Hello! Welcome to the first post in a new series where I pick apart the DnD 5e races. In each post, I’m going to choose a race and then dive into how you can start roleplaying a character of that race based on the written lore (either by sticking to the cultural norms as written or looking at interesting ways to subvert them). I’ll follow this up with a short guide on building an optimised and interesting player character using the chosen race.
For reference, when I’m talking about optimising a player character in these posts, I’m looking at ways to make the best use of racial abilities, and promote synergy rather than overlap between racial and class abilities (for instance, if your class and race both grant you medium armour, one of those abilities is wasted).
This is for more than just satisfaction: hopefully, it will lead to some fun, powerful, and more unusual builds! Races are created to be of roughly equal power and each ability counts towards that total. It’s similar with classes. If your class grants you an ability that is the same as or better than an ability granted by your race, or vice-versa, you’re losing out a little bit compared to picking another race or class.
Having said that, this is D&D. You can play any PC any way that takes your fancy! I’m not saying that this is the only way to play, but I hope I can convince you that the characters I present here might be fun to play, and that you’ll be inspired to steal some of my ideas. If any one of my thoughts triggers an “I never thought of that” moment, I’ll consider that a job well done 😊
OK, on to the nitty-gritty.
What’s it like to be a mountain dwarf? Or a shield dwarf, depending on setting and region.
Mountain dwarves are the most common type of dwarf you’ll see in most campaign settings. They’re slightly taller than their hill dwarf cousins and have slightly lighter-coloured skin, coming from the colder northern climes. Still got huge beards, of course. And they weigh at least as much as a human, despite being shorter. They’re still, just about, a medium creature for rules purposes.
What might this mean for PLAYING a typical mountain dwarf, then?
Well, let’s start with a traditional approach:
And how might some of these cultural tropes be subverted? Or what reasons might a dwarf have for forgoing the expected norms?
So, we’ve had a look at the roleplaying elements you could tap into to play a Mountain Dwarf. What about the mechanical elements?
Let’s start with ability scores:
Mountain dwarves are the only non-human race to have more than +3 total additions to their ability scores (races usually get a +2 modifier to one score and a +1 modifier to another) and that alone is a pretty strong positive. This is countered by the fact that strength and constitution are the two least versatile stats. They’re not BAD by any stretch – they just give you a bit less flexibility if you’re going for an optimised character. If you are going that way, these modifiers are a strong nudge towards choosing a melee-based character and not much else.
Now, what about racial abilities?
All in all, not a bad mix. I think the dwarven weapon & armour training is most interesting here, because if you want to make the best use of this ability, you’d want to move away from a class that naturally complements the ability score bonuses above. Jumping from no armour to medium armour can be a big boon to the right class, but if your class starts with heavy armour already, it’s just irrelevant.
OK, so we’ve had a quick rundown of what you get with a mountain dwarf. Now, let’s talk about optimisation! How can we build a character that makes the best use of all these abilities?
Let’s start with what I’d do if I were using a Point-Buy ability score system (ability modifiers in brackets):
I’m always tempted to make the most of racial bonuses and in this case we have a strong argument for the 16/14/16 that I’ve started with. We play to the strengths of the race with the constitution and strength scores, and having 14 Dexterity (a +2 modifier) means that we can make full use of medium armour (which allows a maximum of +2 AC from Dexterity). It’s nice to have no negatives, but you could easily get a +1 to one of the other stats, if you’re happy to have a -1 somewhere. Personally, I would take 12 intelligence and 8 charisma if you’re doing this, as that works well for the build I’ve suggested below. Plus, it fits into the archetype of the slightly anti-social dwarf.
This guy is definitely a melee fighter. He’s got good strength, good dexterity and good HP, though he’s no genius. So, what class are we going to go with? Maybe a ranger or a fighter? Perhaps a strength-based grappling rogue who gets to wear medium armour?
I present to you, the mountain dwarf wizard!
You may now think that I’m mad, (especially with that +0 modifier to intelligence, the spellcasting stat for wizards), but hear me out:
OK, assuming you’re still on board, how are we going to do this?
But what are the downsides, I hear you ask? NONE! None at all!
OK, maybe not quite, if we’re being fair about it:
In my mind, this guy is an apprentice Clan Crafter. He has specialised in repairing dwarven weapons for several decades (maybe a century), renewing enchantments on them and keeping them in working order. He’s probably trained in smith’s tools, or maybe jeweller’s tools if he caters to more expensive tastes. Generally he’s well respected, and he is just starting to make a name for himself.
Why does he leave to adventure? That’s up to you! Any of these ideas might work:
Did this post inspire you to want to play a mountain dwarf, but you’re not convinced that wizard is a good class fit? Then check out my new guild, class and weapon combo (designed with dwarves in mind), the Dwarven Plaguebearer, over at DM’s Guild! Also, if you download it or buy it (it’s pay-what-you-want, but you’ll still add to my downloads count even if you want to download it for free) it means I know people want more things and I’ll keep them coming 😊
This is my first post on a D&D 5e race, picked mostly at random. I’m going to be putting more of these posts up soon, so drop a comment below, or on Facebook or Twitter, if there is a particular race you want me to discuss!
Next up will probably be Rock Gnomes, because they look pretty boring to optimise and I want to try to make them more interesting 😊 – also, I may have a homebrew class in the works that I think could make them a bit more exciting if all else fails…
Though maybe I shouldn’t pick races based on what I think will be least interesting…