This article was first broadcast in Episode Thirty on 27th June 2018.
Killer DM: Is it “die” when there’s more than one? Or is it “dice”? One die, two dice? I always forget. Anyway, 15 people are dead.
Lennon: I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, but tell me why did Ryu decide to put the Killer DM hat on?
Killer DM: Well, Ryu knew you were talking about Devils and I’ve always done some of my best work with them, so I…convinced her I should be involved
Lennon: Okay, well…we’re actually talking about the Tiefling subraces and how players might most effectively use their stats, so I think you might have misheard.
Killer DM: I’m sorry, you’re…helping players?
Ostron: Oh come on, have a seat, try this out. Who knows? You might enjoy it
Killer DM: Fine. Let’s get on with it then. Before I change my mind…
Lennon: In addition to all terrifying-
Killer DM: Fun. You meant fun
Terrifying new monsters we were shown in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, there were also some new player options. Specifically, new subraces were released for a couple of playable races. Right now we’re going to talk about the Tieflings. Their new subraces were introduced because of the discussions about the devils and we thought we’d take a look at how the changing bonuses and stats make the subraces more powerful with certain classes.
Now I can already hear some of you roleplay purists whining saying “You’re supposed to build your character based on a story, why are you telling people to powergame?” First of all, optimization isn’t powergaming. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that a higher Constitution score is better used when playing a barbarian than a warlock. Role playing and building a good character don’t have to be mutually exclusive; intentionally hamstringing your character in the name of authentic backstory doesn’t make it a more legitimate character, it just makes it easier for me to ignore you in combat while my creatures turn the rest of your party into cuisine. And come on, try abusing the power curve a little. Just don’t do it at my table, because I will end you.
Anyway, let’s briefly recap what standard Tieflings get. Based on the information from Mordenkainen, by default Tieflings have a heritage stemming from Asmodeus, giving them a +1 to Intelligence and a +2 to Charisma. They also know the Thaumaturgy cantrip for free. At level three, they get a free use of 2nd level Hellish Rebuke, and the Darkness spell at level 5. The bonus to Charisma and the free spells make the basic Tiefling an attractive choice when trying to construct a Bard, Sorcerer, or Warlock, and the intelligence boost can also help with Wizard builds if you have 17 in your starting array. Paladin is a possibility too, though you’ll have to rely on base statistics for your attack and defense stats. The spells don’t lend themselves to any particular type of playstyle since the three spells include both misdirection and a damage spell.
The only things that change with the different subraces at the moment are the +1 ability score increase and the bonus spells. We’ll take them one by one. First of all, Beelzebub, who is all about corruption. The ability score bonuses for this subrace are the same, as is the bonus cantrip, but the free spell at level 3 changes to ray of sickness, and the 5th level spell is Crown of madness. The ability scores being the same means this subrace is another that would be of most benefit building bards, sorcerers, or warlocks, but the new spells are better if you’re attempting to build or theme a character that focuses on disrupting enemies’ actions.
Okay, look, Bards basically cheat and can do anything anyway, so why don’t we get it out of the way and say all of these subraces will work for Bards. Dispater is all about secrets so of course his bonuses help out the class my minions can never find on battlefields. His Tieflings switch the +1 Int for a +1 to Dexterity. Thaumaturgy is still their cantrip, but their level 3 spell is Disguise self, and at level 5 they get Detect thoughts. Keeping their Charisma means Warlock and Sorcerer are still obvious choices, but as I said, the Dex bonus and the spells would serve a rogue well, particularly one that specializes in infiltration and interrogation. Detect thoughts is just like waterboarding without wasting the water, after all.
Charming. Speaking of charming, Fierna is a manipulator, so her tieflings get a Wisdom bonus instead of Intelligence. She’s the first one to alter all three spells, giving out the Friends cantrip for free along with Charm Person and Suggestion. The spells suggest a character that does more negotiation and persuasion than outright damage, and adding a Wisdom boost makes a pacifistic Paladin a decent choice, and an argument could be made for a negotiator Cleric as well.
Glasya is a criminal mastermind, so it comes as no surprise that her Tieflings also have bonuses that really lend themselves to Rogues. Like Dispater, the +1 goes to Dexterity, and the three spells are the minor illusion cantrip, Disguise Self and Invisibility. The abilities would obviously help with basic sneaking, leaving the choice of whether to kill or capture up to the player.
Rogues do not need help to be sneaky! Stop it!
Levistus is a devil after my own heart, offering deals to people and then screwing them over in the end regardless, but he also rules over an endless plane of ice, and the tiefling abilities seem more focused on that than on the whole “you’re inevitably doomed” aspect. Pity.
The +1 bonus is applied to Constitution, and the spells available are Ray of Frost, armor of Agathys, and Darkness. With the Constitution boost and the spells available, using this subrace for builds that mix it up in combat with magic is a viable choice. Pact of the Blade Warlocks would benefit greatly from the boosts this subrace offers, as would fighters building toward Eldritch Knights, who would end up with a lot more spells than average at their disposal, but they don’t get any help in their spellcasting ability.
Mammon is all about the Benjamins, and his bonuses seem focused on loot and…relieving people of possessions. The ability score bonuses return to default, but the spells available are the Mage Hand cantrip, Tenser’s floating disk, and Arcane lock. This would obviously work best in a utility or roleplaying build, or one where you anticipate needing to move a lot of things around on a regular basis.
Says the person who’s clearly never figured out how to use mage hand to relieve a bowman of their quiver.
Mephistopheles is another ruler of a frozen plane, but unlike Levistus his bonuses seem to rebel against that. The ability score increases are default again, so spellcasters benefit the most, and his spells are mage hand, burning hands, and Flame blade. Good for putting together an aggressive caster build, particularly if you’re going for a fire theme. This subrace could also work for melee fighting casters, but there are no bonuses to traditional defensive or attack stats.
But that shouldn’t stop you! Go build a Fighter with a +1 strength bonus; it’ll be fine, I promise.
But if you simply must have a bonus there, we have the fallen angel Zariel, a woman-angel thing I can appreciate. She was stuck watching all the fighting and finally said “screw this, I want in”. As you might expect from someone who wants to bash heads, the +1 bonus goes to Strength, and along with Thaumaturgy, her angelic background grants searing and burning smite as bonus spells. Obviously that whole package just screams paladin, but lots of combat classes can benefit from a bonus to strength and the option to add smite damage to an attack, particularly someone like a Champion fighter who can double those spells’ damage when critically hitting, something they do with annoying frequency.
Now obviously these aren’t proscribed builds for these subraces, nor are you required to use the classes and builds we recommend. These are just our suggestions for how to take some of the unique subraces now available and using them to best effect.
Lennon: See, now that wasn’t so bad, was it?
Killer DM: Oh yes, because helping players to kill my minions is something I dearly love doing. Who suggested I might have a good time?
Lennon: Wasn’t that you Ostron? Ostron? Where did he go?
Killer DM: Oh, I wouldn’t worry. I’ll go find him for you…