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Iron and steel weapons are fairly common, I would hope, and as such most weapons would ignore this resistance. How would this affect the game balance, given the following trait? I am aware this would give elves resistance to most unarmed attacks.

Fey Resilience. As an elf, your fey nature grants you resistance to nonmagical weapons not made of iron or steel. You cannot benefit from this trait while wearing armor or wielding weapons made of iron or steel.

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closed as off-topic by SevenSidedDie May 9 '17 at 14:50

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm closing this question as off-topic because, based on the conversation it has spawned, it is not a stand-alone question of the sort we accept: the rule is unfinished and not ready to be the subject of a balance question at RPG.se, and in practice the post is currently a discussion prompt to start a collaborative homebrewing exercise, in the style of a forum topic post. This question may need to instead be asked on an actual discussion forum. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 9 '17 at 14:50
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This seems like a fairly substantial change that would have a pretty dramatic effect on game balance. Consider that this grants elves resistance to wooden weapons like clubs and quarterstaves as well as natural weapons. Also bear in mind that it isn't just animals that use teeth, claws, and fists - you're also talking about elementals, some angels or demons, aberrations, and a lot of other creatures. I would say that you're potentially halving the damage that elves would take from a pretty significant number of enemies.

Now, obviously you can mitigate that effect quite substantially if you're planning out all of the encounters yourself by ensuring that your elf PCs very rarely encounter enemies who don't wield steel weapons. Consider, though, that if the rule change has a very limited effect on gameplay it might also fail to generate the flavor that you're looking for.

One way that you might be able to generate the desired flavor without having much of an effect on gameplay is if the elves themselves use primarily wooden weapons to avoid having them turned against them. In other words, most people know that they need to carry metal weapons to overcome the natural resistance that elves possess, and magical beasts like dragons or demons automatically penetrate that resistance, but the elves themselves use primarily wooden arrows as a way of minimizing the damage from friendly fire, or wooden quarterstaves in case they're disarmed or otherwise have their weapons stolen.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Thanks, I've revised my answer to remove the references to DR. I disagree that you could add the listed DR to elves in 3.X without much effect on game balance, but that's a separate question. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben S. May 8 '17 at 22:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps at this point it would be easier to grant resistance to bludgeoning, slashing and piercing damage from nonmagical silver and wooden weapons and the unarmed attacks of beasts below a certain size category. Although, in terms of lore, I think most creatures capable of doing so would go "oh, a hostile elf. Let me grab my iron pitchfork." \$\endgroup\$ – Axios_Verum May 8 '17 at 23:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Axios_Verum It doesn't usually come up because PC races don't usually have noticeably different strengths and weaknesses, but I think a DM could decide that elementals or other outsiders would have a hard time remembering the differences between all the different types of those silly mortal creatures they run into occasionally. That would create an interesting complication here. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben S. May 9 '17 at 7:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ If "non-natural" beasts (dragons?) and "spiritual" creatures (e.g., demons, elementals, undead animals) are considered sufficiently "magical" to bypass the resistance (even giant ants and giant spiders might be "magical" in this sense), a lot of the traditional D&D threats would bypass the resistance. This could fit a "friend of nature" image of elves while providing a helpful ("lions and tigers and bears, oh well") but not overpowering ("I wish someone would make bone arrowheads that didn't break all the time") attribute. \$\endgroup\$ – Paul A. Clayton May 9 '17 at 11:52
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This could be a very powerful benefit depending on your campaign setting. If your player characters are mostly fighting humanoids who have weapons, this resilience benefit might not ever come up. But if they ever fight nonhumanoids who use claw attacks, the elves will take half damage all the time.

You've noted that you hope the "no iron or steel weapons or armor" restriction will help balance the issue, but I don't think this will happen. Your players will just play classes that don't use weapons or heavy armor anyway: you'll get a bunch of elven wizards and druids and monks that take half damage for no cost.

Depending on how you define "iron weapon", you might also get elven rangers firing longbows. Arrowheads are iron but the rest of the arrow isn't. Also, if elves are common in the world, you might need to include iron-substitute weapons and armor (bone arrowheads? dragonhide plate armor?) just because there's such demand for them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Anything made of iron or steel. And, if my lore serves me well, adamantine weapons contain iron, so they should count too. But most of the armor that doesn't contain iron or steel is either magical (either a magic item or the product of a spell) or weak compared to its metal counterparts. \$\endgroup\$ – Axios_Verum May 8 '17 at 23:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Poorer (or just not well connected by trade) and lower-technology humanoids (e.g., goblins?) might commonly use weapons without iron (e.g., clubs, bone-pointed spears, stones), though Gorbug the Elfslayer (a very high status goblin if traditional hostility exists between goblins and elves) would have iron/steel weapons. If opponents are iron-users, there would be less opportunity to upgrade or restock equipment from spoil (a minor effect). \$\endgroup\$ – Paul A. Clayton May 9 '17 at 11:35
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So, unfortunately, D&D elves seem largely derived from Tolkeinien elves and not so much from late-medieval romanticized English elves (for the latter, see creatures of the 'fey' subtype). Your 'cold iron is proof against magic and the fey' idea here appears to be an attempt to move elves in your game more towards the latter kind of creature, but significantly more work would need to be done to make that actually feel right in game.

That said, the vast majority of non-magical attacks are indeed iron or metal and your condition largely limits the sorts of situations where the resistance would come into play. It certainly makes elves significantly more powerful, but not unreasonably so and could easily be paired with other minor, fluffy adjustments to other races to rebalance things out. It's not enough to throw off the calculations of roughly appropriate adventures for a given average character level in a party, nor for individual encounters in general, though you should realize that this make normal, unaugmented animals even less of a threat to an elven not-using-metal ranger/druid-type character and the difficulty of such encounters will be even lower than expected.

This answer assumes the natural attacks of 'inherently magical creatures' (i.e. fey, elementals, fiends, some undead, and dragons) bypasses the resistance as well. If not this is both quite powerful and not very appropriately thematic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes. This is a good idea. The idea was that natural material would harm an elf less, but dragons and undead aren't natural. \$\endgroup\$ – Axios_Verum May 8 '17 at 23:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Axios_Verum In the worlds of D&D, dragons are indeed natural-as natural as elves, dwarves, and ghouls. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 9 '17 at 13:32

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