Cover art from Mythic Odysseys of Theros, showing a hear attacking a star-dragon.

Last time, I began my coverage of the so-called “One D&D” by going over the fundamental rules changes that have been released in the most recent Unearthed Arcana. This week, I continue by looking over the reworked ancestries available to us. As we go through each entry, it’s important to remember that attribute bonuses have been moved from ancestries to backgrounds, so don’t worry about not seeing them here.

Human

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Medium or Small, chosen when you select this Race.
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 80 years on average
Resourceful. You gain Inspiration whenever you finish a Long Rest.
Skillful. You gain Proficiency in one Skill of your choice.
Versatile. You gain the Skilled Feat or another 1st-level Feat of your choice.

Short and sweet, the reworked human leans more toward the variant human of 5E than the old “standard” option. There is a hidden power increase to this new human, as they have a total of three attribute boosts instead of the two that variant humans have in 5E. As for the explicit abilities, gaining inspiration is a nice, if not terribly powerful, bonus, granting the human advantage on one roll per long rest. A single skill proficiency is also cool to have but not hugely impactful.

The big entry for this ancestry continues to be the free feat. Now that everyone gets a free feat at 1st level, the power of this feature heavily relies on the feats on offer. If there are two or more cornerstone feats in the 1st-level list, then humans will continue to be one of strongest ancestries, if not the strongest, in the game. Otherwise, the ancestry’s strength will suffer significantly.

Assuming the feats that were included in this UA constitute the entire 1st-level list, I lean toward the latter result. There are definitely some strong options still available, but nothing compared to the feats humans get in 5E. Unless the designers release some more feats, I anticipate significantly fewer humans making their way into optimized builds and worry for characters who rely on multiple feats to function.*

Ardling

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Medium or Small, chosen when you select this Race
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 200 years on average

Angelic Flight. As a Bonus Action, you sprout spectral wings for a moment and fly up to a number of feet equal to your Speed. If you are in the air at the end of this movement, you fall if nothing is holding you aloft. You can use this Bonus Action a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.

Celestial Legacies

LegacySuggested Animals1st Level3rd Level5th Level
ExaltedCat, eagle, goat, muleThaumaturgyDivine FavorLesser Restoration
HeavenlyElephant, owl, pig, storkLightCure WoundsZone of Truth
IdyllicBear, dog, raven, toadGuidanceHealing WordAnimal Messenger

Choose a legacy from the Celestial Legacies table: Exalted, associated with Chaotic Good planes; Heavenly, associated with Lawful Good planes; or Idyllic, associated with Neutral Good planes. You gain the initial benefit of the chosen legacy: a cantrip that you learn. You also choose the animal you most closely resemble; the table provides a few suggestions for each legacy (you don’t gain wings by choosing an animal that can fly). Starting at 3rd level and again at 5th level, you gain the ability to cast a higher-level Spell with this trait, as shown on the table. Once you cast the Spell with this trait, you can’t cast that Spell with it again until you finish a Long Rest; however, you can cast the Spell using any Spell Slots you have of the appropriate level. Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is your spellcasting ability for the Spells you cast with this trait (choose the ability when you select the legacy).

Damage Resistance. You have Resistance to Radiant Damage.

I’m not sure why the designers are positioning the ardling as the opposite of the tiefling when aasimar already exist, but here we are. Now we can live out the fantasy of being an angelic anthropomorphic animal, even if they’re not terribly strong. Angelic Flight is essentially an extended jump option that costs a bonus action. Useful in some situations but definitely on the niche side.

Celestial Legacies is by far the best ability this ancestry receives. The wording around the spells this feature grants follows the format set by more recent 5E books, being able to be cast with spell slots and allowing the player to select which attribute the spells use. As for the spells themselves, Idyllic’s selection easily wins. Guidance is the best cantrip on offer, and Healing Word is the best leveled spell. Heavenly comes in second place, with Exalted in distant third. I don’t like how these selections have accompanying alignment suggestions, but they are easy to ignore. Finally, we get resistance to radiant damage, which is one of the least common types dealt to players. Overall, this ancestry is unexciting, the most interesting part of it being why it exists at all.

Dragonborn

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Medium
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 80 years on average

Draconic Ancestry. Choose the type of dragon from the Draconic Ancestor table. Your choice affects your Breath Weapon and Damage Resistance traits.

DragonDamage Type
BlackAcid
BlueLightning
BrassFire
BronzeLightning
CopperAcid
GoldFire
GreenPoison
RedFire
SilverCold
WhiteCold

Breath Weapon. As an Action, you exhale destructive energy in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw against a DC equal to 8 + your Constitution modifier + your Proficiency Bonus. On a failed save, a creature takes 1d10 + your character level in damage of the type determined by your Draconic Ancestry trait. On a successful save, a creature takes half as much damage. You can use this Breath Weapon a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.

Damage Resistance. You have Resistance to the damage type determined by your Draconic Ancestry trait.

Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Draconic Language. You instinctively know the language of dragons. You can therefore speak, read, and write Draconic.

Oh, designers, I thought you had learned how to make breath weapons less garbage. This iteration of the dragonborn reverts many of the changes seen in the most recent 5E offerings. Where those dragonborn could use their breath weapon by replacing one of their weapon attacks, this version must use their entire action. The damage continues to be laughable, and we’re now locked into a cone rather than having the option of a longer line template. The variable damage resistance is pretty good, especially if you pick a common type like fire or poison. Unfortunately, this also makes your breath weapon that damage type, meaning it can run afoul of common monster resistances or immunities. This is a step backward in terms of design, and I hope to see a return to the recent 5E dragonborn.

Dwarf

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Medium
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 350 years on average

Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Dwarven Resilience. You have Resistance to Poison Damage. You also have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Poisoned Condition on yourself.

Dwarven Toughness. Your Hit Point Maximum increases by 1, and it increases by 1 again whenever you gain a level.

Forge Wise. Your divine creator gave you an uncanny affinity for working with stone or metal. You gain Tool Proficiency with two of the following options of your choice: Jeweler’s Tools, Mason’s Tools, Smith’s Tools, or Tinker’s Tools.

Stonecunning. As a Bonus Action, you gain Tremorsense with a range of 60 feet for 10 minutes. You must be on a stone surface or touching such a surface to use this Tremorsense. The stone can be natural or worked. You can use this Bonus Action a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.

Give me a minute to mourn the loss of the mountain dwarf’s fourth attribute point and light/medium armor proficiencies. In their place is a 5-foot boost to movement speed, an additional tool proficiency, and limited tremorsense. Out of those three improvements, Stonecunning is the most interesting and, depending on how your table plays it, the most powerful.

The problem with this ability, as per the new definition of tremorsense, is that it doesn’t count as a form of sight. That severely limits the viability of Stonecunning, as you still count as blind against any creature you’re detecting purely with tremorsense. This removes almost all of the feature’s combat viability, reducing it to a limited scouting feature. Played RAW, the best thing about this new dwarf is its improved movement speed* and resistance to poison damage. If your GM lets you use tremorsense as a form of sight, that opens up a host of obscurement-based build paths that would normally require abilities like Blind Fighting or Devil Sight to function.

Elf

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Medium
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 750 years on average

Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Elven Lineage. Choose a lineage from the Elven Lineages table:
You gain the 1st-level benefit of that lineage.

Lineage1st Level3rd Level5th Level
DrowThe range of your Darkvision increases to 120 feet. You also know the Dancing Lights cantrip.Faerie FireDarkness
High ElfYou know the Prestidigitation cantrip. Whenever you finish a Long Rest, you can replace that cantrip with a different cantrip from the Arcane Spell List.Detect MagicMisty Step
Wood ElfYour Speed increases to 35 feet. You also know the Druidcraft cantrip.LongstriderPass Without Trace

Starting at 3rd level and again at 5th level, you also gain the ability to cast a Spell with this trait. Once you cast the Spell with this trait, you can’t cast that Spell with it again until you finish a Long Rest; however, you can cast the Spell using any Spell Slots you have of the appropriate level. Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is your spellcasting ability for the Spells you cast with this trait (choose the ability when you select the lineage).

Fey Ancestry. You have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Charmed Condition on yourself.

Keen Senses. You have Proficiency in the Perception Skill.

Trance. You don’t need to sleep, and magic can’t put you to sleep. You can finish a Long Rest in 4 hours if you spend those hours in a trancelike meditation, during which you retain consciousness.

Of the Elven Lineages available, all three make for a good selection depending on your build. Drow get the powerful Faerie Fire at 3rd level and Darkness* at 5th. High elves get their pick of arcane cantrips* and the ever-useful Misty Step. Finally, wood elves get a nice speed boost and the very powerful Pass Without Trace. Overall, I’d say high elves are the most generally useful, followed by wood elves and then drow, but they’re all good.

Fey Ancestry continues to be a decent feature, as many charm effects can completely remove a character’s ability to fight. Keen Senses grants proficiency in the best skill in the game, which is always useful. Trance is by far the worst feature here, as you are most likely in a party with characters who still require the full 8 hours of rest, severely limiting the usefulness of a shortened long rest.

Gnome

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Small
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 425 years on average

Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Gnomish Cunning. You have Advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws.

Gnomish Lineage. Choose a lineage from the Gnomish Lineages
table. You gain the benefits of that lineage. Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is your spellcasting ability for the Spells you cast with this trait (choose the ability when you select the lineage).

LineageBenefit
Forest GnomeYou know the Minor Illusion cantrip. You can also cast the Speak with Animals Spell with this trait. You can cast it with the trait a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest. You can also use any Spell Slots you have to cast the Spell.
Rock GnomeYou know the Mending and Prestidigitation cantrips.
In addition, you can spend 10 minutes casting Prestidigitation to create a Tiny clockwork device (AC 5, 1 HP), such as a toy, a fire starter, or a music box. Casting the Spell in this way consumes 10 GP worth of raw material (string, gears, and the like), which you provide during the casting.

When you create the device, you determine its function by choosing one effect from Prestidigitation; the device produces that effect whenever you or another creature takes a Bonus Action to touch the device and activate it. If the chosen effect has options within it, you choose one of those options for the device when you create it. For example, if you choose the spell’s ignite-extinguish effect, you determine whether the device ignites or extinguishes fire; the device doesn’t do both.

You can have three such devices in existence at a time, and each one dismantles itself 8 hours after its creation. You can also touch one of your devices and dismantle it as an Action. After a device is dismantled, the 10 GP of materials used to create it can be reclaimed.

Assuming the feats in this UA are all that’s on offer at 1st level, gnomes are currently my pick for strongest new ancestry. The feature that pushes them ahead of the competition is Gnomish Cunning. Advantage on three different types of saving throw is very good and helps protect the gnome from a variety of debilitating effects. As for the Gnomish Lineages, there is a lot of text here for what is mostly a ribbon feature. Forest Gnome is easily the stronger one thanks to the better cantrip it gives you, but neither is terribly strong.

Halfling

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Small
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 150 years on average

Brave. You have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Frightened Condition on yourself.

Halfling Nimbleness. You can move through the space of any creature that is of a Size larger than yours, but you can’t stop there.

Luck. When you roll a 1 on the d20 of a d20 Test, you can reroll the die, and you must use the new roll.

Naturally Stealthy. You have Proficiency in the Stealth Skill.

The loss of the lightfoot halfling’s ability to hide behind Medium creatures is a massive blow to this ancestry’s power. Replacing such a useful ability with simple stealth proficiency does little to soften the blow. Thankfully, Brave and Luck are both still good. Luck in particular has gained some power, as natural 1s result in failures on any type of d20 roll.

Orc

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Medium
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 80 years on average

Adrenaline Rush. You can take the Dash Action as a Bonus Action. When you do so, you gain a number of Temporary Hit Points equal to your Proficiency Bonus. You can use this trait a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.

Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Powerful Build. You count as one Size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.

Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 Hit Points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 Hit Point instead. Once you use this trait, you can’t do so again until you finish a Long Rest.

Aside from some slight wording changes, orcs remain unchanged. Adrenaline Rush is still a decent ability, granting improved movement and survivability. Powerful Build continues to do almost nothing, and Relentless Endurance is a middling ability that can keep you alive in a pinch. Power-wise, the orc is on the lower end of things. Stronger than the dragonborn but not much else.

Tiefling

Creature Type: Humanoid
Size: Medium or Small, chosen when you select this Race
Speed: 30 feet
Life Span: 100 years on average

Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Fiendish Legacy. Choose a legacy from the Fiendish Legacies table. You gain the 1st-level benefit of the chosen legacy.

Starting at 3rd level and again at 5th level, you gain the ability to cast a higher-level Spell with this trait, as shown on the table. Once you cast the Spell with this trait, you can’t cast that Spell with it again until you finish a Long Rest; however, you can cast the Spell using any Spell Slots you have of the appropriate level.

Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is your spellcasting ability for the Spells you cast with this trait (choose the ability when you select the lineage).

Legacy1st Level3rd Level5th Level
AbyssalYou have Resistance to Poison Damage. You also know the Poison Spray cantrip.Ray of SicknessHold Person
ChthonicYou have Resistance to Necrotic Damage. You also know the Chill Touch cantrip.False LifeRay of Enfeeblement
InfernalYou have Resistance to Fire Damage. You also know the Fire Bolt cantrip.Hellish RebukeDarkness

Otherworldly Presence. You know the Thaumaturgy cantrip. When you cast it with this trait, the Spell uses the same spellcasting ability you use for your Fiendish Legacy trait.

Much like the ardling and elves, the tiefling now has three legacy choices that grant it a variety of abilities. Unfortunately, the tiefling has significantly weaker options. Abyssal’s resistance to poison damage is a good defensive tool, but Poison Spray, Ray of Sickness, and Hold Person are not great spells. Infernal is decent if you can make use of Darkness but is otherwise unremarkable. Chthonic’s False Life can be useful at very low levels but falls off quickly. To top it all off, the tiefling gets the Thaumaturgy cantrip, which is almost purely flavor.


Compared to what is available in existing 5E, I’d rank most of these ancestries above average but nothing I’d consider top tier. As I mentioned earlier, gnome is my pick for the best of these new options, but given the choice, I’d probably look to ancestries like Eberron’s dragonmarks for optimal builds.* That wraps up ancestries; tune in next time for backgrounds and feats in part three.

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