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I feel like the Human Race in the PHB is full of flaws. The original race does not give space for choice or specialization, and the Variant Human is too easy to optimize or abuse. I feel like the human needs a rebuild to be relevant. Is this human race balanced?

Variant Human: These features replace the Human's ability score increase trait.

Ability Score Increase: 1 ability score of your choice increases by 2, and 2 other ability scores of your choice increase by 1.

Idea: This is based off of the half-elf's ASI and is meant to show the human's flexibility.

Human versatility: You are proficient in two skills or tools of your choice.

Idea: This is also based off of the half-elf, showcasing their versatility and ability to specialize.

Jack of All Trades: When you make an ability check that you do not add your proficiency bonus to, you can choose to add half of your proficiency bonus to the check (round up). You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Idea: Based off of the Bard's feature of the same name, this is meant to showcase their specialization. This could make a Human Bard less appealing, but I think the Bard has enough features that it wouldn't take much merit away from the race or the class.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking to introduce an alternative at your table or are you looking for something more balanced that replaces perceived problematic race traits? \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Apr 20 at 7:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am looking for something more balanced @Akixkisu. I feel like humans don't have any standout abilities and Variant Human is easily abusable, so I would like to introduce a happy medium. \$\endgroup\$ – user70687 Apr 20 at 15:43
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I gave this a quick check with Detect Balance, which usually gives a good estimation for these things.

Based on what you have, it'd probably be listed as "decently balanced, maybe a little weak".

You get pretty good ability scores (worth at least 18 points, probably 1 or 2 more for getting to pick all of them) and an extra 5 points for the bonus skills. That puts you at 23 points. Then you can add Jack of All Trades as a 1-point ribbon, and you end up at 24-26 points. 25 is on par with many solid, but not overly powerful, PHB options for races.

So in terms of power I'd say this is fine. However, I do think that this is

A) very bland, because most of your power just comes from ability increases and skills, which aren't that interesting

B) stepping on the toes of the Half-Elf, by mostly copying what they do

C) has only one unique ability, which is very underwhelming. What makes Jack of all Trades fun on a Bard is that they get to use it all the time. Having 2 uses per day is just... meh.

As such, I'd be very unlikely to play it, just because it doesn't bring anything interesting to the table over just being a regular Human or regular Variant Human.

while a Feat is easy to abuse, it also gives your average Human something cool that the rest of the party can't replicate. This one? Not so much.

If I wanted to play a rebuilt Human based on the idea of flexibility, I'd rather have something cool that really showcases it to show for it, and the idea of "picks up special training 3 levels early" does it better imho.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does detect balance really only give 1 point to JoAT? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Apr 19 at 21:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov the full ability probably not, but this one only has uses equal to your proficiency modifer which is substantially weaker. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Apr 20 at 5:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ JoAT doesn't strike me as a Ribon, especially since it scales. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Apr 20 at 7:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu you're free to assign it a different value, but it seems that even at level 20 the best you can do with it is +3 to up to 6 checks that you're no good at, which is still pretty mediocre. You'd almost certainly get more use out of having Guidance as a free cantrip, and that's also just 2 points worth. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Apr 20 at 7:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik guidance plays into action economy and is less predictable, but you can also situationally apply it to allies in reach. I think these features shine in different situations, and then there is also the caveat that you can have this feature and apply the guidance cantrip to the same roll - making things much more secure. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Apr 20 at 7:51
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I may have an additional suggestion.

In many 3rd edition campaign settings there were a bunch of human subclasses that are pretty much covered by the variant human. So rather go with the variant human and assign specific feats and abilities to certain regions of your campaign setting.

For example: You have an ocean dwelling culture of fishermen and sailors. That's why they have +1 CON, +1 CHA, speak Common and Aquan, have proficiency in persuasion (merchant) or athletics (sailor) and the feat prodigy (merchant) or athlete (sailor).

Or maybe you have humans that dwell next to a powerful source of magic power and are imbued with those energies, they'd have +1 in two of the following INT, WIS or CHA, speak Common and a language related to that power source, have proficiency in Arcana, Religion or Nature (depending on its origin) and the feat Magic Initiate.

But to answer your question more directly: Yes, it seems balanced but a little bit underwhelming because all they do is punching numbers. You don't get any special abilities or different options to solve certain situations like other races provide. But I get your idea: The standard human is bland and tastes a lot like the most Vanilla race in the whole game, while the variant human can and will go everywhere but is heavily exploitable in certain combinations. But I'd rather suggest to make a table of human heritage that fits into your setting and works a little bit like background features... except its for human sub races and benefits you with ability-bonuses, a skill proficiency and a feat. So I'd rather home-brew some new feats for variant humans that are bound to a certain heritage. Or maybe give some heritages two (but weaker) feats (Keen Mind + Observant for example). I don't think that an additional human sub race is needed, but the list of feats for variant humans is rather short... and through absolutely no limitations variant humans always seem a little bit generic; at least in regard of the game mechanics. To connect their benefits to certain cultures/heritages/ethnics/sub-races instead of giving the player the freedom of choice you...

  • don't change the rules (a lot)
  • don't have to figure out new fancy racial features that collide with existing ones
  • tone down the exploitation
  • connect your variant humans to your campaign setting

It doesn't change anything in the game mechanics. It's basically just a reflavoring of the variant human and some In-Game explanation why you don't allow certain combinations or feats at 1st level. It just gives you (as a DM) the possibility to control the use of variant humans.

This is an alternative answer to Erik's post. I pretty much go with him. But my suggestion is maybe a possible variant solution (pun intended). And it's as easy as encouraging Variant Human players to create their character together with the DM to depict a certain heritage. Or you write a whole Excell sheet with all human cultures/subraces that exist in your setting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 20 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will keep those details in mind. Thank you for the idea. \$\endgroup\$ – user70687 Apr 20 at 16:36

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