The Dungeons and Dragons universe spans an impressive cavalcade of fantasy races. Some conform to familiar tropes, seen far and wide across the realms of fantasy literature. Others are more unique, with few comparisons outside the pages of D&D’s sourcebooks. All, however, bring distinct attributes, abilities, and roleplaying touchstones that are essential to creating a character.
Aside from their distinct appearances, each Race boasts different Ability Score improvements and traits that will greatly influence the skills, capabilities, and general competencies of your character. Besides choosing a Class, picking a Race is the most important decision you’ll make during character creation, and shouldn’t be hurried.
We’ll walk you through all the ‘common’ D&D 5E Races included in the Player’s Handbook, pointing out their disparities, and highlighting their many gameplay peculiarities. For seasoned character creators after a quick information-injection to the brain, we’ve included a concise table for each Race, summarising their main stats. But for those after a little more guidance, we’ve also outlined each Race’s primary strengths, and the Classes they most naturally pair with.
However, do keep in mind that D&D’s representation of Race shouldn’t be treated without scrutiny. The tabletop roleplaying game’s penchant for pre-determining in-game stats based on characters’ genetic category (i.e. race) has received increasing criticism over the last few years, with many pointing out the problematic real-world implications of homogenising the psychological conditions, moral leanings, intelligence, and cultural attributes of entire races of people, as well as poorly distinguishing between psychological features and learned behaviours.
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Wizards of the Coast has better acknowledged these problems in recent years. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, released in 2020, provided optional rules to bypass racial traits, and the Lineage options introduced in 2021’s Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft explored character heritage and history, as an alternative to Race. Problems still persist, though, such as the description of all Orcs as naturally evil, uncivilised, and brutish, so be careful you don’t unintentionally build your character as a harmful stereotype.
With that said, let’s delve into the common D&D Races.
|Ability Scores||+2 Con|
|Traits||Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience, Dwarven Combat Training, Stonecutting|
|Subraces||Hill Dwarf, Mountain Dwarf|
|Suggested classes||Cleric, Fighter, Barbarian, Druid|
Familiar from across the fantasy space, D&D Dwarves closely match their representation in other media. Stout cave dwellers, with a penchant for gold and all things shiny, they live long, but can be slow to form amicable bonds with non-dwarven folk. Tending to stick within their clan, they’re hardy folk that rarely loosen their grip on a grudge.
On the tabletop, Dwarves are one of the most durable race options. Their natural +2 Con provides a lovely HP boost, and their Dwarven Resilience ability (granting resistance against poison damage) will prove useful time and again. Similarly, Hill Dwarves’ +1 HP per level, and Mountain Dwarves’ proficiency with light and medium armour, helps withstand blow after blow.
When it comes to classes, Dwarves pair nicely with several options. The +2 Str of the Mountain Dwarf suits them to martial builds, such as Barbarians or Fighters, while the +2 Wis of Hill Dwarves makes them a great option for Clerics and Druids. Ultimately, their toughness provides a malleability, and Dwarves can appropriately be built for any class, bar Bard, Warlock, and Sorcerer, which rely on high Cha.
|Ability Scores||+2 Dex|
|Traits||Darkvision, Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry|
|Subraces||High Elf, Wood Elf, Dark Elf|
|Suggested classes||Rogue, Ranger, Wizard, Warlock|
Tall, sleek, and pointy-eared, Elves are graceful beings, most at home in ethereal forests and magical realms. Generally presented as virtuous beings that love all the good things in life (art, poetry, music), they’re often carefree spirits that are just as likely to show skill with a sword as they are with a spellbook.
Elves’ +2 Dex makes them perfectly suited to the sly and speedy activities of a Rogue or Ranger, while their natural proficiency in Perception, combined with Darkvision, accustoms them to stealth. Their Fey Ancestry, granting saving throws against being charmed and preventing them being put to sleep, also comes in handy against manipulative foes.
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But their subraces make them a suitable pick for virtually any class. Wood Elves, with their +1 Wis and already high Dex, make effective monks, and are an obvious choice for the nature-loving, spellcasting Druid. Similarly, a High Elf Wizard has become a staple. The +1 Int supports spellcasting, while proficiency with bows lets you keep your frail Wizard body out of harm’s way. The Cha-focused Drow (or Dark Elf) make effective Warlocks, given their race-based cantrips circumvent the problem of limited spell slots.
|Ability Scores||+2 Dex|
|Traits||Lucky, Brave, Nimbleness|
|Suggested classes||Rogue, Ranger, Bard|
Small humanoids, almost identically akin to the hobbits of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth, though without thick foot hair and round front doors. Living in peaceful, bucolic communities, usually hidden from the conflicts of the world, they’re cheerful and curious. Most comfortable in the wide outdoors, Halflings usually have a strong grasp of tradition, and a firm understanding of the importance of community.
Like Elves, Halflings’ +2 Dex makes them particularly adept Rogues and Rangers, while their small size lets them squeeze through tight spots, and move through any area occupied by a larger creature. But it’s their saving throws that really stand out. As well as possessing an advantage against being frightened, their Lucky trait lets them reroll any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that lands on a one, preventing catastrophes.
Halflings’ high Dex can be successfully paired with numerous classes. While stealthy builds are firm favourites, Dex-based Fighters can deal high ranged damage, and leap about the battlefield to evade enemies. Be sure to pick a Stout Halfling for +1 Con, so you can really hold your own. The +1 Cha of Lightfoot Halflings makes them brilliant Bards, too, especially since their Lucky trait lets you reroll any daring, and probably ill-considered, roleplaying faux pas.
|Ability Scores||+1 in all Ability Scores (or +1 in two Ability Scores, one feat, and one skill proficiency)|
|Suggested classes||Wizards, Clerics, Paladins, anything|
This lot should be pretty familiar. Humans are variable, versatile, and adaptable folks, who ambitiously explore the land for both personal gain and altruistic devotion. Their lives are short, and their empires enormous, built upon trade and war.
Humans are by far the most versatile of the common races, granting +1 to all Ability Scores. They also come in a second form – the Variant Human – providing +1 in only two Ability Scores, alongside a free feat and proficiency in one skill.
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Given this is the only way to get a feat at first level, and doesn’t sacrifice an Ability improvement, you’ll definitely want to use the Variant Human if you’re basing your character around feats.
As for classes, Humans are highly malleable. Choosing two ability scores to focus on is particularly useful for classes that utilise spellcasting alongside martial attacks, such as battle Wizards, Clerics, or Paladins. But, really, you can use a Human for anything. They’re sticks of clay, ready to be moulded into whatever form you choose.
|Ability Scores||+2 Str, +1 Cha|
|Traits||Breath Weapon, Damage Resistance|
|Suggested classes||Paladin, Barbarian, Warlock|
Humanoid dragons, Dragonborn are an aged race, split into devoted clans. Imbued with the blood of dragons, they aren’t commonly seen across the worlds of D&D, and are generally forthright, holding the honour of their clan in high esteem.
Their +2 Str and +1 Cha make a nicely balanced Ability Score range, but it’s their natural Breath Weapon that makes the Dragonborn stand out. Able to exhale a force of destructive energy that deals 2d6 damage on a failed Constitution saving throw, they’ve got an ace in the hole straight out the gates. Its damage and difficulty class will increase as you level, and your chosen Draconic Ancestry will determine its damage type, as well as your character’s resistances.
When picking a class, choose any that leverages Str or Cha. Barbarian is a good pick if you fancy rushing into the heat of battle, wielding a big axe, and crushing skulls. Equally, The Charisma-focused spellcasting of Warlocks is well suited to Dragonborn, and their Breath Weapon provides a nice compliment to the class’s limited spell slots. But if you want to leverage both Ability specialities, Paladin is the way to go: you’ll be dishing out high melee damage, while channelling your deity’s magic.
|Ability Scores||+2 Int|
|Traits||Small, Darkvision, Gnome Cunning|
|Subraces||Forest Gnome, Rock Gnome|
|Suggested classes||Wizard, Rogue|
Vibrant and eternally expressive, Gnomes are the happiest race in D&D. Living within small burrows in forests and hillsides, they’re often styled as a curious race that enjoys the thrill of adventure, and the prospect of a reward. Not cave-loving Dwarves, nor pastoral Halflings, Gnomes are more similar to the fairies of folklore.
When it comes to adventuring, they’re astute and cunning, with +2 Intelligence and advantage on all Int, Wis, and Cha saving throws against magic. Alone, these aren’t hugely beneficial (especially compared with the Variant human), but can be combined with the Gnome subraces for a few effective builds.
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The Forest Gnome’s +1 Dex gives the opportunity to create a magically-inclined Rogue, and its Speak With Small Beasts trait is always fun to mess around with. The Rock Gnome’s +1 Con, on the other hand, makes it a great pick if you’re creating a classic Gnome Wizard, but fancy adding some muscles under their robes. Although their effective class options are few compared to other races, when Gnomes excel, they really excel.
|Ability Scores||+2 Cha, +1 any Ability Score|
|Traits||Darkvision, Fey Ancestry, Skill Versatility|
|Suggested classes||Warlock, Sorcerer, Monk|
Born of Human and Elf parents, Half-Elves take bits from both of their ancestral lines; sometimes the good, sometimes the bad. Fast outgrowing their slow-to-age Elf kin, and often more emotionally mature than their Human compadres, they’re often solitary beings, with no society to call home.
And their stats are equally divergent. With +2 Cha and +1 in two other Abilities of your choice, Half-Elves are a flexible race, suited to eclectic builds from the off. Add to that proficiency in two skills, Darkvision, and Fey Ancestry (preventing you from being put to sleep), and you have a powerful foundation to flexibly mould to whatever you envision.
Given this, Half-Elves pair nicely with any class. Their natural Cha, alongside a boost to Con and Dex, works brilliantly with a Warlock or Sorcerer. You’ll be casting offensive spells, without fear of retribution. Bard is the next obvious choice, with the two skill proficiencies broadening the class’s utility even further. Plus, Monk, Ranger, or even Fighter can be good options. Although your Cha will be wasted in combat, Half-Elves’ breadth of Ability Scores and proficiencies makes for a versatile base.
|Ability Scores||+2 Str, +1 Con|
|Traits||Darkvision, Menacing, Relentless Endurance, Savage Attacks|
|Suggested classes||Barbarian, Fighter|
With Orc and Human blood running through their veins, Half-Orcs are D&D’s way of letting you play as the classic fantasy creature, and probably the most racially problematic player race in the game. Mixing natural Orcish strength and superior Human intelligence, they’re often rejected by other races, and live within Orc tribes.
Physical might is the calling card of the Half-Orc. Boasting +2 Strength and +1 Con, they’re best suited to axe-toting martial builds, in which they rush into the heart of a fight, swing wildly in all directions, and come away with only a few scratches to show for it.
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Relentless Endurance, which gives them an extra one HP upon dropping to zero health, is useful insurance for reckless players (or new adventurers). Savage Attack, meanwhile, lets them roll an additional attack die whenever they land a critical hit – perfect for massive bursts of damage.
Barbarian Half-Orcs are the staple, given their Ability Scores and racial traits suit them perfectly to Barbarian’s rage-fuelled, close-combat fighting. However, Half-Orcs also work nicely as Str-focused Fighters, having more opportunity to take the role of a tank within their party. Avoid any spellcasting class, but do consider a martial Paladin build, improving Cha as you level up.
|Ability Scores||+2 Cha, +1 Int|
|Traits||Darkvision, Hellish Resistance, Infernal Legacy|
|Suggested classes||Warlock, Sorcerer, Wizard|
Imbued with an infernal heritage, Tieflings are best thought of as humans crossed with devils. Horns protrude from their forehead, a tail from their back, and sharp teeth fill their mouths. Often treated with suspicion, they usually gather in small communities, victim to the pernicious whispers and ignorance of others.
With +1 Int and +2 Cha, Tieflings aren’t the most diverse race, but are well-suited to spellcasting and scrutinising. Darkvision and resistance to fire damage keeps them functioning in difficult combat encounters, while Infernal Legacy (granting them the ability to cast Hellish Rebuke at third-level), provides an easy means of dealing 2d10 fire damage when you’re in a pinch.
Their natural Ability Scores pair wonderfully with any Cha-focused class, such Sorcerer or Bard, and Hellish Rebuke is particularly useful for spell slot-strapped Warlocks. If you’d prefer something a little more unusual, test out a tanky Paladin build, and focus on gaining feats for more damage resistance.