Tortle 5e Guide
Published on April 25, 2021
Dan Scott - Wizards of the Coast - Archelos, Lagoon Mystic
What is this guide?
This guide is meant to give you an idea of whether or not the Tortle will be right for your character build.
The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your Tortle. This color coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.
- Black is a trait shared by many races and or will not impact the effectiveness of your character build
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
- Orange is an OK option
- Green is a good option
- Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
- Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
Tasha's Cauldron of Everything Update
Tasha's Cauldron of Everything has added the "Customizing Your Origin" option that may affect the ability score increases, languages, and proficiencies in this guide. To read more about this, visit our D&D Race Guide.
What are Tortles?
Tortles are a simple and friendly race of turtle-like humanoids. Beginning life crawling like regular turtles, they soon are able to walk upright and keenly begin their adventures, living nomadically and exploring the remote regions of the world. Tortles are adeptly in tune with nature and need little more than the pristine views of beautiful landscapes to be happy.
Ability Score Increase: +2 STR and +1 WIS works nicely for several classes, but the Tortle’s Natural Armor may be detrimental to some of those builds or allow some characters to choose a Tortle even if they have little interest in STR. More on this below.
Size: Medium is the typical size of most races, and is neither good nor bad.
Speed: Tortles have a standard walking speed of 30 feet.
Claws: Improved unarmed strikes aren’t particularly useful unless you find yourself without a weapon in a dire situation.
Hold Breath: Not nearly as long-lasting as a Water Breathing spell, but Hold Breath can still come in handy. One hour isn’t very long if you are doing a whole underwater adventure, but this trait can also be used in other situations. Trigger a trap that fills the room with poison gas? Simply hold your breath and calmly find a way out.
Natural Armor: On the right build, Natural Armor is incredible. Getting a base AC of 17 without DEX or armor affecting this value beefs up many characters that struggle with AC and survivability. Conversely, builds that can get more than 17 AC with armor or a high DEX score will be negatively impacted by this racial trait. It is important to note that shields do work with Natural Armor, so Tortles can have a base AC of 19 if they so choose.
Shell Defense: Shell Defense is like an alternative to the Dodge action with different use cases. Dodge gives advantage on DEX saving throws, while Shell Defense give advantage on STR and CON saving throws. If playing a caster, it is far easier to maintain concentration using Shell Defense because of the CON saving throw advantage. Additionally, Shell Defense remains active until you emerge from the shell (as a bonus action), freeing your action up for your next turn. The biggest issue with this trait is that it makes you go prone, giving all melee attacks against you advantage, thereby drastically increasing the odds of a critical hit.
Survival Instinct: Free skill proficiencies are always nice to have, and Survival pairs well with the WIS boost that Tortles get.
Which Classes Work With Tortles?
Tortles are best for classes that need either STR or WIS and can make good use of the Natural Armor racial trait. Spellcasting classes that use a stat other than WIS as their modifier or those classes that want to roll with high DEX and AC won’t see any real advantage for choosing a Tortle.
Artificer: Artificers need INT to be effective.
Barbarian: Tortles make amazing Barbarians. Barbarians don’t wear armor anyways, so Shell Defense automatically brings them up to 17 AC without needing to put points into DEX. A STR bonus is also the most important stat that Barbarians look for when choosing a race, so this makes Tortles one of the best choices for the class, leaving them open for feats.
Bard: Even a melee Bard won’t be too happy playing a Tortle, although the free AC lets them go all-in on STR.
Cleric: This is a class that just feels bad choosing a Tortle. The ability score bonuses are perfect for Clerics, but most STR Clerics want to use heavy armor, completely negating the intended use for Natural Armor. The build will work, it just won’t be using the Tortle’s traits to their full potential.
Druid: Interestingly, Tortles aren’t a bad choice for Druids. Yes, STR is a silly stat boost for Druids, and yes, they would prefer +2 WIS, but Natural Armor is pretty huge for this squishy class. When not in a Wild Shape, Druids have a really hard time boosting their AC.
Fighter: Fighters can wear heavy armor, but the Tortle would allow them to focus strictly on STR as AC is already taken care of. This leaves the door open for CON for tanking, CHA to be the party’s face, or lots of feats.
Monk: A STR brawler/grappler could work as a Tortle Monk, but really only at low levels. At higher levels the Monk’s Unarmored Defense will begin to outclass Natural Armor.
Paladin: The default build for a Paladin is to use STR. Without needing to pump DEX for AC, this greatly reduces the Paladin’s multi-ability dependency. A Tortle Paladin can comfortably increase their CHA for spellcasting while still having a respectable 17 AC (19 with a shield) right from the start.
Ranger: A STR-based melee Ranger will do really well with a Tortle. You can largely ignore DEX because of Natural Armor, and Tortles even have a mild boost to WIS for spellcasting.
Rogue: Rogues do best with high DEX as they rely on it for pretty much everything, making Natural Armor wasted on this class.
Sorcerer: Sorcerers need CHA to be effective.
Warlock: Warlocks need CHA to be effective.
Wizard: Wizards need INT to be effective.