I've been running a couple of parallel campaigns set in Dolmenwood, since the autumn, and have finally got to see the grimalkin class presented in Wormskin issue one in play. The class is a lot of fun: what's not to like about a fairy cat which can fight, pick locks, and cast spells and has three different shapes to shift between?
However, I've noticed a few issues with the class, in play:
- Grimalkin are small: around 3-4' high, about the same size as trad D&D halflings. Like halflings, they can only use small weapons, but they don't gain the associated benefits of being small, namely: an AC bonus when in combat with large creatures.
- The main means of transition between the humanoid form (estray) and the moggy form (chester) is the consumption or avoidance of town rats. While this is a charming idea, I've found it troublesome in play, for several reasons. Firstly, in my experience, when PCs are in town, the presence or not of rats is rarely something that comes up explicitly. Of course, the referee could bear this in mind, if a grimalkin PC is present, but it's not a part of the usual course of a game session. Secondly, whatever the PC may think, the player wants to stay in estray. In chester, the grimalkin's class abilities are greatly reduced and the state would be avoided by most players. This leads to the non-cat-like behaviour of avoiding rats! This, for me, is the main issue with the mechanics as written. Thirdly, if the character is avoiding rats "like the plague", that means they should avoid going into town. This presents logistical difficulties: does the grimalkin PC stay in the forest when the others in the party go shopping in town? Do they not sleep in the inn with the others? It encourages a "split the party" mentality, which is hassle to deal with. In the end, I've found that I've just completely ignored the whole rats thing, which is a shame.
- Though the PC grimalkin in my games has never got into chester (yet), I do notice that the abilities of that form are a little vaguely defined.
- While transitioning back to estray from chester just requires either alteration magic or stopping eating town rats, the transition back from the third form -- wilder -- is far more difficult. It requires a potion made from obscure ingredients which -- as the grimalkin in this state is highly chaotic -- the character's companions would have to attain and administer. As wilder is something of an "emergency state" for a grimalkin, this difficulty in changing back to its more civilised form seems ok, in and of itself. The issue here is more theoretical: without companions to look out for it, how would a grimalkin ever transform from wilder back to estray?
So, I've been thinking of trying out the following tweaks:
- This is simple. Just give grimalkin the same AC bonus as halflings get: +2 when attacked by a larger-than-human creature.
- Fixing the issue with rats requires a larger change to the class. What I'm thinking of has several aspects. Firstly, to restore the cat-like glee at killing rodents, I'd specify that grimalkin compulsively attack rats (including giant rats), unless a save versus spells is successful (in situations where the character tries to suppress the instinct). Secondly, I'd undo the connection between eating rats and going into chester. Instead, we could say that (continuing the theme of certain types of magic triggering a grimalkin's transformations) every time a grimalkin in estray is targeted by transformative magic, there is a 50% chance of it entering chester. To come back, a further application of alteration magic can be used or (for sake of playability) the character reverts at dawn. I'd also stipulate that a grimalkin can willingly enter or choose to remain in chester. A willing transformation would take 1d6 rounds. (All of the PC's clothing and equipment melds into its body, when in chester.)
- We can say that a grimalkin in chester is intelligent and can understand language, but can only respond in yowls and meows. The addition of a claw/claw/bite attack routine (d2 damage per hit) also seems reasonable.
- I think simply saying that a grimalkin in wilder has an X-in-6 chance per some period of naturally (spontaneously) reverting to estray would fix this theoretical issue. For playability as a PC race, I'd make this pretty lenient: a 1-in-6 chance per day, say.
I'll be interested to try out these tweaks to see how they work in practice and if they address the issues I've had with the class.