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Some weeks ago, my DM told us that we she was working on a new campaign. She also told us homebrew races and classes were allowed. I was thinking of making a new race and something that seemed interesting to me was a race that could revive after death.

I then got the idea to make a half phoenix. I wasn’t really thinking about the D&D 5e phoenix elemental when making this, more so the mythical phoenix in general. To make sure it was balanced I based the stats on that of a dragonborn. But the real problem with balancing was the revive mechanic: an ability that gives you the ability to revive seems a little broken if there are no bad sides to it.

My solution was to simply have this race have half the max HP of the normal races. That way in a fight you have effectively the same HP as a normal character. So, what I am really asking is if having half the HP is a good balancer for this mechanic. Is it underpowered, overpowered or fine?


Here are the rest of the stats for my homebrew race:

Half-Phoenix

Ability Score Increase: Cha + 2 and Dex +1

Age: Adult at 25 and lives to 300 years old.

Alignment: Phoenixes are mostly chaotic. They love their freedom and find rules annoying. But they do try to act good when possible.

Size: Medium, average size of 2 meters and average weight of 70 kilograms.

Speed: 35

Hollow Bones: Every time after you calculate your max HP, divide it by half rounded up: this is your new max HP.

Light: Your body is very light. If you fall from a height not higher than 10 meters, tou fall as if you had feather fall.

Phoenix Rebirth: Once per long rest, if your hit points drop below 1, your body turns into a burning egg that can't be damaged. At the beginning of your turn, you transform back into your normal body with full health.

When this happens, you unleash a blast of fire with a 10-foot radius, centered on yourself. The DC for this saving throw equals 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus. A creature takes 2d6 damage on a failed save, and half as much damage on a successful one. This damage increases to 3d6 at 6th level, 4d6 at 11th level, and 5d6 at 16th level. Upon returning to your body, make a DC 12 Wisdom check. If you fail this check, you don't remember anything that has happened since your last long rest.

Fire Resistance: You have resistance to fire damage.

Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and Celestial.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @user56360 'calulate your max hp' isn't really standard 5e language. Is there a more clear way to express that effect? \$\endgroup\$ – lucasvw Jun 25 at 13:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ For what it is worth, the phoenix in D&D 5e (found in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes) has only 2 intelligence. It is more an animal than any sentient creature. While this doesn't preclude an ability to sire or influence the makeup of sentient life, it is something to consider. (Especially in consideration for the languages you've provided) \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jun 25 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ "When this happens, you unleash a blast of fire with a 10 feet radius centered on yourself. The DC for this saving throw" - what saving throw? Presumably there is a missing sentence there that states "Each creature in range must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or ..." This needs heavy editing for grammar, punctuation, and to match the formatting and language commonly used in the official books for similar features. \$\endgroup\$ – cpcodes Jun 25 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a bad idea to suddenly introduce the metric system, if the rest of the system uses different units. 10 meters should be replaced with 30 feet. Furthermore it would be preferable to explicitly state, how the rebirth ability interacts with sources of death that do not drop you to 0 hp (Power Word Kill, suffocation, Taking damage at least the current hp + max hp, ...) \$\endgroup\$ – fabian Jun 25 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fabian some prints use the metric system, so you may have it reversed and introducing imperial would be a terrible idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jun 25 at 22:42
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There are real difficulties here.

  • First, this is a classic example of the "huge advantage, huge drawback" school of character design, and that is pretty much always a bad idea. Admittedly, this is not as bad as most, since "you have half your HP is something that it's pretty much fundamentally impossible to trivialize, but it's still an issue overall.

  • Second, the bit about not remembering anything since the latest Long Rest is problematic, as by its nature it causes the player to have OOC knowledge that the character does not have and that would be immediately applicable. Trying to make that one work at all is going to be a headache, and trying to adjudicate it is going to be more of one.

  • This character is super-fragile. They lose half their HP, and their magical recovery (once per long rest only) kicks in not when they would otherwise die, but the first time they hit 0 HP. There's a lot of ways to recover from 0 HP (including having a healer in the party that gives you a microheal) and the phoenix egg thing invalidates or ignores all of them. This is the kind of feature that might be cool on a monster (especially a boss monster) but doesn't really fit a PC in the same way.

  • The fact that it does a lot of damage in a reasonably large radius at an uncontrollable time makes it worse, not better. It basically turns the character into a bomb to be used against their allies. At first level, this could almost trivially trigger a TPK. Battle starts. Your character is a sorcerer with 14 con, and has 4 HP. First action is a goblin with a shortbow, who shoots at you, hits, and rolls enough damage to down you. Next action is you. You stand back up, and every member of your party takes 2d6 fire damage, save for half. If you're giving up half your HP for the privilege, it should at least be "the first time you would die", rather than "the first time you hit 0 HP. Alternately, letting the player have control over whether or not it kicks in would help. It still seems like a bad idea (see the aforementioned general issue with huge advantage/huge drawback) but it would at least be not as bad.

  • Hollow Bones, in addition to being problematic, is poorly written. One valid interpretation of the text you have there is that you lose half your permanent HP every time you level up.

To sum up, the basic ides of the character - trading max HP for a self-rez - is not a good idea. It's exactly the sort of thing that near-inevitably winds up either broken-overpowered, unplayable-underpowered, or both. In this case, it's leaning pretty heavily towards the latter. Also, having a character who spawns party-unfriendly AOE attacks in an uncontrollable way is generally a bad idea.

If you really want the self-resurrection mechanic, I would suggest that you take a Celestial Warlock, who gets a version that doesn't have nearly the same issues at level 14, and do something else with the race. 1/day self-resurrect is a bit too much to fit into a race template.

If you really want a self-resurrect effect on your race, you'd do well to take a look at the Half-Orc's Relentless Endurance. They have an effect that, once per long rest, when reduced to 0 HP, they stop at 1. So, for your case, if you replace the "recover to full HP" part of Phoenix Rebirth with a "recover to 1 HP", and remove the Hollow Bones, you have something that actually starts to look like it could be balanced. I'd further suggest that the fiery explosion needs to be party-friendly or gone. I'm not sure quite how to balance it if it is party-friendly, but it's nearly unplayable if not. Kudos to @J. A. Streich for remembering that little half-orc feature.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A resurrection mechanic might be balance-able if it's something like "When you die, you revert to an egg. If this egg is kept in a fire for 4 uninterrupted hours, a new adult body emerges and you return to life in it," but I agree anything that lets you pop back up mid-combat is going to be problematic one way or another. \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Jackson Jun 25 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might want to add that the low maximum hit points make the character more suspectible to effects that reduce max HP as well as effects that require the target to have low enough HP (such as Sleep and Power Word: Kill) \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Jun 25 at 19:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StevenJackson Orc has a back to 1 HP once per lr. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Jun 25 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.A.Streich, Sorry I wasn't clear. I was implicitly assuming that resurrection would leave the character at full HP instead of barely staving off death. Obviously returning to life with a tiny amount of HP (or even worse already 0 HP and unconscious) has precedent and would be easier to balance. \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Jackson Jun 26 at 14:40
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Underpowered

Halving your max HP is not a good balancing mechanic for a self-revive that can only be used once per long rest. I'm going to focus only on this aspect of the race since it seems to be the main problem you're dealing with

the real problem with balancing was the revive mechanic <...> My solution was to simply have this race have half the max hp of the normal races. That way in a fight you have effectively the same hp as a normal character.

There are multiple reasons just having the normal Max HP would be better:

  • Normal characters who fall below half HP can heal all the way back to full HP. If your character falls below "half hp" (i.e., uses his revive), he can't heal up beyond that and starts with less HP for subsequent fights. Example: If an adventuring day contains 2 fights, where each fight takes 3/4 of your (normal) max HP but you can receive healing between them: Normal Max HP survives both fights. Halved Max HP with revive survives the first fight (but uses revive), then dies during the second fight because he can only heal to 1/2 of his normal max hp.
  • After using the revive, you are more susceptible to instant-death via massive damage because of your low Max HP. Even in a single fight, this makes it more likely for you to die vs your normal Max HP counterpart, especially at low levels where a revive mechanic should be providing the most benefit.

I agree with @BenBarden's answer that in-combat revives are inherently difficult to balance. My suggestion would be to decide if a slower revive works thematically for your idea.

Slow Revive Sample Mechanic: When you die, your body turns to an egg that can't be damaged. If this egg is heated in a fire for 1 hour, you transform back into your normal body with full health.

I have never played with such a rule or race, so I can't expand on how to fully balance it without playtesting, but that would be my suggested starting point.

The egg in this case can become a very important tactical objective for your party to recover before retreating (if its a losing fight), or to secure to prevent the enemy from running away with (if its a winning fight), which I think could be fun for both the party and the DM, but it's something you may want to discuss with them in advance.

I might also rethink the egg being immune to damage for this longer duration (vs maybe having your normal HP and you die for real if it is destroyed?), but would again want to playtest it first before making a decision.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The suggested modification could probably be expanded a little, but deserves its own section as is. I think the suggested modification is dramatically less problematic. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jun 25 at 19:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman, you're right. I was hesitant to flesh it out because it's not based on actual experience playing with a similar house rule or homebrew (which I know is ideally the case when suggesting homebrew), but leaving the suggestion half-baked and half-hidden doesn't help anybody. I expanded it into its own section and warned OP that its an untested suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Jackson Jun 25 at 20:10
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Underpowered

Let's start from the beginning: let aside the revive mechanic and focus on the other aspects of the race. It gets a +2/+1 ASI with good synergy, which is ok. It has a +5 ft speed (compared to the usual 30 ft), which is nice. And you get Fire Resistance, which is a nice touch, but not immensely helpful unless the campaign sets it up. All in all, it is similar to Tieflings or Dragonborns. It gets no dark vision, which is okay, but might be a hindrance.

If the race stopped here, with the Light feature as well, it would still be slightly weaker than the other two races, especially weaker than Tieflings.

Can your revive mechanic balance it?

Sadly, no.

Not only the base race is weaker than Tieflings, your mechanic "benefit" actually does not pay off the drawback from halving the max HP. As mentioned by Steven, it essentially means you are harder to heal; once you have used it, you play at max half HP for the remaining of the adventuring day; and it's a self-destroying bomb that will more likely damage your own party than not.

Alternative Suggestion

Other than Steven's suggestion of resurrection, if you really want an "in-combat" mechanic, you might want to try an egg token that can be attacked, and that takes some turns to come back. Death-avoiding race features is not something completely new (e.g., Half-Orcs Relentless Endurance) and should be balanceable without requiring a huge drawback. I had a similar mechanic for NPCs and this is a suggestion that might work for PCs with some refining and playtesting: "When you die, you turn into an egg, with X HP and X AC. The egg automatically fails Str or Dex saving throws. After you stay in egg-form for X turns, you come back to life with X% of your max HP." - Adding the "fire damage to close creatures" is something I don't recommend without having this base feature tuned and verifying that it can be done as is before.

I will repeat myself: this is a hard mechanic to balance only from theory and requires playtesting. Even for NPCs it required a lot of adjustments based on how the party behaves to achieve a balanced feature. The optimal values for these parameters (HP, AC, turns and % of HP) depend on how your DM will handle the egg. For example, if the enemies never attack the egg, the HP and AC are irrelevant.

For a "starting guess" of the parameters, I would use: Egg's HP = the HP you would have with d6 dice at your level. AC = 13. 1 turn delay (i.e., you die, then you have one turn as an egg and come back to life at the start of your next turn). 50% of the HP when coming back. All of these are "educated guesses" based on experience and certainly need playtest refinement that can only be done in your own table.

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