Today I thought I'd take a break from the backgrounds and address another option for players when creating their characters. In the Volo's Guide to Monsters, rules are provided for playing as several monstrous races. Some of my favorites on this list include Goblins, Orcs, and Yuan-ti. I even have a player in an upcoming campaign that is playing as a Tabaxi. But even though we have rules that say we can, that doesn't always mean we should. So let's talk about when and why to use monstrous PCs.
For starters, monstrous NPCs are atypical. Monsters are typically not adventurers in the normal sense, and most adventurers are not monsters. In light of this, I find that they are most effective when played very uniquely. A prime example of this is Nott the goblin from Critical Role. Nott is both defined by and goes against her race. She is clearly a goblin, a fact which she takes some pains to hide. However, she doesn't act like other goblins, beyond being sneaky and less than brave. Nott is very motherly, which is a trait not found in most goblins. This sets her apart and gives her a reason to adventure. She would not be accepted in a "normal" role in either her home society or any society she would try to integrate in, but she can still find a home among an adventuring group, because they exist on the fringes of society.
One of the biggest differences between a monster and a monstrous PC will be alignment. Simply put, monsters do evil things on a regular basis, but monstrous PCs shouldn't. Having a nonevil alignment helps to integrate the monstrous PC into a party of like-minded adventurers, as well as gives them a reason to not stay among their evil brethren. Using another example, Drizz't Do'Urden is a very illustrative of this concept. Born into the evil society of the drow, Drizz't himself was not naturally evil, and so could not exist in that society for long. Eventually he fled, and was able to join a group of other adventurers because they accepted him for the content of his character, not his heritage.
Essentially, the above advice is to make monstrous PCs different as people. However, we shouldn't stop there. Tagging on a monstrous race to a PC simply for its own sake cheapens the race itself. Generally, if you select a monstrous race, it should be because it adds something to the character that otherwise wouldn't be achieved with a standard race. A good example of this might be to challenge our preconceived notions about people and what is right or wrong. Since most people will assume a monster is evil or bad, a monstrous PC can serve as a reminder that people (even monstrous ones) can take control of their fate and are responsible for their own actions, and that they aren't all bad. This wouldn't have the same effect with a dwarf, since we aren't going to prejudge them in that same way.
At the end of the day, clear it with your GM, and have fun with it. The advice above is intended for helping players maximize their roleplaying experience with monstrous PCs, but it's by no means a catch-all list of rules. Depending on the style of game you and your group wish to play, feel free to break any or all of them. What matters most is that your decision to play a monstrous PC is thought out and reasoned. I simply caution against simply doing it just because you can, because it lessens they impact for those who do it when they should.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.