In D&D, it’s possible to find playable racial stats for many races. Especially the base 4 races, which can be referred to as 3 goblinoids and orcs, have been provided as playable multiple times in different editions of the official sources.

However, some races are rarely offered as playable. And Troglodytes, Minotaurs, and Gnolls are often seen as monster races. Although there are different playable versions, they are designed for specific settings, like the Dragonlance minotaurs. But these specific versions might not fit well with the general theme of D&D.

The main problem with these races (and indeed most brutal races) is related to their stats. The first issue is that their physical stats are much higher compared to normal races. They can have bonuses like +4 to strength, dexterity, or constitution, and many have two or even all three of these bonuses. Another problem is their mental stats being penalized when given as a monster block – whereas in 5th edition, we know that no playable race has stat penalties.

Thus, giving an Orc bonuses to strength and constitution but a penalty to intelligence means that, in practice, they would have the same total stats as other races. However, this leads to situations and stats that contradict the general design of the 5th edition. On the other hand, players who play Orcs want to see certain traits. Indeed, playing an Orc that is not exceptionally strong or resilient wouldn’t be much fun, would it? Especially for races that are “almost large,” like Minotaurs and Bugbears, one would expect significant bonuses to strength and probably constitution, making the situation even more dramatic.

This situation is a challenging factor in terms of design. On one hand, we need to fit the general structure of the 5th edition, and on the other, we need to convey the Brutal Race theme to players and DMs. The best solution was to give a certain number of stat bonuses like official races, avoid penalties, but provide the expected overwhelming physical stats through other racial traits.

For example, bugbears have the Oversized Stature trait, which instead of directly giving a stat bonus, provides a d4 bonus to some strength or dexterity-based checks. Both general Bugbears and the stronger Wolverine tribe have traits that increase melee damage. Thus, even if we can’t directly increase strength (as that would disrupt bounded accuracy), we can indirectly suggest higher strength.

Similar strategies are used for Minotaurs with the Avid Contestant trait, which allows re-rolls on skill checks of 1-5. When used in strength-based skills, it effectively signifies that the Minotaur is stronger. Similarly, especially for physically stronger Cretan Minotaurs, there are powerful horn attacks.

Other races like Scaled Horror Lizardfolks make a difference with the Crushing Grasp trait, and the stronger Beefy Goblins distinguish themselves by being medium size, unlike their kin. A similar case applies to half-orc variants with advantages in different physical aspects. Churgruns can display overwhelming physical power with powerful build and muscular burst traits.

Besides stats, the presence of natural weapons in many Brutal Races also presented design challenges. It was necessary to provide race-identifying natural attacks, but they ended up having a very large set of abilities when combined with their other features.

Lizardfolk, Gnolls, and Troglodytes needed bite attacks, Troglodytes required claw attacks, Lizardfolk and Troglodytes had natural armor, and Minotaurs needed horn attacks. Having six subraces each helped balance the natural attacks in some respects.

Troglodytes were arguably the richest in this regard. Besides bite, claw, and natural armor, they needed a type of camouflage ability and odor emission. We gave the default subrace, Putrigut Troglodytes, enhanced versions of these traits but balanced their incredibly advanced natural features with their extremely primitive technology and civilization. Pherogolodytes specialize in using the odor feature better, while Pell’cids have improved camouflage abilities.

Similarly, for Gnolls, a bite attack was essential. Meatchoppers are savages that use bite attacks more effectively, while Blighters received different bite attack forms. H’yeanics became a subrace that cannot use bite attacks but compensated with other features (speed, quadrupedal movement).

This approach was evident in other races too. Cretan Minotaurs are masters of horn attacks, Gladiators use their horns for special maneuvers, and Masqueraders, though hornless, compensated with other traits.

Given all this, it was inevitable that some races would have more features compared to others. A Putrigut Troglodyte has many features but is extremely primitive and savage. However, a Sellsword Hobgoblin or Branded Orc, by comparison, has fewer features but can access vast resources due to their locations in the most civilized places. Broadly speaking, it can be assumed that those born and living in the most comfortable places will have the fewest features, while those in the most challenging geographies will have more natural features.

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