Comparing Elves of 5e and Pathfinder2


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Now that D&D is on its 5th edition (and heading quickly toward its next incarnation), and Pathfinder has released a 2nd edition of its own, the two gaming systems borne of literally the same rule set have diverged substantially. They both still implement essentially the same game, though, so I decided to compare these implementations from the perspective of building a character. I'm comparing each ancestry (or race in 5e) in both systems, to find out how they're similar and how they're different. In this post, I cover the elf.

If you don't have time to read this post right now, you can also view this article on Youtube.

Note that I'm comparing rules provided in the primary rulebooks, with no deference made for additional source books and option. It's all imaginary, so my base assumption is that anything and everything can be changed. I'm looking at original intent.

Ability score

  • 5e: Dexterity +2
  • P2: Dexterity +2, Intelligence +2, Constitution -2, and a +2 of your choice.

In 5e, ability scores are determined by dice rolls or by assigning a standard array of numbers (15,14,13,12,10,8). A boost is granted by your choice of race.

In Pathfinder 2, ability scores start at 10 and accumulate boosts and penalties according to the "life" choices you make for your character as you build. For that reason, Pathfinder 2 ability score benefits look generous compared to 5e, so just keep in mind that they're all starting at 10.


  • 5e: 30 feet
  • P2: 30 feet

30 feet of movement is the modern standard for medium sized creatures in both systems.


5e grants elves dark vision to 60 ft., the same as with dwarves.

Pathfinder 2 grants elves Low-light vision, which is the ability to treat dim light as though it were bright light. Elves cannot see in darkness, unless you select the Cavern Elf heritage.


  • 5e: Proficiency in Perception.
  • P2: Nothing by default, but you can select the Whisper Elf heritage to gain a +2 bonus to locate undetected creatures that you could hear within 30 feet with a Seek action, and a increase to the range of your Seek action.

This is a good example of how Pathfinder 2 uses modular design for its ancestries. A trait that's built in to 5e is just an option in Pathfinder. That theoretically makes Pathfinder a little tougher on the player.

It may also, arguably, go against a trope. I'm not sure whether most people think of elves as being inately perceptive, but I don't feel like anyone questions it when it's given as a default trait in 5e.

Mystical nature

  • 5e: Advantage on saving throws against being charmed or put to sleep by magical means.
  • P2: Nothing by default. A similar expression of the mystical nature of elves is available with the Seer Elf heritage and the Otherworldly magic ancestry feat.

Both systems agree that elves ought to seem mystical, but they go about demonstrating it differently. This is probably down to lore. In the Forgotten Realms, elves are fey creatures, modern refugees of the First World. Golarion elves live in Kyonin, but they originate from a mystical realm called Sovyrian, which is probably either a planet or a plane. Both pretty mystical, but not exactly cut from the same cloth.

Weapon proficiencies

  • 5e: Longsword, shortsword, shortbow, longbow. A dark elf (drow) instead gains proficiency with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.
  • P2: No proficiencies by default, unless you spend your Ancestry Feat on Elven Weapon Familiarity.

The 5e elf's weapon proficiency is dependent on its subrace, so there's some flexibility.

Heritages ("subrace")

5e has three subraces:

  • High: +1 Intelligence, 1 cantrip of your choice.
  • Wood: +1 Wisdom, +5 move speed, improved hiding.
  • Dark: +1 Charisma, 120 ft. darkvision, disadvantage on attacks in sunlight.

Pathfinder 2 has four heritages:

  • Arctic: Cold resistance up to half your level (minimum 1), treat environmental cold effects as one step less extreme.
  • Cavern: Darkvision.
  • Seer: Gain the Detect Magic cantrip. A cantrip is heightened to a spell level equal to half your level (rounded up.) +1 to Identify Magic.
  • Whisper: Use the Seek action to sense undetected creatures in a 60 ft. cone. +2 to locate undetected creatures you could hear witin 30 feet with the Seek action.
  • Woodland: Climb trees at half your land speed, or full speed on a critical success. You can use the Take Cover action within a forest, no matter what.

This demonstrates the modularity of Pathfinder 2 compared to previous iterations of the D&D model. It's interesting to note that 5e's subrace options affect attribute scores, while Pathfinder 2 grants "extra" features and doesn't effect any "core" attribute.

Health points

  • 5e: Hit points aren't assigned by race.
  • P2: 6 HP. This gets boosted according to your choice in class.

Onward to adventure

There are common themes between the 5e and Pathfinder 2 elf. Even though their lore is vastly different (Forgotten Realm elves are creatures from an early iteration of the world, Golarion elves are probably from a different world altogether), the end result is functionally the same. Elves are tall, elegant, seemingly ageless humanoids that often come across as wise and sombre or aloof and judgemental, depending on your disposition.

In either system, there are two prominent themes. An elf is usually accustomed to a specific environment (the woods, a place of natural beauty, or the underground), and that's formed how the elf interacts with the rest of the world. And an elf is long-lived, and has by result accumulated expertise in some area of life.

Next, I'll compare gnomes.

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