D&D has, in its time, visited many places and had many settings. We’ve had D&D in space (Spelljammer), set in desert lands (twice – Dark Sun and Al-Qadim), the Far East (Oriental Adventures) and on the plains of the horse clans (The Horde – remember that?). We’ve had D&D in Wonderland, in a city lodged in a kinda-nearly-dormant volcano, and more. D&D has travelled into our own world with d20 Modern, and beyond thanks to the high technology left by the original residents of Blackmoor.
Yet through all its many travels, D&D has yet to settle down and properly tackle gaming with anthropomorphic races. And that’s a crying shame.
Talking animals have a long and proud heritage in our folklore and fairy tales. From the countless works of Enid Blyton to Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, and from the Kitsune legends of Japan to Winnie the Pooh there’s a special place in our racial memory for wise old owls, wily weasels and cunning foxes. We anthropomorphize the creatures, give them personalities which we, in turn, give back to ourselves. We say “timid as a mouse”, “mad as a march hare” and such, anthropomorphizing ourselves back into animal form.
By bringing talking animals into our role-playing game we’re playing those tropes, exploring and testing them in ways that are hard to do with the classic D&D races. Quite simply, we inject more personality into our animal creations that we do our fantastic ones. An Elf might be smug and arrogant, but he’s nothing compared to a cat. That sneaky Halfling would be beaten hands down in a sneakiness competition by a weasel. And so on.
Mouse Guard proves that there’s a place at the role-playing table for talking animals. That system handles the tropes with a delicate, wonderful twist and award-winning ruleset. What I’d like to see though is talking animals brought right into D&D as an official core supplement. d20 Modern came close with Moreaus, and proved that the d20/SRD was up to the task. Fourth Edition D&D should be able to handle animal races with little difficulty and no messy Level Adjustment fudgery required. Give me Feline Sorcerers, Badger Wizards and loyal Dog Fighters. I want my Sparrow Ranger, Mouse Cleric and Weasel Rogue. I want all these, and more.
Now, animal fans. Who’s with me?