Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Class Struggles: The Beastmaster

Class Struggles: The Beastmaster

Rewind to 33 years ago today, the latest movie in the early 80s flirtation with Swords & Sorcery hits the late summer movie theatres.  Everyone was going to see the dearing-do of Marc Singer as Dar "The Beastmaster"!
ok. Not everyone really. The movie didn't do that hot.  Plus, lets be honest here just as many of my friends went to see it for Tanya Roberts as much as the sword & sorcery content. But The Beastmaster left a solid dent in the game playing of many of my peers for years.  I remember seeing tons of "Beastmaster" classes.  I even helped make one of my own.

The idea is a compelling one really.  A barbarian (of sorts) but has the magical ability to communicate with all animals. Maybe even he (it's almost always a he, but I have a few great exceptions to that rule) has the abilities to fight like an animal.  Fiction is replete with such characters. The aforementioned Marc Singer role, Tarzan, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, Vixen from DC Comics, Mowgli, even various "wolf boys" or "wild childs" that appeared in true and fictionalized accounts of children left in wilderness.

+Jonathan Becker must have had these in mind when he created his Beastmaster class for his The Complete B/X Adventurer.

The Beastmaster of this book is an interesting class.  It is actually closer to a monster in terms of play. For example it uses a 1d8 for hit points (like fighters and monsters) and it uses the monster attack matrix using it's level as HD.  This makes it a very good fighter.  It's saving throws are from the cleric list (good choice) so it will feel different than playing a fighter.
The beastmaster's prime ability is Strength.  This makes it slightly different than say your typical barbarian and their reliance on Constitution.  The reason given is that nature respects strength. This is true, but I think nature respects survival more than anything.  So Constitution would have been a good choice too in my mind.   The beastmaster also needs a better than average Charisma.

Becker's beastmasters have a number of abilities that set them apart. First is their ability to learn the languages of animals.  This is quite a nice skill because it is a gateway to other abilities the beastmaster has such as Calling, Befriending and Mastering.   These are really the key elements of any beastmaster archetype.  Think of Tarzan and his trademarked call. Ok, think of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan.

In many ways the closest AD&D class to the beastmaster is the Ranger and not the Druid.  In fact I would have upped the XP per level for the beastmaster a bit and given him some Ranger like abilities including a starting animal companion (though you can get one with Mastering) and maybe some beast-like fighting styles.  But I see why that was not done here since it would make the beastmaster more like a reskinned ranger than something unique.

The beastmaster is hardly ever surprised, can't wear man made armor and has a limited number of weapons to choose from.  All of this works with the character concept really.

But don't just take my word on this.  Jonathan did a series of posts himself on his beastmaster.  Our opinions differ a bit; but only as creator vs user.
It is an interesting read combined with the final Beastmaster in the book.

Other Beastmasters of Note
The big one is the beastmaster of the Compleat Adventurer book from Bard Games written by Stephan Sechi.  As Becker claims this is the obvious inspiration for his beastmaster class. This class also adds animal Turning to their skills.  Not like undead turning, but the opposite of friendship.

If you want an idea of what this beastmaster was like, +Richard LeBlanc put one together about a year ago and it captures a lot of the same notes.

The next one is the Beastmaster kit for the Ranger for 2n Ed AD&D found in the Complete Ranger Handbook.  As with many of the kits this one was fairly over powered in my mind, giving the beastmaster telepathic communication with their animals at a low level.  Though the same feel is here, all three could exist in a room together without breaking the laws of the universe.

Finally, though by no means the only, there is the beastmaster archetype from the new 5th Edition of D&D.  It is in many ways a spiritual successor to the Bard Games beastmaster and if you are looking for cross system compatibility it makes for a good translation of Becker's beastmaster. This one is more animal companion focused. But in truth you can easily take one of these beastmasters and use them to emulate the others with good roleplaying.

The final question always is "would I play this class?" Well. yes. In fact like I mentioned above we had done our own beastmaster back in the day and I played the hell out of that class.

From 1986 or so.

Absom Sark
Level 7, Beastmaster ("Wild Guardian"), Male

Strength: 18
Dexterity: 17
Constitution: 14
Intelligence: 14
Wisdom: 18
Charisma: 16

Hit Points:  46
AC: 6 (Cave Bear pelt armor)

Languages: Canine, Ursine, Feline, Mustelid, Saurian.

Absom Sark was the child of a prince and his wealthy wife until their caravan was attacked on route to a diplomatic mission.  Everyone was killed in the ensuing battle save for little Absom, who was only a baby.  Wolves came to feast on the remains and found the crying baby. A large she-wolf fostered the child, recognizing a kindred spirit in him.
Absom grew into the protector of the wild and he vowed that no one would use his wild to murder others.

Our beastmaster had a limited selection of various druid spells. I don't think it added much to the class to be honest, but maybe even a more restricted list focusing on animals might be nice.  Summon Animal I, II, and III would be good.  Limit the beastmaster to 3rd level spells or something.

The class is really fine as is. I just have a thing for spell-casting classes.

How effective is this class?  Well in the dungeon it might end up like a fighter. But in the wild they shine.

Here is video documentation of one beastmaster (though she might have some levels in bard) attacking two treants.  She speaks avian, mustelid, rodent, and ungulate.

Easily a class I would play.


Anthony N. Emmel said...

I remember the theatrical trailer has a line that says, "Enter the world of dungeons, dragons, and Dar!" :)

Anonymous said...

Sword & Sorcerer came out about the same time and also said "Dungeons and Dragons" on the poster. The closest to a dragon in that movie was a snake.

faoladh said...

There was also a Beastmaster class in an issue of Dragon. It was high-powered, and was one of the NPC classes that I would not allow to PCs. I think that Ed Greenwood designed that one.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Yeah...there was one in Dragon too. Mid-80s right. I remember that. Should have dug that one up for this too but totally forgot about it.

Anthony N. Emmel said...

Beastmaster NPC class "King of the Jungle" Ed Greenwood 119(30)

Per DragonDex :

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I am planning on pulling some dragon classes too, but wanted to get through my current stack of a dozen or so.

JB said...

Sean Wills also had a beastmaster class write-up for Swords & Wizardry:

It's always good to take a look back at one's own work (and thank you for the shout out and link to my book!). Reading over the class, I think that I'd write it different if I had the chance to do it over again. It's still a bit complex for B/X.

Damn, though...I LOVE the beastmaster. Both the character concept AND the film.
: )