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In the PHB about the High Elf it says:

As a high elf, you have a keen mind and a mastery of at least the basics of magic.

Just to make sure, but they don't mean the Keen Mind feat right?

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Nope. The mechanical effects for each race, the racial traits, are laid out after the description of each race/subrace. The traits of High Elves are

  • Ability Score Increase,
  • Elf Weapon Training,
  • Cantrip, and
  • Extra Language,

none of these relating to the Keen Mind feat. It is a bit of descriptive text to match the lore with mechanics.

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In 5e there is no division between "fluff" and "crunch" in any of the rules. Calling that text "merely descriptive text" is the wrong way to read 5e rules.

As a high elf, you have a keen mind and a mastery of at least the basics of magic.

That quote is as much a part of the high elf rules as the bullet points later in the rules for being a high elf.

However, in every location in the 5e rules, granted feats are explicitly called feats. "You gain the Keen Mind feat", not "You have a keen mind." In addition, "a keen mind" is a phrase in English that does not always mean the same thing as the mechanics of the "Keen Mind" feat.

So it would be an unusual or unconventional way to interpret the rules to grant every Elf the Keen Mind feat. So the safe answer is no. And I'd bet dollars to donuts that if you got the game designers to weigh in, they'd also say no.


If you do interpret that rule to grant the Keen Mind feat, another question becomes "is the +1 int later in the rules from that feat, or in addition to?"

Again, the conventional answer would be "in addition to", which leads to the problem that the high elf suddently gets +2 int, which is a relatively large change. However, if we presume the +1 int is just a redundant partial description of the High Elf's "Keen Mind" feat, you end up with something that honestly isn't all that unbalanced. It is neat that all high elves have photographic memories for a month, keep perfect time and have a perfect sense of direction, but not game-breaking.

This would be considered a houserule by many D&D players. By others, it would be considered a tortured reading of the "High Elf" race rules. And by others, it would be considered just wrong. Few would consider it a natural reading of the text, but I've both played with and read about people who read D&D rules in stranger ways than this1, and the games still function.


1 My favorite creative reading of D&D rules was the DM and players who took the 1d8 level 1 and 2d8 level 2 HP and 3d8 level 3 HP and read it as "you gain 2d8 HP at level 2, 3d8 more HP at level 3, etc". The game still worked. The degree to which you can bludgeon the rules of a frankly unbalanced game like D&D is astounding, so long as you don't do it with intent to break the game.

In short, don't sweat it.

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No

If High Elves had the "Keen Mind" feat then this would be explicitly called out. The line of text quoted just refers to the way that high elves should be typically portrayed.

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