This race is part of a conversion of a race I built for a 3.5e campaign years ago, and I want to start a new campaign in the same setting, so I need to have the same races available for the new campaign as I did for the original.

Since the 'monster PC' rules can lead to a lot of trouble, I wanted to build the race more 'inspired by' the MM Dryad writeup than try to shoehorn an overpowered character into a PC mold. (Dryads in the MM are a CR1 creature, and would start with 5d8 hit dice, which is way too much for a lv 1 character to start with, plus all the powers would be broken for a PC at the lower tiers.)

I tried to remove all the campaign-setting stuff since it's not germane to my question on balance, but if I missed something, please ignore it, and if you have questions about why these things exist in my game world, I'd be happy to explain elsewhere.

Is this homebrew 5e race (including its subraces) balanced compared to the official published races?


Race: Dryad Sapling

Statistics:

  • Ability score increase: +2 Wisdom
  • Age: Dryad Saplings live as long as humans, 80 to 100 years, in Sapling form before planting themselves and becoming bound to their trees. A planted Dryad gains all Dryad statistics, retaining all their character levels and abilities, and becomes an NPC under the Dungeon Master's control.
  • Size: Saplings are Medium creatures, mostly between 5 and 7 feet in height, though Redwood Dryads are between 6 and 8 feet in height. Applewood Dryads are Small, between 3 and 5 feet high.
  • Speed: 30 feet
  • Darkvision
  • Dryad Saplings gain proficiency in the Nature skill.
  • They are proficient with Simple weapons and Light armor, and are uncomfortable in metal armors, though no mechanical penalty exists for metal armor use based on their race. They are also proficient with Longbows and Shortbows.
  • Treespeaker: Dryad Saplings may communicate with Plants in their own mode of communication, communing via mental images and impressions rather than words. They must touch the plant to communicate with it.
  • Dryad Saplings learn the druidcraft cantrip at first level. At 3rd level, Dryad Saplings may learn either the entangle or goodberry spell, using Wisdom as their spellcasting ability, and can cast the chosen spell once per short rest. At 5th level, Dryad Saplings learn the barkskin spell, using Wisdom as their spellcasting ability, and can cast it once per short rest.
  • Languages: Dryad Saplings speak Sylvan and Common natively.

Subraces:

Deciduous:

This subrace encompasses all the subtropical, broad-leafed tree types such as Elms, Oaks, Ash, Maples, and other similar trees, except Aspens.

  • Ability Score: Charisma +1
  • Proficiency with Nets
  • Cantrip: Guidance, gained at 1st level
  • Extra Language: Elven, due to their exposure to Elves, who make their homes in the same forests favored by Deciduous dryads.

Conifer:

This subrace encompasses the cone-bearing alpine trees, such as pines, cedars, cypress, fir, etc, except Redwoods and Sequoias.

  • Ability Score: +1 Con
  • Proficiency with Whips
  • Resistance to Fire damage
  • Extra Language: Dwarven, due to their exposure to dwarves in the mountains where their trees thrive.
  • Cantrip: Thorn whip, gained at 1st level

Aspen:

This subrace are all identical clones of each other, differing only in their appearance due to age and personal style.

  • Ability Score: +1 Int
  • Proficient with Glaives
  • Aspen Dryad Saplings gain advantage on saving throws against Sleep effects.
  • Cantrip: Vicious mockery, gained at 1st level

Redwood:

This subrace is larger than the others, and are bonded with Redwood or Sequoia trees. Redwood Dryad Saplings stand up to 8 feet in height, though they are slender and are still of Medium size. A full Redwood Dryad stands between 25 and 35 feet tall and counts as a Huge creature. (A planted Dryad is always an NPC.)

  • Ability Score: +1 Str and +1 Con
  • Proficient with Mauls
  • Resistance to Cold damage
  • Advantage vs. being knocked prone
  • Additional Language: Giant

Applewood:

This subrace is small in stature, and encompasses cultivated fruit trees. They stand between 3 and 5 feet tall, and count as Small creatures, both as Saplings and as full Dryads.

  • Ability score: +1 Dexterity
  • Applewood Dryads gain advantage on saves against being stunned.
  • Cantrip: Mage hand, gained at 1st level.
  • 1
    Unclear - how often and at what level can the dryad cast the spells it learns from the race? – kviiri Oct 11 at 6:45
  • Good note. I put the levels in for the non-cantrips, the cantrips start at lv 1. I'm thinking twice a day? I'll edit to include that. – Mark Owens Oct 11 at 6:47
  • You should also include a range on the communication ability (IMO) and can remove mention of proficiency in the shortbow and light crossbow in their various places: those mentions are redundant. (Since earlier you've already given them proficiency with all simple weapons.) – nitsua60 Oct 11 at 6:53
  • Welcome to Role-playing Games! We have an excellent Meta question on How to Ask Homebrew Balance Questions.I strongly recommend that you read this and try to follow through with the content inside. I think it'll help you put together better homebrew, better homebrew questions, and give you results that you can use at your table. It'll also vastly increase the odds of a successful Q&A for you here. – NautArch Oct 11 at 13:49
  • 1
    Please don't update your existing question based on the answers, it basically invalidates them. After you've had a chance to review and adjust, you can also an updated question with the new build. We're just not a great site for iterative design. I've rolled back your edit, but if there were non material changes you'd like to keep, then go ahead and do so. – NautArch Oct 11 at 18:54
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's overpowered and a bit wonky compared to the official races

I'll go over the features, skipping the ones that have negligible or hard-to-qualify mechanical effect:

Ability score increase: +2 Wisdom

Many races receive a +2 to some ability, so this is well within the ordinary.

Speed: 30 feet

Ordinary, no problem.

Darkvision

A minor boon which many races have, still nothing out of the ordinary.

Dryad Saplings gain proficiency in the Nature skill.

A single skill proficiency is still well within the usual bounds. Eg. Half-Elves get two of their choice.

They are proficient with Simple weapons and Light armor, and are uncomfortable in metal armors, though no mechanical penalty exists for metal armor use based on their race. They are also proficient with Longbows and Shortbows.

The proficiency with longbows can lead to interesting character builds since longbows deal more damage than most melee weapons. Many elven sub-races have that, so it's not exactly game-breaking, but it can turn out to be a major defining feature of the Dryad Saplings.

Dryad Saplings learn the druidcraft cantrip at first level. At 3rd level, Dryad Saplings may learn either the entangle or goodberry spell, using Wisdom as their spellcasting ability, and can cast the chosen spell once per short rest. At 5th level, Dryad Saplings learn the barkskin spell, using Wisdom as their spellcasting ability, and can cast it once per short rest.

This is where it starts to get bad. Most races that gain spells gain a cantrip or two, tops, and sometimes a L1 spell once per Long rest (more rarely, once per Short rest). You're giving the Dryad Saplings a cantrip and two spells, one of which is even L2, and having them recharge on a Short rest. That's far more casting power than races usually provide.

Of particular note is access to Goodberry on a Short rest. While it's not completely out of the question, healing in DnD 5e requires using a daily resource (spell slots or hit dice) or a consumable item (potions) in almost all cases. Furthermore, a character who can cast Goodberry without using a slot doesn't have any reason to not use it as soon as it recharges.

It should also be noted that races don't, with a few exceptions, grant additional features at later levels. Keeping level-up features restricted to race is a good design pattern and shouldn't be violated light-heartedly --- it's easy to miss new abilities on level-up granted from race because most of them grant nothing after level 1 and the few that do (eg. Tieflings) don't have an easy level-up table to follow like classes do.

Deciduous

Another cantrip to a race that already has too many in-built spells. Otherwise no problem. Is a lot weaker than the other sub-races.

Conifer

The proficiency with whips is not going to matter much, they're a gimmick weapon. The +1 Con is a reasonably powerful boon, because it's the only one universally useful ability score --- however, the overall ability boost of +2 Wis and +1 Con is still comparable to the usual races. Fire resistance is a big deal --- having a damage resistance is strong and a rare boon for PC races, and with so many minor benefits to go with it, I'd recommend dropping that.

Aspen

Not largely problematic on its own, apart from the +1 cantrip for a race that already has too many spells. I would make the advantage on saving throws more specific because "what exactly counts as a sleep effect" may be lawyered against.

Redwood

Very unbalanced. The ability score increases are on the strong end of PC race scales, totaling to +4. Proficiency with Maul can define the character a lot, given that it's one of the best base weapons in the game. The damage resistance to cold is, again, a rarity and is far too strong for a race that's pretty powerful even without. Finally, the "advantage vs. being knocked prone" should be worded more clearly; eg. if a monster's attack causes the character to land prone without a save, how does that work?

Applewood

Comparatively weak compared to the excesses of the other sub-races. I wouldn't grant "advantages on saves against being stunned" because again, it's not very explicit about how it works.

Overall verdict and suggestions

Races in DnD 5e are supposed to be a small thing, with a mixed bag of flavorful abilities to spice up the choice of one's class. Your race has too much spice. Cut out features and keep it simple: leave the subraces with the ASI and language, with maybe a skill or tool proficiency if it feels too bland. Cut the spellcasting to one cantrip and one L1 spell at maximum, with possibly an extra cantrip or once-per-long-rest L1 spell in one of the subraces if you insist. Don't give out Goodberry, it's not a good fit for "cast once per day/short rest for free" model. Don't give out more spells on level-ups, that's what classes are for.

Finally, make sure the abilities are worded clearly when they concern the rules. "Advantage on saves against being Stunned", for example, is unclear in situation where the same save can do things other than stunning the character. This is not a huge deal if you're only going to use it in your own table and the players follow the same intuition you do, but I would still opt for clarity whenever possible.

  • 1
    " ...races don't grant additional features at later levels..." - Drow and Tieflings spring to mind, with Dancing Lights/Thaumaturgy, Faerie Fire/Hellish Rebuke, and Darkness – Fifth_H0r5eman Oct 11 at 9:57
  • @Fifth_H0r5eman I stand corrected, then. I'd argue it's still bad design, but at least not strictly worse than what PHB has :) – kviiri Oct 11 at 10:08
  • With the subclasses, I agree, it's definitely the benefits of multiple races, with no drawbacks. Also healing per short rest (And Goodberry no less, 1 level of Life Cleric and death is a myth to you!) is indeed too open to abuse – Fifth_H0r5eman Oct 11 at 10:10
  • I'm currently leaning towards accepting this answer but I'm going to give it a little more time. I don't really have to divide up the Deciduous and coniferous as separate races and I see what you mean about the armor proficiencies weapons proficiencies and the overabundance of spells I'm not married to any of those items, I included them just to harken back to the monster manual entry for dryads, but I'm more interested in being in balance with the core races than I am in that so I will edit it and remove all but one spell total, and likely combine the Deciduous and coniferous races. – Mark Owens Oct 11 at 13:15

Overall - Your race is far more powerful than the races and sub-races in the PHB.

If you were to change the two things mentioned below, remove the sub races, and add a simply +1 Con to the attribute enhancement - it could be considered be in-line with other PHB races.

There is a LOT to dig into and for brevity - I'll try to cover the main points.

Unfortunately doing a deep dive and spelling out all the mechanical comparisons necessary to really help explain the balance issues at play would require a couple thousand words.

To bring it in line with the standard PHB races consider the following:

[1] Treespeaker: To bring this in line with gnomish ability - make it a specific scope of plants. Like "Trees". Speak with plants puts this exactly on par as an at-will, unlimited 3rd level spell "Speak with Plants."

[2] Tree Spells: All spells need to be useable only once per DAY. This will bring it in line with the tieflings infernal legacy.

On the sub-races:

After your baseline, adding in the sub-races as written, these saplings are very overpowered. Most heavily loaded sub-classes only have two - most only have two subsections. First is an ABI, a single combat oriented Key Feature. And then, if thematically appropriate: A very limited application skill boost or ability.

Typically, if the race is heavily front loaded (like yours is), sub races are usually limited to the ABI notation and one additional perk. When you count it up - The base race has 10 full abilities, and most are not limited or have a specific application. The next closes - "Strong" base is the elves, with 8 abilities, followed up by 4 additional abilities in the sub race. Drow have 5, but one of those is a disadvantage to offset the additional spellcasting mojo. Your race already has a damage mitigation built into their stats (proficiency with light armor + AC 16 at 5th level), do they really need additional elemental damage reduction?

Basic Breakdown of your races:

Sapling (Base)

  • +2 Wis (Major casting ability)
  • Size: Medium (This is an advantage, since small is a limiting factor)
  • Speed: 30ft (No penalty here to offset other abilities)
  • Dark Vision (Significant advantage)
  • (1) Entire Weapon Set Proficiency (Simple) (Major Combat ability)
  • (1) Entire Armor Set Proficiency (Light) (Major Combat ability)
  • (1) Skill Proficiency (Nature) (Major ability - Entire skill)
  • (2) Languages (Sylvan, Common) (Standard)
  • (1) Treespeak - Spell like ability (at will) - essentially repeatable, unlimited 3rd level spell (Major ability without limited scope or usage limitation)
  • (3) Spells tied to level: Prestidigitation, Logistics (Goodberry) OR Combat (Entangle), Combat - Bark skin [Heavy Armor] - All on a short rest (The Either / Or nature of the 2nd spell is too flexible for a racial bonus)

So starting off we have 10 full abilities - and no disadvantages to off set. Elves are the most ability dense that I'm aware of, and they (with sub race) are at 12-13 abilities. And the dark elves at 13, have to suffer sunlight sensitivity to compensate for free spells.

Add in the sub races, and your characters are walking away with 14-16 abilities. Some have +1/+1 to two additional attributes, another free cantrip, raw elemental damage resistances, common status effect resistances, or additional raw combat proficiency bonuses. And there are no drawbacks in sight to offset the bonus abilities (Sensitivity - Vulnerability - 25ft movement - Normal Vision - etc...) These guys are getting a lot of raw combat proficiencies and a full ABI to a caster level stat, plus 4-5 (total) additional "free" known spells. Which makes it potentially very broken.

  • I can pare down the resistances too. I got a bit too creative with some of them but they aren't needed – Mark Owens Oct 11 at 13:19
  • Hmm. So if I go across the board with, say, Wis +2, Con +1 with no subrace stat boosts? – Mark Owens Oct 11 at 15:01
  • That's what I'm suggesting. ^.^ – Play Patrice Oct 12 at 4:20

Firstly, I agree with everything kviiri's answer suggests, but wanted to chip in with what I would do with this race to rebalance it.

If you compare this race to, say, the Tiefling (ignoring all the variations in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes; this is just the good ol' PHB one), they get Darkvision, racial spells and fire resistance. Using that as a basis of comparison, your base class already offers Darkvision, racial spells and then Nature proficiency, weapon/armour proficiencies and "Treespeaker". That's already a lot of stuff, just for the base class (even if we claim that Nature proficiency, weapon/armour proficiencies and "Treespeaker" are equivalent to Fire Resistance, which it probably isn't, but I don't see it being that much of a problem so I'm going to gloss over that).

The first thing I'd do, then, is ditch the subraces. They can simply be flavour options, such as how humans might have blue eyes or green eyes, blonde hair or black hair, your dryads can be Aspen or Redwood, etc, without any mechanical differences. Of course, you'd need to give the base class another +1 in an ability besides Wisdom, since that matches the other races (except Mountain Dwarf, but giving an additional +2 would definitely unbalance this race given everything else it has, so play it safe and stick with a +1).

Next, the racial spells. I agree with kviiri that goodberry is too strong-a-choice, certainly on a short rest. I'd say stick with entangle, especially since racial spells are usually predetermined, rather than giving the player a choice like that. Also, these spells should be cast once per long rest, not short rest. This, again, matches how other racial spells work; compare this to Infernal Legacy from the Tiefling, which gives specific spells that you can cast once per long rest.

As a final point, although I glossed over the weapon/armour proficiencies earlier, it seems too strong to give the race an entire range of weapon proficiencies (all simple weapons?) and light armour proficiency. I'd reduce this down to just a few (based on Elven Weapon Training) such as shortbows, longbows, and one or two melee weapons, and I'd lose the light armour proficiency (since they'll get that anyway unless they play as a sorcerer or wizard). That reduces the strength of that racial feature to more balanced levels compared to other races that get similar proficiencies (elves, specifically).

At this point, this would be a lot more balanced than what you had before, and something that would be comparable to the other official playable races.

  • 1
    Hmm I think I'll just go with Long and Short bows, clubs, and staffs. No armor profs. No Goodberry, and maybe just Druidcraft as the only cantrip with only Entangle at lv 3, both at 1/day. Is that better? – Mark Owens Oct 11 at 14:56
  • @MarkOwens Yeah, the choice of weapons makes sense given Shillelagh, although I'd say you could get away with having Barkskin (1/day) as well given that Tieflings get Darkness, which is a 2nd level spell... – NathanS Oct 11 at 18:08

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