Content of the article: "My players have a pet, what do I do now? A table of progression for earning a trusted relationship between a random creature your players befriended and the creature’s handler."
If you have chosen to give your players a pet or companion – an animal that cannot speak or understand a language – and want to give them something more interesting than just ‘roll animal handling’, this guide is for you. I’m developing & implementing a way for my players to get to develop more in depth relationships with their animals. They’ll have to train them during down time and invest time and resources into this relationship.
While there have been lots of great thoughts on adding a new proficiency (one method of which I link in this guide!) the purpose of this guide is to help you understand how to role play a new pet or companion, provide a realistic ladder of progression for the relationship (so you can understand what's reasonable to expect the animal to be able to do).
Role Playing the animal: Personality
Every animal I have ever met has a personality. It deepens your worldbuilding and immersion for your players if your pets and companions have character. When your players meet their new companion, be sure you have a personality for it. Leverage this d6 table to inspire with some animal personalities.
|1||Distrusting/Skittish||Doesn’t easily trust new people or new situations. Taming a skittish animal requires Proficiency in Animal Handling, and those interacting with the animal without it roll at disadvantage. Unbonded animal often chooses running away, ignoring the command (shutting down) and responds negatively to high energy situations. Bonded skittish animals are great at alerting – excellent early identifier of threats. Light sleeper.|
|2||Dominant||Wants to be the top animal. Unbonded animal may get jealous of handler spending time with other pets or animal companions, or pick a fight with handler. Will boss around, harass or even fight other animals of the same type or similar. Appropriate to the animal, may engage in competition with similar animals: ie, racing, starting a fight early/unprompted. Bonded animals are excellent front line fighters|
|3||Melancholy||Some animals are just grumpy, everything’s a chore. Unbonded melancholy animals have low motivation, and animal likely won’t be motivated in training until the handler finds the one specific thing that makes the animal happy (DM’s note: this could be a type of food, ie, honeycomb, ferrets instead of rats, etc) Once identified, animal is unreasonably motivated to achieve any task it’s trained to do. Bonded animals get motivation from their handler to complete tasks but may have inconsistent performance.|
|4||Excitable||Easily distracted, unfocused, chaotic energy. Unbonded animal will wander off if nothing is entertaining it, or it isn’t well trained enough to ‘stay’. High energy, does well with brute force tasks rather than complex tasks. Once bonded, animal loves permission to create chaos with handler, excellent brawler.|
|5||Social||Enjoys the company of others, be it the same species or otherwise. Unbonded animals will seem dumb, like they prefer to get pet instead of work or train. Would prefer to be with their handler more often than not – may be prone to separation anxiety. Once bonded, excellent reader of other’s emotions, a good fit for a therapy animal, or to help with diplomatic relations. Can be a very cute ham who is motivated by laughter.|
|6||Inquisitive||Excellent hunters and trackers, inquisitive animals seem to always be curious about ‘what comes next?’ Unbonded animals can get bored easily, and may escape locked cages or ties, only to stand right next to them and not be in their gear, or wander off and find a secret stash of something. Bonded highly intelligent, inquisitive animals are eager to help their handler find something by scent, or assist in finding a lost companion.|
Animal 'base relationship'
Every animal is at a different place in it’s relationship with humanoids. And, not all animals are trainable. If you have an animal you’re role playing – either at the end of a fight or a random encounter, consider it’s mindset with regard to training and humanoids.
If you aren't sure how 'tame' this animal is, you can roll on this d4 table to understand the mindset of the animal:
|1||Wild||Animal sees your presence as a threat. Animal has either been abused by humanoids, or is untameable. An excellent roleplaying moment could move a animal from ‘wild’ to ‘untamed’, at DM’s discretion, such as leaving a kill out for the animal and watching from afar. Would require in game weeks to get this animal to be curious about working with player's character.|
|2||Untamed||Animal is not threatened by your presence, skittish at big movements and loud noises, is not interested in working with you, will accept food or begrudgingly use a shelter, exhibit snarls/pinned ears when handler gets too close – needs enough space to feel safe.|
|3||Unhandled||Animal understands you are not an immediate threat, good things can come from working with you, but does not yet trust you. An approach probably means food, but animal is uncomfortable or confused being pet or handled.|
|4||Tame||Animal accepts handling (leashed movement from one location to another) from trainer without requiring animal handling roll, may seek out handler companionship, requires animal handling roll from people who are not handlers|
A note on baby/hatched animals
I would start all baby animals at either “Unhandled” or “Tame” – though, most folks who’ve had puppies would tell you it’s definitely unhandled due to the amount of puppy bites you get!
Creating the first successful interaction with an animal
Animals are territorial, each species has their own social hierarchies they follow, and each perceive different types of behaviors as threatening or non threatening. Your players – or you as the DM! – may not have a very high IRL Nature or Survival skill, but there's a few ways I would approach this if you wanted to have a player attempt to create a positive first interaction with an animal.
The player will need to roll animal handling roll to create a relationship with the animal the first time they interact with it. The DC table is below. If it's an animal they have been attacking, the roll is at disadvantage. If the animal has no escape route, the roll is at disadvantage. If the player has food the animal eats, they can roll with advantage, or negate disadvantage and roll flat. If the character is 'good with animals' and wants to give themselves advantage AND the player is proficient in Nature or Survival, they can roll a Nature or Survival check, DC 20, to give the character an understanding of the specific animal's response to stress and an idea of how to help the animal see them as non-threatening.
|Tame-ness||DC for a successful first interaction||Successful interaction||Unsuccessful interaction|
|Wild||25||Animal doesn't run away, observes character||Animal growls/hisses/spits, runs off, or attacks if cornered|
|Untamed||20||Animal moves towards food on the ground, not in character's hand||Animal looks unsure of offering, runs off and moves away|
|Unhandled||15||Animal takes food from character's hand, may get a leash /halter around it's head/neck||Character gets bit/scratched (roll damage), animal moves away|
|Tame||10||Animal willingly follows player around with little or no motivation needed||Animal ignores attempts, perhaps defecates & walks away|
Building on your Bond, and Training
Once your character has had a successful first interaction with an animal, they can begin to work on their relationship.
Working with animals is rewarding but challenging. They are basically people. They will have days when they just seem to be doing everything to make you crazy. Other days, they’ll learn 3 new things in one day! Here, I propose what each “phase” of training looks like, and what your players will be ‘working on’.
Mechanically, I would consider this like learning a new proficiency. I really like the system that /u/varansl has published and you can find the GM Binder here! I propose the following modifications to this method for bonding with animals:
- I would leverage specifically the animal handling bonus divided in half for the "ability modifier" to affect your 'Starting Die Size'. This rewards players who have animal handling proficiency. I have also ruled that my players can work on animal handling proficiency while training their animal, as that's very possible.
- Training an animal can happen for no longer than 1 hour a day, unless your animal is Inquisitive, and then the time can be doubled and you can accept a 1 or 2 on a die result as a success to move forward.
- I propose the below amount of 'training successes' necessary to move an animal forward
|Bond Level||Animal Tameness||Training the Handler can work on||Animal Willingness||Required Training Successes to advance|
|Hostile||Wild||Begin building a non-threatening relationship – establish boundaries||Working against you||3|
|Unfriendly||Untamed||Build foundational trust – establish fairness, demonstrate the relationship||Not working with you, avoiding and ignoring you||2|
|Curious||Unhandled||Build acceptance of working together – offer incentives (treats, pets) for doing behaviors you like||When offered an incentive, animal will move towards the incentive||1|
|Interested||Tame||Start training basic commands with incentives||Willing to do something to get incentive||1|
|In Training||In Training||Start training Intermediate commands with incentives||Willing to establish patterns for incentive||2|
|Obedient||Trained||Give animal more freedom and ask to create a deeper bond, include incentives but move beyond treats||Willing to try new things for incentive and for relationship with handler||3|
|Partners||Domesticated||Try new things, test the limits of training, work in competition||Willing to try a new thing incentivized by handler's direction||4|
|Best Friends||People-Like||No further mastery, animal is under player's Role Play & operates independently on it's turn||Always willing to try new things, DM's discretion for incredible feats of bravery|
I feel the above system acknowledges that if you have put in the effort to get a leash on an animal, it's not that much more work to train something like 'sit' – however, as you move up the ladder again, it's so much harder to train advanced techniques.
Training at each Bond level
Here's what an animal can do at each level of training:
|Bond Level||Animal Tameness||Training known|
|Interested||Tame||Animal accepts handling (leashed movement from one location to another) from trainer without requiring animal handling roll, may seek out handler companionship, requires animal handling roll from people who are not handlers|
|In Training||In Training||Animal knows basic commands such as come, stand still (under supervision), fetch, sit, or can be ridden|
|Obedient||Trained||Animal knows how to attack, heel (will have to roll against distractions), tow/carry loads, do a trick, and search/find using it's senses|
|Partners||Domesticated||Animal is very attached to the handler, can use the help action in combat, can leave the handler & come back with help, can be sent back to a specific known location and called back using a signal, can gain a proficiency. No longer has to roll against distractions|
|Best Friends||People-Like||Animal gains +2 ability score increase in one trait, operates as a sentient friend to handler, able to handle complex maneuvers and be sent on journeys alone.|
Rewarding your players and their relationship
If your players put the dozens of hours in game into working on their relationship with their animal, I love to reward that gameplay. It’s also fun to reward the type of animal companion they have, and here are some suggestions:
|Animal temperament||Obedient||Partners||Best Friends ASI|
|Distrusting/Skittish||Adv on Perception checks||Alert Feat||DEX|
|Dominant||Adv on Initiative rolls||Level 1 fighter||CHA|
|Melancholy||Adv against Charm||Durable Feat||CON|
|Excitable||Adv on Intimidation||Crusher Feat (TCoE)||STR|
|Social||Adv on Persuasion Checks||Telepathy||WIS|
|Inquisitive||Adv on Investigation/Survival||Lucky Feat||INT|
Isn't this OP?
I have no idea! When your players really want to have a pet drake that stands watch at night, you'll have to get that drake up to "Domesticated" to ensure that it doesn't wander off at night. If your players spend in-game time working on a relationship to become best friends with their animal companion that they take into battle, they will NOT want it to die, and BBEGs know there's more to winning than killing people – a crushed spirit can be more effective than a crushed enemy!
I think this adds richness to the game that can also help you drop plot hooks, introduce new NPCs, or find other ways to engage your players.
Can I get this better formatted?
I have made one giant spreadsheet that includes all this information here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1oNUZib_LB28UTkjgbkowKiBDmo6hSGdsZbxH54XJSzo/edit?usp=sharing
Inspiration A list of the resources I leveraged to come up with this system, whether as inspiration, or a direct reference :
A list of 'tricks' your animal companion can learn, and a completely different system for training:
Helpful for clarifying types of tricks
Pokemon Go's "Buddy System"
gave me the 4 levels of 'bond' and 'best friends'
How to Train Your Dragon
Figure that toothless spent the first movie becoming 'trained', starting from "Wild", second movie becoming 'Domesticated' and third movie he's a 'best friend'
- Any other DMs kinda hate PC animal companions?
- Hero points and Proficiency dice, do they make the game funner.
- How to Tame a Pet Post Patch 22!
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