Removing the straightjacket from ‘race’ selection
You know what sucks? Picking a race in D&D.
You have to decide “Do I take the race with the good atttribute bonuses, or do I pick the race that is interesting?” How do you play a dwarf that wasn’t raised under a mountain? Do you assume that dwarves are all born with a supernatural ability to look really hard at rocks? Do you assume that all elves, wherever they were raised, all know how to use a bow? It sucks, right?
So how about this:
We take out all of the mechanical bonuses for a character’s race, change up the wording, and let you choose what your character was good at by actually looking at your background. To keep things distinct, each race gets a little bonus that nobody else gets, a little something that’s useful to everybody and that shows a minor mechanical difference between species.
So here’s what I’ve got so far:
- Elves meditate for 4 hours a night (and can’t be put to sleep) and they have Elf Eyes. Elf Eyes gives advantage on perception related to sight.
- Dwarves have Iron Constitution (resist poison and advantage on saves vs disease)
- Halflings get Lucky: Whenever they roll a 1 on a d20, they can reroll it (and must use the new result).
- Orcs get Relentless: When they are reduced to zero hit points or less, they are reduced to 1 hp instead. Can be used once per short rest.
- Dragonborn get Draconic Heritage- they get a cone breath attack and resist whatever the damage type of their breath is.
- Tieflings get Infernal Heritage- they resist fire and have Darkvision.
- Humans get +2 HP per level and gain an additional skill.
(Side note: I got rid of Darkvision on most species because I like for people to carry torches and it’s a cool thing for Tieflings to have where they are otherwise kind of underwhelming)
That’s it. That’s all your species (‘race’) selection gets you. One minor bonus and that’s it. Pick whoever you want and then get moving.
Want to get more specific? Read on:
Elves were an interesting one. I thought that the fact that they don’t actually sleep is really cool, and by making it exactly one-half of their bonus, I wanted to draw attention to it. I don’t think people realize how big of a deal this is. Imagine in your actual real life if you only needed to sleep for four hours a day, how different that would make you compared to those around you. Elves also have really sharp eyes. If you want to do like a World of Warcraft giant-eared elf, you can give them Elf Ears and have advantage on hearing related perception instead. I like my elves a little more Tolkien, with the ‘pointy ears’ thing being an odd quirk rather than a character trait, but you do you.
Dwarves were easy. If they resist poison then they can drink everybody else under the table. Which is fun. They also resist disease, which means that they can eat or drink things that other races might consider disgusting. I’m really leaning into the ‘dwarves have enormous livers and iron stomachs’ thing. They’re really not much tougher than standard when it comes to fighting, but they are great on a campaign.
Halflings being somewhat luckier on average gives them a small benefit but it’s not crazy. 5% of the time, you get a reroll, but you have to take the second result, which might still be a failure. Halflings are a little luckier than most, but it all comes out in the wash.
Orcs, I think, are fun. If they would be killed, they instead aren’t. This has a direct mechanical comparison to humans, in that humans get a flat health bonus, whereas orcs get a variable effective health boost depending on how hard that last hit would have been. Orcs actually get a better deal out of it any time they would be reduced to less than 2x their level- so if an Orc at 4 HP takes ten damage, they ignore 7 of that damage and go to 1 hp. That’s effectively 6 free hit points, which a Human would have to be 3rd level to get. It’s more impressive than it looks at first blush. I also like what this says about them, physiologically. But I’ll get more into that later.
Dragonborn were easy. Everybody wants to play a dragonman with a breath weapon, and so here you go. In case you don’t want to use a breath weapon, you can also resist an element. My favorite thing about this is that you get to choose which is more useful. The fire resistance is by far the most useful, but to balance it out, you get a breath weapon that is super commonly resisted. The most unusual breath weapon would be like, radiant or something, but nothing ever does radiant damage. This sort of cost/benefit analysis is kinda weird but you only make the choice once and most people are just going to go with whatever makes sense for how they imagine their dragonman to look. Blue dragonmans are going to shoot lightning, etc. I probably wouldn’t let anybody choose the really odd damage types unless they talked me into it.
Tieflings are the only ones that keep Darkvision, because there was way too much Darkvision in stock 5e and if anybody’s going to keep it, it’s the dudes with a link to Hell. Darkvision on its own didn’t seem like enough, so I also let them have resistance to fire. I’ve been thinking I might let them swap out fire resistance for cold or acid resistance, depending on what kind of demon they descended from, but I don’t know.
Humans are the toughest and get an extra skill. Humans are bigger than Dwarves and Halflings, sturdier than Elves, and Dragonborn are lizards, which means their bones are less dense or whatever. Tieflings aren’t really humans anymore even though they look like it. An extra skill is a really minor perk on top of that that represents how humans mature and grow faster than every other species. (Every other species here lives like twice as long so it’s natural to assume that humans probably develop faster. Right? )
I didn’t do any other races, like Kenku or Tabaxi or Firbolg because I honestly couldn’t be bothered. But I might in the future if I think of a good idea for them.