4e Race Design (4e Guideline)

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4e Race Design Guideline

This document will give you an idea of the "design space" used for the official 4e races. Use it as a checklist to see if your race falls outside the normal guidelines.

Racial Traits

Average Height and Weight

With no direct mechanical importance, you have a lot of leeway here. Take into consideration the Size and physical ability score modifiers you have chosen.

Ability Scores

  • The contemporary standard is +2 to one ability, and your choice of one of two other abilities. For example, Eladrin now have "+2 bonus to Intelligence and your choice of Dexterity or Charisma."
  • Never penalize an ability score.
  • Humans are the exception that prove the rule, giving a single bonus to a wider selection.
  • Do not consider only +1 bonuses: The standard is +2 because this guarantees an integer increase to secondary bonuses.
  • If your ability score bonus pairing is: Strength and Constitution; Dexterity and Intelligence; or Wisdom and Charisma, then be aware that they overall have one point less in their non-AC defenses compared to other pairings. In this case, consider a +1 racial bonus to a non-AC defense outside of their defensive pairing.


  • Select Tiny, Small or Medium.
  • If your race is Tiny, you must consider reach and equipment size. Refer to the Pixie in Heroes of the Feywild: the "Wee Warrior" trait and "Shrink" power respectively.
  • Large size or larger is a balance problem: The combat system assumes that characters only occupy 1 square, for example with flanking, bursts and blasts. It's reasonable that some DMs will allow this, however, so if there's no way to make your race Medium, place the Design Disclaimer template on your article.


  • This should be 5, 6 or 7 squares.
  • Anything slower becomes too much of a penalty. At 5 squares, make considerations for encumbrance, as with the Dwarf.
  • Avoid base speeds of 8 or faster. You can make a race feel faster still with conditional bonuses (e.g. Razorclaw shifting), or changing the way the race interacts with terrain (e.g. an elf's Wild Step).
  • If appropriate, add a Terrain Walk (see Monster Manual p. 283)
  • Avoid unconditional Fly speeds. If a race must fly, add an altitude and encumbrance limit (i.e. 1 square, no greater than normal load), or make it an encounter power.
  • Take even more care with Burrowing, Climbing and Teleporting speeds.


  • Select one of Normal vision, Low-light vision, or Darkvision.
  • Darkvision should be restricted to races who normally live in complete darkness. Underdark races such as Drow, for example. It is not "nightvision" (choose low-light for that). If you select this, remember to justify it in your fluff.
  • Vision modes do not have a range, like in 3e.
  • Avoid Blindsense and Tremorsense.


  • Common is mandatory, to allow the character to interact with the normal world and the other characters.
  • Select either another specific language appropriate for the race (e.g. Elven for "fey" races, or Giant for "savage" races), or an allowed choice of one other.
  • If the race has had broad exposure to different cultures (half-elves, devas) or are particularly studious, you may give a third language or a second free-choice.
  • Exercise caution with Supernal and Abyssal. The race must have a strong connection with immortals or demons to justify this, and you must explain so in the fluff. Note that not even the immortal Devas have Supernal. The only exception to date in official publications is the Gnoll (Dragon #367).
  • Unless you have published a campaign setting, avoid making up your own languages.
  • Similarly, avoid introducing new mechanics such as "partial" or pidgin languages, making a distinction between written and spoken forms, and so on.

Skill Bonuses

  • Give a +2 bonus to two skills.
  • Don't vary from this without careful consideration as to why you want to. For example, there are two exceptions in official publications. The human instead receives an extra trained skill; and the Shardmind receives a racial bonus to a third skill. Each is given justification in the race's fluff.
  • Avoid +3 or greater bonuses, even if it's just a solitary skill bonus (see False Balance, below). DCs assume a maximum amount to bonuses stacked from race, background, feats and powers.
  • You might consider a trait that provides a +1 or +2 conditional skill bonus. This might provide a bonus to a specific skill task, such as climbing, foraging, monster knowledge checks and so on. This can give an interesting flavour to a race, but avoid boosting a skill already given a racial bonus.

Racial Powers

In general:

  • Aim to make this an encounter power, rather than daily or at-will.
  • If you have multiple encounter powers, consider only allowing the race to use one during a given encounter (as with Lolthtouched or Channel Divinity)

Attack powers

  • Class powers benefit from the Weapon or Implement keyword. Racial powers don't, so they need an attack bonus to keep up with the enchantment curve. This is normally +2 per tier against a non-AC defense.
  • Make sure it's worth using - that is, it must be more useful than a typical class at-will attack (for example, Dragon Breath is a minor action).
  • PC Encounter powers should not normally cause ongoing damage, "save ends" conditions, Miss or Effect effects. It's true that monster attacks can do these things, but monster powers do not necessarily translate to player powers.
  • Do not use monster-style d6 recharge rolls. If you think an encounter power could be used more than once in a fight, there are other triggers for reuse such as Bloodied.
  • Do not use keywords reserved for daily powers, or particular power sources, such as Reliable or Invigorating.

Other powers

  • Utility powers have an Effect. No attack roll is used. The Effect might require a standard, minor or move action, or might have have a trigger (using a Free or Immediate action).
  • Never make an Encounter power with an Effect that "lasts until the end of the encounter." - this effectively gives the party a permanent bonus. Exceptions include powers that have an uncommon prerequisite or trigger (such as a requirement that the character be bloodied).

Origin, Type and Keywords

  • Familiarize yourself with the glossary in the Monster Manual.
  • A race has one origin: aberrant, elemental, fey, immortal, natural or shadow.
  • A race has one type: animate, beast, humanoid or magical beast.
  • Possible keywords for PC races are Angel, Demon, Devil, Dragon, Living Construct, Plant, Reptile, Shapechanger, Spider and Undead. If your race is made from an element, also add the Air, Fire, Water or Earth keyword. Whilst other keywords exist, they are not recommended for PC races.
  • Almost without exception, your race should be humanoid, so that it is compatible with the assumptions that the rules make about equipment and combat. The default origin is natural. If your race is not humanoid or have the natural origin, or has a keyword, explain so in a trait.
  • Add the appropriate categories at the bottom of the article. For example: [[Category: Natural Origin]] [[Category:Humanoid Type]] [[Category:Living Construct Keyword]].


False Balance

It's tempting to allow a large bonus in one area if one penalizes in another. For example, giving a +4 ability bonus in "exchange" for having no skill bonuses. Or allowing an encounter power to impart ongoing damage, if you give it an attack penalty. This is false balance, because other game mechanics interact with these on the assumption that they are within certain design parameters. For example, a feat might alter the way a power's ongoing damage works on the assumption that it's only going to be used once per extended rest.

Therefore, each design "segment" needs to be balanced in isolation.

False Mitigation

This occurs when a condition ostensibly mitigates an otherwise overpowered "flat" bonus, but actually isn't conditional at all. For example, "+1 to attack whilst wearing light armour": the armour limitation seems to lessen the value of the attack bonus. However, armour type selection occurs at character creation and rarely changes thereafter - it's potentially a permanent attack bonus.

Limiting a Race

  • Never limit alignment choice.
  • Never impose a Class (even indirectly, for example "+1 to attack with Arcane powers")
  • Never restrict armour, weapon or other equipment choices. For non-humanoid physiology, consider ways for the race to use any equipment normally. For example, Ōkami is a celestial wolf but can still wield a shield, sword and paintbrush.


Take extra care with races that can alter their physical form. In particular avoid the temptation to add too many complicated rules. Your points of reference should be the Changling's "Changling Disguise" at-will power, and the Longtooth and Razorclaw Shifting encounter powers. Give your race the "Shapechanger" trait if the transformation is considerable.

Too Many Traits

You may have lots of ideas cool traits, that cover every conceivable feature of your race, from natural weapons, to exotic diets. Here you need to be your own editor and select the handful that most capture the flavour of your race. There is design space for the leftovers in the form of racial feats, and racial utility powers.

For example, there's a temptation to add a "claws" natural attack to any race that happens to have fingernails longer than half an inch. In 4e there's no need to simulate every aspect of physiology - more consideration is given to the overall effect on the game. For races that genuinely have individuals who can make career fighting with claws rather than weapons, refer to the mechanic that Gnolls use.

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