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Short Reviews – Archetypes, Backgrounds and New Races for D&D 5E from Cat Tale Press

31 July, 2021

CatTalePressLogoCat Tale Press has been producing support materials for Dungeons & Dragons, 5E, much of which is Pay What You Want.  These reviews look at eight of them, six providing new archetypes, one new backgrounds and the last, new races.  They are good but could be better, so suggestions for things to improve are included.

Starting with the archetypes which are mostly four pages: cover, one page of description and two of OGL.  In all cases they could have used more context for the archetype such as suggestions for where they might fir into a game world and what sort of culture would inspire them.  Also, and this is very common for such materials, is a lack of support material such as a new spell, magic item, place or even a legend to inspire adventure would make them some much more interesting and easier to fit into a campaign.

Starting with the Barbarian Path of the Unicorn, you get a mystical unicorn horn which you can summon and use as a weapon (naturally).  Their later ability include healing and protection, the Unicorn’s Healing Touch is good as it is a minor heal effect plus wipes away poison and disease, so really useful in some circumstances, just a little bit of healing in others.  Shimmering Shield is a one round duration big boost to armor class that the barbarian can use on others, it seems really good but it is a 14th level ability, so . . .   In any case, a healing, protective barbarian is an interesting idea, there just seems like there should be a bit more here to support that.

Bardic College of the Flock, who are devoted to protecting their, well, flock.  Which is a good idea for a school but the abilities could use better definition: Flock Protector, allowing them to intercept attack but the timing is unclear, it should be in reaction to a successful attack on an ally and give the Bard temporary hit points equal to their Bardic Inspiration die against the damage suffered.  While the Inspired Flock ability should probably be restricted to once per short rest.  But a good team player, as bards should be.

Cleric of the Beast Domain give some Druid/Ranger adjacent abilities, movement through terrain, an extra thematic skill.  Frightening Ally needs a better name and better description, perhaps Roar of the Beast?  Beastly Attack, again a better name would be helpful, should be restricted to adding to one attack per turn and adding force damage (which useful) does not seem very beastly to me.  I would increase the dice size and make it the same sort of physical damage the weapon already inflicts.  Nature Spellcasting as their capstone ability seems a little inflexible, maybe choose four (or even more) Druid spells none of which may be from the same level for it to effect.  Also, this one does run onto two pages for the domain spells.

Monk Way of the Whisker, learn from the cats, Pounce on your prey.  Feline Fear is not properly defined, instead having a copy/paste of a section from the Path of the Unicorn.   Nine Lives keeps you on your feet when you would otherwise go down, it is neat, but it seems like there are more you could do with the idea.  Cat’s Claws is an odd capstone power , letting the monk generate magical claws, which it seems they should get earlier, but the damage seems inline.  Still a good basis for a cat-themed monk.

Phoenix Sorcerer tapping into the flame and rebirth of the phoenix is a good theme and, as they get some access to healing spells, they will likely be popular.  They can cheat death, if they have sorcery points remaining, and make dramatic escapes from danger (taking their friend with them) but that should probably reset on a long rather than short rest though.  Overall, thematic and fun (also running onto two page due to spell list).

Wizard’s Apprentice is odd . . . Are you not an apprentice before you gain your first level?  Perhaps student of the arcane would be a better name?  Teacher’s Pet gives you some extra spells in your spellbook and a cantrip known, so it is very good (and may give the DM some clues to where the character wants to go).  But Beginner’s Spellcasting is entirely a negative (and the 10th level ability is partly mitigating it but nothing else) while it could lead to some fun roleplaying, mostly I see it leading to frustration in play.  Perhaps having their spellcasting generate odd side effects would be more playable?  Their capstone ability of Advanced Spellcasting is good but could use a little more punch or flexibility or both.  Again, strong concept but the execution does not quite work.

Backgrounds in the Kingdom of Grimsby details six new backgrounds complete with tables for personality, ideal, bond and flaw for each.  The new backgrounds are: Farmer, which is what you would expect though some suggestions for using farmsteads as bases (or basis) for adventure would have been a nice addition.  Forest Dweller, could use a little bit more fleshing out but works.  Hunter, again what you would expect, though the Tracking Expertise features is written for a bounty hunter, not a hunter of animals as you would expect from the description, with a little tuning could be good.  Messenger (specifically a city messenger) is good, the feature needs a bit of fine tuning but the idea is solid, probably my favorite of these.  Royal Heir is a bit trickier, it implies certain things that really need to be discussed with you DM before taking such a background, the feature is a bit limited as well, again talk with your DM.  Last, there is the Street Performer, which is fun but their feature, All the World’s A Stage, which allows them to build a temporary stage out of bits and bobs . . . It is cool and all, but it does not give you any reason to do so, there are no bonuses associated with having a stage.  But nice to have more options even if some need a bit of work.

And last but not least, Animal Races in the Kingdom of Grimsby, which details six new races, all of which are animals.  But it never defines if they are anthropomorphic (human-like) or actual intelligent animals as it does make a rather big difference.  Oddly, none have speeds listed, so can the crow and owl fly?  All have natural weapons, sometime exceedingly good weapons  The Cat is much as one would expect and a killing machine with 2d4(!) claws.  That needs to be scaled back but the fact that they can use their claws as thieves’ tools, perfect!  The Donkey tough and capable of carrying great weights, they have a vicious kick which they cannot use while carrying a shield implying anthmorphism perhaps?  Giant Owl, wise and powerful, with 2d6(!!) talons and a fear causing screech!  Very powerful combo, both need to be scaled back for playability, but good potential.  Hound, as as you would expect, with pack tactics (always useful) as an ability, though their Canine Obedience ability which (potentially) forces others to obey them is an interesting call.  Raven is a trickster, as one might expect, and could be fun in the right hands.  Lastly, Rooster, which has a inspiring call which recharges at dawn (thematic) and a natural feather fall which also recharges at dawn(?), certainly that should be after a short rest.  Good potential and great ideas, but they need to be expanded and clarified before they can really shine.

So much potential!  I hope that Cat Tale Press can keep writing interesting materials and improve their mechanics to make them even more fun and usable.

Note that the links above is are affiliate links and any purchases made through it will give me a small amount of reward, for which I thank you.

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