With all the hype featuring the most ambitious crossover event in history, that being the upcoming Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica for D&D, it makes sense to get a set of playtest races from Ravnica for this month’s Unearthed Arcana. Any Magic: the Gathering player will surely recognize these iconic races, and seeing them playable for D&D is elating the inner nerd in me.
Some of each of these four races, those being Loxodon, Simic Hybrid, Vedalken, and Viashino, will compare directly to another race to see how they stack up while the others can be analyzed on their own. Analysis is a bit lighter today as these races appear a bit simpler in design than what we’ve seen in the previous few months, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad!
The Loxodon is a large, elephant-like creature, exuding a calm serenity until their rage comes forth. And if that sounds somewhat familiar to you as a D&D player who has never played Magic, they are pretty close is name and appearance to the Loxo, a two-trunked elephant race of similar demeanor and size found in previous editions of D&D.
I like what the Loxodon is selling, but it also doesn’t really wow me. At first glance it’s the idea and aesthetic that draw me in, so let’s see how it stacks up to the similar Goliath. Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way- both are Medium creatures with a 30 foot movement, are similar size and weight, and count as one size larger for carrying, pushing, and all that.
Where they diverge first is in ability scores; Goliaths get +2 to Strength and a +1 to Constitution, while the Loxodon has their Constitution bolstered by +2 and their Wisdom by +1. This puts a bit of the Cleric/Paladin spin on them, thematic to the color of Magic card they typically are. Loxodons also get advantage on saves against being frightened and a natural armor (side note: I’m glad that they included the note that AC calculations don’t stack as some people seem to forget that), while the Goliath simply gets a once per rest damage reduction and can survive in cold climates and speak Giant. Lastly the Goliath gets proficiency in Athletics while the Loxodon is proficient with mason’s tools. But it doesn’t end there, as Loxodons also get Stonecunning similar to a dwarf as well as Keen Smell, giving them advantage on Perception and Investigation checks relying on smell.
It’s not noted in the Traits section, but it is noted that Loxodon trunks have many uses, from snorkles to being able to use fine motor control to manipulate objects, so ask your DM how to rule this extra, useful appendage.
Even without the trunk, I think the Loxodon is a better better suited to an all-round role than the Goliath, though I would argue that isn’t what the Goliath tries to do. The Loxodon serves best as Paladin, Cleric, or maybe even Druid, though it’s natural armor would likely be lost on the first two choices. While the Loxodon doesn’t stand out to me anymore than the Goliath or even Firbolg do, filling in the “Medium-for-the-sake-of-ease-but-actually-Large” role all the same, but I have no complaints. And hey, they’re giant elephant people. One thumb and one trunk up!
Quite possibly the most intriguing race option here, and perhaps one of the most customizable races presented to date, the Simic Hybrid keeps its options open, adapting to whatever the player wishes it to. I’m going to forgo the direct comparison here because, frankly, there is nothing to compare it to that will give us an accurate look.
To start off, the Simic Hybrid gets +2 to Constitution and then +1 to any other ability score, allowing for a variety of builds out the gate. Standard fare at Medium, 30 foot movement, Elvish, and Darkvision doesn’t leave a deep impression. Instead what does is the Animal Enhancement ability. This gives an option of three enhancements at level 1, and then a second at level 5 that can be one of the two level 1 options or three new ones. This gives a total of 12 combinations that this can be built not including the different ability scores.
At level 1, the three options are Manta Glide, Nimble Climber, and Underwater Adaptation. The second two are fairly cut and dry; Nimble Climber grants a climb speed equal to movement speed, while Underwater Adaptation grants a similar swimming speed and the ability to breath air and water. Manta Glide, on the other hand, acts as a 100-foot slow fall ability similar to the one Monk’s get, except they can also move 2 horizontal feet for every 1 vertical foot dropped, giving them control and a lot of movement while in the air. I truly believe this last option is probably the strongest, unless you were playing an aquatic based campaign.
At level 5, as mentioned, you are able to take one of the two previously ignored enhancements from level 1, or one of three new enhancements. The three new ones are Grappling Appendages, Carapace, or Acid Spit. Grappling Appendages takes the form of a secondary set of arms (really, tentacles or claws) that can make unarmed attacks and then, as a bonus action, try to grapple the opponent on a hit. However, they cannot manipulate or use fine motor skills. Carapace is simply +1 AC while not wearing heavy armor. And lastly, Acid Spit, allows you to spit acid as an action up to 30 feet. This deals 2d10 acid damage unless they succeed a Dexterity save (no damage on success). This increases up to 3d10 and 4d10 at higher levels, similar to a cantrip, and quite frankly would be cool for a non-magic user to gain.
I like the options here, even if some of them seem a bit uninspired (the +1 AC and climb speed, mostly) because it allows you to build your character how you want. I’m sure there are some great possibilities with the Simic Hybrid, and for that it gets two thumb (and two tentacles/claws) up!
Vedalken are the token spellcasting race presented here thanks to their intellect and personalities. Cold reason, intense curiosity, and love for magic and science are surefire ways to get a wizard on your hands.
Rock Gnomes are actually a good comparison to see how the Vedalken stack up. Both come in with a +2 to Intelligence while the Gnomes get +1 to Constitution and the Vedalken get +1 to Wisdom. Gnomes are obviously Small and with a 25 foot speed compared to the standard Medium/30 foot, but that is not the most relevant trait.
Gnome Cunning and Vedalken Dispassion are the same, granting both advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws. Reader bassking31 pointed out that Gnome Cunning only gives them advantage on INT, WIS, and CHA saving throws against magic while the Vedalkin Dispassion gives them the same against all saving throws, including non-magical effects such as the Umber Hulk’s confusion ability. Thanks for pointing this out bassking31!
Vedalken then also gain proficiency in their choice of any tool as well as one of Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, or Sleight of Hand. Not just that, but whenever they make a check with the skill or tool they add d4 to the check, effectively keeping them permanently keeping them under the effects of the Bless spell for that skill and tool.
On the other hands, Rock Gnomes get Darkvision, Gnomish, can add twice their proficiency bonus to History checks for anything magical, alchemical, or technological, and have the Tinker ability which allows them to build small clockwork devices like a toy frog, a music box, or a lighter.
I think I have to give it to the Gnomes here; the Forest Gnome also comes in strong, trading Constitution for Dexterity, proficiency with History for the Minor Illusion cantrip, and their toys for being able to speak with beasts. Even with the superior Vedalken Dispassion, I think the Gnomes edge them out just ever so slightly, though your mileage may vary.
And finally we come to the Viashino, the lizard people with an inner warmth. Quite frankly, I’m not impressed and we’ll get to why; I don’t even need to compare it with another race to point out where I think the Viashino falls flat, though a Kobold would not be a bad comparison.
The Viashino gets +2 to Dexterity and +1 to Strength. Not awful, fast and strong leaves them with a good amount of martial options for classes. Medium and 30 foot speed per usual, and they can speak Draconic, as I would expect a race of lizard people to. They are described as wiry, giving them their choice of proficiency of Acrobatics or Stealth, which also makes sense to me. So far so good- so where does it go wrong?
For starters, while I know they are described as lithe and wiry, they have the Bite ability with is a weaker version of the Lizardfolk Bite. The Viashino Bite deals 1d4+Strength modifier damage instead of 1d6+Strength modifier, already making them not anything special for a monk at lower levels and nothing super threatening or useful elsewhere. Then, their last ability is their lashing tail, which is another 1d4+Strength modifier attack. The special thing here is that it an be used (and only used) as a reaction to getting hit in melee by an adjacent creature. This could be decent at lower levels, but dealing 1d4 damage as opposed to something better with a class ability or opportunity attack just seems a bit underwhelming to me. Unfortunately, I think I need to give the Viashino a disappointing thumbs down as it doesn’t do much to impress.
I’m mostly pleased with these options, particularly the Simic Hybrids and to a lesser extent the Loxodon and Vedalken. The Viashino left me wanting more, and with Lizardfolk already a playable published race, I don’t see much appeal outside of a Ravnica campaign where only Magic: the Gathering races could be used.
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Hey I’d just like to point out one thing that I think makes the Vedalken a bit better than gnomes. Gnome Cunning grants advantage on Int, Wis, and CHA saves AGAINST SPELLS, where as the Vedalken Dispassion trait grants advantage on ALL Int, Wis, and CHA saves. So any of those mental saves coming from monster abilities, which can be nasty ones like an Umber Hulk’s confusion or a Vampire’s charm or any kind of similar ability that isn’t a spell, Vedalken get advantage, gnomes do not.
You are correct! Oversight on my part for sure, and definitely makes them more favorable. Thanks for pointing it out!
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Also about the vedalken dont they have the feature aether lore? Which is “whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to magic items or aether-powered technological devices, you can add twice your proficiency bonus, instead of any proficiency bonus you normally apply”. Which would seems to be the gnomish deal just in a tall blue suit.