Today we’re going to be talking about the long awaited Owlin race introduced in Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos.
Finally, we have a new official playable race that can really compete against the Aarakocra for all you out there looking for a flight speed.
This race is a welcome addition, but that doesn’t mean it’s free from criticism. In this article, we’ll discuss how to play an Owlin in your next campaign with a bit of discussion of just how good this race really is thrown in to boot.
What is the Owlin race?
Owlin are owl-folk, or humanoid sentient owls, that are distant relatives of the giant owls who reside in the Feywild.
Technically speaking, within the lore of MTG Aven are also a subspecies of Aven, since Aven describes all forms of humanoid bird people.
This race resides on Arcavios, the plane on which Strixhaven is founded and as such are associated with all of the colleges of the university.
Where most students come to Strixhaven from different planes of the multiverse, most Owlin grow up on Archavios and then venture to other planes later in life.
Some Owlin are nocturnal, following the sleep habits of their ancestors. Others just tend to be more like your average night owls, waking up late and staying out late. Besides this, not much is known about the Owlin.
Owlin Abilities and Traits
- Ability Score Increase. Instead of set ability increases, these variants allow you to choose where your bonuses go. You can either take +2 in one ability score and +1 in another or +1 in three different ability scores.
- Age. Owlin typically live for around a century and mature at much the same rate as humans.
- Size. You are medium or small. You choose your size when you select this race.
- Speed. Your walking speed is 30 feet.
- Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one other language that you and your DM agree is fitting for your character.
- Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 120 feet of yourself as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. You discern colors in that darkness only as shades of gray.
- Flight. Thanks to your wings, you have a flying speed equal to your walking speed. You can’t use this flying speed if you’re wearing medium or heavy armor.
- Silent Feathers. You have proficiency in the Stealth skill.
The Owlin race is simultaneously a great new race and an unspectacular new rollout from WotC. Before I start ragging on this race for everything it’s missing, let’s discuss what it does have going for it.
I’ve made myself very vocal about the lineages method of ability score increases; I think they’re amazing.
Being able to choose where your ability scores go means that you are in control of the character you’re making.
An Owlin can fit just as well in the role of a wizard as they can a barbarian, whereas most of the early races in 5e get pigeonholed into certain classes.
We also have the ability to be medium or small, a really interesting option for a race that has a pretty standard build.
Since medium represents characters from 4 to 8 feet tall, you’d need a pretty small Owlin to be considered mechanically small.
There are some ways that the mechanics change for small creatures – they can lift and carry less, but they can benefit from more cover options and fit into smaller spaces, along with others.
At the end of the day, it’s just interesting, not insanely important, for the overall value of the race.
Then we get to the actual abilities. Owlins have flight and proficiency in stealth. The lore explanation for stealth is that they are descended from stealthy hunters, so at least both abilities make sense.
Flight can be incredibly useful for a lot of different characters as it gives you a whole new dimension to explore in combat. Stealth, a bit less so, but it is useful with certain builds.
Here’s the thing, those two abilities alone are extremely lackluster. This class is missing that je nais se quois that makes classes feel exciting. Even the description for the race is sad and nondescript.
Let’s compare the Owlin to another race inspired by a MTG setting, the Loxodon.
In Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, the Loxodon people got 8 paragraphs of well-thought-out lore, discussing the culture and history of the race, what kind of lifestyle most Loxodons lived, and more.
They also got a list of abilities that really made you feel like you were playing a unique character, instead of just getting some mechanical benefits slapped on a page.
To give you the description of the Owlin race in the first section of this article I had to actually flip through MTG cards and brush up on what little lore existed.
There are only two paragraphs in the actual sourcebook for people who want to understand more about the race they’re about to play.
Then we get into the abilities. Flight and stealth. I can’t knock them as abilities, but I can say that they certainly don’t make me excited to play an owlin.
This is a race that has been heavily featured in a MTG set full of spells and witchcraft – why on earth don’t they have some sort of magical tie to the plane? Innate spellcasting would’ve been awesome.
I mean, even creating an ability around the owl’s ability to turn their head around 270 degrees would’ve been something.
“Swivel. Thanks to your ability to turn your head up to 270 degrees around, you have an increased awareness of your surroundings. Add your constitution modifier (minimum 1) to your passive perception score.”
I know that’s not the most exciting ability either, but it captures what I feel is missing, some sort of a relation between the race and their abilities.
Aarakocra have talons, and maybe the Owlin should too. I could rant for a very long time about this, but let me end it with this:
Races should be more than just a template to create a powerful character. They should be enticing, exciting, and full of possibility.
What Classes Are Well Suited to Owlin?
All my distaste for the lack of excitement this race brings aside, the Owlin are a great race for most builds.
Rogues may seem like the obvious choice thanks to the stealth proficiency, but since they already have the ability to pick up a stealth proficiency, most of this race is wasted on them.
Since this class has the ability to choose where its ability score bonuses go, it falls in much the same category as Dhampir, Fairy, and any other race that has gotten the lineages treatment.
That’s fairly straightforward, so let’s discuss the benefits of flight in 5e.
Flight, very simply, means being able to move in the air as well as on the ground. In combat, this means being able to stay a comfortable distance away from a lot of threats.
This is more of a benefit for ranged combat classes like spellcasters with distance spells and any form of archer, gunslinger, etc.
Being able to move in the air also means being able to move around the battlefield easier without provoking opportunity attacks.
In this way, the Aarakocra race is a bit superior since their flight speed is 50 feet.
That essentially lets them cover the same amount of space as a 30-foot walking speed without provoking attacks from grounded enemies (up 10 feet, move 30, down 10 feet to land).
If you’re looking for a character that can dart around the battlefield and dish out damage in this way, the Aarakocra is definitely your best bet.
It does require dexterity-based weapons or shuffling your ability scores in an interesting way, but that’s an easy move.
With all that, the Owlin is left for character builds that are melee combatants definitely favoring strength (not rogues) or ranged spellcasters.
Seeing as this race made their debut in the Strixhaven sourcebook, it makes sense that quite a few spellcasters would enjoy an attempt.
Wizards in particular can be excited, especially if the idea of playing a Fairy (the only other flight race to receive the lineage treatment) wasn’t entertaining.
Since there aren’t many races boasting intelligence score increases, this is definitely a great grab. Not to mention, flight will keep them safe until they’re not so squishy at higher levels.
Should the Owlin Be Banned?
DMs absolutely love to ban playable races with flight, and one that can fit into any mold you throw at it certainly might raise a few eyebrows.
Even back when this race was first teased, I could hear the groans of dungeon masters from behind my desk. I implore any DMs that are reading this to stop banning flying races and just make them difficult to play.
The solution to “overpowered” races, classes, feats, whatever, is never to ban them outright. Instead, it should be to make them feel only as powerful as any other character at the table.
Sure, flight should save the day now and then, but it shouldn’t be a game breaker.
There are two main areas that flight really shakes things up: combat and traps. It’s definitely helpful in other areas, but these are certainly the focus.
Flight in combat is surprisingly easy to deal with, so here are a few options I’ve seen to level the playing field:
- Low ceilinged dungeons
- Ranged combatants
- Flight is common
Bringing your characters through dungeons that don’t have a giant 50’ tall cathedral begging for a BBEG fight means that your winged characters have to be grounded, fix number one.
Number two, if flying characters are still getting hit, they don’t have as much motivation to stay in the air.
Smack a ballista or two down, put a caster or a bowman on the enemy’s side, and the only benefit remaining is avoiding attacks of opportunity.
That brings us to the last simple solution – make flight common. If your character wants to play an Owlin, an Aarakocra, or whatever their heart desires, then that race exists in your world.
Build a world that has Owlin culture (whatever that is), built into it at the core, and have owlins participating in all walks of life.
If they want to fly, there should be flying humanoids all over the place, and that means on the side of the bad guys too.
This opens up some crazy cool doors, flying zombies, flying cultists, cloud cities, and whatever your little heart can imagine. My summed up advice for DMs? Don’t let flight be an obstacle, let it be an opportunity.
If you were as excited for the Owlin race as I was, you have my condolences.
If you’re still excited by a flying race with a blank canvas for you to create around, you have my respect. Regardless, I hope this has given you some food for thought.
And as always, happy adventuring.