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Legally Distinct Merfolk
You may have wanted to play a merfolk at some point, planned out your character from the mysterious depths only to be stymied by a fundamental lack of legs. Fear not! Tritons are the legally distinct merfolk that come with those all-important ambulatory limbs needed for day-to-day adventuring. They come packed with all that deep-sea lore and flavor you’d want out of a merfolk character, with the added advantage of actually being able to play them. Grab a trident and dive right in as we go through everything you need to know.
Unlike merfolk, tritons aren’t from the material plane. They were originally denizens of the plane of water where they battled krakens and sahuagin and other dark horrors of the deep. In the distant past many of those horrors snuck into the material plane through deep sea portals. The noble tritons traveled through to our world and built their deep cities at these portals, defending them against any other threats that would invade our world.
All of this sounds very selfless and noble because it was, but that has also gone to their heads. Tritons tend to be very entitled; they believe they are the protectors of the sea and deserve respect. While this haughty attitude is somewhat justified, it can still be unbearably annoying. Tritons usually spend their lives deep in the ocean and rarely understand the complex cultures or politics they encounter on the surface. This can range from laughable misunderstandings, to belittlement of “barbaric surface customs”.
Even if they’re often self-absorbed, they can still be selfless. Tritons will fight and die for others without hesitation. Most tritons feel a sort of ancestral guilt for allowing krakens and other dangerous creatures to escape into the material plane, and they feel it’s their debt to repay. At their best, tritons are heroes, champions of righteousness and selfless slayers of evil. At their worst tritons are arrogant blowhards who constantly underestimate both their friends and their enemies.
Tritons have blue or silvery-blue skin and deep blue or blue-green hair. They usually have fins and crests along their arms, legs, and sometimes their heads. Basically, you’ve got free reign to redesign those fins however you’d like, big flowing fins and short hydrodynamic sporty fins are all fair game. They’re typically dressed in light clothing or armor made for ease of movement from oceanic materials. Also feel free to go ham with shell armor and little mermaid style clam clothing. If you’ve seen it in a mermaid illustration, you can probably make it work here.
Tritons of Theros
Mythic Odysseys of Theros gave us a somewhat different take on tritons, though their stats are (mostly) the same, their lore and culture is quite different.
The only “stat” that changes are their alignment. Theros tritons don’t have any of this “plane of water guardian” nonsense to worry about, and they don’t have a haughty nobility. Tritons on Theros tend towards neutral alignments rather than lawful good.
The duty to protect is replaced with curiosity and tension. Tritons on Theros are genuinely curious about life above the waves, and the many surface-world wonders often tempt them onto dry land. They often become particularly interested in specific fields of study, and explore the surface with scientific vigor. They also feel a certain ownership over the ocean and many tritons see human fishing and travel as an intrusion into their territory. Conflict between the tritons and the surface dwellers flare up regularly, though not all tritons share this animosity.
Finally, the tritons of Theros go much harder on the fins and crests than forgotten realm tritons. Think great big regalia’s of fins rather than a few sporty rudders. They’re also far more colorful, and often accent the normal triton blues with bright patterns of yellowish-greens, reds, and purples.
Most triton names have two or three syllables. Male names typically end with a vowel and the letter “s”, and female names traditionally end with an “n”. Tritons use their home protectorate as a surname, with the name formed by adding a vowel followed by a “th” to the end of the protectorate’s name.
Triton Male Names: Cilzis, Dholdos, Jahnas, Marnas, Noddos, Vemres, Zilmis, Zuvus
Triton Female Names: Addulyn, Atryn, Bhithen, Flanrilyn, Hohlyn, Ushulyn, Whodyn, Yedyn
Triton Surnames: Amorath, Behmollath, Bhadosath, Javazath, Murogath, Umuzath, Zedalnath
Your triton character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase: Your Strength, Constitution, and Charisma scores each increase by 1.
Age: Tritons reach maturity around age 15 and can live up to 200 years.
Alignment: Tritons tend toward lawful good. As guardians of the darkest reaches of the sea, their culture pushes them toward order and benevolence.
Size: Tritons are slightly shorter than humans, averaging about 5 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet, and you have a swimming speed of 30 feet.
Amphibious: You can breathe air and water.
Control Air and Water: You can cast fog cloud with this trait. Starting at 3rd level, you can cast gust of wind with it, and starting at 5th level, you can also cast wall of water with it. Once you cast a spell with this trait, you can’t cast that spell with it again until you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
Darkvision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Emissary of the Sea: Aquatic beasts have an extraordinary affinity with your people. You can communicate simple ideas with beasts that can breathe water. They can understand your words, though you have no special ability to understand them in return.
Guardians of the Depths: Adapted to the frigid ocean depths, you have resistance to cold damage.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and Primordial.
Tritons are surprisingly strong but many of their abilities are very situational, let’s figure out why that is by going through each ability one at a time.
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Strength, Constitution and Charisma. Triple point splits like this are rare, and they provide a lot of flexibility. Clerics and Paladins make the most use of all 3 stats, but since Constitution is useful to literally any class you can easily swing a triton into any martial class or Charisma casting class.
Age: A maximum of 200 years typically means you won’t be old enough to know about “ancient events” but it’s still a good long stretch to play around with.
Alignment: A trend towards lawful good also pushes tritons towards paladins and clerics, but you should never feel locked into that.
Size: Surprisingly short but otherwise an unremarkable medium size.
Speed: 30-foot movement speed in both walking and swimming makes you extremely mobile around water. Try to take advantage of this whenever the opportunity presents itself, as you can easily outpace most other humanoids on the surf.
Amphibious: Probably the most situationally powerful ability here. Water breathing in some campaigns is completely meaningless and it can be game breaking in others. It’s a lot like flying it that way, if the DM is using a big body of water as a roadblock you’ll likely be able to bypass it. Don’t be afraid to take a dip and check for secrets below the waves if you get a chance.
Control Air and Water: Free spells are always nice, and the spells found here all fill utility niches that can be the perfect tools for a creative caster. Think of fog cloud as a “pocket cover” to use when you’re pinned down by long range enemies. Gust of wind is a bit meh when trying to push enemies back with it, but it is a perfect counter to (oddly enough) fog cloud and other vapor-based threats that you can simply blow away. Also remember you can put out lights with it (and you have darkvision) so with a quick gust you can often blind your enemies. Finally, the capstone spell wall of water doesn’t seem great on paper, but has some really sneaky applications beyond blocking ranged attacks. You can effectively fill a narrow corridor with water using it, creating a tar pit area of difficult terrain. And while I can’t confirm you can do this (I couldn’t find anything saying you can’t) you should be able to create your wall and then swim directly up it using your natural swim speed, providing an instant 20 ladder for yourself.
Darkvision: A lot of races have darkvision, but it’s always appreciated, seeing in the dark comes up often and it can make a big difference.
Emissary of the Sea: This is another super situational ability, but if you’re about to be eaten by sharks it can be a clutch move to convince them to attack the pirates chasing you instead. Give it a go whenever dangerous sea life shows up, it’s free to talk and even the longshots pay off sometimes.
Guardians of the Depths: Very simple but still one of your strongest features. Blanket resistance to a reasonably common damage type can save your bacon against some enemies.
Languages: Common and Primordial. Primordial is a powerful and tricky language because it’s actually the 4 elemental languages (aquan, auran, terran, and ignan) wrapped up into one. You may need to make the checks at disadvantage due to dialect differences, but the next time you run into any sort of elemental there’s a good chance you’ll be able to communicate. Give it a shot, most DMs won’t expect you to speak to fire elementals, but you may just be able to sideswipe some encounters.
5e is a flexible system and tritons in particular can fit well into practically any class or build. Especially with their lore and alignment pushing for lawful good gallantry they seem tailor made for paladins, but you shouldn’t feel forced into that role. The variety in their ability score increases and generally strong abilities means you can build your fish man however you’d like. If you’re looking to maximize the value of your racial abilities though, the following builds are a good starting point:
Paladin, literally any paladin. Normally I’d recommend a specific oath that synergizes well but quite frankly any paladin oath will work perfectly with triton stats and abilities. Paladins need high Strength, Constitution, and Charisma, which triton provides. Paladins in general often lack utility casting as well, and the triton racial spells can really come in as handy freebies. Pick an oath, any oath, you’ll be shooting out of the water swinging a golden trident in no time.
That spread of ability score increases is very hard to come by, and it’s exactly what bards from the college of blades are looking for. The college of blades normally is a bit difficult to run since it tries to spread out over so many ability scores, but tritons fill in these gaps and give you an opportunity for 16’s in Strength, Charisma, and Constitution all at level 1 (min-maxed but still).
So, grab a couple appropriately ocean themed shortswords and become a musical ball of whirling death.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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