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D&D 5E Races with floating bonuses: Designing from scratch


(Please note: This thread is for discussing how one might design races around floating bonuses. If you don't think races should have floating bonuses at all, that's fine, but I'd respectfully ask you not to turn this thread into an argument about it. There are lots of other threads to have that argument in.)

Tasha's introduced the option to change the existing D&D races to have floating bonuses and allow proficiency swaps. Although I like the change overall--it opens up a lot of options in character creation--I have to admit the implementation is a bit of a hack. The races were not originally designed to have floating bonuses (<cough>mountain dwarf</cough>), and the proficiency swaps result in stuff like elf fighters having a boatload of random tool proficiencies because that's the only thing you can trade your redundant weapon proficiencies for.

So, if you were designing the races from scratch around floating bonuses and proficiencies, how would you go about it? Would you migrate racial proficiencies into backgrounds, classes, or feats? What traits would you keep fixed? How would you go about giving each race a distinct mechanical identity without locking it into a particular set of stats? Or do you think giving them distinct mechanical identities is even important, or desirable?
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You could try giving everyone a single free feat at 1st level. Then package everything each race currently gets (even humans) into feats.

Then let the player pick the feat package they want, independent of actual character race. "DM: You want to play a Dwarf and take the Elf package? Go for it! But pitch it to me. Tell me your story."

Racial "identity" can be reinforced by all the NPCs in the world. The PCs are already freak outliers, or they wouldn't be adventurers in the first place.

Split all features into feat and half feat sized chunks. Then you get a set number of these (maybe three feats worth.) You can also take a +2 for a price of a feat and a +1 for a price of a half feat (no stacking.) You may designate some of these features (or even ability bonuses) to be only choosable by certain races or not, depending on how rigidly defined you want the races to be in your setting.


If you change the stat bonus from race to floating, it doesn't matter if you move them to class or feats or whatever, it's the same thing wherever it is. A stat bonus to anything you want. I'd have preferred the race maybe have a couple choices for that stat bump, but not just become a free for all +2 whatever you want.


Unserious gamer
Custom lineage only, then make some feats that bundle in some of the racial packages together. If you take one of those feats, or any race with a racial prerequisite, you count as a member of that race and can't take any other feats with a different racial prerequisite.


Goblin Queen
Eliminate racial ASIs and increase point buy by 5 points. Standard array becomes 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, if you roll stats you roll 4d6 drop lowest 7 times and drop the lowest of those. Merge racial proficiencies into backgrounds. Races that still stand out as significantly more powerful than the baseline can have some of their features turned into Feats.


So it seems like the most common approach is "convert racial traits into feats." Presumably "origin feats" would be selectable only at 1st level or with DM dispensation, i.e., you can't just decide on level-up to become fire resistant or grow claws.

Or... maybe you can? There are subclasses that give you such abilities on level-up, and feats past 1st level are effectively class features. But that might be a bridge too far.

At this point, it seems like a PC race would consist of a recommended feat package and a bunch of descriptive text. I have to say, I really like that approach. It would make it so much easier for DMs to create their own races for homebrew worlds.

It does mean, however, that feats could no longer be optional; they would have to be baked into the core rules.

4e-style encounter powers. Instead of floating bonuses, take some of the xanathar feats and make them mandatory, or allow to trade +2 to a stat dor one of those feats. Get rid of bonuses at all and make an honest point buy, where you get what you pay for. No taxes for certain races and so on.
Stat bonuses make only sense, if you roll for stats, because it shifts the average to that an adventurer from a certain folk. Here you could also just remove it and replace it with a more favourable method of rolling than 4d6 drop lowest. 6d4 drop lowest two comes to mind.

Is there any reason to use Floating Bonuses rather than to say, increase the point buy pool or standard array?

Or just make them class based?

In any case, there seems an easy mechanism for races(ancestries) make them feats. If one point of distinction for humans is that they get an extra feat at level 1- then just make all the other races into a feat package.

You could potentially have some extra feats you could take later if you really wanted to go all in on Dwarfiness.
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Move it mostly to background and class. Everyone gets a total of +3 to their Ability Scores at level one, one from their race (based on their races/subraces boosts, which they choose), one from their background (Soldiers can choose a +1 to STR or CON, Scholars can choose a +1 to INT or WIS, etc), and one from their class (Wizards get a +1 to INT, Fighters get a +1 to DEX or STR, etc).

This should satisfy everyone. Race still matters, but your background and profession matters more.


every race should have a set budget for racial abilities separate from the raw ability mods. Abilities should fir within that budget. Doing this is far less complicated than some suggest & would improve the game in other areas by padding out tables like the dmg280/281 tables with more stuff for gms to use



This was by far the weakest part of Tasha's. I expected some neat new rules, not a generic "bonuses can float" which I didn't need a rulebook to tell me I could do, and probably still won't allow all that generously.

The truth is I don't like how little distinction there is between small and medium races, and this makes it even worse. I feel small races should be redesigned from the ground up to offer an altogether different play experience from medium races.

It's an area that badly needed to be reimagined for 5e the way it was for pathfinder and it unfortunately wasn't, so now we have this crap.


I think it starts by determining a budged for of what a race can get in terms of features and then assign points to the different features available. Something like (And obviously these are VERY rough numbers I just pulled out of my...thumb):
+1 Stat: 2 points
Feat: 5 points
Flying: 6 points
Darkvision: 1 point
Natural weapons 1 point
Racial casting: 2 points
Skill Proff: 0.5 point
Tool prof: 0.25 point

Ofcoarse at the same time you would have to look at the inherrent problem some racial features have, like number or scaling issues (that's my daily dig at Dragonborn done for the day btw), fix them and rate the new feature accordingly.

If you combine this idea with something like Treantmonk's Feat Variant Options, which tweaks feats to smaller/ more customizeble choices (and nerfs some of the bigger offenders like Lucky/ Sharpshooter, which artificialy inflate the value of feats to begin with), I think you can create a much deeper character creation system then what's in place currently.

Let's take the first feat in that document, Armorer, as an example. You could say, for example, "Mountain Dwarves get 2 choices out of the Armorer feat-list", as a racial feature when you get the number of points and feats sorted. Going by the rules within the document a Dwarven Ranger would then be able to wear full plate (and pick up one of the other features on the side), which would make sense I think, but a Dwarf wizard would get up to light armor max (and a Dwarven Bladesinger, who get's light armor from the subclass, get's the option for Medium Armor). I think something like that would be a very decent comprimise between the current "all dwarven mages get medium armor and a bunch of useless tool profs" and the idea that a mage in Dwarven society would probably be more heavily armored then an elven mage (though not necesarily less skilled at their craft, as in the old system).
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You could as far as giving each race and class a point buy and each race/class would be unique to themselves. A set number of points to take heavy armor and only simple weapons, throw some points to darkvision and lay on hands. A few points to get breath weapon and +2 to Con. It might make the game more 6e than 5e.


Starting from scratch, I'd probably have all races grant +2 to two ability scores. One +2 bonus must be assigned to an ability score in which the race has a traditional advantage, e.g. Dexterity or Intelligence for a high elf, Strength or Constitution for a half-orc, or exchanged for a racial feat. The other +2 bonus can be assigned to any other ability score.

To me, this strikes about the right balance between providing a mechanical basis for how the races are distinctively described and allowing players to put one +2 bonus where they want, if it is really that important to them.

Twiggly the Gnome

Starting from scratch, I'd probably have all races grant +2 to two ability scores. One +2 bonus must be assigned to an ability score in which the race has a traditional advantage, e.g. Dexterity or Intelligence for a high elf, Strength or Constitution for a half-orc, or exchanged for a racial feat. The other +2 bonus can be assigned to any other ability score.

To me, this strikes about the right balance between providing a mechanical basis for how the races are distinctively described and allowing players to put one +2 bonus where they want, if it is really that important to them.

When I start a new campaign, I'm thinking of doing something similar. A static +1 to two abilities traditionally associated with that race, and two floating points, to a max of +2 for any individual score. So a Forest Gnome could start with +2 Int / +2 Dex, +2 Int or Dex / +1 Int or Dex / +1 any other, or +1 Int / +1 Dex / +2 any other. They'd also have the option of trading the floaters for something like Fade Away.


One thing I notice in these discussions is a focus on the "genetics" or physicality of lineages, which is kind of illogic since they are made up and don't actually have a genetic history.

I think it's a much better idea to build a ruleset off of the "narrative truths" of each lineage. What should it feel like playing as an elf vs a dwarf? What rules support that playstyle? I think freeing ability bonuses from races gives future designers to focus on other abilities, proficiencies, and powers that give each lineage a unique feeling no matter your ability scores.

If it were up to me, I'd break it down into three parts.

Your lineage grants you unique proficiencies, powers, and narrative truths that help, say, and elf fighter and an elf wizard feel like they are playing the same lineage. There would be no ability bonuses for lineages.

There would be a +1 bonus to an ability scores through your background, though these could also be presented as a choice. As a character with a noble background, you can choose +1 to Charisma or Intelligence.

The +2 would come from class. It just makes sense to gain a +2 to Dexterity from your training to become a rogue.

Just like background and class skill proficiencies, if your background and class ability bonuses are the same you just choose a new one.

As for lineage powers, I would follow a thought pattern like this:

When I play as an elf, I want to be a bit otherworldly. So whatever bonuses I get should make me feel like a magical race that doesn't follow the same natural laws as humans.

Sleepless: trance instead of sleep for 4 hours a night, immune to sleep spell effects.
Otherworldly sight: choose proficiency in two skills (Insight, Investigation, Perception, or Survival).

Then I would have some lineage feats or powers associated with different ideas of what it means to be an elf. Say, something like...

Elven Weapon Proficiency: you gain proficiency in short swords, longswords, shortbows and longbows.

Inherent Magic: Gain access to a cantrips from the Wizard spell list.

As part of choosing your lineage, you choose one lineage feat from your lineage or another's.

Anyways, that's how I'd do it!


Jewel of the North
I'd remove racial ASI but go with a race-as-classes instead!

Class: Elf
Archetype: Bladesinger, High Mage, Wood Warden, Arcane Archer, Tempest

Class: Dwarf
Archetype: Dwarven Defender, Runepriest, Cavern Strider, Battlerager, Vault breaker

Class: Halfling
Archetype: Hurler, Sheriff, Burglar, Dog Rider, Chaplain of Arvoreen

etc etc