Introduction

Tortles are a new addition to Dungeons and Dragon’s ever-growing menagerie of humanoid races, appearing for the first time in DnD lore in 5e’s Tortle Package (affiliate link), published as part of WotC’s annual Extra Life charity drive in 2017. While DnD has had plenty of animal-like races, this may have been the first official turtle-inspired race, and as you might expect their introduction inspired a legion of teenage mutant ninja jokes.

Mechanically, the Tortle has a lot going for it. Strength and Wisdom increases are a fine combination, and a fixed AC of 17 means that you match the AC of light or medium armor without any investment in Dexterity. You get some other goodies (claws, Hold Breath, Survival proficiency, Shell Defense), but most people want to play a tortle either because they like turtles or they want the fixed AC. If you’re using the custom origin rules or the updated version of the Tortle published in Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse, your ability score options and the Tortle’s additional skill proficiency are both much more flexible.

As a reminder: When your character has multiple options for calculating their AC, you choose only one, typically whichever gives you the highest total AC. Separate AC calculations like mage armor, manufactured armor, and natural armor never stack. Things which give AC bonuses like a shield, the Shield spell, Shield of Faith, and other things which add +something to your AC all increase whichever AC calculation you’re using because they are bonuses rather than new AC calculations.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

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.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

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.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Tortle Versions

There are effectively three versions of the Tortle. The original was published in The Tortle Package and then reprinted in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced the option Customizing Your Origin rules, which gave us the second version and allowing players to reassign the Tortle’s ability score increases and their skill proficiency.

Most recently, Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse re-published the Tortle. The changes here were minor, replacing the Tortle’s Ability Score Increase trait with the new standard for ability scores, allowing players to assign either +2/+1 increases or three +1 increases. The update also increased the Tortle’s Claw damage to 1d6 and changes the Tortle’s original fixed skill proficiency, instead allowing you to choose from a small list of options. The list of options is more restrictive than the custom origin rules simply because it’s not the full list of skills, but the options are numerous and good enough that nearly every character will find a good option. You can also choose to be either medium or small.

Tortle Classes (Customizable Origins and MMoM)

This section assumes that you’re using the option updated versions of the race, including the “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and/or the updated version published in Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse. Because the race changed so little between those two versions, I have decided to combine these two sections. If you’re not using those rules, scroll down to the “Classic Rules” section.

Artificer

The Tortle brings nothing to the Artificer with the possible exception of Shell Defense, and that’s simply not enough to make a tortle artificer a good idea. The Tortle’s signature trait is their AC, and artificers will make the Tortle’s natural armor obsolete almost immediately.

Barbarian

17 AC will match half-plate, and realistically even the best-built barbarians can’t get their AC above 17 (without magic or a shield, both of which you can also use) until something like 16th level when they get their 4th ability score increase, assuming that they maxed both Strength and Constitution before moving on to Dexterity. Even then, most players will go for feats at that point. Without the need to invest in Dexterity, you can put those points into other ability scores. Dexterity saves are still a problem, but Danger Sense mitigates them a bit, so even that isn’t a huge problem.

Bard

The Tortle’s natural armor helps address martial bards’ MAD problems, but also allows caster bards to neglect Dexterity in favor of Charisma and feats. The additional skill is also nice for a skill-focused character.

Cleric

Natural Armor removes the need for clerics in light or medium armor to invest in Dexterity. That allows you to focus on Constitution and Wisdom and leaves room for feats.

Druid

The Druid’s largest problem is their lack of durability, and the Tortle’s natural armor does a lot to address that. The Druid’s best AC options provide 12+ AC so matching the Tortle’s flat 17 AC is exceptionally difficult.

The Tortle’s AC is such an effective choice for the Druid that I used the Tortle in my example build for the Circle of Spores Handbook. The updated version published in Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse also allows three +1 increases, allowing you to start with 16 in all three of Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom.

Fighter

The only interesting thing that the Tortle brings to the Fighter is a skill proficiency.

Monk

The Tortle is the best option for Strength-based monks. Unfortunately, the tortle’s fixed AC won’t keep up with other monks, so your AC will fall behind by level 8 when most monks will hit AC 18 with Unarmored Defense. You can’t use a shield without losing class features, so you’ll lag behind other builds and never catch up. Still, until level 8 you’ll do just fine.

Paladin

The only thing that the Tortle brings to the Paladin is a skill proficiency.

Ranger

The Tortle is a great option for a Strength-based ranger since you don’t need high Dexterity to max out your AC, and the additional skill proficiency will help close the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue.

Rogue

17 AC will match the maximum possible AC in light armor right from level 1, and if you were planning to fit feats into your build you might never go to 20 Dexterity. An extra skill proficiency is nice, too.

Sorcerer

17 AC with 8 Dexterity on a class with no armor proficiency.

Warlock

Warlocks do get light armor proficiency, so they’re less frail than the Sorcerer or the Wizard, but the Tortle’s natural armor still removes the need for high Dexterity, allowing you to invest resources elsewhere without worrying about your AC.

Wizard

17 AC with 8 Dexterity on a class with no armor proficiency.

Tortle Classes (Classic Rules)

This section assumes that you’re not using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything or the updated version of the race published in Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse. If you are using those rules, scroll up to the previous section.

Artificer

No Intelligence increase, and natural armor is wasted on a class famous for stacking their AC unbelievably high.

Barbarian

17 AC will match half-plate, and realistically even the best-built barbarians can’t get their AC above 17 (without magic or a shield, both of which you can also use) until something like 16th level when they get their 4th ability score increase, assuming that they maxed both Strength and Constitution before moving on to Dexterity. Even then, most players will go for feats at that point. Without the need to invest in Dexterity, you can put those points into other ability scores. Dexterity saves are still a problem, but Danger Sense mitigates them a bit, so even that isn’t a huge problem.

Bard

If any race worked for a Strength-based bard, it’s the Tortle. But without a Charisma increase, the Bard isn’t a great option for tortle spellcasters.

Cleric

Strength and Wisdom are great for front-line clerics, but most such clerics also get heavy armor proficiency. Technically nothing is preventing you from wearing full plate, but it feels weird to disregard the Tortle’s most unique racial trait.

For clerics in light or medium armor, the Tortle’s natural armor allows you to dump AC similar to a cleric in heavy armor and invest those resources elsewhere.

Druid

The Druid’s largest problem is their lack of durability, and the Tortle’s natural armor does a lot to address that. The Druid’s best AC options provide 12+ AC so matching the Tortle’s flat 17 AC is exceptionally difficult. Strength is wasted for the most part, but that shouldn’t deter you.

The Tortle’s AC is such an effective choice for the Druid that I used the Tortle in my example build for the Circle of Spores Handbook.

Fighter

You can technically wear full plate, but that feels like a waste of the tortle’s natural armor. There just isn’t a fighter build that makes good use of the Tortle’s traits. Literally any race with the same ability score increases (lizardolk, wood elf, etc.) will make a more effective fighter.

Monk

The Tortle is the best option for Strength-based monks. Unfortunately, the tortle’s fixed AC won’t keep up with other monks, so your AC will fall behind by level 8 when most monks will hit AC 18 with Unarmored Defense. You can’t use a shield without losing class features, so you’ll lag behind other builds and never catch up. Still, until level 8 you’ll do just fine.

Paladin

The ability scores don’t line up very well, and the Paladin has very little use for the Tortle’s racial traits.

Ranger

The Tortle is a great option for a Strength-based ranger since you don’t need high Dexterity to max out your AC, and the additional skill proficiency will help close the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue.

Rogue

No Dexterity increase, and nothing else about the Tortle appeals to the Rogue.

Sorcerer

No Charisma increase. The Tortle’s high base AC is a fun novelty, but that’s not enough. If you want a tortle spellcaster, go for something Wisdom-based.

Warlock

No Charisma increase. The Tortle’s high base AC is a fun novelty, but that’s not enough. If you want a tortle spellcaster, go for something Wisdom-based.

Wizard

No Intelligence increase. The Tortle’s high base AC is a fun novelty, but that’s not enough. If you want a tortle spellcaster, go for something Wisdom-based.