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’.)
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
- +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.
- +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.