Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Beastmaster

The beastmaster is a human or humanoid raised in the wild by animals. Perhaps the earliest beastmaster in literature was Enkidu, the wild man encountered by the mythic hero Gilgamesh. Romulus and Remus, the legendary brothers responsible for founding the city of Rome, are raised by a she-wolf, though there are no accounts of them having acquired extraordinary abilities.

The earliest beastmaster in modern literature is likely Mowgli, the jungle boy of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, first published in the story “In the Rukh” in 1893. Mowgli is raised by wolves after becoming lost in the jungle as an infant. Because of this upbringing, Mowgli learns the language of animals. Mowgli also has a loyal animal friend, Bagheera the black panther.

A female beastmaster appeared in 1904 in the form of Rima the Bird Girl in W. H. Hudson’s novel Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest. Rima lived in South America, and was feared by the natives for her “magical” powers, which included talking to the birds, befriending animals and plucking poisoned darts from mid-air. Unfortunately, Rima’s story ends in tragedy, as she was burned alive by the native tribesmen.

In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs created the most famous beast-master in literature in Tarzan of the Apes. Tarzan was a child raised in the African jungles by intelligent great apes called Mangani. In the wake of Tarzan’s popularity came a wave of books, comic books, movies, radio shows and television shows starring the “Lord of the Apes”. This lead to dozens of imitators, from Bomba the Jungle Boy to Marvel’s Ka-Zar.

From Mowgli, Rima, Tarzan and their many imitators, we can sketch out the special abilities of the beastmaster archetype. He or she must be a person raised since infancy or childhood by animals in the wilderness. The beastmaster’s feral childhood gives them a number of special abilities, but also makes them an outside in the society of human beings.

Prime Attribute: Constitution
Hit Dice: 1d6+3 (+4 hit points per level after 9th)
Armor Permitted: Shields, no armor.
Weapons Permitted: Any
Attack: As fighting-man
Save: As fighting-man

Beastmaster Class Abilities
Beastmasters cannot speak anything but the language of animals at 1st level. They can pick up a few words of common by 2nd and speak it haltingly by 3rd level.

The beastmaster can move as silently as a panther in the wilderness. This means he surprises his enemies more often than normal men. His own senses, made keen by a life in the wild, mean he is surprised less often than normal men.

The beastmaster can camouflage himself in the foliage to the point of becoming virtually invisible if he does not move.

Beastmasters are skilled trackers. When attempting to follow tracks, they can make a saving throw to avoid losing the trail.

The beastmaster is as swift as the animals who raised him. He increases his speed by +3. An unarmored and unencumbered beastmaster therefore has a speed of 15 rather than 12.
Since they are used to fighting without the benefit of armor, beastmasters develop a fluid, mobile fighting style that grants them a flat -2 [+2] adjustment to their Armor Class.

Beastmasters can banish or control animals (but not monsters) the same way a cleric can banish or command the undead. The beastmaster rolls using the same table. For beastmasters, a result of “D” indicates that the animals are forced into his command for a period of 24 hours.

A 1st level beastmaster can choose to have one animal with no more than 1 HD into his loyal animal companion. The animal friend will only accompany the beastmaster if it is treated like a friend. More powerful animal friends can be acquired at higher levels; an animal of 2-5 HD can be chosen at 6th and an animal of 6-10 HD can be chosen at 12th level.

Sample Beastmasters

W. H. Hudson’s RIMA the Bird Girl

Rima lives in the tropical forests of Guyana. Rima is the daughter of woman who could also speak the secret language of the birds. Rima’s people, it is revealed, were a pacifistic, vegetarian tribe who were wiped out by native tribesmen and plague. Rima is herself hated by the tribesmen who know of her, for they fear her unnatural abilities.

Human Beastmaster Lvl 3
Str 13, Int 9, Wis 15, Con 13, Dex 13, Cha 11
HP 23; AC 6 [13]

Unlike Mowgli and Tarzan, Rima is not portrayed as a warrior. She is a slight girl with dark hair who wears a smock made from spider webs.
Rudyard Kipling’s MOWGLI, “Little Frog”

Mowgli is a young man from India who was raised from infancy by a pack of wolves. Mowgli’s many adventures include his killing of Shere Khan the tiger and his rescue of the civilized couple who adopted him, his discovery of a great treasure in a ruined temple (and his discovery of what men will do to one another to claim such a treasure) and his leading of the wolves in their war against the dholes.

Human Beastmaster Lvl 6
Str 13, Int 10, Wis 12, Con 13, Dex 16, Cha 10
HP 46; AC 6 [13]

Mowgli fights using his “tooth”, a long knife that deals 1d4 points of damage. His high strength grants him a +1 bonus to hit and damage in combat. Mowgli’s boon companion is a black panther named Bagheera (HD 3, 18 hp, treat as a leopard).
Edgar Rice Burrough’s TARZAN, Lord of the Apes

Tarzan is actually John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. As an infant, his family was stranded on the West coast of Africa by mutineers. He is raised by a tribe of intelligent great apes after his mother died of natural causes and his father is killed by the leader of the apes. Over the course of his adventures, Tarzan marries an Englishwoman named Jane Porter, fights Germans, explores lost cities and even delves into the subterranean world of Pellucidar.

Human Beastmaster Lvl 12
Str 16, Int 14, Wis 13, Con 15, Dex 15, Cha 14
HP 85; AC 6 [13]

Although he can pass in civilization, Tarzan prefers his life in the jungle. He usually carries a knife into combat. Tarzan is often accompanied by his faithful Waziri warriors and Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion (HD 5+2, 32 hp).


Image by Andy Kuhn. He draws comics.


  1. thumbs up!

    If one were to make Aquaman as a beastmaster, how'd he shape up?

  2. Aquaman should work pretty well as a beastmaster - of course, he'd be a "half-Atlantean", and thus be able to swim a bit faster than a normal person and breath water, and I guess becomes weak if he's out of the water for more than a few hours. But, with the racial info right, the class should work. Level-wise, I'd put him even with Tarzan.

  3. What about those created by Andre Norton? How would they fit in?

  4. I'm not very familiar with Andre Norton's works, so I can't answer. The class is meant to represent the Tarzan archetype, but I'm sure one could modify it to fit other, similar literary creations.


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