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DnD 5e - The Tortle Handbook

Last Updated: May 22nd, 2020


I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
  • Green: Good options.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.


Tortles are a new addition to Dungeons and Dragon's ever-growing menagerie of humanoid races, appearing for the first time in the Tortle Package, published as part of WotC's annual Extra Life charity drive in 2017. While DnD has had plenty of animal-like races, this may have been the first official turtle-inspired race, and as you might expect their introduction inspired a legion of teenage mutant ninja jokes.

Mechanically, the Tortle has a lot going for it. Strength and Wisdom increases are a fine combination, and a fixed AC of 17 means that you match the AC of light or medium armor without any investment in Dexterity. You get some other goodies (claws, Survival proficiency, Shell Defense), but most people want to play a tortle either because they like turtles or they want the fixed AC.

As a reminder: When your character has multiple options for calculating their AC, you choose only one, typically whichever gives you the highest total AC. Separate AC calculations like mage armor, manufactured armor, and natural armor never stack. Things which give AC bonuses like a shield, the Shield spell, Shield of Faith, and a other things which add +something to your AC all increase whichever AC calculation your using because they are bonuses rather than new AC calculations.



No Intelligence increase.


17 AC will match half-plate, and realistically even the best-built barbarians can't get their AC above 17 (without magic or a shield, both of which you can also use) until something like 16th level when they get their 4th ability score increase, assuming that they maxed both Strength and Constitution before moving on to Dexterity. Even then, most players will go for feats at that point. Without the need to invest in Dexterity, you can put those points into other ability scores.


If any race worked for a Strength-based bard, it's the Tortle. But without a Charisma increase, the Bard isn't a great option for tortle spellcasters.


Strength and Wisdom are great for front-line clerics, but most such clerics also get heavy armor proficiency. Technically nothing is preventing you from wearing full plate, but it feels weird to disregard the Tortle's most unique racial trait.


The Druid's biggest weakness is their notoriously poor AC, and the Tortle solves that nicely. Strength is wasted for the most part, but a Circle of Spores druid can get a ton of mileage out of the Tortle's AC, and the Wisdom increase is the only other thing that you really need.


You can technically wear full plate, but that feels like a waste of the tortle's natural armor.


The Tortle is the best option for Strength-based monks. Unfortunately, the tortle's fixed AC won't keep up with other monks, so your AC will fall behind by level 8 when most monks will hit AC 18 with Unarmored Defense. You can't use a shield without losing class features, so you'll lag behind other builds and never catch up. Still, until level 8 you'll do just fine.


The ability scores don't line up very well, and the Paladin has very little use for the Tortle's racial traits.


The Tortle is a great option for a Strength-based ranger since you don't need high Dexterity to max out your AC.


No Dexterity increase, and nothing else about the Tortle appeals to the Rogue.


No Charisma increase. The Tortle's high base AC is a fun novelty, but that's not enough. If you want a tortle spellcaster, go for something Wisdom-based.


No Charisma increase. The Tortle's high base AC is a fun novelty, but that's not enough. If you want a tortle spellcaster, go for something Wisdom-based.


No Intelligence increase. The Tortle's high base AC is a fun novelty, but that's not enough. If you want a tortle spellcaster, go for something Wisdom-based.