Last week in our game, my players faced some Drow in a small dungeon encounter. One of my players, playing a 15 year old tiefling Sorceror (level 1) chose not to cast Sleep on the Drow because he (the player) knew it would be ineffective. I didn't give it much thought until a few days ago when I realized it was kind of a metagame decision. I was going to ask him about it, when I realized that all elves in 5e have the racial feature Fey Ancestry, and the tiefling character grew up in an elven city, so it might be a moot point. Even without his IC justification at the time it could still be justified IC, as long as it is common knowledge the Fey Ancestry grants immunity to sleep.

So, simple question: Is the elven racial feature Fey Ancestry commonly held knowledge, and would any person simply know that elves can't be put to sleep due to their connection with the fey?

Though we are playing in a custom setting, it is loosely analogous to the Forgotten Realms with regards to the setting and lore, so examples from published works in that setting that point to this being common knowledge would be helpful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even if it's not common knowledge, a 15-year-old tiefling sorcerer who grew up with elves sounds like a person who would know Sleep doesn't work on them from first-hand experience in failed pranks. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Mar 4 '16 at 14:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage That's a fair point, but I'd like to know the general answer to the question as well. :) \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Mar 4 '16 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why I posted it as a comment, rather than an answer. :p \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Mar 4 '16 at 14:42

Knowledge of the core rules is a Good Thing

That information is in the Players Handbook (emphasis on players). Players are supposed to read it, to know how to play the game, and to be able to refer to it. Expecting players not to act upon that knowledge, or taking control of their characters to make them do pointless things, would make for very grumpy players.

It’s better for players to be familiar with the PH than not. Better a little unwanted player knowledge than for everyone to keep asking you which dice to roll.

So assume PH rules are common knowledge among adventurers, who need to know this sort of thing.

Drow: Mysterious enemy or party member?

Drow are a peculiar case: they were designed as mysterious enemies from deep underground, but have become a core PC race. Players who have read the basic rules of character creation will know details about the drow, while (depending on your campaign) their characters might never have seen one.

Customizing combats player knowledge

If you want drow to be mysterious in your campaign, customize them.

Whenever you have a rules wonk at your table, you can add to the fun by occasionally customizing rules. Change a monster's abilities, resistances, etc.

After the party is surprised once or twice, player knowledge will feel more like so many unreliable children’s stories, and the knowledge checks will start rolling again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ the PHB contains far more information than every single PC should have tbh... things like "you can go for 3 days + con without eating without suffering any penalty, and as soon as you eat something you are reset" is quite game-breaking when exploited on long journeys. \$\endgroup\$ – Diego Martinoia Mar 7 '16 at 9:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DiegoMartinoia and yet anyone who's gone on long journeys on foot--like adventurers--would certainly have a much better sense of how far they really can push themselves on an empty stomach than the average "townie." You may be right, but I think you've chosen a particularly poor example to highlight. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 28 '16 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 there is a bit of misunderstanding. Surely the PC should know more about adventuring than your average NPC (ymmv according to background...), but what I mean is that just because something is in the rulebook, not necessarily the DM should allow it if used exploitatively :) \$\endgroup\$ – Diego Martinoia Jul 29 '16 at 15:55

This is world specific, and not really a RAW or RAI question. The answer depends on the world the DM has built. Specifically:

  • How common are elves in your world? If they are common it is more likely that more people know about it.
  • How Common are magic casters? If magic is rare in your world, than it would be less likely to have come up, and even the elves might not know about their own immunity to the sleep spell.
  • How secretive are the elves in your world? Do they hide away in Rivendale or is your world more multi-racial? Are the elves apt to hide information to gain tactical advantages in your world, or are they apt to be open people who might mention (or even brag) their abilities?

I'd personally rule that if a player knows that, because it is pretty mundane and situational, the character does. If the player doesn't know it, but has reason they might know it give them a history or intelligence check to see if the character does know it before they burn the spell slot and the turn.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Though we are playing in a custom setting, it is loosely analogous to the Forgotten Realms with regards to the setting and lore, so examples from published works in that setting that point to this being common knowledge would be helpful." The reason I included this is because I want to know if there is precedence. I understand it's my custom setting and ultimately I can decide what is or is not common knowledge, but examples from a published setting (which my setting is loosely based upon) would be preferable. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Mar 4 '16 at 15:47

I would say that human commoners would likely not know of this trait. However. since the rules say that elves do not sleep but instead enter a "trance-like" meditative state then anyone who has adventured with elves or even spent a small amount of time exposed to elven society would be aware of this fact. Recalling that information when it's needed and applying in combat conditions just means you have a really good player in your campaign.

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Spellcasters that learned the spell from a teacher would have been instructed not only on its casting but also generally what it could affect depending on their level and yours.

Even if you are self-learned the person who created that spell book would have known what it worked on and how it worked in general.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The case in question was in reference to a sorcerer. Sorcerers do not learn their spells or use spellbooks; they have inherent spell casting. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Jun 22 '18 at 19:24

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