D&D 5E: “Race” as Cosmetic with Flexible Traits

Thinking through some further house rule ideas for D&D 5E, maybe even enough for a second edition of the Hoard of House Rules. I have seen some relatively complex solutions to the race problem in D&D, and a simple option occurred to me. A lot of what’s interesting about races, I think, are the cosmetics. This especially seems to be true for tieflings, so often featured in fan art. But I digress. For those who are motivated by the minutiae of racial bonuses, you have the RAW to go with. Enjoy! For those who don’t care much but want to be maybe a cool lizard person or angel-person, these ideas are for you.

First, treat every character as a human. Then add whatever cosmetic changes you want – feathers and a beak, scales and a shell, gossamer diaphanous wings, spiky rainbow hair and spiral ibex horns, whatever. Assume that all starting characters get +2 to one ability score and +1 to another ability score. You can also choose whether you have darkvision for 60′, but I’m using my house rule that darkvision always comes with sunlight sensitivity. In addition to those (and a starting native language), you can choose three of the following (or more if your DM says so, as long as everyone has the same options):

  • A starting feat
  • Replace the +2 and +1 with +1 to all ability scores
  • Resistance to a single damage type
  • Amphibious, and you have a swim speed of 20′
  • Wings that allow you to glide at your movement speed
  • Advantage on specific proficiency rolls (like dwarven stonecunning or wild elf stealth)
  • An additional proficiency plus an additional language
  • One supernatural knack like speaking with small burrowing animals
  • One cantrip
  • A strong build that doubles your carrying capacity
  • Any other single racial trait that you discuss with your DM

These traits can be accounted for any way you wish – physiology, culture, training, etc. but no racial essentialism because two characters with the same race might be quite different from one another. Here are some examples that don’t replicate the RAW but I think retain the spirit and remain interesting:

  • Dwarf: +2 Constsitution, +1 Wisdom, darkvision and sunlight sensitivity, one feat, resistance to poison damage, proficiency with one tool and Dwarvish
  • Elf: +2 Dexterity, +1 Intelligence, one feat, proficiency in Wisdom (Perception) and Elvish, bonus cantrip
  • Human: replace the +2 and +1 with +1 to all ability scores, one feat, proficiency in a skill of your choice and a bonus language
  • Tiefling: +2 Charisma, +1 Intelligence, darkvision and sunlight sensitivity, one feat, resistance to fire damage, proficiency in Charisma (Intimidation) and a bonus language of Abyssal or Infernal
  • Tortle: +2 Strength, +1 Wisdom, Amphibious, resistance to bludgeoning damage (for your shell), strong build

Remember that the ability score bonuses can go wherever you want, those are just my initial thoughts. Alright, there you go. Feel free to use this.

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