Heroes Fall: The Beastmaster

The second splat I’m going to talk about is the Beastmaster. This has been one of the biggest challenges for me to write. Bringing the Beastmaster into the drama and tying her to the other characters has been difficult. It’s the typical problem of the ranger or druid in a D&D campaign. What reason do they have to be there? Ties [1] help with this somewhat but there were other challenges.

The Beastmaster

So many people, all alone. They don’t realize we are all one. You do. You are the Beastmaster and have found a reflection of yourself in a creature of power. Together you are whole in ways no one else will ever be.

The Beastmaster is an iconic character trope. There’s even a film franchise and TV series with that exact name. It depicts a wild man with a strong connection to the natural creatures of the world who wanders the forests and has adventures. That’s all great stuff – pulpy, evocative, and ripe with excitement. The Beastmaster in Heroes Fall tries to carry that torch. She is a talented, hawkeyed, and skilled character. Her primary stat is sly.

Of course the major feature of the Beastmaster is the beast companion. For intents and purposes, the beast companion is an extension of the Beastmaster’s will. The player gets to design the beast companion in the first session, choosing options from a variety of lists. The first thing is to choose what kind of beast it is [2]. Then choose a block of stats. Beasts have different stats: fierce, craft, bond, and nature.

  • Fierce is the beast’s ability to inflict harm. The player chooses options to describe what makes the beast so dangerous.
  • Craft is the measure of its stealthiness, animal cunning, and predator instincts. For every point of craft, the player chooses an advantage that the beast has over other wild beasts.
  • Bond is the connection between the Beastmaster and beast. This connection is what makes them special. Each point of bond allows the player to choose one basic move that will be improved when the beast is nearby.
  • Nature represents the untamed heart of the beast. No matter how much training it has, it will always be a vicious, wild animal. This is the drawback to having a ferocious beast at your side, though it does have its advantages if the Beastmaster focuses on them.

The Beastmaster has the most opportunity to be a generalist because of the beast companion and the bond they share. Mechanically, this is done with the bound to the beast move that all Beastmasters receive. She can improve one of her basic moves for every point of bond the beast has. It is possible for a Beastmaster to have up to five options from the list above, provided her beast has bond+3 and she takes the one with the beast move. The only basic moves that the beast cannot improve to are recite legendry and seduce or manipulate. It’s hard to imagine how an animal would help with those two. If you have suggestions for how that could work, I’m open to them.

The rest of the Beastmaster’s moves are focused on wilderness survival and skill. Beast speech lets her speak with animals. Pack ferocity improves gang warfare while dual wield and peerless archer offer benefits in combat under different circumstances. Ghost of the wild lets the Beastmaster lead people through the wilderness or abandon them in the heart of it. Woods craft gives the Beastmaster the unique ability to track opponents and either cut them off or take them by surprise. The ancient foes move encourages her to tell tales of dangers in the wild long forgotten by civilized man. Skinchanger is one of my favorite moves. It lets the Beastmaster use the bond with her beast when rolling to call forth power.

Relationships with the Beastmaster are tricky. Ultimately I boiled it down to shared history. Someone has given shelter and aid in the past and you owe them. Another doesn’t know how dangerous it is in the world and you are dismissive of their opinions. One of them you have saved from a terrible fate without them realizing. You have more hold over them than they think.

When a Beastmaster calls forth power, she can assume a beast form of her own. She can spend power to gain additional advantages, such as increased harm, improved armor, the ability to fly, or retain her speech. On a miss, in addition to the GM making as hard a move as he like, the Beastmaster must act under duress to shed the skin of the beast. If the Beastmaster has sex with another PC, the beast takes a liking to her lover. That character gets the benefit of one option from bound to the beast for a single roll. The same restrictions apply: the beast must be present to improve the roll.

Advancement for the Beastmaster is where the character really gets powerful. Though she starts with lower than average stats, she can boost not only her own stats but also those of her beast. Rather than having a move or advance that gives the Beastmaster sly+3, she instead gets to improve her beast’s stats twice in the first tier (up to a max of stat+2). The player’s colorful advance allows her to describe some natural place that will survive the fall unspoiled. In the second tier, the Beastmaster gets to improve any one of her stats and any one of her beast’s stats to a max of stat+3. That’s pretty huge. We’ll have to see how that plays out in the playtest and if it’s too powerful.

The reason to play a Beastmaster is to play a character who is wild, untamed, and one with nature. The Beastmaster has a unique opportunity to explore the duality of nature and civilization. She is encouraged to and rewarded when she adds evocative color to the fiction about the beauty and sublime majesty of nature. Lastly, in a more mechanical tweaking sense, If you want to be competent in many things, this is likely the splat for you. More than any other character, the Beastmaster has the options to shore up her weak spots or become hyper-competent in her strengths.

[1] – See the Barbarian for an explanation of ties.

[2] – Here’s the working list of guidelines for types of beasts.

  • Arachnids are spiders and scorpions of all sizes, though giant versions are more keeping with the conventions of dark fantasy and sword & sorcery. Arguably, you could include crabs and lobsters here.
  • Bovine species include cows but also oxen and bison. They are large and powerful beasts capable of defending themselves ably.
  • Canines are dogs and wolves. They are social by nature and make great companions.
  • Dromedary are camels and such. They are great for desert kingdoms, very hardy companions and surprisingly useful in harsh environs.
  • Elephantine beasts include elephants and their extinct ancestors such as mammoths. Their size and strength are unmatched, though they are difficult to bring into civilization.
  • Equines are horses, donkeys and zebras. They make excellent companions and mounts, often gifted with incredible stamina.
  • Feline beasts are cats, both big and small. They have teeth and claws and are natural hunters. Stealthy and cunning, they make excellent crafty beasts.
  • Moa are large flightless birds from New Zealand much like ostriches and emus. Check out the DragonCrown War Saga by Michael Stackpole for a great example of giant birds as dangerous beasts.
  • Porcine creatures are pigs, hogs, and wild boars. While smaller than bovine creatures, hogs and boars have razor sharp tusks and are very aggressive.
  • Raptors are birds of prey such as owls, hawks, and eagles. They are invaluable as scouts.
  • Rhinoceri are modern and ancient species of rhinoceros. They are essentially living tanks with thick hide effectively serving as armor plating.
  • Rodents include common creatures like mice, moles, voles, and rats but also means more exotic creatures like the capybara. Much like the arachnids, giant rodents are unusual options that add fantasy to the fiction.
  • Saurians are lizards of all sorts like crocodiles, iguanas, gila monsters, and the tuatara. For dramatic purposes, this group includes dinosaurs and pterosaurs.
  • Serpentine beasts are snakes. From the smallest adder to the largest anaconda, the serpentine beast companion is a useful and powerful ally.
  • Simians are apes, monkeys, and lemurs. As a general rule, they are highly intelligent and are one of the few groups of animals with appendages capable of fine manipulation like humans.
  • Stags are all horned and antlered beasts, such as deer, moose, elk, antelope, and sheep. For a bit of exoticism, remember that Asian deer grow tusks instead of antlers.
  • Ursine beasts are true bears of all kinds. Bears are amazingly powerful omnivores combining size, speed, and ferocity few other animals can match.

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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