D&D 5E The Fall Of The Dwarves: What Races Do People Actually Play?

What races are people actually playing, and how much of it is Tolkien fantasy as against other stuff?


Fortunately D&D Beyond provides a better source of data than we've ever had. The most recent data from less than a week ago in December 2020 alas does not provide percentages.
  1. Human
  2. Half-Elf
  3. Dragonborn
  4. Tiefling
  5. Half-Orc
In February 2019, using stats found via this very site:
  1. Human
  2. Variant Human
  3. Half Elf
  4. Tiefling
  5. Dragonborn
  6. Wood Elf
  7. High Elf
  8. Half-Orc
  9. Goliath
  10. Mountain Dwarf
  11. Lightfoot Halfling
  12. Hill Dwarf
Which is a bit of a change from what people were creating in launch month for D&D Beyond (mid 2017)
  1. Human
  2. Elf
  3. Half-Elf
  4. Dwarf
  5. Tiefling
  6. Dragonborn
  7. Genasi
  8. Halfling
  9. Half-Orc
  10. Gnome
  11. Goliath
The percentages are presented in different ways in 2019 and the launch month, with launch month merging the various subraces. So to compare like with like:
  • Wood elves and high elves taken together in the 2019 data are more popular than half-elves (or variant humans)
  • Meanwhile if we split the wood elves and high elves from 2017 they are probably both behind tieflings and dragonborn
  • Dwarves taken together in 2019 are only just behind dragonborn. They've still fallen from ahead of tieflings and dragonborn to behind them
  • Halflings combined in 2019 are neck and neck with half-orcs and ahead of goliaths
  • Genasi combined in 2019 are a little behind goliaths and slightly ahead of combined gnomes
Interesting that dwarves have fallen so heavily out of favour - and half orcs have climbed so strongly into favour; I guess there's been a lot of talk here. The thematics of tieflings and dragonborn (entirely unsurprisingly IMO) have made them core races and even the dwarfs are disappearing in favour of half-orcs (which IMO is a surprise).
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The problem with Dwarves is the whole of their appeal is based in their stereotypical beardy axy dwarfishness.

There's not a lot you can do with that really. You can make up new cultures of Dwarves who don't have beards, and use khopeshes rather then axes and are yak goat herders on the alti-plano etc - but if a player actually wants to play a Dwarf they're assuming beardy axiness. If you change them from that you're really basically going through the same process you would if you were removing a core race and adding something new in its place - which you can do - but if you are going to do that, it's worth asking whether there's any reason to base this new race around Dwarves at all.

There's the whole things of 'my Dwarves are different - they're steppe riding nomad horse archers' which to my mind just tends to provoke the thought "but why are your steppe riding nomad horse archers Dwarves?"

Since this is brought up again I can see a couple reasons.

1 It is just to throw a twist on a common trope, so there is a mix of familiar and different. So on this world the dwarves are Steppe nomads, using horses for mobility their stumpy legs do not give them compared to other people. That can be interesting to explore.

2 It can be to show variety. The dark dwarves come from a common dwarf origin and turn out differently after having been messed with by mindflayers/devils. You then have different options for dwarves. In Midgard for example you have viking culture dwarves, Swiss canton based culture dwarves, and other specific dwarven cultures, showing cultural variety among dwarves similar to how you typically have different cultures of humans.

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