Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything boiled down homebrewing races to one basic process: Custom Lineage.
Custom Lineage outlines the basic traits a race should have at 1st level and provides some insight on how the Wizards of the Coast have built other races. It works like this:
- Creature Type: Humanoid that may or may not resemble a cousin race (for example, Half-Orc that is half Orc and half Dwarf probably has both green skin and a full beard)
- Size: Small-Medium
- Speed: 30 ft.
- Ability Score Increase: one ability score by two points
- Feat: gain one feat this race is qualified for (IE does not require proficiency, ability, etc. that the race does not have)
- Variable Trait: darkvision to 60 ft. or an additional skill
- Languages: Common and one other language that the DM agrees makes sense
What is a feat in 5e?
Feats are an optional rule found in the Player’s Handbook that allows the players a greater degree of customization with unique abilities that can be taken instead of an ability score improvement. Many DMs allow these. Some require certain races and some have minimum ability score thresholds, but their overall objective is to provide specific talents to help a player character stand out compared to the other players and NPCs.
What does this look like in practice?
Half-Orcs were basically made with this method. For comparison, let’s build a Half-Orc who’s other half isn’t completely overshadowed by Orcish DNA fathered specifically by a Dwarf and compare the two side by side.
|Half-Orc (Default)||Homebrew Half-Orc (who’s father was a brave Dwarf)|
|Speed||30 ft.||30 ft.|
|Ability Score Increase||+2 Str, +1 Con||+2 Str|
|Abilities or Feat||Relentless Endurance, Savage Attacks||Tavern Brawler: +1 (Str or Con, but Con for this example), proficiency in improvised weapons, unarmed strikes do an additional d4,|
|Variable Traits||darkvision to 60 ft. and Intimidation||darkvision out to 60 ft.|
|Languages||Orcish and Common||Orcish and Common|
Default Half-Orcs did luck out and snatch up an extra proficiency in Intimidation that the Homebrew Half-Orc made in this method wouldn’t have, but the rest has a rough equivalent.
The chosen feat for this comparison was Tavern Brawler to reflect the Dwarven passion for impromptu bar fighting and can be a character-defining fighting style. It supplements action economy with the chance of grappling every round with an open hand provided the Hombrew Half-Orc is fighting with something like a candlestick or table leg in its other hand. Tavern Brawler also provided a single stat increase it needed to be even in total points gained with its Default cousin. Otherwise, they have the same darkvision, languages, speed, size, and creature type all without unbalancing the game.
However, not all homebrew races will compare as easily to the races the game provides. There is no feat that compares exactly to the Protector Aasimaar from Volo’s Guide to Monsters that gives the player a full anime power-up transformation or the Yuan-Ti pureblood with Magic Resistance from the same book. Many other races, such as the Kalashtar from Eberron and many of the subraces of Elves, will receive more features than a homebrew race will. That is ok. This is a guideline. DMs have full discretion to add or subtract features at their table.
The strength of building a race this way is its ability to meet player needs. Many players have an idea of what they want their character to do and how it functions. However, getting there sometimes requires special combinations of feats and class features. Homebrewing a race can shorten that process and help the character come online earlier in the game.
Why did they do it this way?
Custom Races have always been something that generally belonged to the Homebrew Community without much in the way of guidelines except for a few pages in the Dungeon Master’s Guide that didn’t provide a very replicable. Specifically, the DMG race examples were too reliant upon spells rather than new features and didn’t translate fairly to all classes. The racial examples they provided were the Aasimaar and Eladrin Elf (technically a subrace) which they later released different (and many people’s preferred) versions of in Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes respectively. Feats are a pre-existing, already tested way of supplying new abilities generally locked behind ability score improvements.
While many people run home games with long time friends, several people go to game shops or conventions to play with strangers they don’t know to try and get into a game. This creates a problem when someone comes to a new table and has a bunch of ideas about a race that doesn’t directly map well onto a race in D&D. This is a tool to quickly adapt a race idea to the game when none of the default options quite fit.
Case and point, the Orcs of the Warhammer 40K franchise use their tremendous faith to make machines work when they logically should not. They can hold a toaster with a gun barrel screwed into it and it will fire a bullet if enough Orcs believe it will. It’s their magical power. That’s an incredibly difficult idea to map directly onto Orcs from D&D who are known for their zealotry, but not their industry, creativity, or ability to warp reality. With Tasha’s now, a DM can help that player bring a Warhammer 40K Orc to D&D by letting them play a Custom Lineage Orc with a +2 to intelligence and the Lucky feat meaning they can still pull off magical marvels. They can flavor their features as impossible animated trash piles and use their feat flavored as great faith to accomplish checks, attacks, saving throw that should generally fail. It allows DMs to say yes to player ideas more easily without having to sketch out new abilities in uncharted territory.
What about the lore implications? Do they provide a template for that?
The short answer is no. The rules supplied in Tasha’s Cauldron of everything are mostly focused on customizing existing races and providing a template to standardize the mechanics of a new race. They do not provide guidance on lore implications. However, we can infer guidelines through what’s already provided in the DMG.
On pg. 286 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Wizards of the Coast lay out their thinking when building an entirely new race. Given when it was written and what they have produced since then, they have changed their minds on several things including how powerful a 2nd level spell is. In their guidance though, they provide two big goals when making the DMG Aasimaar that we can use to inform our own homebrew races.
- Aasimaar should make effective Clerics and Paladins
- Aasimaar should be to humans and Celestials what Tieflings are to humans and devils
There is one point that both of these points illustrate: a race’s lore should indicate their favored classes in D&D based on their ability scores and natural talents. What players choose as their race does not always have to correlate to the optimal stats and real-life people groups aren’t naturally Wiser or more Dexterous than one another. However, D&D does have very specific racial talents that stem from their race. This is seen in Tiefling resistance to fire, Gnome resistance to mental saving throws, etc. The reason this is done is to reinforce and specialize their role within the game. It’s also the reason Custom Lineage exists so players pick and choose the parts they want without heavy lore baggage they may not want. I would recommend the following steps when trying to figure out how an entirely new race fits into D&D using only the information we have after building them mechanically.
Where did they come from?
When homebrewing a race and considering its role in the world, considering their creation and their relationship with the gods becomes important because the source of a lot of these speciation type abilities stems from their relationship with the gods. The god that created them usually has something in mind for them. If they were created outside of a relationship with the gods, say through a specific breeding program or lab experiment, that informs what they might favor. No one makes an entire race on accident. It happens purposefully. Deciding where they came from helps decide their path.
What matters to them?
People groups normally form around some kind of identity or belief and what that is should impact their lore in D&D. There should be natural suggestions in this if they have a guaranteed plus to a statistic. If they value strength above all else, there will probably be a lot of Fighters and Barbarians. If they value the arts and reputation, Bards will be a powerful force. If they value many science and determination, Artificers may abound.
How do they get along with others?
The Player’s Handbook explicitly lays out many race’s explicit opinions of others. If a race of homebrewed bug people with a stat boost to intelligence specifically hate Gnomes because they compete with each other in the world of clockwork machines, that’s information that informs the Player Character and helps them find their place in the world. Find out if they are friendly, hostile, or neutral towards other races.
Is there any guidance on some of the harder to quantify features?
Some of the more fairness minded DMs might have already asked themselves, “What about aging? What about the Elven Trance instead of sleeping? What about height and weight charts? Are there any recommendations about those?”
Nope. No book that I have found specifically refers to this sort of nebulous X factor aspect. This is going to be something that the table will have to discuss and agree on. For all of the games I have run, the Elven Trance and being alive for 1000 years has never been a deal-breaker for my parties. Part of it is that Tolkien taught us that Elves are the gods’ favorites.
However, I would advise all readers and the developers of D&D to remember that all men are created equal. Each fantasy race can be unique and special, but there should never be a de facto BEST RACE. Why they are awesome can swing wildly and not everyone has to be good at the same thing, but they should always be roughly comparable to one another.
With this in mind and agreeable players, I believe in your ability to resolve any conflict stemming from this!
One last thing…
Whenever you as the DM introduce a new player option to the table, be it a new race or customization options, make sure it is evenly available to everyone. Not everyone has to take you up on it, but everyone should feel like they have equal opportunity to try out the new toy.
Until next time, my friends,
May your game have advantage!