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ANIMAL ADVENTURERS

animalWe love our animal heroes. Mr. Toad, Redwall’s Matthias, and even Donald and his nephews populate our literary landscapes. The idea of playing animal characters has been around since the beginning of the hobby, and modern games continue this tradition.

So what’s the attraction? Maybe playing animal characters lets us express our love for our pets and the natural world. Perhaps it is the novelty of thinking like a different species. However, probably the most significant reason is that it’s just plain fun. Where else can you pretend to be a squirrel in a socially acceptable way?

In this article, we’ll look at some things to consider if you’d like to run an animal player character (PC) game. We’ll also look at some choices for systems to use. So twitch that tail and let’s get going.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

Technology Level — Will your players be wild animals like the rabbits in Watership Down? Will they be a group of house cats? Or will they be more anthropomorphic like the characters in the Brian Jacques Redwall series? Talk to your players beforehand to see what they would like in an animal-themed game.

Campaign Length — This concern arises whenever you are switching games or genres. Are you hoping for a long epic, or do you just want to test the waters with a one-shot? You might want to consider starting with a one-shot or running a convention game to see how it works out for you and your players.

Tone — Animal characters probably don’t lend themselves to dark, gritty themes. That’s not to say you can’t run such a game, but it may be a little trickier to pull off. In general, animal characters suggest a lighter tone. How light is up to you and your group. Will your game lean more towards a medieval epic, Duck Tales, or something in between?

POSSIBLE SYSTEMS

Dedicated Systems — There are published options (Bunnies and Burrows, Mouse Guard, etc…) designed for animal PC’s. A quick net search turned up several free ones as well. These games require no conversion work, though you’ll have to learn a new system and there may be an expense in acquiring them.

Universal Systems – Many universal systems would work for animal themed campaigns. GURPS, FATE, FUDGE, or Risus provide different levels of complexity and cinematic flavor. Though they require some work upfront, you can tweak them to get the type of game you’d like. Another advantage is that most of these systems are available for free, or provide free starter versions.

Hack or Homebrew — Another option is to hack your current system to accommodate animals’ special abilities. This helps both players and gamemasters (GM’s) remain on familiar ground. If you are really ambitious, you could build your own homebrew ruleset. While hacking and homebrewing take time, they can provide you with exactly the game you envision. And there is no additional expense.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Running an animal themed game may require more thought and work on your part during your planning. However, if your players are open to it, an animal PC game can provide unique roleplaying opportunities. For example, in one game our frog jumped in the water and paddled his friends across the river on a raft, making motorboat noises all the way. Where else you gonna get that?

How about you? Have you run animal themed games? What advice can you share? Let us know below.

10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "ANIMAL ADVENTURERS"

#1 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On January 2, 2017 @ 7:27 am

I closely followed the kick-starter for the Cairn system a few years ago. There are some salty tears out there because the original kick-starter team dropped the ball and disappeared, but a new team bought the rights and finished the project (and the kick-starter promises to the best of their ability.) You might want to check it out.
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#2 Comment By John Fredericks On January 2, 2017 @ 8:26 am

Thanks for the link, hope the game was what you needed. Looks like it would lend itself to Redwall very well.

#3 Comment By Silveressa On January 2, 2017 @ 7:41 am

Having run a scfi campaign for over a year and a half now with gene lifted animals featured prominently in the Orion Spur setting, (along with more anthropomorphized hybrids co existing along side humanity) One thing I have found when running the campaign is the duality of instinct .vs intellect allowed my player of a gene lifted react to situations in character in ways that were both unexpected and fun for everyone involved. (I think It helped during initial character creation to remind players the animal motivations and outlooks would be tempered by the human like level intellect, but not entirely replaced, and that it’s allowed and even expected for them to let their characters animal natures influence their reactions to some situations and people.)

On a side note, for a more serious and gritty animal campaign I’d strongly recommend Mutant Genelab Alpha ( [2])

Having backed it during the Kickstarter run I was impressed with the quality and how well the rules lent themselves to playing as animals in a post apocalyptic world and the setting lends itself very well to a more serious tone of survival and rebellion.

#4 Comment By John Fredericks On January 2, 2017 @ 8:27 am

Great point about instinct being stronger in animal characters than in humans, hadn’t thought of that. Nice!

#5 Comment By black campbell On January 2, 2017 @ 8:00 am

I ran a rather successful one-shot for my 5 year old daughter and her mother using the Fate Accerated-powered Strays…they played a fox looking for his boy’s compass, which was stolen by a local magpie, with the help of a raccoon.

For anthropomorphic sci-fi, see the comic series Albedo, or the short lived, Firefly-esque Fusion by Steve Gallacci — both from the ’80s.

#6 Comment By John Fredericks On January 2, 2017 @ 8:28 am

Thanks Black Campbell. I’ve heard of Albedo, wasn’t it one of the first “furry” kind of comics?

#7 Comment By black campbell On January 2, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

I believe so. There were a few RPGs built around it but they were execrable.

#8 Comment By Silveressa On January 3, 2017 @ 12:17 am

Pugmire is also worth checking out, it’s a unique take on the animal setting in that it isn’t just a reskinned generic fantasy, but rather that Man is basically God, and there’s all this stuff that they retain from being the dogs we know, but it’s treated like long lost lore or religious doctrine is.

Currently the early access .pdf is only $2 on Drive thru rpg so is probably worth a look if you are in the market for a animal setting to run for your group. [3]

#9 Comment By Alex Roy On January 23, 2017 @ 4:49 am

nice with the evolution of animals and tell about the pets

#10 Comment By Benjamin On June 2, 2019 @ 4:04 pm

Woodland Warriors was the one that I kept finding in searches. It’s based on the Swords and Wizardry system.

I found it because I was looking for games that would let me play Redwall, but Redwall has no magic, and Woodland Warriors has several magic classes.

I worked out was to play a Redwall game by cherry-picking classes and class abilities, but then it struck me that Redwall is for children, and getting children to play Pathfinder would be hard.

So, for the last … 6-7 years (!) I’ve been working on a dedicated system, As you’ve said, it’s a lot of work! But I am getting exactly the game that I want to play. Despite the long and hard road of development, the rules are very slick and short. I’ve got the essentials down to a one side Character sheet and a one side rules sheet! Play testing began last year and is progressing favourably.

One of these days I hope to have in a saleable position. =)