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Setting Design Report 35: Getting Mechanical, Part 1: Birdfolk

As always, you can find all the posts in this series by clicking here.

We’ll be getting back to Eisenstadt soon, but I thought I’d take a break to show off some new character options this week.

Fantastical Kinds of People

One thing that you can count on finding in almost any setting except for the very grittiest, most human-centric ones is fantastical kinds of people. Call this race, species, or ancestry, but it’s something other than human, and playing one has various benefits and drawbacks. They’re a fun part of character creation and I want my world to be no exception.

The default 5e rules have two types of bird people available as characters. The flightless, mimicry-focused Kenku, and the flight-capable, bird-headed Aaracockra.

For this world, however, I wanted a wider variety of bird-derived peoples and so I’ve taken the ideas I used for the custom race for Jenny’s PC and changed, refined, and spread out from there.

The biggest change is that I’m planning to have most of the birdfolk in this world be flight-capable, or at least winged (penguinfolk or ostrichfolk won’t be getting fly speeds). I also wanted to have some room to cover a variety of different types of birds. So for example, owlfolk should be able to see in the dark. Corvidfolk should be smart. Hummingbirdfolk should be able to hover. And so on.

This comes with a set of challenges you’re probably starting to see already: birds are a really diverse bunch! Even breaking them down more by “what do they do in game terms” rather than by biological considerations leaves you with a lot.

  • You have fast, powerful balls of flying violence like raptors and ospreys. This translates into a fly speed and some talons. Exceptional examples like the Peregrine Falcon might have a faster flying speed than most or even a “dive bomb” attack.
  • You have beautiful, often somewhat ridiculous colorful specimens usually found in tropical environs like peacocks, parrots, toucans, and lyrebirds. This seems like Charisma bonuses, the ability to mimic sounds, and possibly a situational penalty on stealth.
  • You have waterfowl of all kinds – everything from cranes and swans to ducks and seagulls. Swim speeds are the obvious pull here.
  • You have smart, thinky little guys – mostly in the corvid family but some overlap with parrots, too.
  • You have terrifying landlocked balls of violence like ostriches and cassowaries that can Just End You with powerful kicks
  • You have penguins and puffins, who don’t fly, but are basically immune to cold and are fantastic swimmers.
  • You have hummingbirds, which are small and quick and can also hover in place.
  • There needs to be some room for variation within each of the categories for customization. For example, for the raptorfolk category to work, there needs to be an option for darkvision (owls), carrion-eating (vultures) and really steep, fast, damaging attacks (most of them, but especially hawks and falcons).
  • Finally, the setting has some variation between different head types. Some, like Eteri (Jenny’s PC) have recognizable humanoid features but with feathers instead of hair. Others, like Satifa Nightfeather, the new Sheriff of Lostant, have humanoid-sized bird heads.

All of this variation combined has me looking at a set of choices to make as the way to model the birdfolk – character-race-as-flowchart, if you will. And I’ll probably carry this idea forward on the serpentfolk, insectfolk, and so on.

Birdfolk Racial Traits

Walking Speed: 30 ft.

Ability Modifiers: Choose +2 Dex or +2 INT

Racial Traits: Choose Gliding Speed 30′ or increase walking speed to 35′

Racial traits 2: Choose Darkvision 120′ and Light sensitivity or Mimickry

Racial traits 3: Choose Wis +1 or Cha +1

Racial Traits 4: Choose Swim speed 20′ or Claws that do 1d4 + Str or Dex slashing damage (chosen at character creation) on an unarmed attack.

Description: all birdfolk are somewhat birdlike, but it varies. Choose a description for your birdfolk – it should match up to a known species of bird. Your head may be humanoid or birdlike.

This mix allows for a pretty good cross-section of different birds and then some of the really powerful stuff like actual flight, carrion-eating, cold resistance, and so on can be handled by feats at later levels.

Not Done Yet

This is a rough take on this ancestral cluster and while I don’t think it’s too exploitable, I may very well be wrong. more even than usual, I’d welcome some feedback

Next time I’ll either dig into some birdfolk feats or get back to Eisenstadt. I haven’t quite decided yet (if you’ve got thoughts on that I’d love to hear them, too).

Photo by Ryan Grewell on Unsplash

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