In this article:
- One of the best parts of Dungeons and Dragons is being able to create your own customized character to go on adventures with.
- While you can technically combine any race and class you want, there are some combos that just work better than others, so there are some unofficial “rules” about which classes work best for each race.
- This guide is a quick rundown of each the fantasy races and which classes and background work best for them.
- If you aren’t interested in any of the D&D races on this list, check out the guide to homebrews that can help you and your DM create your own custom fantasy race.
To paraphrase Panic! At The Disco, Dungeons and Dragons is the most fun you can have without leaving your mother’s basement. The self-proclaimed best TTRPG has been a mainstay of gaming culture for decades influencing the way fantasy-themed RPGs — and really, RPGs in general — are designed.
Like its digital offspring, one of the main draws of D&D is the freedom to create a fully customized character that you can assign a class and race to.
But not all fantasy races and class combos are made equal. While there’s no rule about what fantasy race you can play with which class, some combos work better due to the racial traits that certain D&D races have.
That’s why in this article, we’ll be talking about the different races you can play as in Dungeons and Dragons and what backgrounds and classes work best with them.
Humans always get written off by D&D players for being too boring and it’s easy to see why. After all, why play a human when you’re already a human in real life?
Dungeons and Dragons‘ humans aren’t different from us, but the setting they’re in is what makes them interesting from a roleplaying perspective. For example, how do you deal with aging and mortality when your closest friends are all elves?
Does knowing that they belong to one of the more fragile fantasy races make your character anxious about making non-human enemies? Maybe your human character is a student at Strixhaven who’s growing frustrated with how long their thesis is taking, knowing they don’t have the same lifespan as their co-researchers?
On a gameplay level, humans have the most flexible range of abilities out of the fantasy races in D&D. As a human, you know Common plus one other language of your choice, and all of your ability scores get an increase of 1. In many cases, that’s enough to turn a dump stat into something okayish.
If you go with Variant Human, though, you’re trading that all around 1 point increase for an additional Feat.
Humans can be any class because of this, but the most popular (and many say optimal) choices are Monk and Fighter.
Elves are another popular pick for Dungeons and Dragons players who prefer their fantasy races on the “human but make it spicy” side of things.
Elves are one of the oldest races in the Forgotten Realms, giving them thousands of years to migrate and adapt to different environments across several plains of existence, which is why D&D has over a dozen elf subraces.
You have wood elves, moon elves, sun elves, sea elves, high elves, dark elves, eladrin, astral elves, eladrin, etc. You get the idea.
Their magical qualities, unmatched grace, and classic fantasy aesthetics are why elves are so popular among veterans and newbie players alike. And, of course, their long list of abilities and features.
Elves have three key features that set them apart from other races: Fey Ancestry, Darkvision, and Trance. They can see in the dark for up to 60 feet (or 120 feet, if you’re a Dark Elf), have Advantage on saving throws against being charmed, can’t be magically put to sleep, and don’t need to sleep.
Because you can always count on someone to keep watch while the party sleeps, elves make for great teammates — especially if you’re wandering through the dark woods of Barovia.
You’re unlikely to see an elf Barbarian at your game table, but which classes are great to play as an elf depends on what variant of elf you choose. For example, wood elves make great Ranger and Rogue characters.
The dwarf is another old-timer on this list of fantasy races that you can play in D&D. Dwarves have multiple subraces like the elves, but thankfully not as many.
The Player’s Handbook gives us hill dwarves and mountain dwarves, with the addition of Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide‘s gray dwarves, Eberron‘s Mark of Warding dwarves, and Kaladesh‘s dwarf variant.
D&D dwarves fit the Tolkien-esque archetype of fantasy races, making them a proud people who reside in mountain kingdoms and craft weapons and jewelry like no other.
Dwarves are well suited to being Barbarians, Monks, and Paladins due to their unique combination of strength and hardiness.
Dungeons and Dragons and…Dragonborn? Other fantasy races fear the scaly faces of these creatures whenever they show up at the local tavern, believing them to be as monstrous as the dragons that made them. But dragonborns are not dragons nor full humanoids.
Instead, they straddle the line between familiarity and otherness as they try to find a way to fit into the world at large.
Because they’re an artificially made race, dragonborn have a number of variants that could give elves a run for their money. You can pick between standard dragonborn, gem dragonborn, chromatic dragonborn, ravenite, draconblood, etc. for your next adventure in the Forgotten Realms.
Dragonborn characters tend to be intelligent, charismatic, and strong, though the specific ability score increase they get depends on what kind of dragonborn they are. In general, dragonborn characters are optimally played as Paladins.
The saying “Great things come in small packages” couldn’t be more true for halflings. While they’re one of the smallest fantasy races, and don’t have the advantage of strength that dwarves have, halflings survive on the strength of their luck.
Generally an unassuming and quiet race, halflings prefer to live in small settlements away from other races. However, it’s not uncommon to see them wandering in caravans, looking for their next adventure.
This seeming contradiction of halfling culture extends to the way they get along with other fantasy races as halflings make for loyal friends, even though they’re highly secretive about their culture and language.
The Player’s Handbook introduced the lightfoot halfling and stout halfling, while other D&D books add ghostwise halflings, lotusden halflings, Mark of Hospitality halflings, and Mark of Healing halflings to the mix. Each flavor of halfling has its own ability score increase and racial features, but all halflings get two extra points to Dexterity and have a special Lucky ability.
Lucky has saved many a halfling from certain doom by letting them reroll an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw if they happen to roll a 1.
Halflings are great Rangers, Warlocks, Bards, and Rogues because of their Dexterity and Charisma. Plus, it’s harder to mess up as a sticky-handed halfling rogue with the Lucky ability.
So you want to play an emo? Kidding. But life is hard for a tiefling in the Forgotten Realms. Few fantasy races are as reviled as the tiefling whose origins can be traced to infernal beings from other planes.
This connection between tieflings and literal embodiments of evil is the reason why many towns will turn away a tiefling. Well, and because they do look like demons.
This forms the crux of the tiefling race’s problems as a whole: Are they evil by nature or are they made that way by the people who treat them cruelly? Many tieflings grow bitter and angry because they’re treated like criminals by the people around them. These people, in turn, are operating on stereotypes based on centuries of tiefling misbehavior.
Tieflings, like elves, have Darkvision and have an innate gift for magic and resistance to elemental damage. All tieflings receive a Charisma score increase of 2 which is useful for making tiefling Warlocks. Many tieflings who choose this path have fiend patrons.
7. Half Elf
It might defy our conventions on race, but Dungeons and Dragons counts half-elves as a separate fantasy race from elves and their other parent’s race.
Because of their physical similarities, elves and humans often partner up and produce viable offspring thanks to their biological compatibility.
Though they technically belong to two races, half-elves struggle to fit in with both humans and elves as they’re always accused of being too elf-like by humans and too human-like by elves.
Since they lack a community, half-elves tend to either group together — if there are enough of them in a settlement — or abandon their hometowns in search of adventure.
While a life spent constantly walking a tightrope between their two heritages is far from fun for the half-elf, doing so has led many of them to develop exceptional Charisma and diplomatic skills that help them get along with most groups.
Half-elves get an increase of 2 to their Charisma score and can increase two other ability scores by 1. They retain Darkvision and Fey Ancestry from their elf parent.
Half-elves can be Warlocks, Sorcerer, Bards, and Wizards. That said, the half-elf in the photo above is a Cleric.
Basically, you’re going to play as an angel.
Aasimar are one of the fantasy races added to the game by Volo’s Guide to Monsters meaning that you won’t be able to find them in the core rules of the Player’s Handbook so make sure to check with your Dungeon Master if they’ll allow it.
While tieflings are children of the infernal plane, aasimar are children of the celestial plane. These beings are uncommonly beautiful and tend to have strange coloration. Their eyes, for example, range from a brilliant gold to a pale white.
Their divine nature draws aasimar to good alignments and many of them go on to be Clerics and Paladins.
Aasimar get an increase of 2 for their Charisma score and receive racial features such as Darkvision, Celestial Resistance, Healing Hands, and Light Bearer. TLDR: It’s the Swiss army knife of racial features.
Can’t Find One You Like? Ask Your DM for More Fantasy Races!
There’s more to play out there than the fantasy races on this list or in Dungeons and Dragons’ rulebooks as a whole. Enter Homebrew content.
In an era where games are increasingly realistic and character creation screens are advanced enough to let you make distinct characters, D&D feels like an awfully antiquated game. But playing isn’t all there is to D&D.
It owes its longevity to the way it opens doors to a world of wonder and creativity for its players and Dungeon Masters.
So it’s only natural that players and Dungeon Masters come up with custom races together. Homemade content like that is called homebrews and with it, you can play as a Wookie, a Twi’lek, a Witcher, and everything in between.
There are several resources online for lovingly made homebrew fantasy races that will spice up your next D&D campaign (or next character, if your current one dies).
D&D Wiki is also packed with custom races that you can show to your DM. Be aware, though, that the wiki has a reputation for making unbalanced game content. Every table is different, so be ready to compromise with your DM or have your request rejected.
Alternatively, you can check the Unearthed Arcana for playable fantasy races that aren’t officially part of D&D yet.