Looking at a different set of character options for D&D 5e, I wanted to briefly address one of the sidebar racial present in the Player's Handbook. The Variant human is a pretty significant change from the base human, and definitely deserves to have its own article to break down the useful and interesting bits about it.
First off, let me just start by saying that humans are a pretty vanilla choice for player race. And that's okay. It's common for a reason, and well liked for a reason. Lots of people are into low fantasy which leans less heavily on the other races, or simply feel that their character would be best represented by playing a human character. This is perfectly fine, and most campaigns will consist of at least human PC. That said, some people also choose humans for the mechanical benefit. When they do so, they often select the variant human, and when someone has selected a human for another reason, they'll still often take the variant human because it's just so good. But why?
The simple answer is that they get a feat and skill, but let's break this down a little further. The variant human replaces the base human's ability score increase feature with their own list of abilities.
For comparison, the base human gets a simple increase of one point to every stat. Which is in itself a problem. While it does a good job of depicting humans as well-rounded characters, being well-rounded isn't something you often want in a class-based RPG. Rather than being relatively proficient in everything, a large number of people just want to be good at what they're supposed to be good at. I count myself among this number. And D&D especially doesn't really have a good class with a generalist role. Perhaps the closest pick for that would be a bard, and those still lean more heavily on charisma, with the other attributes being a more even split thereafter. So there's little reason to go with the base human.
Now onto what the variant gets. Variant human gets to increase any two ability scores of their choice by 1. This is still pretty good. It means that if you choose to allocate your points right, you can still end up with a +4 modifier in the basic point buy if you really wanted, and even if you don't you can choose to strategically position those points to hit on weak areas, sure up areas of strength, or just round out as necessary for the greatest amount of numerical point savings on the point buy chart. Moreover, it means that the base human still isn't getting a leg up on a variant human in the ability scores that matter to that player (they might get beat out on the other 4 attributes, but who really cares about those?) Moving on, we see that the variant human also gets a free skill proficiency. This is pretty good. It can help round out a character's range of skill and make them more useful. Sure, the associated stat for it might or might not be getting a boost, but that doesn't matter much when you're getting your proficiency bonus. And by the way, that's any skill. Not confined to a class or background list. It can be literally anything, allowing for some really diverse picks your character might not otherwise access. But here's the best part: YOU GET TO START OFF WITH A FEAT. Let me explain why this is a big deal. First off, feats give your characters some really great options that other characters just can't do. Like Lucky allowing you free re-rolls if things go bad. Or Sentinel giving you extra attacks in certain situations. Or Keen Mind allowing you to have what amounts to a photographic memory. Just to name a few of the really cool features that can help give you an edge and set your character apart. Oh, and did I mention that some of the feats come with a stat increase. Because some do. Meaning that if you choose those two stat increase points from the variant and allocate them in such a way as to stack with the attribute benefited by a feat, you can break the limits of the benefits of a base human in that particular ability score and can actually rival the benefits provided by another race, while still getting the advantages of that feat. This is predicated on you choosing a feat that does give an attribute increase to an ability score that you want, but still, that's pretty useful.
As it stands, there's very little reason to play a base human. Variant humans are almost objectively better. If you want a well-rounded character, sure, a base human might be more up your alley. Or if your GM doesn't allow the variant human. But in a game where options are encouraged, and specialization tends to win out over generalization, the variant human just performs better. Your mileage may vary, but keep this in mind the next time you decide to play a human character in D&D.
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.