DnD 5e - The Human Handbook
Last Updated: August 24th, 2018
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.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: 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.
Human come in two flavors: the standard human and the "variant" human. The standard human receives +1 increases to each ability score, making it easy to fit into any build. However, it lacks any other racial traits, which makes the standard human extremely bland. It also lacks the numerical appeal of a +2 ability increase, so more focused races will frequently outpace the standard human in nearly every case.
The vast majority of the time that you play a human, you're going to play a variant human. +1 to two ability scores means that you can increase as many important ability scores as the standard human in almost any build (Monks being a possible exception), but you also get a free skill/tool proficiency and a feat. Since this is the only way to get a feat at first level and the only way to get a feat without giving up potentially crucial ability score increases, the variant human is a hugely popular option for players who want to make us of feats.
Much of this guide will draw comparisons between the standard and variant human, but to be clear up front: The variant human is better in all but the most novel of builds. Much of this guide will also discuss options for feats to select at first level as a variant human, which serve the same function as the traits offered by other races.
Because humans are good at literally anything I have neglected to provide my usual color ratings in the section below.
Standard humans have one tiny advantage over variant humans in barbarian builds. +1 to each ability score means that a standard human can increase Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. For a barbarian planning to rely on Unarmored Defense this could mean slightly higher AC. However, relying on manufactured armor will be comparably effective for most of your career, so this advantage is a niche interest at best.
Variant humans have a lot of great options. Barbarians have plenty of options to spend their bonus actions, so avoid feats that do so. Charger is a potential option, but personally I don't think it's useful often enough to spend your feat on it when you could resort to throwing javelins for a turn or two. Durable goes a long way to enhance your hit dice-based healing, and since you're rolling d12's your hit dice-based healing is going to be swingy. Great Weapon Master is a great option for barbarians because their damage output typically comes from a few hits with a bunch if bonus damage, and once you get Reckless Attack the -5 penalty to your attack roll will be less of a problem. Sentinel can be a great option if you're focusing more on defending your allies than one damage output.
Bards are one of few classes that can make use of the standard human in a meaningful way. +1 to each ability score feeds nicely into Jack of All Trades. Starting with a level in Rogue before switching to Bard means that you'll pick up a huge number of proficiencies and expertise in several proficiencies, making you one of the most skilled characters possible. However, running 14 in every ability score means that you're not actually good at any one thing, and rolling the same bonus on every roll you make may lose its appeal over time.
Variant humans will want to consider different feat options depending on the bard college you plan to take. Bards that plan to spend time in melee like Valor bards and Swords bards may enjoy Defensive Duelist to supplement their AC, but War Caster is also useful so that you don't need to juggle a weapon, a shield, and a spellcasting focus when you need to cast a spell. All bards can make excellent use of Inspiring Leader due to their dependence on Charisma. Magic Initiate can offer a significant boost in your damage output (Green-flame Blade for melee bards or Eldritch Blast for ranged bards). Actor, Dungeon Delver, and Skilled all work very well for bards who plan to emphasize their skills, but which is best will vary depending on the style of your campaign.
Standard humans don't do anything for clerics that variant humans can't do better. You could potentially build a melee cleric and try balance good scores in Wisdom and in every physically ability score, but typically melee clerics take a domain which provides heavy armor proficiency.
Variant humans have a lot of options. One ability increase goes into Wisdom, but your second can go into almost anything depending on your build and your role in the party. Light clerics and other clerics with domain spells which provide access to elemental damage can benefit from Elemental Adept. Warcaster is fantastic if you plan to use a weapon and shield and wade into melee combat. If you plan to use a weapon, Magic Initiate is a great way to get access to Green-flame Blade or Booming Blade, either of which will help you overcome the lack of Extra Attack.
Druids have two important ability scores: Wisdom and Constitution. That means that the rest of the standard human's ability increases are wasted.
Variant humans get all of the ability increases they need, and they have a few great options for feats. Elemental Adept is great for druids who rely primarily on spellcasting. Mobile is great for Circle of the Moon druids who like hit-an-run forms like Elephant. Observant is a great way to capitalize on your high Wisdom, and it gets you a +1 Wisdom increase so you can match any races that provide a base +2 Wisdom increase. Tough would be great if it applied to Wild Shape forms, but unfortunately that's not how it works.
It's possible to build a versatile fighter with high scores in numerous ability scores, but it's not recommended.
An extra feat on a fighter seems a bit silly, but it gets you a feat at 1st level instead of 4th. Fighters are great for multi-feat builds like Polearm Master+Sentinel.
Monks are the most MAD class in the game. You need high Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom, and losing any one of them will get you killed. So increasing all three is fantastic.
While losing a third ability increase may seem problematic, remember that some feats provide +1 to an ability score. Acrobat, Durable, Observant, Resilient, and Tavern Brawler all provide +1 ability score increases to Dexterity, Constitution, or Wisdom, and work well for monks. You may also consider Tough to help compensate for your d8 hit points, which may be enough to forgo a Constitution increase.
While they're not quite as bad as monks, paladins are somewhat MAD. They don't need their Constitution as high as monks because they have bigger hit dice and can heal themselves.
For variant humans, Strength and Charisma are going to get your ability increases nearly every time. You can get another ability increase as part of your free feat, but you probably won't need it. Paladins have almost no class features that use their bonus action or reaction, so feats that do so can be good options. Polearm Master+Sentinel is a popular build for paladins, at least in part because it makes excellent use of the gaps in their action economy. Shield Master is a great way to use your bonus action, and Inspiring Leader is a great way to pad your party's hit points if you're the only healer in the party. If you absolutely can't decide, go for Lucky. Coupled with Aura of Protection your saving throws will be excellent and you'll be able to reroll terrible rolls, making you exceptionally resilient. Alternatively, Heavy Armor Master will reduce the damage you take from weapon attacks, which will make you hard to kill at low levels before your hit points start to add up.
While they're not quite as bad as monks, rangers are somewhat MAD. They don't need their Wisdom or Constitution as high as monks, but they still need a little bit of both.
For variant humans, Dexterity gets one of your increases, but your other one can go into either Constitution or Wisdom. If you plan to be in melee, consider Dual Wielder to improve your AC and your damage output, or consider Defensive Duelist to pad your defenses. Crossbow Expert and Sharpshooter are both great options for ranged builds. If you go for Beastmaster, consider Sentinel so that you can get free attacks when enemies attack your animal companion. If you want to emphasize skills, consider Dungeon Delver, Observant, or Skilled.
Rogues need Dexterity and not much else unless you're going for Arcane Trickster, so the standard human is largely a waste.
Variant humans make great rogues. Crossbow Master, Sharpshooter, and Skulker all work great for ranged rogues. Defensive Duelist is tempting for melee rogues, but conflicts with Uncanny Dodge. Dual Wielder is a mistake. Mobile is great because it allows you to hit and run without using Cunning Action to Withdraw. If you want to emphasize skills, Alert and Skilled are both good options.
Standard humans do almost nothing interesting for the sorcerer
There aren't many good feats for sorcerers, so variant humans aren't especially appealing here. Elemental Adept can be nice if you want to focus on one element (storm sorcerers), ritual caster can make your utility casting more useful and free some slots for spells known, and Spell Sniper can get you Eldritch blast and make it easier to rely on cantrips like eldritch blast and fire bolt at low levels when you don't know enough spells to mitigate obstacles.
Aside from hexblades, who are more reliant on Dexterity and Constitution than your typical warlock, most warlocks won't benefit from the standard human.
Variant humans make great warlocks. Typical warlocks get a lot from Spell Sniper because warlocks are so reliant on Eldritch Blast. Hexblades can benefit from a whole bunch of feats, especially options like Tough to mitigate their poor hit dice. Heavily Armored is tempting, and you can get by on the minimum of 15 Strength to wear full plate armor while other hexblades need 14 Dexterity to fill out their medium armor and still have worse AC than you. If you're a hexblade, it may be wise to take Warcaster so that you can cast spells without dropping your weapon.
Wizards start and end with Intelligence, so standard humans are pointless.
Wizards have fewer interesting feat options than perhaps any other class, so variant humans don't have a lot of good options. Magic Initiate can get you some extra spellcasting, Spell Sniper is nice if you like spell attacks, and you might enjoy Skilled to max out on Intelligence-based skills.