Though the rules assume player characters will be (mostly medium-sized) humanoids, there are other potentially-playable races to consider. Humanoids of particularly small or large size don’t require much further consideration, and are generally covered in existing rules or supplements. But what about obviously-intelligent species with other body configurations?
The most meaningful distinction that separates humanoids in all their diversity from the races detailed below is the hand (or, more specifically, the thumb). Creatures without hands or analogous parts find themselves much less capable of the fine craftsmanship that makes civilizations run.
Creatures without hands may have other dexterous appendages, which might allow them to wield certain weapons and perform some of the tasks we would normally associate with manual dexterity. Loosely speaking, if you could accomplish a task without your thumbs, then it may be feasible via tail, talon, tongue or trunk.
The following racial traits describe a creature’s “degree of handlessness”
- Nonphysical: the being has no solid body. It is intangible and incorporeal in all frames of reference. Without spell-like abilities, magic, or psionics, it cannot manipulate, push, or even touch anything. This state typically applies to ephemera, abstracta, and a few rare outsiders.
- No manipulating appendages: The creature has no hands, nor anything else with which to grip and manipulate objects. It may slam, shove, and possibly pull objects, but cannot perform more complicated actions. If you could accomplish a task with your foot (while wearing shoes), then the character should be able to do it. Pegasi fall into this category.
- Dexterous tongue: many creatures with no manipulating appendages have developed impressive motor skills with their tongues. Even in the absence of other appendages, a dexterous tongue functions much like a finger, or a hand in a mitten (without the thumb). This allows the character to tie and untie knots with a Use Rope check at only a -2 penalty.
- Prehensile limb(s): Tails, toes, tentacles, trunks, even some paws can be prehensile. They’re not as good as hands for fine manipulation. They’re much like a hand in a mitten, generally without the thumb.
Even with prehensile limbs and a dexterous tongue, some tasks remain impossible without the benefit of magic or hands. While one might draw a bow with a prehensile tail, knocking an arrow is out of the question with only one prehensile appendage.
Intelligent Non-Humanoids Native to the Material Plane
On the material plane, there are several non-fey, non-humanoid intelligent “monsters” to consider. A few of these are elaborated below, with additions and elaborations.
Most humanoids assume these creatures to be unintelligent, or merely cunning, and treat them accordingly.
OK, nobody mistakes dragons for an unintelligent species, for even the dimmest of them is brighter than the average troll. Their powerful innate magical abilities and seemingly supernatural understanding of history and local lore make them valuable (if often dangerous) allies and deadly enemies. Even the least of dragonkind lives longer than humans, and as they mature they become increasingly powerful in almost every respect.
Still, they have little material culture of their own. The old Draconic quip “One need not have thumbs to rule the world” is only half-true. Though they are among the oldest races in the cosmos, their forms are ill-suited for crafting and shaping the world through mundane means. They take, not make. Written correspondence and commentary (sometimes spellbooks and scrolls) are often their only creations. Their complex language is simplified and standardized into the forms known today as Draconic an Old Draconic. Dragons communicating among their kind make such extensive use of riddles, puns, meaphors, and shorthand as to be incomprehensible to any but the most ardent scholar of draconic lore.
Dragons, it is said, invented arcane scholarship. They claim to have taught humanoids to write, and seem to be the inventors of wizardry. Their children by humanoid lovers inherited their magical nature, and let the first sorcerers loose upon the world. For as long as any can remember, humanoids have sought out dragons as much to plunder their hordes as to learn their arcane and mundane secrets.
Some scholars claim that, not only are pegasi as intelligent a race as dragons, they are just as old. They are a fiercely free-spirited people who roam far but maintain strong bonds of hospitality and kindness to their kin.
Almost all pegasi are baptised at birth to their patron god Pihassassi the Sky-Father, though some are sworn to Eponna the Wind-Mother (patron goddess of the planar eponna), and a scant handfull are sworn to neither. Both gods take a very active role in the affairs of their children.
Many pegasi take their patron’s ethos very seriously, and go out of their way to break chains, liberate the downtrodden, and give hope to the destitute wherever they may find them. To them, humanoids (“hands”) are a mostly evil and selfish group, who rarely rise above their innate drives for tyrrany and dominion. Still, not even these unsavory creatures deserve the bondage and suffering they inflict upon one another.
Pegasi have very little by way of material culture, though they occasionally barter for useful goods from fey and druidic allies. Most pegasi who earn class levels advance as fighters, scouts, clerics, and favored souls. Bards, psychic warriors, sorcerers, and druids are not unknown, though other classes are rare.
Pegasi as characters
Pegasus characters possess the following racial traits:
- Str +8, Dex +4, Con +6, Wis +2, Cha +2.
- Large size. -1 penalty to Armor Class, -1 penalty on attack rolls, -4 penalty on Hide checks, +4 bonus on grapple checks, lifting and carrying limits double those of Medium characters.
- Space/Reach: 10 feet/5 feet.
- Base land speed 60 ft., fly speed 120 ft. (average maneuverability).
- A pegasus begins with four racial levels, which provide 4d10 hit dice, a base attack bonus of +4, and base saving throw bonuses of Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +1.
- Racial skills: Balance, Diplomacy, Knowledge (nature), Knowledge (Dream), Listen, Sense Motive, Spot, Survival, Tumble.
- Racial skill points: 7 * (Int+6).
- Racial skill bonuses: Listen +4, Spot +4.
- A pegasus’ racial levels give it 2 feats, typically Flyby Attack and Iron Will.
- +3 natural AC.
- Natural weapons: hoof (1d6 + Str); as a full attack, a pegasus can make two hoof attacks and a bite (1d3+1/2 Str).
- Special Qualitites: darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent.
- Pegasi have no manipulating appendages, but do have a dexterous tongue. They can use it to make Use Rope checks at a -2 penalty.
- Spell-like abilities: detect evil and detect good (at will, CL 5, 60 ft. radius), speak with animals (horses and donkeys only, free action, at will).
- Supernatural abilities: All pegasi sworn to Pihassassi or Eponna are granted the ability to assume the form of an ordinary horse at will as a free action. The horse form is always the same, and strongly resembles the pegasus form, but it does not register as magical.
- Automatic languages: Pegasan. Bonus languages: Sylvan. Pegasi cannot speak humanoid languages, and humanoids cannot distinguish Pegasan from the noises and gestures of horses.
- Favored class: fighter.
- Level adjustment: +2.
Blink dogs form tightly-organized packs that roam the prairies and steppes of much of the Wilderlands, though they rarely delve deep into other terrain. Though they are territorial, they generally give humanoids a wide berth. They will occasionally associate with druids, or come to the aid of parties fighting off brigands, but otherwise leave the “two-paws” to their own fate.
Packs of blink dogs range from a half-dozen to two dozen members, and their leaders may have a few class levels as rangers, bards, skalds, or fighters. They have very little material culture, though they will occasionally dig burrows and even leave cave-paintings. They make use of fire and spellcraft only rarely, but they have deep and complex oral traditions and a very formal honor code.
Blink dog packs often develop relationships with gods and celestials, maintained for generations. Celestial blink dogs often act as advocates for their material kin, even serving as patrons and conveyors of divine power.
Blink dogs mature in four years. They reach middle-age at 25, old age at 40, and venerable age at 55.
Blink dogs as characters
Blink dog characters possess the following racial traits:
- Dex +6, Wis +2.
- Medium size.
- Base land speed 40 ft.
- A blink dog begins with four racial levels, which provide 4d8 hit dice, a base attack bonus of +4, and base saving throw bonuses of Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +4.
- Racial skills: Hide, Listen, Sense Motive, Spot, Survival.
- Racial skill points: 7 * (Int +2).
- Racial skill bonuses: Listen +4, Spot +4
- A blink dog’s racial levels give it three feats, typically Iron Will, Run, and Track.
- +3 natural AC.
- Natural weapons: a blink dog can bite for 1d6 piercing damage.
- Special Qualitites: .darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent.
- Blink dogs have no manipulating appendages.
- Spell-like abilities: blink (free action at will), dimension door (free action 1/round), speak with animals (at will, canids only).
- Automatic languages: Blink-dog. Bonus languages: Sylvan. Caveman, Goblinic, Hobbit, Human. Blink dogs cannot speak humanoid languages, and humanoids cannot functionally speak blink-dog.
- Favored class: fighter.
- Level adjustment: +2.
Blink dogs can advance in racial levels, or take on class levels.
The curraw are a secretive race of ravenfolk who have moved into the periphery of the Wilderlands in the last thousand years. They are a proud and haughty people, their civilization brought low by a twist of fate that they do not discuss.
Though tiny creatures and physically unimpressive, they are wily and willful to almost draconic proportions. They see themselves as superior to humanoids, and poach and steal from them whenever the whim strikes. Though gregarious, they tend to grow more cautious with age, to the point of paranoia.
Curraw look almost exactly like ravens, though their feathers have a bluer sheen and they have striking white rings around their eyes. When raiding humanoid settlements, they typically hide these features by bathing in soot. Those with disguise abilities (druids, sorcerers, warlocks) are the most common raiders, and often work alone or in pairs.
Curraw generally operate in groups of 1-3, loosely associated with a parliament of 10-100 who may take over abandoned buildings or sections of woodland. They love to collect jewelry and magic items, and make ostentatious displays of wealth and power whenever amongst their kind. Whatever treasure they do not wear is always carefully hidden away, since they have no compunctions against stealing from their own kind.
The raven-folk seem to have a penchant for arcane magic, and warlocks and sorcerers are fairly common (and popular) among them. Bards, rogues, and scouts also feature prominently in their society. Though rare, druids and wizards can earn great reknown and power amongst their kind, often perching at the right flank of their leaders. Their physical combattants (mostly fighters, scouts, and swashbucklers) excel at fly-by attacks and other innovations that make up for their low innate damage-dealing ability. In certain regions, curraw train alchemists and psychic warriors, much to the terror of their neighbors.
Curraw rarely act openly in the greater world, though those that do are often adventurers. Some will “adopt” or enslave a human and masquerade as a pet or familiar, though others enjoy life among humanoid brigands and buccaneers. They reach adulthood in 6 years, and can live as long as 80 years.
Curraw as characters
Curraw characters possess the following racial traits:
- Str-10 (min 1), Dex +4, Wis +4, Cha +2.
- Tiny: As a Tiny creature, a curraw gains a +2 size bonus to Armor Class, a +2 size bonus on attack rolls, and a +8 size bonus on Hide checks, but she uses smaller weapons than humans use, and her lifting and carrying limits are half of those of a Medium character.
- Base land speed 10 ft. Fly speed 40 ft. (average maneuverability).
- Curraw characters begin with class levels, not racial levels.
- Bonus feat: Weapon Finesse, Wild Talent (arcane).
- Natural weapons: a curraw can attack with both claws (+2 to hit) for 1d2 slashing damage.
- Special Qualitites: low-light vision.
- Curraw beaks and talons function as prehensile appendages, though the talons are only really prehensile in flight. They can Use Rope with a -2 penalty.
- Spell-like abilities: speak with animals (at will, corvids only).
- Racial skill bonuses: Listen +4, Spot +4
- Automatic languages: Curr’ha. Bonus languages: Sylvan. Caveman, Goblinic, Hobbit, Human. Curr’ha suffer a -8 penalty speakin humanoid languages, and humanoids suffer a -8 penalty speaking Curr’ha.
- Favored class: rogue and sorcerer.
- Level adjustment: +0.
Several varieties of Sphinx (from the SRD: Andro-, Cryo-, and Gyno-) are quite intelligent, though they do not seem to have much by way of culture or civilization. Those found outside the material plane seem to be more gregarious.
Sphinxes are intensely and innately curious, but are loathe to share information. Legend says that a sphinx cannot lie. While not technically true, they do seem to tell the truth in many situations where other beings would at least lie by omission. Very few sages have been able to glean any coherent facts about their origin, mating habits, or history.
Giant Owls are stately, reserved nocturnal hunters with a strong altruistic streak. Some sages suggest that they are descended from a powerful druid, others hint at fey origins, or even a breeding program from a far-off kingdom of giants. A typical Owlish retort to such inquiries is, “You might as well ask whence comes the moon.” To them, it is irrefutably lost to history.
Giant Owls are famously suspicious of strangers, since most races see them as large and voracious beasts. Their reputation as predators is certainly warranted – as large carnivores, they can consume copious amounts of meat (for a bird). Though they savor fresh kills, they do also cure meat, which they usually cook before eating. Their culinary skills are reknown among sylvan carnivores, and savvy sages pay handsomely for Owlish cooking, brewing, and alchemical lore.
Giant Owls typically live in small semi-nomadic groups of 2-5, who hunt in a territory spanning 5-30 miles, depending on local conditions. At least a few times a year, they travel to special gathering-places, where they hold moots to discuss important events and resolve disputes. Most moots are held in Treant woods, and many function at a low ebb year-round.
Those with character levels tend to be scouts, fighters, rangers, and druids. Clerics and arcane casters are uncommon, but not discouraged. Alchemists, monks, and fey-attuned warlocks are rare but valued among their kind.
Giant Owls prize literacy and scholarship as much as they do hunting. They often keep bark-paper diaries to log prey movements and seasonal events, to refine recipes, and to compose complex poetry. They build utilitarian dens in caves and trees, which from the outside resemble a cross between a bird’s nest and a beaver lodge.
[vital stats and character creation profile TBD]
Pseudodragons resemble nothing so much as tiny dragons with a mottled brown-and-green hide. They have a limited color-changing ability that helps them hide, especially in forested areas. They can mimic many animal calls, but are incapable of speaking humanoid languages. Rather, they rely on an innate language-dependent telepathic ability to convey information. They also have a language of their own, Halaxiasz. Its telepathic component resembles Draconic, with extensive use of animal calls for shorthand. They often vocalize these “tellings” for long-distance communication. They also use Sylvan to communicate with one another, and they often pick up other languages common to their region (usually Elven and various human tongues).
Pseudodragons are not as proud as their larger cousins, and have strong streaks of altruism and curiosity. They seem to prefer the company of other species to that of their own, and find humans and halflings the most agreeable. They take 25 years to reach maturity, and live up to 500 years.
[character creation profile TBD]
Other Creatures of Note
Worgs, dragonnes, and the lesser lineages of sphinx could also work as playable races, though they are only about as intelligent as trolls.
Intelligent Non-Humanoids Beyond the Material Plane
Brighter Lantern Archons
Ordinary lantern archons are incorporeal bundles of light, very limited in their intellect. Their relation to the so-called “brighter” lanterns is a matter of some debate.
Brighter lantern archons advance in class levels. They appear to occupy space, but they are incorporeal (and ephemeral). They are sentinels, sages, and guides in the astral realms, though they rarely venture beyond. They have a feeble form of telekinesis that allows them to manipulate objects as though by hand (treat as mage hand with a range of touch).
Couatl are 12-foot-long winged serpents with a certain draconic cast to their features and physiology. They are meticulous and scrupulous beings, usually seen in heavenly courts or battling the forces of evil and chaos.
Though their natural shape has neither hand nor foot, they are natural shapechangers, and can freely assume the shape of any medium or small humanoid race. As telepathic, shapechanging, plane-hopping outsiders, couatl make powerful agents. Some even pick up class levels as they develop.
As a player-character race, only an immature couatl would be appropriate to play in most campaigns (a mature couatl has an ECL of 16).