DnD 5e - The Human Handbook
Last Updated: December 9th, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Because humans are good at literally anything I have neglected to provide my usual color ratings in the section below.
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.
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 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. 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.
Better than the Skilled feat in many ways, and absolutely spectacular for skills which you rely upon heavily like Athletics, Perception, and Stealth.
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 and the Druid. Without an ability boost to either Strength or Dexterity, you'll lag offensively for a long time. You could make a decent Monk or Ranger, assuming that you're fine with being slightly less effective with your attacks. 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 spellcasting. 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.
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.
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 helpful if you encounter foes like Rust Monsters which can damage your equipment, and 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 paladin-exclusive and absolutely spectacular for fighters. Conjure Barrage is ranger-exclusive, and while it's worse than fireball it could be useful for arcane tricksters. Creation, Fabricate, and Stone Shape aren't available to either the arcane trickster or the eldritch knight, so both are fantastic options. 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.
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, so the whole dragonmark is great for arcane trickster rogues and for rangers. Monks will still enjoy access to Misty Step, but without the expanded spell list you're relaly not getting the full benefits.
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 may still consider a martial class. Sentinel's Intuition boost 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.