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Animal-Dog / Customizing

Animal Companions and Mounts - Chapter 5

Customizing Dogs

(from Dragon Magazine #237: Man's Best Friend)

Dog Charts

On page 68 of the Player’s Handbook, one can see that a “dog, hunting” costs only 17 gold pieces, or a “dog, war” only 20 gp. But what can the dog do? Who’s to say it won’t run away? With the lifestyle a typical player character lives, no ordinary dog is likely to last very long. A lasting canine adventuring companion would be more akin to today’s K-9 police dogs than to your typical house pet.

This article provides a method for designing canine NPCs. Included are numerous skills and gaming suggestions to turn man’s best friend into a furry adventuring companion.

Animal traits

The first step in creating a canine adventuring companion is determining its animal trait scores. Unlike human ability scores, there are only four animal traits, and their scores range from 1-10.

These scores may be determined by a roll on a d10, or the Dungeon Master may simply select the scores for the animal. In either case, some scores may be adjusted according to the animal’s breed (see Dog Types below).

During play, it will sometimes be necessary to roll trait checks for the dog. To do so, simply roll 1d12, add any applicable modifiers, and compare the result to the appropriate trait score. If the result is equal to or less than the trait score, the dog successfully passes its check. Note that a natural roll of “1” always succeeds, while a natural “12” always fails.

Below are the four animal traits and their descriptions. Table 1 shows all the trait-based variables for canine NPC adventurers.

  • Intelligence trait (IT) — Represents the dog’s ability to learn new skills and behaviors. Note that this score equals the dog’s initial number of training slots.
  • Loyalty trait (LT) — Represents not only the dog’s devotion to its master but also its trust and faith in him as well.
  • Aggressiveness trait (AT) — Represents the dogs combativeness and determination in the face of adversity.
  • Strength trait (ST) — Encompasses the power, prowess, and overall hardiness of the dog.

Note that on the Table 1 there are no modifiers for the Loyalty Trait. The Loyalty Trait is used primarily for resist instinct checks (see Training Skills below).

As a final note, domesticated dogs do not make Morale checks as other NPCs or monsters. Rather, they normally make resist instinct checks. In certain circumstances (such as combat), an Aggressiveness Trait check may be rolled instead at the DM’s discretion. In either case, if a domesticated dog should fail its “morale” check, it may still roll a successful Loyalty Trait check to remain near its master.

Dog types

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, having been bred and trained throughout the years for various purposes. The end result of this selective process is the emergence of a wide range of distinctive breeds of dogs. For gaming purposes, these breeds have been generalized into five specific dog types: tracking dogs, hunting dogs, working dogs, war dogs, and companion dogs.

Tracking dogs

These dogs vary greatly in size, ranging from three to seven hands tall (at the shoulder). Most tend to be of the mid-range size. They are particularly adept at tracking and are almost exclusively used for that purpose. Canine NPCs of this type automatically receive the tracking skill (see Training Skills below) in addition to a +1 modifier to their Intelligence Trait. Breeds of this type include the Bloodhound, Basenji, Wolfhound, and Beagle.

Hunting dogs

These lively, athletic dogs are typically mid-sized, ranging from five to seven hands in height. Used primarily to flush and retrieve game, they prove to be energetic companions. Canine NPCs of this type receive both the water skills and retrieve skill at the outset. Furthermore, they receive a +1 modifier to their Loyalty Trait. Breeds of this type include the Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Pointer, Brittany, and the Irish Setter.

Working dogs

Bright and alert, these dogs are used for tasks ranging from the herding of flocks to household protection. They typically stand from four to seven hands high. Canine NPCs of this type receive a +2 modifier to their Intelligence Trait and a +1 to the Strength Trait. Breeds of this type include the German Shepherd, Old English Sheepdog, Collie, and Shetland Sheepdog.

War Dogs

These dogs are used predominantly as a means of protection and defense. Dogs in this category are generally large and sturdy specimens, standing six to nine hands tall. Canine NPCs of this type receive a +2 modifier to their Strength Trait and +1 to their Aggressiveness Trait. Breeds of this type include the Great Dane, Mastiff, Rottweiler, and the Saint Bernard.

Companion Dogs

These dogs have not been bred for any specific duties other than companionship. Of all the types, companion dogs show the greatest diversity. They range in size from two to seven hands high. Canine NPCs of this type receive a +2 to their Loyalty Trait. Breeds of this type include the Bulldog Chow Chow, Dalmatian, and Poodle.

When considering the above dog types for canine NPCs, remember that they represent groups of purebred animals. These types have received specific bonuses in certain areas because that is what the animal was specifically bred for. This by no means implies that any individual purebred dog will turn out to be a better companion than a mongrel or a “mutt.” All a pedigree will tell a potential master is what he can expect from the dog — though devious DM’s may have other ideas.

If the player desires a particular breed, the DM is encouraged to consider the request. Obviously, certain restrictions must be made in consideration of the campaign setting. (It may be difficult to find a Boston Terrier on Krynn or an Irish Setter on Faerûn.) Allowing for appropriate modifications, choosing a particular breed results in easier visualization for all involved.

The DM should also be aware that purchasing a purebred dog is no inexpensive matter; prices can range from two to ten times normal cost. Additionally, certain breeds of dogs may not be found in all parts of the globe. Purchasing an exotic dog could involve either a great deal of travelling or expensive shipping costs, or both.

Training skills

Training a dog is simply the systematic modification of the animal’s behavior. In game terms, this is handled by a system similar to that of the character’s nonweapon proficiency system. Each animal has a number of training slots equal to its Intelligence Trait. These slots may be used to “buy” specific training skills.

Anyone can train a dog for its initial training. Once the animal’s initial training slots have been “spent,” however, only a character with the animal training proficiency (for dogs) may train the animal for additional (or “acquired”) skills. To do so, the trainer must make a successful proficiency check for each desired skill.

The time it ultimately takes to train an animal in a given skill is called the final training time. To find this, first determine the initial training time. The initial training time is based on the complexity of the skill being taught and can be determined as outlined in the skill descriptions below. After determining the initial training time, multiply it by any applicable training time multiple(s). This yields the final training time. Any resulting fraction of a day is rounded up to a full day (i.e., a quarter of a day would result in a full additional day). Note that more than one training time multiple may apply; the effects are cumulative. In no case can the final training time be less than three days for any skill.

Characters with the animal training proficiency (for dogs) receive a training time multiple of (×1/2) for Initial skills only. Additionally, characters with the animal lore proficiency receive a (×3/4) multiple as do characters with the animal handling proficiency. Characters with both receive both multiples. These two multiples apply to all training (initial or acquired).

A skills training time assumes that 2-3 hours will be spent per day in training the dog. If the daily training time is lessened, the duration of training is correspondingly lengthened. Increasing daily training time, however, does not shorten the duration of tralning; the animal can handle only so much training at one time. Training may continue during normal travel providing time is set aside daily for that purpose. Training can not be conducted during forced marches. Four Basic or two Intermediate skills can be taught at the same time. Advanced or Complex skills must be taught one at a time.

Note that only the Dungeon Master should know at the outset exactly how long it will take a given animal to learn a skill. The trainer knows only once the animal is performing the skill as desired.

Below are descriptions of the separate skills that may be taught. The name of the skill is followed first by its cost in training slots. Next is the skill’s complexity, followed by the initial training time. Skills marked with an asterisk (*) may be taught to the animal only if the previous prerequisite skill or skills have been learned. The training skills are as follows:

  • Alarm: 1 slot, Advanced, 10-21 (1d12+9) training days; The dog remains in a given area and alerts its master (bark, whine, and howl) when strangers enter that area. The dog can monitor any area that is well-defined (i.e., a room or chamber). If no such boundaries exist, such as in a field or forest, the dog alerts its master of intruders within a 50’ radius. Alarm can also be used to cover a party’s rear during movement.
  • Attack: 1 slot, Advanced, 10-21 (1d12+9) training days; The dog attacks any creature designated by its master. If no creature is indicated, the animal attacks the stranger closest to its master. If the master is attacked while commanding the dog to attack a different target, the dog must successfully pass a resist instinct check. Failing that check, the dog disregards the command and attacks its master’s assailant. If the dog is ordered to attack a friend, it must again pass a resist instinct check. Failing that, the dog does not attack, instead returning confused to its master’s side.
  • Guard: 1 slot, Advanced, 10-21 (1d12+9) training days; The dog closely watches the target (usually a prisoner). Should the target move, the dog growls menacingly as a warning. Should the target continue to move, the dog barks furiously and nips at it. If the target attempts to escape, the dog attacks until the target ceases its attempt.
  • Heel: 1 slot, Intermediate, 7-14 (1d8+6) training days; With this command, the dog remains close to its master. Unless ordered to remain alongside the master’s leg, the dog will remain within a 3-5’ radius of its master.
  • Mounted heel*: 0 slots, Basic, 3-6 (1d4+2) training days; Same as above except the dog remains within a 6-10’ radius of its master’s steed. This advanced form of heel costs no additional training slot. It does require, however, some time for the dog to grow accustomed to its masters steed. Note that the dog must be trained for each type of steed (i.e., horse, camel, griffon, etc.)
  • House skills: 2 slots, Complex, 16-35 (1d20+15) training days; This training modifies the dog’s behavior so that it is a compatible living companion. It corrects problems such as housesoiling, excessive barking, and other destructive behavior. Note that without these skills, the dog will not be allowed in most establishments. Furthermore, this ensures the animal interacts civilly with strangers regardless of standard animal behavior (see Handling Canine NPCs).
  • Jump: 1 slot, Intermediate, 7-14 (1d8+6) training days; With this skill, the dog can be commanded to make exceptional leaps. With a 10’ running start, the dog is capable of making horizontal jumps equal to 2d4 + Strength Trait in feet, and vertical jumps of 1d4 + (Strength ÷ 2) feet. If the dog is unable to run, it can jump horizontally 1d4 + Strength feet, and vertical jumps of 1d3 + (Strength ÷ 2) feet. Without this skill, dogs receive no bonus due to their Strength Trait, and must first pass a resist instinct check before jumping.
  • Protect: 2 slots, Complex, 16-35 (1d20+15) training days; The dog remains close by the target (be it a person or object) and allows no strangers to approach within a 5’ radius. If a stranger approaches, the dog growls menacingly and interposes its body between the intruder and its target. If the stranger penetrates the safe zone, the dog barks and snaps viciously. If the intruder persists or attempts to touch the target, the dog attacks. If the target moves away of its own volition, the dog whines and attempts to keep the target in its place by nudging it with its nose. If the target continues to move away, the dog alerts its master (if present) with a bark. The dog remains with the target, continuing to protect it as they travel. It is up to the DM when the animal will give up and return to its master.
  • Recall: 1 slot, Intermediate, 7-14 (1d8+6) training days; This command is an advanced version of “come.” On this command, the dog will return to its master’s side. “Come” may be learned as an individual trick, basic (see below) or as part of house skills. If the command “come” is given while the dog is engaged in an activity (such as chasing rabbits, eating, etc.), the dog returns only if it makes a successful resist instinct check. The “Recall” version of this command obviates any check; the dog returns immediately to its master regardless of activity.
  • Resist instinct: 2 slots, Complex, 16-35 (1d20+15) training days; In training for resist instinct, the dog learns to trust its master fully. The dogs response overrides its instinctual urges and fears. When the DM calls for a resist instinct check, a d12 is rolled. The die roll is then compared with the dogs Loyalty Trait. If the result is equal to or less than the dogs loyalty, the dog passes the check and behaves as desired. A natural “1” is always successful; a natural “12” always fails. Animals who haven’t been trained in resist instinct must make these checks, though at a -5 penalty. Resist instinct checks should be made any time a dog must perform an action against its nature. Note also that resist instinct checks replace Morale checks for domesticated dogs only.
  • Retrieve: 1 slot, Intermediate, 7-14 (1d8+6) training days; The dog recovers any object it sees its master drop or throw. Upon recovery, it returns to its master and drops the item. If the item is dropped or thrown into an area where it can be lost (i.e., water, tall grass, etc.) the dog must make a successful Intelligence Trait check to recover the lost item. This takes 1d3 rounds. If unsuccessful, the dog returns to its master without the item or with the wrong item (DM’s discretion).
  • Advanced retrieve*: 1 slot, Advanced, 10-21 (1d12+9) training days; As above, though it allows a dog a second recovery attempt for lost items. Additionally, it teaches the animal a basic vocabulary of four items (selected by its master) which it can identify and recover. Examples would be “stick,” “ball,” “book,” etc. The dog will search the area within a 50’ radius of its master for the desired object. Upon finding the object, the dog immediately returns to its master with the item.
  • Herd animal*: 1 slot, Advanced, 10-21 (1d12+9) training days; Dogs trained in herding, upon command, chase down any animal within sight. Upon catching the animal, the dog attempts to herd it back to its master by barking and nipping at it. Should the animal attack, the dog must make a successful Aggressiveness Trait check to attempt to herd the animal. The dog must make such a check every time the animal attacks. Should the animal the dog is herding be lost from sight, the dog must make a successful Intelligence Trait check. Likewise, if there is a chance of the dog being confused as to which animal to herd, a successful Intelligence Trait check must be made to herd the desired animal.
  • Retrieve specific*: 2 slots, Complex, 16-35 (1d20+15) training days; With this skill, the master simply points at an object, which the dog then attempts to recover. The dog picks up an item in the designated area. It then looks to its master for a visual signal, such as a nod or shake of the head. If correct, the dog returns the item to its master; if incorrect, it drops the item and select another, repeating the process. Clearly, this could be a tedious process.
  • Silence: 1 slot, Intermediate, 7-14 (1d8+6) training days; The dogs natural urge to bark and howl can be repressed temporarily with this command. The dog, when excited, still emits a low growl or quiet whine. This skill is especially useful when master and dog are setting an ambush or laying low. Note that this command may be used in conjunction with other commands. An example of this would be silent alarm; the dog only whines and growls instead of barking upon detection of intruders.
  • Stay: 1 slot, Basic, 3-6 (1d4+2) training days; The dog remains where it is until recalled by its master. Should something distracting occur nearby, the dog must pass a resist instinct check to remain in place. The maximum time limit for the dog to remain in place is one hour. After that, the animal reacts according to its normal behavior (DM’s discretion).
  • Improved stay*: 1 slot, Intermediate, 7-14 (1d8+6) training days; As above, except maximum time limit is six hours. Resist instinct checks to ignore distractions are made at +2.
  • Advanced stay*: 1 slot, Advanced, 10-21 (1d12+9) training days; As above, except maximum time limit is one day. Resist instinct checks are made at +4. Note that both stay and improved stay are pre-requisites to this skill.
  • Long-term stay*: 1 slot, Complex, 16-35 (1d20+15) training days; The dog remains in an area for up to a week, awaiting the return of its master. This skill differs in that the dog is free to roam about, forage for food, and seek shelter. Throughout the waiting period, the dog remains in the same general vicinity. Resist instinct checks do not apply, as the dog is free to move about. Note that stay, improved stay, and advanced stay are all pre-requisites to this skill.
  • Track: 1 slot, Advanced, 1-21 (1d12+9) training days; The dog, upon finding a scent, may track the creature leaving the trail. Treat this skill in the same manner as the Tracking non-weapon proficiency. If the scent is lost, the dog must make an Intelligence Trait check to regain the scent.
  • Trick (Basic): 1 slot, Basic, 3-6 (1d4+2) training days; These are any common tricks designed primarily to impress viewers with the animal’s Intelligence and/or obedience. This becomes useful when trying to convince skeptical innkeepers to allow the animal inside their establishments. Common tricks include such behaviors as “speak,” “shake hands,” “play dead,” etc.
  • Trick: 1-2 slots, Intermediate—Complex, variable training time This is any other behavior the trainer desires the dog to learn. The DM must adjudicate the complexity of the trick, determining the training cost and length of training. Examples of advanced tricks include chewing through ropes binding masters hands (Intermediate), leading a horse by reins to a safe area (Advanced), untying a knot (Complex), etc.
  • Water skills: 1 slot, Advanced, 10-21 (1d12+9) training days; This trains the dog to enjoy entering the water and swimming. Normally, without water skills, a dog must make a successful resist instinct check to enter water over its head. No such check is made for dogs with this skill. Furthermore, dogs with water skills may dive and swim beneath the waters surface with a successful resist instinct check. Dogs without this skill may never be enticed to voluntarily submerge.

See also Animal Training

Handling canine NPCs

Before play, the DM should look at the dogs animal trait scores and make certain decisions regarding its personality. For example, a highly aggressive and loyal dog may be devoted to its master but threatening to any stranger who draws near. On the other hand, a dog with a high strength but low aggressiveness may prove to be a gentle giant.

When determining a canine companion’s personality and standard behavior, consider the following factors. Higher intelligence may make training easier but could also result in the dog being easily distracted or mischievous. A dog with strong loyalty will be faithful to its master — perhaps overly so. Low loyalty, on the other hand, could make the animal unmanageable and unreliable. Highly aggressive dogs may be hostile and high-strung, whereas less aggressive dogs may be overly trusting or playful. Finally, strength will largely affect the dogs confidence. Stronger dogs may be more domineering while weaker dogs may prove to be more shy or skittish.

During game play, when gauging the dog’s reaction to given situations, the DM should keep in mind the canine perspective of life. Essentially, the dog categorizes anyone it meets as its “alpha,” fellow pack member, friend, or stranger. In the wild, a dog will normally run in a pack that serves as the dogs “family.” The dominant dog in the pack, usually the strongest and most aggressive, is known as the “alpha.” All other members of the pack follow the alpha and generally obey its wishes. In the case of a domesticated dog, its alpha is usually its master. The master’s family, pets, and steady long-term adventuring companions serve as the dog’s “pack.” Anyone else the dog classifies as either a friend or stranger.

When the dog meets a character (player or otherwise) for the first time, roll on the Encounter Reaction Table (Table 59, p. 103, DMG). Any result other than “friendly” means the character is treated as a stranger. After 1-3 weeks, or on an initial “friendly” reaction, the character will be considered a friend. After an additional 4-6 weeks of close daily contact, a character may achieve the status of “pack member.” If by some unfortunate circumstance, the dog’s master dies, another pack member may “adopt” the dog. It takes from 4-6 months, however, before the dog regards the new master as its alpha. Note that dogs commanded to alarm, guard, or protect do not roll on the Encounter Reaction Table. In these circumstances, all newcomers are treated as strangers.

In unusual circumstances, the dog may actually consider itself the alpha. This often troublesome and sometimes embarrassing situation is normally found only with a dog with high intelligence and aggressiveness, and low loyalty. While such a situation is not impossible, it is always interesting.

Canine NPC records

When designing a canine adventuring companion, the player or the DM should maintain a separate sheet (a 3” × 5” index card serves nicely) for the animal. On the front of the sheet record the following information: Dogs Name, Master, HD, hp, THAC0, Movement, Intelligence Trait, Loyalty Trait, Aggressiveness Trait, and Strength Trait. Also list on the front of the sheet all skills the animal has been taught, as well as a brief physical description of the dog.

On the reverse side of the sheet, maintain a list of the dogs “pack members” and friends. Notes can also be made here of particularly memorable events in the dogs life which could later affect its behavior (i.e., near drowning, attack by a strange monster, etc.).

This card can then be kept with the player character sheet. It provides a handy reference and prevents later frustration when puzzling over undecipherable notes scrawled in the margins of some obscure papers.

Prevent animal abuse

Finally, the DM should be wary of the mercenary use of canine companions. Granted, the very nature of the adventuring life will often leave both dog and master fighting tooth and nail (no pun intended) for their lives. Canine companions should not, however, be treated simply as an extra attack roll. Characters who mistreat or abuse their animals should quickly find themselves on their own, preferably with the animal leaving at an especially critical moment. Even if such behavior doesn’t lead to desertion, it surely will attract the unfavorable attention of local druids and rangers.