Real World Animal TrainingFor Your Game
By: Jesse C Cohoon
Author's note: This is a bit different of a style of writing than I normally do simply because I don't often bring "Real World" experience to the gaming field.
Recently, I just picked up a part time job at a pet store as a "Pet Counselor." In this role, I am taking care of animals by feeding them, medicating them, socializing them, helping to train them in some limited fashion, and cleaning up after them. The ideas I learned in this can be transferred from real life to your game(s).
When someone in your game gets an animal -
- be it a standard animal: a horse or dog, or hawk
- something more exotic like a wizard's familiar: an owl, a rat, or a snake,
- a ranger's or druid's companion animal like a bear or a wolf
- or even something more exotic like a dragon
The first of these things is food: what will the creature eat. Most of the time this is simply hand-waved saying that the animal can hunt on its own, help kill other monsters, and the like. This is all fine and well provided that you're not raising or traveling with something with an unusual appetite. For instance, if players are trying to have a rust monster travel with the party as a companion, how will they feed it without losing their weapons or armor? Or what about an Aurumvorax, called the "gold gorger" that eats precious metals. How would the party satisfy its appetite without emptying their purses?
Another way this may play out is that the animal or monster may need a diet specific to their habitat. Pandas, for instance, only can eat bamboo. What happens if you are traveling with a panda where there's none?
The next item to consider is the health of the animal in question. Today, we can simply google the results to find out what's an appropriate temperature range for an animal, but a day and age without such information readily available, the PCs might have to go on a quest in order to find out how to appropriately take care of their newfound companion. They might have to perform a quest to find the Dragonfriend Sage, who's gathered all the information available on the medicines that are useful in treating dragons to save their sick friend.
Another way that this may play out is that the animal or monster in question has some sort of genetic defect. In regular animals, this may show up as problems with their hips, breathing, eyesight, hearing, or digestion.
A third say this could show up is that the animal can get injured in battle. How can it be healed? Will healing magics even work on it?
An additional worry that PCs might have when dealing with animals or their more exotic monstrous counterparts is finding lodging for them. Not all inns will be happy to see you bringing your wolf or black bear into town, and some may outright refuse service due to this fact, especially if they recently had problems with such creatures. This may be especially problematic if the PCs need to leave the animal or monster in town while they go do something else, because the animal or monster either can't survive or won't fit where they're going without problems.
Furthermore, PCs might have problems actually training the animal. A dog (or similar) creature can be trained with a leash. As can raptors (though most of the time you'll need a glove and hood). But what about animals that aren't able (or even willing) to wear a leash? The PCs / the animal's handler can try to get them to use their natural instincts to perform a certain behavior, but the animal or monster in question needs to be able to understand what you're asking it to do and do it within the best of their abilities.
Another way this can show up is in battle. Injured animals and monsters tend to lash out when hurt. Can the PCs control the animal while it's lashing out or do they risk getting injured in the process?
Then there's the very real problem of the animal waste. It's one thing to dispose of in solid dog or horse waste, but imagine how problematic it would be to muck out a stall for a dragon! Also, if the PCs are in a dungeon leaving solid waste laying around might cause other monsters in the area to know there's intruders in their lair and step up their patrols accordingly.
Also, there's the issue of the cleanliness of the animal or monster in question. Some animals might need daily grooming and if they don't get it, won't be able to use their natural abilities. In real life birds preen their feathers to clean them and rid themselves of mites. If a bird gets too dirty it might not be able to fly, or if it does, it might be not able to do so for very long because its aerodynamics is affected or it's too distracted because it's itchy. Similarly, a dirty bear's coat might be less protective of weather (just as dirty clothes aren't as insulating in real life).
Finally, there's the issue of socializing the animal or monster in question. In real life, some animals are attached to one person. How does the animal react when faced with multiple people it's trying to deal with? Does it attack them? Or simply put up with them, but refuse to show any affection? Is it affectionate with everyone unless it's told to attack? Or is there one race that its hackles are constantly standing up around, and won't calm down no matter what?
13 Animal or monster flaws
- HATES water. Won't approach it no matter how it's bribed. Will attack anyone who tries to force it near
- Is overly playful/ energetic. Will bounce around and play endlessly. Getting it to be serious for training is a problem.
- Will not willingly go back into its cage/ pen.
- Will literally bite the hand that feeds it. May require a muzzle or other restraining device
- Refuses to be "potty trained" and will leave waste wherever it wants to for the unfortunate PCs to clean up.
- Cowers when asked to leave its cage and needs to be forced out in order to play or do work
- Constantly has an upset stomach. Requires a special diet (or timing) in order to ensure its health. Either vomits or has diarrhea
- Is a glutton and will eat anything presented
- Has bad body odor. Bathing it does nothing to rectify the problem
- Is a one person animal or monster. Will refuse to work with or for anyone else. May actually attack them.
- Cannot be quiet. Will robustly vocalize at the top of its lungs no matter what.
- Is constantly underfoot. No matter where the PCs move, the animal is constantly tripping them
- Actively dislikes magic and magic users. Will deliberately give them a hard time because they once were hurt by magic
- Understands directions easily. (Think Lassie) "Go get help!"
- Communicates verbally in a language known by the PCs, even if normally unable to do so
- Is able to be ridden or can carry the PC even if that's normally not appropriate. Maybe it's able to grow large enough to support their weight, or it's simply a LOT stronger for its size.
- Accepts magic readily - even spells or items normally disallowed.
- Has class levels (if your game has them)
- Calms situations down. Think of it as an animal that helps calm PTSD victims/ therapy assistant animal.
- Is able to think/ act on its own without commands
- Is extremely loyal. Can't be charmed into attacking its former masters.
- Is robustly healthy. Has more HP than normal
- Is able to become a token, but stays out as long as needed (think Drizzt's token Guenhwyvar from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting).
- Is easy to train, will either have 1d4 tricks known or can learn an additional 1d4 tricks above and beyond what's normal
- Is extremely resilient. In games that have saving throws, choose one and increase it.
- Is difficult to hit/ damage. This could be from an increased speed, or a thicker hide.