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There are many of the racial options for D&D that are go-to choices for casual and optimal players alike. Of those choices, some of them just don’t inspire players. With new players flooding into the mighty D&D multiverse, there’s no surprise that they’re first choice is something with a bit of flair. Out of all of them, although full of color and the afore mentioned ‘flair’, Genasi just don’t make the top of the list in player choices these days.
It may be that a raise to Constitution isn’t that glamorous to most. Although making them a sturdier character and adding to hit points and resistance to disease, the allure of the cunning and influence of Charisma or the actual physical advantage that Strength and Dexterity bring with it causes this group to be passed up time and time again. The optimizers especially are going to give Genasi the hard pass.
On top of that, even the added attraction of being one of the top groups with a great selection of subclasses doesn’t do much for it. It is possibly Wotc’s attempt to balance the world of D&D a bit by giving them an underwhelming package of options. I mean, once you set the bar at a certain level, anything that peaks its head over said bar gets it chopped off. So, in order to keep things ‘even-steven’, the Genasi subclasses of Air, Earth, Water and Fire seems to miss the mark with most players.
And, rightly so, the water and fire Genasi seem pretty balanced with their ability score increase, special ability, resistance, a cantrip and a first level spell. The breakdown occurs when they give earth and air a second level spell, no cantrip, and no resistances. Even their special abilities are situational and not that awe-inspiring. They would do much better to give the two of them a first level spell instead and add the resistances and the cantrip. And replace earth walk with a burrowing speed and give air a flying speed. It may seem a bit overpowered, but the Aaracokra gets to fly. It just doesn’t seem too much to ask.
So, Genasi, as I said before, for unique, flavorful characters, they give you SO much room to build something truly unseen before in much of roleplaying. The first thing to consider is their absolutely out there, different point of origin.
Considering they draw their lineage from the power of the enigmatic Genii or the Primordial Elementals, the sky’s the limit (or the earth, sea or…fire?). You may draw story and backstory from the multitude of sources across D&D. Possibly, you are a descendant of a powerful Efreet Sultan and are the first in his massive blood line to show the fire in your veins. Or maybe you have the blood of an ageless Primordial water Elemental within you manifesting through you in your amazing affinity for lakes, rivers and oceans. It may be just a generic elemental or a well known creature from your worlds legends. It could be that your bloodline can be traced to the Elemental Chaos or much closer.
The physical aesthetics are one of the best things about Genasi. The Air Genasi with their hair flowing in the wind (even when there is no wind). The fiery eyes of a Fire Genasi. The shiny metalic skin of the Earth Genasi. The fresh bathed pureness and mesmerizing voice of the Water Genasi. It’s the simple touches that make a character yours.
But, even with the many alterations available to your Genasi through the many elemental and genii options, you might still be wondering how to make this character a truly memorable addition to the team. And this is where we need to reach into the past of D&D’s forgotten tomes to find a few playable, homebrewable (is that a word?) options to do just that.
Para and Quasi Genasi?
Just looking at what Genasi options were given in the Elemental Evils Players Guide would lead you to believe that all you have are the big four. But the nature of elementals in the greater theater of D&D is more varied and complicated. Past the four main elements, there are a myriad of crossover types called para-elementals.
A ‘para-elemental’ is the result of the union of two of the four main elements into a new and unique creature. This concept goes back to 2E Planescape and the Monstrous Compendium Appendix 3. There have been attempts to further break it down and create a new category, quasi-elementals, but, once you really take the time to think about it, it really doesn’t make sense to do this.
This is mainly due to the fact that ,past the six types listed in the graphic above, there are few that make that much sense. But these six are the strongest contenders for possible variants of Genasi.
The almost unmoving power of the glacier. The cold, uncaring wind of the wild north. The treacherous terrain of the frozen tundra. The Ice Genasi are born of the halting force of ice itself. Their skin tones go from an albino white to a frigid light blue while their hair may shoot out of their skulls like the broken ice of colliding glaciers or be none existent. They are usually quiet and aloof but rather sharp when dealing with others and may come off a bit uncaring. What emotions they truly have are buried under their icy exterior.
Picture from Demigods Rising
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Dexterity or Wisdom
Slip and Slide: You move as if the soles of your feet were on ice. You receive an extra 5 feet of movement on normal terrain and have normal walking speed on difficult terrain.
Cold Resistance: You have resistance to Cold Damage and advantage on Survival checks in cold climates.
Wielding Winter’s Weapon: You know the ray of frost cantrip. Once you reach 3rd level, you can cast the ice knife spell once with this trait as a 1st-level spell and you regain the ability to cast it this way when you finish a long rest. Constitution is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
The destructive flow of lava. The explosive power of the volcano. The Magma Genasi are a smoldering cauldron of coming destruction. Their demeanor may be calm, but there’s an eruption always brewing below the surface. They are the most manic of all genasi and are not to be toyed with. Their skin is usually dark with possible cracks which light up red and glow brighter as the Magma Genasi’s anger grows. They either have no hair or have a wild, flowing mane that glows much like the cracks in your skin. It always seems that what hair you have is flowing out of your skull like a lava flow.
Carbonized Guy by Alejandro Arevalo
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Strength or Intelligence
Hardened hide: Your skin has the consistency of hardened lava and gives a +1 to AC when not wearing armor.
Fire Resistance: You have resistance to fire damage
Be the Volcano’s Fury: You know the thunder clap cantrip. Once you reach 3rd level, you can cast the thunder wave spell once with this trait as a 1st-level spell and you regain the ability to cast it this way when you finish a long rest. Constitution is your spellcasting ability for these spells. When using this trait, your visiage grows bright red and the ground around you seems to erupt into a volcanic geyser. There is no damage associated with this effect.
The suddenness of a desert dust devil. The unrelenting strike of swirling sand. The Dust Genasi are born from this unpredictable natural weapon of destruction. Two seemingly calm elements merge into a grinding, unstoppable whirlwind. You leave the wispy cloud of whirling dust in your wake. Your eyes swirl much the same way like a dust storm sealed in your cloudy orbs. Your hair sways with the wind when there is none and your feet seem to merge the air around them into the earth below making you look like your drifting above the earth.
Pic of Mara of the Sand from Heroes of Camelot
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Dexterity or Strength
Like grains of sand: You may move through another creatures space. Also, other creatures have disadvantage on Attacks of Opportunity against you.
Force Resistance: You are resistant to Force damage
Dust Devil: You know the sword burst cantrip. Once you reach 3rd level, you can cast the zephyr strike spell once with this trait as a 1st-level spell and you regain the ability to cast it this way when you finish a long rest. Constitution is your spellcasting ability for these spells. When you use this trait, you appear the midst of a dust devil and your sword burst looks more like this also. All damage is treated as fire damage.
The choking aftermath of fire. The savage, untamable wanderlust of air. The Smoke Genasi burn from within but all you see are signals of the passion that they hide. By the time you understand the depth of their driven nature, it is already too late. They are calm killers and dangerous foes. They leave a similar trail that the Dust Genasi do but what they leave behind is black and choking. The first thing you recognize is the smell and, then, they are on you. Their skin is usually ash to dark to black. Their hair is almost always jet black or possibly a chalky grey. Their stare is steely and their eyes are smoky to black. They are quick, quiet and almost always sure to remember every slight and repay in kind.
Art by Mirzolak on Deviantart
Ability Score Increase: +1 to either Intelligence or Dexterity
Smoky Cover: As you move, smoke seems obscure your position. You have advantage to Dexterity Saving Throws.
Poison Resistance: You have resistance to Poison Damage
Choking Cloud: You know the poison spray cantrip. Once you reach 3rd level, you can cast the Fog Cloud once with this trait as a 1st-level spell and you regain the ability to cast it this way when you finish a long rest. Constitution is your spellcasting ability for these spells. The fog cloud looks more like a smoke screen.
The searing heat of the collision of water and fire. The power of the pressure released. Steam Genasi are born of elements that seem natural opposites. The tranquity and thoughtfulness of water combined with the spontaneity and rage of fire. Most of these Genasi have no hair but always seem to have steam rolling off their heads as if it were super heated. They always seem to be sweating but their skin is usually a pinkish color to red. Their eyes gleam white and their voice ranges from a hissing hush to a raging near yell.
Artwork from Changeling the Lost
Ability Score Increase: Intelligence or Wisdom
Full of Steam: You stand ready to spring into action at any moment. You have advantage on Initiative rolls.
Fire Resistance: You have resistance to Fire damage
Steam Engine: You know the steam bolt cantrip (fire bolt stylized as steam). Once you reach 3rd level, you can cast the absorb elements once with this trait as a 1st-level spell and you regain the ability to cast it this way when you finish a long rest. Constitution is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
The miring combination of earth and water. The all consuming hunger of quicksand. Ooze Genasi are a union of the heartiness of earth and the flooding, suffocating death of water. Their skin is yellow to green to a sickly brown; oily and slimy. Their hair is usually dark and greasy. Unless they act not to, their steps leave oozy footprints.
Pic is actually a special ooze creature called a Ghaunadan from Dragon Magazine Annual 1997
Ability Score Increase: +1 to either Strength or Wisdom.
Intense Grip: Although usually slimy, your grip is strong. You have advantages to grapple checks.
Acid Resistance: You are resistance to Acid damage.
Writhing Death: You know the acid spash cantrip. Once you reach 3rd level, you can cast the entangle once with this trait as a 1st-level spell and you regain the ability to cast it this way when you finish a long rest. Constitution is your spellcasting ability for these spells. For entangle, the vines/weeds become tentacles of mud and slime.
I really had a lot of options in mind but didn’t want to clutter up this article, so there will be several parts to this. I think the Genasi would be fun to play once you get past your inner optimizer, but I think the flair of the elemental flourish appeals more to the newbies than it does the old school. But, as we explore the many nuances they carry, I hope to give you some options that will attract to play or create more NPC Genasi.