Game: Lunar Knights
Publisher: Interactive Design Adventures
Review Dated: 8th, July 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 31
Average Score: 7.75
This is nice. This is good. It seems like an age since I’ve been able to say, “Hey guys. Come have a look at this.” – somebody else always seems to beat me to it. As I look around the Net I can’t see many other people talking about Lunar Knights or Interactive Design Adventures. That’s a shame because I think this particular d20 supplement is worth talking about. It’s all about lycanthropes and is it’s good. It’s also the first supplement from Interactive Design Adventures (though their webpage tells me they’ve got Hick: The Roleplaying Game on their list of products).
First PDFs are often tricky. There’s definitely an art to getting them right. When you download Lunar Knights you’ll get two copies: a screen edition and a printer friendly one. Magic. That’s just the way to go. Okay. It’s one of a few ways to ensure a pretty and yet printable supplement but its effective and a simple way to do it. Lunar Knights doesn’t make the second basic check of mine though. There are no bookmarks. There are 9 chapters in the 65 pages and there’s a lot packed onto each page. I’d really have appreciated bookmarks on this product. At the minute, Lunar Knights is US$ 8.00. That’s about average for PDFs these days and perhaps even on the cheap/good-value-for-money side of the equation given the quality and amount of illustrations in it.
Much credit goes to Jacob E. Blackman. He wrote Lunar Knights, he drew the front cover and shares credits with another artist (Marcum N. Curlee) for the internal artwork. While I was nosing around the Net to see how much exposure Lunar Knights had had in the roleplaying world I didn’t see any explicit mention of it (or Blackman) in any furry communities. I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if I had. The artwork is very furry. You know, those cute anthropomorphic animals. Even when the were-creatures are growing and baring teeth – they’re still fairly cute. Cute isn’t a problem. If I want to use scary were-creatures in my d20 campaign then I’ll simply not show the players the artwork. What the cute effect does is inspire me to play in a fantasy-furry game where the PCs are heroic lycanthropes. This isn’t a problem either; Lunar Knights oozes with ways to make PC lycanthropes possible; there are a huge amount of temples, skills, feats and prestige classes.
Let’s just double-back to a scary were-creature and quote from the supplement. “One of the more unusual breeds of magical beast lycanthropes is the were-krenshar. This lycanthrope appears to be just an abnormally large feline, but fur trappers run in fear when the cat they stalk goes to a two-legged stance and peals back its face to reveal the flesh underneath.”
Oh yeah. There are rules for were-krenshars. There are rules for were-griffons, blink dogs, winter wolves, manticores, worgs and other high fantasy creatures. (Were-worg, doesn’t that just trip off the tongue?) There are rules for more typical weres as well: wolves, bears, boars, cats, rats, sharks and more. The were-big cats are treated individually; you’ll find were-lions, were-leopards, were-cheetahs, etc. There’s neither were-swans nor were-frogs though. Should there be? Lunar Knights mentions European legends as the base for its lycanthropy views. Shape-changing swans and frogs were fairly common in old European myths. Where did you think the fairytales came from? Or frogs and toads association with witchcraft? Oookay. No one would play a were-frog, I know, I know.
In truth Lunar Knights casts its net wider than just European myths. The game easily encompasses the traditional D&D feel, the furry connection can only be speculated on as can any Werewolf: the Apocalypse inspiration. What you don’t see are any Polynesian mythology – so you’re left to decide whether wolfsbane is a potential cures for were-shark lycanthropy. There’s some new roleplaying minded speculation on lycanthropy too. In a boxed section “Alternate Form Mass” there’s a lycanthropic option that blends magic with science. It’s impossible to create or destroy matter so unless you’re willing to shrug and say “it’s magic” or have a gory lycanthrope which sheds all that extra muscle, fur and meat in a bloody heap when it shifts to a small form, you’ll have to go with another solution. What about an alternate dimension or plane? When the were-creatures shifts forms it is essentially trading places with a creature from elsewhere. A were-wolf shifting into wolf form could pull the wolf from the Great Hunt and place in it in this plane. This would trap the hapless human in the Great Hunt. This option, though, only works for infected lycanthropes who loose their “sense of self” with each shift rather than the natural shifters who’d remember everything.
Lunar Knights does well by catering to both natural shifters and those created by a lycanthropy infected bite. The supplement is happy to slowly slide towards the suggestion that infected lycanthropes are the problem; often evil, often do terrible things while in animal form and should be cured. Natural lycanthropes stay deep in the wilderness and try to keep to themselves.
I’ve included some examples of the animal side of the were-creature already (even though I think blink dogs and some others are rather too intelligent to be considered “animal”) but there’s the other side to consider as well. Lunar Knights doesn’t forget this. It runs down the core races (dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, human and orc – no half-breeds) and looks at their were potential. It’s easy to summarise; orcs will probably enjoy being lycanthropic and humans are the most likely victims. This is why most lycanthropes were human. There’s nothing stopping you being an elf were-eagle though. It’s up to your GM to stop you digging out the silly Savage Species and playing a gorgon were-gorgon.
The key point is that that the were-creature side (the wolf, the boar, the bear, etc) is presented as a template and so it can be applied to whichever fantasy character race you have. This is ideal if you’re playing in a campaign setting like Oathbound which supports dozens of fantastic character races and suits equally fantastic were-combinations.
There’s more than just the two-racial sides to a lycanthropic character or NPC – at least in Lunar Knight’s eyes. There’s a character or NPC class to contend with. The supplement runs through the core classes and discusses how appropriate each one might be for a were-creature. Barbarians, druids and rangers all stand out as tempting options. Hmm. An orc were-boar barbarian!
Where there are classes there are prestige classes and Lunar Knights doesn’t disappoint. In fact, this is where we get the term Lunar Knight from. It’s a prestige class. The other prestige classes include; Dire Lord, Hidden Talon Ninja, King of the Wild, Moon Priest and Wererat Black Seer. Are they balanced? They’re balanced with one another. I think the mere presence of a prestige classed, fantasy race were-exotic fantasy animal, is going to shoot your campaign up to the ceiling of high fantasy. If your game is there already then game balance isn’t an issue. All the prestige classes are fully fleshed through 10 levels and none of them are boring stat bonus monsters. The possible exception to the boring stat bonus monster is the Dire Lord which suffers from only having two class specials; dire form and roar which it gets to do more often every day as it increases in level.
On my first reading of this PDF I sat back and took a break at this point. Lunar Knights had given me buckets of lycanthropic roleplaying rules and ideas. This is the sort of pause I associate with a supplement having reached its selling point. Lunar Knights is worth its US$8 price tag at this point and I’m pleased with it. Anything else is a bonus. I was rather surprised to see that I was only at page 36 of 65. The PDF pays for itself when it is only just half done. In other words: nearly half the supplement is added extra.
Skills are debated. Lunar Knights looks at which skills are best suited to were-creatures and introduces Knowledge: lycanthropes.
There are new feats. Of course. Who’d publish their first d20 supplement without new feats? The feats in Lunar Knights provide the typical power-ups you’d expect but also go some way into letting you play the more anthropomorphic were-creature or a fur covered elf chick.
Chapter Six is dedicates itself to looking at variations of the lycanthropes. Attention has already been paid to the differences between infected and natural were-creatures but what about a natural were-creature that’s been infected with lycanthropy? Ooo. At the GM’s careful discretion! Silver doesn’t have to be the Achilles Heel of every shifter; what about making an Ican were-snake vulnerable to obsidian stone? These are the sorts of variations discussed.
I think Lunar Knights will work best as a lycanthropic campaign aid. Dwarf were-howler dire lords are perhaps too much of a limelight hog to be added to a carefully structured campaign world. Lunar Knights has plenty of advice if you do elect to make lycanthropes a big part of your game. Where did the were-creatures come from? What if there’s more than one moon? Moons are rare. Earth’s unusual. Lunar Knights kinda assumes there’s always at least one moon – but that’s all right; most campaign worlds do too!
The last twenty pages are of a bestiary dominated by sample lycanthropes. The sample weres run the full gambit of Lunar Knight possibilities and are listed alphabetically. The assumption is that they use the human race as the base unless noted otherwise. It would be easy for this section to slide into the “filler” category but the frequent and quality artwork continues throughout it all and the combination is a satisfactory conclusion to the supplement. Well. Kinda. The actual conclusion to the PDF is a resource section that lists graphic novels and movies, etc, which make for suitable references.
Lunar Knights is good. It’s a well-written supplement. It’s a thorough supplement. It’s attractive and useful.