Race is a rule in Dungeons & Dragons referring to the fantasy species or ancestry of a character. Popular races include human, elf, dwarf and halfling.

Unlike the modern real-world use of the word, "race" in Dungeons & Dragons does not refer to a character's ethnic background. In D&D terms, "human" is a single "race", and players are generally free to select their character's skin tone, hair color and other details of appearance as they see fit.

Mechanics[edit | edit source]

In Dungeons & Dragons, a player creating their character selects from one of many fantasy species known as "races". All editions of Dungeons & Dragons feature the human, elf, dwarf and halfling as options, and most include other options.

Each race possesses unique traits and abilities, many of which are helpful in the context of dungeoneering and combat. In most editions of the game, each race has modifiers to their ability scores, while in earlier editions of D&D, characters must meet certain ability score minimums to qualify.

Some races can be divided into multiple variants or subtypes, known as subraces.

Changing race[edit | edit source]

A few rare mechanics allow a character to change their race. These include:

Purpose[edit | edit source]

Genre emulation[edit | edit source]

The inclusion of the dwarf, elf and halfling (originally called hobbit) is influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, particularly The Hobbit, which features all three of those races. Their appearance in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons appealed to fans of Tolkien.

As D&D shaped the field of fantasy fiction, fantasy races have come to be a staple of computer roleplaying games and other media.

Character customization[edit | edit source]

Selecting from a variety of character options is a key mechanic of Dungeons & Dragons and allows players to distinguish their character from others, increasing the longevity and complexity of the game.

Notable races[edit | edit source]

For a full list, see Category:Races.

  • Humans are typically the most numerous, versatile and culturally diverse.
  • Elves are graceful, patient, and have a connection to nature.
  • Dwarves are short, hardy and bearded.
  • Halflings are short, stealthy, and lucky.

Publication history[edit | edit source]

Original D&D[edit | edit source]

The original Men & Magic (1974) did not use the term "race", but did introduce the dwarf, elf, and hobbit (later halfling), with the assumption that most characters would be human. Non-humans were restricted in their choice of character class and maximum character level, but gained unique special abilities, such as a dwarf's magic resistance or the elf's ability to detect hidden doors.

Notably, races did not yet give numeric bonuses to ability scores. According to former TSR employee Tim Kask in 2018, players of original D&D rules chose their race based on the randomly generated stats.[1] Later editions of the game would make rules.

Basic D&D[edit | edit source]

The "Basic" Dungeons & Dragons product line from 1977 simplified the game so as to merge the concepts of race and character class, making all races effectively classes. Tim Kask calls this change "one of the stupidest things, in my opinion, that was ever done".[1]

Starting with Basic Set (Holmes) (1977), characters choosing to play a non-human needed to meet with certain ability score minimums, as with other character classes of that ruleset. From the Basic Set (Moldvay) (1981), non-humans were referred to as demi-humans, and the term "race" is used in reference to humans, demi-humans, and dragons.

AD&D 1st edition[edit | edit source]

The Players Handbook (1e) (1978) first introduced the term "race" to refer specifically to the types of humanoids available to player characters, a usage which has been retained throughout the game's editions and widely popularized by video games inspired by D&D.

The Players Handbook allows players to choose between dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, halfling, half-orc, and human. Of those, four races received bonuses and penalties to various ability scores (dwarf, elf, half-orc, and halfling). Further, all races other than human had ability score requirements; for example, a player who rolled less than 8 Intelligence could not play an elf.

As in later editions of the game, each race receives a variety of unique special abilities. Humans receive no bonuses, penalties or special benefits.

AD&D 2nd edition[edit | edit source]

The Player's Handbook (2e) (1989) largely concurs with the rules presented in AD&D 1st edition. A notable difference is the lack of inclusion of the half-orc race, generally speculated to be due to controversy over half-orc parentage.

A note is also made to avoid confusion between the modern usage of the word "race" and its fantasy usage.

D&D 3rd edition[edit | edit source]

The Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000) allows players to choose between the same seven races as in AD&D 1st edition: human, dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, half-elf, and half-orc. There is no longer any note to avoid confusion between the modern usage of word "race" and the fantasy usage.

There are no minimum ability score requirements to play a race. For example, a player who rolls an Intelligence score of 3 is free to play any race, even an elf. Conversely, the increased effect of racial ability score modifiers encourages players to select a race to increase their ability scores in a chosen field.

Humans receive their own special abilities for the first time, specifically a bonus feat and bonus skill points.

Numerous expansion sourcebooks for Dungeons & Dragons third edition introduced new playable races, while the level adjustment system first introduced in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting allowed players to select more powerful races including the drow and tiefling. Later rules, particularly the sourcebook Savage Species, allowed players to select a wide variety of monsters as playable characters.

D&D 4th edition[edit | edit source]

The Player's Handbook (4e) (2008) allowed players to choose between eight races: dragonborn, dwarf, eladrin, elf, half-elf, halfling, human and tiefling.

Later sourcebooks introduced additional races, including the half-orc and gnome. A total of 55 playable races were introduced during the game's run.[2]

D&D 5th edition[edit | edit source]

The Player's Handbook (5e) (2014) launched with a record nine playable character races: dwarf, elf, halfling, human, dragonborn, gnome, half-elf, half-orc and tiefling. This includes all races which had ever appeared in the Player's Handbook of any edition, except for the eladrin, which appeared alongside the aasimar in the Dungeon Master's Guide (5e) (2014).

Most races are also divided into two or more subraces, including the hill dwarf, mountain dwarf, high elf, wood elf, dark elf, lightfoot halfling, stout halfling, forest gnome, and rock gnome. The human, dragonborn, half-elf, half-orc and tiefling have no subraces in the Player's Handbook.

Further, races are divided into common and uncommon, with only dwarf, elf, halfling and human (the four races appearing in the original edition of D&D) considered common. This is largely thematic and has no game mechanic.

Additional races were introduced by later sourcebooks and Unearthed Arcana playtest articles.

Creative origins[edit | edit source]

The use of the term "race" to refer to a species of humanlike people appears occasionally in the works of Tolkien, although it seems most often to refer to a subgroup of creatures.

The original inclusion of fantasy races in Dungeons & Dragons was inspired by the works of fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, whose literary interpretations of traditional folklore creatures such as the dwarf, elf and hobbit were influential on D&D and other 20th century fantasy literature. These three races previously appeared in Chainmail (1971), a miniature wargame created by Gary Gygax and influenced by Leonard Patt's Rules for Middle Earth (1970).

Reception and influence[edit | edit source]

Race has become a standard element of character creation in computer roleplaying games inspired by Dungeons & Dragons.

The potential for confusion between the modern and fantasy usage of the term "race" has led some table roleplaying games to use alternate terminology. For example, Pathfinder 2 uses the alternative term "ancestry".

References[edit | edit source]

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