So many Dungeons & Dragons campaigns are about Human(oid) heroes, going from town to town, slaying monsters, and saving the people. What if this time, we play the monsters? That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be evil, killing innocent people, but I want to see the story of what happens when a monster wants to be a mercenary.
I think this idea gained a lot of popularity with 5e players when, in Critical Role, Sam played a goblin rogue named Nott the Brave, however the idea has gone back to early editions of the game, with the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide saying the following:
On occasion one player or another will evidence a strong desire to operate as a monster, conceiving a playable character as a strong demon, a devil, a dragon, or one of the most powerful sort of undead creatures. This is done principally because the player sees the desired monster character as superior to his or her peers and likely to provide a dominant role for him or her in the campaign. A moment of reflection will bring them to the unalterable conclusion that the game is heavily weighted towards mankind.Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide pg 21
Even though Gary Gygax is clearly saying that it’s probably not a great idea in that snippet, nonetheless the 2nd Edition offered PC stats for monstrous races. So it’s been a common idea going back to the beginning of the game. If you want to do it, here are some ideas going in.
Goblins, Hobgoblins, Bugbears, Kobolds, and Orcs
These ancestries are all creatures that I believe the average commoner villager will see in their life. When people complain of monsters attacking them on the road, or raiding villages, it’s often these types of creatures they see. So if you play as these, people will immediately know what you are, and will probably associate you with danger and fear. So if you want to play a character that is constantly hiding from people their true nature, and trying to dodge the law for “disturbing the peace” these will be great characters. Nott the Brave, as mentioned above, was actually wrapped up in almost a mummy-like linen, as to try to obscure her face, and not be noticed. However, all of these will lead to very interesting roleplay opportunities when the party inevitably comes face to face with these classic monsters. Do you try to talk to them first, seeing you as a potential peer rather than likely foe? Are you trying to repair relations between the two sides of society? You have some cool ideas with these characters, but no matter the setting, people will see you, on some level, as Less Than or Dangerous.
Drow, Lizardfolk, Yuan-ti, Gith, and Genasi
These ancestries are adding a level to the problem. With Dark Elves, Lizard People, Snake People, Aliens, and Elementals, the average commoner villager probably has not seen you, but you look scary. All of these ancestries tend to have very specific homes, like underground, swamps, deserts, or other planes of existence, places that nearby villages will know of, but not classic Farmer John in Middleville, Nowhere. Every appearance you make, you will have a split moment when you can probably convince people that you aren’t evil. This can lead to a really interesting play dynamic, where if you are more Charismatic, you can probably hold a lot of sway over how people see you and your kind. However, the stereotypes of those who do know you might be even stronger than the classic orcs, because you are a specialized problem for them.
Probably the most common of these, though, is the Drow, all because of Drizzt Do’Urden. If you aren’t familiar, Drizzt was a character reaching back to 1st Edition of the game, as a famous NPC in the world of Forgotten Realms. He has been in 33 novels, 4 short stories, and 9 video games. He is a Drow Ranger who has left his home of Menzoberranzan, abandonded his people due to their evil ways, has two scimitars and a pet panther. He looks awesome, and is the epitomous D&D dark and broody loner hero, that has unfortunately inspired many non-team focused PCs, but man he’s cool.
As always, if you want to play as a Monstrous Ancestry, talk to your DM beforehand. These cultures tend to have very specific niches that they fill in the world, and while the DM might not want to completely abandon that, how you align or differ from that niche can offer a lot of story and conflict opportunity. Work with your DM to see what about your character idea will work, and what you might need to adapt.