Walking in two worlds but truly belonging to neither, half-elves combine what some say are the best qualities of their elf and human parents: human curiosity, inventiveness, and ambition tempered by the refined senses, love of nature, and artistic tastes of the elves. Some half-elves live among humans, set apart by their emotional and physical differences, watching friends and loved ones age while time barely touches them. Others live with the elves, growing to adulthood while their peers continue to live as children, growing restless in the timeless elven realms. Many half-elves, unable to fit into either society, choose lives of solitary wandering or join with other misfits and outcasts in the adventuring life.
To humans, half-elves look like elves, and to elves, they look human. In height, they’re on par with both parents, though they’re neither as slender as elves nor as broad as humans. They range from under 5 feet to about 6 feet tall, and from 100 to 180 pounds, with men only slightly taller and heavier than women. Half-elf men do have facial hair, and sometimes grow beards to mask their elven ancestry. Half-elven coloration and features lie, somewhere between their human and elf parents, and thus show a variety even more pronounced than that found among either race. They tend to have the eyes of their elven parents.
Half-elves have no lands of their own, though they are welcome in human cities and somewhat less welcome in elven forests. In large cities in regions where elves and humans interact often, half-elves are sometimes numerous enough to form small communities of their own. They enjoy the company of other half-elves, the only people who truly understand what it is to live between these two worlds.
In most parts of the world, though, half-elves are uncommon enough that one might live for years without meeting another. Some prefer to avoid company altogether, wandering the wilds as foresters, hunters, or adventurers and visiting civilization only rarely. Like elves, they are driven by the wanderlust that comes of their longevity. Others, in contrast, throw themselves into the thick of society, putting their charisma and social skills to great use in diplomatic roles or as swindlers.
Many half-elves learn at an early age to get along with everyone, defusing hostility and finding common ground. As a race, they have elves grace without elves aloofness and human energy without human boorishness. They often make excellent ambassadors and go-betweens (except between elves and humans, since each side suspects the half-elf of favoring the other).
This race, and those listed below, are uncommon. They don’t exist in every world of D&D, and even where they are found, they are less widespread than dwarves, elves, halflings, and humans. In the cosmopolitan cities of the D&D multiverse, most people hardly look twice at members of even the most exotic races. But the small towns and villages that dot the countryside are different. The common folk aren’t accustomed to seeing members of these races, and they react accordingly.
It’s easy to assume that a dragonborn is a monster, especially if his or her scales betray a chromatic heritage. Unless the dragonborn starts breathing fire and causing destruction, though, people are likely to respond with caution rather than outright fear.
Gnomes don’t look like a threat and can quickly disarm suspicion with good humor. The common folk are often curious about gnomes, likely never having seen one before, but they are rarely hostile or fearful.
Although many people have never seen a half-elf, virtually everyone knows they exist. A half-elf stranger’s arrival is followed by gossip behind the half-elf’s back and stolen glances across the common room, rather than any confrontation or open curiosity.
It’s usually safe to assume that a half-orc is belligerent and quick to anger, so people watch themselves around an unfamiliar half-orc. Shopkeepers might surreptitiously hide valuable or fragile goods when a half-orc comes in, and people slowly clear out of a tavern, assuming a fight will break out soon.
Half-orcs are greeted with a practical caution, but tieflings are the subject of supernatural fear. The evil of their heritage is plainly visible in their features, and as far as most people are concerned, a tiefling could very well be a devil straight from the Nine Hells. People might make warding signs as a tiefling approaches, cross the street to avoid passing near, or bar shop doors before a tiefling can enter.