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To be specific, I am attempting to create a custom race and it may be on the precipice of "balanced" as it is, though I am trying to keep it underpowered. It being based on a player option from a Basic D&D supplement, I'm more interested in keeping the feel of the PC as opposed to the utility/strength.

With all that being said, could adding Speak With Animals as a passive ability, add power to the race? I can think of reasons why it could in regards to asking local animals all sorts of information about objectives or even to help fight, but even with that the DM shut down any benefits just as easily right? I'd like to assume that one could not abuse the ability to always Speak With Animals if the DM doesn't allow the user to gain any substantial benefits from it. Is that true?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, is Speak With Humans overpowered? \$\endgroup\$
    – user29601
    Sep 26, 2016 at 4:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ You got some Oberoni in the last paragraph. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Sep 26, 2016 at 5:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I dont know that it really is an Oberoni Fallacy, as I wasn't indicating that a problem was a "non-problem" by proposing a work around based on optional rules. I was more asking if there were things concerning Speak with Animals that a DM couldn't deny benefits from. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 26, 2016 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this question is answerable if you focus more along the lines of "Is being able to cast Speak with Animal at-will overpowered compared to other race abilities that grant spells?" \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Sep 27, 2016 at 1:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ How have you found the DMG's guidance on new races insufficient or unclear? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2016 at 4:06

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It would certainly increase the PC's power. How much depends on the DM

Speak With Animals is a level-1 spell, so you would be turning an ability that normally would cost resources (or a 10-minute casting time as a ritual) and only lasts for 10 minutes into an always-on ability, which is in general extremely powerful.

user18327's response above is flavorful, but it doesn't seem to be backed up by the rules. The text of the spell Speak With Animals gives hints to its power level:

...at minimum, beasts can give you information about nearby locations and monsters, including whatever they can perceive or have perceived within the past day

So if you're ruling Speak With Animals as the book spells it out, then the PC with this always-on ability would essentially be able to have almost unlimited instantaneous knowledge of any area that has animals. Animals won't deny the PC the ability to speak with them, and they seem to always tell the truth at least as far as they are able, so RAW you don't have to worry about things like personality or lack of intelligence (at least as far as scouting is concerned, which is what I assume most people will use this for).

In a vast desert with no wildlife this probably won't really be much help. In a dense forest you probably won't be able to swing your arms without hitting something that can tell you about its surroundings.

As far as it being overpowered, that is an opinion, and it depends a lot on how you decide it works and what overpowered means to you. Making it a passive, always-on ability without any caveats, and assuming it works exactly like the spell in the book, then it would most likely be an extremely powerful feature that at least one PC in your party would feel obligated to take. If you as the DM modify it and make changes then obviously its power level would go up/down. If you're looking for a way to give a character flavor without increasing their power level, then giving them an always-on 1st-level spell is probably going to be difficult to balance.

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Not in this GM"s opinion

Speak with animals doesn't make the animals any smarter, their languages are still based around their needs and wants. Animals will not have concepts like temple, or perhaps even exact numbers, why would they know what the difference between man and woman is for humans, wtf is a knight?

Speak to animals can be useful if you can communicate and interpret very simplistic concepts. And don't forget they'll have personalities too (warhorse vs wild horse).

If you can get that rats mind off food, sex and food for 5 seconds he might be able to give you a clue as to how to get out these damn sewers. But it'd be more "daylight, want turn whisker-ward at metal rope" (whisker-ward bring dependant on which tunnel wall he was following) rather than "for an exit suitable for your size and frame you will want to turn left at the metal chain my good fellow"

There are lots of creative things you can do with speak with animals but they are still animals.

Edit - ofcourse you can always limit it to a number of uses per day and wiggle the number from there.

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The Forest Gnome race can speak with small beasts "to communicate simple ideas" (there are no animals in D&D 5e). Keep it in line with that and you should be good to go.

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