I have encountered several times the claim that cats are rather deadly encounters for any commoner and the difference between a commoner and an adventurer is, that the adventurer actually would have a fighting chance to survive a one on one encounter with a cat. That does not seem to hold true for a lvl 1 wizard, so wizards elongate their lives by petting cats instead of trying to kill them. Evil Hat claims that bags full of cats were Mage-killer weapons due to statistics for a long time - but apparently 5E seems to fix that - but yet again, that thread mentions, that cats are or used to be utter commoner-killers since at least AD&D 2nd Edition (or older). The Commoner-killing properties of cats even found their way into Order of the Stick and got it mentioned on TVtropes Cats are Mean under Tabletop, pointing to 3.5 as the source.

Is there an official source, like a Dragon magazine article or a blog post on the publisher's site, that references this joke/story/meme? In case of multiple finds, the oldest official source wins.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @samuei I look for exactly what is written in the question: an official source, like a Dragon magazine article or a blog post, that references this joke/story/meme. Unearthed Arcana are likewise an official source of this kind. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 14:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Although I've heard this joke before (along with "the Wizard died by slamming his toe on some furniture"), I can't seem to find a definite source for it. Looking at the 3.5 stat blocks, it seems that a Cat, with +2 Initiative and a full attack (two claw swipes and a bite), if they all hit, deals 3 damage, with a 75% possibility of killing a Level 1 Commoner (1d4 HP) in one turn, and with 14 AC and Stealthy, the cat would usually have the upper hand in combat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tsugihagi
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've found references to a Murphy's Rules cartoon of it, still looking for that cartoon. \$\endgroup\$
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 13, 2022 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ How is a blog post official? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ According to this archive (seankreynolds.com/rpgfiles/misc/philathansrule.html), Phil Athans, former WotC book editor, said "Cat's aren't domesticated, they're just not big enough to kill you." which isn't what is asked by this question but hints toward the question having no answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 14:51

1 Answer 1


Probably there isn't any, not at least one you can consider it's original source

And I'll try to elaborate a bit with some personal experience on the subject:

Well... being a roleplayer from at least 34 years, my first encounter with this joke was speaking with friends about AD&D (2nd edition).

When we started playing AD&D we spoke a lot about classes, and we concluded that a lvl1 mage could fight a cat (assuming he knows magic missile) but will be in serious trouble fighting two cats. And we assumed that home cats would be lethal to their owners, as a commoner had 1d4 hp AC10 while cats made 1d4 damage and could hit them fair easily.

This was before any homebrew rules (or further companion books) added more resilience to starting characters, giving max hit points at lvl1, adding the possibility to don't die at -1 hit points, etc...

The fact is that this joke was something widely shared with lots of people at conventions and events during the time. I don't recall reading it anywhere, but everyone just had seem to reach the same conclusion as we did: cats are mean and dangerous (at least it were with the standard stats of the game).

I don't think this "joke" started in any particular article or publication, I think this is one of those things that was quite obvious to anyone who started playing the game, and naturally became a trope that moved mouth to mouth until reaching legendary proportions.

I will add a bit further on my answer based on comments.

First of all, I cannot prove that something that doesn't exist, in fact, doesn't exist. But I think that my answer goes further than the experience of a single person. During the years, and mainly during the first years after the game was just published, I shared this joke with a lot of different people in a lot of different places. Never hear anybody speaking about having readed it on any written source nor had readed myself anywhere.

Keep in mind that around early 90s there weren't so many publications and sources, and the few that existed took quite a while to reach remote places, there weren't anything remotely near than you can have today and knowledge in this hobby (which by the way, by that time were also far more underground that nowadays) moved much much slowlier than today. However, a lot of people from different places and backgrounds shared this joke from different angles and perspectives almost from the very beginning of the game.

It's far more probable that this joke were something that emerged spontaneously from the community (in an age were internet didn't existed) and later, when it was already a common trope, someone referenced it on some media. Even if that is, and that media reference exist (wich I don't know, but I cannot prove it doesn't), it would just have repeated something that the community was saying for years.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The question asks for official sources. If this is based on official statements from Wizards of the Coast or TSR, then that needs to be explained. Otherwise this is not fitting the spirit of the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 13:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trish Asking for official sources for a community generated meme, adage, or trope (for example, there isn't an official source for why munchkins are called munchkins, that grew out of the gaming community in the mid to late 1970's) - is internally contradictory. This answer is experience based by someone in that community. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Calling Trish's question itself unreasonable presumes that there is no official reference to the meme, the unknown existence of which is the point of the question. A single official reference would be a better answer than someone's experience to the contrary. If that reference does not exist, though, then the quality of an answer depends on the length and breadth of the experience it relates as well as the volume of official material searched, and some answers will be better than others. You can't prove a negative, but a more exhaustive search has done a better job of failing to disprove it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 15:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage The OP Objecting to the answer was what got me to comment, based on the matter at hand. Your insinuation that "ascended fanon" is "official" strikes me as not quite right. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ If no such official publication exists then the question cannot be answered. That does not make it an invalid question, nor does it change the rules such that an answer post that does not actually answer the question becomes acceptable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 13:00

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