D&D player character race options

Even though I run 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons games most weeks, I don’t know all the rules that well. For that reason I’ve just been reading over the Player’s Handbook again. Tonight I’ve been particularly looking over the player character race options. I find that players will have questions for me about their race or class features. Often I can’t answer them because I don’t play as a player character often so I’m not familiar with the races and classes. These are my notes about what I think I need to remember about the player race options in the Player’s Handbook. I haven’t paid as much attention to proficiencies or ability score increases, because I presume players will have these added on their character sheets.

Dwarves

As a dungeon master I need to remember that all dwarves have advantage to saving throws against poison as well as resistance against poison damage. Since a lot of people seem to play as dwarves, I don’t find this is hard to remember.

Elves

Because elves also seem to be a very popular option, I find their features are pretty easy to remember. Elves have advantage on saving throws against being charmed and they can’t be put to sleep by magical means. Elves also don’t need sleep. I find that this feature is really easy to remember because if there’s an elf in the party they will often mention it whenever the party rests

There’s a lot of variance in the elf subraces. High elves gain one wizard cantrip. Wood elves can hide when they are obscured by a natural phenomenon. Dark elves are sensitive to sunlight and gain specific spells at at 1st, 3rd and 5th levels.

Halflings

Even though halflings are one of the most common races, I think I’ve only ever had one regular player choose to play as a halfling, so I’m less familiar with their traits. It’s easy to remember that halflings can reroll attacks and saving throws if they roll a 1. I haven’t always remembered that they can also move through the space of any creature that is larger than them.

The halfling subraces don’t have as much variance as the elf ones do, and I think they should be easy to remember because they are similar to abilities from other races. Lightfoot halflings can hide whenever they are obscured by another creature that is at least one size larger than them, similar to the wood elf’s hiding feature. Stout halflings have advantage to saving throws against poison as well as resistance against poison damage, just like dwarves do.

Humans

I personally think humans are the least interesting player race option. They don’t have any features that make them stand out, other than a boost to all of their ability scores or the variant option that allows for a feat. The party I’m dungeon mastering for does not currently contain any humans, and I’ve rarely had any players who wanted to play as humans.

Dragonborn

As a dungeon master, the main thing I need to remember about dragonborn characters is that they gain a breath weapon (which recharges after a short of long rest) and a damage resistance based on the kind of dragon they are descended from. Since the breath weapon is going to be one of their most effective attacks, I find that players normally become familiar with this feature pretty quickly.

Gnomes

Gnomes are probably my favourite race option, at least among those in the Player’s Handbook. All gnomes have advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws against magic.

Both of the gnome subraces in the Player’s Handbook have a couple of features that I think are important to remember. Forest gnomes can cast minor illusion and can also communicate with small animals. Rock gnomes can add their proficiency bonus twice to any Intelligence (History) check related to magical, alchemical or technological objects. Rock gnomes can also use their tool proficiency to make a few different kinds of simple mechanical items.

Half-elves

If you’re familiar with the features of elves, it’s not hard to remember the features for half-elves. Like elves, half-elves have advantage on saving throws against being charmed and they can’t be put to sleep by magical means.

Half-orcs

When a half-orc character drops to 0 hit points but isn’t immediately killed by the damage they’ve taken, they can instead drop to just 1 hit point – but this can’t be repeated until after a long rest. Half-orc characters also get to add another extra damage die whenever they make a critical hit.

Tieflings

Tieflings have resistance to fire damage, and they gain specific spells at 1st, 3rd and 5th levels just like dark elves do.

Having read over these racial features and summarised them, I feel a lot more confident with them and I’ve been surprised at how much was already pretty familiar. Next I’ll probably have a look at some of the class features, because there are some that I’m not currently confident about.

Why demons?

I’ve just published a new set of printable paper miniatures depicting demons, which folks can use in tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. (There’s also a set of tokens here, using the same images.)

Some people might wonder why I would want to use demons in my games or why I would want to include them in a product, especially since I’m a Christian from an evangelical background. Some folks have had concerned that the inclusion of imaginary demons in games like D&D opened players up to influence from real life evil spirits. For a while, D&D‘s publishers started calling them Tanar’ri, in order to avoid this stigma.

One of the reasons I don’t have a problem with demons (and other evil creatures) being included in these games is because I think they can be a useful way of depicting human evil. Even in real world scripture, I think that evil spirits are often being used symbolically to talk about social evils.

In the regular game I’ve been running on Thursday nights (we’ve been using the D&D book Out of the Abyss) the party has gradually become aware that the subterranean world of the Underdark is being influenced by Demogorgon, the two-headed prince of demons. In the lore of D&D, the two heads of Demogorgon are divided, constantly scheming against each other, and this is also the nature of the madness he spreads. In two settlements the adventurers have visited, this madness has taken the form of greed, division and paranoia.

The town of Sloobludopp had been divided between two religious sects, led by warring relatives, as though the community had two heads attacking the one body. In this situation, the party ended up siding with one of the ‘heads’ and when the two factions came to blows, their violence summoned the Demogorgon to the town to destroy it.

More recently, the part has been exploring the dwarven city of Gracklestugh, which appears to be afflicted by a similar madness. However, this time they’ve noticed how the madness of Demogorgon is pulling the city apart, and they’ve been looking for a way to unify the city and bring festering, hidden conflicts into the open.

This is all very simple to talk about in a game, but it’s not hard to see that these are dynamics that impact on our real world. It seems like our societies are becoming increasingly selfish, fractured and paranoid. I think these stories can call us to live generously and to find ways to reach out to ideological enemies in the midst of real and serious conflict.

Fungus and the vulnerability of community

I’ve just released a new set of printable paper miniatures on DriveThruRPG, featuring some fungus people. At the moment the pack is US$1, but I’ll put it up to a regular price of US$3 in a couple of days. (I’ve also tried out making some tokens with the same illustrations, and I’m wondering if those are useful for people using virtual tabletops for their games?)

I’ve been using fungus people (in Dungeons & Dragons they’re called myconids) a little bit in the Out of the Abyss adventure I’ve been running for my Thursday night D&D group. There’s been a young myconid accompanying the group for most of the adventure, but in our most recent session the party came across a group of myconids who were acting quite unusually.

In D&D myconids are presented as peaceful creatures who live an idyllic existence in small, subterranean communities where they dream together and seek higher consciousness. This works because each community of myconids submits to a leader. In Out of the Abyss, the close-knit communities of the myconids are used by the demon lord Zuggtmoy to spread her maddening influence through the subterranean realm of the Underdark. This demonstrates that, while we tend to think of ‘community’ as a good thing, it can also be used to spread malevolent influence. (i’f you’re interested in reflecting more on the tensions between community and freedom, I’d suggest looking up the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman.)