During the prep for our first game the character creation questions started early. As mentioned before, the process required constant DM intervention. One good thing came from this. A conversation was started about Lizardfolk. It is my favorite race in fantasy settings, but D&D realms don’t like to make them available. And we’re testing the viability of 5e as a story game. That means that PC races have to be easy to add in. There’s no telling what setting we really want to play, so flexibility is key to this demographic. With all these things converging, the quest to create a new PC race began!
One thing that was very fortunate for me as a GM was the DM basic manual being released right before game start. This gave a base stat block for how they are supposed to work. Fact is that seeing the entry in the monster manual, and how close it is to a 1st level character, is what tipped us over the edge.
D&D is probably the most “balanced” game on the market. Playtesting for most games happens to make sure that the mechanics are fun, easy, or realistic. But D&D playtesting exists to make sure that race/class combinations are fair. Weeding out the overpowered elements is #1 priority. In such a crunchy game, sure that is important. My first reaction for the new race is the opposite, though. Screw balance, just make it fun! However, I know the game. The approach of “anything goes” that drives games like Fate, Apocalypse World, and Risus just ain’t going to cut it. So it had to be balanced as well.
Making the race goes in a few steps. They’re easy to catch onto by reading a few. Races come with stat bonuses, languages, movement/vision bonuses, special actions, and oddly specific proficiencies. The secondary pieces are where the fun is had, which encompasses average sizes age, and typical background. This is where players start to develop their biographies and the races fit into the story.
I started with stat bonuses. Most races have 4 total stat bonuses, so naturally the first 2 had to go to Strength. This is pretty clear in the monster manual about how lizardfolk should be. The other 2 are kind of a personal opinion. I’ve always thought of Lizardfolk as having high constitution. Possibly because of the regeneration trope (ala Lizard/Curt Connors). Possibly because of the lifespan of crocodiles. Thankfully one of the players was around to chat about this very idea, and yes. It’s not just me who likes to think of lizardfolk this way.
It’s also apparent by the stats provided in the monster manual that Lizardfolk are supposed to be stereotypically primitive. Their intelligence is very low. Their charisma is also low, so the fearsome nature of the creature is clear. People should find them ugly, threatening, and territorial. I don’t expect that players should have to be all of these things, but both thought make it clear that as a PC race, it needs a penalty to intelligence and charisma. But this leaves us with a -2, for a +2 sum gain on stats. But this is ok, which comes later.
Lizardfolk are given only draconic as a language. This makes sense, and it’s actually a disadvantage of the race. All others get common by default. This will introduce the first race with a speaking problem. This disadvantage also comes later.
Up to this point, our lizardfolk have nothing but below average built into them, but their first big advantage is a swimming speed. Although this is not the biggest advantage, it is significantly bigger of a boost than most racial advantages.
Now, the special racial actions are what really gives the race its attractiveness to players. In the monster manual the lizardfolk have several special actions that make them a threat to players. As with all monsters, they are focused to combat and towards making a group of players get a challenge. This is ok, because we’re looking at a primitive race that is dominated by survival instinct. A lizardbrain, if you will. Even though my take on introducing the race is that they’ve started to become regular parts of human society, this primal background is what makes them awesome.
The first thing the race gets is a d6 bite attack. Although having a moderatly powerful unarmed attack is not significant in itself, it combines with a second factor. The lizardfolk also get a double attack skill. This overrides any penalties to dual wielding, and allows the bite attack to be used as the second attack. So here comes the big combat boost. Lizardfolk can wield a sword, shield, and still take a second attack because of the bite. That is very unique to the race, and is a very powerful combat advantage.
The next thing apparent in the monster manual is that Lizardfolk are intended to have natural armor. It works out to about 3 ac. This is not far off from a typical stat bonus. So I tied this ability to constitution, figuring that it was about having a tough hide. However, it doesn’t work with armor. This is a pretty large advantage but it is not the biggest. Most players start with significant armor classes in 5e, it turns out. Thieves seem to average 15ish. Clerics average 16. A perfect constitution score only puts the lizardfolk on par with rogues.
The oddly specific proficiencies for this race were mostly flavor. Some martial weapons are covered. The crude weapons expected with tribal life are covered by all classes anyway. It’s very hard for any character to start without proficiency in all basic weapons. On top of the weapons, which make up the bulk of how the other races work, there are other physical skills included. Again, this is flavor to support understandings of the class upbringing.
At first I did not want to make subraces for this option. But one of the things I wanted to make part of a character’s playstyle is the idea that the normally tribal race has joined into modern society. Players will probably be playing this race for the combat bonuses, but the language and charisma penalties are not insignificant. By choosing the “softskin” option, players can be a “domesticated” lizardfolk who takes on a new language and fits into society just fine.
The other option is to remain tribal but gain AC and more proficiencies. The significance of this is that athletics and survival get included. Both of these have significant impact, athletics especially. Almost ALL strength rolls are considered athletics.
Now comes the fun part. I based the size of the lizardfolk on the posture expected. They are long creatures, but not tall. The 12 foot nose to tail length doesn’t mean they stand tall. In fact, they crouch and stalk most of the time. The age also adds a lot of flavor. Although crocodiles are very old creatures, the animal kingdom does not age like humans. We have very long developments, working on everything from physical growth to social acceptance for almost a generation. Most animals physically mature quickly. Pack animals become pack members quickly after that. So to accent that the lizardfolk retain a lot of animistic characteristics, lowering the age to maturity certainly calls attention to it.
In fact, this very concept drives the understanding of a generation. And generational “gaps” have a big impact on society. Elves and Dwarves base a lot of their flavor on their age. Lengths of beards and life experience play into social acceptance. The lizardfolk simply take a different approach. As such, characters could be chieftains in their tribe at young ages. Passage of time becomes different. And an outlook on old age gets changed. Dying at 36 is very young to us. But with 12 year generations, that’s 60 in human years! But the age limit is important. Many animals never stop growing. Crocodiles are not an exception. Although they don’t exactly suffer from things like deep sea gigantism, adult crocs seem to slowly grow until they die. This unfortunately can’t be part of player experience in a game like D&D. But it can be simulated in the aging system and by giving players a unique way to build their backgrounds.
It was definitely fun to put these concepts to the test, but one thing that became incredibly apparent is that making new races required way too much thought on balance. The process was long, and many contrived thought processes had to be followed to keep the new race within the same understanding of how players play the game. One example being that making a race above a medium build will require so much balancing that the flavor will be sucked right out of it. Which leads to the actual race stats below. Because much to D&D’s chagrin, making your races has always been such a hassle that it’s easier to find them in these kinds of blog posts than to just make them on the fly.
So without further discourse, below is the new race:
Lizard Folk (PC Race)
Attribute Bonus – +2 str, +2 con
Attribute Penalty – 1 int, -1 char
Age – The primitive society in which Lizardfolk derive leads to generally short lifespans compared to humans. Most succumb to the wilderness or disease by the age of 40. The oldest, however, become the elder of humans by 2 score.
This lifestyle lends Lizardfolk to a very short childhood. Lizardfolk are full grown by the age of 9, and mentally matured by 12. Having generations roughly half the length of humans greatly drives the society of their tribes.
Alignment – Coming from tribes living in the harsh throws of nature, Lizardfolk tend to align neutrally. The needs of their own survival override alignments to the larger world.
Size – Lizardfolk are medium humanoids, but they do not stand tall. This is due to their posture that resembles a hunter stalking prey. They typically appear 4-6 feet tall, but can stand up to 8 feet when extending fully. When lying prone, Lizardfolk are between 8 and 12 feet from nose to tail.
Speed – Lizardfolk are graceful swimmers. Their speed is 30 ft. on land and swimming. However, wearing medium or heavy army stunts swimming speed to 15.
Proficiencies – Lizardfolk naturally have proficiencies with tridents, pikes, blowguns, intimidation, and acrobatics.
Languages – Draconic
Subraces – Lizardfolk vary greatly in appearance based on habitat and tribe. From the size of the snout, absence of a tail, and color of scales. The main difference that sets the race apart are those who have integrated into city life, and those who remain tribal by nature.
Soft-skinned: Lizardfolk have become a common sight among the other common races, living as city dwellers. Those who have joined modern society gain a second language for use at the market, normally common. Their trading gives them a proficiency with a chosen tool. The city dwelling Lizardfolk do not take the normal -1 charisma penalty.
Tribal: Traditionally Lizardfolk slowly take on elements of modern society, yet their lifestyle remains mostly unchanged. The tribe dwellers learn to defend themselves from the creatures in the wilderness, gaining +1 AC with no armor or light armor. Many are hunters and warriors by nature, and gain proficiencies with athletics and survival.
Racial Abilities –
Multiattack: The lizardfolk makes two melee attacks, each one with a different weapon, including their own bite attack.
Hold Breath: The Lizardfolk can hold its breath for 15 minutes
Natural armor: Lizardfolk can add their constitution bonus to their armor class when unarmored.
Bite attack: Melee Weapon Attack: reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6 piercing damage.
Starting Equipment – Blowgun, 2 Spears, Animal skin Bedroll, Spear Fishing Tackle, Fishing Net, 2 Days Rations, and Tinderbox.