Elves are tall, long-lived, and smart. They’re slender, ususally a bit physically weak, and they usually feel more in tune with nature than some of the other humanoid races.
Ability Scores: Elves get a +2 to Dex and Int, making them great at ranged attacks and arcane spellcasting. They suffer a -2 penalty to Con, which can definitely hurt their hit point total.
Size: Elves are the same size as humans.
Speed: Elves have normal speed of 30 feet.
Elven Immunities: Elves are completely immune to magic sleep effects, and get a bonus against all other enchantment effects on top of that. This is excellent.
Keen Senses: A bonus to the most important skill in the game is always welcome.
Elven Magic: This bonus to caster level checks can definitely come in handy for a spellcaster, obviously, but for a non-spellcaster this is totally useless. A bonus to identifying magic items is a little situational, but at least useful for everyone.
Weapon Familiarity: Being able to use a longbow instead of a crossbow as your backup ranged weapon is a huge plus for non-martial characters. For any class that gets martial weapon proficiency, this is not useful.
Low-Light Vision: This is always useful, but not nearly as helpful as Darkvision is for dwarves.
Arcane Focus [Weapon Familiarity]: This replaces Weapon Familiarity, and is pretty much a must-have for any arcane caster class.
Darkvision [Low-Light Vision]: This would be great if it didn’t also come with the steep penalty of light sensitivity. However, combine this with the Lightbringer racial trait and that penalty goes away, so at that point this is green.
Desert Runner [Elven Magic]: Unless your campaign is set in a hot climate with long stretches of desert everywhere, this one is pretty useless, and nowhere near as good as elven magic, which it would replace.
Dreamspeaker [Elven Immunities]: If you’re a witch who wants to use Slumber a lot, this would be a really good choice, but for most characters it’s better to have sleep immunity than a bonus to your own sleep effects.
Elemental Resistance [Elven Immunities]: Resistance to cold or hot climates only comes up in those climates, and elven immunities is just too good to trade out for this. If you know your campaign will take place in the desert or on top of a snowy peak, you might consider it, but otherwise avoid it.
Envoy [Elven Magic]: I like this one. Getting several spell-like abilities is a nice bonus, and would be useful to any character, not just spellcasters. Go for it.
Eternal Grudge [Elven Magic]: This might be a good choice for a martial character, and is flavorful, so it’s a reasonable choice.
Fleet-Footed [Keen Senses, Weapon Familiarity]: The Run feat isn’t that exciting, but getting +2 to your Initiative is probably more than worth giving up the +2 to Perception and weapon familiarity.
Lightbringer [Elven Immunities, Elven Magic]: If you’re planning to cast a lot of light-based spells, or if you really want to get the Darkvision racial trait without the light sensitivity, this is a good choice. Otherwise, the immunity to sleep effects is probably better.
Silent Hunter [Elven Magic]: For an elven Rogue or Ninja, or maybe even a Ranger, this is probably a great choice. If you’re a spellcaster, it’s not worth the trade.
Spirit of the Waters [Elven Magic, Weapon Familiarity]: This can be a great way to get proficiency with the net, which is a very useful exotic weapon. If you’re playing a class that will get proficiency with martial weapons, definitely pick this one up instead.
Urbanite [Keen Senses]: A bonus to Diplomacy and Sense Motive checks is almost never going to be worth giving up +2 to Perception. Stay away.
Woodcraft [Elven Magic]: This could be good for Rangers or other martial characters, but honestly there are better choices to replace elven magic with than this one.
Alchemist: An elf can make an exceptionally good bomb-wielding Alchemist, since both Intelligence and Dexterity are important for that type of build. The Mindchemist and Grenadier archetypes would both be great choices also, I just wish you could take both at once! You might also consider multiclassing with the Arcane Bomber Wizard for some ability synergy and the chance to use arcane scrolls.
Barbarian: With their penalty to Consitution, and Intelligence being relatively useless, elves don’t make very good Barbarians. There aren’t really any archetypes to help with this, so in general I would stick with the Fighter or Cavalier if you want to be a melee frontliner as an Elf.
Bard: Elves make some seriously excellent bards, since both Dexterity and Intelligence are helpful for most bard builds. The penalty to Constitution shouldn’t matter quite as much since you can heal yourself, so that’s nice too.
Cavalier [Samurai]: There’s nothing stopping an Elf from being an excellent Cavalier, as long as you keep an eye on hit points. At the same time, the bonuses to Intelligence and Dexterity don’t really do a ton for a vanilla Cavalier either. To take advantage of Dex, you may consider the Luring Cavalier and Musketeer archetypes (in fact, you can actually combine the two, since they replace different abilities).
Cleric: Every race has clerics, but elves don’t fit the bill quite as well as dwarves do. No bonus to Wisdom or Charisma, and a penalty to Con, though that can usually be overcome since you can heal yourself. You might consider the Divine Strategist archetype, which lets you add your Intelligence bonus to damage and other rolls starting at level 8.
Druid: Like clerics, Druids rely on Wisdom. Are you seeing a trend here? Elves just don’t make the best divine casters! That being said, there’s no reason that you can’t make an excellent elven Druid, you’re just not going to be optimal. Make sure to pay attention to the elves-only archetype, the Treesinger (I’ll talk about that more later on). I’d also consider the Mooncaller archetype, since several of the abilities granted by it synergize very well with elves (such as gaining Darkvision at second level!).
Fighter: WIth a bonus to Dex and Int, an elf can make a seriously excellent ranged fighter. If you slap on the Lore Warden archetype, it just gets silly good, with tons of hit points and a bardic knowledge-like ability that comes in handy all the time. If you’re trying for melee, though, look at the Magus instead.
Gunslinger: We’re back to the Gunslinger, which I have very little experience with. Just looking at the abilities, the bonus to Dex is obviously going to help. Many of the Deed abilities use Wisdom, so it hurts a little bit that you don’t have a bonus there. I see no reason why you can’t make a decent gunslinger with an elf.
Inquisitor: This is another Wisdom-based character, so while there’s no reason that you couldn’t make a good Inquisitor with an elf (the Dex bonus just begs you to go ranged), you’re not going to be optimal. None of the archetypes do anything to chage this, either.
Magus: Now, here is a class that an elf was just born to play. Intelligence for casting and many of the Arcana abilities. You’ll probably want to make a Dex-based Magus (there is a guide on how to do that here), and that will make you want to consider both the Spell Dancer and Myrmidarch archetypes. The Hexcrafter is also a popular choice, because Witch Hexes are just amazing. Make sure to take the racial favored class bonus, which will give you an extra Magus Arcana every six levels, which is a HUGE bonus!
Monk: An elf can definitely pull off a Dex-focused monk, but the lack of a racial Wisdom bonus is definitely sub-optimal. Consider looking into the Flowing Monk and the Zen Archer, but again, this isn’t the best class for an elf.
Oracle: The Charisma-focused nature of the Oracle doesn’t lend itself to elven mastery, sadly, but there is a really nice racial archetype, called the Ancient Lorekeeper that lets you choose spells from the Sorcerer/Wizard list, so keep that one in mind for sure. Also pay attention to the favored class bonus, which lets you treat your Oracle level as higher than it actually is for a single revelation, which can be a huge boost (see my description below). Thanks to these two awesome choices, Oracle gets bumped from orange to green for an elf.
Paladin [Antipaladin]: Paladins rely almost exclusively on Strength and Charisma, which your elf isn’t the best at, so generally a Paladin is going to be a suboptimal choice. However, you can definitely mitigate this by choosing the Divine Hunter or Holy Gun archetypes, either of which will give you some excellent abilities to use at range.
Ranger: Rangers do use Wisdom, but it’s really only for spellcasting, so if you choose a spell-less archetype like the Skirmisher, Trapper, or Urban Ranger, you’re going to get a lot more bang for your buck. You’ll probably want to go with a ranged combat style, to take advantage of the Dex bonus. Thematically, elven Rangers just make perfect sense, so I say go for it!
Rogue [Ninja]: Elves make excellent rogues, thanks to their bonuses to both Intelligence and Dexterity. Ninjas take a hit becuase of the requirement of Charisma for their ki abilities, so I’d stick with the Rogue, if choosing between the two. I don’t think any of the archetypes are specifically better for an elf, but many of them have interesting abilities, so make sure to look them all over.
Sorcerer: Generally, as an elf, you’re going to want to choose Wizard over Sorcerer, because Sorcerers require Charisma. However, you can fix this very easily if you’re willing to choose the Wildblooded (Sage) bloodline, which makes every single one of your normally Cha-based Sorcerer abilities based off of Int instead! This makes an elven Sorcerer much more feasible, though you don’t get your choice of bloodlines anymore, which means you can’t customize the character nearly as much.
Summoner: Like Sorcerers, Summoners require lots of Charisma. Unlike Sorcerers, there’s no Sage bloodline to switch them over to Int. Flavor-wise, the First-Worlder Summoner is pretty cool, since your eidolon become a fey creature instead of an outsider, and you get summon nature’s ally spells instead of summon monster. I would stay away from the Synthesist archetype, because Constitution becomes very important for you when your eidolon is nothing but a shell around you, and Con is not an elf’s best stat.
Witch: Witches are Intelligence-based, and that makes them an awesome choice for an elf. Make sure to use the favored class bonus to its fullest, gaining an extra spell added to your familiar per level. If you want to be a good healer, the Hedge Witch archetype is probably one of the best ways to get an Intelligence-based party healer, so if you’re set on playing an elf but being the party’s band-aid, that’s the way to do it.
Wizard: Elves are long-lived and patient, in addition to being very intelligent, and that makes them incredibly good wizards. You may want to look at the Arcane Bomber archetype if you’re trying to do a bunch of damage. The Spellbinder, which is specifically for elves, is only okay, becuase you’re trading the ability to cast any one spell in your spellbook once per day for the ability to trade your currently prepared spells for spells that you’ve learned very well. This means that you could be giving up a casting of any one of your highest-level spells. The tradeoff here is that you don’t have an item that could cause you to fail at spellcasting if it’s lost. If you want versatility, stick with the normal Arcane Bond, or even pick up a familiar instead.
Alchemist: Formulae can be hard to come by sometimes, so I like this one.
Barbarian: Increasing base speed is cool, so if you decided to go with an elven Barbarian, definitely use this bonus.
Bard: +1 to CMD when resisting only two types of combat maneuvers is not very exciting. You’re better off taking the extra HP to counteract your lowered Con score.
Cavalier: Adding hit points to your mount can keep it from dying, and that’s very very helpful.
Cleric: This is decent, if you have a domain that grants a 1st-level power that is affected by it. However, many domains don’t have this type of power, so it goes down to orange.
Druid: If you’re doing a wild shape build, this is really excellent. More natural armor means higher AC, which means your racial penalty to Con doesn’t matter as much.
Gunslinger: Critical hits with firearms are pretty sweet, so a bonus to confirming them is always nice to have.
Inquisitor: An extra spell known for a spontaneous caster is a huge deal, so this is great.
Magus: Magus Arcana are POWERFUL. You can get more of them with this bonus, so definitely go for it!
Monk: Just as with the Barbarian, this is a great ability, because moving faster can mean a quicker battle (or let you run away if need be!)
Oracle: The Oracle’s Revelations are the cornerstone ability of the class, and this bonus actually treats you as a higher level (not just caster level, but CLASS level) for one of these abilities. This means you get upgrades to it earlier and use it more often, and in some cases this can be so good it’s almost game-breaking. Case in point: the Dark Tapestry mystery has a Revelation called Many Forms. This lets you use alter self beginning at first level, but later you can start to use beast shape spells. Normally, an Oracle has to wait until 7th level to get beast shape I, but if an elven Oracle boosts Many Forms at each level, she can start using that version of the revelation at level 5. At level 8, she can start to use beast shape III, where normally she’d have to wait til level 11. And at 10th level, she can use greater polymorph, which is a 7th level spell, for 15 minutes per day! This is a WONDERFUL favored class bonus, so make good use of it!
Paladin: Extra hit points on your lay on hands ability is nice, especially for healing yourself with a swift action in a pinch.
Ranger: If your Ranger is going to focus on Critical feats, he will need Critical Focus, and this bonus doesn’t stack with that one. However, if you’re not going to use Critical feats, this can be a great way to get a little extra damage, especially if you have a keen weapon or take Improved Critical. I like it.
Rogue: This one is definitely situational, as minor and major magic aren’t necessarily rogue talents that everyone would choose. If you do like to cast low-level spells with your rogue, this is a great choice, otherwise ignore it and take the hit points.
Summoner: Normally, summoning your eidolon takes 1 minute (10 rounds). Grab this favored class bonus for nine levels, and you’ve made it much more feasible to summon that eidolon during combat. Of course, after those nine levels, choose the skill point or hit point instead.
Witch: Adding spells to your familiar for free is always nice, but this is a trap because you can just pay for scrolls to add to your familiar instead.
Wizard: Just like the Sorcerer, if you have an awesome 1st-level school power that you love, this lets you use it more often, but if you don’t, you’re better off with a skill point or hit point.
Ancient Lorekeeper (Oracle): This archetype lets you pull spells from the Sorcerer/Wizard spell list, which is a really great way to get some diverse and useful spells. For example, picking up stumble gap for battlefield control, or shield to stack with your shield of faith, can be a huge boost to your abilities at early levels. Later, you could grab false life, lightning bolt, or eventually even something like limited wish, none of which you’d normally have access to as an Oracle. Combine this with the excellent favored class bonus, and elven Oracles just became a MUCH better option than your first glance might have suggested.
Spell Dancer (Magus): This is a seriously excellent archetype for a Dex-based Magus build. You give up enhancement bonuses to your weapons for huge bonuses to your movement and AC when moving, and starting at 5th level you can gain the benefit of haste for one round without using any spell slots! You also trade heavier armor (which you wouldn’t want as a Dex-based Magus anyway) for a rare insight bonus to AC, which is excellent. All in all, this is a great choice for an elven Magus, and it can even be combined with my favorite Magus archetype, the Hexcrafter!
Spellbinder (Wizard): I don’t feel like the tradeoffs are really worth it for this archetype. It’s nice to be able to spontaneously trade out some of your prepared spells for the ones you use most often, and some people might really like that, but you’re essentially giving up a spell slot that can be used to cast ANY spell in your spellbook, or a potential +4 to initiative if you choose the right familiar. Overall, I think this one’s just not worth the trade.
Treesinger (Druid): If you’ve ever wanted to have a treant following you around and beating on things for you, this is the archetype for you. You give up the normal animal companion (or cleric domain) for a plant companion instead. Plants have a lot of resistances that make them really worthwhile as companions, but they do have one large drawback: they cannot gain weapon or armor proficiency feats or use manufactured weapons. Now, usually this isn’t going to matter since their natural attacks are pretty nice, and honestly you could still strap leather armor onto your treant and use it without proficiency, so I don’t think this is a huge problem. Also keep in mind that since this is your bonded companion, you can cast spells on it that normally wouldn’t affect plants or that are normally personal-only spells (such as aspect of the bear, reduce animal, animal aspect and the greater version of that spell, vermin shape spells, aspect of the stag, animal growth, and countless others!)
Arcane Archer: In 3.5e, the Arcane Archer was actually an elf-only prestige class, but this requirement has been stripped in recent updates of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Despite this change, it’s pretty easy to tell why elves make good Arcane Archers... Dexterity is king for this class, and starting off as a Wizard or Witch is the quickest way to get there. Now, granted, the Arcane Archer is not actually that incredible of a prestige class when compared to others, but for an elf it’s definitely a solid option.
Brightness Seeker: The Brightness Seeker IS actually an elf-only Prestige class, taken from the Elves of Golarion sourcebook. The idea of this class is sort of like an Oracle of nature, gaining the ability to read “omens” to gain insight into the future, and then gaining natural aspects and wild shape as you progress. The Wild Shape ability stacks with a Druid’s ability of the same name, and you can also gain some really cool abilities that you can switch out every day, such as a fly speed, a swim speed including water breathing, or THREE natural attacks, all of which deal 1d6 base damage! Since this class is not a spellcaster, though, be cautious of losing spellcasting levels for these abilities. This is a flavorful and fun prestige class, but it would have been a LOT better if it increased spellcasting also.
Lantern Bearer: The Lantern Bearer class is only available to Elves or half-elves (though of course Humans can qualify with the Racial Heritage feat, more on that in the Human secion). This full-BAB class grants a series of spell-like abilities that can be very useful and are all nature-themed, so it could be a great option for a non-caster who wants to dabble in magic without missing out on base attack progression. You also get a favored enemy, immunity to most movement-hindering spells and effects, good-aligned attacks, and a slightly limited but still awesome hide in plain sight-like ability. This could be a great option for an elven Fighter, Rogue, or Ranger, and I highly recommend it.
Magaambyan Arcanist: This class is sort of like mixing a Wizard with a Druid, which is pretty much perfect for an elf. You get Intelligence-based casting of druid spells, increases to spellcasting at every level, and later on you can even prepare spells into open slots on the fly, taking only a minute at 3rd-level and only a full-round action at 9th level! This is a HUGE boost to your versatility as a prepared caster. This class even makes the Spell Mastery feat useful, which is great! For an elven Wizard or Witch, I would definitely consider this class as an option.
Attuned to the Wild: This feat doubles your natural healing rate in one terrain. Now, I do want to point out that this is for both hit points AND ability damage, so if you get poisoned a lot, you might consider it. Otherwise, it’s really, REALLY not worth a feat. However, it is required for a few other racial feats that I’ll get to in a minute, so don’t write it off completely just yet.
Breadth of Experience: This feat gives you +2 to all Knowledge and Profession skills, so it might be worth a look if you’re playing in PFS and never want to fail a Knowledge check. For a Wizard or Bard, who probably has good Knowledge checks anyway, this probably isn’t worth your time.
Elven Accuracy: For any range-focused character, this could potentially mean the difference between missing every attack against a foe with blur or hitting every time. Seriously, this is a really nice feat, and the only prerequisite is that you’re an elf! Take it!
Elven Battle Training: This feat gives a couple different bonuses to elves who use one of the weapons covered by their weapon familiarity. First, you get a +2 vs. disarm or sunder maneuvers when wielding one of those weapons, which isn’t too exciting. However, you also get to make an additional attack of opportunity each round when wielding one of the melee weapons, which is a huge benefit. Note that if you’re a low-Dex charater, this will give you a second attack of opportunity per round that you can’t get through Combat Reflexes. For any non-Dex-based elven melee fighter, this is potentially a huge bonus.
Guardian of the Wild: A +2 bonus to AC that stacks with anything is nothing to shake a stick at. This feat gives you that in a terrain that you chose the Attuned to the Wild feat for. In fact, you could have chosen Attuned to the Wild multiple times, and this feat would work with all of them (though it doesn’t stack with itself). This is a great option for any character, but the feat tax of having to take a relatively worthless feat (Attuned to the Wild) first is pretty painful, so I can’t give it a blue rating.
Leaf Singer: This ability is a little bit situational, but for a bard who spends a lot of time in the forest, it could be a really nice boost.
Light Step: If you’ve invested two feats in ignoring difficult terrain for up to 20 feet per round ( Acrobatic Steps and Nimble Moves), it’s probably worth your time to take this one. Difficult terrain comes up a lot, and ignoring it gives you a huge advantage in combat. I like it.
Mage of the Wild: This is the caster’s equivalent of Guardian of the Wild, and it’s also pretty nice. I’ll admit, however, that a +2 to caster level checks and concentration checks is not as big of a deal as a +2 dodge bonus to AC. This is still a viable feat, if you’re willing to pay the feat tax, however.
Spirit of the Wild: This is another feat in the Attuned to the Wild feat chain, and this one is pretty amazing. You get a +4 bonus to Perception checks made to act in a surprise round (in other words to detect ambushes and things like that) and if you DO get to act in the surprise round, you get blindsense 30 feet during the surprise round! This means you’re going to be noticing even invisible creatures that are trying to sneak up on you as part of that ambush, and that’s awesome. The feat tax is definitely heavy, but probably worth it for this great feat.
Stabbing Shot: This is a super weird feat, but can come in handy once in a while. Essentially, you get to stick an arrow in the guy next to you as a melee attack and push him back 5 feet, therefore allowing you to start shooting arrows at him without provoking attacks of opportunity. The requirements are relatively minimal assuming you are a bow-focused character, so I’d say this one’s probably worth picking up.