The relationship between D&D characters and animals is well established in many parts of the game; there are animal companions for druids and rangers, wild shape, handle animal skills, nature summoning spells, and lots more. It all makes sense since there is a long history of this type of relationship existing in fantasy stories and lore. But for some characters it’s not enough to merely be friends with animals and summon them to do their bidding. No, other characters really intend to take it too far and cross some sort of line and maybe become an animal. Kind of? And it is for these characters that the Animal Lord was born! The Animal Lord is similar to other prestige classes in that a character gives up progressing in their previous class, however it differs because it also seems like you get nothing in return for it. Seriously, unless your idea of a new power is a claw attack that does 1d4 damage or the ability to detect horses. And if it is, then this is totally the class for you.
The thing I like most about the Animal Lord is the great degree of variety that you can find in them. There are eight different Animal Lords listed (each one connected to a specific animal type) and the requirements are pretty wide open, so all sorts of builds can get into them. Generally, any sort of warrior type makes the most sense. The majority of Lords will be rangers and barbarians. So really any character can wind up as a Horselord as long as they take Run as a feat. Fifth level is the earliest point of entry.
As I understand it, Animal Lords are essentially animals in their soul but were unfortunately born into some sort of humanoid form. The prestige class is a way for them to get closer to who they feel that they really are. In a way that’s really sad. I feel bad for them, they just want to be accepted by their animal brethren. I feel even worse for them when they begin to acquire the shitty abilities that go with their search for identity. At first level they get the ability to Detect Animals at will, but limited to the type that they are connected to. I guess this is how they make friends in the animal world, especially when coupled with the Animal Bond that they have with the animal type as well (giving them a bonus to handle animal). A 4th level they can Speak with Animals, but only once a day so I don’t think they are going to form any lasting friendships. It just seems so desperate. They need to use magic to make friends. Who would want to adventure with one of these weirdos?
The definitive trait of the class comes at third level and is called Wild Aspect, which is when the Lord actually begins to take on characteristics of their animal type. Specific to each animal type, the abilities are an all around plethora of actual garbage. Now, these are characters that are at a minimum eight level. You know what’s really useless for that character? A claw attack that does 1d4 damage. Its cool to fight like an animal, except that these characters can actually use weapons. Do you think that a cat chooses to use his claws because they are awesome? No, it’s because they can’t hold a sword. If they could they would happily abandon their claws for it. (Maybe there is a Human Lord prestige class available to animals?) The sample character presented in the book is a barbarian/Apelord with the following attacks listed in it’s stat block: +14 melee (1d12+7/x3 with a greataxe) or +13 melee (1d4+5 with a claw). Hmm...which should I attack with?
And these crappy powers aren’t even active all the time! They start off at once a day for a minute a level. I get it, having that claw attack all the time is way too powerful. The wizard would definitely get jealous. Other examples are the Sharklord’s 1d8 bite attack, the Horselord runs faster, and the Snakelord gets a weak poison bite.
Fifth level’s Summon Animal is probably the only ability that is actually good. The Lord can summon some animals to help him out, or maybe to just bullshit and have a conversation for a couple of minutes. There are some decent options like a polar bear or a dire lion.
There is also a bonus feat at sixth level and an attribute increase (+2!) at tenth level, but that’s about it. The bonus feat is predetermined and features such stellar options as Trample for the Horselord. The winner has got to be the Apelord’s Brachiation, one of the weirdest feats in the game. It’s actually pretty cool, but I’m not sure how good it is.
I’ve only seen one actual Animal Lord in play, a strange Cat Lord (read more about his untimely demise here), but I think that’s enough. There just isn’t really anything going on with them. If you really like birds you can still dress up like one and act like one if thats what your character wants to do. The best of the bunch is the Wolflord, which is halfway decent though still subpar. It gets scent and Improved Trip, but that’s not much for the level investment. I think that any character is better off staying with their original class.