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Variant Human Race Guide 5e – Abilities and Choices

In the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, the options for what race you want to play as are enormous. Not counting subraces, there are over 50 different options to choose from!

But, you might be surprised to find out that the humble human is the most common choice players make.

The main reason players gravitate towards humans is because of the variant human from the Player’s Handbook. This option provides a lot of power and choice to players that go with it.

But, what do this power and versatility look like? It turns out the answer is just as varied as the race itself.  

Variant Human Abilities and Traits

Despite being the main choice for players, the list of abilities a variant human gets isn’t very long.

That’s great because variant humans are an optional choice, so not having a huge race listing is great for saving space in the book. Here’s the list of traits that all variant humans get: 

Variant Human

Ability Score Increase: Two different ability scores of your choice increase by 1.

Speed: 30 ft

Size: Medium

Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and one extra language of your choice. 

Skills: You gain proficiency in one skill of your choice

Feat: You gain one feat of your choice. 

As you can see, outside of what most Medium creatures get, the variant human doesn’t have many individual traits in D&D 5e. The only choices they get to make are what skill proficiency and feat they get to add to their character sheet. 

Now, why would this race be an optional rule? That’s because feats are an optional rule. If you go to the start of the Feats section on pg. 165 of the Player’s Handbook, the rules there list feats as optional, not mandatory.

While many tables choose to play with feats, not all tables do so to keep the game simple. 

From a game design standpoint, that desire to keep things simple is why the variant human is listed as optional. If you make feats optional but not variant humans, then you have a conflict if a player wants to use a variant human. 

Best Classes For Variant Humans

The incredible thing about variant humans is that they can be used with any class. Variant humans choose what ability scores they increase and can supplement any class with a unique skill and feat.

Rather than tell you what classes are best with a variant human, here is how the classes of D&D best mesh with a variant human:

Artificer

Released in Eberron: Rising from the Last War, the Artificer has an interesting addition to the game. They focus on their Intelligence stat, using that to cast their spells. They also like having some Constitution and Dexterity as well for their defenses. 

As magical engineers, Artificers appreciate any skills that they can’t get outside of their class, such as Insight or Stealth. The skill choice is auxiliary to your feat choice, though.

The Artificer appreciates feats that can augment their spellcasting in some way. Magic Initiate, Ritual Caster, and War Caster can expand on the options an Artificer has or improve the chances they can keep their spells going while in combat. 

Barbarian

As the ferocious warriors of the D&D warrior, Barbarians want all of the physical stats boosted to stay in the fight longer. Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity all let a Barbarian hit hard and take hits longer while in a scrap.

You can boost two of these three stats as a variant human with no issue. 

For feats, Barbarians want to hit as hard as they can. Great Weapon Master is great for this since you can use the Reckless Attack feature to offset the attack penalty from using the feat.

For the more defensive Barbarians, Sentinel makes it harder for enemies to ignore you while in a melee with you.

Bard

The whimsical Charisma casters of D&D, Bards need Dexterity and Charisma to stay competitive with their spells and defenses. Two stats needed and two ability scores boosted from variant human? Seems perfect to us! 

Bards benefit even more from getting an extra feat. Bards have a fantastic spell list and support options, but don’t have the defenses and saving throw proficiencies to keep themselves going.

Moderately Armored and Resilient (Constitution) all make for great pickups as a Bard to boost your chances of avoiding damage or dropping concentration on a spell. Inspiring Leader also offers a good way to use your Charisma to boost the party’s effective hit points.  

Cleric

Thanks to Clerics getting either medium or heavy armor proficiency, most Clerics only need Wisdom and Constitution to get through their adventures.

Strength is useful for the weapon-focused Clerics, but not all Clerics favor weapons. You’ll have to decide what matters most to you when you choose your variant human’s ability score improvements. 

As for feats, Clerics are set for their AC, but not for concentration. Resilient (Constitution) and War Caster and great Clerics to get their concentration spells set for the fight. War Caster is also good for clerics that want to use a weapon and shield while casting their spells. 

Druid

Druids, similar to clerics, are full casters that have a lot of their defensive options handled already by their class proficiencies. Not being able to wear metal armor hurts but doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker, depending on the Dungeon Master.

Also similar to clerics, a lot of druids need help with maintaining concentration, making variant humans a good option to fill in this weakness. 

Resilient (Constitution) and War Caster are strong options to boost a Druid’s concentration checks. 

Fighter

Fighters are geared towards the chaos of combat…almost like that’s what the name of the class implies! Fighters have almost everything they need to get themselves and their teammates through combat.

However, many Fighters lack options for exploration and social encounters, meaning a feat at level one is a great way to get some new tools. 

However, your choice for these tools depends on what you want to do. To be better at exploring an area, the Skilled feat to pick up Survival and Nature could help.

Otherwise, feats like Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster add some spellcasting a Fighter wouldn’t get otherwise. 

Monk

The Monk class is an interesting mix of martial prowess and support. While Monks themselves don’t deal a large amount of damage, they can set up allies with Stunning Strike and abilities from their subclasses. This makes Monk a tough class to pick feats for. 

Most Monks will appreciate having the Mobile feat, though. The extra movement and the ability to Disengage for free against a melee opponent give you outs in combat. It also helps you stay on the fringes of a fight, ducking in when you need to take on or take down an opponent. 

Paladin

Paladins try to take the best of the two worlds of Fighter and Cleric. They definitely succeed at that in 5e, having all the weapon proficiencies they need on top of some killer spells. However, like the many classes with spellcasting, their concentration checks could use a boost. 

That’s why you’ll see a lot of Paladins pick up Resilient or War Caster at some point in their careers. Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master show up a lot for Paladins thanks to the bonus action attack these feats offer. Variant human means you can pick one of these key feats up that much earlier!

Ranger

The nature side of the fighter and caster mix, the Ranger trades out the Paladin’s heavy arms for a lighter, more outdoorsy approach. The Ranger has a lot of the tools they need to succeed already, but a boost to their concentration checks and damage never hurts. 

Sharpshooter and the usual concentration boosting feats will be the common pickups for Rangers. In particular, keeping up their hunter’s mark spell is part of the Ranger’s damage output, so dropping it early really hurts!

Rogue

The sneaks and scoundrels of D&D, Rogues can benefit from the feats a variant human offers just like any other class. With their skills and damage all set, many rogues like having extra tools at their disposal for avoiding or handling problems. 

Magic Initiate is great for adding some useful spells to a Rogue’s arsenal, like Minor Illusion or Charm Person.

Lucky shows up on many Rogue builds as well, thanks to that feat’s ability to take a bad roll into a much better one. For Rogues, who only get one attack per turn, this can change the course of a fight.

Sorcerer

Sorcerers are interesting when it comes to feats. They don’t need much help with concentrating on spells thanks to their Constitution saving throw proficiency.

That means a Sorcerer can focus on other parts of their character to boost their survivability. 

Lightly Armored and Lucky can help a Sorcerer survive an adventure. Both of these feats give the Sorcerer a boost to their defenses, whether by boosting their AC or forcing an enemy to attack with disadvantage.

Either way, the Sorcerer appreciates the extra layer of defense between the enemy and their small pool of hit points, especially at level one. 

Warlock

Choosing a feat as a Warlock will depend on what kind of Warlock you look to build.

Melee-focused Warlocks will look for a way to boost their defense, while ranged warlocks will want ways to keep their concentration going on their support or control spells. 

This makes Moderately Armored and War Caster common pickups for Warlocks. Taking these early on gives you that security early on in your role, letting you perform better right from level one. 

Wizard

As the apex arcane caster, Wizards have a lot going for them…assuming you can survive the early levels.

The small hit die of the Wizard leads them to pick up feats that boost their chances of living through a fight so that they can get to the crazy spells only available to high-level Wizards. 

Resilient (Constitution) and Tough are good for helping to pad out a Wizard’s hit points. Resilient also has the benefit of boosting the Wizard’s concentration checks, something they don’t normally have proficiency in. 

What are the Best Feats for Variant Humans?

While many feats are great to pick up in general, some feats get more use in early levels.

Whether it’s because the benefit of the feat is nice to have early on or because the feat can grow in power over time, these are the feats variant humans should consider for their first level choice: 

Great Weapon Master/Sharpshooter

While both of these feats have different extra benefits, most players will use these feats for one thing: big damage numbers.

The ability to add +10 to the damage rolls of your heavy or ranged weapon attacks makes a big deal over a campaign. But, that +10 means the most at level one since many monsters won’t have a large number of hit points.

If you can get advantage or a boost to your attack rolls, the -5 penalty to get that boost in damage hurts a lot less. 

These feats are best for the martial classes in the game. Barbarians, Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers all enjoy the main and minor benefits these feats offer. 

Polearm Master

This feat is another fantastic feat to have earlier for the damage output. Polearms tend to have a higher damage die, so being able to do another attack as a bonus action with a smaller hit die almost means you’re dual-wielding your polearm with itself.

This bonus action attack also gives you another attack to add damage to, such as Great Weapon Master, Paladin’s Divine Smite, or the Ranger’s hunter’s mark spell. 

This is great for any human looking to play a polearm-focused martial character. Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers all want that extra attack on their turn.

More damage in the early levels means you can down the monsters that much faster. 

Lucky

This feat is considered to be one of the best in all of D&D 5e. The ability to change bad d20 rolls is useful no matter what level or what class you play as. This feat also has the ability to turn disadvantage on a d20 roll into something better than advantage.

You could have the ability to alter fate, all at level one!

This feat is great for any class. Divination Wizards will have extra fun with this feat, though. It will feel like an extension of your Portent feature!

Crossbow Expert

Crossbow Expert works similar to Polearm Master in that you can get a bonus action attack. This only works with a hand crossbow if you want to use just one weapon, though.

This feat also lets you make ranged attacks from melee range, including spell attacks. That means this feat can be good for spellcasters too, oddly enough. 

Rogues, Bards, Rangers, and Fighters are the usual suspects of who will want this feat. These are all classes that use hand crossbows and can take advantage of the extra attack on the bonus action. 

Magic Initiate

This feat adds a splash of magic onto characters that might not have it normally. You can pick up cantrips and a spell from any of the full spellcaster lists, letting you match your character’s preferred stats to the spells.

Picking up some spells early on is a great way to make your character unique and pick up some tools they wouldn’t normally get early on. 

Most characters can benefit from this feat, even Barbarians. There are cantrips and first-level spells for all sorts of characters. It just depends on what spell list you pick from. 

Ritual Caster

Rituals Caster is a fantastic way to add some utility options to a character with a higher Intelligence or Wisdom score. You get your choice of any of the full caster spell lists, even if the ability score you use to qualify for this feat is different from the class’s normal casting stat.

The Wizard list is a popular choice since the Wizard has so many unique rituals on its spell list.

Artificers, Clerics, Druids, and Monks have an easy time qualifying for this feat, but other classes like this feat, too. Fighters and Rangers will also like having the utility of rituals in their toolkit despite being focused on the combat and exploration parts of the game.

Either way, having this feat early on gives you plenty of time to find scrolls and books with the rituals you want.

Resilient

Most classes appreciate having another saving throw proficiency. Everyone except for the Monk will have a saving throw or two they aren’t proficient in. 

Spellcasters in particular will love this feat for Constitution saving throws. However, many martial characters will want this for Wisdom saving throws to make sure they don’t end up on the wrong side of a frighten or charm effect.

Having these saves early means that you can avoid these nasty effects against some of the early threats, like lamias and monsters with poison. 

Sentinel

For the frontline brawlers that want to lock down an enemy, this is a great feat to pick up. Making your opportunity attacks lock down foes forces them to focus their attacks on you, possibly saving your allies.

If the enemy has to attack you, and you can boost your defenses or survive through the attacks, then you put them into a lose-lose situation. 

Barbarians, Fighters, and Paladins love having this option in their toolkit. While Fighters and Paladins will watch attacks bounce off their heavy armor, a Barbarian will grin and bear it while they dish out big damage in return.

Regardless of which class you are, having the choice to protect allies at level one gives your friends a chance to focus on their role unaccosted. 

Lightly/Moderately/Heavily Armored

All of these feats accomplish the same thing: they grant proficiency in the next category up in armors. Many characters out there will want to find a way to boost their AC beyond what their class offers, and this is the feat to do it.

Getting this boost early on can prevent having to multiclass, thus ending the wait for better armor. 

Bards and Warlocks love to pick Moderately Armored since they like having some Dexterity, but not enough to fill out their light armor. Some Rangers and Clerics that favor their Strength scores will like picking up Heavily Armored for the same reason.

Either way, these are great ways to boost your AC early on in your career. 

Inspiring Leader

With how many classes rely on Charisma in some way, it’s easy to have this feat make its way into the party at some point. Temporary hit points make the party more durable, which is never a bad thing!

Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks are all great candidates to pick up this feat. Any of these classes can use their Charisma in the early levels to provide a large boost to the hit points of the entire party, making the low levels a little less dangerous.  

Conclusion

The variant human is an optional rule in D&D 5e that offers a huge amount of versatility and variety to a character.

While the skill proficiency is nice, the main draws of this race are the ability score improvements and free feat that set it apart.

Being able to select a feat that augments your specialization or gives you new tools offers build options your non-human characters might not normally have.

With all this factored together, it’s easy to see why the variant human is so popular!