Originally Posted by Savior
Even with a free template, you have to be a base creature of 10 or more levels, simply for balance. If the DM allows that, I'll be quite shocked, and want to redo my character (Even though I won't.)
Eh, I really don't think so. I think the level 10 is mostly there for story reasons. Animal lords are supposed to be the chosen avatar of an entire animal race and it wouldn't make sense fluff wise for a lower level character to have that kind of prestige.
Sure, it could be seriously mean if you could pick any animal with a CR of 7 or less, but it's meant to be used with a relatively low CR animal, like the leopard (panther version) which is what I'd go with. In terms of bonuses, vampires seriously beat it, which is alright considering their weakness. Half-Fiends/Celestials are roughly on par and they only beat out Half-Dragons depending on class.
After all, vamps get comparable ability boosts, comparable DR (animal lord's is somewhat better), generally better skill boosts, generally better AC boosts, 8 good bonus feats, better special attacks, fast healing 5
, undead immunities, and can even escape death. They're pretty awesome.