Lions, Tigers, and Catfolk, Oh My!
Wanderers from a far-off land, precocious minstrels and thieves, the Tabaxi are the quintessential catfolk of the D&D multiverse that we got introduced in Volo's Guide to Monsters. Tabaxi range from lion-esque noble felines to mangy alley cat pickpockets and everything in between. Tabaxi can make for some wonderfully flavorful and fun characters, so let’s take these cats out of the bag and go through everything you need to know.
Wherever your adventure takes place, the tabaxi always comes from somewhere far away. They’re meant to be wanderers, visiting the here and now out of curiosity and wanderlust. Tabaxi life in their distant homeland is tribalistic and simple, where they are content with their patron deity, The Cat Lord. However, their god blesses them within innate curious nature that compels them to explore. Tabaxi you meet along your adventures are all essentially on a walkabout, following their curiosity to wherever it takes them.
Tabaxi put a lot of emphasis on stories. They appreciate gold and trinkets as much as the next race, but what they’re really after is the stories. The story of the daring dungeon delving is far more important than the actual treasure at the dungeon’s end. This is where a lot of their chaotic nature comes in, as they’ll likely be up for anything if they think it’ll make for an exciting adventure.
Tabaxi curiosity can come in a lot of forms, and that gives you a plethora of character options and easy introductions into campaign settings. Tabaxi has strong but fleeting obsessions that can easily line up with the next leg of the adventure. Is the adventure about fighting a demon lord? Boom, your new tabaxi character has become obsessed with fiends. Is the adventure about recovering a long-lost relic? Guess what’s your tabaxi’s greatest fixation.
Tabaxi are described somewhat generically as “catfolk” and there’s a good reason for that. Everything under the wide definition of “cat” is ripe for you to play with in your character design.
Lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, housecats, bobcats, pumas, panthers, or jaguar-esque characters are all at your fingertips.
5e races are templates, they’re 90% finished ideas and they’ve left all the fun customization options open for you. What is the color of your fur? The length of your whiskers? How about the length of your tail? Are you fluffy and poofed up? Or are you sleeker and well groomed? What about your claws? What about your eyes? There’s so much space here to work with on the appearance alone beyond a generic “cat”.
Make a leopard ranger who’s fresh from the wilderness and prowls the city outskirts, suspicious of civilization like it was a dangerous beast. Make an alley-cat rogue whose patchy fur and flea bitten itch belies a deft claw and unparalleled sleight of hand. Or make an arrogant tiger barbarian, brilliant in orange and black stripes and ready to tear his opponents down with his bare claws. This stuff writes itself, and it’s a great creative canvas that only takes a little creative spark.
Pop Culture Comparisons
For your next tabaxi character it’s sometimes helpful to take inspiration from similar races and characters from outside of D&D. There’re quite a few variations upon the theme of “cat person” so it can be good to figure out what direction you’re coming from.
Khajiit - Elder Scrolls
If you’ve ever heard “Khajiit has wares if you have coin” you’ve already got a pretty good concept of tabaxi characters. Khajiit are a pretty darn close approximation of tabaxi, with maybe just a bit more devious thievery and cunning instead of curiosity and wanderlust. Most Khajiit have a fur pattern quite like a lynx or bobcat but are otherwise quite tabaxi-like. If you’ve always wanted to play a Khajiit, the tabaxi are a great opportunity to do so.
Neko/Catgirls - A ton of Different Animes
From respectable shows to the most cringy, you’ve almost certainly seen a neko girl floating around some anime or another. Neko catfolk are defined by very light feline features, often only including a set of catlike ears and a tail, or possibly including feline eyes, whiskers, and sometimes paws. Tabaxi have significantly more feline features than most neko representations. If you’re coming at a tabaxi character from this direction, you may need to have a talk with your DM. Neko designs are only different at an aesthetic level, and if you’re in love with the look some DMs might allow it.
Thundercats - Thundercats
Thundercats Hooooo! Strangely enough, these 80’s icons aren’t too far off the mark when it comes to building a tabaxi character. Particularly if you go off of the 2011 remake rather than the original. About the only thing missing is the faces, which in tabaxi are very feline but in thundercats were practically human. If you’ve always wanted to challenge Mumm-Ra in a 5e campaign, you can easily use the tabaxi race as your springboard. They don’t inherently gain a bonus to their Strength, but that doesn’t have to stop you from creating your own Lion-O.
Tabaxi have a single gender-neutral name that is chosen by their clan. They’re based on a wide range of factors including astrology and prophecy and typically take the form of a short descriptive sentence and most tabaxi utilize a shorter nickname derived from it. Try to think of both of these aspects when creating your new tabaxi character’s name and remember that the short nickname is what most other players will know you by.
Following that they have their clan name, which is usually a simple description of some geological feature in or around their home territory.
The following list of sample tabaxi names includes nicknames in parenthesis.
Tabaxi Names: Crescent Moon (Moon), Fire in the Distance (Fire), Game of Chance (Game), Gift of a Guest (Gift), Kite in the Wind (Kite), Lost Guide (Lost), Scratch on Wood (Scratch), Single Drop (Single), Three Coil (Three), Wave on the Shore (Wave)
Tabaxi Clans: Angelic Ridge, Anchored Glade, Echoing Mountain, Grieving Fields, Mumbling Morass, Tranquil Bayou, Twisting Fjords, Weeping Cave.
Your tabaxi character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Charisma score increases by 1.
Age: Tabaxi have lifespans equivalent to humans.
Alignment: Tabaxi tend toward chaotic alignments, as they let impulse and fancy guide their decisions. They are rarely evil, with most of them driven by curiosity rather than greed or other dark impulses.
Size: Tabaxi are taller on average than humans and relatively slender. Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision: You have a cat’s keen senses, especially in the dark. 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.
Feline Agility: Your reflexes and agility allow you to move with a burst of speed. When you move on your turn in combat, you can double your speed until the end of the turn. Once you use this trait, you can’t use it again until you move 0 feet on one of your turns.
Cat’s Claws: Because of your claws, you have a climbing speed of 20 feet. In addition, your claws are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with them, you deal slashing damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.
Cat’s Talent: You have proficiency in the Perception and Stealth skills.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and one other language of your choice.
Let’s go through these one by one and see what they mean for your new character:
Ability Score Increase: +2 to Dexterity and +1 to Charisma is a damned fine useful spread. Dexterity is pretty universally useful, and Charisma is of particular import for Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks.
Age: Nothing special here, move along.
Alignment: Chaotic, not typically evil, and prone to giving into curious fancies. Remember you don’t have to play your character to type, so your lawful evil puma necromancer build is still just as valid.
Size: Medium sized, nothing special, move along.
Speed: Solid respectable 30 feet movement speed. This is significant because the other common +2 Dexterity race (halflings) are limited by their 25 foot speed. For an innate +2 dexterity race at full (normal) speed, you’re choosing between tabaxi or Kenku.
Darkvision: Pretty standard goodie but it’s always useful to have, especially if you’re going for a sneaky build that would appreciate the cover of darkness.
Feline Agility: This is probably the most unique tool in the tabaxi arsenal and it’s a good one. It lets you double your speed in a turn without using any kind of action cost, but at the cost of staying still on another turn to recharge the ability. This lets you close the distance amazingly quick when you need to.
There’re a couple things to note here.
First, doubling your movement speed is different from just +30 feet. If you were to move and then use your action to dash, that speed is still doubled, meaning you’d move a whopping 120 feet in your turn!
Second, it also applies to any speed, not just your natural movement speed. So that absolutely works on magical flight or other spells that give you a magical movement speed. A tabaxi with the fly spell using feline agility and dashing moves 240 feet in a single round! And all this gets way crazier with the haste spell or expeditious retreat. At a certain point you become less a cat and more of a vaguely cat shaped blur.
Cat’s Claws: The claws aren’t particularly useful natural weapons, but they’re nice to have in a pinch. The climbing speed is worth noting though. The climb speed inself is only slightly faster (5 feet) than most creature’s normal climbing (half of 30 feet is 15 feet). But having a natural climb speed means you automatically pass a lot of checks that would normally call for Strength (Athletics) checks while climbing. Particularly nice for character’s ignoring the Strength stat.
Cat’s Talent: Two skill proficiencies in the first place is nothing to sneeze at, and Stealth and Perception are the top shelf picks. Getting these two vital proficiencies really frees you up and allows you to specialize with your other options.
Languages: Common and a bonus language of your choice rather than a racial language. Potentially quite useful as you pick one up that seems likely in your following adventures.
5e is amazingly flexible and you can make anything you can think of, but here’s a few builds that take advantage of the Tabaxi stats and abilities that might spark some inspiration.
With the bonus to Dexterity and Charisma, tabaxi make for ideal Dexterity-based paladins. Dexterity paladin builds can be surprisingly effective. By taking medium armor, dueling style with a shield and rapier, you statistically do the same damage as a Strength based paladin, but at slightly less AC (literally 1 AC lower). But in exchange you get a high initiative and as a tabaxi your feline agility trait will let you get stuck into combat instantly.
Tabaxi work fantastically for the charming rogue, particularly if you take the swashbuckler archetype and take full advantage of that +1 bonus to Charisma. Most everything the tabaxi gain slot nicely into the rogue build. The climb speed for scaling walls, the skill proficiencies are perfect, and the darkvision is a nice touch for those late-night robberies. Feline agility also comes into play here again, getting you out of a tight spot fast or maneuvering yourself into the perfect sneak attack position.
Tabaxi bards gain a huge boost over other bards, particularly if you take a more combat oriented bardic college like the college of swords or the college of whispers. Your +2 bonus to Dexterity is extremely helpful for any bard that’s looking to get into a bit of combat. Specifically, the college of whispers bard with a bow can deal psychic damage from downrange and have the feline agility ability in their back pocket to escape anything that gets close.
Tabaxi warlocks get quite a bit of use out of the tabaxi traits, especially if you go for the pact of the blade. The +2 Dexterity bonus is essential for warlocks getting in and swinging a sword around. And again, it’s the feline agility ability that really clicks here, as your warlock will get a lot of mileage out of the speed boost when they really need to escape a situation or position themselves to get the maximum value out of a spell. Sneaky warlocks are also a viable build and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better fit for one than a tabaxi.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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