How to use Monsters as Character Races in Dungeons Dragons

Human, elf, dwarf, gnome, half-orc, all the rest… there are a lot of different races available for use in Dungeons & Dragons character creation, and all of them are quite good. You can make a solid, enduring character out of just about any race.

But that’s not enough for some players. Some players want more. Something more… bestial. Ferocious. Potentially even huge, bipedal or even other-worldly. These players want to play as monsters… and, truth be told, they can. With a few exceptions, you can add class levels to anything with a brain in most editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

Doing so brings some problems into play, however:

– First, monsters are generally nasty and often brain-poor beasts. They’re not meant to cooperate with other races, they’re meant to eat those races.

– Second, monsters have a host of special powers that put them above and beyond the average person. Adding class levels on top makes them a great deal more powerful. This is likely to cause some consternation among other players who are playing normal races and are constantly outclassed in every way.

– Third, monsters often exist under specific conditions. Many undead, for example, cannot be exposed to the sunlight. A character who chooses to be undead will, therefore, have a tough time coexisting with a group under normal conditions.

– And, fourth, monsters are, well, monsters. They won’t be well accepted in polite society, making visits to cities… troublesome, at best. Roleplaying with a monster in the group can become a bit overwhelming for any campaign.

When choosing to play a monster in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, you need to talk to your dungeon master about the character and form plans for its creation. The 3.5 Edition of the game has specific rules in its Monster Manuals for using monsters as player races, making this the ideal edition for creating your character. You must, however, adhere to certain laws in the doing:

– First, some monsters just shouldn’t be played. Gelatinous Cubes are an oft-cited example: they have no brain, and thus are unacceptable for carrying on the plot. You also shouldn’t choose races that are inherently evil or way too huge to work in confined spaces.

– Second, you’ll have to take level adjustments into account. Level adjustments determine how many levels of that monster’s race you must take to bring it to its full potential before you can start taking class levels. On average, you shouldn’t choose a monster with a level adjustment above two or three, as your character will be crippled from the sometimes useless monster levels.

– Third, if you don’t want to bother with level adjustments, consider nerfing certain aspects of the monster that make it too powerful for normal use. You could lower some stats, get rid of some particularly outrageous abilities – flight, invisibility at will, instant and unrestrained transformation, that sort of thing – or even impose extra restrictions on its use to even out the positives. Be prepared to compromise a lot to use a monster.

– And, fourth, don’t adhere to the typical alignments for your monster. You’ll almost certainly have to play a societal outcast who has, for whatever reason, leaned more to the side of good. Going for an evil monster without a good reason, and with the usual temperament for that monster, gives you few options for fitting into an adventuring party.

Overall, choosing to be a monster can be an interesting experience… though also one that’s not worth the trouble in the end. Not only will character creation become quite difficult when factoring in level adjustment rules, your character probably won’t be that much stronger than everyone else (and may even lag behind the rest of the party at the same levels). If you’re choosing a race for aesthetic reasons alone, consider using another race’s template as a base for your character and forgo all the extra work.