The players handbook originally gave us nine D&D 5e races, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (some without much weakness, but we’ll get into that later). Since then, nearly THIRTY others have been added to that list. This makes choosing the right race for your character a larger endeavor – so many options! Here, we’ll help you suss out the advantages of each D&D 5e race, and which one is the best for your character.
If you are playing with Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything’s background rules, this next section won’t matter much to you, as it allows for custom lineages where you can choose your stat bonuses to go in anything, regardless of race. This makes the decision of what race to play purely based off of their features instead of their bonuses.
Here are the races presented based on what stat they get their +2 in (if they get a +2).
Strength: Dragonborn, Half-Orc, Goliath, Bugbear, Orc, Githyanki, Tortle, Centaur, Minotaur
Dexterity: Elf, Halfling, Aarakocra, Kenku, Tabaxi, Goblin, Kobold
Constitution: Dwarf, Genasi, Lizardfold, Hobgoblin, Warforged, Loxodon, Simic Hybrid, Leonin
Intelligence: Gnome, Vedalken
Wisdom: Firbolg, Githzerai, Kalashtar
Charisma: Half-Elf, Tiefling, Aasimar, Yuan-ti Pureblood, Verdan, Changeling, Satyr
Some races, such as Human or Triton were not listed because they get more +1 stat boosts instead of the +2.
Dragonborn come in as many varieties as dragons do: chromatic, metallic, and with Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, gemstone too! All of these come with damage resistance to their particular type. Red gets fire, blue has lightning resistance, and the gemstone dragonborn get exotic damage resistance like force or radiant. They also have breath weapons that either damage a line in front of them or a cone, taking an attack to use. Special feats also allow dragonborn to use their breath weapon to frighten enemies, and gain natural amor. Dragonborn are great for paladins, due to their inherent resistance and buffs to their strength and charisma scores.
A fantasy classic, dwarfs (or dwarves if you want to get Tolkien with it) are an ideal choice for those who want some heft in their character. With a +2 to constitution regardless of subrace, and options for wisdom or strength buffs, they make phenomenal clerics, but can work well with any class! Thanks to their hearty dwarven constitution, they are resistant to poison damage and have advantage on saves against poison. This is why they’re such great drinking pals! Another big plus from dwarves is that, although their base movement speed is 25, they do not suffer any penalties from wearing armor that is too heavy for them. Depending on the subrace, you may get access to features that enlarge you or grant bonus health each level!
Another mainstay of the fantasy genre, elves are swift and gain a +2 to dexterity. They also cannot be put to sleep by magical means. Elves actually don’t sleep at all – they enter into a four-hour meditative trance each night to gain the benefits of a long rest. They remain able to observe their surroundings for the duration of the trance, making them great sentinels for a party out in the open. Elves have one of the most extensive lists of subraces. Wood elves gain a bonus to wisdom and can hide in light plant growth. High elves, the hoity toity of elven society, can learn a cantrip of their choice and get some extra intelligence. These are just a few options when it comes to what kind of elf you want to play!
Gnomes are an interesting bunch! They are the only race in the original Player’s Handbook that gets a +2 to their intelligence. Gnomes are a small race in size only; they have big personalities! Their subraces are split into two gnome fantasies: garden gnomes (forest) and tinkerer gnomes (rock). Forest gnomes get the ability to chat with small critters like squirrels and mice, solidifying their place as nature lovers. Rock gnomes, on the other hand, get proficiency with tinkerer’s tools and get advantage on checks to recall information about these creations. Either way you go with gnomes, you’re sure to get a unique character!
Half-Elves get the best of both worlds. They get a +2 to charisma from their beautiful elven heritage, and a +1 to another stat to represent the versatility of humans. They are also proficient in persuasion and another skill of their choice. Magical means cannot put them to sleep, like their elf ancestors, but they can actually get a full night’s sleep instead of a funky meditation! If you want a boost to your charisma and a bit of flexibility for your other features, half-elves are for you.
As legally distinct hobbits, halflings have all the features of their Tolkien brethren: big hairy feet, a predisposition for gardening and/or adventures, and a can-do attitude! Halflings get +2 to their dexterity and the ability to hide behind other creatures thanks to their small, nimble stature. They are also quite brave, and therefore have advantage on saves against being frightened. One of their most notable features is their “halfling luck” which allows them to reroll any natural 1 that they come across. They must use the next roll, though. It can’t get much worse than a natural 1, right?
Stereotypically burly folk, half-orcs get their bonus +2 in strength. Their heritage also makes them proficient in intimidation, because apparently most people are not quite racially sensitive and are frightened of half-orcs. Their strength makes their critical hits more brutal, and they get to roll an extra die when they crit! Half-orcs don’t have any subraces, but the power behind their features makes up for that lack of options. The other feature they get is relentless endurance. If they were knocked unconscious, half-orcs could simply resist the otherwise deadly blow and stay up with one hit point.
The jack of all trades of the D&D world, humans get a +1 to every single stat. If you’re looking at a lot of odd numbered ability scores, human is a good call. Humans get some extra flexibility when it comes to languages they know, but not much else. Variant humans are an option, and they get +1 to two skills and a feat as part of their race!
Born of the hells, tieflings have a devilish charm about them, giving them +2 to charisma! Because of their infernal ancestry, they gain resistance to fire damage and access to the spell “hellish rebuke.” Generally, they have horns and their color can range along the spectrum of human skin colors, but can be red or purple too. There are many options for infernal heritage that all offer different benefits to your character.
Have you ever wanted to play the Iron Giant? Or a Star Wars droid? Warforged is for you. Their robust design grants them a +2 to constitution, and they have natural armor that can replace any armor they may wear. Warforged gain proficiency with a tool of their choice, and can include that as a part of their creation. This could be a compas and sextant that pop out of their chest or thieves’ tools in their fingers. They are also immune to disease and poison! Warforged offer a great range of versatility in builds.
Originally published in Mythic Odysseys of Theros, satyrs bring fey magics to player characters. They have +2 in charisma, and are unique amongst player races in that they are not humanoid, but fey. This means spells like “Hold Person” that specify a humanoid do not work on them. They make excellent bards due to their charisma buff, but can certainly make a splash as other classes too. Satyrs have good mobility through their mirthful leap feature, which makes use of their goat lower half to jump long distances.
Leonin are another race from MOoT and are big lion people. They have hearty constitution, and therefore get +2 in the stat! Their claws act as natural 1d4 weapons, so they’re never unarmed. They get a choice in proficiency in athletics, intimidation, perception, or survival, thanks to their instincts. Lastly, leonin can tap into their feline heritage to let out an intimidating roar, potentially fearing all those around them.
Take flight as a bird person, literally – this player race has a flight speed! Aarakocra’s nimbleness also earns them a +2 to dexterity. The fact that they can fly is definitely the aarakocra’s strongest feature. Just be careful of flying too close to the sun and being hit with Tasha’s Hideous Laughter.
Genasi are related to elementals and come in many flavors. Their +2 is in constitution, and the other stat that gets buffed is dependent on which element you go with. Each element also gets their own unique effects. You can choose between air, fire, water, and earth. Air and water get utilities when existing within their preferred element. Earth and fire have spells that let them manipulate their elements.
Look out David, these goliaths can’t be toppled with just a sling! Their gargantuan stature gives them +2 strength, and they have more carrying capacity than other races. Goliath are also deceptively tough, and can use their Stone’s Endurance feature to reduce damage they take by 1d12! A great choice for any class, but especially effective for those that want to get into the fray.
As tieflings are to devils, aasimar are to angels. Descendant from the heavens, aasimar also get +2 charisma. They also boast resistance to both radiant and necrotic damage. This comes in handy as one of their racial effects deals radiant damage to themselves as they ignite themselves with holy fire to burn those around them. With a bonus to charisma and fitting abilities, aasimar make very flavorful paladins.
A classic D&D baddie, bugbears also make great player characters. They get a +2 to strength, and have a feature unique to them among races – a 10 ft reach! The ability to get an extra square or two away from enemies and still hit them gives bugbears a frightening amount of battlefield control. As with any choice, you should check in with your DM first and make sure monstrous races are okay.
Big bovine-like guardians of nature, your mind may drift right to cleric or druid when you think firbolg, and you may be right. They get their +2 in wisdom, which makes those classes appealing. Firbolgs can use some innate magics, including disguise self and detect magic. They are also able to turn themselves invisible for a round in combat, making that a safe option if you find yourself in the thick of things.
Another stereotypical “bad guy” race, goblins are seen in nearly every corner of fantasy as some kind of fodder. They gain +2 in dexterity and have a fair number of options for being scrappy. One of their features is a toned-down version of the rogue class’s cunning action. Goblins can disengage or hide as their bonus action, making them pretty slippery in a fight. For a small race, they also have a full 30-foot movement. Their fury of the small feature allows them to deal bonus damage equal to their level, so don’t count them out when it comes to dealing damage!
Goblins’ bigger, angrier cousin, hobgoblins are a fair bit more monstrous than goblins. This is reflected in their +2 to constitution. Hobgoblins also gain proficiency in two weapons of their choice and light armor, making them an option for casters to have a little more safety. Their saving face ability lets them add a bonus to a failed roll equal to the number of pals they have within 30 feet of them, so they work best in a team!
Kenku are another flavor of bird person – more reminiscent of ravens or crows. Like their avian brethren, they get +2 to dexterity. As written, kenku are interesting – they cannot have an original thought or make their own noises. Anything they do or say has been imprinted upon them by someone else. This also makes them masters of deception and forgery, though. If you want to play a rule as written kenku, make sure your DM and party are okay with your backtalk!
Strangely, these little creatures are more closely related to dragons than actual dragonborn (the lineage is weird). They get +2 in dexterity due to their scrappy nature. In their original publication, they had sunlight sensitivity. They also get pack tactics, so this cancels out if they fight with their allies in the daylight. Any class with a pet – beast master ranger or battle smith artificer – can make the most of this feature and always trigger pack tactics’ advantage for their littlest dragon!
Lizardfolk are distinctly non-human humanoids. Their innate resilience gives them +2 to constitution. A lot of lizardfolk culture is survival focused, so many nuances of human language and convention are lost on them – think Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. Nothing would go over a lizardfolk’s head, they have quick reactions, they would catch it. They are quite resourceful, though, and can craft ammunition, shields, and simple weapons from the corpses of their enemies. Lizardfolk also have a powerful bite attack that can restore some health, making them good in combat.
No half measures, we’re going full orc. Orcs get +2 strength, and -1 intelligence depending on which version of them you look at. Half-orcs get their brutal critical and relentless endurance features from their orcish side, so you can see those on orcs too. Their aggression means they are able to move further in combat, but only towards their enemies.
Want to play a cat? Your tabaxi will be on the prowl soon. Feline nimbleness gives them +2 to dexterity. They are also naturally fast, so they’ll be able to cover larger distances than other races. For the fastest kitty in the world, try out a tabaxi monk; you’ll be able to move your full enhanced movement speed thrice over in one round.
Triton are proud merfolk. Their stat bonuses are similar to humans, but they only gain +1 in three of their attributes. Triton are aquatic, and can breathe perfectly fine in water as well as in air. On top of this, they have a swim speed, which is useful for some dungeon delves! They are resistant to cold damage, and can cast a few air and water-based spells. Triton also have the Aquaman power to speak with sea critters.
Yuan-ti are snake people who practice ritualistic magics. They get a +2 to charisma. Being so familiar with magics, yuan-ti purebloods get bonuses on rolls to resist magical effects, and since they’re snakes, they’re very effective against poison. Yuan-ti also get access to some innate spells due to their heritage.
Tortle are just what they sound like – turtle people! Their tough shell means they get an innate Unarmored Defense feature, as well as +2 to their strength. Want to play Master Oogway? Or maybe your very own hero in a half shell? Tortle offer up some fun opportunities as a race choice!
Wily and cunning by nature, changelings get +2 to charisma. These shapeshifters also get some proficiencies as part of their racial traits. Their biggest draw, though, is their ability to morph to take on the visage of any humanoid they want. This means being a changeling can give you a big social leg up in information gathering sessions, or just let you mess with people.
Who doesn’t want to be a horse person? Their build means centaurs get +2 to strength and an enhance carrying capacity for their size. They also can support a rider of one small to medium creature! The mounted combatant feat opens up some neat tactics with their rider taking hits for them. Or you could just attempt the infamous centaur tower.
A loxodon never forgets. These elephant folk originating from Magic the Gathering get a +2 to constitution, so they can live longer to not forget. They’ve appeared as pachyderm in podcasts like Critical Role (because technically loxodon is a Wizards of the Coast copyright), but have been seen as wise stoic figures.
It’s escaped the labrynth, and it’s coming to a table near you! Minotaurs rock a +2 strength bonus and an innate attack ability. If they move a certain distance, they can bear down and gore their enemies, potentially dealing massive damage and knocking them prone. It’s a versatile ability that would go great on a fighter or barbarian, but also has some uses as a last-ditch effort on other classes as well.
This is another Magic the Gathering original – from the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica. The simic are a bio-science based guild, and their hybrids are made from smashing together multiple species into one lobsterfrogagator or something like that. Simic hybrids get a +2 to constitution, and they’ll need it to withstand this kind of experimentation. They also get a perk based on how they want to have been hybridized, with options including a climb speed or the ability to glide.
Vedalken are six-fingered blue folk that, again, we’ve seen in Magic the Gathering. They get a +2 to wisdom, a perk shared by only two other races. They also gain some advantages when it comes to investigation or perception. Vedalken are very meticulous and like to pore over every detail of the problem.
Locathah are fish people! They get +2 to strength and a smattering of other bonuses. A locathah is proficient in perception and athletics by default. Natural armor is another perk of theirs – with a base armor class of 12+DEX, akin to wearing studded leather!
As quick little frog people, grung get a +2 to their dexterity. On top of that, they can breathe in both air and water, since frogs are amphibious. They also are completely immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition. I think it means that technically they can’t get drunk – poor guys! Their skin is poisonous to the touch, so watch out if you’re planning on grappling one.
Unearthed Arcana Races
A series of playtest races were recently released including fey ancestry races. These are fairy, harengon (rabbit people), reborn (a la Frankenstein’s Monster), and hexblood.
D&D 5e Classes
There are 13 official book-published classes in D&D, with one extra if you count Matther Mercer’s Blood Hunter. They are: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, and Artificer.
D&D 5e Backgrounds
Backgrounds give you a bit of extra oomph in the customization department, and come with useful skills. They add two skill proficiencies and at least one roleplay feature. In the new One D&D 6th Edition playtest material, backgrounds are where your stat bonuses come from, and even give you a feat!
D&D 5e Character Sheet
For your character sheet, there is a great deal of online options for form-fillable PDFs or print options! If you want a digital character sheet that will help track your many character features, D&D Beyond has an excellent interface. You can also use almost any virtual tabletop program, such as Roll20 or Tableplop.
Wrapping Things Up
Races in Dungeons and Dragons are immensely varied, and there’s sure to be one that fits each playstyle and fantasy! In the new One D&D playtest options for 6th Edition, races become even more unique from one another, each harnessing its own unique ability for advantages in and out of combat. While some races are flashier than others, none should be counted out. As with most D&D related decisions, make sure you chat with your DM first before setting things in stone. It’s possible that a certain race is very uncommon or simply doesn’t exist within a world. Most importantly though, have fun with it!