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D&D 5E A Lineage and Its Variants: The New Race Format Going Forward

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
Recently, the 5e designers updated the format for races.

This race format discontinues and replaces the subrace format. There are no longer "subraces". However there are still "variants" of a race. This thread explores the implications of the format update.

Regarding jargon. When we talk informally about a "race", we are actually talking about the "lineage". Technically, a "race" only refers to the statistics that a player character can use when choosing a lineage. A "monster" refers to the statistics that non-player characters can use. Each lineage can include variants for race stats and variants for monster stats.

There are official lineages, including elf, dwarf, dragonborn, and tiefling. There is also an official custom lineage that gives a player some limited tools to design a new lineage that isnt one of these.

Overall, the impact of the formatting decisions, appears to make the concept of a lineage more fluid − without a defining essence. There are many ways to stat a lineage, including race variants (like high elf or astral elf, or gem dragonborn or metallic dragonborn), as well as monster variants (like spring eladrin or drow arachnomancer). Each variant may or may not share certain features with other variants.

In a way, the "new" format is what has always existed in the Players Handbook and other core books, since 2014. Consider the human.

In the current terminology, D&D 5e has a human lineage. There are two different variant race stats that a player character can choose from when choosing the human lineage. One is with a feat choice and one without. In our campaigns, we like feats and take them for granted, so our player humans exhibit a feat. But if a player wants the featless human variant stats, that option exists in our campaigns too. Neither variant is any less human. Both variants are equally and fully human.

Meanwhile the various monsters for the human lineage that a DM can choose from, including archmage, bandit, or potentially even a baker if necessary, are equally human.

The human lineage includes many race variants and monster variants.



By analogy, the various statistical variants for an elf are all equally an elf: a full member of the elf lineage.

The chromatic, gem, and metallic are all variants of the dragonborn lineage, and are equally a dragonborn.

A setting might only have stats for wood elf and astral elf, and they are equally an elf.



The statistics for a lineage are fluid. The race variants use the same race format but may or may not fill it out with certain same features. Likewise the monster variants share the same statblock format and may or may not fill it out with the same features.
 
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ART!

Deluxe Unhuman
Thanks for laying this out the way you have. I think the new approach makes it easier to make new "races"/lineages, and new lineage variants, in I'm all for giving players more ways to build the character they want. The O5E default "race" builds will still be there.
 

J-H

Hero
"Lineage" is a word I (otherwise) only hear when talking about someone's family heritage and ancestry, specifically around nobility. I find it a bit jarring.

I think they could have saved themselves a lot of headaches by just saying "Species," and that's generally what I've done in the games I'm DMing.
Even if humans seem to be cross-fertile with everything... lions and tigers can make Ligers, vampires and humans can make dhampirs or whatever, but that doesn't mean they're the same species.

It might create some interesting social quirks if mundane (non-Outsider) crossbreeds like half-elves were sterile like mules or ligers. The removal of a possibility of generating offspring might even give them advantage on saves vs. divination spells - and yes, I'm thinking of The Mule from the Foundation books. Even though very few PCs ever have kids in game, it may also cut interest in playing some of those races, just like I never heard of anyone actually playing that Eunuch Warlock from somewhere in 3rd edition.
If I didn't already have another campaign lined up after the 2 I'm currently DMing, I think I'd include this.
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
"Lineage" is a word I (otherwise) only hear when talking about someone's family heritage and ancestry, specifically around nobility. I find it a bit jarring.

I think they could have saved themselves a lot of headaches by just saying "Species," and that's generally what I've done in the games I'm DMing.
Even if humans seem to be cross-fertile with everything... lions and tigers can make Ligers, vampires and humans can make dhampirs or whatever, but that doesn't mean they're the same species.

It might create some interesting social quirks if mundane (non-Outsider) crossbreeds like half-elves were sterile like mules or ligers. The removal of a possibility of generating offspring might even give them advantage on saves vs. divination spells - and yes, I'm thinking of The Mule from the Foundation books. Even though very few PCs ever have kids in game, it may also cut interest in playing some of those races, just like I never heard of anyone actually playing that Eunuch Warlock from somewhere in 3rd edition.
If I didn't already have another campaign lined up after the 2 I'm currently DMing, I think I'd include this.

As far as I can tell, the terms "lineage" and "species" mean the same thing. Probably the designers chose lineage for the D&D technical jargon, because of its flavorful connotation of medieval values about aristocratic pedigree. The connotation of species might have felt too scientific and modern for them. But they reuse the term lineage to mean species anyway.

It is worth mentioning, a lineage implies an ability to reproduce offspring. But there can be various methods of reproduction.

The dragonborn lineage came into existence by magically transforming an embryonic dragon egg. Since then the dragonborn can reproduce sexually. But they can also reproduce asexually. Fizbans gives a certain Draconic Gift, called Draconic Rebirth, that magically transforms a player character into the dragonborn lineage, thus replacing player character racial features with dragonborn racial features. Thereby, a dragonborn is reproduced asexually.
 

Shiroiken

Legend
Is there an official article you could link?
"Lineage" is a word I (otherwise) only hear when talking about someone's family heritage and ancestry, specifically around nobility. I find it a bit jarring.

I think they could have saved themselves a lot of headaches by just saying "Species," and that's generally what I've done in the games I'm DMing.
I feel the opposite, since I find "species" to be a far too scientific a term for my taste in a fantasy game (as opposed to a science fiction game). They are more or less synonymous, so it really comes down to personal preference. Of course, I'm also one of the people who finds the conflict over the term race ridiculous, so take it for what it's worth.
 

Helpful NPC Thom

Adventurer
The change from race to lineage is one of quibbling over terminology, though there is a distinction from my perspective. 5e's lineage (and Pathfinder 2e's ancestry) indicates something closer to bloodline or heritage, where someone of the elven lineage is descended from elves. He may have had a considerable mingling of his blood; he may have not had an elf mother or father; yet the elven features are dominant in him.

I'm of mixed thoughts on this, but I like racial classes, so that's that. (Horde Paladins and Alliance Shamans were a mistake, cmv.)
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Honestly, I find all these debates annoying in the extreme (especially since the same words are repeated over and over with each new supplement since Tasha, with no valuable addition to the concept). First, all this is mostly food for powergamers who absolutely want to be able to combine the stats increase with the powers that go well with their classes and archetype (whereas people who mostly want to play the game and explore combinations of race and class and other factors did not really have a problem with the racial stat bonus not being perfectly optimised). Second, people who claim that this adresses the race issue in D&D (for those who assume that there is a problem that needs to be solved) do so mostly to propagate their own ideas, because this is only for PCs, the various races (with their description and innate likes and dislikes for other species) still exist extremely strongly in D&D, whether it's in the monster manual or even more strongly in settings (although some setting like Eberron present some of the legacy races like orcs in a different light, they are still exactly like many legacy races in the other settings, with their own prejudices - don't get me wrong, for me, it's part of the fantasy genre so I think it's a good thing, is generates tension and therefore potential drama and action).

That being said, for PCs and on the basis that people want to optimise, "lineage" is probably the best term (although ancestry is not too bad either), if you want to produce something that is really unique. That being said, once more, it's powergamer's food, and I would really like to see characters with hybrid ancestry in play, and how they deal with this in terms of racial heritage in a world divided by races as all pubished settings are (and I'd like to see another setting than those to see if it's as flat and boring as I suspect it would be). But I suspect that it's a mostly a non-issue, since they are probably created that way mostly for power purpose anyway...
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
Is there an official article you could link?

Various WotC documents have been describing designer intent for over a year.

The designers considered deleting the term "race" from D&D. Terms like lineage, species, folk, people, kin, ancestry, origin, and so on, appeared interchangeably as a potential replacement. It seems the feedback was deeply divided and the designers sought compromise.

The publication of Tashas in 2020 (November?) reflects the dust beginning to settle. This book introduced the new term, "lineage" in technical contexts but without a technical definition.



Clarification of the designer intent came later in 2021 (January?) in a sidebar of UA 2021 Gothic Lineages.

This UA clarifies the technical terms and the designer intent.

• A "lineage" is a "species".
• A "race" is specifically the "player character" of a "lineage".
• A "lineage", such as dragonborn, includes "race", "monster and npc".

(Note, the designers stop short of calling a human npc a "monster", thus referring to the phrase "monster and npc". But in the sense that the human npc uses the "monster statblock" format, I generalize the term monster for an npc too.)



"
UNEARTHED ARCANA 2021
GOTHIC LINEAGES

Design Note: Changes to Racial Traits

In 2020, the book Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced the option to customize several of your character’s racial traits, specifically the Ability Score Increase trait, the Language trait, and traits that give skill, armor, weapon, or tool proficiencies.

Following in that book’s footsteps, the race options in this article and in future D&D books lack the Ability Score Increase trait, the Language trait, the Alignment trait, and any other trait that is purely cultural. Racial traits henceforth reflect only the physical or magical realities of being a player character who’s a member of a particular lineage. Such traits include things like darkvision, a breath weapon (as in the dragonborn), or innate magical ability (as in the forest gnome). Such traits don’t include cultural characteristics, like language or training with a weapon or a tool, and the traits also don’t include an alignment suggestion, since alignment is a choice for each individual, not a characteristic shared by a lineage.

Finally, going forward, the term “race” in D&D refers only to the suite of game features used by player characters. Said features don’t have any bearing on monsters and NPCs who are members of the same species or lineage, since monsters and NPCs in D&D don’t rely on race or class to function.

Moreover, DMs are empowered to customize the features of the creatures in their game as they wish.

"



In sum:

lineage = species

lineage = pc race + npc monster

race ≠ culture



Further confirmation came later in 2021 March, via two tweets from Crawford. Here, the term "lineage" is synonymous with "species".

"
Customizing your origin and choosing a custom lineage are two rules, addressing different needs. One is about making your elf/dwarf/etc. the way you want them. The other is about making a character who isn't mechanically attached to any particular species in the game.

"

"
https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford
In Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, the custom lineage option is chosen in lieu of a race, such as elf or dwarf. If you choose the custom lineage, you don't qualify for things in the game that require elf, dwarf, and the like.

"


The two statements by Crawford disappointed players because they made a custom lineage unable to qualify for the "race feats" in Xanathars, because the custom lineage was a different lineage, thereby not one of the prerequisite official lineages. The unpopular clarification nevertheless confirmed the meanings of the technical terms, lineage and race.

lineage = species = elf/dwarf/etc.



Recently, UA Draconic Options, UA Travelers Of The Multiverse, and Fizbans used the race format update instead of the subrace format. Notably, the astral elf uses the updated race format, instead of the expected elf subrace format. The term "subrace" and the format for one have fallen out of use. UA Draconic Options refers to chromatic, gem, and metallic as "variant dragonborn races", instead of dragonborn subraces. According to Fizbans, there are four dragonborn "races", the one in the Players Handbook, plus the three in Fizbans that are "variant dragonborn racial options". These four variants appear to be alternative ways for a player character to stat a dragonborn lineage.



Note. Tashas also introduces the term "origin".

origin = race + class + background + ability scores

Now inferably:

culture = class + background + ability scores

origin = race + culture



The above disparate sources evidence well enough the overall designer intent.

lineage = species

lineage = variant pc races + variant npc monsters
 
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BookTenTiger

He / Him
Honestly, I find all these debates annoying in the extreme (especially since the same words are repeated over and over with each new supplement since Tasha, with no valuable addition to the concept). First, all this is mostly food for powergamers who absolutely want to be able to combine the stats increase with the powers that go well with their classes and archetype...
I pretty strongly disagree with you, but I am mostly wondering why you are choosing to enter this conversation with such a reductive argument painting a group of people (those who like this change) with a broad brush (power gamers). Do you really think that's going to help avoid "the same words repeated over and over"???
 

Weiley31

Legend
I prefer Heritage/Lineage myself in regards to alternative terms. Especially in regards to Weapon Familiarity. I still use race/racial though, but those would be my three preferences.

I still see the Gothic Lineages and the Folks of the Feywild UA, in regards to the Hexblood, as Lineages as a whole separate thing altogether. The way they change your character or how your initial race is changed into something else. With the Dragon Rebirth Draconic Gift from Fizban's, Dragonborn has become both a "race" AND a "Lineage" in that regard. The Haregon, updated Fizban Dragonborn, and the Multiverse UA, however, are all examples of WoTC going beyond what was initially the path with Lineages when they first set out a new method to begin with. Less/Not Subraces and more, as mentioned before, variants end/or new race options in the new format going forward.

Do I wish they move past Lineages in that regards? No not really: I want them to continue with the Gothic Heroes/half of the Feywild UA "approach" to Lineages as well as using the new race option standard that is being shown in the Multiverse UA. Plus Lineages can help so much with making the Custom Race option be not so bare bones. I'm sorry but its literally screaming to be used to fix that. (But then, I've always found the Tasha's Custom Race to be super bare bones mechanically to begin with. And that's even by 5E's KISS standards.)

Part of me is worried that alot of people may shoot down any positivity or experimentation the newest UA was proposing. Perhaps I'm overthinking it, but we've seen some good experimentation ideas before in past UA for reasons. Such as the Psionic Talents/Die, the best take on 5E Psionics so far despite its major quirk, shot down because people were "scared" of having to keep track of some extra dice. Despite the fact that some of their subclass choices may have included "extra dice" as a mechanic, such as the Battle Master. (Sure it came back for three subclasses in Tasha's, but we still need the rest of the classes using it.)

I'm more old school in my views towards racial modifiers and terms, but I'm looking forward to what WoTC can come up with in future UAs AND what changes/effects will happen to the core PHB races once 2024/50th Anniversary editions swing around.
 
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