Last Updated: April 25, 2022
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.
The Human is notably the only race which is not significantly changed by the Customizing Your Origins optional rules. The Variant Human can trade their skill proficiency for a tool or weapon proficiency, and you can replace Common as a language proficiency, but that’s all that changes. Dragonmarked humans are affected more significantly, of course.
Table of Contents
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. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
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 the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
Like the Wizard, the Artificer needs little beyond Intelligence, so the Variant Human is your best option. Artificers can do a lot with a feat depending on the Artificer Specialization which you choose to pursue.
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, and the availability of feats which also provide a +1 ability score increase means that the Variant Human can do the same trick even better.
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. However, running 14 in every ability score means that you’re not actually good at any one thing, and rolling the same bonus on nearly every roll you make may lose its appeal over time. This is a fun gimicky build, but it’s not actually effective in most games.
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 (Booming Blade for melee bards or Eldritch Blast for ranged bards). Actor, Dungeon Delver, Skill Expert, 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 to 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. Warcaster is tempting if you plan to use a weapon and shield and wade into melee combat, but Resilient (Constitution) is often better since casting cantrips is almost always a better choice for the Cleric when you’re in melee. If you plan to use a weapon, Magic Initiate is a great way to get access to Booming Blade, which will help you overcome the lack of Extra Attack and make your attacks actually worthwhile compared to casting a cantrip.
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. Defensive Duelist and Mobile are great for Circle of the Moon who like hit-an-run forms like Elephant and for Circle of Spores druids. 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. DnD is a game that rewards specialization.
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, and getting those feats early means that your build gets up and running sooner. If you’re not sure what to pick, consider Fighting Initiate to get a second fighting style.
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. Standard humans can do it, but more likely you’ll go for the Variant Human and take a feat that gives you a +1 ability score increase.
While losing a third ability increase may seem problematic, remember that some feats provide +1 to an ability score. Acrobat, Durable, Observant, Resilient, Tavern Brawler and several newer feats can provide +1 ability score increases to Dexterity, Constitution, or Wisdom. 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 still MAD. They don’t need their Constitution as high as monks because they have bigger hit dice and can heal themselves, and they don’t need Charisma to be especially high since they’re not reliant on save DC’s, but many paladins will still want high scores in Strength/Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. That may make the standard human look appealing, but again: variant humans can get a feat which provides a +1 ability score increase.
For variant humans, Strength/Dexterity and Charisma are going to get your ability increases nearly every time, though Blessed Warrior builds might go for Constitution and Charisma. You can get another ability increase as part of your free feat, but you don’t absolutely 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 and offers an additional chance to deliver Divine Smite on a critical hit. 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 and will help you handle numerous enemies attacking you at the same time.
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 since they’re not locked into melee, 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’re going for a Druidic Warrior build, go for Constitution and Wisdom. If you plan to be in melee, consider Dual Wielder to improve your AC and your damage output or Defensive Duelist to pad your defenses. Crossbow Expert and Sharpshooter are both great options for ranged builds. If you go for Beast Master, 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 a waste.
Variant humans make great rogues. Crossbow Expert, 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, leaving your Bonus Action free for two-weapon fighting or for features like Fast Hands. If you want to emphasize skills, Alert, Skill Expert, and Skilled are all good options.
Standard humans do almost nothing interesting for the sorcerer
For variant humans you have several interesting feat options. 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. 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. Metamagic Initiate will get you access to metamagic two levels early, give you some extra Sorcery Points, and diversify your metamagic options so that you have much more room to experiment.
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, which makes cover a challenge. 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, but it’s only a +1 AC difference, so at that point you could go for Fighting Initiate (Defensive) or Defensive Duelist and get similar benefits without spending 1,500gp on full plate. If you’re a hexblade, it may be wise to take Warcaster so that you can cast spells without juggling your weapon, and casting Booming Blade on an Opportunity Attack is wonderful.
Wizards start and end with Intelligence, so standard humans are pointless.
Wizards have surprisingly few good feat options for variant humans to explore, but there are a few gems. Artificer Initiate gets you access to some great 1st-level spells like Cure Wounds and Faerie Fire. Metamagic Intitiate gets you a little bit of metamagic, but you’ll need to stick to inexpensive options. Telekinetic gives you an easy way to spend your bonus action every turn to reposition creatures, easily breaking grapples and forcing creatures into or out of dangerous locations like the area of spells which you’ve cast.
Better than the Skilled feat in many ways, but if you want Expertise, Skill Expert is better in nearly ever case.
Dragonmarks are detailed in Eberron: Rising from the Last War. Dragonmarks entirely replace human racial traits, so in many ways dragonmarks should be thought of as separate races from the Human. You still have access to the same racial feats, but your class options are very different.
Mark of Finding
Constitution and Wisdom is a difficult combination for any class except the Cleric, the Ranger (provided you’re using Druidic Warrior), and the Druid. Without an ability boost to either Strength or Dexterity, martial classes will lag offensively for a long time. You could make a decent Monk, but other classes are difficult. Mark of Finding’s traits include Darkvision, a bonus to Perception and Survival, and some interesting innate spellcasting options. If your class grants spellcasting, you get access to some interesting spell options from a mix of classes. Most of the options are divination spells. Some aren’t available to clerics, while others aren’t available to druids, and many aren’t available to rangers, so all three classes get several exciting new options. Whatever class you choose, be sure to pick up proficiency in Perception to make yourself exceptionally observant.
With the custom origin rules, there’s a lot of room for other classes. Classes which rely on attack rolls and can also cast spells will find Hunter’s Mark and Faerie Fire very appealing, so eldritch knight fighters and warlocks are good choices. Other classes can also benefit from the additional spell options, but Hunter’s Mark will fall out of favor quickly without multiple attacks to benefit from the damage.
Mark of Handling
Wisdom and a flexible increase works for a huge number of options. Cleric, Druid, Monk, Ranger, Rogue, and possible even arcane spellcasters like Warlock, Sorcerer, and Wizard can work, though Clerics of Nature, Druids, and Rangers make the most sense thematically and will benefit the most. The ability to cast Animal Friendship and Speak With Animals for free means that you can keep those situational spells on hand without preparing them, and the ability to affect monstrosities with sufficiently poor Intelligence offers some interesting options for dealing with encounters nonviolently. However, while the ability scores are flexible and the flavor is interesting, the whole dragonmark offers very little that you couldn’t already do by playing a druid. A cleric may be the best choice here, adding the Druid’s ability to handle and summon animals to their many existing magical capabilities.
With the custom origin rules, other spellcasters become more viable. Clerics can still benefit greatly, but so can artificers, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. Many of Mark of Handling’s spells are exclusive to druids and rangers, so access to these exclusive options can be very helpful, especially on classes that don’t have a fixed number of spells known.
The Bigger They Are is a curious abilitiy which almost never matters, but it does offer the unique ability to charm and speak to the Tarrasque.
Mark of Making
Bonus Intelligence and a flexible increase is great, but only for a small set of classes: arcane trickster rogues, artificers, eldritch knight fighters, and wizards. (Intelligence is a tragically unimportant ability score in 5e.) The innate spellcasting is alarmingly good for martial classes. Mending is only situationall useful unless you’re a battle smith artificer. The ability to cast Magic Weapon without Concentration means that you can comfortably wade into melee without worrying about losing the spell when you get hit..
The spell list has some neat options, too. Elemental Weapon is a paladin exclusive and absolutely spectacular for fighters. Conjure Barrage is ranger-exclusive, and while it’s worse than fireball it could be useful for melee builds who are often better positioned to deliver cone effects. Creation, Fabricate, and Stone Shape aren’t available to paladins and rangers, but arcane trickster rogues and eldritch knight fighters likely don’t want to spend their limited number of unrestricted spells known on them. All things considered, this mark works much better for martial classes than for more magic-focused classes like the Artificer and the Wizard, which seems counter to the intended flavor.
With the custom origin rules, Mark of Making becomes much more flexible. Clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers all benefit more from the spell list than Intelligence-based casters since the Intelligence-based casters already have so many of the spells on their spell lists. My go-to choice here would be a weapon-using cleric or a paladin. The ability to cast Magic Weapon could put weapon attacks ahead of cantrips, finally giving clerics a reason to grab a weapon instead of casting cantrips even while they’re in melee, though beware of investing heavily in a tactic to just barely beat unmodified cantrips.
Mark of Passage
Dexterity and a flexible increase is a great combinatin which can work for nearly class. Extra speed is similarly fantastic, and the ability cast Misty Step provides a spectacular option for getting around in combat or past obstacles. Dexterity is your spellcasting ability for the innate spellcasting, which is a first. The spellcasting options are mostly from the Wizard spell list, but also include Pass Without Trace, arguably the most important stealth spell in the game, and typically exclusive to the Druid. All of the options are movement-related and offer useful options for stealth and teleportation, so the whole dragonmark is great for paladins, rangers, and arcane trickster rogues. Monks will still enjoy access to Misty Step, but without the expanded spell list you’re realy not getting the full benefits. Clerics and druids can also benefit since so few of the spells are already on their spell lists.
Since Mark of Passage already has a flexible increase, the custom origin rules are only a minor improvement for most classes, but for classes with little or no dependence on Dexterity that extra +1 increase is still helpful. The classes which benefit most don’t change.
Mark of Sentinel
Constitution and Wisdom are both great, but without an increase to Strength or Dexterity martial classes will struggle, which is a shame because Mark of Sentinel has so much to offer classes like the Fighter, the Paladin, and the Ranger. If your party is doing fine offensively, you might still consider a martial class. Sentinel’s Intuition boosts important Wisdom-based skills, Guardian’s Shield and Vigilant Guardian provide excellent defensive uses for your Reaction, and Mark of Sentinel’s spells provide several absolutely spectacular defensive options, many of which are taken from the Cleric’s and the Paladin’s spell lists.
Perhaps the most obvious class option for Mark of Sentinel is the Druid since they have so little overlap with the spell list, and the ability increases work so well. In fact, a Circle of Spores Druid would do very well, and the combination of Guardian’s Shield and access to Shield of Faith would finally address the Druid’s perpetually problematic AC. A ranger build around Fighting Style (Druidic Warrior) woul also work.
If you’re using the custom origin rules, Mark of Sentinel gets much more interesting. Basically any martial class will work, but just as with other dragonmark, spellcasters benefit the most. Front-line artificers, eldritch knight fighters, clerics build to use weapons, druids, paladins, and rangers can all benefit. Bards built for melee and arcane tricksters can use the spells, too, but the combination isn’t as effective. Clerics and paladins also gain access to fewer new spells than most other spellcaster, so the really good candidates shrinks down to artificers, druids, eldritch knight fighters, and rangers.