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Talking animals are a very popular staple in fiction, especially in fantasy worlds and fairy tales. While they do exist in Dungeons & Dragons, in gaming groups they’re often consigned to being sidekicks via a class feature or products the Awaken spell. But what if they could take a more prominent role in games? What if you could play one as a PC? Not a Tabaxi, not a Tortle, but a creature who is all intents and purposes a beast or plant but who can talk and reason? That is what this book is meant to do, along with providing a large gallery of awakened animal NPCs to populate one’s setting.
Awakened Player Options goes over character creation and role-playing tips for awakened creatures. In terms of stats, all awakened characters increase their Intelligence by 1 and gain +2 to one of 6 ability scores depending on what their creature is known for. This can even be Intelligence again for a +3 bonus, which makes the race a rather powerful option for wizards. Bears can be easily argued to gain +2 Strength or Constitution, cheetahs +2 Dexterity, and so on. In terms of size they can range from Tiny to Large; Tiny creatures can share the same space as an ally, while Large creatures treat themselves as Medium for determining spell radii that emanate from their body/position. But no mention is made of melee reach, so they’re still pretty good for being able to affect a wider variety of squares. These size-based changes are in addition to alterations to carrying capacity and the like. They begin play knowing Common plus a language known by their Awakener, and treat their natural weapons as being magical upon reaching 5th level.
Due to non-humanoid anatomies, Awakened PCs are not proficient with their class’ regular weapons, although they are proficient with any natural weapons they start with as well as armor. It doesn’t say anything about tools, which I presume means there’s special animal-optimized tool types out there. As the text mentions for DMs not to be too harsh on this along with being a fantasy world, I’m leaning towards this as an explanation.
Creature Origins serve as the Awakened’s “race,” and we select from 14 broad families (aveformes/birds, feliformes/felines, planteformes/plants, etc). At 1st level the Awakened PC chooses 2 Diverse Features to further customize their species, and one more at 5th and 10th levels for a total of 4. They can also select such features in place of a feat or ability score increases.
The 14 origins come with listed speed modes, natural weapons if appropriate (most are 1d4 or 1d6 and are treated as unarmed strikes), and default traits along with a recommended list of Diverse Features. Just about every origin has some unique feature the other ones don’t possess. For instance, Aveformes have a fly speed of 30 feet and 10 on the ground, always know where north is, are proficient in Perception, and have a bite and talon set of natural weapons. If you’re a flightless bird like a penguin you have just a 30 foot ground speed but can cast featherfall on yourself at will. Caniformes have advantage on Perception checks involving scent, a bite natural weapon, 30 foot speed, and can select one favored terrain as per the Ranger’s Natural Explorer class feature for free. Feliformes have darkvision 60 feet, are proficient in Stealth, have bite and claw natural weapons, and a speed of 30 feet. Meanwhile Scimiaformes (apes, monkeys, etc) have a climb speed of 30 feet and 25 on the ground, have opposable thumbs which grant them the ability to use humanoid-designed weapons, tools, and humanoid armor, advantage on Acrobatics when balancing, and gain a bite attack on top of a typical humanoid unarmed strike. Ursaformes have a 30 foot ground speed and advantage on Perception and Survival check for smelling and foraging for food and water, darkvision of 60 feet, natural armor of 13 + Constitution modifier, and a bite and claw set of natural weapons. Planteformes grant 20 foot ground and climb speeds, are vulnerable to fire but resistant to piercing damage, survive off of sunlight instead of food, have a natural armor of 13 + Constitution modifier, a rake natural attack, and can disguise themselves as a normal plant while they remain motionless.
Icthyformes are perhaps the most restrictive choice. They have a 30 foot swim speed but 0 on ground, and can breath underwater but have to hold their breath out of it (6 times their Constitution score). They can Dash as a bonus action and have a bite attack as a natural weapon. Cephalaformes are pretty similar, although they have a 5 foot speed on the ground and their Dash takes the form of a jet which recharges after a long rest, and also have tentacles in addition to a beak natural weapon.
I should also note that there are no origins for insects. I get that such animals are typically too small to be represented in the rules, but giant insects exist as monsters and are the beast type, qualifying them for Awakened status.
Without taking into account Diverse Features, certain origins are better geared towards certain options. Feliformes make for good stalker type roles, and ursaformes are pretty good for melee roles. The flight of aveformes is great for ranged fighters, particularly ones making use of long-range attacks and spells, and the forms that grant a Dash as a bonus action (cephalaformes, icthyformes, musteliformes, rodentaformes, squamataformes) can make them mobile like a Rogue and keep them out of range of opponents. Cephalaformes may be a bit lacking as theirs is rest-based.
The addition of 59 Diverse Features can alter creatures further to either diversify or reinforce such roles. Some have prerequisites such as possessing a certain size category or natural weapon, but a few are gatekept based on level. We have some self-evident Features, such as Darkvision 60 feet and Nocturnal that increases existing darkvision to 120 feet, Blend In where you can make Stealth checks without cover while in your native habitat, Improved Attack that increases the damage die of natural weapons by one step, Digger which grants a 15 foot burrow speed or +5 to an existing burrow speed, Enrage which grants a once per long rest use of Barbarian Rage, Frightening Roar with is an AoE fear-inducing attack that can be used once per short rest, Sensitive Strike which lets you use the Help action on an ally within 10 feet when you hit a creature with a weapon, Tough Hide which grants resistance to bludgeoning damage, and Vice-Grip which grants advantage on checks made to grapple.
There’s a few features which are particularly supernatural or powerful due to being level-based. For example, Entangling Roots lets one cast Entangle once per short or long rest, Fruit Bearing can be used to cast Goodberry once per long rest, Pack Tactics is the monster ability of the same name but has to be taken at 10th level, Strangle causes a target you grapple by 5 or more to begin suffocating although your speed is reduced to 0 and attacks against you have advantage, and Summon Allies lets one cast Conjure Animals once per long rest but they must be animals of your own species.
Conjure Animals is a really good spell, and even with this limitation there are still a few good selections one can make with it depending on your species. It’s also not level-gated either.
From these options alone we have quite a bit of talking animal (and plant) creatures we can reliably make as a PC. But even so we have some limitations due to the sake of relative balance.
How about a python? Let’s be a Large sized Squamataforme for the grappling capabilities (they can range from 22 to 33 feet long, easily fit within that size category). While Grappler grants the feat of the same name, it’s not exactly a great feat as one of its abilities also makes you vulnerable, so instead for our Diverse Features we’ll take Vice-Grip (advantage on checks made to grapple) and Reaching Bite. This last one lets you grapple a target with your mouth, which is our primary attack, and our bite attack’s reach increases by 5 feet. This effectively turns our natural weapon into a polearm but with none of the downsides. If we reach 5th level we’ll have Strangle as an option, but there are some downsides: as there are quite a bit of enemies which don’t need to breathe and like Grappler it makes us more vulnerable to attacks, taking Hard Biter may be better as that one increases our bite by 1 die type: 1d6 to 2d6.
Okay, how about something sillier, like an armadillo? As none of the forms map to the Xenarthra clade, rodentaformes is the closest. The climbing capabilities and being able to store objects in our mouths may not be things armadillos are known for, but we’ll take what we can get. We’ll take Tough Exterior which grants +1 AC and is considered natural armor, and follow that up with Swimmer for a 20 foot swim speed as armadillos can actually move quite well through water. But what if we wanted to further improve our natural defenses which armadillos are known for? At 5th level we can take Bony Exterior to increase that Natural Armor to make our AC 14 + Constitution modifier. Which on top of Tough Exterior (which isn’t a prerequisite) will be a total of 15 + CON.
Awakened Characters provides us with 21 new Awakened animal NPCs along with backstories, stat blocks, and 1d10 Interesting Interactions tables to find interesting encounters and adventure hooks in get the PCs involved with their stories. I won’t go over every character, just some of the ones I find the most interesting.
B. Peabody Pete is the goodest of boys, a canine bard who developed an appreciation for a piano in the house of his married couple owners. After the husband left the piano sat silent, and when the wife hired some men to move it the dog leaped onto the seat and the piano began to play on its own. At this point the dog realized his barks turned into speech, scaring off the men. But B. Peabody Pete was happy, for he also had newly-found magic which he could use to play it just like his old master did.
Clio was the tressym pet of a young wizard, given as a gift for him going off to college. A magical experiment gone awry caused Clio to become self-aware as a side effect, which she used to fly out the window for a new life. She was never really close with the wizard and now lives as an alley cat, performing heists and petty theft in exchange for food and safety. Although she puts on the demeanor of a hardened criminal, deep down she needs direction in her life and sometimes wonders if her master is still alive.
Dragiri is a goat, and her now-dead companion was a halfling ranger who died at the hands of a red dragon. Whether by a desire to avenge her companion or some residual magical bond, she awakened and now has one goal: to find and kill the red dragon that took the life of the best friend she ever knew. But Dragiri isn’t some angsty anti-hero, but a genuinely good-aligned soul who is willing to protect innocents from danger.
Giselle was once the warhorse of a great paladin of Helm. She awakened with a sense of proud purpose and similar divine abilities as her master. The paladin disappeared during a journey to the lower planes, and while Giselle refuses to believe they’d depart without saying farewell she seeks to honor them by spreading Helm’s example and vanquishing evil. Unfortunately, Giselle embodies the arrogant stereotypes of holier-than-thou paladins, which many find obnoxious.
Gizmo is a hamster who, against his better instincts, forages far from home, a seeming vision guiding him to a halfling playing an ocarina with a small audience of hamsters listening. The halfling had an adventure in mind for Gizmo, and being newly awakened they became fast friends. Now, Gizmo acts as a courier for the nomadic tribes around the desert he calls home, eager to have some task or important thing to do, as surely someone out there must require the skills of a being as small, fleet-footed, and brave as he!
Hermione is a cow bard who saved herself and her sister from being led to the barn from which none of their kind returned. They ran deep into the woods, forced to travel to exhaustion as nowhere seemed safe in this new and frightening place. Seeking to calm her sister, something clicked in Hermione’s mind and she began to sing a soothing song, which also had an entrancing effect on the humans pursuing them and giving the pair time to escape. The cows came to live with a small settlement of elves, and to this day Hermione travels to find someone who can awaken her sister as well. She one day wishes to head back to her old farm and lead a glorious revolution in freeing the rest of the animals, but that is more a dream than a goal.
Maeja is a heron warlock whose children were kidnapped by the fairy queen. The queen also took her, awakening the bird so that she may serve as a trophy to parade around. The queen promised to keep her chicks safe as long as Maeja remains the fey’s loyal servant. Now the heron roams the wetlands, doing errands and tasks for the fairy queen, be it treasure-hunting for beautiful objects or making deals with other powerful beings on the queen’s behalf. Maeja’s ultimate goal is to break free of the fairy queen’s hold and rescue her family, wherever they are.
Monty is a winged snake whose egg was taken by a criminal gang to sell. He hatched before this could happen, and the criminals soon realized that he was no ordinary snake and they sought to train and raise him for their own purposes. Monty’s awakening occurred the first time he questioned an order, remarking with “no, that sounds silly.” He’s still a valued asset to the gangsters in serving as a lookout, although he is growing tired of the gang’s unambitious reliance upon petty crime and survival. So the snake has been gathering information on shipments made at the docks to become a more powerful crime lord. The gang isn’t ready to accept him as their leader, so Monty’s doing what he can to inflame tensions so that he can rise in the ranks.
Ol-grodan is an octopus warlock, awakening as he along with many other aquatic creatures fell off the back of some rising ancient creature. He swam away in fright, all the way to shore where to his horror he realized he was going to drown. A voice in Ol-grodan’s head offered him the ability to use his powers on land in exchange for some unnamed services, and he accepted. The octopus became a warlock, and he uses his magical abilities to sustain a floating orb of water which he uses to travel around on land. Ol-grodan has a massive ego, and doesn’t like being subservient to anyone else; one day he hopes to grow more powerful than the mysterious being who gave him his powers and take its place.
Teng is a pangolin who stumbled upon the ruins of an attacked caravan. Being a bit too close to a strange magical pillar travelers made pilgrimages to, Teng’s first higher thoughts were looking upon an abandoned sword and thinking “I want to learn how to use this.” Taking the blade, he tried to teach himself to wield it effectively, but when it became clear that was impossible he embarked on a quest to find a teacher who can turn him into the best warrior the world has ever seen. He joined a group of human pilgrims and trained under a swordmaster, and is now eager to prove himself in battle by hitching on with a group of adventurers willing to take him on.
Awakened Profiles is similar to the previous chapter, with 20 different names and descriptions of awakened NPCs. However their entries are shorter, being more or less descriptive text without stat blocks or sample plot tables. A few belong to species that can’t be made in the default rules, such as Rudiger B. Preston IV, an elderly rust monster sage who is questing for a lich’s ancient tome to prolong his short lifespan.
Some of the more interesting characters are Brot the capybara,a hard-drinking warrior who seeks to prove people wrong in thinking she’s an adorable rodent by hunting dangerous villains and monsters.
Civit Gnu the squirrel, who passed out drunk on spoiled mead in a temple to the Goddess of Healing and became an awakened cleric of the faith who mentors others and is known for making delicious mead, but whose recent protege went missing after a murder and journeyed off to clear his name.
Eudie Yet the otter pirate, who commands a crew of 30 sailors whose home (and thus awakened) was due to a group of dark mages polluting the waters with magical experiments. She and her crew are now competing against the mages in finding a lost legendary treasure which if it falls into their hands will make the mages supreme rulers of the land.
Poe Daisun the albino raccoon, born awakened due to an auspicious birth beneath the full moon. When she came of age she left home, using her magic to help people out in secret via small acts of kindness and charity. She recently learned that a group of poachers captured her family, and one of the elders was spared because his hide was too old to sell. Now she is on a single-minded mission to find the poachers and rescue her family.
Tyron, a triceratops who traveled into the lands of humanoids to gain fame as a hero. His beloved, a triceratops named Vesha, was unimpressed and told him that goodness should be its own reward. He set off for adventure again, eager to promise her that he would do so but in fact was in love with her. After an unfortunate encounter with a witch, Tyron was cursed to never meet Vesha again until he grows to know himself. Now he roams the land to find a way to break the curse and defeat the witch for good.
Overall Thoughts: While not exactly a large book, I was rather surprised by the brevity of the PC generation rules for Awakened species. The statted NPCs all have interesting backstories and are built to be interesting reliable companions and allies, but I felt that more space could’ve been given to expanding on options for origins and diverse features which I feel is the major reason why most would buy this book. While the options provided allow for a broad variety, as I’ve noted there are some creature concepts that don’t fit easily into what we’re given.
Sometime last year I reviewed another sourcebook with a talking animal PC lineage: Blue Rose for 5th Edition. If I had to compare I’d say that rhydan are the more faithful in regards to lifting the natural capabilities of creature stat blocks, but at the expense of being able to play the more powerful options such as bears, crocodiles, and lions. There’s also the fact that some animals screw you over mechanically as options, particularly some of the CR 0 ones without any useful natural weapons or movement speeds. Awakened is tighter and more consistent in having a universal set of options to draw from, so you’re less likely to end up with wildly unbalanced options which would be a no-brainer to take like you would in Blue Rose. But even then, there are some origins which aren’t as appealing, particularly the aquatic types who can’t operate on land for long.