D&D is typically framed as a game of heroes vs. monsters – it’s on the cover art of every major edition – but sometimes, players and DM’s want to get a little wild and flip that notion on its head. What if you WANT to be a monster? Or at least…a hero who’s a little monstrous. Today, we present some ideas and houserules that let people branch out from the standard humanoid races and be a little more beastly.
The first, and simplest option available in 5th edition is to use existing player races and re-skin them to be monsters in your campaign world. For example, dragonborn might be actual young dragons; half-orcs could be full-blooded orcs, etc. Just make minor cosmetic changes, maybe change a racial feature here and there, and it will work quite seamlessly. You can also create non-humanoid races, such as the annuna hound and just make them balanced with the humanoid races already available. Additionally, monsters of the humanoid type can generally be adapted into player races easily, and should use the normal background and class rules.
Sometimes, though, that’s not quite enough. Players and DM’s might want characters who can break the constraints of size, speed, and strength of humanoid races. This can be tricky, as the game is balanced around the idea that player characters generally don’t have certain abilities without magical enhancement. However, when you consider that at higher levels, magic items and spells often *do* give characters access to such abilities, it doesn’t upset balance too much to let some monsters in. However, most monsters must be reduced in power somewhat, and the player group should have a consistent power level. You can assume that adventuring monsters are relatively young and inexperienced, or at least atypical from the normal monster entry.
Disclaimer – We strive to create top-quality content here on FMD, but we aren’t able to playtest everything. These rules are a bit more complex than what we normally attempt, and may have some flaws. I hope that they are still useful and help add to your fun – Trev
My suggestions for allowing monster PC’s:
Do not allow characters of sizes above Large, as Huge sized characters will be very unwieldy and put too much pressure on the DM to adapt the environment.
A monster must have an intelligence score of at least 6 to be a player character. Otherwise the player will have too difficult a time roleplaying the character. At your option, you can use the awaken spell as a guideline to create intelligent versions of normally unintelligent monsters, then follow the character creation rules below after that.
Creating a monstrous Player Character Step-By-Step
The monster character does not select a class or background at 1st level. The 1st level background and class are replaced by, well, being a monster! The player and the DM should talk about the roleplaying implications of the character’s species.
– Reduce the Hit Dice of the monster to to 1 hit die. For every 4 hit dice lost, reduce the monster’s highest two ability scores by 1 each (if there is a three way tie, choose 2 to reduce).
– After reducing a monster’s hit dice and ability scores this way, compare the monster’s ability scores to the standard array/point buy in the PHB, keeping in mind that since the monster is not selecting a player race, it can be assumed to have bonuses to some scores. For first level, no score should be above 18 or below 6, and the total of the scores should be roughly close to the 27 point buy with a few extra points similar to racial bonuses. If necessary, adjust scores up or down until they are within the same range as the other characters in the party. Make sure the ability scores qualify to multiclass into at least one standard class (see below).
– A 1 hit die monster is considered a first level character and has the proficiency bonus of a first level character. Hit points are equal to the maximum roll of their hit die+their constitution modifier.
– The character is proficient in the same saving throws as the base monster type, to a maximum of 2. If the monster is proficient in more than two saving throws, choose two to keep and remove proficiency with the rest.
– The character has proficiency with the same skills as the base the monster type. If the monster has less than 4 skill proficiencies, select additional skill proficiencies until you have 4. If the monster has more than 4 skill proficiencies, remove proficiencies until you have 4.
– The character speaks all languages of the base monster entry, plus Common if they do not already speak it.
– If the monster could reasonably use tools, select 1 tool proficiency. If the monster could not use tools (because it lacks opposable digits, for instance), the player selects an additional skill proficiency or language.
– If a monster entry has any weapons or armor, it gains proficiency with that type and with those “below” that type in the hierarchy. For example, if a monster has a martial weapon, it is proficient with simple and martial weapons. If a monster entry wears heavy armor, the monster is proficient with light, medium and heavy armor. If the base creature has no weapons and armor but could conceivably use them, the DM can grant proficiency in light or medium armor and simple weapons at their discretion.
– Any speeds possessed by the monster should be kept, but no speed should exceed 50 feet.
– Natural armor can remain, but if a monster has natural armor, it is not proficient with manufactured armor.
– Any special abilities possessed by the monster should be reviewed by the DM. Some additional guidelines:
— Damage immunities should generally be changed to resistances.
— An ability that normally has a die roll recharge should instead recharge during a short or long rest.
— The multiattack ability of many creatures should be deleted. Additional attacks must be gained from class features.
–Natural attacks such as claws and bites should be kept, but make sure the damage dice do not signficantly exceed the weapons of the rest of the party and adjust the damage die as needed.
— Any limited use ability that deals more than 1 die of damage (such as a breath weapon) should be adjusted to deal 2 damage dice at first level, and gain an additional damage die at 6th, 11th, and 16th levels. Repeatable damage dealing abilities should be adjusted in the same manner as natural attacks.
— Any ability that casts or duplicates a spell above 2nd level should be removed; the character must take levels in a spellcasting class to gain access to more powerful magic. The ability to cast lower level spells can remain, but should be limited to once per day, except for cantrips which can be cast at will.
— Any abilities deemed too strong in the hands of a player character can be deleted; use the spell guidelines above. If an ability is similar to a spell above 2nd level, it is probably too strong.
— Recalculate any save DC’s based off an ability score and proficiency bonus. Most monster abilities use Constitution as their base ability score, but this can vary, use your discretion.
– Beyond level 1, the monster character must multiclass into a standard class they meet the requirements for. This is treated exactly like multiclassing in the PHB.
– A monster will generally need to buy equipment, though you can use class and background equipment packages as an easy guide.
Liz wants to play a Centaur in Richard’s game. She thinks up the name Graul the Hillbounder, and pictures him as a fearsome barbarian. Richard likes it and agrees to allow a monster character. The rest of the party is making level two characters, so the character will also be level two.
Reducing the base centaur to 1 HD means two ability scores are reduced, so Liz reduces Str by 1, and chooses to reduce Dex since it is tied for 2nd highest. The scores are now Str 17, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 9, Wis 13, Cha 11. The DM agrees these are close enough to the rest of the party, and Liz doesn’t want to change any scores, so she moves on.
Graul’s hit points become 12 (10 for the d10 hit die, and +2 for the Con score). Liz’s character has 1d10 hit die.
The centaur has a land speed of 50 feet. Richard decides to leave the speed as is since centaurs don’t have a lot of special abilities and he doesn’t think it will be a problem in his game.
Liz does not write down the centaur’s multiattack ability, but does write down its hoof attack. She and the DM note that the hooves do a bit more damage than most weapon attacks, and agree to reduce the damage to a d10.
The charge ability also seems a bit strong, so the DM says to reduce the extra damage to 2d6, increasing to 3d6 at 6th level, 4d6 at 11th level, and 5d6 at 16th level. Richard decides that the ability should only be usable once before requiring a short or long rest to recharge.
The centaur is proficient in Athletics, Perception, and Survival, so Liz makes Graul proficient in those skills. She chooses Intimidate as an additional skill since Graul is a scary guy. He speaks Elvish and Sylvan, and Liz adds Common to his languages.
The centaur is not proficient in any saving throws, so Liz chooses to be proficient in Strength and Constitution saving throws.
A centaur has hands, and she imagines that Graul probably needs to make his own weapons and horseshoes in the wild, so she chooses to be proficient in Artisan (smith’s) tools.
The centaur uses martial weapons, so Graul is proficient in martial weapons. Though the centaur doesn’t wear armor, the DM agrees to give her proficiency in light armor. Liz doesn’t mind though, since she plans to have Graul go bare-chested and make use of the Unarmored Defense feature.
Now Liz adds her Barbarian level. She easily meets the strength requirement, so she gains proficiency with shields, a d12 hit die, and the Rage and Unarmored Defense features. Her character level is now 2, and she will advance Graul as a barbarian going forward. She buys equipment and is ready to charge into battle!
Rob wants to play a dragon in a level 1 game. Trevor is DM’ing and agrees, but they will need to adjust the monster stats. They settle on a Wyrmling Silver Dragon as the base monster.
Reducing the silver dragon wyrmling to 1 HD means that it’s Str and Con are reduced, so Rob’s ability scores are now Str 18, Dex 10, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 11, and Cha 15. Rob plans to advance his dragon as a wizard, so he asks to adjust the scores. He reduces the dragon’s Str to 13 and increases its Int to 17. They agree the scores are now suitable for the game.
The wyrmling’s hit points become 11, and it has a d8 hit die. Its flying speed is reduced to 50 feet. Trevor agrees to let the wyrmling keep all its special senses and its natural AC of 17. The dragon’s cold immunity is changed to cold resistance, and its bite attack is unchanged.
The damage of the cold breath weapon is reduced to 2d8 and will increase as noted above, and it now recharges on a short or long rest. The DC of 13 is still correct based on the dragon’s Con score and proficiency bonus, so it stays the same.
Looking at the Paralyzing Breath ability, Trevor says that it’s just too strong to have as an innate ability for a character. Rob does not write down that ability.
The dragon is proficient with 4 saving throws, so it has to lose some. Rob chooses to stay proficient in Constitution and Wisdom saving throws.
The dragon is proficient in Perception and Stealth, and Rob chooses to add Arcana and History to his repertoire. He speaks Draconic and Common. He can’t think of any tool kits a dragon would bother using, so he doesn’t choose any and decides to speak Elvish as well.
Dragons don’t usually use weapons or armor, and Rob isn’t really planning to, so he doesn’t write down any additional proficiencies.
Rob names his dragon Rimetongue, and is ready to play. He chooses not to buy any equipment and keep his character’s “hoard” of starting gold. His character is level 1, and when he reaches level 2, he will need to select a class.