If you have played DnD, you are sure to have heard about Homebrew. There are Homebrew things for just about everything. From items to monsters and, yes, even entire playable races. In my Homebrew Races 5e Guide for beginners and intermediate players, you will learn the basics of using and making your own Homebrew race for DnD.
Using Homebrew elements for a campaign is a great idea. Personally, I add elements like that in almost every single campaign I make for my players. However, using Homebrew isn’t all that easy. Your first time trying it will almost always end in either an overpowered or underpowered broken disaster of an adventure. I suggest you start out small, like with a magical item. However, if you are feeling ambitious or if you already have some experience, then Homebrewing a race is a good idea.
Making your own race doesn’t have to be too complex. Just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of making it way too strong at the beginning or having a bad level progression like most new Homebrewers´ races have.
The Creative Part: The Why and How of your Homebrew Race
So you want to start your very own DnD race. The first question you should ask yourself is why would you do that? A good Homebrew item, monster or race all have the same thing in common. It fills a niche in a way that is not overpowered or broken and is fun to use.
I am a major fan of world-building and storytelling. So the first thing I would recommend you do is to think about lore or a background. You don’t need to write half a novel about the race, but you should at least have some info about the dynamic with other races and creatures.
Give an overview of the culture (if any) and what they look like. If you are great at sketching, it is always a good idea to make some rough sketches to breathe life in your Homebrew race. Next up is having some lore. What history do they have in this world and what influence do they have now. Do they have any unique gods, or are there legends about them in this world? Maybe there is a common goal that everyone in this race has, like finding a lost city or retaking a part of their ancestral homeland.
Most of your brainpower and time should go to thinking about how strong this race is at the start and how the power progresses. It is also important to figure out which unique abilities your new kind has and how these fit into this world. Keep asking yourself, which niche does this race fill and does it have the right amount of power to make an impact but not change the battle on its own.
Start with Building a Civilization and History
If you just want to play your race and don’t really care about others playing it, you can skip this part. If you aren’t a big storyteller or if you enjoy making up things on the fly, that is fine. However, in my experience, you do lose a lot of the immersion aspect of DnD when you just cram a random race in the world.
The civilization of a race and its history go hand in hand. We have to start thinking about major events. Has something great happened to them? Like a God descended from heaven and gave them a holy city made out of gold for them to exclusively live in? Did something horrible happen, like genocide by another race thousands of years ago?
Again, you don’t have to start writing a whole thesis about them, a couple of paragraphs with interesting facts is fine. I always try to find at least 3 good things and 3 bad things. It is pretty dangerous to start throwing around exact dates. This could hamper your story or restrict you.
Take those 6 events, and take the most recent one. This should be something extremely significant that still lingers in the collective minds of your race. This doesn’t have to be bad, but it could be used as a way to why this race acts the way it does, or why their population is so small. You can always use real-life history to find inspiration.
Again, don´t waste hours on this. Try to find similar civilizations you think are interesting from our own real history and look at a couple of things. First, I would consider what does an average citizen does? Does he work in the fields, or has there been major urban development, or maybe they are still hunter-gatherers?
Second, I would look at how the social hierarchy is build up. Who is at the top? Is it a king or is it a council of priests? This can greatly influence the way of thinking of your race. Link your average citizen profile to this hierarchy to determine the average mindset and technology level of your society. Consider who is at the very bottom of everyone. Are they just poor, or are they deformed or cursed? This could be a part of the background story for any subraces your Homebrew race might have.
Keep in mind how this civilization compares to the rest. Are they more or less advanced? Are they feeling inferior or superior to other races, and how does their technology level affect their interactions with their environment and animals and nature around them.
Think About the Appearance of Your Race
There is nothing wrong with having a wacky-looking race. Just remember, it is important to have fun and do what you want. Appearance can matter a lot when interacting with the world around them, so if you want to pick something more simple like a humanoid race go for it. Having a slime race for example comes with all kinds of perks and drawbacks you have to think about to get the maximum immersion out of your game.
I like to make them different from the majority of the world and consider their anatomy. Different bodies need different things. It has an influence on their general strength, stamina, apatite, the need for sleep, and so on.
What are The Dynamics With Other Races in This World?
Your brand-new Homebrew race is bound to come into contact with other races at some point in the campaign. Maybe it is the first time for anyone ever seeing your race, or the first time in a hundred years, or your race is pretty common.
There are always some races that will have better relations with yours than others and the other way around too. This can be a good way to figure out the overall party dynamic and how people and creatures react when you interact with them or just spot you.
Try not to give your race too many enemies. This will hamper the adventure or the immersion when you all of a sudden get help or have a normal conversation with a stranger from an archenemy race.
Define Their Nice and Uniqueness
When you make a Homebrew, no matter if it is a monster or an item, it is because you feel something is missing to make DnD even more fun. Try to have at least one distinct, the unique aspect of your race. It has to be something no other can, otherwise, it wouldn’t be of much use to think about an entirely new race.
This can be their abilities, their history, how they look, or something else. Try to make it interesting enough that people – including you – want to play a long campaign with the race.
The Technical Part: How Does Your Race Work and How Strong is it
Every race has some kind of boost to its ability score. Do not go beyond the standard +2 or +1 and make your new race overpowered from the start. It just isn’t fun. It is also important that you only decide on your Ability Score Boost after you have determined what your race looks like and if it has any interesting events in their history that might have blessed them with a plus one in a stat.
If your race is 8 feet tall, a nice 300 pounds of weight, and able to throw large stones over tens of yards, it makes sense that you will give the strength of your race a boost in its ability score.
As you know, there are a couple of ways to increase the ability. First is the classic +2, where you make an ability stronger by two points. This is not overpowered. Then there is the +1 to one ability, this is maybe a little underpowered, and I prefer a plus two. There are races like humans that get a +1 in every stat. This is decently balanced as most of the stars stay weak, and a plus one isn’t a game-changer.
Things get overpowered when you start using +2 combined with a +1 or another +2. There are some races like the mighty orc that get a +2 and a +1 but get a – 2 in another stat, in this case, their intelligence.
What is Your Race Proficient in?
What your race is proficient in has a major influence on the story and how they interact with the world around them. There are a couple of things you can get proficiency in:
Tools – A proficiency in a tool or other things like instruments or transportation methods are a useful thing in everyday travel and life. You could include them as an integral part of the race you are building if the use of a certain tool is part of their culture, civilization, or even their morphology.
Skills – Where your race has evolved, settled, and maybe even thrived has an influence on the innate skills it has. If your race comes from a water world it is a pretty logical idea to give them a skill that helps them breathe underwater. If they are from mountains, they might be excellent hunters as food is cared for and you need to be able to track prey over many miles.
Languages – I haven´t counted, but I think the average amount of languages a race knows is 2. It is important that one of these languages is the common language, or you are bound to have trouble communicating on your adventure. You can think of a new language for your race. Due to this having very little influence, you can make it something weird like integrating clicking noises in it.
Weapons – Some races have certain proficiencies with a weapon or two. These could be very basic weapons like the bow, but also unique Homebrew weapons. I would advise not to give more than three proficiencies to your Homebrew race.
What Unique Racial Features Does Your New Race Have?
When writing a guide about Homebrew 5e DnD races there is no way around racial features. It is a very important part of your 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons race building and most of the time they have quite some impact on the power and usefulness of a race.
A racial feature is a one-of-a-kind ability a base race has. Since no other race has it, for some it is the determining factor when picking out a race to play with.
An example of a racial feature is relentless endurance like the Half-Orc race has. This ability gives them the advantage of having the chance to drop to 1 hp instead of zero once if they have done a long rest before.
You can try to think of a racial feature that is completely unique, or you can base it on an existing one and give it a twist. For example, A monk has the Way of the Long Death. It has the same effect as relentless endurance, but they have to spend a ki point instead of the long rest requirement.
As with anything on this list, keep in mind the balance of your character. The features and abilities have the most influence on the overall power of your race. Having a very strong race might seem fun in the beginning, but if nothing really poses a challenge, it gets dull very fast.
Frequently Asked Questions about Homebrew Races
Question: What is the most common 5e Homebrew Race mistake?
Answer: In my opinion, this would be making the racial feature too overpowered. This has the danger of influencing the entire game. I would rather have a racial feature that is too weak than one that is too strong.
Question: How important is lore is Homebrew?
Answer: It is not very important. Much more important is trying to have a nice balance in the game. The lore comes second. Lore is great to flesh out your race and maybe determine the dynamics with the world, but when you are making your first Homebrew, most of your attention should go to balancing the powers and abilities of your new race.
Question: Can a beginner make their own race in DnD?
Answer: If this is your very first Homebrew, or you haven’t played more than 3 or 4 very different races, I would advise against it. It is a much better idea to start off small. For example, a magical item or a medium-level monster. This will teach you how to balance better.
Making your own race is fun, playing it for a long campaign is something else entirely. If you rush the building of the race and don’t think about balance or little things like language skills, you will soon find out it through being the new kid on the block. Even more so if you have a DM like me that loves to exploit the mistakes from players.
If you have made a race, and it is broken, or some things are lacking, just ask your DM to change things up a bit. Most Dungeon Masters won’t make a problem out of this if it is for the betterment of the game.
When starting out with homebrews entirely, making a whole new race as your first project might be a bit too much of a daunting task. I would advise you to start with small things like items. For example, make a ring that gives a racial ability you would like to give your race. This way you can test it and make sure that it fits your playing style or is what you had in mind.