5e Race Design Guide

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Introduction

Вuilding a race is never as simple as it looks, or as simple as you expect it to be. An interesting, useful, balanced, exciting race can take a couple of weeks, to a couple of months to complete, and typically takes the combined efforts of 3-4 users to get it to a polished state. Races are important and complex game elements, despite their limited mechanics, because they have a permanent and significant effect on a character, and their inclusion in a game presupposes their existence in the game setting. It is always easier to remove a race from the game than it is to incorporate a new one. Also, racial traits can synergize unexpectedly with class features, causing unintended consequences, which means a race demands at least some degree of playtesting in order to even be halfway functional. If that sounds like too much of a time investment, or too complex, I recommend you try your hand at making a background first, to get more comfortable with modding the 5e system. As with everything on the wiki, please make sure that you are familiar with the precedent, which in this case is set by the 5th edition core books, the Player's Handbook, (PHB) Monster Manual, (MM) and Dungeon Master's Guide, (DMG). The core rules races can be found on PHB p.17-42 and you should read Character Creation Step-By-Step on PHB p.11. Guidelines on how to create a race can be found on DMG p.285-287. You can find guidelines on converting material from previous editions into 5th edition rules in this freely available PDF. This content is subject to The Three Pillars of Adventure (5e Guideline) and Understanding Bounded Accuracy (5e Guideline).

Hyperlinking Terminology

When you reference terminology that has a specific meaning in D&D, there is often a page associated with it in the System Reference Document. For example, when stating your race has an ability score improvement instead of writing "Strength" you should write "{{5a|str}}" (a shorthand for writing"[[5e SRD:Strength|Str]]"), this gives the result "Strength". As you can see, this creates a hyperlink to the SRD article for the Strength ability score. You can also assign a custom name to most hyperlinks by adding a vertical bar("|") to the template like so: writing "{{5e|The Planes of Existence#The Material Plane|The Material Plane}}" will display as The Material Plane. Anything in the System Reference Document can be hyperlinked to, and below is a table that shows you various templates that can be used as shorthand to reduce typing.

Input Use Example Written
{{5a|[asi]}} Creates a hyperlink to any ability score. Your Dexterity score increases by 2. Your {{5a|dex}} score increases by 2.
{{5c|[Condition]}} Creates a hyperlink to any condition. You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened. You have {{5e|advantage}} on saving throws against being {{5c|Frightened}}.
{{5e|[srd]}} Creates a hyperlink to any article in the System Reference Document. You have proficiency with light armor. You have {{5e|Proficiency Bonus|proficiency}} with {{5e|Light Armor}}.
{{5E|[Srd]}} As above, but capitalizes the first letter of the term. You know one cantrip of your choice from the Wizard Spell List. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for it. You know one cantrip of your choice from the {{5e|Wizard Spell List}}. {{5a|int}} is your spellcasting ability for it.
{{5s|[skill]}} Creates a hyperlink to any skill. You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill. You gain {{5e|Proficiency Bonus|proficiency}} in the {{5s|Intimidation}} skill.

Please be aware that only articles in the System Reference Document can be hyperlinked to using the above method. In cases where it is helpful to reference something that hasn't been included in the SRD, use citations to reference the content used and its source. These cases arise when a race uses something that was released in a later book such the Elemental Evil Player's Companion or Xanathar's Guide to Everything or it simply wasn't included in the System Reference Document. For example, if your race has the trait, "You know the shape water cantrip" you'll see that the link is red, indicating it doesn't go anywhere as that spell isn't in the System Reference Document like fire bolt is. To get around this we write the following instead, "You know the ''shape water''<ref>p.21 Elemental Evil Players Companion</ref> cantrip." and then create a heading at the end of the article called "References" with the text <references/> under it. You can see this in action in the feature article, Earth Giant (5e Race).

Preload Walk-Through

The following is a section-by-section guide to the D&D Wiki 5e Race preload. It will explain what each section is for, give some general tips on how to get the most out of it, and explain some basics of the design philosophy in each section. Before you begin, you need to understand that you're going to be writing a LOT of Fluff. The fluff of a piece of content, while often diminished by the derogatory nature of that term, can have a significant impact on how your content is used by players. Go read that definition for a more thorough understanding of why this matters so much.

Race Name

Let's start where all homebrew material should start: The concept. You have to know what your thing is before you can go about representing it. Remember, a race is nothing more than a way of mechanically representing a type of person/creature that exists in the game setting. Every race is more than just one tool in a player's character creation toolbox and is far more than a set of useful traits and bonuses to interact with the world. Every single race is a part of the worldbuilding process. If included in a game, that race should be justified as existing in that setting. They should have some impact, or effect, on your world, and there should be more than one in existence unless there is some story-driven reason that would prove otherwise. Incorporating a new race into a previously existing campaign setting, or using it as an element when making a new one, is a very big decision because it means the DM is going to have to do an awful lot of work to make it make sense there. As such, your race should contain as much information as possible to describe your concept clearly, and to make the race as easy to adapt to a setting as possible. It is always better to be overprepared for a disinterested DM than it is to be underprepared for an interested one. A disinterested DM can still make use of a detailed and thorough race by just ignoring all the stuff he doesn't care about, but an interested DM may find a vague, ill-conceived race to be so much extra work to flesh out for her campaign that she simply bypasses it entirely. Remember that the interested DM is the one who is so interested in your idea, they are going to spend hours weaving your creation into their imagination, rather than treating it as another pile of numbers and functions for PCs and NPCs to hit stuff with. It doesn't really matter much what style of DM you personally are either because your audience could potentially contain every style of DM in the world. Aside from the race's importance as a part of the world, it is also an important roleplaying element! Your race is the nature half of the equation that makes a character who they are! Your race is what you are in the game, not just during combat, but the whole time you are playing. Regardless how a DM works a race into their setting, characters of that race will have a unique cultural perspective or world-view, even if by virtue of being so much as subtly physically different in some way. Such differences in culture, perspective, or even history are essential tools in writing a thorough, believable, and interesting backstory, and for the delivery of a genuine and entertaining performance of the character. As an author of a race, it is your responsibility to provide enough information for it, such that a DM or player can incorporate it to create a round character.

If your race is conceptually or mechanically identical to an existing race in some way, chances are your concept doesn`t fit as a new race entry!

  • If your idea is just a reimagining, reskin, or repaint of an official race, go ahead and add it to the 5e Races Reimagined page!
  • If your idea is only a slight change to an existing race, like a new ethnicity, or an elemental variant, or some such, then it would likely work best as a subrace.
  • If your idea is a significant change to an existing race or a variant of a race which lacks the subrace trait, then it may work better as a racial variant.
  • If your idea is more about where you came from and who you are than what you are, then it will likely work better as a background.
  • Finally, if your idea is more about what you do than what you are, it may possibly work better as a class. (Be cautious about making that leap, however- a class is a LOT of work, and not to be taken lightly.)

Physical Description

This section matters far more than you probably think.

OK. Look. I get that you're excited about your idea. We are too! We can hardly wait to see what you're planning to share with us! However, we are not mind-readers. Although the game mechanics do a pretty good job of explaining how a thing works when push comes to shove, they are a terrible descriptive tool. Racial traits tell you how to shuffle numbers around and roll dice, not what you look like, even if the trait is labelled something like "fiery orange aura of horrible screaming death".

Now, I know it may seem boring, and I know previous editions have drilled it into your head that this section is just useless "Fluff", but try to hear me out on this! What's easier to balance: A race with three racial traits providing them with three different natural weapons, (sharp teeth, claws, and a tail) or, a race with 1 trait that allows their unarmed strikes to deal slashing damage instead of bludgeoning, and says in the description that they have sharp teeth, claws, and a tail? Obviously, the single trait is much easier to balance mechanically, and it still represents those teeth, claws, and tail, all at once, very elegantly. And that should be your goal: Use as few traits as possible, and as few words as possible per trait, to describe and represent your thing as best as possible. Aim for elegance. The description section is your most powerful tool in creating a race as elegantly as possible because it saves you from having to try and represent every single little property in game terms alone.

Everything in D&D is intended to actually represent a realistic thing. Just because a thing doesn't have mechanical rules for every physical property it possesses, doesn't mean those properties don't exist. For example, a race with a prehensile tail technically has an extra free hand. That doesn't even technically need to be written in the racial traits because there's no precedent for it. That means they could hold two weapons and a shield, just because they want to. That means they can hold a wand and a shield and a dagger at the same time. That means they can grapple three people at once. That's a big deal. That's a lot of power- and it comes entirely from the description of what you are trying to represent. In general, if a descriptive quality implies certain significant changes to gameplay, (like the prehensile tail example) it is best to make a racial trait which makes note of these, just so people are aware of it. However, even something as benign as your race being hairy could be used as good justification for a player to suggest to their DM that they don't need to purchase winter clothes to climb the frozen mountain.

Remember: words have power through their implications. The description of a race is more than just appearances or aesthetics, it is the root of implicit power in a race. A potent description can even make a race imbalanced under certain circumstances! So be careful with your words here.

See? I told you descriptions matter more than you thought!

Human-Centricism and Racial Anatomy.
Classes and backgrounds assume that the PC is humanoid in shape. Wizards need to write in their spellbooks. Spellcasters need a free hand for Somatic components and need to access spell component pouches or hold a focus. Monks catch arrows in an empty hand, rogues use thieves' tools, paladins and fighters need to don and remove their armor, bards play musical instruments. A PC's primary attacks are a function of a class, and things become awkward when a race's anatomy overrides this. An excellent example is the spell burning hands[1], which states in its description that a caster must press their thumbs together as the somatic component. Any race lacking thumbs will likely be unable to cast this spell under many DMs. Monks can run across water, but how do you represent this effect for a race which lacks legs? As such, try to justify how your race is able to interact with the setting in a manner equivalent to a humanoid figure.

History

I already know what you're thinking.

"History? What the heck does that mean? Doesn't the DM just make that stuff up themselves? I don't know how to write a history of my race that would fit into every single campaign setting ever! And what if they have different independent cultures amongst themselves like humans? What if my race is just a crossbreed or something- how can they have a history?"

And you're right. That's a darn good question.

Think of a race's history as being more similar to a character background than a literal historical record. The purpose of a race's history is to describe the circumstances which caused them to develop the societies they live in. It could be the root of their entire species from the dawn of time or even a description of how they individually come into existence and how that has impacted them as a group. For example, the history of humans is one of fragmentation and infighting, the history of tieflings is one of an ancient evil ritual, and the history of half-orcs is one of many instances of immense cruelty or forbidden love and the lingering feelings its progeny perpetuate. None of the core races tells you about specific human nations rising or falling, the date or time period the first tieflings were born in, or gives names of specific half-orcs. Nevertheless, they feel real, they have a sense of permanence in their world, because they have historical meaning, even if it is abstract, mysterious, or generic. This is what you want to produce with your race's history. Having a well-written history section makes it much easier for a DM to incorporate a race into their setting because it gives them some sort of context to justify their society. With that context available, it makes it easier to tweak their detailed history during worldbuilding to suit the new setting, because it states clearly what makes their race tick. It also gives the DM a clear picture of how such a race would impact and alter their world. The races do not exist in a bubble, they interact with each other. This section can be a big clue as to what those various interactions might look like in any given setting, with any given combination of other races.

Players can also make use of the history section. A character of a given race likely has some understanding of their history. How much do they understand? How accurate is their historical knowledge? How do they feel about their history- are they proud or ashamed of their ancestors? What does their history mean for their future? How do they personally fit into that history? These kinds of questions and more can be used by a player to write more rich, complex, meaningful characters and stories.

In addition, the History section is a great place to show how a race achieved, gained or developed particular mechanical effects that their race is known for. For example, a dwarves smithing ability, a drow's superior darkvision, a tiefling's fire resistance, etc.

It is also good to consider the following:

"So why is your race innately better at doing that thing that all other races that are known for being good at that thing?"
"Idk man they just are!"

This isn't a good answer. Instead, try detailing a story of perhaps how a particular member or your race as a whole received such a gift from a divine being of that thing such is the case with elves or writing of the unique environmental circumstances that allowed your race to develop that thing such is the case with goliaths. Of course while still abiding by the standard detailed in this article.

Society

This is a good way to describe how your race interacts with each other and can be used to see how your race might interact with others. For example, if your race is timid and tends to live alone when you go into a public place you may be very shy and stay away from crowds. Put some thought into this category and don't just skim over it and ignore it, I use this all the time when I play D&D! It really helps me when I don't know how my character would react to a situation and is just plain fun!

An important example of this is the kender race from 2nd edition. It is the subject of widespread hostility across the tabletop community, not for its mechanical imbalance, but simply because of how its description steers players to play such characters. It described them as being lovable, and that everyone should appreciate their presence, even though they were a race of unpleasant little kleptomaniacs. Another good example is the aarakocra from 5th edition, which describes aarakocra as having little to no connection with the societies of the material plane and then gives them claustrophobia to discourage them from dungeon crawling. Given these negative examples, we can make a short list of things to avoid during racial descriptions.

  • Describe how your race feels about other races and why. Avoid talking about how other races feel about your race.
  • Do not include descriptive content that would discourage a character from participating in adventure, after all, if you don't have a reason to team up with these misfits, why would you?
  • Avoid specific content that would put pigeonhole the race into being at odds with other characters in the party.
  • Try not to include descriptive content that would make characters of your race incompatible with normal society.

Racial Names

Names Matter.
You may feel that people will never use your racial names and instead name their character whatever they want. You probably feel this way because that's what you do. As such, you probably feel that creating a large selection of names is a waste of breath. (I'll assume you don't actually feel character names are meaningless Fluff. If you do, then you need to seriously reconsider your priorities in playing this game.) If this is the case, you are wrong. A character's name, especially in a medieval setting where naming traditions can be elaborate and interesting, can be a powerful story-writing tool! A name can be a sentimental keepsake from your family- like the title of a legendary ancestor, or the name of your dead father! A name can be a sign of the culture you came from! A name can indicate something interesting about your identity! A name can be part of a prophecy or a curse! Your name can even represent your marital status or relationship history! Names really do matter- to the point that a person's name can mean life or death. Go read Romeo and Juliet and tell me it would make just as much sense if their culture didn't have surnames as a part of their naming conventions! One last note, there is a chance that you do not value names because you do not value your own name. If that is the case, that is a shame, and I feel deeply sorry for you. By underappreciating your own name, you are ignorant of the grand legacy of human history that is your very existence, the massive achievement of your ancestors that is your heritage.
A name is not an alias.
An alias is an arbitrary personal identifier. Your username on this wiki, for example, is an alias. We use it as an arbitrary tool to communicate with you effectively, without any of us having to release our true identities. Real names are not just identifiers, and they are not just personal. A name is a cultural element. Every name has a history- a sort of root or etymology. Names aren't just invented sounds, they are the fingerprints of your cultural heritage- whether you are aware of it or not! By including a detailed list of example race names, you are creating some of the most fundamental elements of a culture. Any player can use that as material to play their character more appropriately. The more detail you give to where the names come from, or what they mean, or how they're chosen, the richer and more subtle the abstract culture and history of your race, the race's cultural identity, becomes. That is a very good thing, and something worth working towards. Giving a race extremely empty, nondescript fluff is not "enlightened thinking", nor is it good design, it's just lazy.
Races aren't just for players.
Do you think the only people who will ever use your name list are newbie players? You are absolutely wrong. There's this other guy at the table, you might remember him, he's called the dungeon master? Yeah, he runs the whole game. Makes it all possible in fact. Indeed, he creates the entirety of the setting! He uses every single piece of content the game has to offer, even that stuff you aren't supposed to read, like the monster manual! One of the things he has to do when making a setting is decide what races exist there and then justify their existence there. When making a homebrew race, the obvious objective is to create and present the idea in a manner that is exciting, interesting, and easily used by players. For it to even get any use by a player at all though, it must first be useful to a DM. The naming conventions of a race can do a lot to tell a story about that race, to describe their nature, and give a lot of story-writing inspiration that can be incorporated into this process. Not having that information makes a race distinctly less useful to a DM, because instead of potentially inspirational notes, they get a one-liner that amounts to being a commentary on how lazy the writer was. If they want to use the race, they now need to sit down and invent naming customs for that race. Why would a DM need to do that, you ask? Well, it's simple: If a player can make a character of a given race, that character must have origins, and the existence of a race in a setting at all presumes that they must have existed before the PC came into existence. All of this means that there must be more members of that race in the setting somewhere. If there are other members of that race, then that means there are NPCs of that race, and NPCs need NAMES. NPCs are useful and powerful story-writing tools for both the DM and player, so making it easier to create them is always a good thing. Having a big pile of thematically valid names for a DM to pull ideas from, or even just borrow shamelessly, makes NPC creation for members of your race far easier, and again makes your race more useful for a DM. Remember, if a DM likes your race, they will use it. If a DM uses it for a while, then eventually players will use it too. Further, keep in mind that NPCs will always far outnumber PCs, meaning DMs actually make far more use of race entries and details than even an entire table of players ever will.

I'm going to level with you now: all that being said, there is a very good reason for why people tend to hand-wave this section: It is both difficult and boring to write. No two ways about it, this section is no fun during the creation process. In fact, it can be a primary source for writer's block! It takes an awful lot of creativity to fill this section out well, and you have to stay awake long enough to write it! Don't even get me started on the tedium of keeping the names alphabetized, too! From a writer's perspective, the naming section is a dragon to be slain, and trust me, it does not go down easy. But nothing worth doing is easy, so it's time to roll up our sleeves and get doing! Here are some tips on how to make the most of this section!

Research
Maybe you feel unsure about where to start. What do you know about the naming conventions of other languages and cultures? Maybe you didn't even realize those were a thing! Well, fear not, for we are on the internet, my friend! If it can be known, it is known out here! Even better, some very nice people have gone to the trouble of compiling most of what needs to be known in one place!
Personal Name is a good introduction to what names actually are and how they work. It also has a useful portal that sends you to dedicated pages for all of the most interesting naming traditions the real world has to offer! You can use these as scrap for recycling, either mixing them together or cannibalizing them whole, you can alter them slightly, or even use them as inspiration to write your own original naming traditions from scratch!
Given Name talks about individual personal identifiers. Gives a great overview of how language slowly distorts over time and mispronounced archaic words become names.
Middle Name is nice for extra details, but adds little to the discussion.
Surname talks about familial nomenclature, which is far more important for world-building and storytelling than you may now realize.
Maiden Names is also an important page to read, if you'd like to see one example of how and why names can change over time.
Have you ever given your character a nickname? Perhaps your race has a rich culture surrounding the use of nicknames- or maybe they're outright offended by them!
Linguistics
Language and naming conventions are intrinsically entwined as one. A naming convention spawns and grows forth from its linguistic roots. Take a look at the naming of characters in The Lord of the Rings in detail, and you'll discover that many of the characters names are more than just historically noteworthy or a piece of foreshadowing. Many of them have unique and complex linguistic roots! That's unsurprising, given the author, but this can be true of pretty much any language. If your race has their own language, it is likely that they have unique and interesting naming traditions to reflect the nature and structure of that language. As a crafty and inventive person, this is a great place to start if you actually want to start creating a language! Start making naming traditions and names, and from there start working out how those names and traditions came into existence. Those roots are the roots of language and can be expanded upon to create a historical foundation for building a language that just "sounds right" when characters start talking to each other.
Don't rush
You don't need to write this section all at once. You don't need to write it in one sitting. You don't need to write this section in the order it is presented on the page. In fact, it is best if you simply take a look at this section, jot some notes down about what you'd like to see from this section, and move on. Keep it in your mind, and if you get inspiration for more names or naming conventions, add it immediately! Eventually, you'll have the race mostly written out, and this will probably be the last thing left to do. Go back to the other sections, especially their society and history sections, and think about the kinds of names and traditions that background could have created. Let your own work be your inspiration.
Writer's blockbusting
Sometimes, yeah, you hit a wall. We all do from time to time. It sucks. DO NOT let your idea stall out dead in the water just because you're stuck in an over-sized brain-fart! Set it aside for a while, work on another project, give yourself a scheduled time, and come back with fresh eyes. Write a detailed story about your race, or a specific individual of your race. Make more material for you to gather inspiration from. Search around the net for inspiration techniques. Watch movies, read books, and read other people's races for inspiration! Just keep trucking, and eventually, it will fall together.

The Exception

Some races are not a people. Some races represent a thing which can not have had a cultural upbringing unique to its physical being. Good examples are, as seen in the PHB, halfbreeds. Other good examples include enlightened animals/monsters, or constructs. In these cases, precedent says it is OK to handwave naming to the surrounding cultures. Even so, given the benefits of having a naming section for a race, it is encouraged that you at least try to include something. Even just examples of the kinds of names they commonly invent for themselves is more useful than having nothing at all.

<Race Name> Traits

Now we get into the hard part: the mechanics of the thing. Go read Help:Balance for a detailed explanation of how to identify and resolve the many different types of imbalance a piece of content may have.

Summary

summary= A note on the summary line: It is the first listed trait. It appears on the 5e Races list, to give people an at-a-glance understanding of what your race is all about. The summary can be as vague or detailed as you like, but it should nevertheless be on-topic and brief. (Lengthy summaries break the table, and entries with no summary tend to disappear in the crowd)

Ability Score Increase. In 5th edition, races typically only grant ability score increases (ASI), as is implied by the phrasing of racial traits in the PHB, and by the precedent set by the officially published races. If you must include an ability penalty, it is acceptable to include it here as shorthand. We will not demand you make a separate racial trait just for that. The precedent is for a race with subraces to grant +2 from the core race, and +1 from each subrace, while races which lack the subrace trait typically have more unusual layouts for ability adjustments. The highest official ASI is the human, with a total of +6 distributed across all 6 ability scores. The correct structure for your ASI should be something like this: "Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score by 1."
Age. While most consider this just fluff it can have some significant impact on games where implications have an impact. For example, elves, being able to live a millennium, can potentially be very dangerous in the hands of a creative player, as he could choose to be a very old elf, and then insinuate himself into the history of the campaign. A short lifespan can have equally unforeseen consequences. For example, a 20-year-old character with a 40 year lifespan could find his DM saying "you die of old age" after spending enough total play time and downtime to meet that 20 year deadline! It depends a lot on whether your DM and group actually recognize and utilize age, or if you just play it as ageless videogame-human-ish heroes. Alternatively, you could think of races as being tied to their connection with the nature world, races with a high attunement to the natural world like elves, dwarfs and gnomes have naturally longer life spans then races like humans, halflings and half-orcs. Going by this general rule of thumb you can approximate the average lifespan of most races.
Alignment. Don't get too bent out of shape over the whole alignment thing. It's only there to show if your race has an innate tendency toward a certain alignment. It's only a restriction if you explicitly make it so. You can always just say "They don't tend towards any particular alignment," like the PHB does with humans!
Size. So far, all officially published races are medium or small. Even the Goliath and the UA minotaur which, let's face it, are kind of stretching the boundaries between size classes. In essence, while being bigger than medium comes with a suite of explicit advantages and only nuisance disadvantages, being tiny comes with a suite of nuisance disadvantages and no meaningful advantages.

Why Not Large?
The biggest reason is threat area, which is not an official 5e mechanic, but is still a very real effect. If a character's unarmed strikes reach out to 5ft, (an area of 25ft2) and an enemy cannot end their turn within the square a creature occupies, (threatening an area of 225ft2) then a large PC "controls" an area of 400ft2, in which enemies are at a risk of being attacked, and have their movement options at least slightly diminished. Give that creature a weapon with reach, and they now threaten an area of 900ft2, which coincidentally covers a straight 30ft path, the most common movement speed. In 3D combat, that becomes 20ft high, which is enough to cover most rooms. This would make such a PC extremely difficult to avoid and get away from. For any melee character, this is a bonus due to the area they can control, particularly for tanks aiming for crowd control.
Normally, you can't move through the space of a hostile creature unless there is difference of 2 sizes between you [2]. As such, your small allies can move through you just fine, and you can easily move through them, letting them move to safety as you approach. (Note that it's still difficult terrain but doable). So you act as a pathway for them should they ever get in trouble. It also means that small creatures (which can also be high CR) can't stop your movement in any way except by slowing you down a little bit. It also means that a Huge creature, which can normally move through PCs, can't move past you, again offering greater control.
Then there's the madness when you add feats. Let's start with sentinel. Suddenly that area of control really becomes yours, and enemies really struggle there. Merely occupying more squares makes it easier for your allies to be adjacent to you, so you can easily protect them. And the extra reach means enemies simply moving around in that area have trouble. Polearm master can be added for even more control.
Next we come to the benefits to grappling. Grappling is an amazing battle tactic. Grapple a target with one hand, then shove prone. Speed is 0 when grappled, so they can't stand up. While prone, they have disadvantage on all attacks, and all incoming attacks within 5ft are at advantage. As I said, occupying more squares means you can easily be adjacent to more creatures, and allows you to grapple and knock prone two creatures either side of you (IE 15ft away from each other) with ease. (Keep in mind, each grapple and shove is an attack, but any creature with extra attacks becomes very quick with this maneuver) Though it is important to note that attacks further than 5ft on prone creatures are at disadvantage, so it doesn't work as well with reach weapons unless you move closer.
When grappling, you can only grapple things up to 1 size larger. As a Large creature, you become able to grapple Huge creatures when others can't. So when the party faces a literal Big bad, you can grapple and knock prone that big bad to shut them down, and the party can then focus fire easily.
If you read the encumbrance rules, [3], you see that your carry and lift capacity is doubled for each size larger than medium. This means you can carry far more than others can. Encumbrance (even the basic version) is an important part of game to encourage the use of STR. But for combat, it means that a grappler can drag and lift heavier opponents around. Being able to forcefully move Huge creatures into better positions is also great, such as away from the party and ready for a fireball to the face, or into a cloud of daggers, or through a wall of fire repeatedly. And, of course, outside of combat, the increased encumbrance limits have massive advantages. Players don't need to worry about getting a horse to pull the wagon- the large PC can do it himself! A large creature with high enough strength can also leverage this information to perform incredible acts of environment manipulation, uprooting small trees, knocking down old wooden walls, among other interesting tricks that can be used to build traps or prepare a battlefield.
Large creatures can use large-sized weapons, [4] which deal double damage dice. If the DM assumes weapons scale to a creature in the same way armor is typically treated, this is an automatic damage bonus.
Being inherently large can then be combined with magic; the Enlarge/reduce spell or a potion of growth could make you a Huge creature. This means an even greater area of control (25ft square or 35ft square with a reach weapon), even greater drag capacity, and the ability to grapple and knock prone Gargantuan creatures. Huge and Gargantuan creatures use their size to their advantage, or more precisely, the difference in size. Removing that makes them significantly easier to deal with. Though it is possible to become Large with magic, that is a limited duration, costs resources (spell slots) to do, and usually concentration. These benefits require deep knowledge of the rules to use but are still potent, so cannot be excused.
Finally, a large PC could voluntarily act as another PC's mounted animal, which introduces some unusual game mechanics quirks that new DMs are ill-equipped to handle. If a PC race is to be large, it should be detailed in a racial trait, and it will take quite a bit of counterbalancing to make it stable in play.
There are of course downsides to being Large. You can't move through small gaps, and moving through medium gaps requires you to squeeze [5]. This is indeed a problem should you enter 5ft corridors and going through normal doors, but once you enter a room or go outside you have no hindrances. So these problems only occur if the DM presents them. And even then, they can be worked around. Additionally, large creatures have four times the food and drink needs of a medium creature, though this only becomes an issue if your DM actually bothers to track the PCs' diets and impose exhaustion when they reach their starvation point. One final weakness regards cover and stealth. It is much, much harder for a large creature to gain sufficient cover to become and remain hidden or to gain a meaningful cover-based AC bonus when fighting at range.
In order for a large race to function, the designer will have to be very harsh. Many of the things that make large PCs desirable are dysfunctional in the hands of a PC. To balance a large race, they first can not have any bonuses except for their size. Second, the dysfunctional elements of being large must be negated by equivalent penalties which either explicitly remove those qualities, or reduce the effectiveness of multiple qualities. This must not interfere with the race's capacity to function as a hero. For instance, trying to disempower a large creature by preventing them from using the squeeze rules to play up their cumbersome size actually makes the race more problematic, because now they can either prevent the party from advancing or face being left behind half the time. One effective solution is to reduce their exploration advantages and then laterally shift some of the combat power into exploration and social power to even it out. This reduces their battlefield dominance while making the race more round and fulfilling to play in all aspects of the game. There is a variant rule available for Large player characters though.
Why Not Tiny?
So why are no official PC races tiny, or even approaching it? Because tiny creatures are basically non-functional as heroes. Their greatest advantages are being able to squeeze through 1'3" gaps and needing only half the food and water of another creature. Of course, they can do fun things like ride in someone else's inventory, or hide behind a large brass carafe on the bar room table, but other than these few moments of fun, a tiny race that cannot fly is in for a lot of difficulties. For example, where most PCs can simply ascend stairs, a tiny creature may have to actually climb each step. A tiny PC will likely have to swim in water of a depth greater than 3ft. Tiny PCs typically have very low weights, which means pretty much anyone who grapples them can toss them around like a rag doll. They have half carry capacity, which means they can't carry as much gear or treasure on an adventure, reducing their equipment options and value to the group. There is no official tiny weapons counterpart to the oversized weapons optional rule, so tiny creatures must use weapons sized for medium creatures.
To balance a tiny race, you need to pair their inherent weaknesses with a system of bonuses which mitigate the problems of being <3ft tall. Flight is a simple solution to the most glaring issues; those which interfere with basic exploration. However, giving them other unique modes of movement might equally work, such as granting them spider climb, or stating that they travel by leaping up to 10ft in the air, rather than walking. These kinds of mobility traits not only fix the exploration problem, but are also typically so good, they also qualify as a regular bonus trait. This makes tiny races a prime opportunity to use empowering movement types. Outside of a unique movement type, it can be very hard to balance a tiny race to be fun in all areas of play beyond socialization- without going overboard. That is the key though, the entire process of balancing a tiny race revolves around trying to find all of the different ways it sucks the fun out of a game (Introducing new challenges doesn't suck the fun out of the game. Getting left behind or having nothing to say or do for hours of play does.) and trying to find workarounds. The Tiny Player Characters homebrew variant rule is a good resource when making Tiny player races.



Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Almost every official race has a speed of 30ft. Remember, speed is a resource in 5e, it is consumed as you move, so it operates more like a speed-limit than an actual measurement of distance over time. An important point to note: speed is measured in 5ft intervals. This is to allow characters of this race to be compatible with grid-based tabletop tactics, which typically use 5 or 10 foot scale squares. Also note that the shorter races, (dwarves, halflings, and gnomes) have 25ft movement speed, and that the highest land speed is 35ft for the wood elf. This also applies to most humanoids, which means speed is determined almost entirely by anatomy. The highest official race speed is for aarakocra, at a 50-foot flying speed, which seems like a lot, but was done to allow the aarakocra to travel overland with the rest of the party by flying, without having to ride a horse with the rest of the group- that would look truly silly. When applying special movement speeds, you need to consider not only their combat implications, but also their implicit effects on the rest of the game, otherwise you'll wind up building fridge-logic into the game. (Again, perfect example: a nerfed aarakocra has to ride a horse to travel with his companions, despite being a bird-man from the elemental plane of air.) Considerations for creating a flying race are listed at the end of this section.
Languages. Languages are patterns of speech, not modes of speech. Things like bio-luminescence, interpretive dance, or telepathy, if being used to communicate, are communication modes. The exact details of how ideas are expressed through that mode are a language. Special communication modes are unique racial traits and should be listed as such.
Subrace. If your race has subraces, you should list them here. Subraces are a racial trait in this game, not independent content elements. The way we structure the wiki, giving new subraces for core races their own pages, can be misleading, but this was done to avoid transcribing non-OGC to the wiki, and to make the creation of core race subraces easier.

OK, so let's talk racial traits. These problems keep popping up, so we'll just nip all of these off in the bud right now.

Large or Tiny Size
If they are not Medium or Small, the unusual size must be described as an independent racial trait, and the exact ramifications should be described in that trait.
Vision
All creatures have some method of sight, whether it's darkvision, normal vision, superior darkvision, truesight, tremorsense or even just blindsight. Please take this into consideration when creating a race. Some DMs may not choose a method of vision for you, you will probably get blindness.
Resistance
Resistance halves damage from a specific damage type. As such, you can only have resistance to a damage type the character may ostensibly receive. Resistance to things like "bleed", "disease", or "pain", do not make any sense, and are not valid in play because the character cannot possibly take damage of those types. There are no monsters that deal those damage types. You can not have resistance to a condition. Instead, saying you have advantage on saving throws against diseases is far better as diseases actually exist within the game. They are a definable term.
Immunity
You can have immunity to a damage type OR a condition. These are insanely powerful traits, and there are people who would argue that even if a race had -6 ASA and no other traits, an immunity is still too overpowered for a PC. This mainly comes from very creative players doing things like, "Oh, I'm immune to fire? I set myself on fire to light the way in this dungeon so I can carry my sword and shield and don't need a torch." More importantly, though, an immunity is anticlimactic and boring. Gameplay wise, it's a dead-end. It closes doors, rather than opening them. It sucks the life and energy out of the game when it's on a PC because all it does is reduce the number of tactical situations the DM would even bother putting the character up against. They want to challenge the PCs while letting them occasionally shine; not throw endless mooks into the meat-grinder that is the party.
Firearm Proficiency
Firearms are optional and campaign-dependent, so you need to explain what campaign this is for, or otherwise what firearms are available in addition to a variant trait accessible if firearms don't exist in the world granting normal proficiencies such as a spear.
Character Restrictions
You should not limit character option choices. Any race/class/background combo should be viable. 5e was based on the flexibility of build options to produce a much more balanced style of play. A restriction is a very 1st edition attitude and doesn't mesh well with the contemporary game. The exception here is race/class/background exclusive combos. For example, a dragon race which must use the dragon class and vice-versa. This is not justified by precedent but has been found to be a highly effective way of representing monsters as player characters.
Universal Advantages
Advantage is a circumstantial benefit, you should not have it on all checks of a given type, saves of a given type, or all attacks. Any trait which provides advantage should have a fairly specific conditional requirement. It should also probably be beneficial outside of combat. The best version would be a trait which could be turned into combat use through extremely creative roleplay only, as that encourages a deeper, richer, more engaging experience.
Granting Items or Gold as Traits
Access to gold and items besides those granted by backgrounds and class, should entirely be left up to the Dungeon Master, as it is not fair to other players or to the Dungeon Master for you to gain additional gold or items beyond those regularly granted. It also doesn't make sense for you to automatically be granted gold or items. Where do the items and gold come from? How would all individuals of a certain race have a longsword for example?

<Subrace Name>

Negative Ability Score Adjustments

Why no penalties?
Every edition up to 3rd had races with ability score penalties; this was dropped in the 4th and 5th edition. This was a wise design change. A minus score to some ability makes that ability the "Dump Stat". You would put your 10 in Strength (or whatever), take the -2 penalty and have 8Str, 6Str, it doesn't matter, you'll be a wizard and some other PC will do the heavy lifting. A negative modifier is not a fair way of allowing some bonus elsewhere, because it pigeon-holes a race into specific class roles and reduces character variety, making Chargen harder to do right for newbies.
But the NPC racial adjustments[6] have negative scores!
NPCs are not PCs. NPC traits do not have to be balanced relative PC allies, only balanced as threats against characters of a given level. In addition, a humanoid race might have a trait that's fine for a monster but would need adjusting for a PC. PCs are protagonists and have every aspect of their effectiveness challenged; NPCs are temporary and typically do whatever it is the DM needs them to do.
But I want consistency / I just want to
This is outside normal 5e PC design, but it's actually OK to have a negative ability score modifier. We can take a lesson from 3rd edition Unearthed Arcana's character traits. The penalty can be used to offset a benefit that is directly associated. For example, a -2 Dexterity modifier would principally effect Dexterity saving throws, skills and ability checks. If the race does something interesting with those (e.g. add double your proficiency bonus to Dexterity checks made to craft dice) this is a fair offset and flavorful.

Random Height and Weight

When you create a race, you take your base height and roll the dice in the height modifier section and add that to your base height to get your total race height. Random weight is calculated by multiplying the number rolled by your height modifier by the number rolled by your weight modifier and adding that to your base weight. See the 5e Player's Handbook pp. 121. Other examples can be found in Volo's Guide to Monsters pp. 120 and Guild Masters' Guide to Ravnica pp. 12.

Code: {{heightweight |name= |feet= |inches= |heightmod= |weight= |weightmod= }}

Base
Height
Height
Modifier*
Base
Weight
Weight
Modifier**
′ ″ + lb. × () lb.

*Height = base height + height modifier
**Weight = base weight + (height modifier × weight modifier)

Suggested Characteristics

This is a brilliant addition to the wiki, that was not present in the published books. It's entirely optional, so if you don't want to utilize this feature of the preload, feel free to delete it. Basically, this section allows your race to be used as a supplement to your background, giving you a whole new set of personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws to use, randomize, or just draw from as inspiration! For more information on how to make the most of this section, go check out the 5e Background Design Guide.

With the addition of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes to the supplement book, supplemental tables for races were introduced. The more generally applicable ones include racial trinkets, adventurer story hooks and character quirks. The more specific ones include tables for generating a dwarven clan's status, vocations and notable traits, the drow have a table for generating their house's speciality while halflings, gnomes and gith have tables for personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws.

Race Do's and Dont's

This covers design errors that are often made. Some of these are conventions (e.g. "round-counting" doesn't break the game but is at odds with 5e design philosophy), whilst others are just wrong.

Terminology
  • Racial traits are "traits", not "abilities", "features", or "skills"
    • Class features are not racial traits.
    • Racial traits should not directly interface with or reference class features.
  • Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, etc, are "ability scores", not "stats". "Statistics" refers to all the game numbers of a game entity.
  • "hit points" - not "HP", "health" or "life".
  • Race names should be actual names, not sentences or phrases like "The Fluffy Fox", or "The Night" as well as "Holy Elf" or "Dark Dragonborn". The latter should be a subrace or a racial variant.
    • Race names should not have brackets in them like "Half-Goliath (Malformed)" or use colons like "Kender: DLC Conversion".
  • Racial traits are always capitalized.
  • Spell names are in lower-case italics, should not require material components to innately cast and should state the ability score used as the spellcasting ability.
Modifiers
  • Don't have flat or rollable increases/ decreases to game statistics such as skill checks, tool checks, passive Perception, proficiency bonus, damage rolls, attack rolls, Armor Class, death saves, initiative, etc.
  • Don't have "expertise" in a skill. Expertise is a class feature, not a terminology.
  • Don't have negative ability scores.
  • Don't have a total ability score increase that is greater than 6.
  • Don't increase a single ability score above 2.
  • Don't grant the unarmored defense class feature.
  • Do grant proficiency in skills/ tools.
  • Do allow a race to add twice their proficiency bonus to a skill check under specific circumstances such as the dwarfs Stonecunning.
  • Do grant conditional increases to damage dealt such as the aasimar's 3rd level transformations.
  • Do grant natural armor while unarmored such as with the lizardfolk.
Detriments
  • Don't include traits that have significant drawbacks to their use.
  • Don't include negative traits to "balance" out a ridiculous benefit.
  • Don't include drawbacks that pigeonhole a race into being a specific class.
  • Don't give
  • Do include flavorful drawbacks that directly deal with another part of the race.
    • The drows Sunlight Sensitivity trait directly counters the benefit they receive from their Superior Darkvision.
    • The kobold variant's Slim Build trait highlights the races lack of strength rather than giving them a -2 to Strength.
    • The nocturnes Fellvision is offset by their ability to not see color, as well as the drows Sunlight Sensitivity trait.
Spellcasting
  • Do use the spellcasting system in place of otherwise wordy or very similar traits.
  • Do space out spellcasting options over the first 5 levels.
  • Don't grant spells above 3rd level.
  • Don't grant 2nd and 3rd level spells at 1st level.
  • Don't use flat DC's.
Uses
  • Do use short or long rests to determine when you gain traits back.
    • Wrong: "before needing to take a short/long rest", "between short/long rests", "per short/long rest" - the exact recharge point is ambiguous.
    • Correct: "You need to finish a short/long rest before you can use this trait again" - clearly states when you get the trait back.
  • Don't grant uses linked to an ability score, proficiency bonus, or time of the day (dawn/ dusk/ midnight). These are reserved for class features and magic items.
Conditional Uses
  • Do use conditional circumstances for more passive traits
    • Do use condition advantages.
    • Advantage on a skill or ability to do something should (usually) be followed by the other such as the Dwarves Stonecunning trait.
  • Don't include near unconditional advantages, things that will come up too often, such as "You have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks to see."
  • Don't include conditions which are too specific, vague, or based on obscure things like "when there is an eclipse."
Action
  • Don't forget to say how or when the trait is used. Is it an action, a bonus action, a reaction? Is it triggered by another action, or is it a passive benefit?
Damage
  • Do be careful with a trait that grants you a benefit if you take damage, as it is trivial to arrange to be damaged by a willing player or NPC.
  • Do have the benefit only work against the creature that causes the damage.
  • Don't have condition immunities.
    • Instead grant advantage against saving throws from that condition.
  • Don't have damage immunities.
  • Don't have damage vulnerabilities.
    • Instead of lightning vulnerability have the race be stunned until the end of their next turn.
    • Instead of fire vulnerability have the race take an additional die of damage or be frightened of the source until the end of their next turn.
    • Instead of force vulnerability have the race be knocked prone when they take force damage.
  • Don't have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage.
  • Don't have natural weapons that deal more than 1d6 damage.
  • Do grant one maybe two damage resistances.
Special Senses
  • Don't have special senses like truesight, blindsight, tremorsense.
    • Being blind doesn't outweigh the additional benefits of having any of these sights.
Speed
  • Don't grant a base walking speed of over 35 feet on a Medium bipedal.
  • Don't grant a base walking speed of over 30 feet on a Small bipedal.
  • Don't grant a base walking speed of over 40 feet on a Medium quadrupedal.
  • Don't grant a base walking speed of less than 25 feet on a Small or larger character.
  • Don't grant a flying speed of over 50 feet.
  • Don't grant a hover speed of over 30 feet.
  • Don't grant a burrow speed without taking into account suffocation and the issue of a player just staying underground/ bypassing obstacles by moving underground.
Hit Points
  • Be careful not to disrupt the hit point economy of using hit dice to regain hit points during a short rest. These examples allow a character to regain all their hit points too easily:
    • Don't have unconditional regeneration.
    • Don't have traits that "count as" a long rest or shorten a long rest to less than 4 hours.
    • Don't have at-will "cure" effects that act as an immunity.
    • Do use temporary hit points that have a clear duration.
XP and treasure
  • Don't have traits that change the way XP, gold or treasure is granted. These rewards are entirely the purview of the DM.
  • Don't granted racial items like equipment, or gold.
  • Do have traits that allow races to construct specific items under certain conditions like the gnome's Tinker or the lizardfolk's Cunning Artisan.
Feats
  • From WoTC: "...never assume that a particular feat will be a part of the game. For instance, a class can't refer to a feat and feats should never be granted as class features." The human variant is a variant because feats are a variant rule despite being used in the majority of settings.
In General
  • Do give your race traits to help with combat, exploration, and interaction, the three pillars of adventure.
  • Do think of new racial traits rather than copying features/traits considered unique to a particular class or race such as the barbarian's rage, the elves trance, the halflings lucky, etc.
  • Don't make your race concept too narrow. Particularly when adapting a character from another work of fiction, don't tailor the race to fit that character exactly: pull back and consider a broader scope with options that could make that character.
  • Don't have negative features that punish players for picking a certain race.

Flying Races

The idea of playing a PC race that can fly has been desirable for as long as D&D has existed. After all, winged heroes are a staple of fantasy and mythology. And what could be simpler: it's not complicated to add, easy to visualize, and empowering.

One must be aware of the impact on the game. Since the 1st edition of the game, the fly spell becomes available to spellcasters at about 5th level: so adventure writers making encounters for very low-level characters assume that PCs do not have access to flight.

For example, there might be key items placed atop towers with the intent that the party must ascend through the interior chambers: a flying PC could bypass this. Or, an encounter comprised entirely of nonflying creatures with no ranged attacks: a flying PC could pepper them with ranged attacks or spells without fear of retaliation.

While a DM designing their own adventures with the PCs in mind can account for this, if you are playing an out-of-the-box adventure this can be a problem.

Nonetheless, PC race with a flying trait should be allowed if the DM feels it is appropriate. In 3rd edition, a flying race would have an LA (level adjustment) that raises the minimum character level of the PC, but that is no longer the case. Instead, we will look at how it affects the balance of a race and what can be done to mitigate it.

Mitigating Suggestions:

  • Consider making flight impossible what armor they are wearing. For example: "To use this speed, you can’t be wearing armor you are not proficient with or medium or heavy armor. "
  • Only make the flight available once the character reaches 5th level.
  • An altitude limit of 5 to 10 feet. This is the method used by the official Pixie race in 4th edition.
  • Have the flight limited in duration and use a recharge. For example: "As an action, you gain a flying speed of 30 feet for 1 hour. You must finish a long rest before you can fly again."
  • Gliding: The player can descend or remain level in altitude, but not ascend. Glide Speed (5e Variant Rule).
  • Sometimes homebrew races have a "required space" to take off, usually of 10 feet but this can be an issue, as it makes too much of an exception. Firstly, no other flying creature in the game requires a required space (not even the massive wings of a dragon): this is already abstracted into the creature's Size. Secondly, trying to use wings (or anything) in a cramped space is already covered by DM adjudication.
  • A "Labored Flight" feature worded such as "As an action, you can gain a flight speed of [x] until the start of your next turn. If you begin your turn in the air, you must use this action or begin falling."
  • When you take damage while flying, make a Constitution save with a DC equal to 10 or half the damage is taken, whichever is higher. If you fail the saving throw, you begin falling.

Metrics

These are standardized measurement and ranking systems used to quantify the value of racial traits. There are many different systems invented by different people based on their understanding of "balance" and their values in game design and play. No metric is perfect; as long as they produce results which are relatively compatible with precedent, then they are valid. If you use a metric to design your race, do not be surprised if you find that you might need to tweak the final design a bit to get it right. Game design is an art, not a science. That said, metrics are a useful tool to gauge where your race is at during the design process.

If you see that a piece of content has been designed using some form of metric, take the grade with a grain of salt. It is entirely possible that the grade is misleading for any number of reasons.

  • The grader may be a liar who just hasn't been caught yet.
  • The grader may misunderstand the metric, or may simply have miscounted the score.
  • Some random may have changed something since the grade was given.
  • The grade only takes into account the content in isolation, and can not account for unanticipated synergies with other game content.
  • Grading systems cannot quantify or account for the implicit power in the descriptive elements of content.
  • Grading systems cannot account for everything, and new ideas depend on the author's (possibly flawed) judgment to invent a quantified value.

For these reasons, it is important to take note of any discussion on the talk page. In particular, take note of when a grade was given, and check to see how many edits have been made since then. It is also important to check if anyone has playtested a piece of content, what the playtest looked like, and what the results of that playtest were.

Musicus Meter

The Musicus Meter is based on the value of one ability score increase. If you do use this as a guideline in your race design, please include the {{Musicus}} template at the top of the article's talk page (not the article page itself!), which will produce the following:

Musicus Meter
Score: {{{1}}}
This race scored {{{1}}} with the Musicus Meter race guidelines (score between 4 and 6 to an absolute maximum of 8). This metric may represent this page, or not. This is a guideline, not a rule, and it's important to use your own judgment alongside this scoring.
This scoring may be the groundwork for a focused {{needsbalance}} usage. A contributor to this page may request a detailed breakdown of this page's balance. Without this information, {{needsbalance}} may then be removed. This meter cannot be used to enforce needsbalance templates.
This template should only be placed on a race's talk page. If this template is not placed on the talk page, please move it.


This is done as a way of communicating to your audience the standards your work is based on.

Marasmusine's Meter

See Marasmusine Meter (5e Guideline).

This system was invented by D&D Wiki User, Marasmusine. It takes a +2/+1 ability score bonus as the baseline, and all PHB races score either 4 or 4.5. Marasmusine (talk) 12:10, 9 June 2018 (MDT)

References

  1. D&D 5e PHB pp.220
  2. D&D 5e PHB pp.190
  3. D&D 5e PHB pp.176
  4. D&D 5e DMG pp.278
  5. D&D 5e PHB pp.192
  6. D&D 5e DMG pp.282

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