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Working just with the basic game (read: PHB, no expansions), I was trying to outfit an elven cleric, but the starting equipment only includes simple weapons (or war hammer, with which dwarves are proficient, but not elves). A high-dexterity elf could really benefit from access to longbow or short sword, but neither one is available as standard equipment for a cleric at character creation. How do I get elf-appropriate starting equipment that won't limit my damage potential?

This seems to be a broader problem for other classes as well. Indeed, every class that allows you to equip martial weapons at the start also grants martial weapon abilities — making the elf weapon training redundant. Did I miss some special rule that allows you to treat "race-specific weapons" as simple weapons for initial character creation? I'd even be happy if shortsword was "simple", but it isn't.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another example of the thing you're complaining about: a small race, like a halfling or gnome, picking the ranger class and being stuck with a longbow that they can't use. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jun 18 at 11:54
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Elf weapon training can be used for classes with no weapon Proficiencies

When the class already has martial weapon Proficiencies, this is redundant, but it allows other classes, such as sorcerers, for example, to make good use of weapons. This would be mostly useful for the longbow, less so for the shortsword, since these characters do not want to get into melee, and even less for the longsword since it uses strength.

Another case where this is very interesting would be a combat oriented bard (as opposed mostly magic oriented): Such a character would heavily invest in DEX but does not get a longbow proficiency. Supplementing that as elf seems like a good option.

You can use starting wealth to buy equipment

The starting equipment for any class is adapted to the class and does not consider the race. If you want to choose your equipment freely, buying equipment would be a good idea. Otherwise, it is always possible to ask the GM if you can exchange a war hammer for a shortsword, even if it is not possible RAW.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The contradiction that had me confused wasn't why it might be useful to have a race proficiency when your class doesn't have one, but rather why a race proficiency would be provided when the starting kit didn't provide you a way to take advantage of that proficiency. \$\endgroup\$ – papidave Jun 19 at 1:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ That would be the second part of my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Anagkai Jun 19 at 5:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ your point about the longsword is a good one. In the real world, longsword is better due to its greater reach; but in-game, short sword is better for high-dexterity characters because of its finesse characteristic. I removed it from the question to focus on the items (longbow, short sword) of greatest benefit to a high-DX elf. \$\endgroup\$ – papidave Jun 19 at 11:27
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Use the Starting Gold option.

The default starting equipment options don't account for possible variants like elf weapon proficiencies — all the equipment packages are options you can be proficient with if you use that class.

However, the default packages are one of two options for starting equipment. Page 143 of the Player's Handbook gives an alternative: instead of taking the equipment from your class and background, you can start with a sum of money based on your class and spend that on equipment before the game starts.

Clerics get 5d4×10 gp; the rules don't explicitly allow taking an average instead of rolling, but if your GM allows this, the average is 5 × 2.5 × 10 = 125gp.

This does mean more work for you, unfortunately - you'll need to decide what you want and do some bookkeeping, which is more complex than using the default equipment options.

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    \$\begingroup\$ bear in mind that the PHB has prices for kits (dungeoneer's, diplomat's, etc.) as well. You can, therefore, simply replicate the starting choices and only switch out the equipment you don't want for such that you do. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Jun 18 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I haven't worked out the math in detail, but had been concerned that the monetary equivalent wouldn't cover as much equipment. @Pixelmaster may have a good solution, provided it's considered kosher to do that. \$\endgroup\$ – papidave Jun 19 at 1:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @papidave if we take the most expensive starting equipment possible for a cleric (= warhammer 15gp, chain mail 75gp, crossbow+bolts 25+1gp, priest's pack 19gp, shield 10gp, holy symbol 5gp), we end up with a total cost of 150gp. As mentioned by LizWeir, clerics get 5d4x10gp gold, or 50 minimum, 200 maximum, and 125 average. So yeah, if you take the average or don't roll high, you can't buy all of the starting equipment - but then again, you might not need all of it. (A longsword costs the same as the warhammer, so you can just switch that out) \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Jun 19 at 10:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @papidave PixelMaster's numbers are correct. There is an interesting analysis of this for each class at thinkdm.org/2019/12/28/starting-gold. In terms of total value, the average cleric roll will be lower than the value of class standard equipment (and this does not include background equipment). But a good roll could be higher. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Jul 19 at 16:04
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Roll for gold and buy equipment at character creation

The only way around not being able to make use of your elven weapon training, besides the DM simply allowing you to start with a different weapon to the one your class starting equipment gives you, is to roll for gold at character creation, and buy your own equipment out of that.

From "Starting Equipment" section of basic rules:

Alternatively, you can start with a number of gold pieces based on your class and spend them on items from the lists in this section. See the Starting Wealth by Class table to determine how much gold you have to spend.

The upside is that you have access to the entire weapon/armour tables in the PHB (unless the DM says that certain items aren't available for whatever reason), so you will be able to buy whatever weapons you like, allowing you to make the most of racial weapon proficiencies.

The downside is that, if you roll low, you might not be able to afford as much as what your starting equipment might have let you have (for example, you might be able to afford your sword, but you might not then be able to afford decent armour).

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Sell the items your Class and Background give you and buy the equipment you desire with the money.

In Adventurer's League play, you are not allowed to select the option to roll for starting wealth, as most of the other answers have suggested. Instead, you are allowed to sell the items your class and background give you for 1/2 their value, and then use that money to buy other items. You can also use the money you receive from your Background package to buy additional items. Additionally, if you select the Inheritor Background from Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, you can start with one item with a value up to 50 gp as your inheritance.

For example, if you wanted to play an Elf Cleric with a Shortsword and a Longbow, you could take the Inheritor Background, sell your mace and light crossbow (with its 20 bolts) for a total of 15.5 gp, leaving you with a total of 30.5 gp when added to the Inheritor Background's 15 starting GP. You can then buy a Shortsword for 10gp, 20 arrows for 1 gp, and take a Longbow as your Inheritance since it costs 50 gp. This would leave you with 19.5 gp, which you could spend on other equipment or save for future purchases.

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