Another post for The Tower of the Archimage's blog carnival this month about animals in RPGs. This time, it's animal player characters. No, I don't mean "D&D for Dogs"; I mean playing an animal as a character race.
There's actually a couple ways you could wind up with an animal PC, beyond the obvious suggestion on the bottom of M&M p. 8. There's Polymorph Other, which in the pre-AD&D days did not include the chance of forgetting your humanity. Polymorph Other creates a character that is physically an animal (or monster,) but mentally a human (or whatever the character started as.) Some cursed items might have the same effect. The Reincarnation spell similarly causes a dead character to return as a random creature, not necessarily a normal character race. When druids from Eldritch Wizardry cast the spell, it's even biased towards animal forms.
Either way, these animal PCs aren't quite like ordinary animals, since there's an implication of human-level intelligence, plus the memories of an intelligent being. Which leads me to the conclusion that characters that begin as animal PCs might as well be of human-level intelligence as well. Roll the standard 3d6 for each ability score, but don't roll for gold; only cursed or reincarnated characters get to have equipment and cash.
Animal PCs always understand Common, but must learn to speak it as a separate action (only possible for Int 11+, or whatever the minimum score is for characters to add extra languages. The same applies to other languages, for Polymorphed or Reincarnated characters. PCs born as animals can also communicate with other animals of their type; this does not necessarily mean that "NPC" animals are of human-level intelligence.
Animal PCs other than those with human-like hands (rats, raccoons, primates) are normally unable to manipulate human tools. They may be able to clumsily manipulate them with their mouth or an appendage (tail, trunk;) those with Very High Dex are able to learn to manipulate items with human precision (Think: Max the Horse in Tangled, trying to stab the thief with a dagger wielded in his mouth.) Those with Extremely High Dex have a 1/3 chance of being mildy mutated, giving them opposable thumbs (Think: Grommit.) There's also a 1/3 chance for such creatures to be able to walk upright for as long as desired, allowing them to pass for human (with the right costume...)
Animal PCs are all Fighters (or Thieves, for certain small species.) Characters with the appropriate level of Intelligence or Wisdom who can speak can change to a spell-casting class, using the standard class-change rules.