Helping you choose the best race for your character
Choosing a race to play in D&D 5e is tricky as there are so many options out there. As of writing, there’s an enormous 48 playable races and 26 subraces to pick from all with different ability score increases and features. So which do you choose?
Really it depends on what you want your character to be good at. Below I’ve broken down the best races for the different things you might want your character to excel at.
Which race should I choose?
I’d ask 3 questions when choosing a race to play as:
- Which race best matches the character I want to play?
- Which races have ability score improvements that work well with my class?
- Which races have features that will best enhance my character?
Racial ability scores
In most cases, races come with +3 ability score points (sometimes a few more) that may be assigned to certain ability scores or may leave you the option to assign those increases to any ability score. Choosing a race whose ability score increases coordinate with the primary abilities of your class is important.
To help you pick your race, I’ve detailed out all the races that receive increases in each ability:
|Strength||Mountain Dwarf, Half Elf, Half Orc, Human, Leonin, Locathah, Simic Hybrid, Warforged|
|Dexterity||High Elf, Wood Elf, Drow, Forest Gnome, Ghostwise Halfling, Lightfoot Halfling, Stout Halfling, Half Elf, Human, Locathah, Simic Hybrid, Warforged|
|Constitution||Hill Dwarf, Mountain Dwarf, Rock Gnome, Stout Halfling, Half Elf, Half Orc, Human, Leonin, Loxodon, Simic Hybrid, Verdan, Warforged|
|Intelligence||High Elf, Forest Gnome, Rock Gnome, Half Elf, Human, Simic Hybrid, Tiefling, Vedalken, Warforged|
|Wisdom||Hill Dwarf, Wood Elf, Ghostwise Halfling, Half Elf, Human, Kalashtar, Loxodon, Simic Hybrid, Vedalken, Warforged|
|Charisma||Drow, Lightfoot Halfling, Half Elf, Human Tiefling, Kalashtar, Simic Hybrid, Verdan, Warforged|
|Custom ability scores (you choose which ability scores increase)||Aarakocra, Aasimar, Bugbear, Centaur, Changeling, Chromatic Dragonborn, Gem Dragonborn, Matallic Dragonborn Duergar, Astral Elf, Eladrin, Fairy, Firbolg, Autognome, Deep Gnome, Air Genasi, Earth Genasi, Fire Genasi, Water Genasi, Giff, Githyanki, Githzerai, Deep Gnome, Goblin, Goliath, Hadozee, Harengon, Hobgoblin, Kender, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Kobold, Minotaur, Orc, Owlin, Plasmoid, Satyr, Sea Elf, Shadar-Kai, Shifter, Tabaxi, Thri-Keen, Tortle, Triton, Yuan-Ti Pureblood|
You may also want to choose a race because their features complement your character’s class or personality. Below I’ve identified some great examples of racial features that work really well tactically with certain classes and combat styles:
- Flight – Ranged attackers like archers and spellcasters
- Teleportation – Spellcasters that need to stay out of trouble, especially wizards and sorcerers, or melee characters that need to get into combat quicker
- Swim speed and underwater breathing – Great in seafaring campaigns
- Damage resistances – Great for tanks and frontline warriors
- Damage increases – Martial characters like barbarians, fighters and paladins
- Increased movement speed – Important for characters that need to maneuver a lot like rogues (especially swashbucklers) or that are most effective in melee combat like barbarians
- Darkvision – Great for scouts like rogues and rangers
You can see all the races with common types of features in the table below. Remember, there are other more unique features many races have so it’s also worth checking out our guides for each race.
|Natural Armor||Autognome, Lizardfolk, Locathah, Loxodon, Shifter, Simic Hybrid, Thri-Keen, Tortle, Warforged|
|Breath underwater/ hold breath||Sea Elf, Air Genasi, Water Genasi, Autognome, Grung, Lizardfolk, Locathah, Plasmoid, Simic Hybrid, Tortle, Triton, Vedalken, Warforged|
|Darkvision||Aasimar, Bugbear, Duergar, Hill Dwarf, Mountain Dwarf, Astral Elf, Drow, Eladrin, High Elf, Sea Elf, Shadar-Kai, Wood Elf, Air Genasi, Earth Genasi, Fire Genasi, Water Genasi, Deep Gnome, Forest Gnome, Rock Gnome, Goblin, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Hobgoblin, Kobold, Leonin, Orc, Owlin, Plasmoid, Shifter, Simic Hybrid, Tabaxi, Thri-Keen, Tiefling, Triton, Yuan-Ti Pureblood|
|Decreased movement speed||Hill Dwarf, Mountain Dwarf, Forest Gnome, Rock Gnome, Grung, Ghostwise Halfling, Lightfoot Halfling, Stout Halfling|
|Extra attack damage||Aasimar, Bugbear, Centaur, Giff, Goblin, Grung, Half-Orc, Lizardfolk, Minotaur, SImic Hybrid|
|Flight||Aarakocra, Aasimar (temporary), Gem Dragonborn (temporary), Fairy, Owlin, Tiefling (winged variant)|
|Increased movement speed||Centaur, Wood Elf, Air Genasi, Leonin, Satyr, Shifter (temporary)|
|Increased swim speed||Sea Elf, Water Genasi, Giff, Lizardfolk, Locathah, Simic Hybrid, Triton|
|Innate spellcasting||Aarakocra, Aasimar, Duergar, Astral Elf, Drow, High Elf, Fairy, Firbolg, Air Genasi, Earth Genasi, Fire Genasi, Water Genasi, Githyanki, Githzerai, Deep Gnome, Forest Gnome, Kobold, Tiefling, Triton, Yuan-Ti Pureblood|
|Resistances||Acid: Water Genasi, Plasmoid|
Cold: Sea Elf, Goliath, Triton
Fire: Fire Genasi, Tiefling
Lightning: Air Genasi
Necrotic: Aasimar, Shadar-Kai
Poison: Duergar, Hill Dwarf, Mountain Dwarf, Autognome, Grung (immunity), Stout Halfling, Plasmoid, Warforged, Yuan-Ti Pureblood
Psychic: Githyanki, Githzerai, Kalashtar
Player Chooses: Chromatic Dragonborn, Gem Dragonborn, Metallic Dragonborn
|Saving throw advantage||Charmed: Bugbear, Duergar, Astral Elf, Drow, Eladrin, High Elf, Sea Elf, Shadar-Kai, Wood Elf, Githzerai, Half-Elf, Hobgoblin, Locathah, Loxodon|
Charisma: Vedalken, Verdan
Frightened: Githzerai, Ghostwise Halfling, Lightfoot Halfling, Stout Halfling, Kender, Kobold, Locathah, Loxodon
Magic: Deep Gnome, Forest Gnome, Rock Gnome, Satyr, Yuan-Ti Pureblood
Paralyzed: Autognome, Locathah
Poisoned: Duergar, Hill Dwarf, Mountain Dwarf, Autognome, Grung (immunity), Stout Halfling, Locathah, Plasmoid, Warforged, Yuan-Ti Pureblood
Stunned: Duergar, Locathah
Wisdom: Kalashtar, Vedalken, Verdan
|Skill Proficiencies||Centaur, Changeling, Astral Elf, Drow, Eladrin, High Elf, Sea Elf, Shadar-Kai, Wood Elf, Githyanki, Goliath, Grung, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Harengon, Kender, Kenku, Kobold, Leonin, Locathah, Owlin, Satyr, Shifter, Tabaxi, Tortle, Vedalken, Verdan, Warforged|
|Can be small||Aasimar, Changeling, Fairy, Air Genasi, Earth Genasi, Fire Genasi, Deep Gnome, Rock Gnome, Goblin, Grung, Hadozee, Ghostwise Halfling, Lightfoot Halfling, Stout Halfling, Harengon, Kender, Kenku, Kobold, Owlin, Plasmoid, Tabaxi, Thri-Keen, Tortle, Yuan-Ti Pureblood|
|Telepathy||Gem Dragonborn, Ghostwise Halfling, Kalashtar, Thri-Keen, Verdan|
|Teleportation||Astral Elf, Eladrin, Shadar-Kai|
|Tool proficiencies||Hill Dwarf, Mountain Dwarf, Githyanki, Autognome, Rock Gnome, Warforged|
|Unarmed weapons||Aarakocra, Centaur, Chromatic Dragonborn, Gem Dragonborn, Metallic Dragonborn, Leonin, Lizardfolk, Loxodon, Minotaur, Satyr, Shifter, Simic Hybrid, Tabaxi, Tortle|
|Weapon proficiencies||Hill Dwarf, Mountain Dwarf, Drow, High Elf, Wood Elf, Giff|
There’s no definitive best race for every character type, instead, I’ve listed some character types and roles below and have ranked the best races for those options:
Best flying races
Flight is an extremely powerful option and works great for ranged characters and spellcasters as it provides safety and manoeuvrability.
There are 4 races with permanent flight capabilities (Aarakocra, Fairy, Owlin and Tiefling – winged variant) and 2 others that can achieve flight for a temporary period of time (Aasimar and Gem Dragonborn). Obviously, the races that can fly permanently work better for flight than those with just temporary abilities, but these are still good races for other reasons beyond their flight capabilities.
Darkvision and stealth proficiency are often useful but nothing amazing. Fairies can make themselves tiny which could arguably be better for stealth anyway.
Fairies take the next spot as their innate spellcasting gives them some great options, particularly faerie fire and enlarge/reduce which give some nice buffs/debuffs including a spell that protects against invisibility.
1. Tiefling (winged variant)
Tieflings not only have the best flight ability (unlike all other permanent flyers, they can still wear medium armor), they also have the best additional traits in fire resistance and darkvision.
Best aquatic races
Some campaigns occur at sea or require underwater exploration. When that’s the case, you want a race that can at least hold their breath a bit longer. Even better is a race that can swim faster than everyone else.
Below, I’ve highlighted the best races for aquatic adventures. I’ve focused on races that can both swim fast and can hold their breathe underwater as these will fare best in underwater adventures:
Similar to Sea-Elves but you trade off advantage against charmed and a skill proficiency for some innate spellcasting. These spells are OK, but not that exciting.
2. Sea Elf
Sea-elves edge out Tritons slightly due to a few slightly better skills and features, but they’re both similar in capabilities.
Locathah can swim as fast as they walk and can breathe air and water. Alongside this, they get natural armor and advantage against a vast array of conditions as well as a couple of skill proficiencies. It’s a huge list of bonuses. The only awkward bit is they need to submerge themselves every 4hrs or they suffocate! I suppose in a sea-faring adventure, this is less of a concern, and maybe you could take a large fish bowl around with you if you do need to venture onto land.
Best damage dealing races
Some races are just better at causing damage. They have sharp fangs, huge muscles or in the case of Goblins, sheer desperation, that just allows them to do more damage. The best of these races are:
Aasimar get to add damage equal to their proficiency bonus for one combat per long rest. On top of this, they can choose from a bunch of extra abilities like flight and causing frightened. They also get a pair of resistances and some natural healing.
A Dragonborn’s breathe weapon is excellent. They can use it as one of their extra attacks, can hit multiple targets, and it scales with their level. They are probably capable of dealing the most damage of any race. If it weren’t for the Bugbear’s other excellent abilities, they’d top this list.
Bugbears do an extra 2d6 damage when they hit an enemy that hasn’t taken their turn yet. At low levels, this can be devastating! And even at high levels, it remains more than most other races get. Obviously, ensuring you’ve got the stealth and dexterity to get your attacks in early is crucial. Bugbears also have some of the most powerful abilities of any race in the game!
Best tough races
Perhaps you’re looking for a character that’s tough as nails and can take a proper beating. Some kind of tanky character you can chuck on the front lines to protect the weedy characters at the back.
Quite a few races have features that make them a bit tougher. Some races come equipped with hardened carapaces, shells and even metal bodies. Such races have a naturally higher AC (though there are often limitations to how this works). These races include Autognomes, Warforged, Thri-Kreen and a bunch more.
Other races have resistance to certain types of damage making them a little tougher when facing certain enemy types. Dragonborn are particularly good for this as they can choose their damage resistance (so picking a common damage type like fire is helpful).
There are even a couple of races that can reduce the amount of damage they receive. There’re currently only 2 of these; Goliaths and Hadozee.
We’ve outlined below the races we think make great tough characters:
Warforged are one of the more flexible of the naturally armored races as you just add +1 to your AC. This gives you the flexibility to go for a low dex, heavy armor build for example and still benefit from your armored body. Plus you get resistance to poison damage and advantage against poisoned saving throws.
Sadly, Goliaths just miss out on toughest race despite their very robust stature! D12 + constitution modifier reduction on some hits is very powerful, plus they get cold resistance.
Don’t let that diminutive size fool you! Autognomes are seriously tough, and one of our favourite races! Autognomes have natural armor that’s better than light armor so create a high dexterity build. You’ll also get poison resistance, immunity to disease, an extra d4 on some saving throws and advantage on paralyzed and poisoned saving throws making Autognomes extremely tough!
Best quick races
If you’re looking for a character that can charge headlong into the fray quicker than anyone else, or dance in and out of danger, then you might want to consider one of our picks for quick races. Most of these races have a faster movement speed, but some have the ability to teleport or even leap to get them moving further.
If you’re not keen on these options, you can also get the mobile feat which will add 10ft to your movement speed. Or if you want to embody the flash, play a Centaur with the mobile feat!
Eladrin have the normal 30ft movement speed, but their ability to use fey step to teleport gives them a lot of extra movement (though does use your bonus action). The great thing for Eladrin, is using their fey step lets them have some nice extra effects too such as causing charmed, frightened or damage.
Satyrs are pretty quick with those goat-legs of theirs. They get a 35ft movement speed. This is typical of a few other races, but what elevates Satyrs is their very powerful magic resistance which gives them advantage against saving throws from spells.
Centaurs are the absolute fastest race in the game. They have a movement speed of 40ft making them incredibly quick. Playing a rogue centaur will allow you to take the dash action as a bonus action allowing you to attack and move 80ft. Take the mobile feat and you’ll go even faster!
Best stealthy races
Sometimes the best tool isn’t a great big axe and bulging biceps, but the ability to sneak past your foes without them even noticing you were there. Some races have natural proficiency in stealth and/or perception skills like the Tabaxi. Others can squeeze in and out of spaces that others can’t like Plasmoids. Some can even change their appearance to look like someone else, allowing them to hide in plain site like Changelings.
Below are our top picks for the best stealthy races:
Bugbears have darkvision, stealth proficiency and can squeeze through tight spots. This is good for stealth, but it’s what they do once they’ve been stealthy that elevates bugbears. Their extra damage when they land a surprise attack is powerful making them the best assassins in the game.
Two extra skill proficiencies plus advantage on proficient skills means you can be extraordinarily good at some stealthy skills. Kenku are also excellent at mimicking the voices of others and can forge documents with expertise making them another excellent, stealthy option.
The ultimate race for hiding in plain sight. Changelings are shapeshifters, capable of taking on any humanoid form they want of small or medium size. They can even mimic the appearance of someone they’ve seen. Pair this with the mimicry abilities of a rogue mastermind and you are a stealthy force to be reckoned with.