Although a tad late, July’s Unearthed Arcana still delivers! Not one, not two, but three revised races in addition to a brand new one! We have updated versions of Changelings, Shifters, and Warforged and for the first time we can play as Kalashtar! While we won’t be diving into the lore of these races (there’s a lot to cover here!), I would recommend giving those parts a read!
As is my usual way, I will not be comparing the revised options to their older versions, but rather seeing how they stack up to published options. If you would like to add your thoughts on how these stack up to their old versions we would love to hear it in the comments! Also please note, I’m not getting as analytical here as I normally would like to based on the sheer volume of races/subraces, though I try to provide insight into why I think they are fair or not in a way that promotes conversation. But without further ado, let’s dive in!
The first of two shapechangers on this list, the Changeling is the one that lives up to that mantle a bit more directly. They have their Change Appearance ability among a few others, almost making them like playable Dopplegangers with a few limitations. If you’ve only played 5e, this is possibly the first time you’ve heard of Changelings.
Finding an existing race (and preferably one from the Player’s Handbook) to compare the Changeling to is a bit of a challenge by nature of their unique abilities. Still, I’ve decided that the Tiefling should work well enough for this comparison (not including the variants now available to us). Plus, both are often feel distanced from society, so bonus points!
Right out the gate, both have a +2 to Charisma, and while Tieflings get a +1 to Intelligence Changelings get +1 to either Intelligence or Dexterity. This option seems to be a trend with new races, making them all a bit more viable for a wider array of classes, which is nice. Size, speed, both standard at Medium and 30 feet. Recapping the rest of the Tiefling abilities is easy: They have Darkvision out to 60 feet, have resistance to fire damage, know thaumaturgy, can cast hellish rebuke once per day at 3rd level, and darkness once per day at 5th level, and can speak Infernal. Ok, now let’s see what the Changeling has.
The Changeling knows two languages other than Common of its choice, which fits thematically. It gains proficiency in two out of Deception, Insight, Intimidation, and Persuasion- which also fits nicely. They gain proficiency with a tool of their choice and are allowed to define a persona for that skill, doubling the proficiency bonus for it while under the guise of this persona, which hey, still fits thematically. Then we get the juicy abilities; they have their Unsettling Visage ability, which allows them, once per rest, which allows the Changeling to reveal their true nature to a creature making an attack roll against them to impose disadvantage. The feature also notes this reveals your identity as a shapeshifter to those within 30 feet but didn’t mention whether this is also a limit on the distance of the attacker. Then we have the main ability, Change Appearance. Similar to magic meant to accomplish the same thing, there are a few limitations, mainly being that you have to change into something that is bipedal and it must be of the same size. Other than that, height, weight, and a whole slew of other characteristics can be changed and played with. Unlike some magics though, clothes and equipment don’t change with you, and so new clothing should be on hand for cases where it will no longer fit. Also, this grants advantage on Deception checks to avoid being detected, which is nice.
All in all, I think the Changeling comes out on top without being too powerful. It gets way more languages and proficiencies, and I’d place it’s Unsettling Visage on the same level as fire resistance, because though only usable once per rest, has more application. And finally, being able to change shape permanently and as often as you want, at lower levels, is quite a boon. In higher levels campaigns it becomes less impressive, but I would still take it over darkvision, darkness, and hellish rebuke any day. Changeling gets a thumbs up, though I would be hesitant to allow one at level 1 personally.
Psychic powers were the bane of my existence in prior editions. Luckily, they haven’t been implemented in a way that makes me feel the same in 5th edition, so the spirit-bound Kalashtar get a pass. I’ve decided to use some type of elf, but choosing which elf was hard. There are similarities to Half-Elves, but I find them to be a bit weaker than the other classes in the PHB, and so ended up at High Elf as my comparison.
For ability scores, the High Elf is stuck with a +2 to Dexterity and +1 to Intelligence, while the Kalashtar has some freedom with a +1 to Wisdom, Charisma, and another +1 to throw where they want (including also into Wisdom or Charisma). Medium and 30 feet speed are par for the course. Elves get advantage on saving throws against being charmed, while Kalashtar can always use their reaction for advantage on any Wisdom saving throw. Both enter some kind of pseudo-sleep phase, expect that Kalashtar are in fact sleeping and therefore while Elves are immune to abilities that put them to sleep, Kalashtar are only immune to abilities that specifically make them dream. High elves then have Darkvision, proficiency with Perception, speak Elvish and another language, proficiency with various swords and bows, and know one wizard cantrip of their choice. Seems like a lot for the Kalashtar to match.
Well, spoiler, they just about match it. Kalashtar get resistance to psychic damage, permanent advantage on Insight, Intimidation, Performance, or Persuasion, speak Quori and one other language, and can speak telepathically with any creature that knows a language or itself is telepathic within 60 feet and can allow them to respond telepathically as a bonus action.
Again, I think whether or not the Kalashtar is above and beyond depends on the level of your campaign. The telepathy is strong but not game-breaking, and Great Old One warlocks get a similar ability at level one anyway. Resistance to a specific and seldom used type of damage is also good, but not as good as some other options, such as what you get with any dragonborn or tiefling, and the permanent advantage is actually really good and will scale as the game goes on, making it the most powerful ability, though with non-combat applications. You could argue that the reaction for advantage on Wisdom saving throws is also powerful, but since it requires some resource (reaction) and is only on one type I’m not inclined to say it’s too strong. Overall, thumbs up for me on both power level and viability.
The second shapechanger, though I use that term loosely here, the Shifter has a bond with a bestial force within themselves. This means they have four subclasses and that makes it very hard to compare them with one race. So, instead, I’ll quickly summarize and give my thoughts on each one.
All Shifters have the normal variety of features: +1 to Dexterity, Medium size, 30 feet walking speed, Darkvision to 60 feet, and proficiency to Perception. It actually sounds like an elf up to this point, except they also have the Shifting ability. That ability gives them level+Constitution modifier temporary hit points for 1 minute, alongside a subrace specific benefit. Speaking of the subraces…
Beasthide gives +2 to Constitution, proficiency with Athletics, and when they shift they get +1 to AC and an additional 1d6 temporary hit points. I can’t find anything broken here; they get a second proficiency and when they use their one per rest ability, they get a slight defensive buff. Thumbs up so far.
Longtooth improves Strength by +2, gives proficiency with Intimidation, and grows out the fangs so that when shifted, they can use a bonus action to make an unarmed strike with their fangs. This does 1d6+Strength piercing damage, making it a good offensive melee attack at lower levels or for characters who have nothing to spend their bonus action on. I also see nothing here that is broken, and would place this below Half-Orc personally, so thumbs up from me.
Swiftstride improves Dexterity and Charisma by +1 (Making total Dexterity +2), gives proficiency with Acrobatics, increases walking speed by 5, and when they shift increases walking speed by another 5 while giving a special reaction disengage when an enemy moves within 5 feet. This special disengage lets them move 10 feet as a reaction without provoking opportunity attacks. This thing has ROGUE or MONK (or even BARD) written all over it, and I love it. It does seem a bit powerful, but I want to reserve judgement until I can see it in action. I’m sure there is something broken about a 40 foot movement with free 10 foot disengage, but I can’t quite put my finger on it, so in that case I give it a wary thumbs up.
And finally we have Wildhunt. This one increases Wisdom by by, gives proficiency with Survival, gives advantaged on Wisdom checks while shifted, and gives them Mark of the Scent. This is a once per rest ability that allows them, as a bonus action, to mark one creature within 10 feet that doubles proficiency bonuses for any check made to find the creature until your next long rest while also always knowing its location while it is within 60 feet of you. I get what they are going for here, but that ability seems pretty specific whereas the other subraces have a bit more broad application. I’ll give it a thumbs up though I wish it was something more.
It’s obvious that, in their mind, they were thinking: Defensive character, Offensive Strength character, Swift Dexterity Character, Nature-based character. Nothing for the spellcasters, though I presume that is fine; not every race needs to be able to do everything extremely well. Overall, thumbs up for these though I wish Wildhunt was a bit more appealing and Swiftstride a bit less.
And finally we come to the race I am most excited for, Warforged. Why am I excited you ask? Because who doesn’t want to be a golem-like creature?! Much like Shifter, there’s a bit going on with the Warforged and three subraces, so I will do my best to give non-direct comparative insight here.
Let’s start with the Warforged standard abilities; +1 to Constitution, Medium, 30 Feet speed, advantage on saving throws against poison, resistance to poison damage, immune to disease, no need to eat, sleep, drink, or breathe, no exhaustion, and can’t be magically put to sleep. WHEW! But wait, there’s more! When they rest, they appear inert but can still hear and see, and they can change defensive modes for differently levels of armor that require different proficiencies to be able to use, meaning you can’t be super heavily armored and a wizard, and the armor works similarly to the different types of armor other races can wear. Lastly, each chooses a subrace for further customization.
First up is the Envoy, which is a bit of a wildcard. Fluff-wise, most Warforged are not Envoys as they were not made for war and this is reflected in their abilities. It also makes them the most versatile at character creation. They get +1 to two different ability scores, one skill proficiency, one tool proficiency, and fluency in one language, all of your choice, and get an integrated tool that they are proficient with. This is integrated with your body but still requires free hand(s) to use. I like this, there’s nothing here that makes it any stronger than what you get standard, and it makes a lot of different classes playable. Aside from the lack of bodily functions, the standard Warforged reminds me of a dwarf, and I love dwarves, so thumbs up!
The Juggernaut gets +2 to Strength, counts as one size larger for carrying capacity and push/drag/lift purposes, and their unarmed strike is 1d4+strength damage. This is basically the cross section of a Goliath and a Dwarf, so I’m still all thumbs up here. The unarmed damage actually seems a bit weak here, but I like it as a situational boon, however small or situational that may be.
Lastly we have the Skirmisher, with a +2 to Dexterity, increased walking speed by 5 feet, and the ability to, when traveling alone, move stealthily at a normal pace. This once appears to be a catchall for dexterous classes, such as Rogue and Ranger. No complaints, just a fast dwarf for all I can see. Two thumbs up! Also, I really like dwarves.
I’m impressed with this crop of subraces, all thumbs up from me, and only a couple I felt were on the line of being over/underpowered. I’m excited about the Warforged especially, and I’m always excited when we get content specific to other D&D settings we haven’t seen much of in 5th edition. There’s a lot for them to cover, and between these revisions and the addition of the Kalashtar, I’m excited to see what’s next on the horizon!
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