I'm helping my friend make an Elf to play in a campaign I'm making. We wanted him be around the same age as the other player's characters, which is early-mid twenties, so that he is not far more experienced than them.

That being said, according the 5e Player's Handbook, Elves are generally considered adults at 100 or so, despite reaching physical maturity at close to the same time as human.

What I'm asking is if it will be weird for a 20ish-year-old Elf to be an adventurer, or would that be considered to young? If it's the latter, what age should the Elf be?

I know that, no matter what, the Elf could be ~20, but if it wouldn't make a lot of sense we don't really want to have it like that.


6 Answers 6


This is a question that is probably more about the world your campaign is located.

Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms (in numerous novels) indicate that elves at the age of 20 would appear to our eyes like human children. They grow slowly, and learn slowly. Time passes for them subjectively different then quick-paced humans.

The Player's Handbook indicates "elves reach physical maturity at about the same age as humans," but this is not a universal conception for elves. Going with that thought though, the implication is they don't reach emotional/mental maturity at that age.

The fragile 20 year old elf may suffer all kinds of malnutrition and loss of connection from being apart from its family and homelands. Traditionally, the magic of the Elven homelands and interaction is like nourishment. The 60-100 year old elf would appear and act similar to your 20 year old characters.

You are free to make your elves however you like in your world. For instance, in the harsh climate of Athas, where to the elves the wastes are considered Elven lands (multiple editions), the starting ages for elves are 20-ish. The destructive magical cataclysm of Athas had transformed Elves significantly, forcing them to mature and grow up faster (over thousands of years).

If the question is the rules as written in the Players Handbook, the starting age is listed there:

An elf typically c1aims adulthood and an adult name around the age of 100 and can live to be 750 years old.

This is probably based more or less on Tolkien sources, adapted for game purposes (In Tolkien Elves were immortal, but suffered over thousands of years when separated from the Undying Lands).

You can choose any age for your character, which could provide an explanation for some of your ability scores.

As to would it be weird, I give just one of a million possibilities: The elven character was plane-shifted from Athas (chose Outlander background); use these stats (no minuses in 5e, do +1 Int as per High Elf, convert everything else):
http://whinehurst.com/darksun/index.php?title=Races. [Wayback mirror]

Again, whether that is weird, also depends on your gaming world.

So for multiple reasons, the Player's handbook is giving one some artistic license here, with which a player can work with their DM and his/her game world.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, the question can be equivalent to "Is it weird for a 4 year old human to be an adventurer?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Jan 13, 2017 at 3:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM The question specifies that elves reach physical maturity about as fast as humans. This answer's definitely interesting in pointing out that other common settings have elves mature differently, but the question as stated seems distinct from asking about a 4-year old human adventurer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nat
    Jan 13, 2017 at 4:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I saw that there. Added it to my answer, but don't want it to get any longer! \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2017 at 4:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm primarily being pedantic since you could use the Outlander background with a completely made up realm just as well but I'm pretty sure, much like Ravenloft, canonical Athas is cut off from the other planes. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2017 at 6:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have always had an issue with players simply playing humans with pointy ears... their life span gives them a different paradigm and perspective on life. One article I am surprised isn't referenced in your post is giantitp.com/forums/…. I have made this required reading for those wanting to play an elf in my games. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Jan 13, 2017 at 13:47

No, there is nothing weird about the concept.

Much of the assumption about elves come from a humanocentric view of time. There is no driving need to say that elves go through their lives with the same urgency as humans. An elf might spend a century just writing sonnets, or perhaps just enjoying music and nature. A good indication that this is so is that there is an explicit passage of about 80 years between physical maturity and the beginning of the average adventuring career. If elves improved at the same rate as humans, it would be very hard to explain just what happens in that 8 decade gap.

Presumably then, elves mature faster (i.e. gain xp and, skills, abilities and levels) when in a high-stress adventuring life. When not doing so, they must therefore spend their time doing things that are not quantifiably self-improving in terms of game mechanics. This is an implication of the basic assumptions provided by the PHB.

If we accept this premise, then there is nothing "weird" about your 20 year old elf immersing himself into a high-stress adventuring life far earlier than most elves are willing to.

Some possible ways to handle this might include an elf who becomes bored with the leisurely lifestyle of her fellows, an elf who is orphaned in a cataclysm that shocks him into an adventuring life, or an elf who feels the need to prove something or follow an older sibling. Any of these might be well-adjusted, or they might seem a bit immature in their behavior. That's a personal choice.

However, there is nothing in the rules that requires you to be 100, and any number of ways to justify the choice.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps like some real world "child prodigies" who devote themselves to music or athletics or whatever well before teenage years -- rare and anomalous, and with their own benefits and challenges, but not unheard of. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Oct 14, 2021 at 17:44

This is generally a problem for RPG world-building, and not usually one that's well solved. ("Usually" meaning "all RPGS allowing PCs whose races have varying lifespans".) If a race takes 100 years to reach maturity and lives for 700 years, say, that should have real consequences.

If they learn at the same rate as humans, it should be inevitable that members of this race would be levelled-up to a literally superhuman degree. The difference between a good or great elf swordsman would be whether he'd spent 30 years or 300 years practising. By comparison, the best human swordsman will be past their physical prime after 30 years of training.

And that's for a specific skill. If we suppose that elves get interested in different things at different times, they can easily spend the odd decade working on their poetry and singing, another decade learning some instruments, another few decades on languages, another decade on metalwork... Which means a generalist elf aged around 100 will likely be as good or better at every skill than any human member of the party aged mid-20s. They'll be better musicians than a human bard, better swordsmen than a human warrior, better craftsmen than a human artisan - you get the idea.

Conversely, suppose they aren't godlike. Then their learning capacity has to scale proportionally with their age. The impact of this is clear - an elf who can live to 700 should need 10x the XP for the same level-up as a human who can live to 70. I'm not personally aware of rulesets which do this.

So the conflict between these requirements is generally where RPGs fail. Of course we understand why that is, because the final "G" is "game", and that means it has to be fun. If your elf PC is levelling up 10x slower than your friends, that's probably not fun. It does mean though that the game world is not internally consistent. If this bothers you, you need to work out this conflict somehow.

Incidentally, Tolkein didn't have any of these problems because the non-hobbit characters don't develop skills-wise throughout LotR, so there was no need to show how they learn. (Gandalf does level up, of course, but not in any way which would translate to mortals.)


Yes, but it will have major implications about the world.

If you allow for an elf to start at Age 20 and live to Age 250, then presumably there are 200-year old elves who also started their careers at Age 20. If elves keep gaining skill and getting better, then all of the most powerful humanoids would be elves.

Some options:

  1. Elves are mostly human-like, so the oldest elves have several human lifetimes worth of knowledge. Their power exceeds what humans can achieve, and they effectively control the setting.
    • If elves and humans live in the same communities, elves would view being human as being a disease that causes you to die young. But, humans would still enjoy all of the cultural/technological benefits of living in that society, and thus be comparable to elves of the same age.
    • If elves and humans live in separate communities, elves would view human communities like we view real-life monkeys. The levels of technology, culture, magic, etc. would be worlds apart. Humans and elves of the same age wouldn't be comparable because the young elves would enjoy the benefits of living in a far more advanced, powerful, wealthy culture.
  2. Elves have hardwired, biological reasons that they don't become as powerful as humans could've, given the same amount of time. Possibilities:
    • Their oldest wizards fear becoming too powerful, so once they hit Age 100 and have the greatest magic human arch-mages could possibly hope for, they refuse to progress any further.
    • Elves can get conditions like arthritis relatively easily, forcing them to avoid practicing too much. Warriors could force themselves to train through the pain, but doing so causes them to become disabled.

Overall, having a very long lifespan would be an incredible, world-changing advantage for any intelligent humanoid race. Either that race has a compensatory disability or they rule the world. As long as the setting's consistent with these implications, it should all hold together.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer is correct: these things need to be considered when world building. However, depending on your world, the role (or absence) of the gods differ. In most traditional fantasy systems, what the gods are doing defines the gaming world. Can Einstein "uncreate"? Consider the "bale fire" spell ala Robert Jordan--destroys target and unravels time such they never existed. Also, many of the races have a god, so in such worlds it is more the relative strengths of these gods, that will determine things like lifespan and technology, and the survival of the race. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2017 at 6:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your opening paragraph is applicable whether your elves begin adventuring at 20 or 100. This answer raises a very good point about overall worldbuilding with long-lived races, but doesn't really address the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 14, 2021 at 18:00

Yes, they can. They'll still be receiving past life memories, however.

Yes, a 20 year old elf could become an adventurer; they are biologically mature at that age, and would be physically capable of handling the physical rigours of adventuring.

However, according to the chapter on elves in Mordencainen's Tome of Foes, because elves aren't considered adult until they stop receiving visions of their past lives at about a century old, such an elf wouldn't be considered an adult by elven society, and would still be known by their childhood name rather than the adult name they'd eventually be given.


Hmm. You folk are forgetting key parts of the Elven Psyche. They like to party. Drink wine, sing, play musical instruments, create art. They're often hedonists, and they follow their passions. They don't have the same priorities as humans.

Also, not everything is about class levels. They could be the best painters in the world, with their skills unrivaled. e.g. They could paint the king's great grandfather from memory, in a way that not only captures his likeness perfectly, but his personality, his ribald sense of humor, his deft and expert falconry skills...But in the 5e ruleset, it would be simply history background: proficiency with painting tools.

This could eventually be the reason why they adventure- not to accumulate wealth and power, but to be able to apply the skills they learn with their new chosen class towards their TRUE passion. The painter may have heard about the 4th level Fabricate spell, and has decided they must learn it to be able to complete their grand vision- a series of fantastically huge murals depicting the heros and villians of the Lance! Through all their adventures! They keep this plan to themselves...

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. This does not seem to be a direct answer to the question. Answers on this site should be directly addressing the question :) Please check out the help center to see how to give good answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Jul 7, 2021 at 7:46

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