Elves Originally Had No Souls in Dungeons & Dragons

A lot has changed in Dungeons & Dragons over the last 45 years, including the metaphysical properties of elves. ComicBook.com has been taking a look back at older versions of Dungeons & Dragons, particularly at some of the more unusual rules that have appeared in either official rulebooks or related publications. Over the weekend, we discovered an unusual kernel of info in an old issue of The Dragon magazine - elves didn't have souls in early versions of Dungeons & Dragons. While this might seem like a strange detail, it had a very real effect in games - due to their lack of a soul, elves and half-orcs didn't have souls and thus couldn't be resurrected by a "Raise Dead" spell in 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

So - why didn't elves have "souls" in Dungeons & Dragons? While there are lots of theories about the technical reasons (many believe that D&D co-creator Gary Gygax was not a fan of non-human characters, and thus placed the restriction on them when writing up Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,) the only "official" explanation appears in Dieties & Demigods, a D&D supplement released in 1980. Dieties & Demigods explains that while humans, halfling, dwarves, and half-elfs have souls, elves, orcs, and half-orcs have "spirits." The major difference between a soul and a spirit is that souls live one life on the Material Plane and then spend eternity in whatever plane their chosen deity resides, while spirits are eventually reincarnated back into the Material Plane.

Due to their lack of a "soul," the only way to bring an elf or half-orc character back from the dead was to use the much more powerful "Resurrection" spell, or hope that a player has a Rod of Resurrection handy. This rule quirk was carried over in 2nd Edition rules - which is why you can't use "Raise Dead" on elves in Baldur's Gate and other D&D video games that used 2nd Edition rules - but was dropped with the creation of 3rd Edition. Nowadays, any creature can come back to life in Dungeons & Dragons with the use of a "Raise Dead" spell, provided that the creature's soul is willing and able to rejoin its body.


Are you surprised that elves didn't originally have souls in Dungeons & Dragons? Let us know in the comment section or find me on Twitter at @CHofferCBus to chat all things D&D!