In the Unearthed Arcana playtest document that included the minotaur race, the designers included traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws specific to the race, which proved to be a great way to present ready-to-play stereotypes of the minotaurs. (Remember, kids: stereotyping is awful in Real Life, but when used correctly, it is immensely useful in gaming.) I’m surprised I haven’t seen an outpouring of bloggers doing the same for the other races, but maybe I’m not looking hard enough. In any case, here’s my breakdown of traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws for non-drow elves. I’m assuming a strong Tolkien influence, which should fit well for elves in most published settings that are not Athas. Personality differences by subrace are also beyond the scope of this post.
Edit: Please note that this post has been re-edited and released in Through Their Own Eyes, now available on DriveThruRPG.
|1||I know bits and pieces of ten thousand years of elven poetry and song.|
|2||I often mention elven heroes of a lost and distant age as exemplars.|
|3||Nothing can shake my sorrowful awareness that the fate of elf-kind is sealed.|
|4||I knew the grandparents of many of the humans I meet – and sometimes forget that their memories do not extend so far.|
|5||I savor good food and drink above gold and jewels, but it often falls short of my standards.|
|6||I am cold and collected even in moments of great danger.|
|7||It infuriates me to see someone fail to appreciate artistic achievement – no matter who the artist was.|
|8||I am tediously fastidious in dining and personal grooming.|
|1||Vitality: To resist the twilight of my people, I live every moment with passion. (Neutral)|
|2||Freedom: I recognize no authority above me save the elven monarchs and Corellon. (Chaotic)|
|3||Honor: Once I speak the words of an oath, I will move heaven and earth to see it fulfilled. (Lawful)|
|4||Obligation: As the eldest and most civilized folk, it falls to elves to lead the others to civilization. (Neutral)|
|5||Greater Good: If this is to be the end of the elves, then let it be such an end that the forces of evil shall never forget us. (Good)|
|6||Fatalism: To die would be a great adventure. (Any)|
|1||I am driven to revisit places from my youth that have now fallen into enemy hands.|
|2||I will never take the life of another elf, and only shed their blood when truly desperate.|
|3||I honor the alliances my people made with other races by showing them deep respect.|
|4||I will face any challenge, to be a final bright star before the long night of the elves.|
|5||An injury to the forests is a like an injury to my own body, and shall be equally avenged.|
|6||The treasures of ancient elven artisans must be kept safe…. and secret… and mine.|
|1||My people have been so often betrayed, and my memory is long: my trust is hard-earned.|
|2||The rage of a fading people is my first response to most threats.|
|3||I hide a secret that would bring shame to my family – or even all of elf-kind.|
|4||I am unwilling to rethink even the strategies and philosophies that failed my people, out of a sense of tradition.|
|5||I secretly work to fulfill an oath of awful power and consequences, handed down from the dawning of my people.|
|6||The grudge of an ancient enemy of my people (dragon, fiend, genie, or dark god) falls upon me, through my elders.|
The first task of anyone playing an elf is to keep a clear view of the social contract of the table. In some groups, it’s okay to nettle one another endlessly with mutual disdain and superiority complexes; in other groups, that’s a short path to hurt feelings and no more game. Your priority as a player is always to behave in such a way that other people want to keep inviting you to play.
I mention this because these traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws tilt the character toward being, what is the word… a douchebag. It’s the traditional presentation of elves, so I’ve included things that would make you a douchebag and things that would make you a likable, useful member of the party. Try not to take more than two really douchey things out of five choices, even if it means you have to reroll a few times. (For the record, this is broadly true of most Backgrounds.) Bond #3 in particular excuses a lot of sins.
It’s probably obvious enough, but this is not a Background – it is an expansion of the elf race writeup. If this is useful to you, let me know – I’m inclined to continue this series through the rest of the Player’s Handbook races and the races of Aurikesh.