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Elves
Design & Development
by Bruce R. Cordell

The Design & Development article series premiered on the D&D website back in September 2005, and has been a staple ever since. With the approach of 4th Edition, and our designers and developers focused on the new edition, this column will be the primary vehicle for 4th Edition coverage. We’ll not only give you peeks at what’s forthcoming, but also the “how” and “why.”

Keep in mind that the game is still in a state of flux, as refinements are made by our design and development staff. You’re getting a look behind the curtain at game design in progress, so enjoy, and feel free to send your comments to dndinsider@wizards.com.


A thousand birdsongs resound through the cool depths of the primeval forest. These ancient, virgin, and primary woodlands have never felt the metallic sting of axe or the unnatural heat of fire stoked so hot it burns more than detritus and undergrowth. Living, bark-wrapped pillars hold aloft layers upon layers of mounting canopy that filters the high sunlight through more hues of emerald and gold that could ever be imagined.

The secrets of the deep, old woods are closely guarded, and few know of the many wild things that walk amid the shadowed boles. Silver stags, wise hares, unicorns, butterflies the size of hawks, and tree owls who’ve survived a hundred or more winters shelter in the forgiving hollow of a grandfather pine.

Few indeed, but for the elves.

Most elves are wild, free forest-dwellers, guarding their lands with stealth and deadly arrows from high boughs. Though fey in origin, elves have lived so long in the world that they have become almost inured to its difficulties. Hardened by the unruly savagery of nature and seasoned by the hard lessons that orcs, humans, and other creatures of the world are only too happy to teach, elves have gone a different route than their cousins, the eladrin. Elves rely on hard-won intuition and senses tuned to an arrow’s point instead of reason, intellect, or debate as eladrin are more wont to do. However, like eladrins, they possess a pure hate for their shared distant drow relatives.

Elves are people of deeply felt but short-lived passions. They are easily moved to delighted laughter, blinding wrath, or even mournful tears. Elves possess a profound, intuitive connection to the natural world they inhabit, and often perceive things others have not the skill or aptitude to notice. They are inclined to impulsive behavior in preference to long deliberation, though they would say they prefer to act in the moment.

Elves, sometimes also called wood elves, wild elves, or sylvan elves, usually gather in tribes or bands composed of three or more families. These tribes are less concerned with relationships or lineages than with proven forestcraft and hunting prowess, and usually choose the wisest and most perceptive member of a tribe to lead. In very large tribes, this “elf chieftain” is instead described as an “elf king” or “elf queen.” However, in most tribes, even the lowliest member doesn’t feel beyond his station in speaking his mind to any other elf, regardless of station, up to and including the tribe’s leader.

Most elves revere the natural world, but they love forests most of all. They never cut living trees, and when they create permanent villages, they do so by carefully growing or weaving arbors, treehouses, and catwalks from living branches. They prefer the magic of the natural world to arcane magic. Elves are drawn to the worship of both the fey god Corellon and Obad-Hai, the god of the wild. Both spiritual and practical, elves embody the most peaceful and the most violent aspects of the natural world.

About the Author

Bruce Cordell is a D&D designer, but during his twelve years in the game industry, he has dabbled in miniatures, board games, collectible card games, d20 games, and more. Bruce has over a sixty listed credits to his name, including the Expanded Psionics Handbook, Libris Mortis, and Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. His body of work also includes three published Forgotten Realms novels (Lady of Poison, Darkvision, and Stardeep), with more on the way.

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