Dungeons & Dragons is a game full of all sorts of fantasy races, meaning your options are far greater than just being stuck as a dull, mundane human (unless your Dungeon Master is running a game in an all-humans campaign setting).
While races like elves, dwarves, and orcs have been a staple of player options for decades, every edition of the game has added new races, some of which are relatively novel entries into the world of character options in fantasy gaming. This article is concerned with the relatively newborn player character race known as the Owlins.
What Are the Owlin's Origins?
Owlins were introduced to the world of Dungeons & Dragons through Wizards of the Coast's desire to cross-promote the tabletop experience of D&D with its monolithic moneymaker of intellectual property, Magic: the Gathering.
Ignoring generic remarks of various species of avian humanoids from the past, known collectively as the “aven,” the owlins entered the world of fantasy through the Magic: the Gathering set known as “Strixhaven: School of Mages,” or “Strixhaven” for short.
The Strixhaven set hit game stores' shelves and mass retailers' shelves on April 23rd, 2021.
The flavor of this specific set was effectively Magic's take on “Harry Potter,” with the school of Strixhaven offering five distinct arcane colleges that each focused on a different group of magical concepts (the passionate artists of Prismari, the frightful and confident Silverquill, the historians and antiquarians of Lorehold, the analytical mathematicians of Quandrix and the botanists and necromancers of Witherbloom).
Owlins were one of the new races introduced with this particual expansion to the game, and there are seven creature cards from it that prominently feature these winged humanoids.
When Did The Owlin Become a Race in D&D?
“Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos” was released on December 7th, 2021, and served as a way of giving the magical collegiate experience to players on multiple game worlds while also introducing the Owlin as the sole new racial addition for player characters. The fact that an owl race was related to this setting makes additional sense when you realize that the name “Strixhaven” effectively means “owl home.”
So What Sort of Race Are They?
In short, owlins are owl-people; they have arms and legs and wings that grow out from the back and shoulders of their feathery bodies.
While owls are nocturnal creatures, art of owlins from both Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons shows them to be just as active during the day as they are at night, leaving the question of whether any given owlfolk character is nocturnal or diurnal entirely up to its player.
As far as the lore behind this race goes, there are two categories.
- Magic: the Gathering: Owlins consider Archavios, the plane on which Strixhaven is located, to be their home realm. Some Owlins, upon sufficiently learning what they can at home, will look into ways of traveling to other planes to further their studies and understanding of magic and the multiverse.
- Dungeons & Dragons: This race is distantly related to the Feywild's giant owls, but this relation is distant enough to the point that there is a great degree of variation in the appearance of any given owlin.
Stats and Racial Abilities
This race has several notable qualities to it.
- Names. Very few examples exist of what an owlin's name should look like. Indeed, I can only think of three examples, all of which come from the Strixhaven Magic set: Imbrahim, Mavina Sharpbeak and Shaile; each of which features an A and an I at some point. Given that this is a rather basic rule for constructing a name, players are about as free to create a name for their owlins as the players of human characters enjoy. Other possible names with this structure could include: Ibava, Alieka, Angiel, Malik, Briera and Sabein.
- Ability Score Adjustment. This race gets two increases to their ability scores: one ability score of the player's choice gains a two-point increase while the other ability score is increased by one point.
- Communication. This race is fluent in Common, and one other language that both the player and DM agree would suit the character. For example, owlins with a penchant for studying religious texts but possessing no levels in a character class related to deities would still be appropriate characters to know Celestial, Abyssal or Infernal.
- Creature Type. Owlins are considered humanoids with no specific subtype.
- Size. As previously mentioned, owlins come in both the Medium, which ranges from 4 feet to 8 feet in high, and Small size categories. Rather than rolling randomly to determine which size type the player's character is, players have the freedom to decide how large or small their particular owl folk may be within those two categories.
- Lifespan. Owlins are like other humanoid player character races and can live for roughly a century without resorting to magic to extend their life or pursue undeath.
- Movement. The walking speed of this race is 30 feet, which also influences his owlin's ability to fly.
- Sensory Features. When you consider that they are derived from owls, it makes sense that owlins will possess a superior tier of dark vision. Mechanically, this means that they treat dim lighting as bright light out to 120 feet away and consider they also get to treat areas of darkness within that same range as if it were merely dim light. Just like with regular dark vision, the owlin's ability to detect colors in darkness goes out the window as any colors are reduced to shades of gray.
- Flight. One of the two signature abilities of owlins, and easily the most obvious, is access to a functional set of feathered wings. Owlins can fly at a speed equal to their walking speed, provided they are wearing nothing heavier than light armor; medium or heavy armor is too much of a strain to make flight possible. It is also worth reiterating that owlins possess a set of hands-their anatomy has their wings arranged in a position similar to how the art of the typical angel is depicted, freeing the creature to grip objects without issue.
- Silent Feathers. This is the other signature ability of these creatures and, much like the ability to fly, it originates entirely from their avian inspiration. Mechanically, owlins are automatically considered proficient in the Stealth skill thanks to having the same sort of fringed and comb-like shape to their feathers that regular owls use to take down prey that rarely ever hears them swooping in for a kill.
Analysis of the Owlin as a Player Character Race
Let us sit down and examine what this race allows a player to do. The most obvious point is that you are playing a humanoid owl. This means you can fly with excellent stealth and even rotate your head a solid 270°, making your DM work harder to catch your character by surprise. Another perk is the race's favor is that its body has a variable size; owlins can either be Medium or Small and benefit from all of the perks and drawbacks that that size entails, such as rolling disadvantage with heavy weapons and qualifying for Squat Nimbleness (which would bolster flight speed).
The fact that owlins are a starting character race with the ability to fly is one of their best aspects. Flight is always something fun for players to use, but there are several limitations to this incredible power.
- Weight Limitations. Owlins cannot take flight if they are clad in medium or heavy armor. While it does not expressly call out encumbrance in the race's write-up, most sane Dungeon Masters will likely also claim that owlins cannot fly if they are encumbered (carrying an amount of weight equal to 10x their Strength score) because it does not make sense for armor to weigh an flying creature down more than carrying a lot of equipment would.
- Confined Spaces. Areas like sewers and dungeons offer little room to escape from encounters, even if the creature can fly. At the best of times, the character may be able to avoid getting their feet soiled from trekking through sewage or other ground hazards.
What Are the Best Classes for Owlins?
Honestly, the fact that this race has a flexible size and ability modifiers gives them a massive boost in versatility. Very few classes can benefit from the mobility and stealth that this race grants. Here are just a few potential ideas for owlins out on an adventure.
- A Small rogue who can easily sneak into position from above and be in the perfect spot for some sniping sneak attacks. Even in real life, most people tend not to look up higher than 45°. Still, even should some antagonists think to keep looking upward, the owlin's natural proficiency with stealth will increase the likelihood of avoiding notice, especially if the rogue chooses to focus their class proficiencies elsewhere. That the rogue also has access to superior dark vision means that raids during the night or in darkly-lit areas should go supremely well.
- A Medium ranger who can better stalk her favored enemies from treetops and other terrains that most PC rangers do not have access to without magic or special equipment. The presence of hands also makes it quite viable for them to, you know, fire arrows from a bow while hiding through a combination of Stealth proficiency and the cover and concealment opportunities of natural terrain.
- A wizard, regardless of size, can undoubtedly appreciate this race's mobility and have a better-than-normal chance of avoiding notice. The more effort a threat needs to exert to reach a wizard, the more time the wizard will have to lay down the appropriate magical countermeasures or even summon something appropriate to combat so that he can end a fight early. In an ideal situation, it might be possible for an owlin wizard to bring down a heavy-armed summoned monster and not even get noticed in the process.
As you can see, the sheer modularity of this race means that players can easily tweak their racial ability modifiers to suit whatever type of character role they wish to play. This versatility means that Wizards of the Coast has given players of Dungeons & Dragons a great new option for playing a character in a fantasy setting.
Flavorwise, players should never forget that this race is an offshoot of the great owls that lurk within the Feywild. It would be more than appropriate to take a feat like Fey Touched to further identify with that otherworldly heritage.
Suppose you want to look at each of the major character classes in the game and break down which ones best suit an owlin character and which ones are poor options. Honestly, the only questionable choice would be a barbarian. This is because barbarians are all about melee combat, but the flight ability of this race means you will have to forgo capable body armor and will likely be underwhelmed in combat unless some of the enemies can also fly.
When you look at everything this race can offer a player and compare it to the most direct analog, the aarakocra, these owlfolk come out ahead on every front but speed.
Sure, an aarakocra has access to claws, but they are rather mediocre when it comes to damage output; owlin characters can use proper weapons like a bastard sword or hand crossbow without issue while in mid-flight.