Since there is no actual set equation to convert a race from one version to 5e, wouldn't it just be easier to use the same race stat bonuses and transfer it over?

For example, I want to have all the races from the 3.5 books in a 5e campaign. That's 63 races, including the "core" races. The only real difference is that I wouldn't keep DragonBorn as a core race, but return it back to the DragonBorn of Bahamut like it was introduced as. Is there a way to convert all these races to 5e and still have it feel like they fit?

Maybe things like the Dream Dwalf and Chaos Gnome would be Sub-Races?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome to RPG.SE! Since you are new here, I recommend taking the tour or visiting the help center to get a handle on how we run things here! I've made some edits for readability and clarity, but feel free to edit the question yourself if I accidentally changed your meaning at all! \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam
    Jan 13, 2017 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How can I convert enemies from D&D 3.5e to 5e? \$\endgroup\$
    – Randomorph
    Jan 13, 2017 at 15:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question isn't asking for instructions on how to convert each race individually; it's asking for general guidance on how to convert races. This is something that can be answered with experiential knowledge and as far as I am concerned does not qualify as "too broad." \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2017 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


This is going to be difficult to balance because bounded accuracy exists in 5e, and does not in 3.5.

The reasons you're going to run into serious problems with this is that 5th edition uses bounded accuracy. What this means is that there's a lower and upper limit on things like stats, saving throws, and skill checks.

For example: If you're using customizable stats, you can not have a score lower than 8 or higher than 15 before racial bonuses.

And except in extremely specific scenarios (like Barbarian or magic items), your maximum ability score is 20, even with racial and class bonuses.

If you're using random rolls to assign stats to your character's race, you're going to need to take into consideration the specific traits associated with each race and apply hard caps accordingly. Example, an Ogre has a trait called Legendary Stupidity. So even if you rolled 18 in INT, you'd still have trouble counting to 10 with your fingers in front of you, are prone to believing anything you're told, and are easily confused. This is traded off by their incredible Strength. So if I was to create a PC Ogre race, they'd get +4 to Strength as well as an increase maximum Strength comparable to a Barbarian (max of 24, and yes a Barbarian Ogre would then have a cap of 28 as it levelled), and a hard cap of 8 Intelligence to account for these. But this is what I mean when I say you have a lot of work ahead of you in trying to port these over effectively.

If you're going to try to make these fit, my recommendation is to use the stats from the Monster Manual as a direct translation of how strong that race should be when starting. Now, this is going to result in some disappointing races, as well as some incredibly overpowered ones.

The bottom line is that there is no easy way to translate 3.5 to 5. They don't run off the same foundation, so it's like trying to balance Warhammer with Scrabble.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your example of using the PHB's limitation on ability scores only applies for the point-buy system; the restriction doesn't exist for rolling for stats (which is presented as an alternative in that section). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2017 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll include that. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2017 at 15:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Rolling and standard array are RAW, not alternatives. Point Buy is the alternative optional rule. The 20 limit is NOT JUST point buy. The standard array doesn't have any 20s, and rolling 4d6 drop lowest, has a max of 3*6 or 18 and race bonuses cap at +2 to any given stat which means max 20. Likewise, all ASI rules state a stat can't go over 20 and all feats have the same cap. Some magical items can boost stats over 20 though. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2017 at 16:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli Would not level adjustment be a much harder problem to balance? The Drow, for example, was "destroyed" not because of bounded accuracy but because there are very few ways that a race can have weaknesses or flaws (for game balance). \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Jan 13, 2017 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chepelink - PHB pg 24 - Drow are in 5e, so I don't understand your comment. As for LA, this question was specifically about stat changeover, so that's what I addressed. Typically though, an LA occurs because the stats are boosted rather high, like with a Vampire or Ogre template. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 14, 2017 at 4:21

Focus on Flavor, not function

There is not going to he a hard rule you can follow for importing/recreating the races of 3.5 in 5e. Trying to directly import race features and abilities will not work because of 5e's bounded accuracy and other core conceits that make balance very different. As such you should focus on:

  1. What makes this race/subrace unique and distinct
  2. What are the racial bonuses and mechanics doing to further this

As such you should not be looking to directly import mechanics but instead borrow or modify existing mechanics from other races and sub races first or write similar but different ones

How-to example

If you go to p.286 in the 5e DMG (WOTC has an excerpt of this available) you can see both the general guidelines and an example for creating a new subrace, the Eladrin. The Eladrin are a perfect example for you to follow as the exist in 3.5 but not in the published books of 5e. The designers talk about how to compare them with the existing elf subraces and how you can apply those ideas. Additionally while there has not been an Unearthed Arcana article to expand on racial and sub-racial creation there has been an excellent article on Modifying Classes that you can reference for guidelines. Additionally many of the Unearthed Arcana articles such as the Eberron article, include new races that also follow the design principles and you can use for comparison.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd also add that Volo's Guide to Monsters has added even more races with more varied abilities than what exists in the PHB. They would be another good place to look for example, and might prevent one from having to convert some of those races. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2017 at 18:37

There are no direct conversions because the scope of races is significantly different between editions. Wizards has also kept a pretty tight cap on several parameters of their races.

  • There are no Tiny or Large races (Goliath is close)
  • There are no races that can break max stats of 20.
  • Very few races have major negative abilities. I think Kobolds have -2 STR and several underground races have sunlight sensitivity.
  • There's no printed concept of "level adjustment" 5e. So you may have to invent / adapt such a tool.

Wizards has printed quite a few races and they have guidelines on creating them in the DMG. But creating 40+ races could be a lot of work.

That stated, it's 2016, not 2006 and I would not undergo such a task on my own. Instead, I highly recommend using the tools available. 5E has only been around for a few years, but there's already quite a bit of material.

  • Official books: PHB, Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, Elemental Evil Player's Companion, Volo's Guide to Monsters
  • Strong 3rd-party Books: Kobold Press (writers for HotDQ) has three different race books already for Midgard / Southlands. Jon Brazer has a book, these two Juan Marcano race guides are very good.
  • I also suggest doing some searches on DM's Guild and Drive Thru RPG (yes, both owned by the same company). They have reams and reams of content already assembled by other people. Much of it can be sketchy, but sometimes they spark the idea you need to bring it all together.
  • For those things you still need to build, I highly recommend the "Unearthed Arcana" thread on Reddit. If you want to build a Chaos Gnome and you're wondering if you have the balance right, this is a reasonable place to get feedback.

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