Fixing the Lizardfolk Race
Last week we looked at fixes to the dragonborn race, and in the same vein we wanted to present a change to the lizardfolk race as well. This race came out in Volo's Guide to Monsters, and it's a cool concept for a species reminiscent of the Lizardmen of Warhammer (at least that's what I tie it to; you might imagine Captain Kirk fighting in slow motion, which is also fine).
The problem with this race is that it doesn't do a lot of the things you'd expect of a monster race, and perhaps more importantly a number of the features won't see the light of day because they get outpaced very quickly as the character advances. And, like we said for the dragonborn, that shouldn't be the case: we want the flavor of the race to be enduring, and that means it's time for some changes.
Plus there are no subraces for lizardfolk? Which just seems odd.
So like we always do, we'll start by looking at the "high concept" for what the race should be like and how the current race falls short of that, and then move into our fix for those issues.
I. What's Wrong with the Lizardfolk Race?
Admittedly, while there are not as many issues as the dragonborn race, there are still issues. The race is supposed to be a monstrous race, allowing people to play a more beastial creature that is still sentient, uses weapons, and has the ability to cast spells. This is fun: it's a different feel from humans, elves, and dwarves, and its traits should embody this.
And to some extent they do: we get an excellent trait (that we have not changed) that allows the lizardman to make crude weapons and shields out of bones, hides, and natural materials, which is a nice lore point and embraces that primal/primitive feel. But there are other traits that are less than optimal, getting outpaced very quickly as you level up, which causes the race to feel more like other humanoid races.
The best example of this is your bite: it's an unarmed attack using the Attack action that does D6+Strength Piercing damage (which is better than a tavern brawler or a low level monk), but even by 5th level or so when you get your first magic weapon there are very few circumstances short of being unarmed where you'd use this.
The only real way you'd use this at higher levels is the special frenzied bite that can heal you when your bite attack does damage, but even then it's only once every short or long rest. So it won't happen all that often, and it only heals what you've already lost, so early in a combat or following a short rest you are unlikely to use it. So it does not appear often: most of the time you are just a normal humanoid with no beastly abilities.
Similarly your natural armor (one of the first traits you think of when you think of a lizardman) is not bad, but your class selection may cause you to forego this even as early as Level 1. A barbarian or monk might use this for a few levels, but over time they will default to their Unarmored Defense. Heavy armor fighters and paladins will likely never use this unless they are playing ranged characters. A sorcerer or wizard would love this (as it's Mage Armor all the time without having to expend a spell slot - chalk that up to another argument against Mage Armor), but the stat bonuses for the lizardfolk are not great for either of those classes, so unless your GM allows you to use the optional rules from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, you will be hurting on your rolls to gain that bump in Armor Class.
And the final issue is that there's no subraces, which is typically where we get to see the cultural and geographical variance in a race. The lizardfolk feels more bland as a race because they lack this: there's no depth beyond, "We all use bones and hides for our weapons and shields, and we're really good at surviving in nature," and that's all we get.
I'd love to see the variance between small lizardfolk and big lizardfolk. Show me how the shamans of the swamps and jungles differ from the established cities of the almost dinosaur-like lizardfolk. In the Warhammer universe we get a wide range of Saurians (now called the Seraphon because Age of Sigmar ruins everything. Kidding, kidding, not kidding), but in D&D we get no such variation.
So again, not a bad subrace, but it could be better, deeper, and more thematic to play. So I thought I'd take a crack at it.
II. The Revamped Lizardfolk Race
You can find our version of the Variant Lizardfolk here, easily printable to show to your game master thanks to our friends at Homebrewery. A lot of the features have been kept as-is, some have had small wording changes, and of course we've also added subraces to the set to give some variety to your ability score improvements.
The other big change is really building out and fleshing out the cultural aspect of the race. As we mentioned above, we want to add variety that will help to give a deeper look into the cultural and geographical differences in different types of lizardmen, hopefully building the vibrancy of this race in your mind.
To start, we are not changing much. We are changing the Bite attack (not the Hungry Jaws attack, as that would be pretty broken) to be used either as a bonus action or as part of an Attack action in melee against a target in range. This will keep it relevant (though honestly as you level up the actual damage starts to matter less and less against enemies) and prevalent: you will use it often, even doubling as a sort of holdout weapon for casters if someone engages them up close.
The second change that we make is that the Hungry Jaws attack is not a heal: you gain temporary hit points now instead of healing yourself. This allows you to lead off with it if you'd like in a battle, just in case you feel like you may need an extra boost before going into a combat. It's a small change that ultimately changes little, but it adds more utility to make it more attractive.
The third change is that we removed the automatic proficiency to skills. This has been moved to the subraces, as we wanted more variety in what skills you might be proficient with depending on what culture of lizardfolk you descend from, the ideals and environment of your society, etc.
The fourth change is that your Natural Armor now grants you a +1 to your Armor Class when wearing armor and a +2 to your Armor Class when not wearing armor, much like we did with the dragonborn. This is slightly worse than the current iteration (as you are effectively getting a +3 when unarmored), but this does make the bonus more universally applicable regardless of what class you select. A barbarian (a natural option for a lizardfolk) doesn't really gain much from Natural Armor as it stands; with this setup, it's an extra +2, which is awesome. A monk will also take it for the same reason, and while it's only a +1 for a paladin, fighter, or cleric in heavy armor, all of them will be tempted to take that extra +1, especially if they plan not to use a shield.
So while it's a small penalty in some respects, it makes the feature more applicable to more potential builds, and that makes it more useful.
And finally, you only gain a +2 to Constitution from the base race. Your other ability score comes from the subrace, of which there are three choices. Skinks gain a +1 to both Dexterity and Charisma (widely applicable to a lot of classes), but also suffer a -1 to their Strength (because I think there should be more penalties to stats due to race selection, personally). They are also able to breathe underwater, gain a swim speed, and get two proficiencies in useful skills that center on stealth and scouting.
Crocs are more shamanistic, adding 1 to their Wisdom score, and can perform Insight and Nature checks with advantage. They also get access to two proficiencies with more of a knowledgey/clericky feel to them.
And finally, saurians add a +1 to their Strength, as they are the largest lizardfolk. Their Bite attacks increase to a d8 (instead of a d6), and gain two skills with more of a persuasive/awareness vibe. These are your big game hunters, your close combat maulers, and they do it well.
I think this approach to Lizardfolk adds a lot of flavor to a race that was on its way to being good but was pulled out of the oven a little too quick. These additions allow you to play a monstrous character very well, and gives you a bit more punch in melee while still incentivizing you to take a caster. All in all, a fun race that I'd love to use in a game.
Until next time,