DnD 5e - The Custom Lineage Handbook
Last Updated: November 18th, 2020
RPGBOT uses 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.
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The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
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Introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, the "Custom Lineage" is a sort of non-option for choosing your race. If your idea for your character's racial heritage doesn't neatly fall into one of the published races, it's a great option for expressing your character. For example, if your character is part orc, part elf, and part human, none of the published racial traits quite make sense. Enter the Custom Lineage. You can also use the Custom Lineage rule while still calling yourself an elf or a dwarf or whatever else, so even if you want your character to be a normal non-hybrid race, the Custom Lineage can still help your mechanics line up with your mental image of your character.
Mechanically, the Custom Lineage strongly resembles the Variant Human. Custom Lineage trades +1 to two abilities for +2 to one ability, and you gain the option to take Darkvision instead of a skill proficiency. They're roughly equivalent, but the ability to split your increases makes the variant human more viable in classes where you need more than one good ability score. Of course, once you hit level 4 your first Ability Score Increase can level any differences between the two except for Darkvision, but by then you can also cast Darkvision as a 2nd-level spell.
The Custom Lineage has one very unique advantage: by taking the right feat, you can start with 18 in one ability score. This was previously doable with the Changeling, but errata removed that capability so the Custom Lineage stands alone.
Please note that the Custom Lineage is considered an "optional rule". Talk to your DM before you decide to use it.
What is a Lineage?
A lineage replaces your race's traits and sometimes adds some new flavor to your character. You can choose any race (or a combination of races or something more outlandish) and apply a lineage to it, allowing you to combine the "flavor" of your race(s) and the flavor and mechanics of your lineage. Mechanically, characters of a lineage uses the same "racial traits" regardless of how you describe your characters lineage, and you usually replace all traits provided by your race (though some lineages get the Ancestral Legacy feature) if you choose to select one in addition to your lineage.
All lineages provide the choice of a single +2 ability score increase and a single +1 increase or three separate +1 increases (the Custom Lineage is an exception, and cannot choose the three +1 increases as far as I can tell). Players are free to allocate these increases as they see fit, allowing lineages to function in a wide variety of classes, and allowing the lineage's other traits to come to the forefront where normally your ability score increases would heavily influence your viable class options. This flexibility in Ability Score Increases is available to every race if you're using the Customizing Your Origin Optional Rule, but it's the default for lineages.
As I understand things, lineages cannot take feats which require a specific race, even if you describe yourself as originally a member of that race. Jeremy Crawford clarified that the Custom Lineage is taken instead of a race, so you're not a specific race to qualify for race-specific feats. It's not totally clear yet, but I believe the intent is that other lineages follow the same rule.
Because the Custom Lineage is already very flexible, it isn't impacted by the "Customizing Your Origin" optional rules. The advice below applies equally whether or not you're using those rules.
Intelligence is the only ability score that the Artificer absolutely needs, so a +2 to Intelligence is great, and the Artificer is a great choice if you want to start with 18 Intelligence by picking a feat which offers an Intelligence increase.
Given the choice between the two, the Variant Human makes a better barbarian because you can start with 16 in both Strength and Constitution. Still, +2 to Strength and a feat is enough to make a fantastic barbarian, and Darkvision is tempting for a class with no way to provide it on their own.
Charisma is the only ability score that the Bard absolutely needs, so a +2 to Charisma is great, and the Bard is a great choice if you want to start with 18 Charisma by picking a feat which offers an Charisma increase. If you go that route, stick to non-martial subclasses like College of Eloquence and College of Lore. If you want to explore weapons, putting your feat into something to suppor that capability makes more sense, and you might consider the Variant Human so that you can split your increases between Charisma and Dexterity.
For casting-focused clerics, a +2 to Wisdom is all that you need and a feat can offer a lot of very interesting options, including Heavy Armor proficiency which most caster-focused domains normally don't offer.
With some exceptions, Wisdom is the only thing that the Druid really needs so a +2 is great, and starting at 18 with the right feat is often a good idea. If you want to go for Circle of Spores, I recommend Variant Human instead.
Much like the Barbarian, the Fighter benefits more from splitting your increases between Strength/Dexterity and Constitution at first level. However, +2 to one ability score is still enough to create a viable character and Darkvision is tempting for a class which usually can't cast spells.
Monks are famously MAD, so +2 to a single abiltity score is a hard prospect. You can mitigate this by putting your feat into a feat which gets you +1 to either Dexterity or Wisdom, but that's extremely limiting so the Variant Human is a much easier choice.
Like the Monk, paladins are famously MAD so +2 to a single ability score is a hard choice compared to the Variant Human's increases. You could build an all-Charisma paladin using Fighting Style (Blessed Warrior), but exactly one appealing build does not make the Paladin an easy choice.
The third MAD class in a row, the Ranger is less MAD than the Monk or the Paladin, but they still need three ability scores to some degree. Still, you can do really well with high Dexterity and only 14 Constitution and Wisdom, so the Custom Lineage works great.
Dexterity and Darkvision are probably the best combination of racial traits that a rogue can hope for.
Charisma is the only ability score that the Sorcerer absolutely needs, so a +2 to Charisma is great, and the Sorcerer is a great choice if you want to start with 18 Charisma by picking a feat which offers an Charisma increase.
Warlocks can do just fine with nothing but Charisma, much like the Sorcerer. However, if you want to play a melee Hexblade I recommend the Variant Human instead because you'll also want to increase your Constitution to compensate for d8 hit dice.
Intelligence is the only ability score that the Wizard absolutely needs, so a +2 to Intelligence is great, and the Wizard is a great choice if you want to start with 18 Intelligence by picking a feat which offers an Intelligence increase.