It shouldn’t be surprising that many players are very interested in playing “monster characters” from time to time. Rather it be in reverse dungeons, “evil” campaigns, or homebrew adventures people occasionally want to dip their toe into something a little weird. Just as Half-Orcs, Dragonborn, and Tieflings have all grown out of many players’ desires to play Orcs, Dragons, and Devils, there are a few other races in the 5th Edition Monster Manual that I think would make excellent playable races. Some of them would just be for fun or as an experiment, but I think others could easily become memorable PCs and be just as important as the mainstream races. Here are my top ten candidates, in alphabetical order, and how they could be possibly played:
Using the centaur characters from both the Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia series as a base, it’s not hard to imagine a very diverse and engaging culture for your Centaur characters to explore. They are essentially guided by a strong connection to nature and the wild (Druids and Rangers) but also have a supreme sense of honor and duty (Fighters, Clerics, possibly Paladins, but no Rogues). They would be weakest or perhaps even abstaining from the use of arcane (Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks) and but could have an oral storytelling and/or singing tradition (Bards). I can also see the Barbarian class working out well with Centaurs, but I have a hard time seeing Monk.
I suppose you could really choose any type of giant you wished, so long as it fit the storyline. In my mind though, I see Hill or Mountain Giants. Immensely strong and moderately intelligent, they would be excellent Barbarians, Fighters, Druids, and Rangers. I can also see their greed and weak wills pushing them in the direction of Warlock. I’m having trouble envisioning Cleric, Wizard, Sorcerer, Bard, Rogue, and Paladin. However, and this may sound crazy, but can you imagine a Hill Giant Monk? All I can say is, wow!
Ravenous, territorial, temperamental, and with a healthy dose of bloodlust, a Gnoll PC would make for a difficult companion unless the rest of the party were Gnolls as well. And even then, it would make a terrible headache for the DM. However, I can easily see Gnolls filling the rolls of Fighter, Ranger, Druid, Shaman (Cleric), and Rogue. The other classes would be a stretch.
I have had the distinct honor of running an all-Goblin campaign in 2nd Edition using house rules. The result was both interesting and horrifying. My PCs were made up of two Fighters, a Shaman (Cleric), a Ranger, and a Rogue and let me tell you that Goblins get scary when they start achieving 3rd or 4th level. Sure, there was a lot of snarling, biting, stealing, in-fighting, and name-calling, but hey I’ve seen that from an all Elven party too.
For some reason I cannot explain, I have always equated Lizardfolk culture to Klingon culture from the Star Trek universe. The only difference being their almost fanatical devotion to magic instead of Honor. I suppose that a good argument could be made that making Lizardfolk playable characters is irrelevant when you have Dragonborn, but I see a few fundamental differences that could be fertile ground for gameplay. Firstly, Dragonborn seem to be loners like their Dragon ancestors and Lizardfolk congregate into huge clans. Secondly, Lizardfolk lean more towards the evil side of neutral where Dragonborn are mostly good or at least lawful. And thirdly, Lizardfolk practically worship magic and those who can use it, whereas Dragonborn can make up their own minds. It would also be interesting to make a few PCs the leaders (i.e. the spell casters) and make the others their minions (Fighters, Rangers, Barbarians, and possibly Rogues)
6. Mind Flayer (Illithid)
Oh what a twisted and tangled web an all-Mind Flayer campaign would be! Each one of the players would be desperately hungry to outshine the others and gain the favor of the Elder Brain. As far as evil campaigns go this would be, in my opinion, the pinnacle. However, I’m not even sure if a Mind-Flayer can possess any class other than a Psionic. I know that they have a great deal of natural ability which is enhanced by the Elder Brain, but are there Fighter Illithids? Are there Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric Illithids? Interesting thoughts to explore…..
Once upon a time, using the old 2nd Edition rules, I ran a very in-depth and memorable all- Minotaur campaign. I thought it was excellent and would love the opportunity to run it a second time under 5th Edition rules. I know that they have been quite popular as player characters in World of Warcraft, and I feel that many of their traits from that game can be transferred over to D&D. Fighters, Druids, Rangers, Clerics, Paladins, Monk, Barbarian, all seem quite natural. The Arcane classes might be a bit more difficult but I’m sure that an inventive player could come up with a great story explaining it. Unfortunately, the idea of a Minotaur Rogue (believe it or not I have seen it tried) or a Minotaur Bard just makes me laugh and I can’t take the idea seriously.
8. Pixie (or Brownie)
Some of you “manly-men” out there might feel like playing a Pixie or Brownie is too girlish for your taste. Well please allow me to give you a few pop-culture examples of how playing a tiny little person with (or without) wings might be fun: 1) The brownies from Willow; 2) Reepicheep from the The Chronicles of Narnia series; 3) All of the characters from Pixar’s Toy Story and A Bug’s Life; 4) The Smurfs; and 5) All of the characters from the Redwall series. As you can see, there is a long tradition in fantasy of the main characters being small and taking on the larger world. I think it would be fun to make something as simple as a wolf or a coyote as intimidating and powerful to small characters as a dragon is to normal characters. I can also see Pixies and Brownies filling in every class role available. (But maybe the damage on a tiny fireball might not be the same!)
From the very beginning of D&D, Trolls have had it rough. They are ugly, smelly, gangly, always hungry enough to eat almost anything, and hateful towards any race but their own. I think to play one would be an excellent experiment to see how accepting and accommodating other people can be. On the other hand, playing Trolls might just be a good excuse to let your players run wild and be evil monsters for a while before they get wiped out.
Just like Minotaurs, I think Yetis could be played with a great deal of depth. They would be a proud and valiant race struggling to survive on the barren tundra and in perpetual winter environments. I envision struggles against Frost Giants, Dire Wolves, Mammoths, Undead (White Walkers anyone?), and many other winter foes. While they may not be intelligent enough for the arcane classes, I really don’t have an issue with any of the other options, although Rogue might be a stretch.
Do you have any other suggestions to add to my list? Feel free to comment.