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Can an Elf player character grow a beard?

I would love to plant a cursed Belt of Dwarvenkind in a campaign for an unsuspecting and unwitting Elf (or Half-Elf) PC to promote a memorable role-play experience for my player(s). The curse would entail that an Elf cannot unequip the attuned Belt of Dwarvenkind unless they die, at which point, the belt unfastens itself and may be removed.

Player agency issues aside, is this a possible scenario? If an Elf cannot grow, or be made to grow, a beard, I'll just log this under 'fun homebrew' and be done with it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is less a question of edition and more about setting. What setting are you using? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jul 25 '18 at 23:02
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Elves cannot naturally grow a beard

Elves do not grow facial hair, according to the D&D 5th edition's Player's Handbook (p.21):

Elves have no facial and little body hair.

The item description says:

you have a 50 percent chance each day at dawn of growing a full beard if you're capable of growing one

Therefore, an elf cannot grow a beard even with this particular item.

Although half-elves are described as able to grow beards, I'm unaware of any D&D product of any edition featuring a full elf with a natural beard.

Earlier editions

You asked in the comments about how elf chins were handled in previous editions of the game. D&D 4th edition's Player's Handbook (p.41) is less clear than its 5th edition counterpart, but the 4th edition book Wizards Presents Races and Classes confirms that male elves don't have beards:

Elves retain several of their distinguishing characteristics from earlier editions, most notably the pointed ears and the slight tilt to the eyes. And male elves don't have facial hair.

Remarkably, D&D 3rd edition actually has an explicit rule covering this case: elves cannot grow beards, but in at least one case, dwarven magic which causes beard growth still affects them normally. According to Magic of Faerun, p.117, the spell silverbeard:

Your beard grows and turns to pure and magically hardened silver, increasing the armor bonus of your armor by +2. An outfit of regular clothing counts as armor that grants an AC bonus for the purpose of this spell. If you do not have a beard, you grow one for the duration of this spell (even if you are a creature that cannot normally grow a beard, such as an elf or a female human). You get a +2 circumstance bonus on Diplomacy checks against dwarves.

Since the Forgotten Realms setting generally remains consistent between game editions, it is reasonably likely that the elves' complete inability to grow a beard described (rather than some kind of strict racial tradition of shaving regularly) also applies to the elves other editions of D&D, at least for that world.

Editions prior to 3rd are unclear as to whether elves have beards. In AD&D 1st and 2nd edition's respective core rulebooks they are not described as having beards, but neither are they described as unable to grow beards in those editions of the game.

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Standard PHB Elves cannot grow beards (but Half-Elves can).

As the PHB and the basic rules state:

Elves have no facial and little body hair.

and:

Half-elf men do have facial hair, and sometimes grow beards to mask their elven ancestry.

The fact that Elves cannot grow beards is specifically mentioned and is a known fact about the species - Half-Elves sometimes do it deliberately so that they look less like elves! You would expect a Belt of Dwarvenkind to cause a Half-Elf to grow a beard but not an Elf.

You are, of course, your DM, and in your setting it might be different - you could decide that Elves can grow beards normally, or just that your special cursed version of the Belt of Dwarvenkind causes beard growth even in individuals who could not normally grow beards, such as elves or most women. Since it's intended to be a negative effect in context, it makes sense that it overrides the normal rules.

BONUS PREVIOUS EDITIONS SECTION (a.k.a. I looked it up and now the question's changed scope I don't want to to just discard half my work)

The subject of Elves and facial hair has been handled consistently since 3rd edition.

4e

In 4e Elves sort of got split up as a race, becoming Elves or Eladrin. Eladrin, who are thematically more in line with the standard "high/moon elf" of earlier work, are described such:

Eladrin can’t grow facial hair and have little body hair.

The later description of Elves omits that specific detail:

Elves have little body hair, but they favor a wild and loose look to their hair.

However, the Wizards Presents Races and Classes preview book, which came out shortly before 4e's release and talked about the design of the edition, does state:

Elves retain several of their distinguishing characteristics from earlier editions, most notably the pointed ears and the slight tilt to the eyes. And male elves don't have facial hair.

As far as I can tell, though, no such item as the Belt of Dwarvenkind exists in 4e.

3/3.5e

The 3.5 PHB, on page 15, says of the physical description of Elves:

Elves have no facial or body hair.

The same is not mentioned in the description of Half-Elves, which does clarify that:

... their actual skin tone, hair colour and other details vary just as human features do.

(However, the 3e Belt of Dwarvenkind doesn't mention anything about causing beard growth.)

Tolkien

This particular facet of Elven biology appears to be in reference to the works of Tolkien which heavily inspired D&D; as per this answer over in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy stack, the Elves of Tolkien's works were almost entirely beardless, variously described as being unable to grow beards or (perhaps due to having to justify having accidentally described certain elves as having beards) only being able to do so when extremely old.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Elves retain several of their distinguishing characteristics from earlier editions, most notably the pointed ears and the slight tilt to the eyes. **And male elves don't have facial hair.** That's kind of a weird wording. Do female elves have facial hair? \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Jul 26 '18 at 7:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "it's your campaign and your belt, you can make it cause beard growth if you like" \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jul 26 '18 at 10:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xDaizu I think it's rather that, until very recently, D&D was dominantly developed (and played) by male "geeks", who simply might not have considered including females in their wording. I personally have almost exclusively played 5e, but a (female) friend of mine who originally started with AD&D has previously told me about various examples of how the rules used to be male-sided, if not outright sexist. Fortunately, that's changed by now ^^ \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Mar 26 '19 at 10:59
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If you want to base your D&D vision off Tolkien, of note is that two Elves in his works did have beards:

Círdan the Shipwright:

Círdan had a beard, which was rare for Elves, and silver hair like Thingol his overlord and kinsman. He was of great age at the time of the War of the Ring: perhaps the oldest of the Telerin Elves or even of all the elves remaining in Middle-earth. He may have been one of the elves who awoke near Cuiviénen and therefore without a mother or father.

and Mahtan Urundil:

Mahtan had a beard, which was unusual for an Elf, especially one as young as he. Elves could only grow beards from the third cycle of their lives, while Mahtan was an exception in being only early in his second.

These both describe beards on elves being exceptionally rare, as very few elves are old enough, even at thousands of years. But it doesn't say it was impossible, only rare. It seems to me that if only one in a thousand elves had beards, it would be "common knowledge" that none could grow them.

You can still make the item as obnoxious as you want working around descriptive limitations or descriptions in the PHB. Elves might not be able to grow beards or moustaches, but what about sideburns? Eyebrows? Eyelashes? Nose hair? Ear hair? Have the same volume of hair grow that would fill out a dwarven beard, but since there are so many fewer follicles, have the above grow to something absurd like 9 feet long. Additionally, have an NPC (or PC) who's not too fond of your elf player meticulously collect the hairs after they're cut off and continuously craft clothing out of it.

This would also be a good reason why the Belt was "lost" or considered "cursed" in the first place--dwarves aren't likely keen on eyebrows to the floor instead of a beard either.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ upvote for sparking my imagination with "dwarves aren't likely keen on eyebrows to the floor" :D \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Mar 26 '19 at 11:02

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