Tiefling Skin Color Options in DnD 5e: What Shade of Infernal?

© Wizards of the Coast by Justyna Gil

Tieflings are one of the most popular races in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. Their popularity comes from their edgy aesthetic and wide variety of customization options.

From the enormous breadth of Infernal Legacy traits to the massive spectrum of tiefling physical customization options, players are given an insane amount of freedom to the look and feel of their tiefling.

Tieflings have some of the most lenient physical customization options, so we’ve compiled all the canonically referenced skin colors that we could find for the Forgotten Realms.

Humanoid Shades

As tieflings are born of human parents whose bloodlines are tainted by infernal curses or other relations. Tieflings will chiefly display the skin colors of their human parents.

We have quite a few good examples of tieflings who show the skin color of their humans, especially in Pathfinder books.

Jheraal Tiefling Hellknight
Jheraal
© Paizo Inc. by Eric Belisle
Radovan Virholt
Radovan
© Paizo Inc. by Roberto Pitturru
Forgotten Realms Tiefling
© Wizards of the Coast
HaerDalis Baldur's Gate
© Wizards of the Coast

Jheraal and Radovan both show predominantly human skin shades. Radovan, in particular, is barely even recognizable as a tiefling from his outward appearance.

Humanoid shades are going to be the most common skin shades for tieflings. The bloodline of a tiefling must be highly corrupted to start showing skin tones more associated with their infernal heritage.

Reds

Reds are the only other skintones supported by Fifth Edition’s text. There’s a wide variety of images in Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and other Forgotten Realms intellectual properties that display red tieflings.

Red Pathfinder Tiefling
© Paizo Inc. by Andy Timm
4e Tiefling
© Wizards of the Coast

Fifth Edition’s Player’s Handbook states that shades of red are the second most common skin color for tieflings after taking the skin tones of their human parents.

Purple

While red is the only other skin color supported by the text, purple is the skin color most often seen in Dungeons & Dragons artbooks. The Fifth Edition tiefling art from the Player’s Handbook features a purple tiefling.

Purple Tiefling from 5e PHB
Tiefling art from 5e PHB
© Wizards of the Coast
Purple Oath of Glory Tiefling
© Wizards of the Coast
Valor Singer - Purple Tiefling
© Wizards of the Coast

Purple Tieflings have been seen in Dungeons & Dragons books serving as Bards and Paladins and are even 5e’s representative tiefling. Purple tieflings are likely the third most common tiefling skin shade.

The Case for Alternate Skin Shades

There is no text supporting the creation of tieflings with skin colors outside of humanoid shades, reds, and purples.

Since the infernal display a wide range of inhuman skin shades, it can be assumed the tieflings do come in shades other than those supported explicitly by the text.

They may be less common because the text states that tieflings born with distinctly inhuman features are often killed at birth by their horrified parents.

Tieflings are considered a curse, and their presence isn’t welcome in most communities. Tieflings who survive to adulthood are not as common as the average folk because their parents are more likely to abandon or kill them.

This doesn’t mean that some tieflings don’t make it, though, and it can be assumed that some tieflings will be taken in by more understanding folks. Others may be hailed by demonic cults or others who view them in a less harmful light.

Thus, while the text only loosely supports their existence, it can be assumed that tieflings of any shade present in Infernal creatures can be found somewhere.

Should I Expand the Customization Options?

As a Dungeon Master, I have made the physical customization options in my game much more lenient. In my world, we allow natural technicolor hair and skin for all races because I don’t see a reason to limit my players in something that I think is relatively benign. 

These rules may not work for every Dungeon Master, but I am of the personal opinion that giving your players more options will result in a  better experience for everyone. So far, I’ve yet to come across a negatively impacted situation by a pink-haired elf or a blue-skinned tiefling.

For Dungeon Masters who want to run a more realistic experience, this may not be a possibility, and that’s okay too. For these games, even the red and purple skin shades might be rare since parents would likely not bother to raise a child who was so clearly infernal.

In these kinds of gritty and realistic games, you’d probably only see tieflings who looked human primarily and didn’t develop any infernal characteristics until adolescence or later.

There’s no right or wrong way to run your game; it’s all about what works best for you and your players. Whether you want to extend the character customization options or narrow them for realism, the decision should be based on what will provide the best experience for you and your players.

If you have a player who wants to expand the physical customization options, there’s a lot of things to consider. While there’s no real “slippery slope” with customization options, there’s some worldbuilding that the Dungeon Master will have to do to accommodate the request.

It’s okay to be unwilling to do these worldbuilding exercises to accommodate that, and if you aren’t willing to do so, you’ll have to decline the request politely.

Worldbuilding for Expanded Customisation

When expanding customization, you’ll need to account that it must fall into the spectrum of commonality once it exists. If your player is the only person with naturally purple hair in the world, then it would make sense for people to be surprised or taken aback by this.

While tieflings can handwave the science behind their physical features, the social aspect of their appearance will need to be taken into account. If you want to not be in the spotlight on their unusual appearance, you’ll have to make it normal.

This can be as simple as altering some ready-made NPCs to have different hair or skin tones or going as deep as coming up with the science behind your player’s choices. Regardless of how you handle it, your player’s choice will have to be written into the world in one way or another.

If your player’s appearance isn’t average, you might want to have them adjust their backstory to account for it. How were they treated growing up? What effects did this have on their character’s upbringing? 

This may not be necessary for short-form and combat-heavy campaigns since there won’t be a strong focus on social interaction. But for campaigns that rely on social mechanisms, there will be a lot of need for the players to integrate into the world, and the Dungeon Master’s role is to relay how the world reacts to them.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to deny that Tieflings have exploded in popularity in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, and that comes with a lot of questions from players new and old.

As always, it’s important to remember that what’s written in each book is more of a guide than anything else.

The first priority of every Dungeon Master needs to be creating an inviting and fun space for their individual players, even if that means bending the written rules.

Remember to consider the needs of all your players when deciding what kind of game to run and how to run. Good luck, have fun, and happy questing!