Note that the assessments of a class for a race 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.
Ability Score Increases
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 iconic pairings are emerging based on racial traits that are more novel than “ability score increases to Dexterity and Wisdom”.
Bird people with a high fly speed and talons. The Monsters of the Multiverse version adds the ability to cast Gust of Wind as an innate spell.
Human-like beings with a celestial influence. Resistance to necrotic damage and radiant damage, plus a powerful divine transformation usable once per day.
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.
Terrifying goblinoid ambush predators. Long limbs give them extended reach, and Surprise Attack makes them exceptionally dangerous at the beginning of fights.
Iconic fey creatures, centaurs have excellent land speed and a great charge option which makes them thrive in melee.
Shapeshifters with the ability to change their appearance at will, changelings have great skills and work very well in social situations.
The non-race racial option, Custom Lineage fills the gap when other options don’t meet your exact fantasy. They can also get Darkvision and a feat at first level, so they’re a great optimization option.
All the cool factor of vampires without actually being a vampire. See in the dark, walk on walls, and bite stuff.
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.
Draconic humanoids with an inherited breath weapon and matching damage resistance. Whether or not they have tails is a subject of fierce debate.
Short (compared to humans), often bearded, and durable. A fantasty staple.
Later versions of dwarf subraces are published as standalone races, and as such we’ve addressed them in their own handbooks:
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. A fantasy staple.
Later versions of elf subraces are published as standalone races, and as such we’ve addressed them in their own handbooks:
Flight and some innate spellcasting, including the ability to enlarge yourself and cast Faerie Fire.
Mysterious giant-kin, firbolgs can speak with plants and become briefly invisibile.
Humanoids with strong magical influence from the elemental planes.
Gun-toting space hippos. Good at strength checks and free proficiency with firearms.
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).
Later version of the Gith were published as standalone races:
Small, quirky, and a lot of fun story flavor.
Later versions of gnomes subraces are published as standalone races, and as such we’ve addressed them in their own handbooks:
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.
Durable giant-kin with cold resistance and a unique trait to reduce damage taken a few times per day.
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.
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. Among the most versatile races in the game.
Between Savage Attacks and Relentless Endurance, the Half-Orc is durable and can be very threatening if you’re fishing for critical hits. They also get Darkvision and a bonus skill, which expand their options outside of combat.
Small and lucky.
Rabbit-like humanoids. As you might expect, they have quick reflexes and can jump great distances.
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.
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.
You are probably one of these. No one uses the regular human, but the variant human gets a feat!
Humanoids native to the Eberron campaign setting, Kalashtar have a powerful link to the plane of dreams, and can do things like communicating telepathically.
Gnome-like creatures native to Krynn (the setting of Dragonlance), Kender have a tendency to collect random items and have a knack for mocking their foes to distract them.
Crow people with the ability to perfectly mimick sounds.
Small reptilian creatures related to dragons. The original version got Pack Tactics, which was cool but could cause trouble. The newer version gets to choose between a few options like a cantrip or a bonus skill, making them very versatile.
Lion-like humanoids with a powerful roar.
Lizard-like humanoids with durable scales and ability to bite creatures in order to to heal themselves.
Elephant-like humanoids, Loxodons get Constitution-based natural armor and have prehensile trunks which they can use to Shove enemies.
Iconic bull-like humanoids, minotaurs are built for charging into melee.
Iconic fantasy humanoids, 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.
Owl-like humanoids with the ability to fly, Darkvision, and a bonus skill.
Ooze people from space.
Humanoids who came back from the dead with most of their memories in tact.
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.
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.
Humanoids closely related to lycanthropes, shifters can “shift”, taking on some beast-like traits temporarily.
Humans magically augmented with animal parts, giving them access to cool abilities like clawed hands and the ability to spit acid.
Cat-like humanoids with great speed, clawed hands, and bonus skills.
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.
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.
Turtle-like humanoids, tortles have durable shells which work in place of armor and get bonus skill proficiencies. Teenage mutant ninja tortle jokes are always welcome.
Amphibious humanoids native to the ocean with some innate spellcasting and the ability to talk to creatures with swim speeds (fish, etc.).
Intellectual, blue humanoids with advantage on mental saves and a bonus to some skill and tool checks.
Plant-like humanoids with magical blood and limited telepathy. They grow in size after a few levels.
Magical robots! Very durable and extremely cool.
Humanoids with some snake-like traits, yuan-ti are resistance to both poison and magic and can magically charm snakes.
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), and very rarely may include 3rd-party content.