GM Tips: Best Races for Wizard Characters
Wizards are a staple of TTRPG games like D&D and Pathfinder, but more often than not we see that most wizards in media are portrayed by humans. However, in the world of TTRPGs - specifically 5E, there are lots of different races to choose from that might provide an interesting framework for your wizard character. We've recently completed a list of the best wizards in film, as well as how to make your wizard character unique - so this blog post will add on to those ideas by providing you with a breakdown of how each race in the core 5E rules pairs with the wizard class for those looking to minmax their characters, or maybe set them apart from other wizards in the party or in the game.
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Dragonborn are notoriously proud of their clans and of their dragon heritage. They are an uncommon, bipedal race with lots of scales, talons, and reptilian faces. All Dragonborn hatch from eggs, and the color of their scales give some clue as to the lineage of their blood. So, would a Dragonborn make a good wizard? Well, as far as minmaxing goes, Dragonborn abilities are usually able to be replicated by wizards very early on so those looking to maximize a wizard's abilities and somehow benefit from a Dragonborn's at the same time won't find much to work with. Strength and Charisma ability score increases don't matter at all to a wizard. The breath weapon could come in handy in certain situations but if you've got one of the breath weapons that has a 15' cone (Gold, Green, Red, Silver, and White dragon lineages have this) - I shouldn't have to tell you that even a regular Dragonborn wizard should never be that close to melee combat. However, the damage resistance can prove to be useful against certain spells, although any wizard worth his/her salt casting spells against your Dragonborn wizard would most likely understand what type of resistance your lineage affords you and cast more appropriate spells that would afford you no resistance whatsoever.
RATING: 🪄 Dragonborn Wizards are very cool aesthetically and are even cooler if you tailor their spells to the type of lineage they have, but that's mostly the draw for a Dragonborn Wizard. Their natural strength and charisma can afford some improvements to abilities you won't necessarily focus on, but since a Wizard relies entirely on Intelligence and maybe Constitution, it doesn't help at all with improving their base stats that you need. Eldritch Knights as a Dragonborn afford the ability to cast some spells but stick with their badassery in close combat, so that may be a better fit if you want to be a Warrior Wizard. However, if you think aesthetically that it would be cool for your Wizard to be descended from dragons - the Dragonborn is a good pick. The vanilla Dragonborn race isn't particularly suited to be a highly effective Wizard overall, but don't let that stop you. (There are also other variants of Dragonborn better suited to being a Wizard that we won't cover here since they're not in the original Player's Handbook, so maybe we'll get to those in another blog post.)
Dwarves are a naturally hardy race of underground workers who deal in stone and metals. Extremely proud, brave, and courageous - Dwarves are often shorter than their human counterparts by at least a foot or two but are stockier and easily weigh about the same or more despite the height difference. But how effective are Dwarven Wizards? Dwarves don't really have a whole lot of bonuses that would benefit a wizard very much. Depending on which Dwarven lineage you choose, you may find something useful. For example, the Dwarf bonus of +2 to Constitution scores comes in real handy for spellcasters, as magic users are naturally very squishy compared to their peers. Dwarves live longer than Humans, so they have more time for Wizard studies since they live to be about 350 years old or so. Darkvision can come in handy while casting spells in dark environments. Their proficiency with martial weapons and combat training doesn't help much because you don't want your Wizard character involved in melee combat if you can help it. However, if you're a Hill Dwarf, the increased Wisdom score of +1 might come in handy for Wisdom saving throws, but it's negligible at best.
The Hill Dwarf's Dwarven Toughness, however, gives you +1 hit points each level, which, combined with the Constitution bonus can really pad your hit points as you level up, which is great for a spellcaster. Likewise, a Mountain Dwarf's Strength bonus of +2 won't help a Wizard much at all, but all Mountain Dwarves have Dwarven Armor Training so a spellcaster having proficiency with light and medium armor is actually a really useful ability to give them since most spellcasters don't have the ability to benefit from using armor.
RATING: 🪄🪄🪄 The idea of a Dwarf Wizard is actually pretty cool when you think about it, since it goes against type. When you think of Dwarves, you think of hardy martial types, so contrasting that image with that of a bookworm devoting lots of time to studying spells and magic can provide a nice change of pace for your spellcaster choice. They're a little more palatable as Wizards for minmaxers than Dragonborn, too, but their secondhand abilities don't exactly lend themselves too well to being spellcasting Wizards.
Elves are a people who truly appreciate beauty in the world, both in nature and in the arts. They are somewhat a race of outcasts, mostly by choice, as they live within dense forests and other places where they can enjoy peace and solitude. Art, magic, and poetry reign in the world of Elves - so, does that mean Elves make great wizards? Thankfully, the Elves have a natural inclination toward magic, so depending on which subrace you choose for your Elf spellcaster, some are more suited to being a wizard than others. All Elves get a natural +2 to their Dexterity scores, which can certainly help a lot when it comes to their armor class numbers, since most Wizards can't wear armor or else risk hindering their spellcasting motions. As with Dwarves, Elves live a long time - enabling them more time to practice and study magic. Some elves live to be 750 years old or more! Also, as with Dwarves, Elves have Darkvision which can help in certain situations if there's a need to cast spells in the dark. Their Keen Senses could help them in unexpected ways, such as being more reactive to traps and things that will keep them alive longer since all Wizards are kind of squishy. Also, their Fey Ancestry ensures that magic can never put them to sleep (which is very handy for anyone, especially a Wizard) and gives them advantage on saving throws against being charmed, which is very handy as well. Finally, Elves don't need to sleep like humans do. They go into Trance, deeply meditating for only 4 hours a day and receiving the same benefits a human does with 8 hours of full sleep. This means that they spend less time sleeping, and more time recharging their spells.
The Elf subraces provide additional benefits, such as the High Elf and its Ability Score Increase of 1 for Intelligence - which is very useful for Wizards, as it is their main attribute. High Elves also gain one extra cantrip of the Wizard's choice, which is also very useful to a beginning Wizard who doesn't have a lot of spell slots yet. The Extra Language provided by the High Elf subrace isn't especially useful but can come in handy if trying to read a tome that's in a different language that may benefit your spellcaster. The Elf Weapon Training doesn't really matter that much as it gives your Wizard proficiency in using the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow. As stated with all Wizards - you don't normally want your Wizard involved in melee combat. It can provide some nice flavor for your wizard, however.
Wood Elves get an Ability Score Increase of +1 for Wisdom, which isn't especially handy for Wizards but can help with certain Wisdom based saving throws against spells. Fleet of Foot comes in handy, as it allows the Wizard to move 35' instead of just 30' - which, combined with the Wood Elves' other ability, Mask of the Wild - which allows them to hide even when they are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, or other natural phenomena - can keep them out of harm's way so they can keep on casting spells. Wood Elves also gain Elf Weapon Training, which, as before is sort of useless for Wizards aside from flavor.
Dark Elves also benefit from an Ability Score Increase of +1 but it's only to Charisma, making them even less useful than Wood Elves since unless you're a Charisma based spellcaster like a Sorcerer, the Charisma buff won't do anything for you as a Wizard. Since Dark Elves live underground, they do possess Superior Darkvision, enabling them to see twice as far in the dark than their other Elven counterparts, but that is only useful in niche situations. Drow Weapon Training gives proficiency in different weapons than their surface-dwelling counterparts, such as rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows. However, again, Wizards are squishy, so you don't want them in hand-to-hand anyway. Rapiers are nice because they are versatile and you can use Dexterity for your attack rolls with it and Elves are naturally dexterous, so that could come in handy if you are desperate but otherwise not a draw to the Dark Elves. You do gain some extra spells being a Drow with Drow Magic, but you only get dancing lights at 1st level, faerie fire at 3rd level, and darkness at 5th level and you must use Charisma as your spellcasting ability for those spells and not your Intelligence. Finally, the Dark Elves also have a weakness that can hinder spellcasting which is a Sunlight Sensitivity that gives them disadvantage on attack rolls and on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight if they're in direct sunlight, which doesn't sound like a lot of fun no matter what your class is.
RATING: 🪄🪄🪄🪄 Overall, Elves make great natural Wizards. While a Dark Elf character would most likely make a great Sorcerer, they're probably not the best choice for Wizards although a Dark Elf Wizard seems extremely cool aesthetically. Wood Elves have some pros and cons, and being able to hide and being able to be faster than most others can certainly come in handy, but they don't get a ton of bonuses that are helpful to Wizards. Minmaxers will like the High Elves the most because of their +2 to Dexterity and +1 to Intelligence, along with their bonus cantrip. Those subrace bonuses and abilities pair nicely with the Elves' ability to Trance instead of sleep, and their Fey Ancestry which allows them to shrug off magical spells or abilities which would put them to sleep or charm them, so a High Elf Wizard is one of the top tier Wizard characters you can be from the vanilla Player's Handbook.
Halflings are a typically good-natured race of brave people who are somewhere between Dwarves and Gnomes in their stature. Halflings are essentially Hobbits from Tolkien lore, with a different name to avoid copyright claims - although over the years through D&D products, Halflings have produced their own personality and lore that separates them from Hobbits. The real question is - do Hobbits make good Wizards? As with Elves, all Halflings get an Ability Score Increase of +2 to their Dexterity. This provides Wizard characters with extra benefits to their often times terrible Armor Class scores, which can help a lot. Halflings tend to live a little longer than humans, but not quite as long as Elves or Dwarves. Halflings have the Lucky trait, giving them the ability to re-roll 1's on attack rolls, ability checks, or saving throws which is a very cool bonus ability to have as a Wizard. Halflings are also Brave and have advantage on saving throws against being frightened, which can come in handy against certain monsters or spells. Halflings are considered Small, and they have Halfling Nimbleness which allows them to move through the space of any creature that is a size larger than theirs - which, if you find yourself trapped in close quarters with an enemy (which Wizards don't want to find themselves in) could come in handy to escape. However, because of their small size - Halfling Wizards can only move at a base speed of 25' compared to other Wizards who can usually at least move 30'. This is definitely a weakness that could prove detrimental to a Wizard.
With the Halfling Subraces, the Lightfoot Halflings are the most common and as a Lightfoot Halfling you also get an Ability Score Increase of +1 to Charisma - which is only useful to Charisma based spellcasters like a Sorcerer. However, Lightfoot Halflings are Naturally Stealthy and can attempt to hide even when they are obscured only by a creature that is at least one size larger than them. The ability to hide can come in handy since they can't run very far. Stout Halflings get a much more useful Ability Score Increase of +1 to their Constitution, which can help pad their hit points. They also receive Stout Resilience and have advantage on saving throws against poison, and also have resistance against poison damage - which may be useful in niche circumstances.
RATING: 🪄🪄🪄 Overall, the Halflings are about as good at wizarding as Dwarves. There are a couple bonuses like being able to hide easier, and getting the bonuses from being Lucky, as well as the big boost to Dexterity. However, the bonus is dampened somewhat by the fact that Halflings are just so small and already get a movement hindrance as compared to other playable races from the Player's Handbook. Still, this shouldn't stop you from being a Halfling Wizard. In the right hands, detractions can be turned into interesting character quirks or even sometimes unique ways to approach a situation.
Humans are the most common race found in games like D&D and Pathfinder. A race that has a relatively short life span, Humans are very intent on living life to the fullest and a human lifespan is full of art, music, culture, industry, and ambition. So, does that mean they are a good fit for a Wizard? Well, one of the benefits of being a human in the world of D&D is that they tend, overall, to be good at almost everything. They may not be the best at everything, but their drive pushes them more so than with other races to excel. Therefore, a normal non-variant human in 5E gets an Ability Score Increase of +1 to every single ability score. That's not an amazing trait but it sure helps. The additional +1 on most ability scores will essentially go to waste, but depending on how you roll - the additional point may push them into territory where it will benefit you.
Now, if you pick the Variant Human instead of the vanilla version, you only get 2 bonus Ability Score points - but you can put them anywhere you want as long as they're not on the same Ability. This means that overall, you get less Ability Score increases, but the additional traits you receive are a proficiency in one skill of your choice (which can only help a Wizard character), and also the best part which is a Feat of your choice. This is big for a Wizard because some of the Feats like Keen Mind increase your Intelligence by +1 - so with that and the Ability Score Increase, it's possible to get your Intelligence up by 2 points. Other feats like Elemental Adept let you ignore resistances to your elemental spells, or others like War Caster, Spell Sniper, Magic Initiate which give you bonuses or buffs to your spells.
Well, if you pick a normal vanilla human from the Player's Handbook, the rating might be more like 3-4 wands, but the Variant Human is no doubt almost the best you can get in terms of minmaxing your Wizard character and making full use of the bonuses. With so much flexibility and no real weaknesses, the human Wizard is hard to beat.
Gnomes are a diminutive race of tinkerers, cunning inventors, and thinkers. Shorter than Dwarves, overall, but slightly taller on average than Halflings - Gnomes continue the celebration of whimsical fantasy races that are short of stature but big of heart. But how well would a Gnome Wizard work? Well, to start off - all Gnomes get a whopping +2 Ability Score Increase to their Intelligence. If you already somehow rolled an 18 for your Intelligence, that could push you to the max of 20 which is great for a Wizard. Like Dwarves and Elves, Gnomes also possess Darkvision which can help spellcasting in certain situations. Finally, all base gnomes receive the Gnome Cunning trait which gives the character advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws against magic which can be great for a magic duel.
For the subraces, the Forest Gnome also gets an additional +1 to Dexterity which can help with generally poor Wizard AC scores. Forest Gnomes also get a bonus cantrip, minor illusion, with their Natural Illusionist trait. An unexpected bonus that may help a Wizard in a niche situation is the Forest Gnome's Speak with Small Beasts trait which allows the character to communicate simple ideas with small or smaller beasts.
Rock Gnomes are the most common subrace of Gnomes, and they get a +1 Ability Score Increase to their Constitution - which can help with gaining some extra hit points, something that is sorely needed by Wizards of all races. Additionally, Rock Gnomes possess the Artificer's Lore and Tinker traits which allow them to know almost anything about magical items, as well as create small mechanical devices which may possibly help a Wizard in a very niche situation.
The bonuses to Intelligence alone are enough to rocket the Gnome up into the stratosphere with human Wizards but add that to the additional bonus to Dexterity or Constitution, plus the bonus cantrip for the Forest Gnome and you have a very formidable base Wizard with the Gnome. One thing to note is that, like Halflings, Gnomes can only move 25' because of their small size but they have more benefits than Elves which puts them one spot higher.
Half-Elves are a mix of the magical ancestry of the Elves, and the ambitious adventurism of the humans. Somewhat of an oddity in the worlds of each of their respective heritages, Half-Elves are naturally drawn toward being adventurers. But how are they at being a Wizard? Well, all Half-Elves get an Ability Score Increase of +2 to Charisma - which is great for Sorcerers, but not so much for Wizards. They are also able to give themselves another +1 to two more Abilities of their choice, so they are able to give themselves a small boost to their Intelligence, but it doesn't amount to any more than the base human from the Player's Handbook. They typically live almost double the lifespan of humans and possess Darkvision and Fey Ancestry like their Elven ancestors, which is useful to a Wizard. Half-Elves also possess a trait called Skill Versatility which allows them to be proficient in two skills of choice, which is a nice little bonus.
With a huge buff to their Charisma score, which is essentially wasted, the Half-Elf falls behind both their human and Elven heritage when it comes to the potential of being a very powerful Wizard right off the bat. The Elves enjoy the same boost to Intelligence a Half-Elf is likely to get, but also get a boost to Dexterity which helps their Armor Class where Half-Elves only have one additional Ability to boost by just +1 after Intelligence.
Again, this doesn't mean you can't have a fun and badass Half-Elf Wizard over time, it just means that as a Wizard starting out, they're going to have a harder time being as effective as some Wizards of other races, at least as far as the Player's Handbook is concerned.
Like Half-Elves, Half-Orcs are the product of two different races coming together as one. However, unlike Half-Elves, Half-Orcs aren't as accepted in human society in most cases. And in Orc society they are equally shunned. Typically, Half-Orcs are overall larger and stronger than humans. So how does that lend itself to being an effective Wizard? All Half-Orcs get a +2 Ability Score Increase to Strength, which is useless to a Wizard. They also get a +1 to their Constitution, which as we all know can help pad the Hit Points of a Wizard character, so they have that going for them at least. Half-Orcs possess Darkvision, which can come in handy as a Wizard in some situations. Half-Orcs also possess Relentless Endurance, which allows them to return to 1 HP after dropping to 0 - another trait that can be handy for a notoriously squishy class like the Wizard.
However, other traits possessed by the stalwart Half-Orcs are Menacing, which won't be super useful to a Wizard, or Savage Attacks which hopefully a Wizard won't ever use as it requires them to be too close to an enemy physically for comfort.
Surprisingly, Half-Orcs are just one step above a Dragonborn when it comes to their natural ability toward being a durable Wizard. With their bonus in Constitution, as well as their Darkvision and Relentless Endurance, they push just ahead of the Dragonborn but don't quite reach the benefits ration of the Dwarf or Halfling, who are middle of the road.
However, as with most of these choices who wouldn't make an "ideal" Wizard, some really cool characters could emerge from just such a concept. Imagine a Half-Orc Wizard rising in power and uniting some Orc tribes or becoming a diplomat for the Orcs or humans. The possibilities are up to you as the player!
Tieflings are descended from unions between humankind and demonkind ages ago, and result in humanoids who take on a demonlike appearance with horns, tails, and sharp teeth as well as outlandish skin, hair, and eye color. With such a supernatural ancestry, do Tieflings make good Wizards? Well, to start - all Tieflings get an Ability Score Increase of +1 to Intelligence, which is right up the Wizard's alley. However, they also get a +2 to Charisma which is much more useful for a Sorcerer. Tieflings also possess Darkvision, which we've established can be useful, and are inherently resistant to fire damage which can help in a jam. With Infernal Legacy, Tieflings also enjoy the bonus cantrips of thaumaturgy at 1st level, hellish rebuke at 3rd level, and darkness at 5th level. However, you are forced to use Charisma as your ability modifier for these spells, so they may not be super handy depending how low your Charisma is.
Though a Tiefling would make a far better Sorcerer than it would a Wizard, there are just enough benefits to set it apart from Dragonborn or Half-Orcs, putting Tieflings in the same category as the other middle-of-the-road races like Dwarves and Halflings when it comes to being a Wizard. Tieflings are very cool aesthetically, and while not quite as powerful as a Wizard who may be an Elf or human or Gnome, they're no slouches either.
Anyway, that's my assessment of all the regular races in the Player's Handbook and how well they'd potentially do as a Wizard in 5E. Agree? Disagree? Something to add? Let us know in the comments! Thanks for reading! -Joe