Welcome to a review that I’ve been waiting some time to bring you! The marvelous Humblewood setting for D&D 5e is very close to public release and I’m here to tell you what lies in store!
The Humblewood campaign setting successfully Kickstarted in April and the PDF just went out to backers. It’s available to the general public as a preorder and if you’re thinking of getting on that train, let me show you what you’re in store for.
The central culture of Humblewood is that of the birdfolk, the founders of the region’s main cities and the dominant race that others look to for guidance. Their language is the standard tongue of the Wood and their myths are the standard religion. In this way they resemble humans in a standard D&D campaign, except that there are five different races of birdfolk. They resemble each other in general terms and each of them have subraces to provide some variety.
- The crow-like corvums are some of the biggest birdfolk (still Medium-sized) and also intelligent and smart. They are the scholars and gain a bonus proficiency, but they also appraise magical objects to see how they’re used. Dusk corvums are sneakier, thieving corvums and kindled corvums are smart and persuasive corvums.
- The gallus are fowl-like birdfolk (they look like pheasants, grouses, chickens, and turkeys) that are the hospitable and communal. They have some interesting proficiency-based abilities, adding mods to History, simple weapons, and artisan supplies. Bright gallus are charismatic and winning while huden gallus are more in touch with the land and can speak with plants!
- The beautiful lumas are dove- or pigeon-like birdfolk that have some natural spellcasting ability and a fate-based ability like halflings’ Second Chance. The sable lumas are inscrutable and make good spies while sera lumas are geared towards bards or dabbling in barding.
- Raptors are pretty self-explanatory: predatory birdfolk resembling hawks, eagles, falcons, etc. They tend to stay apart from other birdfolk, though they don’t prey on their fellows, and are highly itinerant. They can hide and move through the Wood with ease and would make excellent rangers, rogues, or monks. The maran raptors are adept in the water (like ospreys) and at ambushes while mistral raptors are exceptional fliers and the right pick if you want to fight in the air.
- The tall, strong, and intimidating strigs look like humanoid owls and seem to be geared towards the party tanks. They are clearly good operating in the dark but most of their flavor comes from their subrace. Stout strigs double down on the race’s strength and fighting ability while swift strigs combine it with wilderness abilities.
One thing that all the birdfolk share is the ability to glide. They can’t truly fly but they can spread their wings and effectively featherfall when dropping. They can also move forward while falling (“falling with style?”) though they can’t move upwards. This might be disappointing for some players but a pair of feats can improve your ability: Aerial Expert lets you jump better (including upwards) and Heavy Glider lets you better use Glide in combat.
Compared to the birdfolk, the non-bird humblefolk are scattered and fractious. They never came together like their feathered neighbors so their culture takes its cues from the birds and not the other way around. They are all mammals and only one has subraces so they are a bit different than the birds. With the variety above I think it’s safe to say that most of the characters in your party are going to be birds even without strong-arming players into that choice.
- Cervans are deer-like creatures with a spiritual connection to life and death, and some woodland ability. Their Surge of Vigor ability is both a nod to their connection to natural magic but also a way for them to survive potentially deadly attacks, in a tongue-and-cheek reference to deers’ survival ability. Grove cervans are agile and make good scouts while pronghorn cervans are more combat-oriented.
- The empathetic hedges are (obviously) hedgehog-folk and they are the traveling mediators of the Wood. They have good defensive abilities as you might expect, but also some natural druid magic and the ability to speak with insects and spiders.
- The jerbeens are mouse-like folk firmly in the mold of Reepicheep. They are small but brave, with abilities that let them move quickly around the battlefield, help their companions, and resist fear effects.
- Mapachs are raccoon-like and thoroughly awesome. They are mobile and skilled, excellent for rogues, clerics, or fighters, with some climbing ability and poison resistance. The best (and longest) ability, though, is called Scroungecraft and essentially lets them jury-rig different tools out of junk.
- The fox-like vulpins are the first and only race in this book that make me think they might be abused by characters. They’ve got combat ability, defensive ability, and they can cast charm person once per long rest! They’re ability scores might be an issue but they’re clearly good for any class you could want and the ability to bypass NPCs is tricky, not to mention that ability keeps adding more spells as you level up. Still, I mean… they’re adorable!
New Character Options
There is a lot of detail put into making Humblewood your own with fun characters that capture the spirit of this setting. There are details of the world (more on that below) but also a full page and a half on alternative animals for your character. If you are a strig, what kind of owl do you look like? If you are a jerbeen, maybe you look more like a chinchilla or rabbit instead of a mouse. Languages (including an alphabet!) are provided and then a number of subclasses and feats.
The College of the Road for bards points to the wild nature of this setting and is readily ported to other settings. You get access to a number of Traveler’s Tricks that give you all sorts of customization to moonlight as other class roles. Several new cleric domains are provided for the setting’s religious elements: the Community Domain and the Night Domain. These also can fit into other settings and would be great for both Eberron and Forgotten Realms. Lastly, the Scofflaw is a martial archetype for the fighter that makes you half-tank, half-rogue, and thoroughly a pain in the ass.
Three new Backgrounds appear that are a little more setting-specific. The Bandit Defector is a reformed outlaw that offers an interesting option for antiheroes. Grounded characters are those birdfolk who like it better on the ground than in a tree, which can bind them together with a party that’s got more humblefolk and also can reward players who don’t want to be up in the air. Wind-touched are thematically the opposite: those birdfolk who feel a spiritual connection to the sky and the wind. Mechanically, they operate like some of the religious backgrounds with community support.
The new feats cover a lot of ground, mostly with flying options for birdfolk, but also some more ties to former bandits. My favorite one, though, is Speech of the Ancient Beasts that lets you talk to huge creatures of the woodland such as Giant Eagles, Giant Elks, and Giant Owls. I mean, talk about a character basis. New spells are presented but going through them seems a little tedious. I’ll just say that all spellcasting classes from the PHB are represented and that all of them would be useful in any thematically forested D&D setting.
Let’s get into the setting a little bit. You might think that the setting here would be vague and require you to make your own world, or that it might be charming and cutesy with little danger. You’d be wrong on both counts.
The world of Humblewood, also called Everden, is overseen by the Amaranthine gods who keep the cosmic balance of the Great Rhythm. From life-giving Ardea to the death-owl Tyton they are every bit as dramatic as you would expect. They also number a dozen so there are many gods to pick from but ten of them are definitely suggestive of specific races so you don’t have to struggle with whom to worship. Gesme, for instance, is the Amaranthine of knowledge and creation so you might worship her if you are a wizard, artificer, or blacksmith. However, she’s depicted as a raven and her purview is right in the corvums wheelhouse so if you want to assume your corvum primarily worships the “corvum-goddess” then that’s just fine too.
Through some wonderful fables and a rich description of the realm, it’s easy to see a Humblewood campaign taking shape. Alderheart is the largest city in the Wood, a tree grown tall by druids with many different bird perches on it. From there, roads stretch through the Wood to other settlements and also beyond to dangerous areas. The Mokk Fields are a swampy area full of slimes and poison creatures, but also valuable goods if you want to run a fetch quest. The Talongrip Coast is far from the woodlands of the default setting and make a wonderful place for a pirate setting (if you’re wondering about Pirates of Pugmire, keep reading). The Crest Mountains are to the northeast and home to raiding bandits in a Coalition that is growing in power.
Of special note, though, is the Scorched Grove to the west. Centuries ago this lush section of the woods was overcome by fire elementals and burned to cinders. It was stopped by druids and other heroes but continues to grow slightly year by year and is still home to fiery nasties. Still, it’s probably contained and not an immediate threat… right?
A lot of the new creatures in this book have to do with the fire-creatures of the Scorched Grove. Ashsnakes lie in wait among the drifts of ash and pounce on travelers. Emberbats are flying creatures of fire, and they can even come in swarms which sounds awful. In the swampy Mokk Fields there are slimes, both caustic, shifting, and sticky, while the seaside Talongrip Coast has massive wakewyrms that are strait out of the Odyssey.
Darker, more magical things abound as well. Birdfolk skeletons and cobblefrights are necromantic terrors that can spring up wherever people are dabbling in the dark arts (probably corvums), and lesser demons are for your general cultist use. The aspect of fire is particularly bad, somewhat like your average fire elemental but also with abilities that make it like a balor or other powerful demon. Clearly the worst things the Scorched Grove will throw at you. Forest prowlers are creatures of legend, the sort you scare young birdfolk chicks to sleep with, and mountain lions are their big cousins with rocky armor.
A number of NPCs are also provided from the salty birdfolk dockmaster and birdfolk militia to the corvum assassin and hedge witch. I seriously love every one of these supporting characters and the care that went into making them flavorful and easy to use.
What About Pirates of Pugmire?
There’s an obvious question that many people will be asking: how does Humblewood compare to the Pirates of Pugmire supplement? Both settings are 5e-based and both feature a scattering of humanoid animals in a pseudo-medieval world. To top it off, both feature birds! The Pugmire book is heavily nautically-based and it’s also farther out, but given the popularity of the Realms of Pugmire many people might wonder why they should invest in another game that seems the same. Well, my answer is buy either one or buy both!
The short version of this is that the Wood is a self-contained setting that shares a lot of themes with the Realms of Pugmire, but it’s also completely compatible. If you are already signed up for Pirates of Pugmire, feel free to use some of the lore mentioned here to flesh out the homelands and cultures of the lizards and birds of that game. If you are more interested in Humblewood, use the birdfolk and humblefolk alongside the dogs of Pugmire and the cats of Mau and place the Wood across mountains or something. If you have both, though, you can place the Wood across the Acid Sea and intertwine these worlds in the port cities of Pirates of Pugmire.
Since I have access to the manuscripts of Pirates of Pugmire as well as a semi-final backer copy of Humblewood, I can actually speak to the mechanics as well! The birdfolk of Humblewood are discussed in detail above but the birds of Pirates of Pugmire can fit well with the birdfolk of Humblewood. Like the breeds in Pugmire, a bird character’s neste (sic) provides just two ability bonuses and then a bonus knack (like a feat). There are crows in Pugmire but helpfully their knack is Glide. I suggest replacing them entirely with Humblewood corvums, then using the other nestes (parrots and sparrows) as other birdfolk who are absent from the Wood.
There are some balance issues to consider since the Realms of Pugmire don’t use standard 5e classes in the same way. I intend to write a new post looking directly at how to meld Pugmire and Monarchies of Mau with other 5e-based games but for now just have the dogs, cats, lizards, parrots, and sparrows use Pugmire callings and have the birdfolk and humblefolk use classes from the Player’s Handbook.
This game is great and definitely lives up to my (high) expectations. The world is both rich and compelling, the character options are interesting and exciting. I somewhat expected the party to feel like a bizarre menagerie with the birdfolk and humblefolk together but they work really well. It’s clear what the social dynamics are and each of the races (not to mention the subraces) have compelling and interesting hooks.
Honestly, I would play a luma or a mapach in a regular D&D campaign and the story of an encroaching, burning terror is a lot edgier than I would have thought. Still, there’s room for the sort of alternative, uplifting stories that you might want to be telling with a setting of cute, anthropomorphic animals. Humblewood has got it all!