Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Animal Kings

As some of you may recall, I introduced a character into my Dwimmermount campaign called the King of the Cats. I created the King as an improvisation through play, after the characters encountered a cat (later dubbed Dusty) deep in the depths of the megadungeon and Brother Candor got the idea of using his speak with animals spell in order to pump him for information about the ancient Thulian mountain citadel.

In general, I don't like to stall my players, preferring to come up with answers -- any answers -- to their queries on the spot, even if, in retrospect, they seems less clever than they might have been if I'd have taken the time to think up "good" ones later. My feeling is that the speed of a referee's replies is more vital to the continued success of a campaign than their "rightness," which is to say, I'd rather offer a mediocre answer now and expand upon its meaning later than slow down a session by agonizing over a reply -- or, worse still, defer an answer till another session. In my opinion, nothing undermines the "reality" of a setting than a referee dumbfounded by his players' unexpected questions.

Still, there are times when stalling of a sort might be appropriate and Brother Candor's intention to use speak with animals to converse with Dusty -- a very clever plan and one that shows just how useful supposedly useless spells can be if you're, you know, imaginative -- seemed like an appropriate time. So, I made mention of the Kings of the Cats and how all the information his subjects know is really his "property" and one must make an entreaty to him for permission to learn it. This gave me some breathing room to figure just what Dusty knew and, at the same time, it gave me the chance to introduce something unexpected of my own to the campaign.

The King of the Cats is my own invention but I drew on a lot of different sources, chiefly Moorcock's notion of the Beast Lords and Lovecraft's "The Cats of Ulthar," along with innumerable mythological tales about intelligent animals. I also probably remembered Gygax's Cat Lord, Rexfelis, whose name I almost stole for the King of the Cats before I thought better of it. While I'm not above swiping names and ideas from my inspirations, I prefer to do so only when they're sufficiently obscure and, given the prominence of Rexfelis in Gary's later fiction, I didn't think he qualified as obscure.

In meeting the King of the Cats, the characters learned that there were other Animal Kings -- or rather, it was strongly implied by reference to an ongoing war with the Rat King in Adamas and a snide comment about most humans being "stupidly in the thrall of the King of the Dogs." Through further play, I've fleshed out the cosmology of the setting a bit more and the players have begun to learn some details of how magic works and its relationship to gods and other supernatural entities. There's still a lot they don't know and probably never will (and not just because I haven't worked it all out yet). But one thing I am certain of: there are many Animal Kings and, like all "gods," they have clerics devoted to them and their clerics can cast spells.

Here are some rough guidelines for handling clerics of the Animal Kings:

The Animal Kings have very few clerics. Anytime an animal is encountered, there is a 1% chance that it is actually a cleric of an appropriate Animal King. The spells available to these clerics are listed below. Animal clerics cannot read scrolls and generally cannot use other clerical magic items unless it is feasible for them to be able to do so based on their physiology. Animal clerics gain 1 additional hit point per full hit die for each clerical level they possess. Thus, a 3rd-level cat cleric (which normally has 1d2 hit points) gains +3 hit points to its total, whereas a wolf cleric (2+2 hit dice) of the same level would gain +6 hit points to its total.

Spells Usable by Animal Clerics by Level
1-Cure Light Wounds, Detect Evil, Detect Magic, Protection from Evil
2-Bless, Find Traps, Hold Person, Speak with Humans
3-Cure Disease, Locate Object, Remove Curse, Speak with Dead
4-Cure Serious Wounds, Neutralize Poison, Protection from Evil 10' Radius, Speak with Plants

If druids exist in the campaign, referees may substitute spells from that class's list for those cited above.

Level Limits of Common Animal Clerics by Species
Ape - Gorilla (3), Chimp (5), Orangutan (7)
Badger - 3
Bat - 3
Bear - Black (5), Brown (3), Cave (4), Polar (4)
Boar - 3
Cat - 8
Cattle - 4
Crocodile - 5
Dog - 5
Elephant - 7
Frog - 3
Horse - 4
Hyena - 3
Jackal - 3
Lion - 6
Rat - 4
Shark - 5
Tiger - 6
Turtle - 7
Weasel - 5
Wolf - 5
Whale - 7

Clerics of the Animal Kings rarely reveal themselves to humans, let alone use their spells for their benefit. However, if their trust is gained, they can prove invaluable allies.


  1. I am a firm believer in this mentality and always revert to a mythic view of animals, in that they are sentient you just can't speak their tongue. They can have classes just like people (and like people often don't).

    More info:

  2. Something for future consideration: the old fairy tale The King o' the Cats.

  3. This is where the old-school approaches to game-play prove their mettle: by being flexible enough to accommodate unexpected player actions, the campaign develops in ways that the DM would never have forseen, often for the better.

  4. Hi there... long time reader, first time poster. This is *great* stuff, and I can use it *immediately* in my own game. Thank you! :)

  5. like, Tim, I am a long-time reader, and, also like Tim, I find this to be gold. Gold, I tell ya! Thanks a million.

    word verification: "onsticat"(!), a secret lair of the Cat King

  6. I really like this, one comment about the bear levels. imho the black bear should be lower than the brown, which should be lower than the polar, which should be lower than the cave.

    One could also envision hominid cults dedicated to the animal kings. A bad example, something like a Clan of the Cave Bear? Maybe the hominids follow/worship the animal priest instead of the animal king?

    How about the crazy cat lady from the Simpsons?

    Good food for thought James! Thanks.

  7. that's cool.

    I just re-read the Cats of Ulthar last night.

  8. Excellent stuff, and very similar to something I did in my campaign a couple years back. How great would it be to have a massive quest eventually lead back to the King of Ducks.

  9. I LOVE that the King of Cats implied that humans are somehow stupidly in the thrall of the King of Dogs. That detail is pure gold.

  10. The question is, can a humanoid be a cleric of an animal deity? I suppose we're getting into the area of animal totems there, but it seems the logical next step from animal clerics.

  11. Orangs make the best clerics ... now what movie series does that remind me of ...

  12. I do like this entry, but, I have to admit, my first thought was of a "King of the Shrimps."

    All hail the Prawn King! :)

  13. I really like this, one comment about the bear levels. imho the black bear should be lower than the brown, which should be lower than the polar, which should be lower than the cave.

    What's the rationale? I don't necessarily disagree, as I mostly just pulled the numbers out of thin air, but I'm curious as to your reasoning.

  14. I LOVE that the King of Cats implied that humans are somehow stupidly in the thrall of the King of Dogs. That detail is pure gold.

    Thank you. Somehow, it just seemed right and it provides me with good fodder for later, should the PCs ever encounter the King of the Dogs.

  15. The question is, can a humanoid be a cleric of an animal deity?

    I don't know; I haven't really considered it yet. As a general rule, my gut is to say no but my feeling is that most rules can be broken under extraordinary circumstances, so there may well be a human cleric of the Cat King somewhere.

  16. Orangs make the best clerics ... now what movie series does that remind me of ...

    I won't deny that Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite SF films. :)

  17. @JAmes:

    "...so there may well be a human cleric of the Cat King somewhere."

    I could see an unusual human with an extraordinary empathy for one or another species somehow becoming a priest of that species' King, perhaps for saving the life of the King's littermate, or something. It would fit right in with two settings I loved, Sanctuary and Liavek.

  18. James... I live in Alaska, we are lousy with bears. The black bears are runty little things that other bears kick ass on. They are cute until they are digging in your garbage.

    The browns really seem to have more personality and presence. They also eat the black bears.

    Polar bears are smart, really, really smart.

    Cave bears, residing in caves, seem to be more tied to specific spaces that are revered and spiritual.

    So that is my basic logic, but that logic could also justify the "runty" black bears would have more powerful clerics.

  19. > All hail the Prawn King! :)

    Just don't make a video of your D&D with Prawn Stars, you'll get in all kinds of mess.

  20. So Pope Goesthe Weasel is 5th level?

  21. An encounter with the Rat King could be truly creepy, if you combine it with the folklore meaning of "Rat King"


    Given that rats are highly pack oriented in nature, I could totally see the Rat King being a collective.

  22. I like the version of the rat king in the webcomic Tales of the Questor where it can summon evil shadow rats that can basically feed on magic. Also I would so play a cat cleric in dwimmermount if I could.

  23. "The Cat Lord" was always my favorite critter in the AD&D Monster Manual 2. But I never got to do anything with it!

    -The Gneech


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