This handbook is for the updated version of the Sea Elf published in Monsters of the Multiverse. For previous versions of the Sea Elf, see our Elf Handbook.
The Sea Elf is a good blank template for an aquatic character, featuring everything you need to function underwater plus a few other traits that work for nearly any character. But, like other aquatic and amphibious races, you may find that the Sea Elf is underwhelming compared to other elves.
It’s natural to compare the Sea Elf to the Triton because there is some overlap between the two. Both are amphibious and get cold resistance and Darkvision. The Sea Elf’s Friend of the Sea allows characters to communicate simple ideas to aquatic Beasts, but the Tritons can also communicate with elementals and monstrosities. The rest of the Triton’s traits are tied up in their innate spellcasting, while the Sea Elf gets Fey Ancestry, Perception, and Trance, which now grants two weapon or tool proficiencies that you can change daily.
I would almost certainly only play a sea elf in a campaign where being amphibious would actually matter. In any other case, there are races which can replicate and exceed the interesting parts of the Sea Elf. Plenty of races get cold resistance. Firbolgs and Tritons do a better job talking to animals. If you want the core elf traits Fey Ancestry, Keen Senses, and Trace, there are other, better elf options.
As example of campaigns where the Sea Elf is a good fit, both Ghosts of Saltmarsh and Call of the Netherdeep feature a lot of adventuring underwater. Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden features occasional interactions with water and a whole lot of cold, so the Sea Elf is passable but not amazing.
Table of Contents
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
Sea Elf Classes
Artificers already have options to produce both cold resistance and the ability to breath underwater (Water Breathing is a Ritual), so unless you expect to need those two things consistently, the Sea Elf brings little of interest to the Artificer.
Darkvision, Fey Ancestry, and proficiency in Perception are all great for the Barbarian. Cold resistance is useful. Friend of the Sea is hard on a class with poor Charisma, and being amphibious only matters in campaigns where water is a consistent issue. With the exception of Path of the Beast, the Barbarian doesn’t have a way to breath underwater unassisted, so in campaigns where the Sea Elf makes sense as a choice, the Sea Elf makes an excellent barbarian.
Bards can’t cast Water Breathing, so in an aquatic campaign, you really need to be an aquatic race like the Sea Elf. Darkvision and Perception are excellent complements to the Bard’s existing capabilities, and Friend of the Sea gives you an extra way to put your Charisma to use.
Clerics can’t cast Water Breathing, so in an aquatic campaign, you really need to be an aquatic race like the Sea Elf. Perception is a great skill for clerics due to their high Wisdom, and Trance offers access to some martial weapons if you insist on using them but don’t get them from your domain.
Druids make everything interesting about the Sea Elf redundant by level 2.
Darkvision and cold resistance are both great additions to the Fighter. Fey Ancestry provides resistance to common charm effects which can often take fighters out of a fight.
Darkvision and proficiency in Perception are great for the Monk, and cold resistance is always nice. Trance’s extra weapon proficiencies aren’t helpful, unfortunately, and monks don’t have the Charisma to support Friend of the Sea.
Darkvision and cold resistance are both great additions to the Paladin, and Friend of the Sea allows you to put your ample Charisma to good use to deter threats from aquatic beasts. Fey Ancestry provides resistance to common charm effects (paladins already get immunity to fear). As a whole, this produces a versatile and durable paladin. Even in non-aquatic campaigns, this is a decent build, but comparable options like the Goliath will still be more effective.
The Ranger’s magic options aren’t nearly so numerous as the Druids, so built-in water breathing is great for rangers in an aquatic campaign. You can cast Animal Friendship, but Friend of the Sea is a passable substitute (assuming that you’re underwater), and with limited spells known that’s a helpful asset. Perception is a great skill for the Ranger, and you can use Trance to get proficiency in Thieves’ Tools, helping to close the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue.
In an aquatic campaign, the Sea Elf makes a fine rogue. Darkvision, Perception proficiency, and cold resistance are all great. Trance would normally be a great way to get proficiency in whips for elf rogues, but underwater your best bet is to stick to heavy crossbows.
Sorcerers can learn to cast both Darkvision and Water Breathing, but with so few spells known, that’s a tragic misuse of your limited resources. In an aquatic campaign, getting Darkvision and the ability to breath underwater from your race are crucial, so the Sea Elf is a good choice. Other aquatic races which offer innate spellcasting (especially more recent races which can re-cast their spells) may be more effective, but the Sorcerer is still a fine choice for the Sea Elf.
Devil’s Sight makes Darkvision obsolete, and if you take Pact of the Tome, you can learn and cast Water Breathing as a ritual (Book of Ancient Secrets doesn’t care about your spell list). But it’s entirely possible that you’re building a warlock without those options, in which case the Sea Elf’s traits may be helpful
The Wizard can produce almost everything interesting that the Sea Elf adds, making the Sea Elf’s traits largely redundant. Wizards can cast Absorb Elements and Resist Energy to mitigate cold damage, and Water Breathing is a ritual so it doesn’t even cost a spell slot. Perception proficiency is nice, but numerous races offer skill proficiencies which include Perception.