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On D&D Beyond, the Half-Elf page has this structure, and roughly the following content:

  • Half-Elf variants (saying that some variants forego Skill Versatility)
  • Half-Elf traits (showing all the traits of the Half-Elf)
    • Aquatic Half-Elf (doesn't mention "variant" nor forgoing Skill Versatility)
    • Drow Half-Elf (doesn't mention "variant" nor forgoing Skill Versatility)
    • High Half-Elf (mentions "variant" but doesn't mention forgoing Skill Versatility)
    • Wood Half-Elf (mentions "variant" and mentions forgoing Skill Versatility)

When I compare to other race pages, when a subrace removes a feature, it explicitly says so, but for the Half-Elf, it's so confusing that I don't understand anything.

So what exactly happens here? How can I correctly choose a Half-Elf subrace traits? What exactly is a "variant"? Do all subraces must forgo the Skill Versatility to get the other trait?

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The confusion seems to come from the fact that the half-elf page is an aggregation of all text relating to half-elven stats, rather than the actual direct source of this information.

The text you're referring to actually comes from this 'half-elf variants' sidebar in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, where the sentence "If your DM allows it, your half-elf character can forgo Skill Versatility and instead take the elf trait Keen Senses or a trait based on your elf parentage:" is immediately followed by a bulleted list of what you may substitute in its place based upon the heritage you choose.

The listed variant subraces on the half-elf page are essentially the snippets from the race templates they've made out of those variant rules, which can appear confusing out of the context of the character builder.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This explains my confusion, indeed. When put in context, it's much clearer. \$\endgroup\$ – Olivier Grégoire Feb 20 at 19:43
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In the overview of Half-elf variants:

If your DM allows it, your half-elf character can forgo Skill Versatility and instead take the elf trait Keen Senses or a trait based on your elf parentage:

So if you choose to be a variant half-elf, you may keep Skill Versatility or you may forgo Skill Versatility to take Keen Senses or one of the available options.

The confusion seems to come from the fact that some variant sub-races allow for the selection of different features. Drow Half-Elf offers only one available feature, but because Wood Half-Elf offers 3, it specifies that you only choose one of those 3.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, that's not where the confusion lies: the confusion lies with the fact that a section says "Half-Elf Variants" and gives a guide for "variants". And the word "variants" is only mentioned in two subraces, not all of them. Plus, only one subrace explicitly says "you may forgo Skill Versatility to get X". \$\endgroup\$ – Olivier Grégoire Feb 20 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't have an answer for the one that specifically says "you may forgo..." besides perhaps they thought "this is rather long, let's reiterate", but the reason they mention variants in some but not the other is because the ones that they don't offer it in have only 1 possible replacement feature. Drow magic for drow and swimming speed for aquatic. High elf has 2. I don't know why they formatted it this way though. \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Feb 20 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ The reason is because the "Half-Elf Variants" option appeared in SCAG, so it only accounts for the subraces published up to that point (as CTWind's answer - posted just now - notes). The formatting's a little screwy because the page is an aggregation of all the half-elf racial options that the reader has access to. In SCAG itself (p. 116), they all appear together in a single sidebar; presumably D&D Beyond was prohibited from changing that wording, which makes it look weird outside that context. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 20 at 19:40

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