Birds of Paradise is a supplement by Florian Emmerich and Katrina Bresnick, introducing 12 new subraces for Aarakokra and Kenku, as well as a few more things such as spells, NPCs, and even a custom character sheet.
Now let’s look at the actual content. 30 pages aren’t few for a supplement, but these ones are quite densely packed with content; and I don’t mean that in a negative sense, quite the opposite. As I mentioned, we have a total of 12 new subraces, 6 for Aarakokra and 6 for Kenku. The supplement is written in a more personal tone, recounting the experiences of an adventurer named Magdalena Grovebright, with additional commentary interspersed by an Aarakokra named Archimedes Quill.
For each subrace, besides the Traits and Magdalena’s encounter with them, we also get 2-3 short story hooks related to the subrace and the area they primarily live in, as well as a notable NPC – fully statted, along with a short introduction/background and their ideal/bond/flaw. In terms of mechanics, the traits seem alright; there is definitely a bit of discrepancy in terms of power levels between the subraces, but nothing too bad. In terms of writing and character, despite the relatively small amount of text dedicated to each of them, the writers manage to convey their culture and character quite efficiently. Every one of them is quite unique and inspired, with the story hooks further enhancing their feel. Something to note – you do need to have access to the original Aarakokra and Kenku races from books like Elemental Evil Player’s Companion or Volo’s Guide to Monsters, as they aren’t provided here (pretty reasonable, I think).
After all the subraces, we also get a statblock for Magdalena herself, as well as some story hooks that involve her, if you want to use her in your game. Finally, we get 5 new spells courtesy of Archimedes.
That’s all in the main supplement, but there ‘s a few more goodies included. First, you get a mini/token of Magdalena, to use either on a virtual or an actual tabletop, made by Trash Mob. Secondly, you get a form-fillable character sheet created by Francita Soto, decorated with the adorable Dagger, Magdalena’s pet bird. To be honest, even without that, the layout is more appealing to me than the official sheet.
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Editing, Layout, & Art
Both editing and layout are very well done. No instances of sentences being cut off in the middle and continuing in the next page, or large empty gaps in the pages, or anything of that sort. The text is well-written and easy to follow, without any errors. One tiny thing that I want to note, mostly because I hadn’t encountered it before and not out of any complaint, is that the writers sometimes refer to the subraces as “strains”. I’ve heard that used before for microorganisms and plants, but never for animals – but when I think about it, the meaning does fit pretty well.
As for the art, it is exceptional. Made by Raluca Marinescu and Christina Claus, every subrace is stunningly illustrated with a distinct, evocative style that tells you everything you need to know about them. You’d think that it would be hard to apply facial expressions to avian features, but somehow the artists have managed to do that and more, in conjunction to using body posture. From the lively Feywild Hummingbird Errk, to the sinister and calculating Kwarr (appropriately named the Herald of Strife), and to Magdalena Grovebright herself, every piece of art gives you everything you need to know about a character with a glance – all in a gorgeous package.
Overall, Birds of Paradise is an excellent supplement with a lot of effort and love behind it. It gives you a lot of options to play around with if you like Aarakokra and Kenku, and I’ll definitely play a Baldurian Owl sometime – my favorite of them all both in terms of aesthetics and mechanics.
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