D&D 5eRacesReviews

UA Race Options: Eladrin and Gith Breakdown

It’s the first non-holiday Monday in the month, so Unearthed Arcana is back with a new article. This time, Mearls and Crawford bring us one elf subrace, the Eladrin; and the gith race with its two subraces. It’s a comparatively light release, but free as in beer and this is content that I care about. You know, what with the Planescape game that I’m playing in and – the way things are going – I might well need a backup character concept for. (When, at 3rd level, you find a radius and ulna that might well belong to Tenebrous, you should enjoy your character as much as possible, but don’t expect a long life and cushy retirement. I ain’t sayin’, I’m just sayin’.)

The Eladrin

At least to me, one of the bigger surprises of the 4e Player’s Handbook was the eladrin as a core race, even if 4e could never completely make up its mind whether eladrin were high elves or something distinct. Oh, there had been playable eladrin rules in 3.x, but they were nowhere near core. There are also eladrin in the 5e DMG, so let’s fold them into this comparison. (Short UAs mean I can go deeper into comparisons.)

4e

The flavor text here can basically be replaced with “Calaquendi,” just as two pages on 4e’s elves reads “Moriquendi.” If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s the difference between Galadriel and all of the brunette elves of the Woodland Realm. If that still doesn’t help, then I begin to doubt your commitment to Elven Motion.

  • +2 Dex and +2 Int. If you’re not familiar with 4e’s ability score grind, that’s strong pressure to be a wizard and good support for a few other options. (What I’m getting at is, 5e’s ability score caps are paradoxically liberating.)
  • Low-light vision
  • 6 square (30-ft) base speed
  • +2 Arcana, +2 History. Arcana is a superior skill for many skill challenges, so this is a little better than it looks.
  • One extra skill proficiency, which does not have to be on your class list. This is very good.
  • Proficiency with the longsword. This is mostly irrelevant – if your class has any business using a longsword, your class gave you proficiency. If not, don’t.
  • +1 bonus to Will defense, +5 bonus to saves vs. charm effects. (In the particular way that saving throws work in 4e, this is good but not crazy.)
  • You are also of the fey creature type. Incidentally, this is almost completely a ribbon in 4e, where it would be a big deal in 3.x or 5e.
  • Four hours in a trance counts for six hours of rest, so your extended rests go faster.
  • Once per encounter, you can teleport 5 squares instead of moving 6. This is fantastic, especially for avoiding opportunity attacks and terrain hazards.

The main thing I can say about them is that no seriously, fey step is insanely good, because it circumvents a lot of the movement side of 4e’s tactical puzzle. Forgotten Realms and Eberron declared that eladrin were not identical to sun elves or Aereni elves, but the flavor text in the 4e PH sure gives a contrary impression.

5e DMG

The rules in the DMG call out that they are teaching subrace design, just as the aasimar rules following it are there to teach race design. Since WotC has since released an updated and more official aasimar in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, it’s hardly surprising that they’re also heading toward a more-official eladrin. It’s funny, though, because there’s commentary about why the DMG version does what it does, which the new version necessarily contradicts.

  • +1 Int.
  • Elf weapon training grants proficiency in the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow. The commentary calls out that there’s “no need to alter the basic weapon training shared by high elves and wood elves.” In terms of which classes benefit from this – bards, clerics, druids (not that weapon-using druids have a lot to work with), and warlocks are inclined to use weapons, but don’t have proficiency in all martial weapons (and aren’t monks, who really need the weapons to be monk weapons).
  • Misty step once per short or long rest. (As a reminder, that’s a bonus action for a 30-ft teleport.)

Notably, this trades the high elf’s cantrip-from-the-wizard-list and extra language for that misty step, and they’re otherwise identical. Frankly, that’s probably why it got changed at all – misty step is great but a little underwhelming as a way to communicate “elves from the Upper Planes.”

UA

Which brings us to the newest version. I’m pleased and amused to see WotC continue to play around with race-specific personality features. If you want more of those, I am here for you! These are particularly unusual, because they’ve decided that eladrin personalities have four seasonal states, each carrying its own personality trait and flaw, and you choose which season you’re in as part of any short or long rest. Let’s call it the “what kind of asshole am I going to be today?” roll. You might even roll new features each time you change seasons.

  • +1 Int or +1 Cha. I’m just about always going to be a fan of this kind of option – it protects race-class pairings, which are less of a problem in 5e, but still.
  • Fey Step now does the same thing as misty step, but it’s written out as an action instead of a spell, so it doesn’t invoke “if you cast a spell as a bonus action, the only spell you can cast with your action is a cantrip.” This is, therefore, slightly better, as I can’t think of any class, feat, or magic item features that specifically key off of “when you cast misty step” or “when you cast a conjuration.” That’s not to say there’s no such feature, but it isn’t coming to me.
  • Shifting Seasons grants you a cantrip, depending on your current emotional season: autumn grants friends, winter chill touch, spring minor illusion, and summer fire bolt. If you don’t already know, friends is hot garbage. The other three are fine. You can use either Int or Cha as your casting stat.

So instead of trading away the cantrip and the extra language, they trade away the weapon proficiency and the language, and their cantrip options are constrained. It’s still a net gain in power unless you aren’t getting anywhere with attack cantrips or already have good access to cantrips through other features. If you need just one or two of the cantrips and get the rest from other features, I can’t see any reason you’d shift through all of the seasons on purpose, and you’d likely be more than a little put out if the DM tried to nudge you into doing so. What I’m saying is, this feature is uneven in effect and, for a lot of characters, there’s a strong motivation to play against theme.

I’ve seen people online question why you’d ever play a high elf wizard if an eladrin is an option, assuming for a moment that you’re picking your race based on its fit with a class. The answer is… uh… hmm. I guess you could really want that weapon proficiency or (yeah, right) language? In short, in a head-to-head comparison, eladrin beats the pants off the high elf and they should take another look at it.

 

Gith

I’m not going to do quite that deep a dive into the history of the githyanki and githzerai, because better studies are out there that trace Charles Stross’s creation of them (after lifting the names, though nothing else about them, from GRRM’s Dying of the Light) to the present day. Matter of fact, Colin wrote one. Thanks, Colin!

The core of the race is incredibly stripped-down, and almost all features live in the subrace sections. This is a problem in itself, just as it’s a problem to have races that have no subraces – it means that the UA revenant and anything designed like it don’t work right. So “I dislike the whole approach” is a great start for any race, yeah?

  • +1 Int.
  • 30-ft base speed.
  • Speak, read, and write Common and Gith.

Aaand done.

Githyanki

  • +2 Strength.
  • Proficiency in one skill or tool, and one language, because Tu’narath is timeless.
  • Proficiency with light and medium armor. There aren’t a ton of classes that need those and don’t already get them, so I guess we’re talking sorcerers, some warlocks, and wizards. You’re set up to play a better bladelock here than in most races, I guess? “Armored mountain dwarf wizard” was a huge freakout point for a lot of folks when 5e first came out, but I think we’ve all figured out now that it is just not that big of a deal.
  • Githyanki Psionics grants mage hand. As with most racial spellcasting, it improves at 3rd and 5th, with jump once per long rest and misty step once per long rest, respectively.

Githzerai

  • +2 Wisdom.
  • +1 AC in light or no armor and when not using a shield. This makes them great for a lot of two-weapon or great-weapon builds that don’t need heavier armor – barbarians, monks, Valor bards, rogues, Dex fighters, Dex rangers, Dex warlocks, non-melee clerics… yeah. This feature is desirable for a whole mess of characters, and pro tip, it quietly makes Dex even better and more desirable.
  • Githzerai Psionics grants mage hand. At 3rd level, it grants shield once per long rest, and at 5th, detect thoughts once per long rest.

Okay, so everyone gets that githzerai features are hilariously more powerful than githyanki features for a huge range of cases, right? Armor proficiency doesn’t stack up well against a +1 AC when doing that thing your class wanted you to be doing anyway. Shield is pretty competitive against misty step (they’re just good in different situations), while detect thoughts is a lot more of a plot-buster than jump is an exploration-challenge buster. Once we start talking monks, githzerai might be the best monks in all of D&D, but at least that’s on-theme with what the game has always said they are. (Admittedly, tabaxi might still edge them out, because good lord, tabaxi are ridiculous in combination with a speedster class, and Cat’s Talent grants two of the most desirable skills in the game.)

As the power balance on these races gets refined, if I needed gith in 5e, I’d go to Rich Howard’s article on this very website – his githyanki are useful for more classes, while his githzerai are less superior and more on-par with other races for most classes. (While I’m pimping fan content like crazy, check out this gith-friendly monastic tradition that I wrote.) I hope to see more innovative and exciting features for the gith in its final release, while I hope that the eladrin won’t be just-objectively-better than high elves. If they want to do that, write out high elves and admit that they were just eladrin all along.

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  • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

    I really like those race-specific subclasses you linked to. They’re a great way to add some flash and pizazz to characters of a different race without giving into the temptation of power-creep.

  • Alex Mitchell

    Great breakdown as always. You hit on several issues that didn’t immediately jump out at me.

  • Manos Ti

    I like what they did with the Eladrin. Fluff wise, the seasonal change provides many possibilities. Plus, it seems really…fey (and as I have come to understand Brandes, the little something you’re brewing has a lot to do with Fey).

    And yes, Rich’s Giths were much better.

    • Just reread Rich’s article. Can’t vote with Mearls on the Gith. Rich did a bang up job for sure.

    • crimfan

      Mearls always seems to lowball everything. I get why, particularly given how important organized play is to them, but still… lowball.

  • Craig Cormier

    I generally agree with what you’ve said here. I make heavy use of the Gith races in my current 4e game, so I’m excited to see them getting attention in UA. After the current game ends I’ll be shifting everything into 5e. But I can definitely see that the Gith need another pass, probably from the ground up.

    That said, I really like the potential for homebrew content that replaces the Eladrin seasons with other aspects of campaign specific fey. Making that feature connect directly to the different Fey Courts rather than seasons could make for a lot of interesting roleplaying, especially if you tweaked the trigger for how the character changes from one to another.

    • Came here to say exactly that about the Courts. Maybe that’ll make it into the next Fey article?

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      The Gith they presented in the UA have basically the same stats as the lower-CR versions in the Monster Manual. That’s a little boring, but it makes sense, I guess. Those who choose to play a Gith character are mainly going to do so out of a desire to embrace the races’ lore and look.

      It would be nice if PC Gith had some distinctive ability(s) beyond a handful of spells, but I’m at a loss to suggest what that might look like.

    • crimfan

      With the desire to game balance all the races, it wouldn’t really work so well.

      In a campaign I could see removing some classes or archetypes from some races. For example, making monks be a githzerai-inspired tradition would make them feel pretty special and unusual. If that’s too far a stretch, make things work like the bladesinger. Speaking of which, that would make a pretty solid gith race archetype.

  • crimfan

    5E Friends is indeed one of the worst spells ever devised. IMO one of the best ways to handle it would be to have it work like Guidance for the skills Deception, Intimidation, Perform, and Persuasion, and presumably any tools proficiencies that are relevant (if any of them really are). I’d also get rid of the whole “they’re really angry at you in a minute” which makes this spell next to useless. I’d narrow Guidance to cover a smaller set of skills, say the knowledge ones, and probably have some other cantrip that covered the more physical ones (I can’t think of a good name).

    I really don’t like the “elves are wizards” thing much. I’m not 100% sure how that got stuck in place, but it has. Bards and sorcerers feel much better to me, I guess, and the stat setup really pushes that away. Some choices on the stat boosts would be nice.

    • Elves-as-wizards has its most definitive root in OD&D, when elves first show up as a race-as-class. Elves don’t act like bards or sorcerers because there ARE no bards or sorcerers – and then it became

      If you’re going go to with one of the three original classes, some of Tolkien’s elves definitely pick up magic-user spells. I’m not sure what Gygax’s other influences were specifically for elves; if you want to argue for Melniboneans (which is a bit of a stretch with D&D’s goodly elves), the argument for magic-user over anything else only gets strengthened.

      If you or anyone reading this has more background on this question, I’m going to need it when I get to the History of the Fighter-Mage series.

    • crimfan

      Oh I know the origins of it, I just question how it got stuck in place so much. The only kind of caster back in the old days was the wizard, so there it is. Charisma casting wasn’t a thing until 3E, really.

      Gygaxian elves are strongly based on Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions, among other sources. I think Tolkein’s elves are less of an influence than one might suppose. Certainly Gygax stated that Tolkien was less of a direct influence over him than were other sources. This is separate from whether LotR was important for the development and growth of D&D. It clearly was.

      Elves as bards was kind of a trope, too, but they’re mediocre bards based on the rules in most recent editions.

    • Gygax may have denied any strong influence from Tolkien, but I’ll be damned if I believe that the same is true of writers after him. Dave and Gary laid the foundation of D&D, but a staggering number of other folks have gone in other directions with it. Just to state the blatantly obvious for a moment, Gygax’s creative control over D&D is now much less than half of D&D’s lifespan.

      This is a conspiracy to make me write the History of the Elf, isn’t it.

    • crimfan

      For some mysterious reason my reply got deleted or lost in bot moderation hell so I’m going to rewrite my points.

      I think you should write such as history and encourage you to do so.

      I read a lot of what EGG cited as his influences and I think he was totally honest when he said JRRT was a secondary influence. His primary influences were indeed Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber, Robert Howard, Jack Vance, and H. P. Lovecraft. Obviously, the popularity of LotR was a huge part of what made D&D a success, but I think D&D elves are not particularly LotR influenced but are much more their own thing. They’re much more mortal, in general. Half elves are not uncommon, for instance.

      I also don’t think that the Tolkien elves are particularly wizard-y, unlike, say, Gandalf, who clearly is one of the archetypes. (Nor of course is the spellcasting much like D&D spellcasting.) The two elves in what JRRT wrote who clearly have spellcasting abilities on-screen are Galadriel and Luthien Tinuviel. Galadriel’s demonstrated abilities aren’t all that flashy, but then again magic in LotR really isn’t, certainly not by the Third Age. She casts a scrying spell and clearly has a massive power over the land aided by her possession of one of the Rings of Power. It’s much more alluded to than clearly shown. Luthien’s power is her song and force of will, not her deep knowledge of lore from poring over musty tomes, which says “Charisma caster” to me. Luthien’s tale deserves to be more widely known.

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