those interested).


These Elves have wings, because why not? They are a bit rare nowadays, but there are a few left of them in the Material Plane and the Elemental Plane of Air. And that’s what we get lore wise.

  • Flight. These Elves have a flying speed of 30 feet, but only if they aren’t wearing any medium or heavy armor. This restriction seems fair, since it exists in the other race that can fly, the Aarakocra from Elemental Evil Player’s Companion (page 3).
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Auran. Makes sense since they live in the Elemental Plane of Air.

And that’s it. This subrace doesn’t get anything else. No Ability Score Increase, no Elf Weapon Training, no other feature. I guess that’s because of Flight. Being able to fly from level 1 is already a great advantage on its own.

This can end up damaging a campaign pretty quickly. I believe this character option should be handled with care. It doesn’t fit in any campaign and definitely not in every play style. It will require talking with your Dungeon Master to see if something like this can fit in what they have in mind. This same also goes for the Aarakocra.


These Elves can be found in the Greyhawk setting, They’re kinda wild, but with the bad meaning of the term. They don’t like other races, even other Elves, they only care about their own folk, and just want to leave in peace. I will be calling them Grumpy Elves from now on and their motto will be “Get off my lawn!”.

  • Ability Score Increase. If an Elven subrace should get a Strength increase, this one is perfect for the job. Their Strength score increases by 1.
  • Grugach Weapon Training. It gives you proficiency with spears, shortbows, longbows, and nets. So this one swaps longsword and shortsword with spear and net proficiency. Spears aren’t bad. I don’t see them being used as much as I want them to be, though, and the net isn’t really that good. However, they definitely fit the flavor of the subrace.
  • Cantrip. You get to pick one Druid cantrip. That’s nice. The only issue here is that the spellcasting ability is Wisdom. You can’t have great stats in every ability and, depending on your class, you may end up with more than three abilities that will need developing. However, there are some really good utility cantrips for the Druid as well.
  • Languages. You don’t know Common but you know Sylvan. Okay. This may fit flavor wise but it could create issues gameplay wise. If a character can’t communicate with the rest of the party, then the game will slow down, at best, for no good reason.

I like the lore behind these Elves but I don’t believe they can be a character option at their current form. They are hostile to everyone but their subrace to the point of possibly not even being able to communicate with the rest of the party.

Sea Elf

These Elves love the sea. They have explored them and now live in the Elemental Plane of Water.

  • Ability Score Increase. You get a +1 to your Constitution. I don’t really have to say anything about it. It’s okay.
  • Sea Elf Weapon Training. The weapons in this feature are completely different from the ones Elves usually get. Spears, tridents, light crossbows, and nets fit seafaring Elves much better than longbows and longswords, though shortswords could work as well.
  • Child of the Sea. You can breathe underwater and gain a swimming speed of 30 feet. These abilities are a lot more situational than flying, so I doubt they can break the game that easily. Also, it’d be weird if these Elves didn’t have those.
  • Friend of the Sea. This is the Forest Gnome’s Speak with Small Beasts feature, but it’s tweaked to only affect only beasts with  an inborn swimming speed. The beasts have to be Small or smaller. This is a very flavorful feature and I like it.
  • Languages. You know Aquan. The Avariel Elves are tied with the Elemental Plane of Air and know Auran. It would be really weird, at least for me, if the Sea Elves didn’t know Aquan.

Compared to the two subraces we’ve already seen, this is a lot more balanced. The swim speed doesn’t break the game and they aren’t hostile to everyone else. Also, Friend of the Sea is a fun feature that will be situational, without putting the game in danger.


I’m a great fan of the Raven Queen but I promise I’ll try to be objective. I say this because the Shadar-kai are Elves that are sworn to the Raven Queen’s service. They live in the Shadowfell and have piercings and tattoos.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain a +1 to Charisma. To be honest, I don’t know the reasoning behind this but it’s okay, I guess.
  • Cantrip. You get to choose one cantrip from chill touch, spare the dying, or thaumaturgy. I don’t have anything bad to say about any of them. Actually, chill touch represents the Winter domain of the Raven Queen, and spare the dying represents the domain of Death. Thaumaturgy is just cool.
  • Blessing of the Raven Queen.  Using a bonus action, you can teleport up to 15 feet and gain resistance to all damage until the start of your next turn. This feature recharged with as short or long rest. That’s really powerful. It can be used both offensively and defensively, because nothing here says you can’t attack, even if the feature mentions you appear ghostly and translucent.

The Shadar-kai are the best option of the ones presented in this Unearthed Arcana. Maybe they’re even better than the official options that are currently available. They have two really good features and I bet they could make good paladins.

This month’s Unearthed Arcana is okay. There’s not much to explore, but with the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything release the community has a ton of new content. The options presented here weren’t really bad but I have some concerns. A flying character option and one that’s really hostile can create issues for the game. The other two are better and I don’t have anything bad to say about them. Of course, more tweaking will be needed.

That’s all for now. You can read the full article here and download the PDF here.

And until next time, have fun!

9 thoughts on “Unearthed Arcana: Elf Subraces Analysis

  1. I’ve said this before but I think the subraces need to go. We’re starting down the path that 3.5 went with so many varieties of everything that we’re losing what actually makes characters unique: player choices.

    I think each race should be treated uniformly when looking at stats, the physical/mental traits that make them different from humans (which were used as the baseline from the get go).

    I’m happy with all elves getting +2 Dex and +1 Int or all dwarves getting +2 Con and +1 Wis. Let the difference come from cultural choices. Hill dwarves are still dwarves but they can have a different set of skills or features based on Backgrounds. Backgrounds, I think can be applied broadly to any race. There will be elf urchins, dwarf urchins and goblin urchins.

    OK rant over.

    Thanks for the summation. As always a nice concise review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your ideas. I won’t go as far to say we don’t need any subraces, but I’ll say that we don’t need to follow the D&D tradition and create an Elf and Dwarf subrace for each environment. I’d like to see your idea implemented so I could see how it would work.
      For example, do the Grugach Elves need to be an available character option? I honestly believe that we don’t need them as an option.
      I’m glad you like my reviews.


  2. Solid take. I think I disagree pretty heartily with you on the roleplaying potential of the grugach, and I personally preferred Shadar-Kai in 4th edition, but I appreciate a perspective other than my own. Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I admit I may have overreacted with the Grugach Elves. However, I’m not judging their roleplaying potential. My issue is with the difficulties they may create during play. Depending on the party and the DM, these difficulties can be either inspiration for roleplaying or something that slows down play.
      As for the Shadar-kai, unfortunately I don’t have any experience with them from 4th edition. I started playing with 4th edition only a couple of months before 5th came out, so I didn’t have the time to explore a lot of content. I’ll have to delve into my 4th edition books, I guess!


  3. I’m currently trying to make a character that serves the Raven Queen and is a Shadow Sorceress of sorts. I was trying to make a character similar to Raven from Teen Titans or making a character like Hel who has both holy and unholy powers kind of like a Yin-Yang balance character. I know that Raven has a dark side and she ends up having a light side as well. It would be interesting to have a character that is sort of in between light and darkness, life and death.

    My main question was do you think it would be possible to make a Half-Elf with Shadar-Kai as your Elven lineage? I was trying to make an interesting character that could be born in the Shadowfell and learn the arts of Shadowcasting and somehow to control the shadows to the point of not being a deformed bondage/s&m elf with a need to beat themselves or mutilate their body. xD

    I was thinking maybe they end up having to kill their master/mentor due to them trying to sacrifice them to the shadows. And in that sense of betrayal my character because of their unique birth, the shadows end up bending to their will and they end up having the shadows consume their master instead.

    I was thinking a Half-Drow at first but the Shadar-Kai seemed interesting since they are direct followers of the Raven Queen. I like the Raven Queen theme as a Deity and was trying to make someone who is basically Chosen by the Shadows. And maybe in this, you set out to complete some task of fate for the Raven Queen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for the late reply. This is an interesting question.
      First of all, it may be worth waiting until Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes comes out because it’s going to have info on the Shadar Kai and the Raven Queen. This will give you something to work on, making your life easier.
      Apart from that, as long as you work with your DM, there isn’t anything you can’t do. You want your Half-Elf to have ties with the Shadowfell and be part Shadar Kai. That can be part of your character’s backstory. If you want this to affect the character mechanics wise as well, things may be a bit more complicated but not impossible. As I said, working with your DM is the key.


      • I appreciate the reply! I’ll keep an eye out for the Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes!
        Since my friends are doing a Greek Pantheon campaign, perhaps I’ll use a Half-Drow who worships Nyx or Erebus. Since Nyx seems like the Greek version of the Raven Queen and they both have power over the Shadows, Darkness, and Night. I noticed something on Void Magic too but that seems a little more punishing and complicating. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

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