Last Updated: September 27, 2023
Yuan-Ti are a thematically interesting group of creatures, and while the “Yuan-Ti Abomination” is the most iconic (they’re the ones with snakes heads), the only Yuan-Ti published as a playable race is the Pureblood. Purebloods look like humans for the most part, which makes them a bit easier to integrate into a normal party than a snake-armed Yuan-Ti Malison.
Mechanically, Yuan-Ti Purebloods are a challenge in several ways. Their ability score increases are limiting and their innate spellcasting is extremely limited, but they get resistance on saving throws against all spells and magical effects and outright immunity to poison, protecting them from two extremely common hazards.
The original version of Magic Resistance was a controversial racial trait. Magical effects include things like magical traps and many creatures’ special abilities (beholders, etc.), so the Yuan-Ti Pureblood has a widely-applicable defense that can immediately become a balance problem. As a player you want to look for other bonuses to your saves so that you can nearly guarantee success on saving throws, but as a DM you want ways to challenge and threaten players and there are only so many varieties of nonmagical breath weapons and the like. The updated version of the Yuan-Ti is less problematic, as Magic Resistance only applies to spells.
The innate spellcasting generally won’t be a huge part of your character, but it’s not entirely useless. Animal Friendship has a 24-hour duration and doesn’t allow a save for unintelligent beasts, so any time that you encounter a snake you can immediately befriend it. If you renew the spell daily, you can get functionally permanent friends, potentially accumulating a near-infinite collection of magically-befriended snakes over time. Poison Spray is borderline useless, though.
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The Yuan-Ti Pureblood was originally published in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
With the introduction of the custom origin rules in Tasha’s Cauldrons of Everything, the yuan-ti gained the ability to reassign their ability scores, immediately making them one of the best race options for basically every class.
The Yuan-Ti was reprinted and updated in Monsters of the Multiverse, where they dropped the term “pureblood”, they gained the new standard ability score mechanics, their poison immunity was reduced to resistance, and Magic Resistance now only applies to spells rather than spells and magical effects.
Yuan-Ti Classes (Customizable Origins MMoM)
Without the limitation of the Yuan-Ti Pureblood’s normal ability score increases, it becomes an easy go-to race for a durable character. Resistance to poison (immunity if you’re using the old version) and magic resistance make the Yuan-Ti Pureblood excellent for any class because literally every character benefits so much from those defenses.
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.
Between the Yuan-Ti’s defenses and the Artificer’s exceptional ability to stack their AC really high, a yuan-ti artificer can be nearly indestructible. However, be careful about the “tank fallacy” and make sure that you can do something important enough that enemies don’t simply ignore you.
Magic is the Barbarian’s biggest counter, so Magic Resistance is a huge benefit for the Barbarian. The innate spellcasting is basically useless, but it wasn’t very good anyway so it’s no great loss.
Bards generally aren’t very durable, so the additional defenses of poison resistance (immunity with the old version) and Magic Resistance are very welcome.
The Yuan-Ti Pureblood’s defenses are great for keeping your party’s primary healer conscious.
In a setting where snakes are abundant, a yuan-ti druid who really likes snakes would be both interesting and effective. Animal Friendship has a 24-hour duration and doesn’t allow a save for unintelligent beasts, so every time you encounter a snake you can add it to an ever-growing entourage of snakes. Just be sure to re-cast it every 24 hours to keep your new “friends” from wandering off.
Magic is the Fighter’s biggest counter, so Magic Resistance is a huge benefit for the Fighter. The innate spellcasting is basically useless, but it wasn’t very good anyway so it’s no great loss. Unlike the Barbarian, the Fighter doesn’t have a way to get resistance to poison (Bear Totem), so poison resistance (immunity with the old version) is arguably even more impactful for the Fighter than it is for the Barbarian.
Monks eventually gain proficiency in every type of saving throw, and when combined with Magic Resistance you’ll be nearly immune to harmful magic. Poison resistance (immunity with the old version) is also nice on a class which is almost entirely locked into melee but still has notoriously poor AC at low levels.
With racial resistance to poison (immunity with the old version), immunity to diseases as a class feature, Aura of Protection, and Magic Resistance, a yuan-ti paladin is astoundingly durable, leaving you with plenty of room to focus on offense in order avoid falling into the “tank falacy”.
Like other martial characters, protections from common threats are an excellent defense for a character who is often on the front lines of combat.
Magic Resistance works well alongside Evasion and Uncanny Dodge, protecting the Rogue from a wide variety of common threats.
Sorcerers generally aren’t very durable, so the additional defenses of poison resistance (immunity with the old version) and Magic Resistance are very welcome.
Most warlocks aren’t very durable, so the additional defenses of poison resistance (immunity with the old version) and Magic Resistance are very welcome.
Wizards generally aren’t very durable, so the additional defenses of poison resistance (immunity with the old version) and Magic Resistance are very welcome.
Yuan-Ti 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.
Probably the Yuan-Ti Pureblood’s best option for a front-line character, the pureblood’s Intelligence increase gives you everything that you absolutely need. Poison Spray offers a short range attack option (though not a great one) to complement your limited cantrips, and Flash of Genius allows you to add your Intelligence Bonus to saving throws on top of Magic Resistance, allowing you to easily and reliably resist magical effects.
Bad ability spread.
Thematically a fantastic option, and the Charisma increase works great for the Bard. Even Poison Spray may be useful since the bard gets so few direct damage options. College of Whispers fits the Yuan-Ti Pureblood very well from a thematic perspective.
Bad ability spread.
Bad ability spread, but thematically a snake druid would be really interesting. I just wish that the stats lined up better. It’s likely that Magic Resistance and Poison Immunity don’t apply during Wild Shape.
A fighter without a Strength or Dexterity increase is hard, but an Eldritch Knight might be able to scrape by, and the Yuan-Ti Pureblood’s other traits make a great mage hunter.
Bad ability spread.
Lack of a Strength or Dexterity increase is hard, but a Charisma increase makes a Blessed Warrior build possible, and between the pureblood’s natural defenses and the Paladin’s defensive features you’re incredibly difficult to kill.
Bad ability spread.
Bad ability spread, but thematically the rogue seems like a great option. In a campaign with little emphasis on combat, a Yuan-Ti Pureblood rogue would be a really interesting character if you focus on Charisma-based skills.
A good Charisma increase, some innate spellcasting, and Magic Resistance protects you from enemy spellcasters.
The Yuan-Ti Pureblood can succeed in nearly any Warlock build.
An Intelligence increase, some innate spellcasting, and Magic Resistance protects you from enemy spellcasters. You may be tempted to select a snake as a familiar, but the only reason to do is for the “cool factor”.