While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.
The Cat Lord remains one of my all time favourite creatures in D&D lore. Sure Dragons have their appeal but there are so many of them that it’s tough to pick just one instance of one type and say this it is my favourite. The Cat Lord is one unique being filled with mystery and awe, not a template or race that you can throw at PCs over and over again. I always felt that he should have originally been presented in Deities & Demigods rather than the Monster Manual II. And perhaps it’s that idea that he’s unique that heightened his appeal for me.
It’s rare in D&D to have one of anything in the monster department. The Monster Manual is a cyclopedia of monsters designed to be dropped into your game for the PCs to battle, and in most cases kill. But just because they killed a bunch of Orcs this game doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t face Orcs again. Same with Beholders, Illithids, Dragons, Giants, you name it. It doesn’t matter how tough or weak a monsters is, there’s bound to be another one somewhere in the world your PCs inhabit. These creatures might be rare, but at the end of the day very few are unique.
Unique creatures are tough – and I don’t just mean in the stats department. If you choose to use a unique creature in your game you have to decide how interactions with PCs will carry forward into any future interactions this creature may have. This is important to the adventures that face him now and may face him again later, but it’s also important for completely different adventurers that may face him later.
If your group rotates DMs but keeps playing in the same continuity, how will other DMs choose to play the unique creature if they bring him into their games? How will their choices react and interact with any plans you might have had for that creature down the road. Does the new DM simply decide to create a new incarnation of the unique creature (thereby making him no longer unique) or does he follow the “lore” you’ve created for this creature?
As a DM I prefer to stay away from unique beings like deities or named monsters for exactly this reason. As cool as these creatures generally are, there’s just too much work keeping the history straight. What’s even more difficult is using a unique creature in a memorable way and then expecting the other DMs to keep their hands off. In the end it’s easier to just admire from afar and have everyone keep their hands off. This is the only sure way to ensure the creature’s awe remains in place for everyone.
From April 3, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Cat Lord.
I remember it vividly. I was flipping through the AD&D Monster Manual II (still the only AD&D hardcover rule book I don’t own) and there he was on page 22 – the Cat Lord. Something about this creature grabbed my attention and my imagination in a way that few other monsters ever have. I think it was a combination of the name “Cat Lord” and the accompanying picture (by Harry Quinn) depicting a feline humanoid. This monster was majestic in a way that only a powerful hunting cat could be; yet he also exuded a sense of cool sophistication that has always stuck with me. It’s hard to put my finger on an exact reason, but something jumped off the page and into my imagination that has always led me to believe that the Cat Lord is one of the most interesting creatures in Dungeons & Dragons.
For those who may not be familiar with the Cat Lord let me tell you a little bit about him. He is sometimes called the Master Cat and is a Lord of Balance. He rules all forms of felines regardless of their size or origin. This includes everything from regular house cats, to panthers, to lions, and even includes supernatural felines such as weretigers. The Cat Lord can communicate with all cats and can summon them magically if necessary. He has other magical abilities and minor spells at his disposal. In his original entry he could heal his wounds by licking them. Additionally he could see in the dark and would always land on his feet.
The Cat Lord can appear as a dark-skinned human or a pale-skinned human with black hair. He can transform himself into a black cat, a panther, or a hybrid of panther and human. While in human form he always wears black clothing decorated with gold and gems of feline colors. He has a muscular, compact form, and his eyes are feline in whatever shape he takes. In the Monster Manual II there is a picture of the cat Lord in human form dressed in black and crouching as if ready to pounce. In this picture (by Larry Elmore) I always though the Cat Lord looked like some kind of ninja or martial arts expert. I assume this is another reason why my 10 year old self thought he was so cool.
For years after I first saw the Cat Lord’s entry in the Monster Manual II, I always wanted to use him in my games. I made numerous Rogue characters that emulated what I thought the Cat Lord would be like. I played a Cleric who worshipped the Cat Lord as a deity and later a Ranger whose sole purpose in life was to find the Cat Lord and receive his blessing. There was something about the Cat Lord that simply mesmerized me. And then I read saga of the Old City by Gary Gygax.
This was the first book in the series featuring the character Gord the Rogue. In the book, Gord meets the Cat Lord – he’s an actual character in the book! I was blown away when I read it. In the book the Cat Lord gave Gord a magical ring that bestowed magical powers on the hero. Later in the series we actually learn that Gord was the great-great grandson of the Cat Lord. It was everything my young self wanted from the characters I was playing. Somehow reading Gord’s adventures brought me a strange sense of closure and for years afterwards I didn’t give the Cat Lord much thought.
In 1990 the Cat Lord once again appeared in something I was reading, this time it was the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons comic from DC (drawn by Jan Duursema). There was a 4-part story arc that featured the Cat Lord (issues 13-16). In this story the Master Cat was grooming a young child to become the new Cat Lord. However, the child was kidnapped and was being controlled by an evil villain. As much as I enjoyed a story that featured my favourite creature, it depicted the Cat Lord as a grizzled old man well past his prime. He was still interesting but he’d lost his cool factor in my eyes.
When Planescape was released in 1994 the Monstrous Compendium contained an entry for a new Cat Lord, this time a female. She possessed many of the same powers as the original Cat Lord from the Monster Manual II but it wasn’t the same.
In 2002 we again saw another interpretation of the Cat Lord in the Epic Level Handbook for 3.5e D&D. This was my Cat Lord, the one from the MM II. He was beefed up considerably for this book, after all he needed to be epic (which I always believed he was anyway). Included with this entry was a magic item called Ring of the Cat Lord, sometimes called the Cat’s Eye Ring. This artifact bestowed special powers upon its wearer including the ability to see in the dark and the ability to transform into a black panther. Its greatest power was that it granted the wearer nine lives. If a character wearing the ring was killed he would instantly be returned to life at the beginning of the next round. This was very similar to the ring I remembered from the Gord the Rogue books.
I haven’t thought about the Cat Lord in years. Not since I saw him in the Epic Level Handbook almost a decade ago. But with the upcoming release of D&D Next, Wizards is in the process of rereleasing all the old AD&D hardcovers. I already own most of them but it’s given me reason to pull them from the shelf and revisit some of the classics. Buried in the pages of one of those old books were notes from a character I’d modeled after the Cat Lord. And just like that I was thrown back to that moment I first opened the MM II and saw him staring at me. A quick Google search and there was the picture of the Cat Lord that inspired me all those years earlier.
I picked up my old copy of saga of the Old City and started reading it again this week. I’m also making a new character for the upcoming season of D&D Encounters next week, any guesses on what kind of character it will be? If you said cat-like Rogue you’d be absolutely right. Even after 30 years I clearly still find the Cat Lord fascinating.
When I was searching for any new information on the Cat Lord in preparation for this post I stumbled across an article on the website Daily Encounter in which John Pope (ObsidianCrane) had converted the Cat Lord’s stats into D&D Next using the 4e layout. It’s certainly an interesting interpretation and it’s ready to go if you want to use the Cat Lord in a D&D Next game right away.
Have you ever encounter the Cat Lord in any of your D&D adventures? Have you ever used him as an NPC in games that you ran? Did anyone else find the Cat Lord as fascinating as I did when I discovered him in the Monster Manual II?