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This is my first time homebrewing a race, and I'd like some feedback on balance. The question here is whether this race is overpowered, underpowered, or roughly balanced when compared the playable races in the PHB.

Race: Powertouched

[Fluff about elemental powers here. Blah Blah Blah]

Powertouched Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
Age. Powertouched age in a way identical to humans.
Alignment. Like humans, Powertouched have no tendencies in regards to alignment.
Size. Powertouched are equal to humans in terms of height and weight. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 ft.
Languages. You speak Common and Primordial.

Subrace. You have been touched by one of the four elements, and thus have attributes of one of them specifically. Choose one of the following subraces.

Subraces

Earth

[More fluff]

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2.
Barkskin. You may cast the Barkskin spell as an action. Once you use this ability, you may not use it again until you have finished a long rest.
Flesh like Stone. You have resistance to piercing damage.

Air

[Yet more fluff.]

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1.
Airy Movement. Your base walking speed is 35ft.
Flight. If you are not wearing armour you have a fly speed of 30ft and have the Hover trait.
Creature of the Air. You know the patterns the air will follow and can predict roughly what the weather will be in a ten-kilometer radius around you up to a week in advance. For example, you may know weather there will be sun, clouds, light rain, light snow, heavy rain, heavy snow, or a thunderstorm, in a specific location within that area.

Fire

[Fluff]

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
Child of the Flame. You have resistance to fire damage.
Darkvision. You have Darkvision out to 60 ft.
Fire Bolt. You may use the Fire Bolt cantrip at will, using Charisma as the spell modifier.
Flaming Skin. If you grapple another creature, or another creature grapples you, your skin flares into flame beneath their touch, and they take 1d8 fire damage.

Water

[Fluff]

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.
Create or Destroy Water. You either create up to 10 gallons of clean water within 30 ft. in an open container, create rain in a 30-foot cube within 30 ft, extinguishing exposed flames in the area, destroy up to 10 gallons of water in an open container within 30 ft., or destroy fog in a 30-foot cube within 30 ft. Once you use this feature, you may not use it again until you have finished a long rest.
Armor of Agathys. You surround yourself with a magical field of frost, gaining 5 temporary hit points and dealing 5 cold damage if a creature hits you with a melee attack. The effect ends when your temporary hit points are removed, or one hour has passed. Once you use this feature, you may not use it again until you have finished a long rest.
Healing by Water. You lay your hands on a willing creature and rearrange the water in their body to accelerate the healing process. They regain hit points equal to your level. Once you use this ability, you can’t use it again until you have finished a short or long rest.
Water Breather. You have a swim speed of 30 ft. and can breathe water or air.

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  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Have you already looked at the genasi? Or is this race intended to replace/supplement them? \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog May 18 '18 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did look at them, but I'm looking for something a little different, so I guess this is to replace them. \$\endgroup\$ – Gryphon May 18 '18 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm working on a world where one of the main conflicts is the war between the four elemental powers. \$\endgroup\$ – Gryphon May 18 '18 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ How common are PC races with flight? \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Richardson May 18 '18 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have a strange feeling about this question. Each subrace is so different from each other that it might be a different question for each one. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint May 18 '18 at 18:25
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Okay, this is a lot. In order to actually be able to answer it without writing an essay, I won't make complete comparisons for each subrace. As I mentioned in a comment, if you want a detailed feedback, I would create a separate question for each subrace - they are too different from each other.

Your Base Race has almost no features, which is fine considering the main thing is on the subrace. It's still worth to note that consistently the base race is the one giving a +2 AS bonus.

Earth

You get a +3 AS, which is the usual for playable races. +2 Str +1 Cha is an awkward distribution though (same as dragonborn), probably most useful for Paladins (usually the class Dragonborns are played). For most of other classes, one of the two stats will be kinda wasted. By itself, this doesn't make the race weaker. Tiefling gets an even worse bonus distribution.

Barkskin is a 2nd level spell. Not only you are giving a free 2nd level spell to the character, you are giving a free 2nd level spell slot as well. We could enter the discussion if barkskin is a strong spell or not (my opinion: it's not, actually it's weak), but the fact is: 2nd level spells to 1st level players is alot.

I would change it to a feature that might scale with PC's level, similar to Breath Weapon from Dragonborn.

How strong will your resistance to piercing be depends on the campaign. While Dragonborn and Tieflings have stronger resistances (elemental), they are more useful in later stages of the game, while piercing might be too strong in early stages, where physical damage is most common.

I would say the Earth subrace is (maybe too) strong in Tier 1 adventures, but becomes balanced from Tier 2 onwards. I'm not sure about Tier 3, but it becomes kinda weak in Tier 4, compared to the playable races.. One easy way to fix it, as I mentioned, is making the Barkskin feature scale with the tiers. I will make a note here that is valid to the following feedbacks, though: The bonus from races usually are less important in the endgame anyway, since your class features and magic items will compensate for it.

Air

Similar to Aarakocra. I am not sure the +10 move speed in land and Hover compensate both the -1 Dex and -20 Move speed flying, though. Also, I'm not sure how mechanically useful the weather prediction thing will be, that depends on you. Also, while Aarakocra +2 Dex +1 Wis helps alot with Rangers and Druids, the +1 Cha instead makes it a little more awkward, probably being more useful for Bards. Sorcerers might be interested in the flying feature, though, and get more from +1 Cha than +1 Wis.

As it is, it's clearly weaker than Aarakocra. (Yes, I know you asked "compared to PHB", but since PHB doesn't have flying races, I'm forced to compare it to EE, sorry). That said, it isn't completely underpowered since the AS bonus is more attractive for bards and sorcerers.

Fire

My first impression was god it is too strong. Then I noticed that, while you added a lot of powerful features together, they don't have too much synergy.

The main problem is that, from internal comparison, unless Flying can compensate it very well, it's way stronger than the Air version.

Other than that, it's very similar to a Red, Brass or Gold Dragonborn, changing the Str for Dex.

In my opinion, having the Fire Bolt is weaker than the Breath Weapon, even if it can be cast as many times as you want, because you probably will have other ways to deal damage anyway. Thinking in Dex based characters, they will probably be shooting arrows instead of fire bolts. The Breath Weapon is AoE, though, and usually cast by a class that doesn't have that much AoE early (Paladin), so it's more useful in the specific situation it's actually used.

The Grappling damage would also be more useful if it was a +2 Str bonus instead. Building a grappling character without a Str bonus is too suboptimal. I can't even guess how strong this feature will be as it is right now, sorry but you'll have to playtest.

So, comparing to Dragonborns, it will depend on how much Darkvision is a think in your setting. If darkvision is really important, it's balanced compared to Dragonborn.

If we compare it to Tieflings, it seems to get outscaled. Early on, you have a damage cantrip and a grappling feature, while Tiefling has a flavor cantrip. From level 3 onwards they get spells, though, while the scaling of this subrace is only based on the fire bolt cantrip. Again, even if it gets outscaled, it's not an obvious choice since your AS bonus is more attractive to Dex users.

Still, I would fix the fact that the AS bonus (dex) and the features you are giving don't synergize well.

One possible solution is to change the Fire subrace to +2 Str and the Earth to +2 Con instead (if you don't want both to have the same AS bonus). It would fit the "durable" flavor of the Earth/stone and the "aggressiveness" of the Fire.

Note that, if you do, the Fire subrace becomes a very strong option for grappling buildings. I wouldn't say this makes it overpowered, though, since grappling builds are usually more for fun than optimal.

Water

This one is hard to compare. The Healing feature seems weak (just Your Level is not much HP. Compare with Dwarves getting +1 HP/level, which is arguably stronger). Create/Destroy water is a 1st level spell, but this one doesn't need much discussion about being strong or not - it's not strong mechanically.

So it's about the other 3 features. First, the AS bonus: +1 Con +1 Cha is weak. Variant humans get to choose their two +1s and get a Feat on top of that. But they are arguably the best race in the game, so let's not do this. Still, +2 AS is underwhelming and I would expect the features to compensate it strongly. For the Air case, flying might do it, let's see the Water.

Water Breather again will obviously depend on your setting. It's arguably harder to use than Darkvision or Flying, though, since while your party can easily fight in a dark cave or an open field, fighting under water is way more unlikely and usually not desired by PCs.

That leaves Armor of Agathys to compensate the underwhelming AS bonus. Well, sadly it doesn't. It is a very, very strong feature in the first two levels, where +5 HP and 5-10 damage to the enemy are alot, but it quickly becomes weak as you progress in the game. Again, I feel you are lacking scaling. Increase these numbers as the tiers go up. So, similar to the Earth subrace, I'd say it is (maybe too) strong in Tier 1, but gets weaker (and even underpowered) in Tier 3+.


TL;DR

My main criticism here is that all your subraces lack scaling. While Air is fine without it, since Flying itself has a constant utility through the game, the other subraces might suffer from it. It is fine if the campaign is focused in Tier 2, but they seem too strong for Tier 1 and too weak for Tier 3+. Again, note that being too weak in Tier 3+ is not that important, since you have lots of class features and magic items to compensate for that. Still it's something you might want to take into account.

I suggest scaling as a way to fix it, but introducing mechanics that have utility through the game (such as having advantage on something, proficiency on something, etc) also works.

It's worth to mention, though, if you are playing a long campaign that goes through, for example, levels 1 to 15, your subraces are mostly fine, as they will be strong early on and weak later, and it's a valid trade-off for your players to choose. I have linked a chat discussion about this, if you are interested.

Side note:

If you are wondering why I'm not comparing to Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes or Halflings, which also don't have numbers scaling with the levels, it's because they have proficiencies in skills, weapons or tools, or advantages in saving throws, which are the things scaling. Also, they get lots of other features, such as Trance, Luck, etc. Comparing to Dragonborns, Tieflings and Aarakocras is easier and more fair (imo) because they are closer to what OP has made. It's hard to compare if proficiency in perception, using daggers and sleeping 2 hours less is better than 1d8 damage when grappling.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even if you consider Aarakocra to be more powerful, it's worth noting that the existing flying races (Aarakocra and Variant Tieflings) are not AL-legal, because flying with a ranged weapon is a huge combat advantage over anyone without a ranged weapon. So, on the one hand, maybe weaker is appropriate unless you're prepping adventures carefully to make sure flight neither circumvents nor overpowers the obstacles. On the other hand, it doesn't scale as well - yeah, useful at all levels, but there are plenty of ways to compensate at higher levels. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec May 18 '18 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh yeah, in any way I meant that I would change the Air subrace. It's completely fine for me as it is. I mean it's useful later on as well because, for example, it at least is equivalent to using Fly, which would be a Concentration Spell. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint May 18 '18 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank-you so much for such a detailed analysis! The poor synergy of the Fire subrace is intentional. They get a lot of powerful bonuses, but then have to pick everything else around one specific subset, and effectively lose the others. The idea is to give them more options. I'll see what I can do to compensate for your scaling issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Gryphon May 18 '18 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Barkskin is horribly weak, most Warrior types have better AC from the start, and casters have better things to concentrate on. Resistance to piercing is way stronger in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – András May 18 '18 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @András I'm not sure they have better things to concentrate on at 1st or 2nd level, even in 3rd or 4th level. Also note that Barkskin can be used in an ally, it's not a Self spell, so the Warrior can cast it in the casters. As I mentioned, discussing how strong is this 2nd level spell is not the point of the answer, we can do that in chat or reddit, the fact is that it is a 2nd level spell and spell slot for free, which isn't usual for 1st level characters for any race I can think of. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint May 19 '18 at 4:03
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Using the guildlines laid out by this post: https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comments/2j6xbo/5e_guide_to_homebrewing_races/ Which lead to this document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ViqLSEN67mmd2Lo_OJ-H5YX0fccsfI97kFaqx7V1Dmw/pub These are not mine, I do not take credit, but I do really think they are good and cool.

The base race is a little underpowered (+1 to one stat, rather than +2), but since you are focusing on the variants it should be fine.

Earth: The bonus to strength is appropriate. Having barkskin at first level is over the power level of most innate spellcasting style abilities, but once you get a few levels in it stops being anything abnormal. The resistance to piercing may also be abnormally strong, depending on how often this damage type is encountered. But since you only have a couple racial abilities, packing the two full of stuff probably evens out.

Air: This seems similar to the earth where all the power is directed toward a couple of abilities. How strong this flight is will really depend on your campaign. I know the adventurers league does not allow flight at first level, but in home campaigns it can be a lot easier to manage and with the restrictions you can make it work out. However, like the Earth, if the abilities given are not decently useful, the overall power actually makes it a weak race because of how focused the sub-race is and the actual rating given to these abilities.

Fire: Seems fairly similar to a regular race actually. Having an extra cantrip or two is not worth a ton as far as value in races, and this would probably fall into the average range of value based on the document I'm referencing (5-6).

Water: I like this and the fire because of the diversity. Some of these abilities seem pretty good, but not too far off from established abilities. The only unique one I saw was the Armor, but I'd rate it a 1 or a 1.5 based on the document, still not too strong in my opinion.

SO I would say yes, they are balanced, depending on your campaign for the first two. If everybody fights with spears in your world, earth might be a little too good. If range is rare or you want to make puzzles that don't account for free flying, that sort of thing, the air guy might be a little strong. But I would say honestly they might be a little on the weaker side, or just a little simple compared to the water and fire to start. One suggestion I would make is that rather than frontloading all the magic some of them get, emulate the "innate magic" types of racials that already have a precedent. Then you know they aren't overpowered (and give your characters a few more options for spells, although it is as they level). Regardless, perhaps it would also help you to reference the document I linked to make your own calculations.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The "armor" feature of the Water type mimics the first level spell by the same name, so it's not so unique, but certainly balanced. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik May 18 '18 at 20:08
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They seem pretty reasonable overall. A few suggestions...

  • For things like Fire Bolt and Healing By Water, you'd be better served to more directly emulate some of the spellcasting features of other races. It would fit more readily into the already heavily playtested system, and prevent both weird exploits and unexpected fail. Fire Bolt would just be giving them the cantrip of the same name. Healing By Water is a little more complicated, as the Water type already has a level 1 spell, and giving them another might cram too much power too early. There, you're better off giving it to them as a 1/day healing spell of second or third level, achieved at appropriate level.

  • I'm a bit leery of handing out Fly, but if it's reasonably balanced against other fliers, it should be okay. there are a couple of races that get at-will fly from level 1. I'd compare to them directly for balance purposes. Flaming Skin is a nearly unique ability, but it's probably not overpowered, given that Fire doesn't have any other bonuses specifically applicable to grappling.

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I would say that overall they are fairly well balanced but the fire and water are a little too powerful. The Fire Bolt and Flaming Skin are a little too much for a character (at least level 1, perhaps higher levels could work). Armor of Agathys and Healing by Water could very easily make the game one sided (at least during early levels). Perhaps making these abilities as feats only available to these races could work though, or granting special attacks to the other two elementals that allows them to fight on more even footing.

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