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I've just created a couple of homebrew races for my players to potentially choose from for an upcoming campaign.

The problem is, I have no idea how well they stack up against the official races when it comes to actual game play and I'm worried some of the bonuses or features are either going to be too powerful or not powerful enough and severely hamper the character.

How can I, myself, evaluate whether these homebrew options are balanced? What steps do I take to ensure these options are fairly balanced before potentially ruining a player's experience or the entire campaign?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Figured this Q&A might be able to stand as a useful reference since these types of questions are frequently discussed on meta here, here, here, and here. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Jul 20 '18 at 1:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ We have similar questions for other systems, but not considering both "race" and "class". As it is, it might be too broad, because race and class balances and methods for balancing are quite different. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 20 '18 at 3:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Any chance this question was partly inspired by the recent stream of "is this balanced" questions that have popped up? I feel like we should maybe address how trying to balance huge OP bonuses with massively debilitating drawbacks might not be sustainable either. Thinking about trying to formulate a potential edit to my answer to that effect. Unless @HellSaint wants to give it a go... \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Jul 20 '18 at 4:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ The fact that the question you link is only talking about races and not classes is important, as is the fact that they're using a specific set of race-building rules. "How can I tell if my Pathfinder Race Builder race is balanced" is way less broad than "How can I balance any race or class". \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Jul 20 '18 at 7:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given the unbalance in official classes I think any guide to class balance is unlikely to ever be right. Narrowing this to race might be better. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 20 '18 at 10:53
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Some background: I love to homebrew things. I'm constantly creating new stuff for fun. These are the most important things I've learned in the process.

Compare it to official race/classes

The first (and most important) step is to compare it to official and published race/classes. Usually the PHB is enough. You can either create a rating system of your own or use a well acepted rating system from the internet, e.g. This homebrewing race guide. Note that it only works if you assume the original devs did a decent job in balancing whatever they published. For example, in my opinion, this is not true for feats in 5e, which are heavily disbalanced. It works for races and classes though.

Usually, you should be creating something "close" to the original features. Do you have something that deals elemental damage in an area? Compare it to Dragonborn's Breath. Do you have a flying race? Compare it to Aarakocra. If you stray too much from the original books, you might find yourself in a difficult position where only experienced DMs should be. Do you have a heavily martial type class? Compare it to Barbarians or Fighters, etc.

The Wizard's official site also has some insights on Modifying Classes and the DMG has some insight on modifying races. Although the Unearthed Arcana (UA) is not playtested and well balanced, it might serve as a good start as well. Some of the UA races/classes have feedback from the community. Check them.

Playtest it

You choose how. Find a table of friends that are fine with you using them as lab rats. Search for an online playtest group. Do whatever you are able to. But most importantly, playtest it. Nobody has crystal balls. Nobody knows if something is going to be balanced or not. The official release of 5e had lots of playtests before actual release. Sorry, but you're not better than an entire devs' team dedicated solely to game developing and balancing. You will screw things up and make OP and UP homebrews that will completely break the game or suck, if you try enough times. That's OK. That's why you try it out: to check if it's okay. If it is not, remake it taking into account whatever you learned from your tests.

Compare it to your previous experiences

Well, the whole point of playtesting is to learn. It is okay to make mistakes. But you need to learn from it. Oh, 10d6 was too much damage for a race feature that you get at 1st level? Who would have thought?! Okay, let's tone it down to 1d6 and try again. Oh, I'm trying to create a flying race. Hmm, Aarakocra and that Winged Elf that I tried out seemed OP for Tier 1, maybe I should give the wings only at 5th level? That might be better. Anyway, learn from your past mistakes and even from published mistakes.

Get Feedback

After you have homebrew'd your thing, you can always post it here and get some advice, or, if you feel more like a idea generation and feedback process, on usual RPG discussion forums. Obviously, the feedback from people that actually played with that (i.e. the people which you playtested with) are the most important ones, but the internet has some good theory crafters around.

Bonus

And honestly, that's all I can say. Other than that, you might find specific advice if you google your problem or query search here at RPG.SE. For example, if you google "Homebrew race guide 5e" you will find the guide I linked to. If you google "Homebrew class guide 5e" you will find some decent guidelines for classes (granted, balancing classes is way harder than races, reason this question might get closed).

Disadvantages vs Advantages

This edition, opposed to, for example, 3.5e, went for a more "only bonus" path. Essentially, this means you don't lose things by getting something new. You don't lose your race bonuses when you choose a subrace. Most feats are positive-only. The few trade-off things, like Sharpshooter, are optional (i.e. it's not a permanent debuff on attack bonus). You don't lose ASI with most playable races (exception for Monstrous Races in VGM, which are explicitly stated as not balanced and that you should take care using them). Races have resistances, not vulnerabilities. Classes have, at most, restrictions when they can use their features, not actual impairments, the only exception I'm aware being the Metal restriction for Druids, which is not exactly huge.

This is a way of thinking seen in many online games, where the devs prefer to buff things rather than nerf. Basically, we feel happier getting better things. We actually feel happier getting a +1 rather than a +7/-6.

By this philosophy alone, trying to balance a huge buff with another huge nerf is usually a bad idea in this edition. If that's not enough for you (and shouldn't be), as I mention in this meta, most features are situational. When you try to balance a huge bonus with a huge impairment, there are two most likely scenarios, both bad for everyone:

  • The huge bonus is not that huge and the impairment is too restrictive. As an example, think about the flying example: Having wings is huge in early levels. So huge that it's banned from AL. If you try to balance that, with, let's say, (literally 30 secs of thinking here, don't judge) vulnerability to piercing (so arrows will wreck it), when you're inside a cave where you can't fly, all you have is vulnerability to piercing, which will probably mean you get instakilled.
  • The impairment is not that bad or can be exploited in some way, so all you have is a huge bonus. Same example as before, but there are no/few piercing attacks in your campaign. All you have now is a flying race. Sure, physical damages are common and this is unlikely, but might not be that unlikely for, e.g., poison resistance/immunity.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I forgot about the WotC class modifying tips! The author of the race homebrewing guide you linked also has a class one which, while he's not finished fine-tuning it, looks pretty helpful too. Also - trying to work out how to formulate an annex to my answer that addresses how heavy disadvantages might not be the best way to try to balance huge bonuses. You clearly have a lot more homebrewing experience than me though - I'd be interested to see what you come up with on the topic! \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Jul 20 '18 at 4:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacReefman I find his class guide way worse than the race one (besides being too incomplete). As I mentioned, homebrewing classes is a way harder work. A subclass might be fine, but a whole new class would require lots of playtesting until it's in a good shape. Heck, the published classes are kinda unbalanced between them and 5e had a whole beta test stage. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 20 '18 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacReefman About heavy disadvantages, editing it now. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 20 '18 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have edited the question to only ask about homebrew race balance now. Please review this edit as it may require an edit to your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Jul 21 '18 at 0:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey I focused mostly on race balance anyway. If someone thinks the extra info is harmful for the answer, they are free to edit it, but I'm not doing it myself as I don't think it's harmful in any way to present the extra content. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 21 '18 at 0:53
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Qazwsx linked a couple of documents designed specifically for this kind of thing. One is even the exact same as one that I'm recommending! I'll also give some detail as to why they're good and how they work.

Detect Balance

This is a set of spreadsheets that uses a long list of different potential traits and bonuses (or penalties) that a race might have. The author has done some analysis of how existing races measure up within the ruleset, and given each trait (or bonus/penalty) a score. Adding these scores together gives you an average score.

The recommended score for new homebrew races is 24 to 27. Races should generally not eclipse 30 or fall below 20. - Detect Balance; Info.

In case you're not keen on adding a lot in your head etc, there is a calculator that does this for you in there as well.

This tool especially has been referenced by other homebrewers who have been very happy with the results. It's author used another tool (qazwsx's second link) but found it less precise than he wanted it to be (it's also not as interactive) so he built this tool, uses it, and playtests the results. There are oodles of comments from others who use it making tweaking suggestions to improve it's balance, too, so it's not just a theoretical document. What it lacks, however, is a homebrew class guide. Luckily the author of the other tool has been working on one...

5e Class Analysis/creation Toolkit

While still a work in progress, this guide is based on the author's experience creating homebrew classes (with at least one demo included) and has received some pretty positive chatter on his website. This guide is strongly reminiscent of Wizards of the Coast's own guide to tweaking existing classes, and includes details of how features and progressions in existing classes work, to help you model your own in a way that matches the existing system.

The class guide looks like it's more a tool to use from the beginning of your creation process, whereas Detect Balance (the first race creator guide) is really handy at any stage of the process, even just helping you know what to tweak once you've got something mocked up already.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this point system a good way to evaluate homebrew? Can you describe some of the success you've had with it? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 20 '18 at 3:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've seen them referred to often, and while I've not had the opportunity to play or DM a homebrewed class/race yet, the first one especially looks pretty great on paper, and both are based on a breakdown of how the out-of-the-box classes and races are built. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Jul 20 '18 at 3:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: "It looks good on paper" is explicitly discouraged when talking about home brew here. If you don't have experience to refer to, don't recommend a system. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Jul 20 '18 at 7:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast fair point - I'll add the references to other people's references in, as well as an explicit mention that their creators use them and play test the results. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Jul 20 '18 at 8:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have edited the question to only ask about homebrew race balance now. Please review this edit as it may require an edit to your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Jul 21 '18 at 0:01

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