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I'm mostly concerned about the balance of Frenzy and Shaman's Sense. Using detect balance though, the race seems balanced.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1.

  • Age. Ursine mature at around the age of 15 and can live up to 60 years

  • Size. Ursine are very large and tall, with an imposing frame of around 6-7 feet tall. Your size is Medium.

  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

  • Nature's Weaponry. You have a fanged maw that you can use to make unarmed strikes. When you hit with it, the strike deals 1d6 + your Strength modifier piercing damage, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.

  • Overwhelming Strength. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.

  • Shaman's Sense. You can cast the beast sense spell once and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest.

  • Frenzy. When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can make a bite attack as a bonus action. In addition, the next melee weapon attack you make until the end of your next turn is made with advantage.

  • Thick Fur. Due to your thick fur, you have resistance to cold damage.

  • Language. You can speak, read and write Common and Ursine.

Lore: The Ursine are a proud bearfolk race that were created by a ritual performed by a druid of the first druidic circle. This ritual involved the sacrifice of a large cave bear and the ceremonial wearing of bear skins. As a result of the ritual, his followers transformed into bear-like creatures themselves, though they kept their intelligence and magics. After a few centuries, the Ursine became their own true-breeding race that still possessed an innate druidic spark. Ursine are known to enter a battle frenzy while in the throes of combat, lashing out with their teeth and claws.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I made a couple of edits. Feel free to revert. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Mar 22 at 8:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't Druidcraft be more thematically relevant for an "innate druidic spark"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Mar 22 at 9:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Overwhelming Strength" - have you just renamed Powerful Build? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jul 28 at 11:03

4 Answers 4

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This is on the strong side

I am using the Detect Balance sheet to score this. This assigns point values to features. The published races range from 17 to 33 using this, average 25. The recommended score for new homebrew races is 24 to 27.

  • Ability Score Increase. Standard +2/+1, 12 points.

  • Age. Normal, 0 points.

  • Size. Medium, 0 points.

  • Speed. 30 feet, 0 points.

  • Nature's Weaponry. 1d6 natural weapon, 2 points.

  • Overwhelming Strength. Powerful build, 2 points.

  • Shaman's Sense. Level 2 spell 1/day, 4 points.

  • Frenzy. This is the only tricky one. The closest is Savage Attacks, which gives extra die on a critical hit, worth 3 points (see detail analysis below).

  • Thick Fur. 1 common Resistance, 4 points.

  • Language. Common and one other language, 0 points.

In sum this would be 27 points, just within the recommended range on the strong side. I would likely defang the Frenzy option a bit, which is the most unusual one, maybe remove the extra advantage.

To quantify expected contribution from Frenzy (sorry, lots of boring minutiae ahead): Savage attacker adds one of the weapon die on a critical. Best case is the Greataxe, so lets say Savage Attacker is worth 6.5 points of expected damage. Frenzy gives one bite attack, at typical chance to hit of about 65%, this can be best case deliver 8.5 raw average damage (1d6+5) or about 5.5 expected damage. Early on it will be only about 4 points of expected damage. To this comes the cost of using up your bonus action, which I will ignore, although there can be builds that find regular use for it. You gain advantage for the next attack. At typical to hit rates, advantage adds about 23% to hit chance, at about 10 points per attack that connects. This again depends on build, it could be far higher with feats like Great Weapon Master or ongoing spell effects like hunter's mark. This adds another 2.3 points of expected damage, plus an improved crit chance of about 5% (9.75% total) for attacking with advantage, for double damage die and another Frenzy bonus attack worth altoghether about 10 raw or 0.5 expected damage. In total Frenzy is worth 8.3 points expected damage. Early on it would be only 6.8. So, early on it is on par with Savage Attacker, from level 4 on it will get better, but a lot depends on the build. I therefore use the same point buy value.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hehe, defanging. Was the pun intended lol ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex Sash
    Mar 22 at 7:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes it was, very observant ;) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 22 at 7:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Mm, I think I could make frenzy more like the Lizardfolk feature and maybe change beast sense for animal friendship or beast bond? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex Sash
    Mar 22 at 7:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The extra damage from a Half-Orc's critical happens automatically, the bite attack needs a hit roll, and occupies the bonus action for that round. Advantage on all your following attacks is either very powerful or fairly weak depending on how often PCs are getting advantage. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 22 at 10:10
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Savage Attacks is only non-crappy with a greataxe, which is 1d12 extra damage. This is a bonus action (cost) hence only on-turn, and does 1d6+strength, and requires that attack to hit not automatic. It is worse than Savage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Mar 23 at 15:47
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It is mostly balanced

If this is all you are concerned about, there is no harm in allowing the players to play this race. It is stronger than, let's say, median of other races but nothing too crazy, and will certainly not ruin the game in any way.

For detailed analysis:

  • up to speed, nothing out of ordinary.
  • Natural weapons are quite common and barely worth mentioning, but they empower Frenzy, which we need to remember.
  • Overwhelming strength differs in not one word from Powerful Build, and should be called as such to avoid confusion and assigning different names to the same features.
  • Shaman's Sense is strong, not because the spell is absolutely fantastic - it is not- but because it is a second level spell, handed out at 1st level to anyone. For that, it is equal in power to any other innate spellcasting in the playable races.
  • Frenzy could sound strong, but it is akin to halfling's Lucky - strong effect that is rarely seen. It can be empowered with increasing the range of critical hit though, so it should be under greater control, but I wouldn't suggest changing it to "When you roll 20 on the melee weapon attack roll...". True, it is something you can build your character upon, but it is not really gamebreaking. What should be done is: slap a number of uses on it, equal to your proficiency bonus. It will be a good way to prevent capitalizing on the feature too much, while still leaving it useful. Remember, it is a strong feature, way stronger than that of half-orc - those should be limited in uses.
  • Thick fur is okay.

And that's all. Once again, this tends to be on the strong side, but nothing too terrible.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Should I replace the spell Shaman's Sense grants? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex Sash
    Mar 22 at 7:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexSash Not really. Again, it is strong for the time you get it. I'd say if you changed it to "When you reach 3rd level ...." it would be okay. Or even change it to the 5th level and add a cantrip to use, like druidcraft. Although I cannot say - you haven't given out literally any fluff about this race :/. It is hard to say what would fit into the idea of the race if I do not know this idea, and have no way of learning it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cezaryx
    Mar 22 at 7:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AlexSash beast sense is fine and thematic and even though it's a 2nd level spell, without other spells that control beasts in conjunction with it, all it does is functionally incapacitate you, while you perceive through it's senses, while it does it's own thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene
    Mar 22 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ "What should be done is: slap a number of uses on it, equal to your proficiency bonus." - I disagree strongly. Adding a tracking requirement here is bad game design for a tabletop game. In most characters it is a waste of human attention. Before you burden every single PC because of specific builds built around triggering it, you must prove that it is game breaking to justify that burden. And if it is, you should instead rewrite it to make it not break rather than the tracking requirement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Mar 23 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ceza With perma advantage, and champion, and 3 attacks, this is .57 crits/round. At 6 damage per bonus swing (after miss chance) it comes to 4 dpr non magical. Nothing worth worrying about. Counter is a waste of time. (It can get slightly bigger with a giant belt and other combos; but no matter what you do, it ain't game breaking. I mean, PAM+GWM gives BA every round and -5/+10 and reach). Throwing a counter makes the ability annoying to track for no good balance reason. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Mar 24 at 12:48
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This race has fancy sounding abilities, but is considerably weaker than the stronger 5e races, including PHB ones.

While it has a lot of abilities, they either come up rarely, or are very niche in use. Frenzy only triggers on a critical hit, which is usually a fairly rare occurrence even if crit fishing - and abilities that help you score critical hits (even regular access to Advantage) tend to be after level 3, where most serious melee attackers pick up a Bonus Action of some utility (which is often an extra attack anyway). The most common source of crits, Advantage, is granted by the ability - which is redundant if you already have Advantage and it's how you got the crit in the first place.

Beast Sense is a very niche spell. While it could be very useful, the ability it grants comes standard on Familiars who are available via a single feat (that also grants other benefits) or a single level in Wizard, and who are permanent companions instead of having a duration of 1 hour. The utility will also vary hugely from table to table, and compared to a spell like Invisibility, will have fewer situations where it is useful. The synergy with the Ursine's ability scores (Strength and Wisdom) is basically nonexistent - scouting is most important for an arcane caster (Int or Cha) to set up situations to use their area spells, or for a rogue or archer (Dex) to maintain distance and kite enemies with ranged attacks.

A variant human with a feat appropriate to the build of the character will run rings around the Ursine in terms of utility.

Unarmed strike having 1d6 + str is something that is unlikely to come up much. Most abilities that make use of unarmed strikes increase the ability to at minimum 1d4 (Monk), and more often higher (unarmed fighter's 1d8, for example). Ultimately, it will mostly help if the party loses their gear and is imprisoned or some other rare situation where unarmed strikes would naturally come up, or more likely, when the Ursine scores a critical hit and can make a bite attack as a bonus action (assuming they don't already have a better bonus action use).

Even a fairly non-optimized race like Half-Orc compares favourably to Ursine. Str/Con is generally a better combo than Str/Wis, although that often doesn't matter. More importantly, Relentless Endurance comes up any time the Half-Orc is knocked to 0 hp - a common occurrence in most parties that fight hard battles, and the effect is powerful - it keeps them in the fight. If the party only fights combats where no-one is knocked down to 0, it's pointless - but games like that are less common than the opposite, by a significant margin. On top of that, not a lot of games emphasize scouting and don't have any rogues or familiars in the party such that Beast Sense (and a trained animal) would be adding a lot of utility. It's rare to not see a familiar or a rogue in any D&D party.

On Savage Attacks vs Frenzy, Frenzy wins out.. barely.. but only if the Bonus Action is totally useless. On a 2d6 greatsword, Savage Attacks is only +1d6 - 3.5 damage. On a greataxe, it's +6.5. A bite attack with 18 str (assuming level 4+) is 1d6+4, so average of 7.5. 1 more than the greataxe. If you have ANY use for the bonus action, such as say Hunter's Mark for +1d6 (+3.5 damage), a greataxe and savage attack critical outpaces frenzy critical due to preserving the bonus action. Meanwhile, if you are adding extra damage (such as via Divine Smite, Hunter's Mark, Hex, etc), and have already applied that or don't need to apply it separately, then Frenzy is better - as it provides a vehicle to Smite again or w/e. But it's certainly not just outright better, not unless your half-orc is using a dagger with no bonus actions available at all or something. Even then, although you're rolling with advantage on the bite attack, you could still miss. Savage attacks can't miss. Unless you're a level 1 half-orc with no bonus actions and a crap weapon, it's probably not a simple 'frenzy is better' at any point, and after reliable bonus actions become important for the character, frenzy might be largely unimportant to you and not worth using your bonus action on. Hell, if you have advantage already, it might not even do anything for you at all.

Finally, you've got Darkvision for half-orcs but not for the bear men. This allows the half-orc to sneak around in darkness without needing to carry a torch, which is the use I see for it mostly. More rarely helpful for other stuff, but that's the one you see most often. Resistance to Cold, and Carry Capacityx2 come up far far less and are often going to be fluff abilities. I am actually yet to see a 5e PC take cold damage in the low level games of it i've played - a PC using Ray of Frost as their cantrip of choice is actually the one instance of cold damage i've seen. It seems rare, at least compared to Fire, Poison, Necrotic, and of all things, Psychic damage. Half-Orcs also get a skill proficiency, which ain't nothing, but is probably going to matter less than darkvision. Might matter more than cold resist and carry capacity, though. More likely to come up at least.

Either way, i'd back the half-orc over the ursine. They both get a crit bonus, but being able to stand back up when knocked down instead of being out of combat unless someone heals you trumps the ability to see through wolf's eyes for a bit. And compared to Mountain Dwarf Wizard, Yuan-Ti Anything, or Human w/ Delicious Feat... it simply doesn't keep up particularly well.

TL;DR abilities sound fancy but in practice are likely to be underwhelming. B- in terms of power level. Well outside the top tier races like Winged Tiefling, Variant Human, Mountain Dwarf, or Wood Elf Ranger. Lumped in with the 'Well, it does Something I Guess' races like Half-Orc, Gnome and Halfling.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Love the half-orc comparison - that was where my mind went, too, with frenzy - although frenzy seems better. Chance for another crit and having modifiers for damage seem like an upgrade. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Mar 22 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Beast Sense is a lot weaker than a familiar; it only lets you perceive, not direct their actions. So it's much weaker for active infiltration of a building for example. You'd need some other mechanism for that, as others pointed out in comments. (The target is "a willing beast" with range of touch, so you can't even use Beast Sense on a passing bird for an overhead view or something. You need to somehow make a beast "willing". Presumably that's just an Animal Handling check, on some critter that isn't bothered by bear-shaped creatures with fangs. A higher DC to send it to scout...) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess the Str/Wis combo could be useful for combat for a Str-based melee Ranger, or Str-based Monk. Or a war cleric? Otherwise the Wis part is likely only helping with skill checks and saves, which is ok since perception and insight are important. And at higher levels, Wis saves are huge against mind-control / incapacitate effects. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23 at 20:58
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It's weak mechanically

ASI,age,size,speed, languages

All bog standard

Overwhelming Strength/Powerful build

Nice, but carrying capacity rarely comes into play, unless you have a super strict DM

Natural weaponry

Like all natural weaponry for 5e player races, it's pretty much flavor, because adventurers will always have something better, unless they are in jail or something, in which case a DM will reasonably role-play guards not being dumb and neutralizing them somehow.

Shaman's Sense

Despite beast sense being a 2nd level spell, without other druid/ranger spells/abilities that can control beasts, it's also flavor, because you've just incapacitated yourself for the duration, while you perceive the world through the senses of a beast that does it's own thing. Compare to e.g. Drow, or Drow heritage half-elves getting Faerie Fire and Darkness.

Thick fur

Nice, but cold is one of the rarer damage types in the game. Useful if playing the Icewind Dale campaign, otherwise very meh.

Frenzy

The only sort-of decent racial feature, but only if you restrict yourself to Champion Fighter for the increased crit range and that class really isn't thematic for a bear IMO. Otherwise, too weak. You'll often have other things to use your bonus action on, e.g. you might still want to take polearm master for the other benefits of the feat and to always have a bonus action attack, not just when you crit.

What you don't have

  • Darkvision that almost all non-human races have and unless you're playing with an extremely lenient DM, Darkvision is extremely important in Dungeons and Dragons.
  • No racial feats. Other races can take e.g. Elven Accuracy, Bountiful Luck, Svirfneblin Magic and other very strong racial feats.
  • No other outstanding racial features, like Dwarf/Gith armor/weapons proficiencies, Tabaxi's climb and rogue tailored skill proficiencies, Half-Orc's Relentless endurance and Savage Attacks, etc.

So mechanically, the Ursine will always be worse. Compared with e.g a Half-Orc, the vanilla beefy melee race, the Ursine will only have Savage attacks that's really useful(but not on the popular bear-totem barbarian funnily enough, because those just reckless attack with advantage all the time anyway and Polearm master would still be more useful than an occasional bite bonus attack), while the half-orc will have: Darkvision, Relentless endurance + Savage attacks(contrast with your Overwhelming Strength, if you crit, the former gets a guaranteed extra damage die vs advantage on the next attack, which the player may already have anyway + bonus action bite attack, which the player may already have)

The Ursine would need some other useful abilities if it can't have Darkvision (which isn't thematic for a bear IMO) and I don't think you want to design powerful racial feats. E.g.

  • The natural weapon bite attack can always be used as a bonus action on a grappled opponent. Very "beary", plus logically, if a bear has you in a bear hug, it's teeth are right by your flesh.
  • and
  • Frenzy will give you an advantage on your next melee attack, until the end of your next turn, max one per turn, if you crit or take damage.
  • or
  • Frenzy will give you an advantage on all melee attacks until the start of your next turn if you crit.
  • alternatively
  • Frenzy and natural weapon stay as written, but there's another trait that gives expanded crit range(Ursine Instincts? The Ursine instinctively goes for weak spots at close range), at 3rd and 15th level, like Champion Fighter(and also doesn't stack with it), but for melee only. That way the Ursine has a defining crit-focused melee archetype, that's equal to the combination of Darkvision/Racial Feats/Strong racial traits that the other races have. Remove Thick Fur, it unbalances the race depending the campaign. E.g. Icewind Dale where it's actually useful vs something like descent into Avernus, where it's complete fluff.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Nice, but cold is the rarest damage type in the game" (though cold resistance becomes super good in certain settings/adventures such as Icewind Dale.) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 22 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cold is 100% not the rarest damage type in the game \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex Sash
    Mar 22 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexSash Yeah, I'd forgotten about radiant. But in terms of what you might face as an adventurer, taking all modules into account, it's at least tied for second place IMO. However, in terms of popularity, Icewind Dale is a very popular module. Updating answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene
    Mar 22 at 20:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related on What are the least and most resisted damage types \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Mar 22 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch that's about monsters resisting your damage, we're interested in the reverse. I haven't found a good answer for that, and I don't think that it can exist, since any enemy spell-caster can choose to use all cold-focused spells on you at the DM's discretion. Just going by experience here. The DMs I played with all tended to to like e.g. fireballs, because it's easy for enemies and neglect cold spells + it's not very thematic to have cold focused monsters outside of cold environments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene
    Mar 22 at 21:10

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