Have you ever played a tabletop RPG that effectively represented people developing useful relationships with animals (dogs, horses, etc.)? It’s such a huge part of human history but seems strangely ignored in the TTRPG space. As you once pointed out, Animal Handling or equivalents are often nearly useless skills. And owning a horse or a dog just isn’t a really mechanically big deal in most systems. It seems like it should be, realistically.
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I’m afraid I haven’t encountered any RPGs with what I would consider good rules for animals. I think it’s just not something most game designers think about, since animals are usually behind the scenes, not in the thick of it where the adventure is. An obvious exception would be horses, which humans ride into battle, but at that point most designers don’t want to deal with the complexities of realistic mounted combat, so horses are usually just flavor. A few things I have seen…
- Chronicles of Darkness (formerly the New World of Darkness) has ridiculously powerful rules for training dogs. Using the Animal Ken skill, a PC can quickly have a pack of dogs at their command. In that system, Dogs roll more attack dice than many characters, and they’re really tough. This isn’t a particularly realistic dynamic, but it is amusing when PCs show up to fight with their Battle Pack.
- Anima Prime has really good rules for summoned creatures, and you could probably adapt those to represent a loyal animal companion.
- Mouse Guard has fairly decent rules for the way mice interact with other animals, but at that scale it’s more like interacting with monsters.
- I haven’t read the rules yet, but the oddly named Dragons Conquer America by Burning Games is going to have rules for dragon riders, so that might be useful.
Other than that, the only rules I’ve seen for animals are D&D-style magical mounts and summoned monsters. I agree it would be nice to see more rules for animals in RPGs. Maybe that’s something the next generation of game designers will work on.