Elves are a unique race in Dungeons & Dragons for their “Trance” racial trait. Essentially, Elves don’t need to sleep.
This has been a staple part of Elven lore over multiple franchises and intellectual properties, so it makes sense that Dungeons & Dragons would include it to make the Elven race more recognizable to audiences.
Here’s what you need to know about the Elven Trance in D&D Fifth Edition.
What Are the Mechanics of Elven Trances?
In Dungeons & Dragons, the official errata has repeatedly changed its opinion on the Elven Trance’s exact mechanics.
We’ll cover the most current errata rulings and also the finer points of the rulings that have changed in recent years.
The first piece of information we need to look at is the exact rule that gives Elves access to the trance ability. It’s aptly named “Trance” and can be found in the Player’s Handbook under regulations for the Elven race.
Trance states the following:
Elves don’t need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply, remaining semiconscious, for 4 hours a day. (The Common word for such meditation is “trance.”)
While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice.
After Resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
Additionally, since Elves have Fey Ancestry, they’re resistant to being charmed and cannot be put to sleep using magic.
What Does This Mean for the Long Rest Period?
So, the rules are clear: four hours of meditating provides an equivalent amount of rest to eight hours of sleep.
However, it’s not the Elven Trance rules you need to look at to understand what an Elf can do during the Long Rest period. You’d need to look at the actual rules of the Long Rest.
A Long Rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours.
If the rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity—at least 1 hour of walking, Fighting, casting Spells, or similar Adventuring activity—the Characters must begin the rest again to gain any benefit from it.
At the end of a Long Rest, a character regains all lost Hit Points. The character also regains spent Hit Dice, up to a number of dice equal to half of the character’s total number of them (minimum of one die).
For example, if a character has eight Hit Dice, he or she can regain four spent Hit Dice upon finishing a Long Rest.
A character can’t benefit from more than one Long Rest in a 24-hour period, and a character must have at least 1 hit point at the start of the rest to gain its benefits.
So that’s kind of a whole bunch of words that might not have much meaning if you aren’t keen on the errata and the way it explains things.
These things are written technically, so it makes sense that it would be… unwieldy?
We’ll break it down chunk by chunk. A Long Rest refers to a long period of downtime, at least eight hours.
Still, if your party does not have at least four Elves, you will need a longer rest period because “standing watch” is considered an activity that interrupts your rest period if you do it for more than two hours.
While not sleeping, trancing, or standing watch, characters can do other restful activities such as reading, copying spells into their spellbooks, or any other light activity.
What exactly falls into “Light Activity” is up to your Dungeon Master, so make sure you clear these things to ensure that you don’t find out your character has been chronically sleep-deprived for their whole adventure.
Long Rests also give your character all their missing HP back. This one is more of a game mechanic than a sense of realism.
After all, no one’s wounds heal completely in just eight hours of rest, but without this mechanic, the rest of the game would cease to function.
Do Elves Dream?
After learning to meditate, Elves can “dream,” but not in the same way other races do when they sleep. Elves are semi-conscious during the trance, and their dreams are naught, but they perform mental exercises while resting.
What your Elf dreams about it is up to you, but it’s most important to remember that your Elf can control their dreams, much like a lucid dreamer.
They’re conscious while they trance, so they can think about, have opinions on, and control their “dreams!”
Typically, when Elves meditate, they meditate on their memories, but other Elves may have trained themselves to perform other meditative exercises.
What your Elf dreams about is up to you as long as you can justify it from the text!
Can Elves Sleep by Choice?
Whether Elves can sleep of their own accord is a topic of hot debate. (Well, maybe not hot, but there’s debate and dissonance of opinions.)
Jeremy Crawford, the famed D&D designer, said on Twitter that if an Elf attempted to sleep, they would naturally slip into a trance, indicating that Elves could not sleep by choice since they would just end up trancing.
However, Mordekainen’s Tome of Foes goes deeper into the Elf lore.
This book diverges from Crawford’s opinion by stating that Elves can sleep and dream as other races do but generally dislike it since they can’t control their dreams and that lack of control causes them distress.
Based on this information, we can assume that a small subset of Elves prefer to sleep and dream, and likely they require eight hours of sleep to feel rested, just like typical-sleeping races.
Can We Leave the Elf To Keep Watch All Night?
You cannot leave your Elven party members to keep watch for you all night.
While Elves are not entirely unconscious when they dream, the rules for Long Rests are very clear: a character can only receive the benefits of the Long Rest if they kept watch for two hours or fewer.
Further, while an Elf is in their trance, they can’t do other things. They can’t keep watch because they’re trancing.
So, if your plan was for your one single Elf friend to keep watching while trancing, that’s simply impossible.
For a group of Elves to cancel out the sleep needs of an entire four-person party, you’d need at least four Elves that can each take watch for two hours while the party sleeps—and that doesn’t account for the four hours they’d all need to trance to be rested themselves.
Realistically, it’s only possible if you have five Elves.
The Elves’ Trance ability is perhaps the most iconic portion of any Elf race. It’s hard to imagine an Elf that needs to sleep (thank Tolkien for that).
But if you want to play one of the mythical sleeping Elves, there are plenty of options. Just make sure you check with your Dungeon Master to ensure that they know what you’re planning.
The most essential part of any tabletop game is that the players and Game Master are having fun.
If you want to homebrew something or play an unusual character, bring it up to your Game Master, and Game Masters, don’t be afraid to be flexible at your table.
Make your expectations clear, but allowing players to take creative liberties won’t hurt your game if done right!