A humanoid race, elves are typically shorter than humans (though this has been mitigated slightly since Dragon Age: Origins) and have a slender, lithe build, larger eyes, and pointed ears. Long ago, the elves were the dominant race on Thedas, and their advanced civilization was based on nature, the Fade and magic. After the fall of their great city of Arlathan and the empire of Elvhenan, plunder by the Tevinter Imperium and the subsequent generations of slavery, the elves lost most of their cultural heritage and identity. They attempted to rebuild their society in the Dales, but after three centuries the Dales fell to one of the Chantry's Exalted Marches.
Since then, the elves have separated into two distinct groups: the Dalish, who choose to lead nomadic lives and strive to keep elven culture alive rather than submit, and the city elves, who live alongside humans, usually as impoverished outcasts, and have adopted many human customs. Many elves are still held as slaves within Tevinter, and many others have joined the Qunari in hopes for better lives. Overall, the elves are now a people associated with poverty, crime and barbarism, and are often used as scapegoats for humanity's difficulties. In Ancient Tevinter elves were called "rattus". Modern humans use the racial slurs "knife ears," "slant-eared" or, less cruelly, "rabbit". Though most of the elven language has been lost, they once referred to themselves as "elvhen," which means "the People".
Racial benefits of elves: +2 Willpower, +2 magic
Once, my people walked this land as gods. We worked magic that would blind you with its beauty. Now, we lurk in the deep forests and prepare for the next time you shemlen do something that upsets the balance of this world.
- Main article: Elvhenan
Ancient elves, elvhen, were once a race of beautiful, ethereal immortals who lived in harmony with nature. They existed in a world without the Veil and called the Fade the "sky". They tried both to explore the Fade and to build cities on Earth, which sparked a war with the titans. Elvhen came out victorious and started to mine the bodies of the titans for their blood, lyrium.
Eventually elvhen leaders claimed divinity and were recognized as gods, the Evanuris. They used orbs, or foci, to harness magical power. Powerful magic allowed the Evanuris to enslave tens of thousands of their kin who were branded with the symbols of the gods, the vallaslin. The Evanuris were arrogant and fickle and warred amongst themselves. Mythal was the only voice of reason who genuinely cared for her people.
At the height of their civilization, elvhen created pockets within the Fade with their own rules of reality, such as "the Crossroads" and the magical repository of Vir Dirthara, and used magical mirrors, eluvians for fast travel.
An aeon passed before the Evanuris in their greed discovered something terrible deep underground. In fear, elves sealed the tunnels with stone and magic and vowed to forget the place. The realization that false gods would destroy all sparked a rebellion. It was led by Solas, also known as Fen'Harel.
As a last straw, the Evanuris conspired against Mythal, who spoke out against their tyranny, and killed her. Unable to kill them conventionally, Solas created the Veil to banish them forever. The results were catastrophic. The Veil blocked most people's conscious connection to the Fade and caused elvhen to begin aging. Their structures intrinsically tied to the Fade collapsed in on themselves, destroying eons of knowledge and killing many of the people.Now trapped in Thedas, elves mourned the past while new generations slowly lost understanding of it.
Before the downfall
- Main article: Elvhenan
According to the elven calendar, they made first contact with the dwarves in -4600 Ancient. The dwarven Shaperate also speak of a Thedas entirely devoid of humans, when elves reigned over the land and dwarves ruled the underground.
The elven calendar holds that humans arrived in Thedas around -3100 Ancient. For a while, humans and elves interacted and traded peaceably. In -1195 Ancient, human kingdoms in the north united to form the Tevinter Imperium. They discovered the elven city of Arlathan in the forest next to them. This time, humans were met with hostilities. According to the legends, elves came to believe that it is the exposure to "shemlen" (or "quick children", as they called humans) that made them age and die.
In retaliation, in -981 Ancient, imperial legions besieged Arlathan. Six years later Tevinter magisters resorted to blood magic to sink Arlathan into the ground. They captured and enslaved most fleeing elves almost overnight and destroyed elven culture. What little remained got banned by the Imperium, including the elven calendar. However, in the light of previous elven history it was no more than "carrion feasting upon a corpse."
- Main article: Dales
After generations of slavery, the elven slaves, under Shartan's leadership, were among the most fervent supporters of the prophetess Andraste's uprising against the Tevinter Imperium. Shartan and the elves fought alongside Andraste in her quest to depose the Tevinter magisters in -170 Ancient. They were rewarded for their loyalty by being granted land in the Dales by Maferath, Andraste's husband, in -165 Ancient. They called their journey to their new homeland the Long Walk. Many perished on the way, some even returned to Tevinter, but most continued the walk.
In the Dales, the elves created a second elven homeland and began to restore the lost lore and culture of Elvhenan, including the worship of their elven gods. They built their first city, Halamshiral ("end of the journey" in the elven language), and isolated themselves from the humans. Their borders were guarded by an order named the Emerald Knights. For some years, humans loyal to Andraste's memory respected their elven allies. But over the generations, as Emperor Drakon launched military campaigns to spread the worship of the Maker and established the Orlesian Empire and the Chantry, diplomatic relations between the Dales and humans soured. The elves, who refused to convert, became increasingly isolationist as the Chantry sent missionaries and templars to their lands. Relations further deteriorated when the Dalish refused to lend aid during the Second Blight. When elven forces attacked the human town of Red Crossing in 2:9 Glory, border skirmishes between Orlais and the Dales turned to open war. As the elves captured Montsimmard and marched on Val Royeaux, Divine Renata I called an Exalted March against the elves.
In 2:20 Glory, the capture of Halamshiral and the death of Lindiranae marked the end of the Exalted March and of the elven kingdom.
As the Dales fell, the elves were forced to abandon their second homeland and have not had another since, and their culture was torn even further from them. Many elves accepted the terms of their human aggressors, going to live in alienages inside human cities and worshipping the Maker. Those elves who resisted became the nomadic Dalish, maintaining the worship of the elven gods and continuing their efforts to recover the lost culture of Elvhenan.
As of 9:40 Dragon, any Chantry art in Orlais depicting elves has been destroyed save a single original mural of Shartan with his ears docked, and a faithful copy at the University of Orlais. Some modern Orlesian scholars have been asked to author treatises (in part to weaken Empress Celene) on how elves are little more than prey animals based on their "rabbit" ears and bestial intelligence, and that establishing a relationship with one is an insult to the Maker akin to laying with an animal.
In the centuries following the fall of the Dales, some elves have been able to rise above their circumstances: most notably the Grey Warden Garahel, who slew the Archdemon Andoral and ended the Fourth Blight, as well as Briala (who can become the first Elven Marquise).
However, there is still a lot of progress to be made. Even modern-day Ferelden, for example, city elves are not allowed to bear arms. In Orlais, may only carry blades the length of one's palm. Alienage purges still occur regularly. Many elves are still enslaved in Tevinter, and many elves are often kidnapped, and are even voluntarily, sent to Tevinter to be sold into slavery, Fereldan elves were also considered chattel and bought and sold as property during the Orlesian occupation. As a result, many elves that live in Qunari occupied lands have chosen to embrace the Qun in hopes for better lives, with many even being recruited to become Ben-Hassrath spies.
- Main article: City elves
“We are a free people, but that was not always so. Andraste, the Maker's prophet, freed us from the bonds of slavery. As our community grows, remember that our strength lies in our commitment to tradition and to each other.”―Valendrian, Hahren of the Denerim Alienage
Alienages are closed communities of elves living in human cities, often walled off and found in the poorest, more crime-ridden parts of the city, while elves in villages lacking alienages make their home in barns or sheds. Their inhabitants are typically impoverished and survive by taking menial and unrewarding tasks or even begging. In the most desperate cases, they might leave the alienage and enter a life of crime, or sell themselves into slavery to support their families. They can join the Chantry, such as becoming a Templar, but this is rare and racial biases usually preclude it.
Though overall treatment varies kingdom to kingdom, city elves are universally second-class citizens. Elves are, by law or prejudice, unable to join most organizations or hold decent jobs, and the law often turns a blind eye to their abuses. Slavery is still legal in the Tevinter Imperium and there's a lucrative demand for elven slaves along with servants for nobles. They are often seen as beautiful by humans despite their low status. In Ferelden, for example, the social position of elves as "Low Freemen" is comparable to that of prostitutes and criminals, though they may make a living as they can.
Having been heavily discriminated by humans for so long, most city elves try to hold onto their remaining heritage. Artifacts from Arlathan like the vhenadahl (literally, "The Tree of the People") and an abiding deep pride in their close-knit communities bolster city elves trying to make ends meet in an otherwise hostile world. As such, elves that leave the alienage and try to enter human society are heavily looked down upon as "flat ears". Families that do try to leave alienages and live among humans will most likely be forced to return because of violence against them.
Marriage is highly important for city elves; it is the rite of adulthood in elven communities and will often be prearranged in order for new blood to join an otherwise concentrated gene pool. The absolute worst thing an elf could do is marry or breed outside their race since only humans are born between elven and human unions; which is adverse for such limited communities that depends on each other and tradition for day-to-day survival.
Furthermore, their closer relationship can sometimes result in what are known as Elf-blooded children, of both human and elven parentage, though these children appear (and technically are) completely human.
- Amaranthine alienage
- Ansburg alienage
- Denerim alienage – home of the City Elf Warden
- Edgehall alienage – unlike most alienages, this one is located outside the city proper
- Ghislain alienage
- Gwaren alienage
- Highever alienage – home of the City Elf Warden's betrothed Nelaros or Nesiara
- Kirkwall alienage – Merrill's home
- Montfort Alienage
- Redcliffe alienage
- Val Royeaux alienage – birthplace of Fiona; a cramped and overcrowded alienage of ten thousand with walls so high sunlight does not reach the vhenadahl until midday
- Verchiel alienage
- Wycome alienage
- Main article: Dalish
Dalish elves seek to recover, inherit and preserve the knowledge and sacred treasures of the two fallen kingdoms. They lead nomadic lives as a means of survival, wandering throughout Thedas. Due to the numerous threats they face from Andrastian humans, the Dalish are known to be wary and apprehensive of outsiders. Their clans date back to the ruling clans of the Dales and the Dalish themselves are their descendants.
Known Dalish clans
- Alerion – the clan Merrill was born into
- Boranehn – a clan that traded with Edgehall's alienage; the clan Vaea's uncle Coran joined
- Ghilain – a clan that descends from Inquisitor Ameridan
- Lavellan – the elven Inquisitor's clan
- Morlyn – the clan of Strife of Arlathan Forest
- Oranavra clan – on the Nocen Sea coast
- Ralaferin clan – whose Keeper in 9:41 is Elindra (formerly Gisharel); and whose First is Neria
- Sabrae – the Dalish Warden's clan and the one Merrill was transferred to
- Tillahnnen – once headed by Keeper Ellathin
- Virnehn – the clan of Thelhen and Mihris
Unnamed Dalish clans
- Ariane's unnamed clan
- Fanora's unnamed clan – known for sending Hall away when he was grown
- Hawen's unnamed clan – located at the Dalish Encampment on the Exalted Plains
- Iloren's unnamed clan – located in the Anderfels during the Second Blight
- Minaeve’s unnamed clan – known for sending her away as there were too many mages within the clan
- Sendis' unnamed clan – the Legends Hero encounters the clan in Dragon Age Journeys
- Shirallas' unnamed birth clan
- Shirallas' unnamed adoptive clan
- Velanna's unnamed clan – located in the Wending Wood
- Yevven's unnamed clan – massacred by one of Arishok's Saarebas whilst staying in the Free Marches
- Zathrian's unnamed clan – located at the Dalish Camp in the Brecilian Forest
- Unnamed clan that found young Loghain and Maric in the Korcari Wilds
- Unnamed clans on the Waking Sea coast
Interaction between city and Dalish elves
The Dalish elves and city elves in particular have a strange and bitter relationship, dating from the splitting of the People after the fall of the Dales. Some Dalish view their city brethren suspiciously and with pity as "flat-ears," culturally human elves who are no different "than their shemlen masters." To some, they are seen as having given up on and forgotten their culture, and the hope is to teach these elves their past when a new homeland is founded. Not all Dalish share this view of the city elves, however. Some Dalish also hope that the two can learn from one another once they gain an autonomous homeland.
On the other hand, some city elves see the Dalish as near-myths: strange and savage "wood elves" living far from humans and preying upon the unwary; and yet somehow noble, as well. To others, the Dalish are seen as "savages", primitive elves who refuse to see the promise of the alienage, and live off the land in ways the average city elf could not. Indeed, city elves who choose to leave or live beyond the Alienage are labeled "flat-ears" as well by their city kin, ironically similar to how some Dalish view the Andrastian elves, and subject to violence or resentment from other city elves.
And yet, for all this uncertainty, city and Dalish elves still interact positively now and then. For Alienage elves who seek to leave their home due to desperation, poverty or abuse, wandering Dalish clans are often seen as a sort of "last resort" haven. They are normally willing to take in a refugee from the cities and to largely refrain from attacking a city elf on the road, despite their uncertainty, and train them in the ways of their Creators and culture. Similarly, Alienages may take in a Dalish elf who has broken with their clan voluntarily or involuntarily.
Elven mages tend to be grouped with the city elves in the Dalish mindset. This is particularly the case as they have turned not only their lives but their magic over to the human Chantry and Maker, and the Circle of Magi, with the Circles being implied to have played a role in the fall of the Dales.
- Main article: Elven language
The elven language, or Elvish, was largely lost when Elvhenan fell to civil war and its people eventually defeated and enslaved. When the elves settled their second homeland, the Dales, they aimed to restore their lost language and lore, but the Dales fell to an Exalted March. The Elvish of the Dragon Age is thus a fragmented remnant, a few words that are thrown into conversation rather than a working language used to conduct everyday life. The Dalish Elves, self-appointed custodians of the elven language and lore, use more Elvish than their City Elf brethren. Living among humans, the City Elves now retain only a few old Elvish words whose origin is almost forgotten, such as shem—derived from shemlen, the old Elvish term for humans meaning "quickling" or "quick children,"—and hahren—the leader of an Alienage, meaning "elder" in Elvish.
The Dalish have more of the language. They are more capable of forming whole phrases and sentences, but the language is still fragmented and largely incomplete despite their efforts. Da'len, which means "little child" and is typically used to address elves younger than oneself. Andaran atish'an, a phrase used for greeting to friends and fellow Dalish. Serannas is “thanks”, while ma serannas is "my thanks" or "many thanks". Aneth ara is an informal greeting often used among friends. Dareth shiral is a way of saying good-bye.
- The children of elves and any other race are not elven. Elves and humans produce a human child, elves and dwarves produce dwarves etc. Such children may be referred to as "half-elf" or "half-breed" in a slanderous fashion, while the term "elf-blooded" is a legal distinction. Children between elves and dwarves are extremely rare due to the small number of surface dwarves, the innate low fertility of dwarves, and the elves' reclusive mating practices, all attribute to the increased difficulty in mating between the two races.
- When female elves become broodmothers, they produce shrieks and Emissaries.
- Elves see better in the dark than humans, and their eyes glint like those of a cat in the dark. This is likely the result of an ocular structure called tapetum lucidum. This ability is also shared by the dwarves; however, as dwarven eyes are never described as shining, likely for different reasons.
- Elves tend to be more susceptible in following the Qun than other races, which is considered a particular danger in the Tevinter Imperium. As spies for the Qunari they may go so far as to sell themselves back into slavery in order to move undetected through non-Qunari lands.
- Banter between Fenris and Varric Tethras in Dragon Age II reveals that elves are unable to grow facial hair.
- Despite historic hostilities and long-lived defamation towards the elves, humans often find them to be beautiful and physically attractive, as explained by both Zevran Arainai and Leliana in dialogue.
- Unlike the elves of many other fantasy settings, the elves of the Dragon Age setting are not antagonistic towards the dwarves, though Zevran and Oghren's dialogue contains a joking reference to this fantasy trope.
- The elves in Dragon Age II, as with other races, have been redesigned to create more space between the individual races. The Dalish now feature Welsh and Irish accents (city elves retain the accent of whatever region they live in) and have been given tall, willowy frames and thin faces with large eyes, straight noses and small features, as opposed to being the "short, pointy-eared humans" in Dragon Age Origins. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, these changes have been reverted to a point, though elves still appear very distinct from humans, in particular in regards to ears, nose, eyes and body structure.
- David Gaider stated that the Dalish elves were inspired by Northern Native Americans. He also revealed that the inspiration for Andrastian elves came from the Jewish people (i.e. lost homeland, being forced to live in ghettos after their homeland was conquered, being treated as second-class citizens nearly-universally due to their heritage, etc) 
- It is unknown whether or not Dalish elves live longer than city elves, since David Gaider and Mary Kirby have given conflicting information regarding their longevity.
- Though elves are much diminished from what they once were, they nevertheless retain an unusual connection to the Fade that makes them unfortunately useful as subjects in magical rituals.
- To many of the nations of Thedas, but especially Orlais and the Tevinter Imperium, elves—of common blood and as a rule without titles—are generally little respected. Using them as messengers or emissaries may actually be considered an insult.
- City elves participated in the Fereldan Rebellion under the leadership of Loghain Mac Tir in his Night Elves unit.