Thoumas Javelot Kern of Aviceland is the first character built from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything I’ve taken for a spin in actual play. He is a Ranger: Swarmkeeper. With a background as a hunter (used fisher and reskinned) and a forest gnome, the only new rules in Tasha’s that took a spin were related to the Ranger.
Swapping in Deft Explorer, Favored Foe, Primal Awareness, and Thrown Weapon Fighting changed his flavor and story from the baseline Ranger quite a bit.
The rules were also much simpler. Implementation of the new rules via VTT was simple (we played using Roll20). Deft Explorer reduces the need to negotiate with the DM about when/how to gain advantage on skill checks since you will have Expertise on one of the Ranger’s signature skills. Favored Foe means more dice for damage. It doesn’t combine well with most Ranger spells, but it gave a nice boost to the average damage done. Thrown Weapon Fighting let me hurl 3 daggers in a round, and when all hit the small damage of the weapon combined with Favored Foe and Gathered Swarm became significant. Flinging out 3d4 (daggers) + 1d6 (Favored Foe) + 1d6 (Gathered Swarm) + 6 (Thrown Weapon Fighting) + 12 (Dex) is a significant first round attack potential. Plus, lots of dice!
More significant to me, was the fun of flavoring the Gathered Swarm. The connection to the fey spirits that are the swarm is what powers this subclass. How those appear is nearly infinite. The book suggests pixies, twig blights, birds, insects – do not limit yourself to those stories.
Thoumas’ swarm appears as significant number of cairn terriers. They can do anything another swarm can do, because these are fey spirits. How they do it is up to the player. In play I described the swarm as abnormally playful (terriers are basically fey creations anyway), to include the way they fetched the thrown daggers after the combat (this is essentially Mage Hand, reskinned).
There was also description of Thoumas reaching down to pet his swarm. They don’t exist except as spirits, except when they manifest, but the natural habit of his time with dogs in reality emerges frequently. He converses and experiences life as if these are real cairn terriers.
Part of my build process for any character is to imagine where they are from and how they became heroes. It informs my play. Often using the Traits, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws from the chosen Background, the vision that emerges helps inform roleplay in the game.
Rich folk don’t know the satisfaction of hard work.
I am unmoved by the wrath of nature.
Balance. Do not hunt the same spot twice in a row; suppress your greed, and nature will reward you. (Neutral)
I will hunt the many famous forests of this land.
I am inclined to tell long-winded stories at inopportune times.
Thoumas is from a small village, and even then he lived on the outskirts, separated from the other families by a small wood out in the southeast corner of the map.
He, and his family, hunted, but never over-hunted the region. The Kern clan of gnomes were tied to the land, working as a bridge between the people and the animals. This helped explain why he became a Ranger, eventually. As a gnome (or halfling) having a pack of terriers help the family just made sense. Pets are fun, both in real life and in gaming. Including working pets in the apocryphal world of D&D is something I do frequently.
Overall, Thoumas felt as powerful as the other characters, but again, more important than the power was the story that could be told of this tiny man with a swarm of terriers serving him as an extra set of hands and even some pesky little biting.