The question of race part 3 – Volo’s Guide to Monsters

In The question of Race, or nature versus nurture I looked at races in Dungeons and Dragons, starting with BECMI and AD&D, and then moving onto 5e. With the sensibility around racial predeterminism, Wizards brought out Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and included a section on varying the underlying cultural racial attributes of a character.

In The Question of Race part 2 – comparisons I looked at the standard races from the Players Handbook to try to compare them. I split the attributes between genetic and cultural based on whether Tasha allows them to be switched, and scored them as follows:

  • Ability score increase: +1 point per increase
    • Proficiency: +2 points for skill, +1 points for double proficiency specific cases, +1 if light weapon, light armour or tool, +2 if martial weapons, medium or heavy armour
  • Language: +2 points per language
  • Speed: +1 per 5′ over 30’/-1 per 5′ under 30′
  • Spellcasting: +1 for cantrip only, +2 if additional at #3 & #5
    • Darkvision: +2 for 60′, +4 for 120′
  • Resistance: +2 per attribute
  • Disadvantage: -2
  • Other special attributes to be scored similarly

Volo’s Guide to Monsters also introduces additional playable races. Let’s see how they compare.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Volo’s Guide to Monsters introduces the Aasimar, Firbolgs, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi and Tritons, along with stats for playing Bugbears, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobolds, Orcs and Yuan-Ti Purebloods.

Aasimar

Aasimar are humanoids with an angelic spark.

  • Genetic: medium size, age teens-100, speed 30′, darkvision (+2), resistant to necrotic and radiant damage (+2), healing hands (+1) – total +5
  • Cultural: Charisma +2 (+2), cantrip (+1), additional language Celestial (+1) – total +4
  • Subraces:
    • Protector Aasimar: Wisdom +1 (+1), radiant soul (+3) – total +4
    • Scourge Aasimar: Constitution +1 (+1), radiant consumption (+3 -1) – total +3
    • Fallen Aasimar: Strength +1 (+1), necrotic shroud (+3) – total +4

Potential: genetic +5, cultural +4, subrace +3-4 = total +12-13

Firbolgs

Firbolgs are forest guardians.

  • Genetic: medium size, age 30-500, speed 30′, temporary invisibility (+1), powerful carrying (+1) – total +2
  • Cultural: Wisdom +2 (+2), Strength +1 (+1), detect magic and disguise self 1/rest (+1), speak to beasts and plants (+1), additional languages elvish and giant (+2) – total +7

Potential: genetic +2, cultural +7 = total +9

Goliaths

Goliaths are hulking wanderers from the mountains.

  • Genetic: medium size, age teens-80s, speed 30′, reduce damage 1/rest (+1), powerful carrying (+1), acclimated to altitude and cold (+2) – total +4
  • Cultural: Strength +2 (+2), Constitution +1 (+1), proficiency in Athletics (+2), additional language Giant (+1) – total +6

Potential: genetic +4, cultural +6 = total +10

Kenku

Kenku are cursed birdfolk.

  • Genetic: medium size, age 12-60, speed 30′, mimicry (+2), can only communicate using mimicry (-2) – total +0
  • Cultural: Dexterity +2 (+2), Wisdom +1 (+1), proficiency in forgery (+1) plus two of Acrobatics, Deception, Stealth, Sleight of Hand (+4), additional language Auran (+1) – total +9

Potential: genetic +2-2, cultural +9 = total +9

Lizardfolk

Lizardfolk lives in swamps.

  • Genetic: medium size, age 14-60, speed 30′, swimming speed 30′ (+2), Bite (+1), hold breath for up to 15 minutes (+1), natural armour (+1), hungry jaws (+1) – total +7
  • Cultural: Constitution +2 (+2), Wisdom + 1 (+1), artisan (+1), proficiency with two skills (+4), additional language Draconic (+1) – total +9

Potential: genetic +7, cultural +9 = total +16

Tabaxi

Tabaxi are curious cat-folk.

  • Genetic: medium size, age teens-100, speed 30′, darkvision (+2), double speed (+2), climbing speed 20′ (+1), claws (+1) – total +6
  • Cultural: Dexterity +2 (+2), Charisma +1 (+1), proficiency in Perception and Stealth (+4), one additional language (+1) – total +8

Potential: genetic +6, cultural +8 = total +14

Tritons

Tritons are guardians of the ocean depths.

  • Genetic: medium size, age 15-200, speed 30′, swimming speed 30′ (+2), amphibious (+2), resistant to cold and deep water (+2) – total +6
  • Cultural: Strength +1 (+1), Constitution +1 (+1), Charisma +1 (+1), fog cloud/gust of wind/wall of water (+2), communicate with aquatic beasts (+1), additional language Primordial (+1) – total +7

Potential: genetic +6, cultural +7 = total +13

Bugbear

  • Genetic: medium size, age 16-80, speed 30′, darkvision (+2), reach 10′ (+1), powerful carrying (+1) – total +4
  • Cultural: Strength +2 (+2), Dexterity +1 (+1), proficient in Stealth (+2), extra damage on surprise attack (+2), additional language Goblin (+1) – total +8

Potential: genetic +4, cultural +8 = total +12

Goblin

  • Genetic: small size, age 8-60, speed 30′, darkvision (+2) – total +2
  • Cultural: Dexterity +2 (+2), Constitution +1 (+1), extra damage to larger (+1), Disengage or Hide as bonus action (+2), additional language Goblin (+1) – total +7

Potential: genetic +2, cultural +7 = total +9

Hobgoblin

  • Genetic: medium size, age teens-100, speed 30′, darkvision (+2) – total +2
  • Cultural: Constitution +2 (+2), Intelligence +1 (+1), proficient with 2 martial weapons and light armour (+2), bonus from allies (+1), additional language goblin (+1) – total +7

Potential: genetic +2, cultural +7 = total +9

Kobold

  • Genetic: small size, age 6-120, speed 30′, Strength -2 (-2), darkvision (+2), sunlight sensitivity (-2) – total -2
  • Cultural: Dexterity +2 (+2), cower (+2), pack tactics (+2), additional language Draconic (+1) – total +7

Potential: genetic +2-4, cultural +7 = total +5

Orc

  • Genetic: medium size, age 12-50, speed 30′, darkvision (+2), aggressive (+1), powerful carrying (+1) – total +4
  • Cultural: Strength +2 (+2), Constitution +1 (+1), Intelligence -2 (-2), proficient in Intimidation (+2), additional language Orc (+1) – total +4

Potential: genetic +4, cultural +6-2 = total +8

Yuan-Ti Pureblood

  • Genetic: medium size, age teens-100, speed 30′, darkvision (+2), magic resistance (+2), poison immunity (+4) – total +8
  • Cultural: Charisma +2 (+2), Intelligence +1 (+2), innate spellcasting (+2), additional languages Abyssal and Draconic (+2) – total +8

Potential: genetic +8, cultural +8 = total +16

In review

So, adding all these new races in, how do all the different races fare?

RaceGeneticCulturalSubraceTotal
Aasimar+5+4+3-4+12-13
Firbolg+2+7+9
Kenku+2-2+9+11-2 = +9
Lizardfolk+7+9+16
Tabaxi+6+8+14
Triton+6+7+13
Bugbear+4+8+12
Goblin+2+7+9
Hobgoblin+2+7+9
Kobold+2-4+7+9-4 = +5
Orc+4+6-2+10-2 = +8
Yuan-Ti Pureblood+8+8+16

So apart from the Kobold, they all fall within the previous span. But there’s quite a range. Lizardfolk, Tabaxi and Yuan-Ti are up there with the Elf, Dwarf and Half-elf, while the Firbolg and Kenku are almost down with the Human, Dragonborn and Tiefling. With a range from 7 to 16, it sort of suggests WOTC rate the attributes somewhat differently to this – either that or they’re not too worried about balance across the races.

One thing this rating really doesn’t take into account is the background. Some of these races really seem to have backgrounds which will affect (and constrain) the story. Kenku is the most extreme version of this, only being able to communicate through mimicry, but Lizardfolk also have their lack of emotion which is presented as an essential part of their nature, and a Triton would almost literally be a fish out of water. Sunlight sensitivity also has massive implications on the story – as I found when I allowed a player to play a drow character.

Again there’s significant variation between how the attributes split between genetic and cultural. Dwarf, Firbolg, Kenku, Goblin and Hobgoblin come out mostly cultural while Halfling, Tiefling and Dhampir are mostly genetic, and then others are more balanced. This really means that my original aim of coming up with balanced genetic and cultural splits for the races really doesn’t seem very achievable.

However, I’ll continue the comparison through the other playable races introduced in Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, Mythic Odysseys of Theros, Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount and Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, and then produce a final summary – subscribe and come back for these soon.

Next: The question of race part 4 – Ravnica, Theros and Ravenloft

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