Black Hill Games’ To Serve is a supplement that focuses on characters who were once or are currently slaves. It provides players and DMs with a short discussion on the historical context of slavery and its use in a D&D campaign, before introducing the Slave background and a new monk subclass.
One of the troubles with this take on the background is that it is quite broad. There were a lot of different types of slaves throughout history, from the lowly field workers through to secretaries and financial managers. That this background gives all slaves Insight and Performance seems odd; there would certainly be slaves who excelled at those skills, but all types, including a scribe or tutor? It doesn’t seem so likely. Linking the skills to the role of the slave would have made more sense.
However, the background does offer a choice of two features, both well-considered: Societal Secrets, which allows you to know about how the society you live in is structured and a few choice pieces of gossip, and Overlooked, which means that you tend to be ignored by regular citizens – you’re just a slave, after all! The personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws are likewise well done.
The monk subclass, Way of the Reckless Dance, derives from such slave martial styles such as the Brazilian capoeira. It’s a fun collection of abilities themed about freedom of movement, although it has a couple of rules issues.
To wit, at 3rd level whenever you strike someone with one of the additional attacks granted by flurry of blows, you can grant an ally the ability to take the Disengage action as a reaction. Unfortunately, Disengage doesn’t actually allow you to move – it just means that if you move this turn, you don’t provoke attacks of opportunity. Obviously, the ability should allow the ally to move up to their speed without provoking opportunity attacks, but that’s not how it’s written.
The ability to basically ignore the prone condition works a lot better (and is very thematic). An ability that allows you to regain ki points as your ally provides music for you synergises nicely with the Bardic Inspiration mechanic, but may prove a little too good. I like the idea; I’d be wary about its effects.
At higher levels you gain the ability to inspire others while fighting, and to freely move even when others are trying to hinder you. It’s funny; freedom of movement seems like a poor ability, but it often proves very useful.
That then is To Serve. It’s a nice supplement, and as a Pay What You Want product is worth looking at if you’re interested in some of the ideas therein.