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Ultimate Adaptability: Variant Humans for 5th edition

In the early editions of D&D, humans were the foundation on which other races were compared. In other words, they were bland. Humans had no advantages or penalties (with the exception of being able to rise to any level in any class). Starting with 3rd edition, humans were instead described as the most flexible and adaptable of races, granting them a choice of ability scores increases, bonus feats, and training in a choice of skills. Humans went from the least played race to one of my favorites.

Humans in the 5th edition Player’s Handbook continue what 3rd edition started, providing two options for your human characters.

  1. Gain +1 to all ability scores (as opposed to the standard +2 to one and +1 to a second).
  2. or, Gain a +1 to two ability scores, proficiency in a skill of your choice, and a free feat at 1st level.

Using the second option gives you quite a few choices when creating characters from specific cultures. For example, if you want your human to have come from a race born on the open plains that commonly uses mounts for transport and war, you could put your skill bonuses in Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom, select proficiency in Animal Handling or Survival, and take the Mounted Combatant feat. A human from a country bordering on demonic invasion, such as the Worldwound from Pathfinder’s Golarion, may put their bonuses in Constitution, Intelligence, or Wisdom, select proficiency in Arcana or Religion, and take the Mage Slayer, Magic Initiate, or Ritual Caster feats. However, these options aren’t limitless due to the small number of feats available in 5th edition.

Below you will find a range of human variants that hail from specific environments or countries with particular cultural or political leanings. These subraces are built using the half-elf as a guide, and the following racial traits replace those of a standard human.

Human Variants by Environment

  • Arctic: +1 Strength, +2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom; you gain advantage on saves against cold, and are considered naturally adapted to cold environments; you also gain proficiency with Athletics and Survival checks.
  • Desert: +2 Constitution, +1 Intelligence, +1 Wisdom; you gain advantage on saves against fire, and are considered naturally adapted to hot environments; you also gain proficiency with Nature and Survival checks.
  • Coastal: +1 Constitution, +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom; you gain proficiency with spears, tridents, nets, vehicles (water), and one tool from the following list: Carpenter, Cartographer, Navigator, Weaver, Woodcutter. You also gain proficiency with either Acrobatics or Athletics checks. Swimming does not cost you extra movement.
  • Forest: +1 Constitution, +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom; moving through nonmagical difficult terrain costs you no extra movement and you may move through nonmagical plants without being slowed by them and without taking damage from thorns, spines, or similar hazards. In addition, climbing does not cost you extra movement. You also gain proficiency with either Athletics or Survival checks.
  • Grassland: +1 Constitution, +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom; you base walking speed is 35 ft. and you gain advantage on Constitution saves involving forced marches. You also gain proficiency with Nature and Stealth checks.
  • Jungle: +2 Strength, +1 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom; You gain advantage on saves against poisons and diseases. You also gain proficiency with either herbalism kits or poisoner kits, and either Nature or Survival checks.
  • Mountain: +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, +1 Wisdom; Climbing costs you no extra movement. You gain advantage on saves against environmental effects involving altitude (low pressure, decreased oxygen, altitude sickness). You also gain proficiency with Athletics and Survival checks.
  • Swamp: +1 Strength, +2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom; You gain advantage on saves against poison and disease. You also gain proficiency with Nature and Survival checks.
  • Underdark: +1 Intelligence, +2 Wisdom, +1 Charisma; You gain darkvision to a range of 60 ft. You also gain proficiency with Perception and Stealth checks.


Human Variants by Culture

  • Magocracy: +2 Intelligence, +1 Wisdom, +1 Charisma; You know one cantrip of your choice from the Wizard spell list; Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for that cantrip. You can speak, read, and write one additional language. You also gain proficiency with Arcane and Investigation checks.
  • Martial State: +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, +1 Intelligence; You gain proficiency with any two weapons, and either light armor or shields. You also gain proficiency with Athletics or History checks. If your class grants you proficiency with all weapons, light armor, and shields, you instead gain a +1 bonus to either your Dexterity or Wisdom scores (your choice) in place of the weapon and armor proficiencies granted by this racial feature.
  • Political State: +1 Dexterity, +1 Intelligence, +2 Charisma; You gain a +5 bonus to passive Insight and passive Investigation scores. You also gain proficiency with any one tool kit of your choice, as well as with Insight and Persuasion checks.
  • Theocracy: +2 Wisdom, +1 Intelligence, +1 Charisma; You know either one cantrip from the Cleric spell list, or one 1st level spell from the Cleric spell list. If you choose one 1st level spell, you may cast this spell once per long rest as if you used a 1st level spell slot. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability score for these spells. You also gain proficiency with Religion checks, and either Intimidate or Persuasion checks.
This article is an updated version of the original article posted to www.gameschangelives.com, and includes additional options and alterations based on further playtesting. Enjoy!


EDIT 5/19: Corrected cut/paste typo in Martial State as well as general typos/grammar issues.


Artwork borrowed from Keith Baker's fantastic new game, Phoenix: Dawn Command. Make sure to check out the Kickstarter, now running.