Monday, July 7, 2014

The Beastmaster
(and Thoughts on it as a BX/LL Character Class)

I cannot tell you how many times back in freshman year of high school I watched Marc Singer in The Beastmaster during its incessant run on HBO. So much so, that when the show V ran on NBC in 1984-85, I half expected the Mike Donovan character to walk into the room and introduce himself as "Dar of the Emurites." Similarly, when the Tanya Roberts showed up in the movie View to a Kill (about the same time as V hit the airwaves), I don't think I could get her topless swimming scene from The Beastmaster out of my mind. But I digress. (Can you blame me?)

I've seen some good arguments about the general character classes in classic (particularly BX) D&D being very complete in that they fill all the holes that characters should fill. For example, why introduce a gnome class when dwarves cover off on their "construction-related" abilities, and magic-users cover off on their magical abilities, and thieves cover off on their... well... "thieving" abilities. Gnomes do have the ability to talk to animals, but that alone is (IMHO) not alone worth enough to introduce the class into the mix.

In that same vein, a shaman or druid could be considered overkill as well. There really is a lot of overlap between them and other classes. For example, the black and white shamans I created for The Valley of the Five Fires, while completely suitable (and arguably necessary) to the setting, do offer a lot of crossover between clerics, magic-users, and even thieves; in fact, they were meant to fill out a party heavy on fighters and light on the other classes (a party-mix which is very appropriate to the setting).

So where do these questions of necessities and crossovers put the beastmaster as a character class? First off, "No shit, 'They're a fighter,'" and in the underground world of dungeons and tombs they would be little more than that. In the wilderness, however, they start to take on a much more enhanced role, bordering on that of the druid and the ranger. But that doesn't make any of them more than a fighter or a cleric or a fighter (respectively).

For a beastmaster to be a character option, the setting has to be right. In the classic sense of the movie, the role is much more barbaric. In the Andre Norton sense of the word, it's much more ranger-like. In both cases, however, they're still just substitutes for the fighter. I question the validity of either beastmaster archetype in the dungeon. That's where you really want that paladin-type fighter (as a negotiator and undead slayer).

That doesn't mean I don't want it anyway.

There have been a few takes on the Beastmaster as a character class. One of the earliest (if not THE earliest) is the beastmaster from Bard Games's The Compleat Adventurer from 1983. It's a pretty thoughtful examination of the class, including the ability to call and befriend animals (similar to the cleric's turning table). The others I have seen since then seem to be re-interpretations of that archetype and skillset. I'm not really suggesting anything below that's terribly unique or innovative in regards to a beastmaster class. What I'm really attempting to do here is refine it for BX play (as I haven't seen one that I'm 100% happy with).

So without further ado...


Beastmasters are primal men and women with a special connection to animals, being able to communicate with them, influence them, and possibly control them.

The prime requisites for beastmasters are Strength and Charisma. A beastmaster who has an Strength Score greater than 12 will earn a +5% bonus on earned experience. A beastmaster with an Strength score of 13 or greater AND a Charisma score of 15 or greater will gain a +10% bonus on earned experience.

Beastmasters use the same attack and saving tables as fighters.

RESTRICTIONS: Beastmasters determine their hit points with eight-sided dice (d8). They are restricted to wearing nothing more protective than leather armor (or furs with an equivalent AC), and may not carry a shield. They may use any weapon. A beastmaster must have a minimum score of 9 in charisma.

Level Title Exp. Points Hit Dice
1 Handler 0 1d8
2 Breaker 2,100 2d8
3 Herdsman 4,200 3d8
4 Keeper 8,500 4d8
5 Ostler 17,000 5d8
6 Wrangler 35,000 6d8
7 Tamer 70,000 7d8
8 Trainer 140,000 8d8
9 Beastmaster 270,000 9d8
10 10th Level Beastmaster 400,000 9d8+2*
11 11th Level Beastmaster 530,000 9d8+4*
12 12th Level Beastmaster 660,000 9d8+6*
13 13th Level Beastmaster 790,000 9d8+8*
14 14th Level Beastmaster 920,000 9d8+10*

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Beastmasters favor missile weapons, and gain a +1 "to hit" bonus (in addition to Dexterity bonuses) when using one. They are only surprised on a 1 in the wilderness. Furthermore, beastmasters possess the following abilities: awareness (the knack for seeing tracks, concealed animals, and so forth, as well as hearing noise in the out of doors), detect snares & pits, move silently, hide in shadows, climb (trees & rocks), track/stalk, and hold animals (by calming/mesmerizing them).

Awareness: The ability to notice tracks, signs, and creatures that are hiding or covered, as well as listening for noise (which must be done in relative silence). The chances for success on the chart represent the beastmaster's ability to perform these feats in the outdoors, but may do so indoors with a -15% modifier.

Detect Snares & Pits: Allows the beastmaster to detect traps (e.g., missile traps) and pits to a distance of 10' in the direction the beastmaster is searching.

Move Silently: Like the thief ability of the same name, all attempts should appear to succeed to the player (with the GM reacting accordingly if the attempt actually fails).

Hide in Shadows: Like the thief ability of the same name, the beastmaster must remain perfectly still while using this ability, and all attempts should appear to succeed to the player (with the GM reacting accordingly if the attempt actually fails).

Climb: Represents the chance of success for the beastmaster to climb trees, rock faces, or similar pinnacles. Wet surfaces will modify the attempt by -10%. Slick surfaces (e.g., covered with oil) are impossible for a beastmaster to climb. A failed climb attempt will result in a fall (which does 1d6 per 10' fallen to a maximum of 20d6). The roll should be made for each 100' climbed.

Track/Stalk: Represents two different abilities. First, it represents the ability to track an animal by evidence left as it passed through an area, with a -5% penalty for each day passed since the animal was in that area. Second, it represents the ability to follow an animal from a distance without alerting them by scent, sound, or sight. Requires a move silently roll when closing to 100', then again at 50', for the beastmaster to be able to attack with surprise.

Hold: This is hypnotic ability which allows the beast master to effectively "hold" an animal by mesmerizing it through through an exercise of will supported by a combination of hand gestures and eye contact (both of which must be possible for the beastmaster to attempt to hold the animal). The hold will last for a number of rounds equal to the beastmaster's level minus the animal's HD plus 1d4.

Level Awareness Detect Snares
& Pits
Move Silently Hide in
Climb Track/
1 75% 50% 20% 10% 70% 90% 5%
2 80% 55% 25% 15% 75% 91% 10%
3 85% 60% 30% 20% 80% 92% 15%
4 90% 65% 35% 25% 85% 93% 20%
5 91% 70% 40% 30% 90% 94% 30%
6 92% 75% 45% 35% 91% 95% 40%
7 93% 80% 55% 45% 92% 96% 50%
8 94% 85% 65% 55% 93% 97% 60%
9 95% 90% 75% 65% 94% 98% 70%
10 96% 94% 85% 75% 95% 99% 80%
11 97% 97% 95% 85% 96% 100% 85%
12 98% 99% 96% 90% 97% 101% 90%
13 99% 99% 98% 95% 98% 102% 95%
14 99% 99% 99% 99% 99% 103% 99%

Beginning at first level, beastmasters are able to speak the language of one of the following animal types:
- avians (birds)
- canine (dogs, hyenas, wolves, etc.)
- equines (horse)
- felines (cats)
- rodentia (bats, beavers, ferrets, rats, etc.)
- ovines & caprines (sheep and goats)
- piscine (fish and aquatic animals)
- saurian (reptiles and amphibians)
- prosimians & simians (monkeys, apes, and similar creatures)
- ursine (bears)
For each 2 additional levels, they gain an additional language (i.e., 2 total languages at 3rd level, 3 total languages at 5th level, and so on).

Beastmasters possess an ability (similar to clerics' turning) that allows them to call, befriend, and possibly control any animal whose language falls into one of the classifications of languages spoken by the beastmaster. Results are determined by rolling 2d6 on the table below.

Call: Has a 1 mile radius, and is accomplished through a combination of vocalizations and mental concentration. Only one specific type of creature may be called, and only one of the specified creature will appear if the call attempt is successful, taking 1d4 minutes to arrive. Once the creature arrives, the beastmaster may attempt to befriend or master the creature.

Befriend: The beastmaster may attempt to befriend any animal that has been encountered or called, as long as the beastmaster is able to speak that animal's language. A successful roll results in the animal offering to aid the beastmaster for up to 24 hours. The maximum number of creatures a beastmaster may befriend per day is a number of HD equal to the beastmaster's level. Attempts to befriend are made at -1 on the die roll.

Turn: Instead of befriending an animal, a beastmaster may attempt to "turn" an animal (or animals) the beastmaster has already encountered. If attempting to turn animals, a successful befriending roll indicates that ALL encountered creatures of that specific type will flee (or cower if they are unable to flee). The beastmaster need not be able to speak the language of an animal to be turned. Attempts to turn are made at -1 on the die roll.

Master: Allows the beastmaster to attempt to gain permanent control over one animal. A successful die roll indicates that the animal willingly becomes the beastmasters companion. If the beastmaster fails on the attempt, that individual animal may never be mastered by the beastmaster. Hostile creatures will attack immediately if a beastmaster attempts to master them. Mastered creatures will remain in the beastmaster's service until released (at which point they will return to the wild). A beastmaster may only retain one animal per three levels of experience (i.e., one creature for beastmasters levels 1-3, two creatures for beastmasters levels 4-6, and so on). Attempts to master an animal are made at -2 on the die roll.

Roll 2d6. Result or over = attempt succeeds.
–=No effect.
C=Animal automatically called.
B=Animal automatically befriended (or turned).
M=Animal Automatically mastered.
Attempts to befriend are at -1 (to the die roll).
Attempts to master are made at -2 (to the target roll).

Level 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1 7 9 11
2 5 7 9 11
3 3 5 7 9 11
4 C 3 5 7 9 11
5 C C 3 5 7 9 11
6 B C C 3 5 7 9 11
7 B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
8 M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
9 M M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
10 M M M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
11 M M M M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
12 M M M M M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
13 M M M M M M B B C C 3 5 7 9
14 M M M M M M M B B C C 3 5 7

Beginning at 9th level, the beastmaster may establish a preserve.


  1. Looks cool. I'd. Likely split up rodentia as three classes of du.geon monster are in that group Bats, Mustalids, and Rodents. Each haveenough represenation for their own languages.

    1. I'm still rethinking that list. I feel like deer (and similar) aren't represented, and was thinking about adding bovines, and a few others, maybe even insects and arachnids. I'll definitely be considereing your notes.

  2. What about his ability to time travel and pick up totally hot rich chicks from the future? ;-)

    But seriously, this looks pretty cool.

  3. Very nice! I've been considering a beastmaster class for the Middle Sea world, and had been looking at the one in The Arcanum (which is the same as the one in The Compleat Adventurer) and the one in Dragon magazine. Still not certain if it fits the world well, but if it does your class will also be one that will certainly influence my version (I'd need to adapt it to AD&D, of course).