Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Felines From A Faraway Land
The tabaxi of Maztica were reclusive and rarely strayed far from the safety of their established home.
Those who have appeared as travelers in the Forgotten Realms are tight-lipped about the circumstances that caused them to venture out across the ocean; still, tabaxi are becoming a more and more common sight as the years go by.
The Tabaxi are skilled hunters that live in tight-knit clans, using their keen sense of smell and knowledge of the land to execute elaborate hunts.
Outside of their hunting territories, these skills may be used for combat, thievery, or any other activity necessitated by their survival.
They take pride in their self-sufficiency; trading amongst Tabaxi clans is viewed as degrading, and they will utilize a broker if they must trade for survival.
Their tendencies towards and appreciation of simplicity should not be confused with a lack of intelligence. Tabaxi are resilient and versatile in their efforts and skillsets.
They’re quick studies who can learn techniques that interest them with ease, and their combat prowess is not to be underestimated.
Though introduced to the world long before, the Tabaxi were first detailed as a playable race in D&D 5e by Volothamp Geddarm in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
Most tabaxi are content to stay in tightly-knit, self-sufficient clans. However, each tabaxi is granted a divine gift from their mythical creator figure, The Cat Lord.
Though most clans worship Tezca or Nula, the tabaxi believe that the Cat Lord is the penultimate creator in the tabaxi pantheon. According to their legends, nowadays, he wanders the world endlessly, intervening in their affairs only when strictly necessary.
Due to his fickle and sly nature, Clerics of the Cat Lord are extremely rare and tend to be followers of the Domain of Trickery.
Tabaxi that the Cat Lord has gifted with ‘curiosity’ feel compelled to travel far and wide to satiate their voracious desire for knowledge and exciting experiences.
These tabaxi wander as far as their eyes can see before returning to their homelands in their old age to live out their golden years, sharing wondrous stories of the outside world.
In this way, the tabaxi manage to remain informed and knowledgeable about the world around them without ever needing to leave the comfort of their homeland.
Curious tabaxi are prone to fleeting obsessive preoccupations with knowledge and intrigue. To them, money and monetary value hold little importance.
To have money is no different than packing rations for a trip — the means by which they ultimately obtain the actual object of their fascinations: exciting knowledge and novel experiences.
However, to these tabaxi, the items they get — however they obtain them — hold only as much value as they hold secrecy.
Though they derive untoward joy from seeking out and inspecting ancient relics and unusual items, once the object loses its mystique, the tabaxi may immediately trade the things they once obsessed over for transport, food, boarding, or anything that could help them attain their next obsession.
Tabaxi who seek a safer route to indulge their habits may become minstrels. They often travel in small troupes headed by an older, wiser tabaxi guiding a small handful of younger tabaxi.
When they reach a new town, they set up and perform, playing instruments and bartering exotic goods for information and any items that spark their fancy.
Though these tabaxi keep to civilization and do their best to avoid overtly dangerous methods to gratify their need for intrigue, they are not at all above clandestine activities to separate a coveted artifact from an owner who is unwilling to sell it.
We had a tabaxi come through once, a few winters back. She kept the taproom packed each night with her stories and spent most days napping in a chair in front of the fireplace. We thought she was lazy, but when Linene came around looking for a missing broach, she was out the door before I could blink an eye.
-Toblen Stonehill, innkeeper
(From Volo’s Guide to Monsters)
Clever Cats: Tabaxi Traits
Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
Speed: Walking 30 ft.
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.
Ability Score Increase
Ability score increases are a very straightforward trait. Your tabaxi starts the game with an extra 2 Dexterity (maximum 20) and an extra 1 Charisma.
These definitely push the tabaxi towards the Bard class, giving both a boost to the Bard’s martial capabilities with dexterity and finesse weapons and increasing the Bard’s spellcasting ability.
All of the published D&D 5e playable races are either medium or small humanoids, and the tabaxi are no exception as medium humanoids.
Tabaxi have a base walking speed of 30 feet which is in line with the rest of the playable races.
The cats of our world — and presumably the Forgotten Realms — have a tapetum lucidum (‘shining layer’ in Latin) which allows their eyes to reflect light.
The tapetum lucidum grants them the ability to see well at night by independent a light source within their eyes.
Just like their less humanoid cousins, the tabaxi can see in the dark as if it were dim light and in dim light as if it were bright light, making them excellent hunters and combatants even when operating under cover of night.
Feline Agility is a unique ability for the tabaxi, allowing them to double their movement for a turn without incurring the use of their action through Dashing or risking Exhaustion.
Feline Agility also stacks with Dash should you need to cover a massive amount of ground in one turn. However, once you have used Feline Agility until you stand still — 0 feet of movement for one turn — you can’t use Feline Agility again.
Which, while not free, is a reasonably low cost for a skill that may well have been limited to one use per day in other situations and staying in one place during combat is a lot easier to pull off than it might first sound.
Cat’s Claws gives the tabaxi a bit of a boost to their unarmed strike, changing the damage from bludgeoning to slashing and offering increased damage of 1d4 + the player’s Strength modifier instead of the usual 1 + the player’s Strength modifier.
It also gives the player a climbing speed of 20 feet, a significant power spike when traversing difficult terrain. Cat’s Claws makes for a powerful combination with Feline Agility, allowing the tabaxi to easily and quickly scale harsh terrain and reposition themselves for an ambush.
Cat’s Talent is a sophisticated yet straightforward trait granting the player proficiency on Perception and Stealth rolls.
Unfortunately, the tabaxi do not boast any unique language that we know of but do get common and one additional language of their choice to keep with their theme of curiosity.
Entrepreneurial Endeavours: Best Classes for the Tabaxi
The Bard has perfect mechanical and role-play synergy for the tabaxi.
The Bard takes advantage of all of the tabaxi’s racial traits; The extra 2 Dexterity means that the tabaxi Bard can start with 20 Dexterity, maxing out their martial potential with daggers, bows, and rapiers.
The Bard also gets use out of the Charisma increase as a primary Charisma caster, and since a good stat roll can start them out with 20 Dexterity, all of their Ability Score increases and feats can go to their Charisma.
Feline Agility and Cat’s Claws also have good synergy with the Bard class, allowing them to get into fights quickly and providing a little bit of extra damage if they get disarmed.
Role-play-wise, the wandering tabaxi are famous for their minstrel troupes. Singing, dancing, and performing are instrumental to the way of life of a wandering tabaxi.
Bardic approaches to problems may appeal to the tabaxi’s charming and charismatic nature, and they can put that musical dexterity to surreptitiously acquire their desired items.
For the tabaxi who wants to flirt with danger, the Rogue class provides many of the same benefits as the Bard class. Trading your clarinet for a cloak-and-dagger, the Rogue loses out on the Bard’s musical magic but gains an aptitude for taking illicit initiatives towards their goals.
Mechanically the Rogue’s heavy reliance on Dexterity and use of the tabaxi’s racial proficiency in Stealth makes the Rogue a powerful choice for tabaxi players looking to dance along the border of the law.
The extra Charisma doesn’t hurt either for when you need to schmooze your way out of trouble with The Man.
Though in role-play, you’ll be missing out on the integration into tabaxi troupes, your character makes up for it with a massive boost to their abilities when it comes to covertly procuring the current object of their obsessions.
Wizard is a role-playing choice first and a mechanical choice second. The natural inquisitiveness of the wandering tabaxi makes them prime candidates for the pursuit of knowledge through the study of magic.
It doesn’t take a large stretch of the imagination to envision a tabaxi lured to wizardry through the promise of learning the ancient secrets of the wizards before them.
Though the Wizard won’t gain as much from the tabaxi’s racial traits, what they sacrifice in immediate statistical boosts regain damage dice and compelling role-play.
Pretty Kitties: Tabaxi Appearance
The tabaxi are lean and agile creatures who embody and serve the Cat Lord’s whims, graced with the visage and talents of their deity.
Tabaxi are, on average, taller than most humans, standing about six to seven feet tall, as stated in 1e’s Fiend Folio. Their eyes are usually colored green or yellow. Like their quadrupedal cousins, they have slitted pupils and long, retractable claws.
In addition, they sport fur in color ranges of light yellow to brownish red, which is usually either spotted, as noted in Fires of Zatal, or striped, as observed in Fiend Folio (1e).
According to Fires of Zatal, their striking pelts have been considered valuable by Hishna practitioners, leading tabaxi to be hunted for pelts and claws. Living tabaxi could even be sold and purchased for a small fortune on the black market in some places in Maztica.
Tabaxi appearances vary regionally in terms of coloration and markings. Those with solid spots are sometimes called leopard men, while those with rosette spots are known as jaguar men.
The difference is not simply in their appearance either; the leopard and jaguar men also pronounce the word ‘tabaxi’ differently. The second-edition Monstrous Manual notes that the leopard men pronounce the word as “tah-BÆK-see” whilst the jaguar men pronounce it “tah-BAHSH-ee”.
The tabaxi are skilled hunters that utilise their speed and camouflage to their advantage. According to the Fiend Folio, they are known for their aromatic scent, which comes from the herbs that they use to disguise their natural scent whilst hunting.
They are as likely to be seen wielding a sling or a bola as they are to use their claws as a weapon. Though they err towards the use of simple weaponry, tabaxi are incredibly intelligent and adaptable, able to pick up and utilize the weaponry of their fallen enemies should they desire — or require — to do so with relative ease.
Leveraging their high intelligence and powerful sense of smell with their extensive hunting knowledge, tabaxi are incredibly hard to capture or trap.
Catty Cognomina: Tabaxi Names
Tabaxi have single names determined by their clan and a complex system of astrology, prophecy, history, and many other esoteric methodologies.
Their names carry no inherent gender, and most tabaxi will adopt a short-hand nickname based upon their full name.
Some sample tabaxi names — and the shortened nicknames derived from them — might be:
Cloud on the Mountaintop (Cloud), Colourful Bird (Bird), Star in the Sky (Star), Little Flower (Flower), Jade Bottle (Jade), and Four Waves (Waves).
The names are often reminiscent of tribal names and are generally related to nature. They don’t carry inherent surnames but will identify themselves depending on their tribe of origin.
Tabaxi clans are usually named after a notable geographical feature near or within the clan’s territory. Some sample clan names might be Six Peaks, Passing Storm, Crashing Waterfall, or Forest Stream.
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When I’m not writing about RPGs, I’m playing Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, X-Wing miniatures, and many other lovingly-crafted tabletop games with the people I love.