Did you ever get something in D&D so wrong that you just had to keep going and never look back? That’s the story of today’s 4e heritage glow-up, the gruuwar.
Back in the days of 3.5e, a little fey called the gruwaar popped up in Dragon Magazine issue #317. Presented with approximately zero fanfare, they were one of four new “exotic races” shared in a segment entitled “Xenophilia”, which is frankly a bit rough even for its time. Thankfully, “exotic” in this context just means “not that basic Tolkein stuff we put in every setting/edition”—but still, that doesn’t exactly make it a good word choice.
Essentially, the gruwaar were a dark fey race who like doing random bad stuff for no particular reason, or as the two-axis alignment system calls it, “chaotic evil”. They got ability scores heavily shoehorned into small-and-sneaky roles, a smattering of fey-related bonuses, comically weak natural attacks, and a free disguise self once per day. They were also furry, which is kind of cute, but “do not possess the usual beauty of their fey kin”, because I guess evil is ugly even if it’s fluffy.
(Oh, and they apparently worked with Lolth and the drow—oops still basic after all—for which the light-skinned elves fucking genocided them. Listen, there’s a reason I don’t play Forgotten Realms.)
Anyway, the point is, this was a deeply mediocre bunch of fuzzy little Joker stans, and judging from their scarcity on Google, they failed to make any kind of lasting impression. Really, they’re remarkable mostly in that they seem to have appeared only in this one article—nowhere else in the vast corpus of D&D was I able to find another reference to them, which is honestly a little bit impressive.
Except my partner accidentally made them great?
Oh no they’re hot
Somehow, in the progress of skimming through the four strictly medium races in this article, my partner Talen—GM of our game at the time—came away with a memory of the gruwaar that shared almost nothing with that official depiction, including the spelling of its name. He wrote this from his perspective, if you’re curious.
In any case, Talen’s “gruuwar” were delightful. It probably started when he misinterpreted their fur colour as a dark blue rather than black, which accidentally led to a comparison with Nightcrawler. Perhaps that’s what led to the “memory” that their special ability was teleporting, rather than disguise? It’s definitely where they got their tails. Either way, they instantly morphed into a species of fun-size Kurt Wagners, bamf-ing around the fey forests as they pleased.
They also shed the chaotic evil alignment—possibly because he liked them too much to think they were evil, possibly because racial alignments are stupid, or possible just because chaotic evil in particular is pretty boring. Probably all of the above.
But we’ll never know for sure—because once again, Talen didn’t set out to make gruuwar different from gruwaar. In fact, we didn’t even realise how different they were until last year, when he finally looked back on them for his article and realised that his memory of their official writeup was fantastically inaccurate.
And thus, conceptual drift occurred. The gruuwar have existed for some 15 years in our gaming group, so the gruwaar has well and truly been overwritten in our minds. Needless to say, I also like it better that way.
So what are we actually making?
When I made my 4e firbolg, the gruuwar was already in my mind as a natural followup; finding out the bizarre nature of Talen’s reconstruction just sealed the deal. So despite the overly long preamble, this article is actually here to be an overview of my attempt to realise the gruuwar in 4th Edition mechanical terms.
Unlike the gruwaar—which was statted up only as PC race—the gruuwar have never quite existed mechanically so far, showing up only as NPCs not intended for combat. Nevertheless, we can observe some obvious mechanical traits from how they are depicted.
- They’re small, they’re fuzzy, they’re fey. This is the easy stuff. Both gruwaar and gruuwar are clearly in the small size category and have the fey origin. Darkvision seems a natural partner to being a true fey, so they can keep that too.
- They’re clever. Gruwaar are clearly modelled after the smarty-pants troublemaker school of fair folk, and that’s true of gruuwar as well—they are just more whimsical than malicious. Talen’s gruuwar are also a very small population, living in tiny isolated pockets, so curiosity about other cultures was a big theme for them.
For these reasons, I’m going in a different direction from the Dex/Cha bonuses given to the 3.x gruwaar. These gruuwar will be less effortlessly charming and more entertainingly nosey, with Int as their fixed bonus. Dex and Cha can stick around as the floating choice though, which nicely fills out our spy archetypes without the heavy-handedness of the 3.x version.
- They teleport. A short-range teleport is the ability that defines gruuwar as my group knows them. This was an interesting challenge, as I wanted to differentiate the gruuwar teleport from the other heritage teleports (like eladrin and shadar-kai). I also wanted the teleport to feel pretty trivial, much like Nightcrawler’s teleportation, without pushing it too hard.
In the end, on Talen’s advice I created a very short at-will teleport, which certainly succeeded in giving a different feel. It’s pretty spicy if I do say so, and it basically replaces your one-square shift for life; however, you could get almost the same benefit with a Fey Beast Companion blink dog, so I don’t think it’s outside the realms of fairness. (Being small also makes it a lot harder for them to excel at the martial builds that make teleport so desirable, so I don’t mind letting them have an extra saucy version.)
- You can’t catch them. I was surprised to find out that the 3.x gruwaar actually has a base speed of 20′, though they do get the option to go 30′ if they have empty hands (have fun with that). Gruuwar, on the other hand, have always felt speedy as heck, so I’m giving them seven squares as a base. I’ve also used the skill bonuses to cover this—their dex bonus is optional, so a little bit of acrobatics ensures they’re just a bit more agile than the typical critter.
Also, it’s not obvious, but the at-will teleport lets them consistently get up from prone without giving up all their movement, and to escape from grabs almost without question. I love how that feels, for a creature which is is supposed to be impossible to pin down.
Beyond this, my attempt to divorce the gruuwar from Talen’s specific campaign setting led me to add some of my own flavour. This is how they came to be something of a prey species, as I wanted to consider why a species would become so good at running and escaping. Their isolation is pretty important to their overall concept, so I wanted to show why they might stay that way as a species even as individuals make other choices.
Putting it Together
The end result of a long journey: Gruuwar PC Heritage.
As with my firbolg, the heritage isn’t fully realised without a modestly-sized collection of feats to support it, but I don’t intend to let that stop me from sharing the base version. Whether you like the original gruwaar, or you share my appreciation for Talen’s accidental interpretation—or, as is overwhelmingly likely, you had never heard of them before—I hope you’ll enjoy!