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The 3.5e half-elf is underpowered; even WotC admits it.

The issue is, I want the Mark of Storm, which is exclusive to the half-elven d’Lyrandar family, one of Eberron’s Dragonmarked Houses. The Least Dragonmark feat’s prerequisite reads “Member of appropriate dragonmarked race and house,” (Eberron Campaign Setting pg. 56), and the “dragonmarked race[s] and house[s]” are listed in a table:

Dragonmarks

Mark House Race Influence
Storm Lyrandar Half-elf Windwrights Guild, Raincallers Guild

(Eberron Campaign Setting pg. 63)

Thus, for the Mark of Storm, the Least Dragonmark feat has a requirement of “Race: Half-elf.”

Elves have traditionally been scorned by 3.5e optimizers too, but that’s mostly because the Constitution penalty sucks so much, and plenty of elven subraces avoid that. Some of those races are even fairly good. So it’s not terribly hard to optimize an elf character. But with half-elves, there seems to be far fewer options.

Thus, I am interested in any official expansions, variants, subraces, or whatever for half-elves. I am not looking for ways to “count as” a half-elf despite not being one—no shapechanging, polymorphing, no Racial Emulation feat, etc. I also don’t want to spend a feat or class level (I’d consider RHD, and I’m willing to listen about LA, though odds are very strong I’d not go with either). I’m really just looking for other half-elf races. The only ones I know of¹ are the forestlord half-elf and deepwyrm half-drow from Dragon Magic, both of which are extremely unlikely for a scion of House Lyrandar, considering how both dragons and elves reacted to the half-green-dragon elf Erandis d’Vol.

I am not interested in templates, even LA +0 templates, that I could legally apply to a half-elf. I’d been considering dragonborn, but Races of the Dragon explicitly states that dragonborn lose their dragonmarks and have to pick new feats, so that’s useless to me. I’m aware there are a few other LA +0 templates out there, but since I’m aware of them, they’re not what I’m asking about in this question.

  1. Races of Faerûn discusses the half-aquatic-elf and the half-drow, but neither of these changes anything about their stats. (Turns out they do have differences, Races of Faerûn’s just laid out in an extremely confusing manner and I missed it. See J.Mini’s answer.)
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worse than you think: The Dragon #339 Sage Advice column includes this exchange: Can a wild elf gain a dragonmark available to elves (such as the Mark of Shadow)? No. In… Eberron…, subraces are not eligible to select a specific dragonmark associated with the parent race. [S]ubraces are considered too unrelated to manifest such marks. For example, …illumians… are not eligible to select any of the dragonmarks available to humans[, and o]nly half-elves of high elf parentage may select the Mark of Detection or Mark of Storm. (84 and emphasis mine) \$\endgroup\$ Dec 17, 2021 at 6:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Well that’s pure nonsense. Illumians, I’ll buy there’s some issues. And the dragonblood subraces, too, as noted in my question. Drow also. But non-drow elves aren’t differentiated in Eberron. The Aereni include all non-drow elves, and this so do those in Khorvaire, which means all half-elves do too. 5e even says this explicitly. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 17, 2021 at 12:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know what to tell you. I just had the information handy and thought I'd share. I'm not a big enough Eberron guy to argue the game/setting-legality of that exchange either way. (My suspicion is that it was backhanded and wrongheaded attempt at preventing optimization… of a feature that the designers didn't realize mostly kinda sucks and needs optimization to be at all worthwhile. But, again, pure speculation.) \$\endgroup\$ Dec 17, 2021 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Oh yeah, I get it. I was just stating that cuz I am an Eberron guy, and felt that needs rebuttal. I agree with your suspicion—and your analysis of the need. I have a build that has at-will access to all of the spell-like abilities on the least, lesser, and greater lists for one’s dragonmark of choice by 8th level, and... It’s OK? Not great. Spamming heal obviously does problematic things to the game, but beyond that, not really a ton of stellar options. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 17, 2021 at 13:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you willing to assume that the Unseelie Fey template (Dragon Compendium Vol. 1, 222-3) is LA +0 just from the example creature, the text and the errata being otherwise silent? \$\endgroup\$
    – Chemus
    Dec 19, 2021 at 5:37

4 Answers 4

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I know you've said you're uninterested in LA +0 templates, but I recommend at least investigating the racial variants found in Dragon 306, on page 60. The article is entitled "Racial Variants," and while they are nominally templates, they're in a grey space between a traditional template like Fiendish and a subrace like Wood Elf. Closer to the latter than the former, I would argue.

Each of the six variants—Aquatic, Arctic, Deep, Desert, Magic-Blooded, and Wild—has fleshed out sections on Personality, Physical Description, Relations, Alignment, Lands, Religion, and Adventurers, just as though it were a race in the Player's Handbook, and indeed they can only be applied to the base races found in the PHB.

I dismissed them as cheesy Dragon material for a number of years, familiar with them only in various lists of playable templates or from handbooks. But having actually read the article, I think they're quite neat, and pretty moderate. The power level of LA +0 races is highly disparate, with most of the PHB races (with the notable exception of Humans) close to the bottom of that range.

An Arctic Half-Orc (from Dragon 306), who gets +2 Con and -2 Cha over a regular Half-Orc, and minor frost-themed bonuses, is still probably worse than a Water Orc (from Unearthed Arcana), and a Magic-Blooded Halfling or what have you is probably worse than a Lesser Aasimar (Players Guide to Faerûn), and so forth. I do love the infamous all-planetouched party, but if you're in a campaign that permits the more powerful LA +0 races, it can be nice to add a little boost to the traditional PHB races, so it feels less like you're missing out on stats by playing one of them.

Many of the best ones even make some sense in this case. The seat of House Lyrandar, Stormhome, uses magic to maintain a temperate climate despite being so far north, but it might be plausible for an Arctic Half-Elf to have grown up outside those weather magics and still be a member of House Lyrandar. Magic-Blooded could be from anything, really (perhaps even those aforementioned weather magics). You could even do Aquatic—Stormhome is an island, after all. I'm sure someone better versed in Eberron could come up with better backstory, but the point is that many of the variants are pretty lore-friendly. It's not like trying to play a Lesser Fey'ri (plausibly a half-elf lore-wise, though definitely not a Half-Elf rules-wise) in Eberron.

Basically, though the racial variants in Dragon 306 are called templates, I think it's much better to view them akin to the environmental variants found in Unearthed Arcana, and given that there don't appear to have been satisfactory answers so far, it's worth giving Dragon 306 some consideration.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1: I find this pretty compelling, and I’d already sort of caved and decided to go with magic-blooded for this character though I didn’t really consider it an answer here. I agree with you, though, that they’re pretty similar to Unearthed Arcana, and fairly tame, power-wise—except for magic-blooded, honestly. That one’s pretty potent. A magic-blooded half-elf, not so much, but in general, it’s fairly strong. (And I do not permit lesser aasimar in my games—water orcs, sure, but those are much less strong than the lesser planetouched.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 6 at 21:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do love the infamous all-planetouched party - Enlighten me? Is this some specific cool story that I'm ignorant of? Or is there a nice gameplay exploit here? \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Jan 8 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.Mini No specific story, just the Lesser Planetouched rule from Player's Guide to Faerûn. It removes the Outsider type from planetouched and puts them at LA +0, which makes them better than most LA +0 races except humans. So when the Lesser rule is in play, if the PCs avoid humans, there's a good chance everyone will be some flavor of planetouched, and with planetouched like Celadrin, Azerblood, and D'hin'ni counting as elves, dwarves, and halflings there becomes little reason to play PHB races. It's good for more options roughly as good as humans, but can be silly narratively. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9 at 16:27
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I don't know of any half-elf variants that are any less bad than regular half-elves.

Here are a couple more thoroughly underwhelming options, both from Unearthed Arcana:

  • Fire half-elves: Bonus to attack rolls and penalty to saving throws against water-based creatures, plus normal half-elf traits.
  • Jungle half-elves: Replace the skill bonuses with equivalent ones to Bluff and Sense Motive.

I'm sure you're just as excited about these as you are about the equally useless ones mentioned in your footnote.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Right! Forgot about those. Some of the environmental subraces are solid... just not the half-elves. Oh well, good call, +1. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 17, 2021 at 5:44
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Probably not applicable to your case, but from checking my entire collection, I've got these:

  • The default in the PHB.
  • Aquatic Half-Elf: From the Stormwrack campaign setting. Trades their Diplomacy and Gather Information bonuses for some very good swimming bonuses. Also gets a penalty for not seeing the sea. This might be the worst Half-Elf ever. They're also printed in Races of Faerûn under the name "Half-aquatic elves". At a skim, it looks to me that the Faerûn version doesn't lose any skills, so it's strictly better than that of Stormwrack.
  • The five Environmental Half-Elves from Unearthed Arcana: Aquatic (not the same as the above), Arctic, Desert, Fire, and Jungle. I'd go in to detail, but they're in the SRD.
  • Forestlord Half-Elves from Dragon Magic: Described in the same place as their full Elf version and comes with essentially the same penalties. You've already found these.
  • Drow of the Underdark has the Half-Drow race and claims to supersede the version of them that appears in Races of Faerûn. They're not much different and you've excluded these in your question, so I won't go in to detail.

As a final place to look, there's always the Races of [...] books. I've checked them and found nothing else. You appear to have done the same.

I think there's also a Dark Sun Half-Elf of some sort, but I don't own those books. To my surprise, there definitely aren't any Half-Elves in Frostburn or Sandstorm. Between us, I think that covers everything in 3.5e. Just in case, I also checked my 3e collection, and I found nothing new. There's a Forgotten Realms 3e Half-Elf, but its only differences is its languages.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For what it’s worth, the 3.5e Dark Sun books (PDFs) are free, because they are published by athas.org under license, not by Wizards of the Coast. Anyway, Athas races are explicitly balanced differently from other races, so not too meaningful—usually. In the case of half-elves, I could see considering them. But I have a fairly negative opinion on the general quality of athas.org’s work. By the way, if the Drow of the Underdark half-drow are different from the Races of Faerûn ones, that’d be worth mentioning. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 18, 2021 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I don't know how this stands up in primary source disputes, but Drow of the Underdark claims that it supersedes the Races of Faerûn Half-Drow rules: "The half-drow race is detailed in the FORGOTTEN REALMS accessory Races of Faerun and is updated here.". However, aside from the Drow Legacy feat, barely anything is said about how they differ. To be honest, I find it a bit hard to read. I think the main difference is that Underdark's version has no darkvision. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Dec 18, 2021 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that is a mess. Turns out that Races of Faerûn has a very confusing layout that does give half-drow 60 feet of darkvision (and they double down on that with the Drow Eyes feat for half-drow, which gives 120 feet of darkvision and explicitly notes the 60 feet that half-drow would otherwise have in the Normal section). Drow of the Underdark takes that away (unclear how Drow Eyes would work after that “errata”), and offers another feat, Drow Legacy, to get some drow traits (Will save bonus, darkvision, weapon proficiency, SLAs). Oh well, doesn’t really matter; it’s all dumb. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 18, 2021 at 17:40
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In the published books, as well as Dragon Magazine (or Dragon, later) only the half-elves you mention are to be found for Dungeons and Dragons 3rd ed. and its Revised 3.5 ed. They have to be based on existing elves, kinda by definition, and that makes even some elves just better, or at least more flavorful, options. In fact, the only half-elf specific content I've found in Dragon Magazine was 'The Complete Half-elf' article from 1995's issue 214, pp 10-15, which provided multi-class kits for half-elves to take. AD&D 2e kits, that is.


In previous editions of D&D, half-elves were versatile; they had the most multi-classing options, were in fact the only race able to multi class as clerics and druids, and barring humans, they could attain the highest levels in the most classes.

In D&D 3rd ed., the multi-class/dual-class system from previous editions was significantly altered, as was the level and XP system. All characters, regardless of race had the same capacities and so the half-elf was less special. In D&D 3/3.5, the elf is as versatile, has the same potential, and can adjust his stats to sometimes benefit classes and builds... and the half-elf? Well, he just doesn't bring any penalties.


Perhaps there are some non-racial substitution levels, or maybe consider using the optional 'half-human' rules from Races of Destiny 150 to look at the elf or human substitution levels...

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