Last Updated on January 22, 2023
From the industrious, arcane workshops of Kaladesh — where artisans create intricate, staggering wonders of art and design from raw magic known as aether — come the Aetherborn.
These short-lived, hedonistic beings are a mixture of volatile aether and the emotional impressions of the people who work upon it, and they spend virtually all of their brief existences seeking pleasure, excitement, and as many new experiences as possible before their energy once again dissipates into the universe.
Welcome to our guide to the Aetherborn, an unofficially official player race from the Magic: the Gathering Plane-Shift project. We’re going to explore who the Aetherborn are, where they come from, and what they look, talk, and think like and lastly offer some ideas for how you can play one in a D&D campaign taking place outside Kaladesh and the rest of the Magic: the Gathering multiverse.
- Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2, and two other ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
- Age. Aetherborn come into being as adults and live no more than a few years.
- Alignment. As a rule, Aetherborn are driven by hedonism and self-interest, making them neutral at best and thoroughly evil at worst. Neutral Aetherborn might devote much of their time (and wealth) to parties and social activity, while evil Aetherborn are usually involved in the criminal underworld.
- Size. Aetherborn are about the same size as humans, ranging from 5 to 6 feet tall. They are quite light — only about 100 pounds — and their weight diminishes as they age and more and more of their substance returns to the aethersphere. Your size is Medium.
- Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
- Darkvision. Accustomed to the night, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
- Born of Aether. You have resistance to necrotic damage.
- Menacing. You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill.
- Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and two other languages of your choice.
Source: Plane Shift – Kaladesh
NOTE: Unofficial Material
It’s really important that we point out before getting started that, while the Aetherborn and the Kaladesh supplement they’re a part of were created by the D&D design team at Wizards of the Coast (by James Wyatt, who also worked on the Artificer class for the Eberron setting, specifically), nothing in this or any other Plane-Shift content is “Official” D&D material.
It’s not available on D&D Beyond, not part of the semi-official Unearthed Arcana, and given both how poorly other Magic: the Gathering sourcebooks like Strixhaven were received and how similar Kaladesh is to the existing Eberron setting, I don’t think it’s especially likely that we’ll see them come to 5e or OneD&D as an official product.
Therefore, this guide is for two kinds of people: those of you who want to run a campaign or one-shot set in the MtG universe and people like me who think the idea of accidental magic ghosts who party harder than the extras in Eyes Wide Shut is pretty damn cool and want to put them into your regular D&D campaign.
Either way, if you’re a player, your dungeon master is under no obligation to let you play an Aetherborn character (they’re not under any obligation to let you play anything, official or otherwise; it’s their game), so make sure you talk to them before you get excited about rolling any stats. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
What Are the Aetherborn?
Aetherborn are sentient humanoids that appear spontaneously as part of the aether refinement process, taking raw magical energy and turning it into something that powers just about everything in Kaladeshi society.
What Is Aether?
“Kaladesh owes its bright existence to the tangible presence of aether — a raw form of magical energy that fills the space between planes. Aether seeps into Kaladesh and has become a critical part of the environment as well as the foundation of contemporary civilization.” Refined by an inventor named Avaati Vya from volatile magical essence into a safe and stable fuel, aether has transformed virtually all day-to-day activities and reshaped the way people think about their lives as the plane undergoes its own magical industrial revolution.
Out of this process, the Aetherborn appear — an unexpected and unwanted byproduct. These beings’ bodies and minds are formed by the interaction between the volatile elements of aether that are removed during refinement and the psychic impressions created by the people involved in the process. But each Aetherborn is a unique individual and not a mere copy of some other person’s mind and shape. This race is little understood, and few Aetherborn are willing to waste any of their short lives allowing scholars to study their biological and psychological characteristics.
Aetherborn are a strange living by-product of the process of aether refinement, cast in humanoid form but lacking any of the biological qualities of other races. They don’t eat or sleep, and they don’t reproduce — nor do they have any physical sexual characteristics.
Language that categorizes people into male or female categories thus breaks down when it comes to Aetherborn. Most Aetherborn prefer that others use the pronoun “they” to refer to them since it doesn’t attribute a gender that they don’t possess. Only a relative few prefer “he” or “she,” having chosen to adopt a gender.
Only living for a few short years, the Aetherborn frequently try to sample as much of what life has to offer as they can, with those that obtain wealth throwing lavish parties and galas. However, being born into a world with no family, property, or real idea of how things work means that many Aetherborn looking to experience all that life has to offer take the shortcut of crime to acquire it.
Making an Aetherborn
The Aetherborn’s natural array of racial traits, proficiencies, and Ability Score increases would (if they were official content) easily be the most powerful player race in D&D, which the Aetherborn probably see as poor compensation for a life span that’s comparable to your average hamster.
A Charisma increase of +2 and two +1 increases of your choice make the Aetherborn great candidates for any of the more multi-ability-dependent (MAD), Charisma-powered character classes. Paladins and Warlocks are obvious candidates, as are a great deal of multiclass builds that risk spreading your character’s ability scores a little thin.
On top of that, damage resistance (especially to something as nasty as necrotic), intimidation proficiency, darkvision, and an extra language are all fantastic.
However, the fact that the fluff (which states Aetherborn “don’t eat or sleep”) and the rules, which make no such allowance, are misaligned is a little annoying. Maybe I would trade the necrotic damage resistance or the extra languages, intimidation proficiency, and some of the darkvision (make it 30 feet instead) for the Constructed Resilience benefits in the Warforged rules.
Constructed Resilience. You were created to have remarkable fortitude, represented by the following benefits:
- You have advantage on saving throws against being poisoned, and you have resistance to poison damage.
- You don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe.
- You are immune to disease.
- You don’t need to sleep, and magic can’t put you to sleep.
Roleplaying an Aetherborn
When you create an Aetherborn character, think about the combination of volatile magic and the emotional state of the person working when they created you. It seems as though many Aetherborn crave sensation and, much like my dirty little goblin of a cat craves attention, don’t care if it’s positive or negative.
As long as something is new, it’s fascinating to an Aetherborn. They get bored quickly and likely want to keep on the go as much as possible to avoid the crushing ennui of having been born into a world that doesn’t want them with the life expectancy of a mayfly relative to other races like dwarves and elves.
I like to think of them, especially in light of their powerful basic stats, as the replicants from Blade Runner. The brightest flame burns for half as long, and I can imagine more than one Aetherborn turning away from a brief life of unrestrained pleasure and seeking a way to prolong their existence — violently if necessary.
How To Make an Aetherborn Character Work in Your Own Campaign
I honestly think that the concept of the Aetherborn as a race is super cool in a dark “consequences of unfettered magical capitalism” kind of way. Exploring how a society deals with the fact that their relatively new method of energy generation occasionally gives birth to Ghost Caligula is something I would love to include in a more gritty, modern D&D campaign. Like, imagine if — only occasionally, mind you — an actual baby crawled out of a nuclear reactor, grew to adulthood in two years, and then fades away into a soft green haze.
Thousands of Aetherborn pressed into effective slavery by the energy companies that created them, or hundreds of dispossessed Aetherborn roaming the red-light districts, or hundreds forming huge criminal organizations that survive only because they have strict procedures for how things should be done and are completely restaffed every year or so — the possibilities are endless and rather dark. And they don’t have to be restricted to Kalashtar.
I can see plenty of ways that the Aetherborn could be introduced to the standard 5e Forgotten Realms setting or homebrewed D&D game.
The “weaveborn” are fully formed consciousnesses that are created when wild magic disrupts the weave. If the party’s wild magic sorcerer rolls a wild magic surge that kills a fellow party member, finding a brand-new party member in the ashes is a great way to get someone back in the game. Teleportation accidents, rifts in bags of holding, or the destruction of powerful magic items could also lead to the creation of Aetherborn.
The gods have plans for all of us, but sometimes things just don’t work out. When someone dies before their time — a piece of driftwood flowing upstream against the tides of fate — they sometimes come back as an Aetherborn. They aren’t undead or a new person but an echo or photographic afterimage on the film reel of fate. The only thing that changes is that they know exactly how they’re meant to die and feel compelled to get there.
We can officially go anywhere, thanks to wildspace, the Astral Sea, and the Spelljammer setting! While it’s highly unlikely, what better way for an Aetherborn to see the multiverse and what it has to offer than to hitch a ride aboard a spelljamming vessel?
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.