I feel half-elves haven’t been done right since AD&D. Back then, half-elves were the race with the worst special abilities, but some of the best multiclass options. At the time of the original Player’s Handbook they were the only demi-human race able to become rangers and the only half-orcs and half-elves could become clerics.
Half-Elves maintained their position as the best race for multiclassing in AD&D 2E. Half-Elves had nine potential multiclass combinations, which put them far ahead of elves (four combos), gnomes (three combos), dwarves (two combos), and halflings (one combo).
Half-Elves could also multiclass as clerics, which was nearly unique. While dwarves were allowed the cleric/fighter combo, half-elves could become a cleric/fighter, cleric/ranger, cleric/mage, and cleric/fighter/mage. They were also the only demi-humans able to multiclass as rangers and druids, although only as the aforementioned cleric/ranger or as a druid/fighter.
Clearly the ability of half-elves to multiclass and their aptitude as clerics was a the real advantage of playing half-elves.
Which probably explains why D&D 3E broke half-elves so badly. With the new multiclass rules crippling the only advantage of playing a half-elf, they simply became the poor cousin to full-blooded elves. When D&D 3.5 came out, they attempted to fix half-elves by giving them a +2 to Diplomacy and Gather Information. This was simply not enough.
Which brings us to D&D 4E. Admittedly, I think the half-elves in D&D 4E are a big improvement over 3E. Their Dilettante ability is not only immensely useful, but it harkens back to their old multiclass abilities. Still, there was something that bugged me about them that I couldn’t put my finger on for a long time.
When I finally did, it was obvious. In fact, it was right there in the first paragraph:
Play a Half-Elf if you want...
to be an outgoing, enthusiastic leader.
to be a charismatic hero equally at home in two different cultures.
to be a member of a race that favors the warlord, paladin, and warlock classes.
What bugged me is that half-elves do not make good clerics or rangers! The cleric/ranger multiclass was extremely popular in AD&D, as were all the other cleric multiclass combinations.
The nice thing is that this is easily fixable. As they stand in the Player’s Handbook, half-elves get a +2 Charisma, +2 Constitution. The choice of +2 Constitution seems a little odd to me. as I have never seen half-elves as especially hardy. In fact, the only reason I can think of to give them +2 Constitution is because all of the Player’s Handbook 1 races, except humans, have one good physical and one good mental ability.
On the other hand, many half-elves in fiction, from Elrond to Tanis Half-Elven, have been described as wise. Giving half-elves a +2 Charisma, +2 Wisdom suddenly makes clerics and rangers viable choices again. Since this doubling up of bonuses to either physical or mental abilities is common in the Player’s Handbook 2 races, I am not worried that I am breaking any unwritten rule of 4E race design.
I will be the first to admit that this may be a problem that only exists in my mind. Nevertheless, I feel it is a minor tweak that goes a long way towards making half-elves in D&D 4E feel like “old-school” half-elves.