It's been a while, hasn't it? I've been busy recently, so I'm glad to finally be back on the warpath.
Good news - the Genuine Homebrewing Contest is still going on, and I'll be posting an update on that front in the next few days!
More good news: Starting next week, I'll be releasing previews of the Compendium of Sacred Mysteries: Resurrection - featuring clerics, druids, and more - EVERY DAY!
Alright, the Shadowcat!
Musical Theme: Blackheart - Two Steps From Hell
Illustrated by the excellent Julijana Mijailovic, this was originally the first patron I ever wrote. Ever. Wild stuff. This was back before XGE came out, so there was no hexblade edging in on the "pure shadow" theme, and I'm happy to report that while the mechanics of this subclass have changed dramatically since it was first imagined, the theme has evolved positively the entire time.
I can't actually say where exactly I drew initial inspiration from in order to make this one, to be honest. I did find this fantastic artwork by Matt Barley which served as a spark for the original visualization. I've always been a dog person, I'll admit, but I wanted to focus on the mythological aspects of cats in this patron as I grew and expanded this beyond the generic weird darkness cat idea. They're commonly associated with fantastical powers like teleportation, shadow-walking, and alternative realms, but one thing I really wanted to focus on was sleep paralysis. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the sensation, imagine being awake, but completely unable to move your body. Apparently, this is commonly caused by high stress, anxiety, and similar ailments interfering with proper sleeping patterns. It's frequently associated with a sensation of "weight upon the chest" in many cultures, along with difficulty breathing. Of course, like many things in the past, it was blamed on demons and hostile spirits or witchcraft. Further, the legends of a cat stealing the breath of an infant, killing it in the crib, is another popular folktale. Combining all of these together, I decided to craft a creature that embodied these myths and combined them into a singular entity.
Thus, the Shadowcat was born.
The Inverse was something I always wanted to write in - a shadow world, but for every plane and every place all at once. I also wanted to portray the Shadowcat as something that wasn't entirely alien or hostile to humanity, since otherwise it would likely be more difficult to implement in a majority of worlds.
The warlock option has been entirely reworked since the inception. The Shadowcat has a wide number of entirely-new spells, for various reasons, and I'm happy with how they came out. So, let's talk about what happened to the features:
1st level - In the original version, the dimcats and other reflections of the Shadowcat were everywhere, all the time, surrounding and following the warlock in a far plane. Whenever a creature attacked the warlock, the cats would cut the creature in turn. It was a simple feature, but it was both too powerful and often not very fun; as a warlock who focused on stealth and shadow, getting attacked is the last thing you want to have to rely on. It came back as the unseen claw spell, though in a more offensive style. Instead, I've tried to focus on the mysterious, otherworldly aspects of the warlock, giving them a variable location sort of feature that allows them to position perfectly at the start of combat - much like the famed Schrodinger's cat, whose state is unknown until revealed.
Stolen Luck used to be a single instance, though it was much less interesting and more reliable. I decided to make it a curse in order to allow the warlock to benefit from invocations that work with curses, as I find them entertaining and it provides an interesting and full-fight mechanic that forces enemies to respond in kind. One thing to remember: "critical failure" on attack rolls isn't a thing in 5e. A 1 does not automatically mean that the attacker makes an embarrassing gaffe or stabs themselves or something. If it did, a 20th level fighter would inevitably skewer their own foot every single fight simply because of the number of attack rolls they make, which is largely incoherent and usually isn't fun from a player perspective.
Umbral Leap has remained largely the same as before. The 14th level feature, however, is entirely different. Previously, the feature was called Call to the Night, which summoned a creature called an Inkcat - imagine a dimcat but bigger and badder in every way. It was neat but also sort of mediocre; creature summons are difficult because they feel weaker as other threats become stronger, which makes it less fun without effective scaling, and that has a whole host of other issues. Therefore, I replaced it with something much less complicated and far more edgy - emerging from shadow to terrify everyone around you.
The barbarian subclass here was the second most popular secondary subclass in the entire book according to your poll results, and I'm thrilled about that! I remember thinking: why would someone fight with rage? What kinds of emotions would that call upon, and what could happen to them? I remembered the Cheshire Cat at that moment, another facet of the original inspiration, and I grinned. In that moment, I knew what I had to write.
That mad, maniac grin was what drove me to write this entire subclass: a barbarian that totally rejects all the stereotypes about the class while simultaneously embracing them fully. A barbarian that becomes invisible and dodges around, rather than fighting like a brute? Yes! One that does that, but still tanks just as well as a normal barbarian? Yup. Teleporting barbarian? Yup. Spellcasting barbarian? Yup. Spooky barbarian that actually gains something as a positive for ending a rage? Yup.
And of course, the roleplaying is as easy as affixing a wicked grin to your face! Seriously, just smile like that and imagine crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing their screams of terror. Great, right?
Now for the Nocturne! Yes, you heard right: cat people. I'm sure many of you have heard the horror stories of people who are way too into cats in one way or another, and I'm normally not a huge fan of the idea myself, so I created this race to redeem that concept for me and everyone else who feels the same way.
How? Horrible insomnia. Yup. I've several friends who suffer or have suffered from this condition to greater and lesser extents, and I've seen how it affects them, so I wanted to offer this as a way for others to step into those shoes and empathize, while still portraying it in a fantastical way. An entire racial category defined by their unceasing and unwelcome nightmares lends itself to many interesting and unique roleplaying opportunities, and so I wanted to inspire you to think about how you could embrace that idea.
Their mechanics are also unique, as they gain bonuses and penalties depending on if they choose to try to sleep or stay awake and deal with the weariness that comes. Their Nine Lives feature is another reference to the paradoxical Schrodinger's cat - if their fate is unknown, they're safer than they could be.
I hope you've enjoyed this walkthrough of the Shadowcat and its Alfallen race, the Nocturne. If you've enjoyed reading this, or if you've played one of these, please leave me a message in the Reddit thread. I'm not sure which Alrisen I'm going to do next, but if you have suggestions, I'm all ears.