D&D 5E Adding Racial/Lineage Traits That Feel Meaningful [+]

CreamCloud0

Explorer
Racial Traits are the core of what defines each Species the players have a choice to pick for their character, Their strengths and abilities, things that set them apart from every other species...in theory, To me so many of the 'racial traits' feel painfully generic or flavourless and with floating ASI their uniqueness is being further eroded, Darkvision is more common than not, Resistances are fairly frequent and of course everyone is getting a language that will go unused in favour of using Common 90% of the time, Now there are a few traits out there that carry some flavourful OOMPH, Half-Orc's relentless endurance, Tiefling's Infernal legacy but alot of them fall short IMO, So that's what i'm asking: If you could give a race a new Trait to emphasis what is meant to really be their strong points what would it be? and which race would you give it to?

This is a Plus Thread so no dumping on other people's ideas.

One trait i would give the Halfling is something akin to Mask of the Wild, Halflings have always been emphasised as being subtle and sneaky so letting them hide and conceal themselves when only being lightly obscured would be a perfect trait for them IMO.
 

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The difference between the 4e dragonborn and the (original, pre-Fizban) 5e dragonborn is a lovely demonstration of what can be done to make ancestry features work better and encourage certain archetypes.

Translating its 4e-isms to 5e, the 4e Dragonborn has the following racial features:
  • +2 Charisma, and +2 Strength or +2 Constitution (your choice)
  • While below half health, you get +1 to attack rolls and the DC of actions you take that force targets to make saves
  • When you roll a Hit Die to regain HP, add your Constitution modifier to the HP regained
  • Gain a small bonus to the History and Intimidate skills
  • Dragon breath (more frequent, since it's an Encounter power, arguably better scaling in 4e's lower-HP-scaling environment, and adding Con mod to damage)
These give us some hints as to directions they can go. The race shown above is relatively versatile, but with a clear bias toward social things (universal Cha bonus, Intimidate bonus) and physical combat (Str or Con bonus, features that scale off Con or trigger at low health), while still having just a hint of the intellectual (History bonus).

I am not giving these as examples of what 5e necessarily should do. Just noting that the loss of literally 3 out of 5 racial features (and reductions to both of the remaining features) is a significant part of why people care so much about racial ability bonuses, and how this problem can be more effectively opposed.

Given 5e is moving toward viewing "ancestry" as different from "culture," it might be necessary to make all non-physical skill bonuses culture-specific, perhaps as part of a revamped Background system, e.g. Dragonborn might have a "Scion of Arkhosia" typical background or culture-component, but this could be swapped out for any other culture one fancies, including inventing a new culture with DM approval.

For my own "Arkhosian Dragonborn" rebuild, I would do the following.

Dragonborn Ancestry (Blended)
Yours is the legacy of dragons: their blood flows in your veins, their scales cover your skin, their fire or ice burn within your soul. Proud, strong, quick to mature and driven to succeed, dragonborn excel in strength of arms and fierceness of will. Unlike some dragonborn, who show distinctively-colored scales like a known type of dragon, your ancestry blends the powers of them all, granting you vigor and intensity. You have the following ancestry features:
Ability scores: Increase your Strength, Charisma, and Constitution scores by 1. Or, you may choose to increase any one of these by 2, and increase another by 1.
Draconic Resilience: When you roll a Hit Die to regain hit points, increase the hit points restored by each die by your Constitution modifier (minimum 1).
Draconic Presence: Choose one of Persuasion or Intimidate. You gain Proficiency with this skill.
Dragon Breath: [As the existing dragonborn feature of 5e, I don't feel like writing it out]
Draconic Resistance: You gain resistance to the damage type chosen for your Dragon Breath.

In addition to your Ancestry features, choose one Culture approved by your dungeon master, or create a new one with your DM's approval. Many characters with dragonborn ancestry, or raised by parents of dragonborn ancestry, may have the following Culture:

Heir of the Empire ("Arkhosian")
Long ago, there was a great and shining empire of virtuous souls led by noble men and women--or, at least, that is what you were taught by those who raised you. That empire was a place of justice and achievement, a shining beacon to the world, but it was laid low by continuous wars against its enemies. It was not conquered, you were taught, but collapsed from within, its people scattered to the winds. Though they have not risen to the same height in the centuries since, they have never forgotten its legacy, and as an inheritor of that legacy, you carry on the pride and burden of its memory.
Proud History: All heirs of the empire are taught to value their history. You gain proficiency with the History skill.
Clan Bond: You are a bonded member of a clan that upholds the ancient traditions of the empire. Anywhere this clan has members, you can appeal to them for aid, but likewise, they may call on you for aid as well, and failure to aid your clan carries serious costs.
Self-Reliance: Each heir of the empire is expected to pursue their own greatness, gaining prestige for the clan and proving the spirit of the empire lives on. When you reject freely-offered aid as unnecessary, or turn down a physical reward, you gain one use of Inspiration, or two uses if you can convince that person to speak highly to others of you and your clan as a reward instead.

Additionally, determine the name of the empire that your Culture is heir to. In the world of the Nentir Vale, dragonborn descend from the fallen empire of Arkhosia, which once ruled lands far to the south, allegedly with justice and mercy, until war destroyed both it and its bitter enemy, Bael-Turath. Other settings may have had other empires--which may or may not have been specifically led by dragonborn, but which are nonetheless remembered and honored by their inheritors, regardless of their ancestry.

This gives actual weight and mechanics to both aspects, without making them particularly powerful or dramatic. Ability scores remain "fixed," but cover a very broad spectrum--you can get a total of seven unique ability score options from the above list, covering a sizable swathe of character options. Nothing mental is provided by Ancestry, and nothing physical is provided by Culture.
 

Great thread idea!

I've had a lot of fun with this kind of thing in the past. The hard (and thus interesting) part is designing features that benefit all classes. Maybe not necessarily perfectly equally (e.g., Halfling Luck increases in value as you roll more d20's, so casters who rely on saving throws, or buffing their allies, will get slightly less benefit) but the goal is to minimize the variance.

So, for example, representing "strength" in a way that improves melee damage obviously favors some classes.

But we also don't want to represent strength in a way that depends on having high strength in the first place, because that's mostly going to benefit those classes.

Here are some ideas for class-neutral ways to represent strength:
- Resistance to being shoved or knocked prone
- Increased carrying capacity
- PB times per long rest, +10 to an attempt to lift/move/break inanimate object (or maybe outside of combat?) Yes, having a high strength makes this even better, but the +10 overwhelms any difference due to strength attribute.
- Increased jumping distance (this could apply to other forms of athletics, except it has always bothered me that climbing, swimming, etc. use Strength)

I'm also trying to think of some kind of charging/trampling maneuver (thinking specifically of Minotaurs) that would Shove all enemies in your path, but that feels like it would be much more useful to Fighters and Barbarians. It might work as a kind of escape maneuver, that would let casters bowl their way out of melee without drawing OA's.
 

I would love for dwarves to get the 4e dwarven fortitude back (bonus action spend a HD recharge short rest)
I would also like Humans to have advantage on Death Saves.
I love halfing luck... would not change a thing
I don't know what I want for gnome or elf
 

CreamCloud0

Explorer
I would love for dwarves to get the 4e dwarven fortitude back (bonus action spend a HD recharge short rest)
I would also like Humans to have advantage on Death Saves.
I love halfing luck... would not change a thing
I don't know what I want for gnome or elf
This might be a bit out there but for elves being known for being highly in tune with nature and having good perceptive capabilities i think it would be really cool to give them some form of picking up 'environmental memories', perhaps the specifics change with the individual subraces but something like being able to sense residual emotions several hours after they happened and who was there, or like, being able to percieve 'X comes through here regularly'
EDIT: in practice this would function by letting the player make perception/investigation checks to try pick up on information and situations that have already passed.
 
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Zubatcarteira

Now you're infected by the Musical Doodle
The Halfling's luck, I'd make it something like: "Your luck can turn your worst failures into your most amazing successes. Whenever you roll 1 on a d20 roll, you can treat it as a 20 instead."

Way stronger than the normal one, but I think it does make them actually feel lucky since it avoids a possible catastrophe and turns it into something great. Although I'd prefer to have stronger race features anyway.
 

Horwath

Hero
Since fixed racial bonuses to abilities are going ways of the dinosaur and we will have agnostic +2/+1 or +1/+1/+1 or something in that area,
we should fix on having small racial features that are representative, but also useful to all character concepts. Or most of them.


HUMAN:

speed: 30ft

Languages: Common

Versatility: gain proficiency in two skills of your choice

Tools of the trade: gain 4 proficiency in any combination of weapons, tools and languages.

Hidden talent: gain expertise in one skill or tool that you are proficient.


DWARF:

speed: 25ft

Languages: Dwarven, Common

Darkvision 60ft

Though: +1 HP per level

Resilient: advantages on saves vs poisons and resistance to poison damage

Additional training: gain extra level of armor proficiency of your starting class: none->light->medium+shield->heavy or one extra Class skill of your starting class.

Proud historians: dwarves get proficiency and expertise in History

dwarven tools: you gain proficiency in 3 tools from the list: smith, brewer, mason, jeweler. Or you can pick instead of one or more tools one weapon from any axe or hammer.


ELF:

Language: elven, common

speed: 35ft

darkvision 60ft

keen senses: elves gain proficiency and expertise in Perception

Elven magic: gain one cantrip from any spell list. You casting modifier is highest of Int, Wis or Cha

Elven immunity: immune to sleep and advantage vs charm effects

Elven trance: elves enter a trance like "sleep" for 4hrs in which they remain alert and it counts as 8hrs of rest.

Elven knowledge legacy: at the end of every "trance", elves can pick 2 proficiency out any tool, weapon or language


here is for core 3 races.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
To expand on this, I think a big missed opportunity of 5e is that they gave so little design space for racial features. So that without ability score modifiers there wasn't as much that would make a real mechanical impact in play, especially in Tier 2 and later. But the bigger issue is that it left no room for powerful races. Compared to the size Large Centaurs in the MM, what we can play are medium-sized pony people, not even large enough to be ridden by medium sized people. Remember the uproar with races that could fly continuously, even with armor restrictions?

So my suggestion is be generous with granting races new abilities, and find a new, more powerful equilibrium. One that can encompass a tiny flying pixie race, and a half-ogre, and whatever else you want to see.
 

CreamCloud0

Explorer
what would people's opinions be if races were instead designed more as if they were 'micro-classes' that gained additional or stronger abilities as the character levelled up? A 3rd level dragonborn might only have a 15ft cone for their breath weapon and resistance to their element but the same character at 18th level would have a 30ft breath weapon, actually absorbs their element, as well as also having some inspiring draconic presence and has grown wings for flight too? very little about a character's race scales at all which is honestly a bit odd if you think about it.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
what would people's opinions be if races were instead designed more as if they were 'micro-classes' that gained additional or stronger abilities as the character levelled up? A 3rd level dragonborn might only have a 15ft cone for their breath weapon and resistance to their element but the same character at 18th level would have a 30ft breath weapon, actually absorbs their element, as well as also having some inspiring draconic presence and has grown wings for flight too? very little about a character's race scales at all which is honestly a bit odd if you think about it.
We have some of that, with some races getting access to higher level spell abilities at 3rd and 5th, and others with a different progression mechanism of dedicated feats.

I like the feat path a bit better - powerful abilities for race seem like they would come based on some narrative milestone like a centaur may become Large at adulthood, and those happening just whenever seems a bit off. But I'm not against level-guided ones.
 

Horwath

Hero
what would people's opinions be if races were instead designed more as if they were 'micro-classes' that gained additional or stronger abilities as the character levelled up? A 3rd level dragonborn might only have a 15ft cone for their breath weapon and resistance to their element but the same character at 18th level would have a 30ft breath weapon, actually absorbs their element, as well as also having some inspiring draconic presence and has grown wings for flight too? very little about a character's race scales at all which is honestly a bit odd if you think about it.
As @Blue mentioned. we have few races that get more abilities at levels 3 and 5. we could get another boost at lvl11(next tier of play), but that is it. Racial abilities do not need to be prolonged to levels 17+. Even level 11 seems too long. Might be better if that is level 7.

Add one or two half-feats for each race to build upon existing stuff or new that would be too powerful for level 1 "race budget" and we are good to go.
 

CreamCloud0

Explorer
oh i was well aware that there were certain racial abilities that scaled and a small few that aren't given to you out of the gates [i was only vaguely aware of racial feats as a thing and did forget to consider their existance] but for the most part races give you everything you're going to get from you the moment you pick them at level 1, i just thought the idea of developing and unlocking more of your species inherent capabilities as your character becomes stronger would make them more interesting and more of an important factor to consider, move things away from class being basically everything that determine your abilities besides perhaps a feat or a magic item.
 

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