Image licensed from JordanKerbow.ArtStation.com
DND Heroes on a Half-Shell
Survivalists, nomads, and excellent parents, the tortles are the turtle-folk D&D multiverse and each one is a born adventurer. Each tortle has a built-in need to explore and reach the horizon, albeit slowly. These lovable reptiles got their own expansion (The Tortle Package) and a solid amount of exposure on Critical Role with a fan favorite tortle NPC Orly. Are tortles the hard-shelled playable race of your dreams or are they flipped on their backs unable to stand up? Plod your way slowly over as we go through everything you need to know.
Tortles believe that they “carry their homes on their backs”, and that’s largely due to their upbringing. Tortles are raised and protected for only a year or so before their parents die of old age. Each tortle learns the skills and stories of their progenitors then strikes out into the world alone. They learn to survive in the harsh wilderness while extremely young, brought up to be explorers from the start. Then once they are near the end of their lives, they seek out mates to raise a new generation. It’s in this final stage that they finally settle down, building impressive fortifications to protect their young.
It’s for this reason that there aren’t many tortle towns to speak of. They’re fully capable of building permanent residences but they see no need for it, not until their twilight years anyway. The tortle communities that do exist are more like moots or simple meeting places. Places where tortles can converge to share stories of far-off lands, and skills obtained from experience. Each tortle saves up new experiences and stories from as many far-off places as possible, then shares them with the next generation.
Beyond wanderlust, tortles are usually pleasant and non-obtrusive. They respect the opinions and territories of others and will usually opt to wander elsewhere if unwanted. They have no gods or religion of their own, but they have a curious affinity for the sun and moon, which they believe to be the “eyes” of day and night that watch over them in their adventures. They get uncomfortable underground or anywhere they can’t see at one or more of these celestial guardians.
Tortles don’t have much of a real description beyond “looks like a turtle”. We do have a couple pieces of official artwork though and it seems that “like a turtle” includes all sorts of turtles and tortoises. Don’t think of this as a lack of description, instead, take it as a mostly blank slate for you to design your new character with.
I highly encourage you to look up some images of real-world turtles and tortoises to gain some inspiration. Does your tortle have the mottled patterns and smooth face of a sea turtle? Or maybe the spiked shell and sharp beak of an alligator snapping turtle? Do you have the smooth, black, almost Kevlar-like shell of a leatherback? Or how about just the plate-like shell and long neck of a tortoise?
What is your shell like? What is your face like? What’s the coloration and texture like of your skin? Try to visualize the elements you want in your character and really bring them to life. You could settle for “looks like a turtle” but you have so much creative canvas to play with.
Tortles have single non-gendered short names without any family or clan names to speak of. They also frequently change their names so even mid-adventure you can feel free to swap it out for something else.
Tortle Names: Babe, Derdlak, Di, Ett, Id, Jepi, Juortlun, Jull, Ke, Kia, Laro, Lenog, Lilku, Qonlur, Qoppe, Plonac, Tepa, Tortec, Yon, Yurtlad
Your tortle character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Age: Young tortles crawl for a few weeks after birth before learning to walk on two legs. They reach adulthood by the age of 15 and live an average of 50 years.
Alignment: Tortles tend to lead orderly, ritualistic lives. They develop customs and routines, becoming more set in their ways as they age. Most are lawful good. A few can be selfish and greedy, tending more toward evil, but it’s unusual for a tortle to shuck off order in favor of chaos.
Size: Tortle adults stand 5 to 6 feet tall and average 450 pounds. Their shells account for roughly one-third of their weight. Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Claws: Your claws are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with them, you deal slashing damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.
Hold Breath: You can hold your breath for up to 1 hour at a time. Tortles aren’t natural swimmers, but they can remain underwater for some time before needing to come up for air.
Natural Armor: Due to your shell and the shape of your body, you are ill-suited to wearing armor. Your shell provides ample protection, however; it gives you a base AC of 17 (your Dexterity modifier doesn’t affect this number). You gain no benefit from wearing armor, but if you are using a shield, you can apply the shield’s bonus as normal.
Shell Defense: You can withdraw into your shell as an action. Until you emerge, you gain a +4 bonus to AC, and you have advantage on Strength and Constitution saving throws. While in your shell, you are prone, your speed is 0 and can’t increase, you have disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws, you can’t take reactions, and the only action you can take is a bonus action to emerge from your shell.
Survival Instinct: You gain proficiency in the Survival skill. Tortles have finely honed survival instincts.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Aquan and Common.
But you can get these stats all over the place, let’s talk about each ability and what that’ll actually do for your new tortle character.
Ability Score Increase: +2 to Strength and +1 to Wisdom is a big whopping boost to anything wanting to smack the enemy in close combat. It’s an ideal spread for clerics, monks, and Strength based rangers who can take advantage of the Wisdom boost. Or you can just prioritize the Strength and build an excellent barbarian or fighter.
Age: Rather short considering the almost mythical longevity in real world tortoises. Not stiflingly short but you can’t do the “ancient mystic turtle” trope which is a tad disappointing.
Alignment: Very hard lawful good lean with an opening for evil but not chaos. One way or another your tortle character is meant to have their head on straight.
Size: Medium sized but chunky at 450-ish pounds. Keep this in mind as more meticulous DMs might have things break under your weight unexpectedly.
Speed: You really expect a slow speed here right? Instead we get a surprisingly average 30-foot movement speed.
Claws: Natural attacks in 5e don’t do a whole lot, there’s not much more that your sharp claws can do that a dagger, or a sword can’t. What they do mean is that you’ll never be without a weapon. It can be useful in situations where everybody is dis-armed to have an ace up your sleeve.
Hold Breath: An hour of held breath can be a literal lifesaver. It’s obviously situational but if you get knocked overboard, you’ll be thankful for it. It’s important to note the difference between breath holding and water breathing though. Water breathing allows for casting with verbal components (because you can still talk) but does nothing in other hazardous conditions (its water breathing not poison cloud breathing). Hold breath doesn’t allow for verbal spellcasting (because you’re not able to talk), but you can hold breath in other hazardous conditions (stride right through that poison cloud turtle boy).
Natural Armor: Ok, this is the big one that you’re honestly picking the race for. Flat AC 17 is fantastic. No, you don’t get to put on the shiny new enchanted armor the party just found, but you’re always going to have a decent AC regardless of what you put your stats into or what class you’re playing. Throw a shield in there for a cool 19 AC and you’re going to shrug off a lot of hits without really trying. Keep in mind that AC calculations don’t stack in 5e. Your lovely unarmored defense AC from being a monk isn’t going to stack with it (sorry).
Shell Defense: It’s so flavorful, and it seems so useful, but I’m sorry to say this ability is bad… Really bad. With a shield, in your shell, you should be looking at a 23 AC in exchange for basically skipping a turn, doesn’t sound terrible right? The problem is that the math doesn’t line up, and the situations where it would actually be useful are slim. Part of using this ability makes you prone, which means melee attacks against you are suddenly going to have advantage on their attacks against you. Smarter men than I have done the number crunching and in melee you’re actually more likely to be hit by most attacks in your shell than without.
Think about it, you can already use your action to dodge and impose disadvantage, and you can still perform bonus actions and move while dodging. In your shell you get to do literally nothing in exchange for a +4.
There are some hypothetical situations in which you see a bunch of archers in the distance take aim at you and going into your shell would be a benefit. But even in those situations dodging is usually the better option. I wish this worked better, and I hope they fix it in an errata at some point. Until then you’re better off ignoring this ability entirely.
Survival Instinct: Bonus skill proficiencies are always welcomed, and survival is a good one. It’s especially flavorful given their lore and if you’re going for a ranger or other explorer-type character this frees up a proficiency for something else.
Languages: Common and aquan. The inclusion of aquan here is especially strange to me given they didn’t give tortles a swim speed. Aquan is very unlikely to come up in your games so I tend to value it lowly, but languages are always situationally useful, and it might save your hide.
Tortles with their massive natural armor can make a survivable version of any class and you shouldn’t feel typecast or set into a particular build. 5e is a great system and you can really make what you’d like. But, if you’re interested in optimization, the following builds make effective use of the tortle’s stats and can be a good starting point for your next character.
Turtle Power Barbarian
+2 Strength already sounds pretty good for a barbarian, but the tortle shines here because it allows you to min/max. With a flat 17 for your AC, you can turn Dexterity into another dump stat and just max out Strength and Constitution. I particularly like the path of the storm herald for this, not only because I like shooting lighting (and I do) but because its abilities are all based on Constitution (which should be very high for you).
The tortle’s base 17 AC is something you can really take advantage of with classes that normally need to work for a good AC. Try rolling up a tortle druid to take advantage of that AC along with the Strength and Wisdom Boost. I particularly like the circle of spores here because their halo of spores and symbiotic entity abilities really encourage you to get into combat and the free 17 AC allows you to dump Dexterity in favor of high Wisdom and Strength.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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