A Day at the Races Reincarnated — How to Shoehorn Dragonborn & the Like

Richard Penwarden

If you haven’t seen “A Day at the Races” (series 6, episode 6) you really should! https://d-infinity.net/live/day-races-d-infinity-live-series-6-ep-6

I really enjoyed the show and in particular had some thoughts on how a player and GM might want to consider ways of integrating some of the more unusual race options into a setting where they may not commonly exist. D&D is a High Fantasy setting and 5th edition, the one I currently use most, is no exception. In such a game where magic is so common, it is not very difficult to come up with some great reasons why a character can be of a race not normally associated with the area. I’ve put down some ideas as to how you could implement this but, obviously, the GM will have to be willing.  Note that these reasons do not have to apply to your PC directly — the character may have had one or more parents or ancestors who had one of these methods apply to them instead.

1.       Magic Items & Artefacts. Artefacts are incredibly powerful magical items, most of them come with some form of side effects. The Axe of the Dwarfish Lords makes a character at least appear more like a dwarf, why not extend that to actually have the PC or their ancestor turn into a dwarf and have other artefacts exist for alternative races? Older versions of D&D have girdles of femininity and masculinity that swap the wearer’s sex – why not have an item that switches the race (and grants racial powers) instead? The artefact would probably no longer be in the possession of the character at the start of their adventures.

2.       Spells. A Polymorph or Wish-type spell may have resulted in your human ancestor being turned into a dwarf, and so on. Perhaps a Wild Magic area or spell effect wrought a permanent change to a distant relative.

3.       Portals and spaceships. It might seem a bit of a cop-out but if everyone is happy to use it the “I’m a visitor from beyond” method, it works fine to explain why a certain character is somewhere they wouldn’t normally be found. Unusual Classes as well as unusual Races can benefit from this approach. There is even a Far Traveller Background in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide which is suitable for a foreign culture be that from another country, continent, world or even plane. Magic items such as Cubic Gates or even the Gate Spell itself are other ways a PC may have arrived at the setting. A Contact Outer Plane spell that somehow goes wrong and merges a Planar PC also is an idea. And of course some sort of fiend could have come over from beyond the pale and seduced an ancestor.

4.       Mutation. This one especially applies to a PCs ancestors. Something has changed the player’s race over time from one thing to another. It could be a slow but powerful curse or perhaps an ancestor was struck by the blood of a god during some divine battle and the helpless mortal began to take on some the deity’s aspects (similar to the Birthright setting). My personal favourite is that humans living near ancient dragons for many generations begin to change and became Dragonborn; I love this idea because it ties in with a fauna effect, we know that dragons have an effect on the actual landscape and flora near their lairs after all.

5.       Reincarnate. I have never seen anyone play a starting PC of a Race randomly generated from this spell but it is such an obvious fun choice. Imagine a land of Elves with a PC whose background is they were born an Elf but died whilst trying to save a Druid’s life one day. In gratitude the Druid casts Reincarnate and the PC is restored to life as a Half Orc, all before their first actual adventure. So many fun opportunities with this. Would the family shun them, would the player try to turn themselves back? I’ve included the Reincarnate table from the spell with percentage breakdown – as an aside, notice the 6% chance of coming back as a Rock Gnome? I wonder why this is, particularly compared to races such as Half Elf, Tiefling and of course Forest Gnome, all 4% each? Sure there is some variation between Hill and Mountain Dwarves and Wood and High Elves but that could be down to one of each being in the free SRD.

In short, if you want to play an unusual race to the setting (and the GM allows it) there can be any number of reasons as to why your particular character is there, just pick something that seems right and go with it. Perhaps your character has no idea why they are what they are and some sort of orphan story ensues (it might be corny but some players lap this stuff up). Just pick the race you and your GM are happy with and let the story evolve naturally as to why you are there. You may need a satisfying reason why you have learned certain abilities – how did you do that? Did you practise your natural talents or were you trained? In The Adventures of Middle Earth supplement for 5e, by Cubicle 7, Races are substituted with Cultures; you might like to try this and play an Elf raised by Dwarves – rolling your height and weight as an Elf, but choosing Cultural Virtues and Racial Abilities as a Dwarf for example.

I’ll leave you with an updated Reincarnation table that you can use to randomly determine PCs or NPCs from all the current canon 5e races.

%            Race

01           Aasimar, Fallen, VGtM 105.

02           Aasimar, (Guideless), DMG 286.

03           Aasimar, Protector, VGtM 105.

04           Aasimar, Scourge, VGtM 105.

05           Aarakocra, EEPC 5.

06           Bugbear, VGtM 119.

07-10     Dragonborn (equal chance of variant), PHB 34.

11-12     Dwarf, Grey (Duergar), SCAG 104.

13-17     Dwarf, Hill, PHB 20.

18-22     Dwarf, Mountain, PHB 20.

23-24     Elf, Dark (Drow), PHB 24.

25-26     Elf, Eladrin, DMG 286.

27-31     Elf, High, PHB 23.

32-36     Elf, Wood, PHB 24.

37           Firbolg, VGtM 107.

38           Genasi, Air, EEPC 9.

39           Genasi, Earth, EEPC 9.

40           Genasi, Fire, EEPC 9.

41           Genasi, Water, EEPC 10.

42           Gnome, Deep (Svirfneblin), EEPC 7 or SCAG 115.

43-44     Gnome, Forest, PHB 37.

45-46     Gnome, Rock, PHB 37.

47           Goblin, VGtM 119.

48-51     Goliath, EEPC 11 or VGtM 109.

52-56     Half-Elf (equal chance of variant SCAG 116.), PHB 39.

57-60     Half-Orc, PHB 41.

61-62     Halfling, Ghostwise, SCAG 110.

63-67     Halfling, Lightfoot, PHB 28.

68-72     Halfling, Stout, PHB 28.

73           Hobgoblin, VGtM 119.

74-89     Human (equal chance of variant) PHB 31.

90           Kenku, VGtM 111.

91           Kobold, VGtM 119.

92           Lizardfolk, VGtM 113.

93           Orc, VGtM 120.

94           Tabaxi, VGtM 115.          

95-98     Tiefling (equal chance of variant SCAG 118), PHB 43.

99           Triton, VGtM 117.

100         Yuan-Ti Pureblood, VGtM 120.


(PHB) Player's Handbook

(EEPC) Elemental Evil Player's Companion

(SCAG) Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide

(DMG) Dungeon Master's Guide

(VGtM) Volo's Guide to Monsters