DnD 5e - The Changeling Handbook
Last Updated: May 15th, 2020
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
Changelings are the closest that players will ever get to playing a doppelganger, gifted with the ability to change their appearance without relying on spells or on items like a disguise kit. While there is more to the race, this is generally what draws players to the Changeling.
Mechanically, the Changeling has a few totally novel traits. First, their Ability Score Increases include a fixed +2 to Charisma and a free +1 to any ability of your choice. While most races must apply these flexible increases to a different ability score, the Changeling's is intentionally written so that it can go into Charisma. That means that you can start at 1st level with 18 Charisma, providing a strong mathematical advantage for Charisma-based spellcasters.
Second, shapechanger is versatile but also limited. Since your clothing and equipment aren't covered by the effect, you may need to partially rely on mundane disguises or spells to pass yourself off as a specific person. It's unclear if you need to make checks to decieve other creatures while disguised in this way, but as a DM I might apply disadvantage on other creatures to realize that you're disguised based solely on appearance. It won't help you talk, but the Changeling gets a Charisma increase for that, as well as two Face skills.
For classes which don't rely solely on Charisma, the Changeling competes for space with the Variant Human and with the Half-Elf. Variant humans can get similar Ability Score Increases, and with the Skilled feat can pick up two skills and proficiency in the Disguise Kit to roughly match the Changeling. The Half-elf gets an additional free increase, Darkvision, Fey Ancestry, and any two skills rather than two from a fixed list, not to mention the availability of variants. If you're playing a changeling, you either want 18 Charisma at first level or you want Shapechanger.
You can get the crucial Intelligence increase, but nothing else about the Changeling complements the Artificer's capabilities.
You can get the crucial Strength increase, but nothing else about the Changeling complements the Barbarian's capabilities.
18 Charisma at first level, two Face skills, and Shapechanger. Thematically perfect for College of Whispers, but you can make the changeling work very well for any bard build.
You can get the crucial Wisdom increase, and with the Changeling's free additional proficiencies and the Cleric's class skill list you can easily play a Face with minimal investment in Charisma.
You can get the crucial Wisdom increase, but the Druid has nearly no use for Charisma, and if you don't want to be yourself the Druid typically turns into an animal rather than turning into another humanoid.
You can get the crucial Strength/Dexterity increase, and the Charisma increase and addition skills work great for a Purple Dragon Knight, but you can get that from the Half-Elf or from the Variant Human. Shapechanger has little use for most fighters.
One free increase isn't enough.
+1 to either Strength or Dexterity, an increase to Charisma, and additional skills so that you don't need to put every single one of your skills into Face skills. Shapechanger is unusual for paladins, but if you use it more like a fun character quirk than like a tool for tricking people it could be a lot of run.
You can get the crucial Dexterity increase, and with the additional skills you can almost keep up with the Rogue.
The obvious options for changelings, the Rogue is better-suited to tricking people and general skulduggery than any other class. If anyone can capitalize on Shapechanger it's the Rogue. Two additional skills piles on top of the Rogue's already spectacular advantage with skills, and Dexterity and Charisma increases work great for a Face.
18 Charisma at level 1.
18 Charisma at level 1. Mask of Many faces is partially-redundant with Shapechanger, so I recommend avoiding it.
You can get the crucial Intelligence increase, but little else about the Changeling complements the Wizard's capabilities. I could see a changeling sorcerer being fun, but I don't know if it's better than a sorcerer with lots of illusion spells.