Elves have had a lot of subraces over the years, as an attempt to shoehorn all of their fantasy archetypes in. The new edition's solution to this is to have two elf races - the standard elf, which is your forest-dwelling archer, and the eladrin, which is the cultured master of arcane magic. It's the wood elf type that this write-up is about.
There is much about them that is still the same. Elves are still Medium-sized, they have low-light vision, they speak Elven and Common, and they are still pansy tree-huggers. Things have changed, too. For those who can't get past the inexplicable Arcane Lock that seems to surround the D&D Insider website, here are the relevant highlights:
* Elves now have an average height of 5'7" to 6'. This I like - elves in fantasy are most often derived from Tolkien, and this brings them much more in line with that vision. The short D&D elf isn't something I've ever seen played, and doesn't even factor into most of the official novels I've read.
* +2 Dexterity, +2 Wisdom. Presumably this means that races no longer suffer an ability score penalty. Boo - PCs can't be good at everything you know! The abilities chosen here are the correct ones, though. The new elf is a quick, alert dweller of the forest, which Dex and Wis complements nicely.
* Speed: 7 squares. They've dropped the movement in feet, which is fine if you're using miniatures, but it might be mildly problematic for those games that don't. Note that the standard movement for Medium characters in 3e is 6 squares - either the standard has gone up or elves are a little bit quicker than everyone else. I'm hoping for the latter.
* Skill Bonuses: +2 Nature, +2 Perception. Aha, so we get two skills confirmed. It looks as though Spot and Listen have been rolled together into Perception, which is nice. Some might miss being able to stat out a character with good eyesight and bad hearing, but a single Perception stat is better for game purposes, as it provides a mechanic for smell, touch and taste as well. The only thing I don't like is the skill name Nature. It could be the old Knowledge (nature), maybe with some Survival added in. Doesn't really grab me though.
* Automatic proficiency in shortbow and longbow. In 3e the elf also got longsword and rapier, but I like the change - it focuses the elf more on his archetypal role as an archer. I could easily see the sword proficiencies going to the eladrin.
* Wild Step: the ability to ignore difficult terrain when you shift. Ok, shift is new terminology. Current logic says that it's the new name for the 5-foot step. This will make elves a little more mobile in combat, but I can't see it coming into play a great deal. Still, judgment withheld until I see what the actual rules for a shift are.
* Elves grant non-elf allies within 5 squares a +1 Perception bonus. OK, this one I don't like. It's a totally gamist ability (unless PC parties now have some kind of a hive mind thing going on), and it's going to be repeatedly forgotten by myself and my group.
* SIDEBURNS! Yes, elves now grow sideburns. This is totally left-field, unless they mean those anime sideburns that hang down past a character's chin. Those I can see on an elf.
* Elves now age at the same rate as humans, stop aging at adulthood, and live a couple of centuries. A good change really, as it stops those debates about why the 100 year old elf only knows as much as the 20 year old human, and why there aren't any level 10,000 elves out there if they live so long. There'll be some campaigns majorly impacted by this one, but not mine - I house-ruled elves back to living for 500 years ages ago.
* The penultimate reveal is the starting racial power, Elven Accuracy. I'll paste the whole thing in full below:
Elf Racial Power
With an instant of focus, you take careful aim at your foe and strike with the legendary accuracy of the elves.
Effect: Reroll an attack roll. Use the second roll, even if it's lower.
Nice. One thing I'm liking about 4e is that the power write-ups are dead simple. The power isn't all that strong, either, though it seems like it will be useful at all levels. I like it.
* Finally, we get to see a racial feat, which I'll quote below:
Elven Precision [Elf]
Prerequisites: Elf, elven accuracy racial power, heroic tier
Benefit: When you use the elven accuracy power, you gain a +2 bonus to the new attack roll.
Ah, that's a thing of beauty that is. Simple and useful, which is exactly how I like my feats.
So what's missing? What does the new elf lack that the old elf had? Well there's the immunity to sleep and resistance to charm that's been a staple since the very first days, but I suspect those abilities might get shifted to the eladrin, or provided as a racial feat. Favored class appears to have gone as well, but that was a given with the rumoured overhaul that multiclassing is getting. That's pretty much it!
Overall, I really like the new writeup. This the first 4e reveal in quite some time that has raised my optimism. I don't like everything, but I can see the sense behind all of these changes. And I love the simplicity of the abilities. 3e spent so much time trying to account for every possibility that it sometimes got very convoluted in the reading. Not so here! So chalk this up as a positive for the 4th Edition - it might just win me over yet.