Although new subclasses will always be the most interesting type of content, additional ancestry options come in a close second. Between Beyond the Witchlight and Fizban’s Treasury there are three new additions: fairy, harengon, and metallic dragonborn.
When considering the power of a new ancestry the first question that must be answered is how they stack up to the current top dogs of 5E: variant humans and custom ancestry.* Feats are key to almost every powerful build in 5E, so getting one for free is incredibly good. Unfortunately for optimizers like me, none of these new options is better than a feat, but they do settle nicely into the upper tier of non-feat ancestries.
Choose one of: (a) Choose any +2; choose any other +1 (b) Choose any +1; choose any other +1; choose any other +1
Before covering each entry’s unique feature, let’s cover one they all share: ability score distribution and languages. 5E has been moving steadily away from locked ancestry ability boosts for a while, and this formatting is a culmination of that effort. Power-wise, the freedom to allocate stat bonuses in multiple configurations is quite good. No matter the build, these ancestries can be used without hurting the character’s effectiveness.
You can speak, read, and write Common and one other language that you and your DM agree is appropriate for your character.
These ancestries also share identical language bonuses, for whatever difference that makes. Languages are so mechanically weak in 5E that it doesn’t really matter how many an ancestry grants. This particular offering is slightly better than many ancestries, as its second language can be anything the player wants. With these commonalities covered, let’s dive into the specifics of these ancestries.
Creature Type: Fey
Speed: 30 ft., fly 30 ft.
Out of the three entries I’ll be covering, the fairy is by far the most unique in terms of its physical characteristics. Being fey instead of humanoid is the first big departure from 5E norms, as the vast majority of ancestries are humanoid. On the whole, being fey seems to be an upside, as it renders the character immune to spells like Hold and Charm Person. There are a slew of class features that target fey, but player characters are unlikely to be on the receiving end of such abilities.
As for size, being small does constrain the types of builds a fairy character can effectively use. The main reason for this is that small* creatures have disadvantage with any weapon that bears the heavy property. This includes options such as the long bow, heavy crossbow, and all dedicated two-handed weapons. There are some situational bonuses that come from being small, just not enough to balance out the negatives.
Because of your wings, you have a flying speed equal to your walking speed. You can’t use this flying speed if you’re wearing medium or heavy armor.
Finally we get to the big feature, flight speed. Flying in 5E is incredibly powerful, with most sources of permanent flight not coming online till between 10th and 15th levels. Having the ability from level 1 is very good, as it provides complete safety from many enemies and allows the player to bypass many environmental obstacles with ease.
Unfortunately this flight speed does come with the strict restrictions of not allowing medium or heavy armor. Compared to the existing flight options, the fairy is the weakest of such offerings. The aarakocra’s flight shares the armor limitations but comes with a 50-foot speed, while the winged tiefling allows for medium armor. This doesn’t make the fairy bad, but it will need some other strong feature to make up for its relatively weak flight.
You know the druidcraft cantrip.
Starting at 3rd level, you can cast the faerie fire spell with this trait. Starting at 5th level, you can also cast the enlarge/reduce spell with this trait. Once you cast faerie fire or enlarge/reduce with this trait, you can’t cast that spell with it again until you finish a long rest. You can also cast either of those spells using any spell slots you have of the appropriate level.
Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells when you cast them with this trait (choose when you select this race).
Speaking of good features, this one certainly fits the bill. An okay cantrip coupled with two solid spells that can also be recast using normal spell slots is a lot for one ancestry feature. The level gating could prove annoying for very low-level campaigns, but I think it’s a good way to allow powerful features like Fairy Magic without front-loading too much power at level 1.
Overall, I think the fairy is a good choice for specific character builds. A hand crossbow martial character or spellcaster can take advantage of being able to fly while dodging the negatives of being small. I would generally recommend this ancestry for campaigns that start at a minimum of 4th level, as the free feat from variant human and custom lineage is simply too powerful to ignore prior to that first ASI.*
Creature Type: Humanoid
Speed: 30 ft.
Compared to the fairy, there is not a lot to talk about in regard to the harengon’s* physical characteristics. I’ll echo the disappointment of many 5E content creators that this ancestry didn’t have the beast type. I don’t think having a beast ancestry would cause any more problems than a fey one, but the designers apparently disagreed.
Aside from that conspicuous lack, the only interesting thing here is the choice of whether to be medium or small sized. As I mentioned earlier, being small is generally a bad thing, so mechanically this isn’t much of a choice. Still, it’s nice to have for roleplaying if nothing else.
You can add your proficiency bonus to your initiative rolls.
Depending on the build and combat situation, going first can range from being incredibly strong to an active detriment.* Since this feature improves initiative, it shares that power range. On the whole, going first is generally a good thing, so this is a solid if not terribly interesting boost.
You have proficiency in the Perception skill.
A single skill proficiency is pretty weak, even if it’s one of the better skills in the game. Thankfully, the harengon has a host of meatier abilities on offer.
When you fail a Dexterity saving throw, you can use your reaction to roll a d4 and add it to the save, potentially turning the failure into a success. You can’t use this reaction if you’re prone or your speed is 0.
As far as reaction-based save boosts go, this one is pretty bad. The good news is that it has unlimited uses and many builds don’t have much to do with their reaction. I’d guess that most harengons will use this feature a few times, but it probably won’t change many results.
As a bonus action, you can jump a number of feet equal to five times your proficiency bonus, without provoking opportunity attacks. You can use this trait only if your speed is greater than 0. You can use it a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
This is the harengon’s signature feature, and unfortunately it has some serious mechanical issues. As far as I can tell, Rabbit Hop was intended to work like a pseudo disengage/movement boost. The problem is that by invoking the little-used jump mechanic, the designers created a major problem.
With rules as written (RAW), a character who makes a jump uses movement equal to the distance jumped. For example, a character with 30 feet of movement who jumps 15 feet is left with 15 feet at the end of their jump. Now, instead of offering extra movement, Rabbit Hop allows the harengon to replace up to 30 feet of walking speed with jump distance at the cost of a bonus action. If I follow the RAW interpretation, this feature is very bad. Even if interpreting this feature as I believe it was intended, Rabbit Hop is only average given its activation cost and limited number of uses.
The harengon is easily the weakest of the new ancestries. Its primary feature is mechanically broken, and even if it worked, the resulting package simply doesn’t measure up to other offerings. Unless you’re going for a gimmick initiative build, there is no mechanical reason to use the harengon.
Creature Type: Humanoid
Speed: 30 ft.
Much like how I wish the harengon was a beast, this new dragonborn should have been a dragon type creature. Besides that, this ancestry is completely standard.
Much like the Draconic sorcerer, this choice influences the rest of the ancestry’s features, something I will talk about within those features.
When you take the Attack action on your turn, you can replace one of your attacks with an exhalation of magical energy in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw (DC = 8 + your Constitution modifier your proficiency bonus). On a failed save, the creature takes 1d10 damage of the type associated with your Metallic Ancestry. On a successful save, it takes half as much damage. This damage increases by 1d10 when you reach 5th level (2d10), 11th level (3d10), and 17th level (4d10).
You can use your Breath Weapon a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
How far we’ve come since the original dragonborn Breath Weapon. This new iteration is slightly weaker for levels 1-4 but becomes stronger starting at level 5. On top of this, instead of costing a full action like the old version, this Breath Weapon can be used in place of a single attack, a boon for martial metallic dragonborn. This new version can also be used significantly more times, up to six activations per long rest compared to the one activation per short rest. Even this improved Breath Weapon is still situational, but at least it’s no longer the trap attack of the original dragonborn.
You have resistance to the damage type associated with your Metallic Ancestry.
Depending on the type of dragonborn you are, this can be very niche or a solid feature. Out of the damage types on offer, fire is by far the most common, making brass and gold dragonborn the best mechanically. For those interested in other metals, this feature will be generally weaker.
Metallic Breath Weapon
At 3rd level, you gain a second breath weapon. When you take the Attack
action on your turn, you can replace one of your attacks with an exhalation in a 15-foot cone. The save DC for this breath is 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus. Whenever you use this trait, choose one:
Enervating Breath. Each creature in the cone must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or become incapacitated until the start of your next turn.
Repulsion Breath. Each creature in the cone must succeed on a Strength saving throw or be pushed 20 feet away from you and be knocked prone.
Once you use your Metallic Breath Weapon, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.
Out of the two Metallic Breath Weapon options, enervating is by far the stronger choice. An area effect incapacitation ability is very strong and will see use in any adventure that involves combat. I only wish it could be used a number of times equal to the character’s proficiency like the base Breath Weapon.
While not as strong as the flight and spellcasting of the fairy, the metallic dragonborn is still a solid choice for players looking for mechanical strength outside of the variant human and custom lineage. Martial characters will probably be best positioned to use this ancestry’s features, as they often lack area of effect damage and make multiple attacks, so giving one up for a breath weapon isn’t as big a loss.
While none of these new ancestries measure up to the general power of variant human or custom lineage, I don’t consider that a bad thing. Receiving a feat at level 1 is simply too powerful to use as a baseline. If it were up to me, the feat-granting ancestries would be reduced in power, rather than trying to bring up other ancestries’ powers to try and compete. With that in mind, the metallic dragonborn and fairy are both strong options that can enhance a multitude of builds. harengon sadly doesn’t even meet this lower standard, but two out of three is decent. I hope to see more offerings from the 5E design team using these new philosophies.