What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana 2021, Travelers of the Multiverse (D&D 5e)

FAVSe4jXMAEbrdg.jpg largeIts been a while, but here we are with a new Unearthed Arcana today. Our theme is the multiverse, and our content is six new races for the game. Are all these options going to be included in Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse? I guess we’ll find out early next year, although I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of these got peeled off for another project, much like the Owlin appeared in the Fey Folk article but was slated for Strixhaven.

A Word About Race

I hate using the term, and I thought we were ready to start using lineage, but lineage seems to be what WOTC is using specifically for emergent options that modify a player character, which seems strange. I’m using the term race for clarity because that’s still what exists in the rules. I would love to see an official statement from WOTC moving away from the term, because I hate bouncing around and guessing at what’s going to be used in the future.

Evolving Species

We’re seeing more trends emerge that I think we can assume will be standardized for the next few years of development. Ability score increases are part of the “creating your character” section, but not directly attached to race. Languages are much the same, with Common as a default, with one other open language.

As far as elements that are tied to race, while we get the “creature type” disclaimer for most of these, many times when that disclaimer has appeared, it’s generally just an introduction to say all the races are humanoid. This time around, we see more variety in creature type, including construct, ooze, and monstrosity.

Lifespan mentions that the default is living about a century, unless the entry denotes those characters live longer. I’m still eagerly awaiting Mordenkainen’s Tome of Restructured Rules to see if the poor Tortles get some reprieve from their short lifespans.

And Now, The New Options

Our new player character race options include the following:

  • Astral Elf (Humanoid)
  • Autognome (Construct)
  • Giff (Humanoid)
  • Hadozee (Humanoid)
  • Plasmoid (Ooze)
  • Thri-Kreen (Monstrosity)

I know that in the 3rd/3.5 era, any non-humanoid options were gated behind level adjustments because it was considered a huge advantage to be immune to some of the lower-level spells that can only affect humanoids (like charm person). Even early 5e seemed to shy away from this. I’m not sure that immunity to a subset of “creature type” targeting spells is the advantage that it was always assumed to be, and it looks like WOTC design may be agreeing with that assessment.

uib2c3bce1b_gallery8A Stellar Digression

If you weren’t around for 2nd edition Spelljammer, or even if you were, but didn’t pick up all of the Monstrous Compendiums, you may not have picked up on the origins of some of these creatures. Giff are easy to recognize, since they appeared in the Spelljammer boxed set. The Autognome, Hadozee, and Plasmoid all appeared in the Spelljammer Monstrous Compendium, along with an alien species known as Rastipedes. If you were around even further back, you will probably pick up that these were Spelljammer translations of the Yazarians, Dralasites, and Vrusk from TSR’s Star Frontiers sci-fi RPG.

The Thri-Kreen can easily fill the role of the Vrusk/Rastipedes for thematic purposes, but D&D has had almost as many mantis-based creatures as it has cat-based creatures, so it may just be efficiency that has the Thri-Kreen stand in for all of them. Or they are hanging out with all the multiversal travelers in the same way the Owlin were hanging out with the fey creatures. Time will tell.

Astral Elf

Astral elves are elves that have lived most of their lives in the Astral plane, trying to get closer to the gods, and not aging. Some of these eventually decide to explore the multiverse after thousands of years of meditation.

The first thing that I want to point out is that the astral elf isn’t written up as an elf sub-race. It has its own entry, not unlike how the dragonborn we saw earlier this year had three separate entries, instead of being grouped as subraces. I think we’re going to see more of this distinct design when it comes to races in the future.

Astral elves have cantrips associated with light or radiant energy, darkvision, fey ancestry, and the standard elf “trance” trait. They gain a once per long rest ability to regain hit points on a failed death save, which is a nice “get out of the Fugue Plane Free” card, if you can roll with better than 50% odds. Astral elves also get proficiency in perception. This is one of those skills that is doing double duty as a physical trait for elves, to model elven heightened senses.

I also wanted to specifically look at their last ability, Trance Proficiencies. Every time you finish a long rest while using Trance, you can gain proficiency with weapons and/or tools. This is framed as pulling from the collective elven memory to pick up extra skills.

First off, I really like that something that has been D&D elf lore for a while, that elves wander through each other’s memories when they trance, now has a specific mechanical effect to reinforce that bit of lore. I’m also betting that we see at least some other elves getting this trait once we see updated Player’s Handbook races.

Autognomes

Autognomes are built by “rock” gnomes (not tinkers since the setting where tinkers originate from hasn’t been touched in 5e at the moment) and have received a spark of life. No two autognomes are built the same, and there is an autognome history table to describe where you came from and why you aren’t still with your original creator.

Autognomes borrow some traits, unsurprisingly, from Warforged. They get the six-hour sentry’s rest, and specialized design that grants them tool proficiency. They get armor, but unlike the bonus that Warforged get, Autognomes have a set armor class that is a bit better than what the Warforged get (although they don’t get the ability to fuse their armor to themselves).

Their unique abilities include an ability to add a d4 to a d20 roll, [proficiency bonus] number of times per long rest, with the standard “after the roll, but before you know the results” disclaimer. They have an ability called True Life, which lets them gain full effect from cure wounds, healing word, and spare the dying.

Now, for something that the Warforged get that isn’t spelled out for the autognome, and I wonder if it’s on purpose. Warforged are specifically immune to sleep, but autognomes don’t get this ability. Creature types don’t automatically have any bundled traits, other than the tag, so nothing says autognomes can’t be put to sleep.

Currently, Warforged are classified as humanoids, and I wonder if this solution wouldn’t have made more sense for that design, especially with the shared traits.

Giff

Everyone’s favorite hippo mercenaries finally in (sort of) official form (if they make the cut). If you don’t read any other of the racial entries in this article, read this one. Especially about the schism between different factions of giff.

The primary traits the giff get are damage dealer and hippo build. Damage dealer lets them reroll 1s when they roll for damage, once per turn. They have what is effectively a renamed version of powerful build, but why not reference hippos when you can.

Update: I forgot to mention that the Giff get a swim speed equal to their walking speed. I didn’t think much of it (since I obviously forgot it), except that upon looking it up . . . well, hippos don’t actually swim. They just walk underwater until the get to the other side of the water. 

Great Weapon Fighting, as a fighting style, allows for a reroll on a 1-2, without any limit on number of times per turn, meaning that a giff probably won’t be getting as much bang for their buck from their racial traits if they take Great Weapon Fighting as their style in a more martial class. On the other hand, it works for weapons that aren’t two-handed or versatile. I’d probably still look at other fighting styles just to keep from overwriting an ability.

Hadozee

Hadozee have a simian appearance, as well as a membrane like a flying squirrel’s under their arms. While this entry mentions that they are naturally arboreal, other sources where they have appeared, such as Spelljammer or the 3.5 book Stormwrack, have indicated that they also like exploring and sailing, and they enjoy working atop the masts of ships.

Hadozee are one of the newer races that can choose between small and medium for their size. Their glide ability doesn’t let them fly, but it does let them calculate forward momentum during a fall and reduces fall damage to 0. We get a sneak peek at how WOTC design is going to handle species with multiple prehensile limbs beyond two arms. In this case, the Hadozee gets to use a Use an Object action as a bonus action. Which means Hadozee are now the most efficient D&D race to utilize for combat drinking.

Oh, and if you remember the old Yazarian trait of being light sensitive, don’t worry, the Hadozee don’t carry that over with them. No fancy 80s sunglasses for you.

Plasmoids

Plasmoids are oozes, but unlike most oozes, where they just have a consistently oozy body composed of the same ooze as the rest of it, plasmoids have tons of internal nerves and ganglia (which all hearkens back to the fact that these were designed as sci-fi creatures instead of fantasy creatures).

Plasmoids can also be either medium or small, and they can ooze through tight spaces. They get advantage on grappling, have dark vision, and can hold their breath for an hour. Giving them just a flat “one hour” makes me wonder if that wouldn’t have been a better solution for other species like lizard folk, instead of calculating based off constitution. Plasmoids gain darkvision.

Plasmoids can stretch out up to 10 feet, but when doing so, they can’t use weapons or trigger magic items with the stretchy part. Even with that restriction, you can interact with an object at range, or even use the limb for fine manipulation, like picking a lock, if you don’t try to pick up more than 10 lbs.

Plasmoids are resistant to acid and poison, and roll saves against poison with advantage. My brain wants to say they should be resistant to bludgeoning damage, but I get that this is common enough that it can work out to be a significant boon.

Stretchy races in a game that tends to have more concrete rules for limbs and movement and actions have always been kind of tricky. I don’t think this solution is the perfect one, but it works for plasmoids, as it’s pretty much in keeping with their “stretch to a certain point and then reform” origins.

Oh, I also really like that they go full Odo when they are sleeping or otherwise incapacitated. You may want another party member to carry a bucket.

Thri-Kreen

Thri-Kreen are monstrosities, meaning that if a spell or ability specifies a creature type, they may be immune to that spell. Like the Hadozee and the Plasmoid, they can either be small or large. I don’t know that I recall any small Thri-Kreen in previous D&D lore, but I’m not a roleplaying entomologist either.

Thri-Kreen get natural armor and advantage on stealth. They have darkvision, and they don’t need to sleep, although they still need to rest for 8 hours to get the benefits of a long rest. Lots of “resting without sleeping” in this month’s UA.

Now, for some of the less standard abilities. Thri-Kreen don’t talk, or at least not in the humanoid sense since they kind of move their antennae and their mouth parts to talk to other Thri-Kreen. You can, however, telepathically talk to anyone in 120 feet that understands at least one language. No reading any thoughts that aren’t “broadcast” to you, however.

Now, about those extra limbs . . .

Thri-Kreen have an extra set of arms under their primary arms. The way this is worded is that the secondary arms can hold light weapons, and they can’t hold a shield. However, combined with your primary arms, this would mean that you could perform two weapon fighting while holding a shield. It also means that if you don’t have the Thrown Weapon Fighting style, you can effectively get off a few throws if you hang on to those light weapons with your smaller hands.

Final Thoughts

I like all these options. I’m sure some of them will feel a bit “out there” in many campaigns, and that’s why you have a Session Zero instead of complaining that an option shouldn’t exist for anyone.

  • I like that we have more “elves from WAY out there” options these days. I think it helps to reinforce the kind of otherworldly, eternal feel of the archetype. I do want to see how often the Astral Elf gets out of danger with its Radiant Soul ability. It also makes me wonder if this will make them more tempting as front line fighters.
  • I don’t mind the Autognome at all, but seeing this and how closely some of its abilities are to the Warforged, I’m wondering how long, and in what venue, we would possibly see a Warforged update, because that armor class boost does make these troopers just a wee bit more tempting than Warforged at the moment.
  • While it may make one fighting style option less useful (or rather, more useful, but makes a racial trait less useful), I do like how the Damage Dealer traits shows that you can model something with a big frame that is naturally powerful, without resorting to a strength bonus to do so.
  • I wonder how much “no falling damage” is worth in the grand scheme of things, or how much “I can drink a potion with my foot” will go towards making the Hadozee mechanically interesting to players. I know there where some specific situations where these abilities will be great, but I don’t think it’s going to be every session.
  • I can’t really think of much to say about Plasmoids, other than for those players to whom a plasmoid will appeal, they will probably appeal quite a bit. It’s also an excuse to have some sapient ooze cultists for Juiblex, although I almost feel wrong for typing that, since Plasmoids always look so happy and unassuming.
  • I’m still thinking of other ways to get use out of the extra arms of the Thri-Kreen other than the two-weapon fighting with a shield or throwing abilities, but honestly, they have a lot going for them, between stealth boosts and natural armor. They are built to sneak up on things and murder them.

I’m not completely against them, but I’m glad that this round of races avoided the “you get X at 1st level, and then Y at 3rd level, and Z at 5th level.” Sometimes those extra boons don’t make them excessively powerful at the level they gain their extra abilities, but it still makes those races look more “feature rich” than races that get what they get at 1st level.

Future Wishes

I like the direction that race designs are going. I really wish WOTC would settle on an official terminology change for race, and soon. I’m also curious to see when we might see more of previously detailed races get this kind of treatment. Are we going to wait until 2024 before we see what the other elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and tieflings look like?

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