Somewhat inspired by this question: Can I use multiple hands for one attack, using this 6-Handed-Ones homebrew race?

As I started to explore with my question about playable Kuo-Toa, I'm interested in seeing what other humanoid monstrous races could be converted into playable races as per the monstrous races from Volo's Guide to Monsters? They've already got Orcs, Kobolds, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Bugbears and Yuan-Ti Purebloods, and now I've added Kuo-Toa (to my own personal library of playable races, I mean), but others that caught my eye included the Thri-kreen, an ant-like humanoid race with four arms (MM, p. 288).

At the time I steered away from them because of the multiple pairs of arms thing, but this "6-Handed-Ones homebrew race" question has inspired me to ask anyway; if I were to make, for example, a Thri-kreen playable race, what should I take into consideration with regards to the fact that they have four arms/hands?

What springs to mind is the fact that such a PC could potentially hold a shield, a greatsword and a spellcasting focus all at the same time, which seems quite powerful. Would a PC having multiple arms be inherently unbalanced due to such situations as this, or is there a way for such a racial trait to remain balanced in comparison to the existing playable races?

NB: There may be other concerns with converting Thri-kreen over to a playable race, such as the fact that they have strong natural armour providing a high base AC, poisonous bites, and the fluff text says they don't need sleep; I haven't begun to think about any of this yet because I stopped at this first hurdle - multiple pairs of arms. Hence I'd like answers to keep away from these other concerns and only focus on this one issue regarding multiple pairs of arms.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: What benefit would races with extra hands have? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sdjz
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sdjz Thank you for that related question, I hadn't seen that and is most definitely related to mine (it even uses the same example monster; Thri-kreen)! Just for everyone's benefit, I consider my question to be different as it is about balance for homebrewing a race, or in other words, how "expensive" such a racial trait would be with regards to making a balanced homebrew race. \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 10:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Highly relevant, obviously: dnd.wizards.com/articles/unearthed-arcana/travelers-multiverse \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 23:38

2 Answers 2


Simply allowing more arms is overpowered

Allowing a PC to use a two-handed weapon with a shield is overpowered indeed. The game wasn't created with that in mind: either your character use a two-handed weapon to deal more damage or use a shield with a one-handed weapon, trading-off the higher damage for better protection.

By simply allowing a PC to have four-arms, without limiting what it can do with those will surely break the game. The PC will be able to ignore a lot of "exclusive options", trade-offs it can simply avoid; the two-handed weapon with a shield is just one of them.

Spellcasting with a sword and shield (without War Caster), wielding a shield with a spellcasting focus and dual-wielding, using a hand crossbow with an shield, and any other situations that can't happen when you only have two arms are some of the trade-offs a four-armed creature can avoid.

So, how to balance it?

If I were to create a Thri-Kreen race, I would limit what it can do with those extra arms. A good starting point is to limit what interactions can be done with those extra arms. The Trunk feature from the Loxodon (Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica, page 18) gives us a good starting point:

You can grasp things with your trunk, and you can use it as a snorkel. It has a reach of 5 feet, and it can lift a number of pounds equal to five times your Strength score. You can use it to do the following simple tasks: lift, drop, hold, push, or pull an object or a creature; open or close a door or a container; grapple someone; or make an unarmed strike. Your DM might allow other simple tasks to be added to that list of options.

Your trunk can't wield weapons or shields or do anything that requires manual precision, such as using tools or magic items or performing the somatic components of a spell.

Of course, the thri-kreen extra arms aren't like a trunk, so it needs tweaking. I would reduce the number of pounds it can lift, and well, a thri-kreen can't use arms as a snorkel. I would also remove its ability to grapple or interact with a creature; their extra hands are small. Instead, I would allow them to have "one additional interaction with an object or environment, for free, during your turns".

The most important limitations of extra arms are in the second paragraph. I would never touch those, because that's where the majority of problems lies with extra hands.

As Matthieu M. pointed out in the comments, a good explanation for why shouldn't a Thri-kreen extra arms be limited, is that the creature's brain is limited, and can't coordinate so many tasks with the required precision.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not seeing how you can use a 2-handed sword and a shield at the same time. Either your top two arms are using a sword and the bottom the shield, at which point your swinging range is massively reduced, which in turn reduces the power (and area) of your swing, or both arms on one side are using the 2HS, at which point it's probably not gripped properly/balanced, and again, a reduced range of motion from the lower of the top and the top of the lower. Either way, trying to use it should result in significant penalties - which we'd expect out of one hand trying to use a 2HS in the first place \$\endgroup\$
    – Selkie
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even if there are physical limitations by a "reality" point-of-view, @Selkie, those things needs to be explicit on the text, because if they aren't, it implies that they can be done (players will always argue against implicit texts). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kuerten
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 16:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ In real life, ants don't actually move all six of their legs independently. Their motility more resembles an alternating tripod motion, so it's still effectively only lends itself to 2 effective arms. \$\endgroup\$
    – Beefster
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 19:14

A greatsword with 18 strength deals an average of 11 damage (2d6+4).

A shortsword with 18 strength deals an average of 8.5 damage (1d8+4).

If we want to balance a character that can use a greatsword in place of a shortsword, one simple solution would be to apply a -3 modifier to all melee attack damage. This could be justified narratively by explaining that, although the thri-keen has more arms, they are individually not as powerful.

The problem with this approach is that it pretty much obliges a thri-keen character to use two handed weapons in all cases.

If you want to give the extra arms some additional utility, perhaps add a boon to interactions, for example the ability to draw/sheath a weapon with a single interaction.


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