Last Updated on May 30, 2023
What Is a Homebrew Race?
In D&D 5e and in all the editions that predate it, homebrew has been an important part of expanding the worlds we explore. Homebrew content in general is any content created by a member or members of the community, with homebrew races, in particular, being non-official character races for 5e.
There are actually a lot of character races that have become part of the official play materials for D&D 5e, but in the beginning, there were only nine races to choose from. Even if you wanted to play an Orc, you’d have to come up with your own stats, features, and, if you’re feeling frisky, a description.
Now there are over 40 races, but that still means there are options out there that aren’t represented in official 5e rules. That’s where you come in! If you want to play a custom race in D&D 5e, all you have to do is create one.
In fact, creating a race for 5e is a lot easier than you might think. Even if you don’t want to take the easy route like WotC did with their playable races in Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, there are only a few things you really need to consider, which we’ve listed below:
- Ability Score Increases
- Creature Type
- Racial Traits
Enough talking though; let’s make a race!
Creating a Homebrew Race for D&D 5e
In this guide, we’re going to take you through the process of creating a race that fits the basic balancing of official 5e races. We encourage you to come up with your own idea for a race so that you can take it through the process alongside our example.
Like with any homebrew, we want to remember the framework on top of which we build. Since there are so many races in 5e already, we want to try to use them as templates whenever we can. Doing this will almost ensure that we end up with a character that feels balanced and integrated into 5e while still being a completely unique character option.
Homebrew Race Descriptions
We’re starting with our concept, which will quickly become the actual description we utilize in our final product. We’ll be going with an Awakened Skeleton, but before we actually get into the description, we want to talk about the different ways you can come up with your own new race.
- Awakened NPC – Taking an otherwise unplayable character and making it playable.
- Subraces – Modifying a current race by either creating a subrace or a similar race that evolved differently. Elves are a great example of both of these processes.
- Otherworldly Races – Creating a playable 5e race for a creature or species from another property (Gungans, Klingons, Istari, etc.).
- New Creations – Creating something entirely unique that you think would be fun to play.
We’re using the first option today, taking your ordinary skeleton and making them into a playable race. Often, creators will use the term awakened for any sort of character that doesn’t typically have enough intelligence to be playable.
There’s also the X-folk (Rabbit-folk, Sloth-folk, Pangolin-folk, etc.) terminology that is often used to describe the sort of intelligent beasts you’d see in Chronicles of Narnia or similar IPs. The same concept is present, but it’s a naming convention that can make your race instantly understandable to others.
For our Awakened Skeleton, the description is pretty simple. We want a skeleton that has been magically gifted the intelligence to be able to talk, walk, and, for some reason, have a thirst for adventure.
The rest comes down to creativity. We can go a lot of ways with a description, but we should remember that anything we include can affect the traits we choose later on. Here’s the description we came up with.
Many people think that skeleton warriors are simply puppets being commanded by powerful necromancers. While that is often the case, all the greatest necromancers know it’s far easier to reach into the astral plane and bind fragments of wayward souls to the bones.
The result is often an aimless creature with a muted desire to kill. Sometimes though, the soul’s essence is so strong that the skeleton develops an entire personality of its own. Any necromancer worth their salt will kill these and try again, but on very rare occasions, some necromancers won’t care to expend the effort, leaving an Awakened Skeleton to fend for itself and, if it’s lucky, go on to be a real adventurer.
We could go on and on as much as we want, but this is enough to set a bit of the tone and, more importantly, give our new race a reason to exist in the world.
Basic Stats for a Homebrew Race
Everything between descriptions and racial traits is what we’ll classify as the basic stats of a creature. These can certainly have an impact on the game, but they aren’t hard to land on, so let’s run through them real quick.
Ability Score Increases – Once the hardest thing to decide on, Ability Score Increases give you a bonus to your Ability scores during character creation. The general formula is to choose either +2 in one stat and +1 in another or +1 in three stats.
Now, you can just pass that formula down the line to your players so they can simply decide whatever works with their class and desired character. Of course, if you want, you can set your own ASI, and you can even make modifications to the formula (like throwing a -1 to a stat that your race shouldn’t be great at).
We’ll just leave our Awakened Skeleton with the custom ASI option since there are a lot of different options we could argue, all of which would still give us a good character. Besides that, we don’t want our skeletons to be locked into a specific character type.
Creature Type – Almost all playable races are humanoids, but there are rare exceptions where the race is very obviously related to an existing creature that is itself another creature type. That definitely fits our race, since our Awakened Skeletons will be Undead.
Age – Every race has a projected lifespan for you to work with. Normally, this is in terms of years and even more specifically is chosen in relation to the 100-year lifespan of humans. For our skeletons, we’ll say: “Awakened Skeletons do not die of old age, but the tether between soul and bones may expire after 100 years if not magically extended somehow.”
Size – Almost all playable races are Medium, although some that are significantly smaller than Humans are classified as Small. Others that are more ambiguous might allow you to choose Medium or Small, which is exactly what we’re going to do here.
Speed – Most races receive a 30-foot walking speed, but some receive a fly speed, swim speed, climb speed, or even hover speed in addition. Often, this comes at the cost of some other abilities down the line.
Languages – Almost every race can read, speak, and write Common and one other language that makes sense (often the language of the race). With our Awakened Skeleton, we’ll leave that option open so that players can choose a language that fits the soul fragment attached to the skeleton.
Homebrewing Racial Traits for New Races
Racial traits are sometimes referred to as racial features since they work in much the same way class features work. On average, races receive two to three racial traits, but there are exceptions.
There are a few different types of racial traits that are out there, and we’ve tried to categorize them as well as possible:
- Proficiencies – Proficiencies in a set of skills, tools, or weapons.
- Resistances – Resistance to a particular damage type or condition.
- Saving Throw – Some races receive an advantage on saving throws of a specific variety.
- Darkvision – Darkvision isn’t often changed from race to race, but it’s definitely present in a lot of playable races.
- Spells – Races sometimes receive access to spells. Often, this is two or three spells, and rarely do we see a spell higher than 3rd level.
- Unique Ability – Lastly, we have unique abilities in racial traits. There is a lot that can happen here, but these traits are often similarly powerful to a spell’s trait.
Our Awakened Skeleton should have things based on a regular skeleton’s features or at least based on abilities we see in other undead.
For starters, skeletons are immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, so we could pull the dwarves’ “Dwarven Resilience” feature out and reskin it as a skeleton feature. Or, we could go a step further and use the warforged’s constructed resilience as a template. This way, we eliminate the need to eat, drink, or breathe, protect our skeletons from poison damage and disease, and eliminate the need for sleep.
Bag of Bones
As an undead skeleton, you are only technically “living,” which grants you 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.
Then, we might want to give our skeleton a feature that represents our undeadliness. The Undead Fortitude feature of the zombie creature is a nice way to keep our skeletons standing even when they look like they’re at the end of their rope.
Undying Thirst for Adventure
If damage reduces you to 0 hit points exactly, you can make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, you drop to 1 hit point instead.
This is a rather light feature since it’s very rare that we’ll drop exactly to 0 hit points. So, we can add one more. Let’s do something unique that fits the racial backstory.
Your origin as a failed work of necromancy gives you deep ties to this school of magic. Whenever a non-damaging necromancy spell is cast on you, you regain 1d6 hp per spell level of the spell cast.
Not only have we created something that’s unique, but we’ve also given our creature abilities that reflect the hardiness of an undead creature. The general feel is similar to a warforged, but we’ve managed to give it a very different aesthetic by focusing our abilities on our undead creature type.
Creating new races breathes new life into D&D, and it’s not a process that is out of reach to newcomers to the hobby. Anyone can create a homebrew character and make their games a bit more unique. We hope that this guide helps you in that process.
- About Author
- Latest Posts
As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.