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Though I have approached this in a few ways before, I am left confused on the sub-races elves have. Referencing The PHB (P.23/24), DndBeyond, SCAG (P.106) and an Unearthed Arcana from WotC (Knowing it's experimental, but it will come in to play), there seem to be different ways to class Elves...

In the PHB, all elves, save for the Drow of the Underdark, seem to find themselves classed as either a High Elf (Bright or Dark) or Wood Elf, depending on if your elf comes from Greyhawk, Dragonlance, the Forgotten Realms, or Faerûn:

  • High Elves

    • Grey, Valley, Silvenesti, Sun, Gold or Sunrise

    • High, Qualinesti, Moon, Silver or Grey

  • Wood Elves

    • Wild (Grugach), Kagonesti, Wood, Green or Forest.

However, DndBeyond goes even further by breaking these elves up by the regions of Aerenal, Valenar, and Eldrin, giving lore to each type of elves (and mention of a Hawk, Horse or Hound pet for Valenar as well), though I am not sure if this adds to the locations or are separate, as they have no additional names.
Then the SCAG and Unearthed Arcana introduces us to the Avariel (winged, or Bird), Lythari (lycanthropes, or Wolves), Sea (aquaman or Fish), Star (Etheral), Wild (Grugach), and Shadar-Kai (Shadowfell Zombies) and has different stat blocks for all but the Lythari and Star.


The first confusion comes with how often Wild Grugach elves have been mentioned as both part and separate to the Wood Elf Sub-race. Along with the separate section for the Arenal and Valenar (which can be either High or Wood) it makes me wonder how this all works:

  1. Is Arenal and Valenar locations alongside Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Faerûn? or a category that encompasses them?

  2. Are Eldrin, Avariel, Lythari, Sea, Star and Shadar-Kai separate from the High and Wood elf sub-classes like the Drow are? or can one find an Avariel Wood elf?

  3. Do elves have separate traits within their subclasses? ie. do Grugach and Kagonesti look and act the same or have their own physical traits and way of life?


Simplifying everything together into one coherent thought, I would like to know how Elf sub-races work given all the official information that is published and what racial-traits makes each kind of High, Wood, etc elf type unique within its sub-race.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the aggregates dndbeyond listing of elf subraces and their mechanics not clear? I'm not sure what you're asking other than read the book to me. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 16 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch to me, the basic mechanics of High and Wood elf from the PHB is clear, but what's not too clear is how that information, and types of high/wood elves, merge with the Aerenal/Valenar categories, or why Wild Elves are so unique even though they were placed as regular Wood Elves in the PHB. What I find unclear is if all wood elves are wild elves under different names, or if there are unique properties between the Grugach and Kagonesti, for example. As well as if the other Rare Elf Races and Eldrin fall into High and Wood elves too. \$\endgroup\$ – Victor B Feb 16 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB the Valenar and Aereni are specific to the Eberron campaign setting, as they are basically elven nations/cultures within that setting. You can read about them in books like Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron and Eberron: Rising from the Last War. This answer by KRyan is also a good primer for the lore. However, none of this is relevant in other campaign settings (unless, of course, you play a cross-setting campaign where characters from one world might find themselves adventuring in another!) \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Feb 16 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you're confusing lore with mechanical rules options. But that's better left for discussion in Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 16 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure which chat you posted in, but I don't see you've posted in anything in the main Role-playing Games Chat. That's where most folks are (although much fewer folks on the weekend.) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 16 at 17:02
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Until you pointed it out, I hadn't actually looked at how the Elven subraces were presented on DnD Beyond, but I see now that it appears to make a distinction between elves from different Eberron locations and the traditional sub-races from the Player's Handbook.

However, the important thing to notice is that the actual mechanical benefits are identical for all "Wood elves" regardless of whether the entry is "Wood elf", "Aerini wood elf" or "Valenar wood elf"! The only difference is the lore behind them.

So, basically there are three core sub-races as far as mechanics go: Wood elf, High elf and Drow. DnD Beyond also presents the "Eladrin" as an elven sub-race, though the version there is from the DMG (not the PHB) where it was given as an example of how a DM can create new sub-races. Eladrin also appear in Mordankainen's Tome of Foes in a revised format.

Everything else - all the lore about Varenal and Aerini is historical information, and simply depends on what setting you are playing in. DnD beyond is a bit confusing in how it repeats the information, but the Eberron book doesn't state anything specific on what types of elves are from which region (Aerini or Valenar). They are simply two different locations with different cultures.

Even though the Aerini culture seems to lend itself more to High elves and Velanar culture seems to lend itself more to Wood elves, presumably both sub-races are represented in both places.

(Drow are different - in Eberron lore they were "created" by the giants eons ago to fight against the other rebellious elves. Other settings obviously have different origin stories for them).

Summary

Base your choice of Elven sub-race on whatever mechanical features or back-story you desire and make your separate choice on where your elf originates from.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for such a nice explanation, though I am still a bit confused about the relation between Valenar vs. Greyhawk, Dragonlance, the Forgotten Realms, and Faerûn. Is it another region or a place with each? \$\endgroup\$ – Victor B Feb 16 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB: If you mean Aeranal AND Valenar elves BOTH have High elf and Wood elf stats then that's what I was trying to say :). Also Greyhawk, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms are all different settings, they may have information on what kinds of elves come from where, or they may only mention different societies and cultures, in which case any elf sub-race can come from any location unless mentioned otherwise (Drow always appear to be the exception). \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Feb 16 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, Though I am still confused about how rare elves fit in and why Wild Elves are part of the Wood and Rare elf lists. \$\endgroup\$ – Victor B Feb 16 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ One of the issues with D&D Beyond is sloppy transclusion. On the race page that shows all the different subtypes, it's actual parts of other articles snipped and merged into the main page (aka transclusion). Unfortunately, they aren't integrated completely or cleanly. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 17 at 16:46

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