Friday, October 3, 2014

5th Edition D&D Subraces: Human

In the early editions of D&D, humans were the foundation on which other races were compared. In other words, they were bland. Humans had no advantages or penalties (with the exception of being able to rise to any level in any class). Starting with 3rd edition, humans were instead described as the most flexible and adaptable of races, granting them a choice of ability scores increases, bonus feats, and training in a choice of skills. Humans went from the least played race to one of my favorites.

Humans in the 5th edition Player's Handbook continue what 3rd edition started, providing two options for your human characters.
  1. Gain +1 to all ability scores (as opposed to the standard +2 to one and +1 to a second of other races).
  2. Gain a +1 to two ability scores, proficiency in a skill of your choice, and a free feat at 1st level.
Using the second option gives you quite a few choices when creating characters from specific cultures. For example, if you want your human to have come from a race born on the open plains and commonly using mounts for transport and war, you could put your skill bonuses in Strength, Constitution and/or Wisdom, select proficiency in Animal Handling and take the Mounted Combatant feat. A human from a country bordering on demonic invasion, such as the Worldwound from Pathfinder's Golarion, may put their bonuses in Constitution, Intelligence and/or Wisdom, select proficiency in Arcana or Religion, and take the Mage Slayer, Magic Initiate or Ritual Caster feats. However, these options aren't limitless due to the small number of feats*.

Below you will find a variety of human subraces who hail from specific environments or countries with particular cultural or political leanings. These subraces are built using the half-elf as a guide, and the following abilities replace those of a standard human. Each subrace gains +2 to one ability score and +1 to two others. They also gain proficiency in one or two skills and one special ability, such as Darkvision 60 feet, Advantage on specific saving throws, etc.

Human Subraces by Environment

  • Arctic: +1 Strength, +2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom; Advantage on saves against cold as well as environmental effects involving cold, ice, snow, hail, etc; proficiency in either Athletics or Survival
  • Desert: +2 Constitution, +1 Intelligence, +1 Wisdom; Advantage on saves against fire as well as environmental effects of heat; proficiency in either Nature or Survival
  • Coastal: +1 Constitution, +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom; proficiency with spears, tridents, nets, vehicles (water), and two tools from the following list: carpenter, cartographer, navigator, weaver, woodcutter. Proficiency in either Acrobatics or Athletics
  • Forest: +1 Constitution, +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom; moving through nonmagical difficult terrain costs you no extra movement and you may move through nonmagical plants without being slowed by them and without taking damage from thorns, spines, or similar hazards. At 6th level, this ability grants Advantage on saving throws against plants that are magically created or manipulated to impede movement, such as those created by the entangle spell. Proficiency in either Athletics or Survival
  • Grassland: +1 Constitution, +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom; move 35, Advantage on Constitution saves involving forced marches; proficiency either Nature or Stealth
  • Jungle: +2 Strength, +1 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom; Advantage on saves against disease; proficiency with either herbalism or poisoner kits, and either Nature or Survival
  • Mountain: +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, +1 Wisdom; climbing costs you no extra movement, Advantage on saves against environmental effects involving altitude (low pressure, decreased oxygen, altitude sickness); proficiency in either Athletics or Survival
  • Swamp: +1 Strength, +2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom; Advantage on saves against poison and disease; proficiency in Nature or Survival
  • Underdark: +1 Intelligence, +2 Wisdom, +1 Charisma; Darkvision 60 feet; proficiency in both Perception and Stealth

Human Subraces by Culture

  • Political State: +1 Dexterity, +1 Intelligence, +2 Charisma; +5 bonus to passive Insight and passive Investigation scores; proficiency in both Insight and Persuasion
  • Theocracy: +2 Wisdom, +1 Intelligence, +1 Charisma; Advantage on saving throws against either radiant or necrotic damage and effects; proficiency in either Persuasion or Religion
  • Martial State: +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, +1 Intelligence; proficiency in any two weapons, any one tool kit, light armor or shields, and either either Athletics or History

* = Feats in 5th edition are fewer in number and more powerful than in previous editions. Each class allows the character to gain an ability score increase five times (six for rogues and seven for fighters) during their career. In place of gaining an ability score increase, the player may instead take a feat. Since the earliest a character can take a feat is 4th level, gaining a bonus feat at 1st is a significant advantage.


  1. Very nice work Rich! Not only am I going to use this in my own 5th Ed. game. I am going to spread it everywhere.

    1. Thank you, Mark. That's very kind. I hope the rest of my posts are as helpful.

  2. Very nice! I'll be giving these out as an option.

    1. Excellent, Jon. I'm looking forward to your feedback.

  3. Underdark humans suddenly get darkvision? Nope. Sorry, but these make humans the best race period. Balance has been thown out the window.

    1. Really?

      Half-elf: Cha +2, any other two +1; darkvision; two skills of choice, plus fey ancestry.

      Underdark human: +1 Int, +2 Wis, +1 Cha; darkvision; two specific skills (no choice).

      So, less powerful than a half-elf. I'm not seeing that as balance-destroying. Are you thinking they get some kind of additional benefit? These human subraces replace the +1 to all stats (or feat+skill) with the listed abilities, just to be clear.

  4. I'm thinking of using these as the basis of a humans only campaign world, with cultural/regional races rather than fantasy ones, much like guild wars 1 did. Thank you for this brilliant resource

    1. I'm so glad you enjoy it and I hope you find it useful. Please let me know how it goes.

      I'll be posting a similar article regarding dragonborn at next week. Please stop by and check it out.

  5. I see you had the same problem to me when I tried to do a similar thing: all the stats come out very similar when applied realistically, and all the physical traits tend to appear far more. Your cultural idea is a nice one though, I may just steal it, expand it and label it my own, at my 5 person DM sessions anyway. Anonymous out

  6. Thoughts on a Half-Halfing (Human sub-race, ie. half-elf)
    Ability Scores:
    +2 Dex, +1 to WIS or INT, +1 CHA or CON
    Adulthood:~20 years
    Max Age: ~100-130
    LG, LN, NG, N
    Height: 4.5-5.5 feet
    weigh ~100 pounds
    25 feet
    Racial Abilities:

    Advantage on Saves vs. Poison

    Lucky (halfling)-When you roll a 1 on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll."

    S,R,W Common and Halfling."

    Choose one Skill or Feat from list below:

    Sleight of Hand,

    , Brave,
    Dual Weilder
    , Lightly Armored,
    , Skulker

    Disadvantage on Heavy Weapons

  7. Looks good and I'll be trying out the different subraces in a human-only world I've created for my players.
    Only crtique is that for the 'Martial State' culture it says "either either" :P