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

One extremely impactful, unique, and thematic feature would be worth more than tons of generic features.
Agreed. And on a tangent this is part of why I'm in favour of ditching ability scores for PC races. It's not unique and it's not that impactful.
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.
Like many ideas it's not a bad one - but it's all in the implementation.
Sometimes, it's okay for a race to be really simple. Using 4e as an example, Humans were special because their features were powerful but simple: any single stat could get +2, you got a bonus feat (the only race which had this), a bonus at-will attack (or Heroic Effort later), a bonus skill training with no restrictions (e.g. not just a class skill), and a small bonus to all non-AC defenses. Nothing fancy, but something plenty of characters could leverage very well.

Turning to 5e, I think the default Dragonborn give us an excellent baseline for a not-quite-sufficient race. They've got exactly four things: +2 to one stat (Str) and +1 to another (Cha), Draconic as a bonus language, resistance to one chosen element, and a short-rest breath weapon. Thing is...that resistance is kinda bland and minimal as far as features go, and the breath weapon isn't much better.
Agreed. The problem with dragonborn is in part that the breath weapon is a bit meh. The Fizban's version is a lot better because it costs an attack not a full action so it's not simply a bad choice for any melee combat person to use other than under extraordinary circumstances or at really low level. Even what they get isn't good.
 

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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Honestly, I'd just flesh out backgrounds more, give every character a feat at 1st level, and then have racial "feats" that give you a bundle of race-specific abilities. Beyond that, just have race be narrative/aesthetic.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
My preference would be that each Origin would provide:
  • a +2 to one ability score
  • a +1 to a different ability score
  • a couple of physical characteristics (like darkvision, natural weapons, scent, wings, or natural armor)
Everything else, including but not limited to languages, proficiencies, and starting spells, would come from the character's Background.

Backgrounds are under-utilized, IMO.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I think we're asking the wrong question. It looks at mechanics as a way to build a heritage, when we should be looking at a heritage concept and asking what mechanics are needed to describe it. Create the concept. Flesh it out with no mechanics described, and then figure out how to implement the heritage you created with balanced mechanics.
 


To me at least, I think the answer is "depends on the race." Which is the problem.

You don't need a lot of traits to make a dwarf or halfling feel right, and none for a human. But tieflings and genasi need more than that, not so much in quantity but in power. And things like centaurs need a number of very powerful and impactful traits to feel right.

The most impactful racial feature of my centaur fighter is her ability to wear horseshoes (of speed). The actual racial traits (higher carrying capacity as a goliath, 1d4 hoof attacks, really situational charge ability) are just ribbons.

And while "races are just ribbons" it's bad design per se, I can feel the lack of satisfaction with it as the only answer.
 


Frozen_Heart

Adventurer
To me at least, I think the answer is "depends on the race." Which is the problem.

You don't need a lot of traits to make a dwarf or halfling feel right, and none for a human. But tieflings and genasi need more than that, not so much in quantity but in power. And things like centaurs need a number of very powerful and impactful traits to feel right.

The most impactful racial feature of my centaur fighter is her ability to wear horseshoes (of speed). The actual racial traits (higher carrying capacity as a goliath, 1d4 hoof attacks, really situational charge ability) are just ribbons.

And while "races are just ribbons" it's bad design per se, I can feel the lack of satisfaction with it as the only answer.
Yeah that does make it difficult. People consider humans 'the default' which also means not much in the way of impactful unique mechanics.

So then when you get a species which is not close to that and have to give it a load of abilities to feel right (e.g. flight), they're clearly more powerful mechanically, which then makes people unhappy.
 


Yeah that does make it difficult. People consider humans 'the default' which also means not much in the way of impactful unique mechanics.

So then when you get a species which is not close to that and have to give it a load of abilities to feel right (e.g. flight), they're clearly more powerful mechanically, which then makes people unhappy.
To be fair, it makes them unhappy because they know it can make the game a lot less fun.

But if we want a list of races as diverse as DnD has been using since mid-3.5e (2002? 20 years now?) then you need to find a way to account for the fact that some races have more inherent power than others.

ECL is not the answer. Maybe racial levels? I'm a 3rd-level centaur / 9th-level rune knight fighter?
 

Scribe

Hero
But if we want a list of races as diverse as DnD has been using since mid-3.5e (2002? 20 years now?) then you need to find a way to account for the fact that some races have more inherent power than others.

ECL is not the answer. Maybe racial levels? I'm a 3rd-level centaur / 9th-level rune knight fighter?
The righteous and proper return of Negative Modifiers.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
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?
Roughly balanced with each other and themselves is enough. Unfortunately 5e doesn't support something like equivalent class levels of more powerful creatures, so playable races must be more or less equivalent.

I don't care if a race has one single powerful racial ability or several minor ones. It's ok to have simple and complex races in the same game.

Any type of ability is fair game as a racial ability, including spellcasting.

It is also ok for a race to have zero racial ability (although in that case it needs human ASIs to balance). I have run 5e for many groups of beginners where everybody had human stats for simplicity and race choice was cosmetic only. But in a published book I expect the designers to do some work and come up with interesting novel racial abilities.
 

HammerMan

Legend
I doubt it would happen but I want

stats removed (why give everyone floaters just remove it and build it into other parts)
2-3 always on features (maybe from a choice of 4-5)
1 short rest or long rest ability that requires tracking and using
at 2 later level (3rd, 5th what ever) that increase the abilty or add a new one

and all of these should have all of this
 

Frozen_Heart

Adventurer
I doubt it would happen but I want

stats removed (why give everyone floaters just remove it and build it into other parts)
2-3 always on features (maybe from a choice of 4-5)
1 short rest or long rest ability that requires tracking and using
at 2 later level (3rd, 5th what ever) that increase the abilty or add a new one

and all of these should have all of this
Yep just remove the +2/1 from player races altogether, and build it into the part of the game where you select your scores.

If it's identical for everyone, then how is +1 in score select any different to +1 in race select?
 




Centaur - Negative Dex.
Fire Magic Bonus = Water Magic Penalty.

5e doesnt do anything of this well of course, because 5e is far too generic and simplified.
Centaurs are bad archers now? That seems like a odd choice, given that it's their traditional weapon, historically. (Well that and the club.)
 

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