DnD Races, Lineages, & Species: Character Optimization Handbooks for DnD 5e

Your choice of race, alongside your class, is one of the most distinguishing and important aspects of your character. DnD races are numerous and diverse, catering to a wide range of concepts both narratively and mechanically. In our race handbooks we’ll help you get the most out of whatever race you care to play.

Note that our assessments of a class for dnd races may not match the assessments of a race for a class. Our class handbooks are written with an emphasis on the class and the options which work well for the class. Our handbooks for DnD races are written with an emphasis on the race and the class options which are viable for a player who has decided to play that race and may still be looking for a class which works for that race.

Races published early in 5e’s lifetime generally had fixed ability score increases. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced new “custom origin” optional rules which allow players to reassign their character’s racial ability score increases, and races published after Tasha’s now use a standardized choice of +2/+1 or three +1 increases. Handbooks for dnd races published before Tasha’s include information for both the original version of the race and for the race while using the custom origin rules.

With perfect ability score increases available for every single race, many of the classic DnD tropes (elf wizards, dwarf fighters, etc.) have fallen away, and new pairings have emerged based on racial traits that are more novel than “+2 Dexterity”. Our race handbooks for races published before Tasha’s include advice for the “Classic” versions , as well as for the “Custom Origin” versions with ability score increases and skill proficiencies unrestricted.

Races vs. Species

Moving into the 2024 DnD 5e rules, Wizards of the Coast has adopted the term “Species” in place of “Race.” In tules terms, the two words are interchangeable.

Choosing a Race

If you are building your character by starting with your race, it’s perfectly fine to pick any race that catches your interest. Some races are more or less powerful, but thanks to the Custom Origin rules introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, any race can fit with any class and be reasonably effective.

If you’re looking to optimize your character, read our race handbook for your race of choice (all linked below), and look for classes that are a good fit for your chosen race. Racial traits which complement a class’s capabilities can often provide a huge boost in effectiveness. Once you’ve chosen a race and class, be sure to see our class handbooks for further advice.

DnD Races and Species

Aarakocra (EEPC/MotM)

Aarakocra are bird-like humanoids with a high fly speed and talons. The Monsters of the Multiverse version also adds the ability to cast Gust of Wind as an innate spell. The tactical advantage of flight makes the Aarakocra very powerful, especially when built to fight at range. Aarakocra fighters, rangers, and rogues can all be very effective at range, but the ability to flight can also be a powerful asset for any spellcaster.

Aasimar (VGTM/MotM)

Human-like beings with a celestial influence. Aasimar gain resistance to necrotic damage and radiant damage, some innate spellcasting, and a powerful divine transformation usable once per day that allows them to deal additional damage.

Autognome (SAiS)

Automatons from space (Spelljammer) with durable metal bodies and a versatile bonus that you can add to ability checks, attacks, and saves a few times per day. Built for Sucess allows the Autognome to rescue failed attacks, checks, and saves a few times per day, making them an easy and reliable option for many classes.

Bugbear (VGTM/MotM)

Terrifying goblinoid ambush predators. Long limbs give them extended reach, and Surprise Attack makes them exceptionally dangerous at the beginning of fights by adding +2d6 damage to each of your hits. This is especially powerful on builds which can make multiple attacks like fighters, monks, and gloomstalker rangers. Bugbear doesn’t work well for every build, but it can be used for some insane high-damage builds.

Centaur (EEPC/VGTM/MOoT/MotM)

Iconic fey creatures, centaurs have excellent land speed and a great charge option which makes them thrive in melee. High-strength melee builds are an absolute must for the Centaur; other builds really only benefit from their high speed.

Changeling (ERLW/MotM)

Shapeshifters with the ability to change their appearance at will, changelings have great skills and work very well in social situations. Bards and Rogues pair very nicely with the Changeling.

Custom Lineage (TCoE)

The non-race racial option, Custom Lineage fills the gap when other options don’t meet your exact fantasy. These can be an effective way to represent characters of mixed ancestry, races/species not officially represented in the rules, or a different interpretation of official races.

Custom Lineage characters can get Darkvision and a feat at first level, so they’re a great optimization option. Despite only getting one ability score increase, they’re more customizable than the Variant Human, but the single ability score increase makes them a harder choice for MAD classes like the Monk and the Ranger.

Dhampir Lineage (VRGtR)

All the cool factor of vampires without actually being a vampire. See in the dark, walk on walls, and bite stuff. The Dhampir’s bite allows you to empower d20 rolls a few times per day, and it can also provide a powerful combat option for characters with high Constitution, especially if you’re below half hit points.

Dhampirs are a lineage applied on top of a base race, replacing most of your base race’s traits, but this allows you to inherit special move speeds (flight, etc.) or gain two extra skill proficiencies.

Dragonborn (PHB)

Draconic humanoids with an inherited breath weapon and matching damage resistance. The original Dragonborn make excellent Paladins while also working as Sorcerers and Warlocks.

The updated Dragonborn traits published in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons significantly diversify the Dragonborn and bringing them more on par with other race/species options. The Dragonborn’s breath weapon is a great addition to martial characters who often struggle to handle crowds of small enemies.

Dwarf (PHB)

Short (compared to humans), often bearded, and durable. A fantasty staple. Dwarves are resistance to poison and get proficiency in a few additional weapons. While dwarves typically thrive as front-line combatants, the custom origin rules have made them an appealing option for players looking to make back-line characters like wizards more durable.

Later versions of dwarf subraces are published as standalone races, and as such we’ve addressed them in their own handbooks:

Elf (PHB)

A fantasy staple. Pointy ears, and a long, diverse list of subraces. Elves share a Trance trait which allows them to meditate instead of sleeping, and they frequently have access to some sort of magic via their racial traits. Elves typically gain proficiency in Perception for free, as well as some weapon proficiencies. Elf subraces are numerous and diverse, allowing elves to thrive in a variety of classes, roles, and situations.

Later versions of elf subraces are published as standalone races, and as such we’ve addressed them in their own handbooks:

Fairy (WBtW/MotM)

Flight and some innate spellcasting, including the ability to enlarge yourself and cast Faerie Fire. Easily one of the most powerful races in the game, the Fairy’s flight and innate spellcasting make them exceptionally powerful ranged combatants whether they’re using a weapon or casting spells. Remember that you can cast their innate spells using spell slots, too, so Fairy spellcasters get even more out of their racial trais.

Firbolg (VGTM/MotM)

Mysterious giant-kin, firbolgs can speak with plants and become briefly invisibile. This combination of traits can make them effective druids and rangers, but don’t let that limit you. Many other classes can benefit from flight and stealth.

Genasi (EEPC)

Humanoids with strong magical influence from the elemental planes. This is represented by traits like damage resistances and innate spellcasting, such as the Water Genasi’s resistance to acid damage and the Fire Genasi’s ability to cast Produce Flame.

Giff (SAiS)

Gun-toting space hippos. Giff are good at strength checks and gain proficiency with firearms for free, which is unusual in a game where firearms rarely make an appearance. Giff are great for melee builds that like Grapple and/or Shove, but easy access to firearms is also a major damage boost for ranged martial characters.

Gith (MToF)

Humanoids whose in-world history dates back to a time where they were enslaved by mind flayers. Gith get some additional proficiencies, plus some psionics (innate spellcasting, but spicy). Your choice of Githyanki or Githzerai will offer additional proficiencies and different innate spellcasting. Githyanki focus more on aggressive martial characters with innate spells like Jump, while Githzerai focus more on defense and utility with innate spells like Shield.

Later version of the Gith were published as standalone races:

Gnome (PHB)

Small, quirky, and a lot of fun story flavor. Gnomes are naturally resistant to mind-affecting magic, and individual gnome subraces provide useful utility options like Forest Gnome’s ability to cast Minor Illusion. The combination of durability and utility make them a reliable option for many classes.

Later versions of gnomes subraces are published as standalone races, and as such we’ve addressed them in their own handbooks:

Goblin (VGTM/MotM)

A fantasy staple, but maybe not what you’re expecting if only because 5e’s goblins aren’t green. Goblins are exceptionally mobile, making them a great option for anyone not planning to stand still in a fight. Nimble Escape adds most of the Rogue’s Cunning Action feature, making any character difficult to keep in one place.

Goliath (EEPC/VGTM/MotM)

Durable giant-kin with cold resistance and a unique trait to reduce damage taken a few times per day. Goliaths make excellent front-line martial characters because of their ability to mitigate incoming damage, effectively stretching your hit points.

Hadozee (SAiS)

Described as ape-like, but honestly they’re more like flying squirrels. They come from space, they can use their skin flaps to glide, and they have prehensile feet. Hadozee characters who can jump exceptionally high can glide to travel unusually fast.

Half-Elf (PHB)

The best ability score increases in the game (+2/+1/+1), two skills, some of the Elf’s signature traits, and a few variant options which trade their skills for pieces of Elf subraces. Half-elves are among the most versatile races in the game, easily adapting to support any class, especially with the Custom Origin rules which allow you to reassing their ability score increases.

Half-Orc (PHB)

The Half-Orc is durable and can be very threatening if you’re fishing for critical hits with melee weapons, but their traits do pigeon-hole them into melee martial builds. They also get Darkvision and an extra skill, which expand their options outside of combat.

Halfling (PHB)

The Halfling’s signature trait Lucky allows you to reroll natural 1s on d20 rolls, providing some insurance against low rolls. Stout halflings are an easy choice for nearly an class, and Lightfoot halflings are among the most iconic rogues in DnD.

Harengon (WBtW/MotM)

Rabbit-like humanoids. As you might expect, they have quick reflexes and can jump great distances. Acting first in initiative is a huge benefit for any character, and the ability to jump over obstacles can be very helpful for melee characters.

Hexblood Lineage (VRGtR)

Humanoids heavily influenced by hags, hexbloods can do some divination via a spooky token and have innate spellcasting to disguise themselves and curse others.

Hexbloods are a lineage applied on top of a base race, replacing most of your base race’s traits, but this allows you to inherit special move speeds (flight, etc.) or gain two extra skill proficiencies.

Hobgoblin (VGTM/MotM)

Like goblins, but taller. The original version is martially-focused, while the later version is more closely tied to the Hobgoblin’s fey origins and gains the ability to help and empower allies a few times per day as well as to give themselves a bonus on a failed check based on how many allies are nearby.

Human (PHB)

You are probably one of these. No one uses the regular Human because it’s terribly boring, but the Variant Human gets a feat! Access to a feat, an extra skill proficiency, and two +1 ability score increases has made the Variant Human the go-to for the vast majority of optimized builds since the release of the 2014 Player’s Handbook.

Kalashtar (ERLW)

Humanoids native to the Eberron campaign setting, Kalashtar have a powerful link to the plane of dreams, can communicating telepathically, and have exceptionally rare resistance to psychic damage.

Kender (SotDQ)

Gnome-like creatures native to Krynn (the setting of Dragonlance), Kender have a tendency to collect random items which they can produce at a moment’s notice and have the ability to mock their foes to distract them in combat.

Kenku (VGTM/MotM)

Crow people with the ability to perfectly mimic sounds. Kenku get additional skills and are naturally adept at forgery, making them exciting Rogues and similar characters.

Kobold (VGTM/MotM)

Small reptilian creatures related to dragons. The original version got Pack Tactics, which was cool but could cause problems at the table. The newer version gets to choose between a few options like a cantrip or a bonus skill, making them very versatile.

Leonin (MOoT)

Lion-like humanoids with a powerful roar. The Leonin’s roar is a bit similar to the Dragonborn’s breath weapon, but can frighten enemies instead of dealing damage.

Lizardfolk (VGTM/MotM)

Lizard-like humanoids with durable scales and ability to bite creatures in order to to heal themselves. Melee characters often enjoy the additional durability, as well as an easy use for their Bonus Action in combat.

Loxodon (GGtR)

Elephant-like humanoids, Loxodons get unique Constitution-based natural armor and have prehensile trunks which they can use to Shove enemies. These traits make them effective melee combatants, but the natural armor is also appealing for poorly-armored classes like the Wizard.

Minotaur (GGtR/MOoT/MotM)

Iconic bull-like humanoids, minotaurs are built for charging into melee. Strength-based builds are an absolute must, so the Barbarian and the Fighter are a natural fit.


Iconic fantasy humanoids, playable orcs have seen several variations throughout 5e’s history. The current version includes Relentless Endurance and Adrenaline Surge, both of which make the Orc very hard to kill in a way that appeals to nearly any class.

Familiarity with classic fantasy fiction like Lord of the Rings or even previous editions of DnD may give you a specific idea of what orcs are, but those depictions of orcs rarely match orcs in DnD. While many historic DnD adventures have depicted orcs as antagonists, orc lore across official DnD settings varies widely. The barbarian raider image of orcs is not the only way to be an orc.

Owlin (SCoC)

Owl-like humanoids with the ability to fly, Darkvision, and a bonus skill. Flight is a powerful tactical advantage, especially for ranged combatants, and the combinaton of Darkvision and Flight makes the Owlin a powerful choice for sneaky scout characters like the Ranger and the Rogue.

Plasmoid (SAiS)

Ooze people from space. Plasmoids can squeeze through narrow gaps, easily escape grapples, and use a pseudopod to manipulate objects that are otherwise out of reach.

Reborn Lineage (VRGtR)

Humanoids who came back from the dead with most of their memories in tact. Reborn characters are difficult to kill, and they can call on knowledge from their past life to rescue failed checks a few times per day, making them an easy choice for nearly any class.

Reborn are a lineage applied on top of a base race, replacing most of your base race’s traits, but this allows you to inherit special move speeds (flight, etc.) or gain two extra skill proficiencies.

Satyr (MOoT/MotM)

Goat-like humanoids dating back to real-world greek myths, satyrs get bonus skills and proficiencies in instruments, can jump long distances, and are resistant to magic. While these benefits work well for nearly any class, satyrs work best with Charisma-based classes like the Bard and the Paladin.

Shifter (ERLW/MotM)

Humanoids closely related to lycanthropes, shifters can “shift”, taking on some beast-like traits temporarily as a combat buff. The different varieties of Shifter work best with different collections of classes, but they tend to favor martial characters rather than spellcasters.

Simic Hybrid (GGtR)

Humans magically augmented with animal parts, giving them access to cool abilities like clawed hands and the ability to spit acid. More customizable than most races, Simic Hybrids can work for several classes depending on your choices.

Tabaxi (EGtW/VGTM/MotM)

Cat-like humanoids with great speed, clawed hands, and bonus skills. Tabaxi make excellent Monks, Rangers, and Rogues, all of which can make good use of their skills and their bursts of speed.

Thri-Kreen (SAiS)

Four-armed mantis-like humanoids from space and/or from the Dark Sun setting (which hasn’t appeared in 5e). Thri-kreen also have natural armor and can communicate telepathically, but the additional arms are usually more impactful. Additional arms let you do cool things like two-weapon fighting while also using a shield.

Tiefling (PHB)

Humanoids with fiendish influence, tieflings are typically resistant to fire and get some innate spellcasting. Tiefling variants introduced options to change your traits by associating your tiefling with a specific layer of hell, offering things like claws, wings, or different innate spellcasting and damage resistance.

Tortle (TP/EGtW/MotM)

Turtle-like humanoids, tortles have durable shells which work in place of armor and also get bonus skill proficiencies, all of which are great for classes which typically have poor AC like the Wizard. An AC of 17 is far better than many spellcasters can achieve.

Teenage mutant ninja tortle jokes are always welcome.

Triton (MOoT/VGTM)

Amphibious humanoids native to the ocean with some innate spellcasting and the ability to talk to creatures with swim speeds (fish, etc.). Tritons naturally excel in aquatic campaigns.

Vedalken (GGtR)

Intellectual, blue-skinned humanoids with advantage on mental saves and a bonus to some skill and tool checks which can make them very effective with their favorite skills.

Verdan (AcInc)

Green humanoids with magical blood that allows them to quickly heal woulds and limited telepathy. They grow in size after a few levels, which is unique among published races.

Warforged (ERLW)

Magical robots! Very durable and extremely cool. With flexible ability score increases and broadly useful resistances, warforged are an excellent choice for any class, and they’re an easy go-to choice for players who want an effective character without adding a bunch of additional features that you need to remember.

Yuan-Ti (VGTM/MotM)

Humanoids with some snake-like traits, yuan-ti are resistance to both poison and magic and can magically charm snakes. Their durability is appealing on essentially any character.

Beyond the Pale

I typically don’t cover content beyond what has made it into official sourcebooks. However, I occasionally make exceptions when numerous people make requests that I cover the same content. This may include Unearthed Arcana content or non-official content published during official events (like One Grung Above (affiliate link)), and very rarely may include 3rd-party content.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best DnD Race?

Bugbear can be used for some very high-damage builds, but Custom Lineage and Variant Human are generally considered the best because they get a feat at 1st level.

What is the easiest DnD Race to play?

Human is the easiest to play because it doesn’t add extra traits to your character. Other easy options include the Hill Dwarf, the Stout Halfling, and the Warforged.

What is the worst DnD Race?

The standard Human is frequently considered the worst because it’s difficult to make their ability score increases meaningful and they don’t get any other traits.