D&D General How many mechanical features does a race need to feel "right"?


Deluxe Unhuman
Prompted by the discussion/debate over in the List of All 33 Races in MMotM thread, I'm curious:

For your tastes, how many mechanical features does a race in D&D need to feel "right", worthwhile, not-oversimplified, or whatever? One? Three? Five? More? None?

Does it matter what the features are? Do they need to include ASIs? Do they need to include movement? Save modifiers? AC modifiers? Proficiencies? Advantage or Disadvantage? Languages? Feat-like abilities? Innate spellcasting?

Do the races need to be balanced with each other, insofar as the rule system allows?
Do the races need to be balanced with themselves, i.e. do drawbacks like "this race has a slower-than-average movement speed" need to be balanced by an extra bonus or feature?

As a not-D&D-but-very-D&Dish example, races in 13th Age have ASIs just like D&D 5E, plus one racial feature. That's it! Well, there's also racial feats that are available when the character reaches each tier of play. But that's all there is. In fact, races are so simple in 13th Age that to some I added damage resistances, save bonuses, AC bonuses, etc.

log in or register to remove this ad


Not your screen monkey (he/him)
How many? A few to several depending on what they are
What should they be? Various - might be ASIs, might be movement, might be save mods, proficiences, etc

Ultimately, it depends on the race you're trying to present. If it makes sense for a particular race to have a lot of minor ones, they should have a lot of minor ones. If it makes sense for the race to have a single major one, they should have a single major one. You just want to try to keep an eye to balancing the options so no single race is always the go-to mechanical option for anything other than the player wanting to play a member of that race.


It’s never about the number of mechanics, it’s whether the mechanics create a race that is “different” to play than other ones.

if a race just plays the same as another, than what’s the point of having it? So you want to ensure that differentiation in mechanics.

From zero to massively multiple, depending on the aim. If we are talking a D&D-esque game, I think for me there needs to be at least one specific, concrete reason why I am playing this instead of a human. It does not need to be mechanical, but it can.

For something like GURPS or Hero System, where races are mechanically just templates (and aspects of personality and similar are part of the build process), I would generally want more little bits and bobs (else why make a race template in the first place?).

To me it's not the quantity of features they have. It's the quality.

You could give a species 5 languages, 4 proficiencies, 6 cantrips, darkvision, and a 35 foot movement speed. It would be overpowered af, but it would still feel bland and boring. Generic features like this are fine as a small part of the whole, but don't make a race in themselves.

One extremely impactful, unique, and thematic feature would be worth more than tons of generic features.

My ideal player species selection would not include cultural traits (put that in background instead), would use floating ASI's (but include suggested 'typical' ASI's), and would have a small amount of very impactful abilities more akin to a minor class feature. Additional things like planetouched and dhamphir would be then added at the end.

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Picking a race could be more interesting if such a decision actually had more influence on the player's choices and options beyond character creation. For example:

Players choose their own traits and abilities based on the race they have selected. This would eliminate the need for defined sub-races to telling us how one elf culture may be different from another elf culture, yet there is still no difference between elves of the same sub-culture.

One of the things I really liked about Pathfinder were the options that allowed you to swap the standard features and traits for something else. Players could substitute specific racial abilities rather than accepting the standard package that applied to all elves, or dwarves, etc. Maybe your elf wizard never used a bow and sword because she focused more of her time on arcane studies, or something else entirely.

And perhaps if there were advanced traits that only your race had access or capability to learn, but only once they reached a certain level. Or your abilities actually improved as you got more powerful. Does your character not grow in other ways besides what their class gives them? Why not make your decisions matter more than only at the character conception?

Remove ads


Remove ads

Upcoming Releases