The Elven Wizard: How To Create This Classic Character in 5e

The concept of an elven wizard exists deep in the recesses of mind.

I’m not sure if it was World of Warcraft or some fantasy book I read as a child, but if you were to ask me who are the most magical of the fantasy races, I would instinctively say elves.

I’d say High Elves too, so there’s definitely a bit of WoW showing through.

I know I’m not alone, and the urge to build a wizened elf wizard is something we all probably experience at some point.

In this article, we’ll be discussing the benefits of such a build in D&D 5e and how to make the best version of this classic character archetype.

Quickstart Guide: Elven Wizard

Stats: Wizards look to prioritize Intelligence with Constitution or Dexterity coming vying for second place.

Armor and Weapons: No armor proficiency means no armor for you for a while. A quarterstaff is a great weapon to start off with.

Offensive Actions: You’ll be using your spells and cantrips for the majority of your offensive capabilities. Some great early options are the Firebolt cantrip and the Ice Knife spell. 

Defensive Actions: We should be looking at spells like Mage Armor and Blade Ward as early defensive options.

Subrace Decisions: Choose either a Custom Lineages Elf or a High Elf. There are other decent options, but these are the best.

Subclass Decisions: Wizards have a wide range of subclasses, and elves have a wide range of subraces. This area largely becomes your decision on how you want to pair the two. 

Creating an Elven Wizard

Ironically, with all the lore that might seem to support elves being a common race for wizards, the typical stats for most elven subraces don’t actually support the class that well.

Still, we’ll take you through what you need to make the best version of this character possible.

Ability Scores

So this is where we first see elves and wizards not quite line up.

As we mentioned above, wizards are looking for a high Intelligence score. The reason we value Intelligence so highly is because it is the ability used for all of our spellcasting.

This is followed by good Dexterity and Constitution scores with your priorities deciding which is in second and which is in third.

High Dexterity will give you a better AC and some options with weapon attacks, while high Constitution will give you more HP and a better chance of holding concentration spells.

Normally this means that we look for a +2 to Intelligence and then grab whatever else we can get.

The base stats for elves offer up a +2 in Dexterity and the subclasses offer up a +1 in different areas.

If we want to go for +2 in Dex and +1 in Int, there are a few subclasses of elf that can deliver.

Just to give you the full spread of options, we’ve thrown the various elf subraces below along with their ability score increases.

  • Dark Elf (Drow): +1 Charisma
  • Eladrin (MToF): +1 Charisma
  • Eladrin (DMG): +1 Intelligence
  • High Elf: +1 Intelligence
  • Sea Elf: +1 Constitution
  • Shadar-Kai: +1 Constitution
  • Wood-Elf: +1 Wisdom
  • Pallid Elf: +1 Wisdom
  • Mark of Shadow Elf: +1 Charisma

This doesn’t have to be a huge dilemma, but it can certainly feel like one if we’re trying to optimize. The obvious answer is to go for the races that do at least give a +1 in Intelligence and then maneuver our rolled scores accordingly.

Of course, if you want to play a Wood-Elf wizard, that’s totally an option. 

There are a few ways that we can go from here.

We can choose to go the lineage route so that we plug in our own ability score increases, we can choose an elven subrace that at least mildly fits what we’re going for, or we can pick a subrace that we’re excited about and just hope that we roll well enough that the bonus can be dumped into stats we don’t need. 

For the sake of this article, which does lend itself a bit towards optimization, we’re going to be ignoring that last option, although you don’t need to.

For us, the best races are the High Elf, the Eladrin featured in the DMG, Sea-Elves, and the Shadar-Kai. Let’s look at those subraces in some more depth, shall we?

Elven Subraces

Below are the stats for the Elf base race followed by the stats for each subrace we listed as a good option above. The base race stats will apply to any subrace you choose.

Elf Features

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
  • Size. Elves range from under 5 to over 6 feet tall and have slender builds. Your size is Medium.
  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
  • Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
  • Fey Ancestry. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.
  • Trance. Instead of the normal 8 hours of sleep most races need for a long rest, elves go into a trance-like meditative state for just 4 hours. This provides the same benefits as 8 hours of sleep.
  • Keen Senses. You have proficiency in the Perception skill.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Elven.

All of the base stats for Elves are pretty impressive for a caster class. Fey Ancestry is going to be great in allowing you to go toe to toe with other casters that want to take advantage of you.

The trance ability is just really impressive because it means that you’ll get your spells and HP back in half the time it takes your non-elven allies to recover.

High Elf

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
  • Cantrip. You know one cantrip of your choice from the Wizard spell list. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for it.
  • Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
  • Extra Language. You can read, speak, and write one additional language of your choice.

High elves are often portrayed as the most wizardly, and the inclusion of a wizard cantrip makes it pretty clear that this is a great fit.

This means that you’ll be getting an extra cantrip of your choice that you can cast whenever, which uses the same spellcasting ability as all of your other spells.

Elf Weapon Training, which also shows up in the Eladrin subrace below, is a really excellent way to diversify your weapon capability, giving you access to two martial melee weapons which will perform well, along with a couple of excellent ranged weapons.

If you want to spread your abilities thin you can benefit from the longsword; otherwise, using the shortsword and a longbow as your weapons will allow you to greatly benefit from your high Dexterity.

Eladrin

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
  • Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
  • Fey Step. You can cast the Misty Step spell once using this trait. You regain the ability to do so when you finish a short or long rest.

This version of the Eladrin subrace is sort of just an example of how to build a subrace provided by the DMG and was later modified in the actual Eladrin subrace showcased in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

Essentially, when comparing this with the High Elf, you’re trading out a wizard cantrip and an extra language for a 2nd-level teleportation spell that you can use once a day. 

You might be able to convince your DM to adjust this, combining it with the MToF Eladrin so you get the +1 to Intelligence while still receiving a Misty Step that has some extra utility. As it stands, this is just a so-so option.

Sea-Elf

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.
  • Sea Elf Training. You have proficiency with the spear, trident, light crossbow, and net.
  • Child of the Sea. You have a swimming speed of 30 feet, and you can breathe air and water.
  • Friend of the Sea. Using gestures and sounds, you can communicate simple ideas with any beast that has an innate swimming speed.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Aquan.

The sea elves are an interesting subrace of elf that don’t bring much to the table for wizards. The only good weapon for wizards in the Sea Elf training is the light crossbow, which can just be replaced with a good cantrip.

Communicating with “beasts that (have) an innate swimming speed” is only really a good option when you’re near water, just as Aquaman. Then, as a language, Aquan is pretty rare. 

If you’re in a high seas campaign or one-shot this might be a really cool choice to explore, but outside of that it pales in comparison to the other available choices.

Shadar-Kai

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.
  • Necrotic Resistance. You have resistance to necrotic damage.
  • Blessing of the Raven Queen. As a bonus action, you can magically teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you can see. Once you use this trait, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest. Starting at 3rd level, you also gain resistance to all damage when you teleport using this trait. The resistance lasts until the start of your next turn. During that time, you appear ghostly and translucent.

The Shadar-Kai lend themselves to building an extremely durable wizard. Resistance to necrotic damage can be really amazing, especially in campaigns that deal with fiends and undead.

It’s also the only viable elf subrace to offer any resistances.

Add on to that a once-a-day teleportation ability that gives you resistance to all damage as early as 3rd level, and you have an elven wizard that always has a get-out-of-jail-free card in their back pocket. 

I meant that joke to imply that you can avoid damage, but I guess you can literally use this ability to escape a prison cell… fun.

So, the best races we have are definitely the High Elf or the Shadar-Kai, but there is another option we can explore.

Custom Lineages are a great way to really build your own custom character. This option allows us to increase one ability score by 2 and then choose a feat.

It also allows us to pick either Darkvision or a skill proficiency. This does get rid of all other racial abilities for the race we choose, since that race essentially just becomes a lore template and little more.

If you do decide to go with a Custom Lineage elf, choose +2 in Intelligence, the Magic Initiate feat, and Darkvision for a solid build.

Starting Equipment

The starting equipment you choose as a wizard is much less important than that of most classes. Below are the options you are given, along with a bit of commentary on each:

(A) a quarterstaff or (B) a dagger

The quarterstaff is the stronger option and one that you might often attack your arcane focus to; however, a dagger is a finesse weapon, meaning you can use it with dexterity as your attack modifier. Both present good options.

(A) a component pouch or (B) an arcane focus

The distinction isn’t important for much other than how you want to roleplay your character; both are intended to take the place of minor material components.

A pouch might allow you to be a bit more involved in that side of the game, picking up little components here and there for show.

An arcane focus, on the other hand, can be extremely varied and really bring your character to life if you put some creativity into it.

(A) a scholar’s pack or (B) an explorer’s pack

A spellbook

The wizard class gives you a lot of agency in what your book looks like; take some time considering what you might want yours to be.

Making the Best Choices: Subclasses

There are currently 13 different wizard subclasses, which is the most variety offered up by any class.

Each subclass focuses on a different school of magic, so your choice is mostly focused on what type of caster you want to be.

Unfortunately, there is no “right” answer for which subclass best synergizes with the elven subclasses.

If we look at the High Elf and the Shadar-Kai as the top subclasses, we see a build that is just great for casting spells and a build that is ready to withstand some damage, respectively.

I’ve picked out a few subclasses for each of these builds that should prove to be very fun and effective.

Along with the subclasses, we might include a couple suggestions for spells or cantrips as well as feats that complement these builds well.

High Elf Subclasses

Order of Scribes 

This subclass leans heavily into the spellbook as the source of a wizard’s power.

It allows you to cast spells using different damage types, inscribe spells in your book much faster, and even allows you to create a spectral version of your awakened spellbook that moves around separately from yourself and from which you can cast spells.

This is an excellent way to make a scholarly high elf with a very deep understanding of the inner workings of magic.

Spells: Shocking Grasp, Sword Burst, Fire Bolt, Jim’s Magic Missile, Ice Knife

Feats: Elemental Adept

School of Enchantment 

Enchantment wizards can charm their opponents, redirect attackers, and even choose multiple targets for enchantment spells that would normally only target a single creature.

Enchantment spells themselves can be useful to either support your allies or subdue your enemies, allowing this school to experience a wide range of what it means to be a caster.

Spells: Encode Thoughts, Friends, Charm Person, Mind Sliver

Feats: Fey Touched

Shadar-Kai Subclasses

Bladesinging 

The Bladesong that gives these wizards their impressive speed, defense, and concentration is specifically stated to be an elven magic.

Combining the defensive capabilities of the Shadar-Kai with an agile wizard subclass that is prepared for melee combat is the start of a great build.

You’ll even gain the ability to make multiple attacks as a part of your Attack action with the option of replacing an attack with a cantrip.

A bladesinging Shadar-Kai can whip around the battlefield slinging spells and blades and teleporting away when they lose the tactical advantage.

Spells: Green Flame Blade, Booming Blade, Blade Ward, Find Familiar, Mage Armor

Feats: War Caster, Mage Slayer

School of Necromancy 

The art of magical power over death isn’t for everyone, but as elves touched by the Raven Queen, this feels rather fitting.

In undead-heavy campaigns especially, this build keeps you safe from undead while turning them to your side at the same time.

You turn your greatest defense into your greatest offense, and boom, you’re on your way to rivaling the legacy of Myrkul himself.

Spells: False Life, Toll the Dead, Cause Fear, Chill Touch, Charm Person

Feats: Shadow Touched

I hope everything here has made you excited to play that elven wizard you’ve always dreamed of.

It might not be the easiest build to pull off, but with the choices we’ve highlighted above, you should be off to an excellent start.

As always, happy adventuring.