Q&A

Are There Any RPGs With Good Rules for Animals?

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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.

Thanks for reading!

-Josh

Hey Josh,

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.

-Oren

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Comments

  1. warpstar

    There is an RPG I backed recently on kickstarter called Familiars of Terra. In it each player character has an animal companion. The game is inspired by The Golden Compass, Wild Magic, and Digimon. However I have not received my copy yet so I can’t say for sure how much it goes into detail about useful animal relationships. I just really like Digimon

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who want a daemon, and those who are liar. So that sounds pretty neat!

  2. JackbeThimble

    I’m about to start a campaign of A Song of Ice and Fire RPG which seems like an example of a game that at least tries to take animals seriously. For one thing Animal Handling is an important skill (of 4 PCs, 3 have at least one extra point in it at character creation) and the description of the Animal Handling skill includes the paragraph:

    ‘Expertise in handling animals is a valuable talent, one that finds the best trained employed by noble houses great and small. The reason is simple: humanity relies on beasts to survive. A trained dog is more than just a companion; it’s a servant, a fellow warrior, and even a savior. Thus, from kennelmasters to horse trainers, those trained in Animal Handling are among some of the most valued folk in the Seven Kingdoms.’

  3. Adam

    Nobody thinks D&D 5th edition doesn’t do a good job with animals? I think animals can be pretty useful in D&D — especially horses and dogs.

    With Animal Handling a Wisdom based skill now (it used to be Charisma in previous editions), the Ranger especially can shine with it (a good Ranger player usually has a high Wisdom stat). Rangers can command their animal companion as a bonus action to attack their enemies and still fire off a volley of arrows themselves.

    5th edition D&D rules are left purposefully vague to give the DM more control over their game, so a good DM could expand on that Animal Handling skill to allow non-Rangers to train hunting dogs, hawks, and horses, of course.

    Horses are amazing in 5th edition! You can use your horse’s movement instead of your own, close with your enemy, chop them up with your own melee attacks, and then the horse, using its own action, can disengage from the melee so your enemy has to (usually) double-move to make it back into melee with you, using up their action so they can’t attack you. You can hit them and disengage. With enough battlefield space, you’re pretty much untouchable on a horse.

    Let’s say you have a chariot, which I know changed the rules of warfare in history. You would be just as untouchable as on a horse, except on a chariot you could have your buddy riding with you, popping off arrows, too!

    I think it all comes down to your DM. If you’re creative with your DM, and you communicate your intentions with your DM (see “Why Player Consent and Collaboration Are Vital”), then you’ll have a great time with your Animal Handling skill! But if your DM sucks, then, yeah, your skill will largely be wasted.

  4. Rickard Elimää

    I prefer games that handles animals as an extension of the character, just like any other tool, where some skills are the animal’s skills on the character sheet.

    That said, I thought about how I would like to build animals rules, and I wanted the rules to create an attachment to the animal, and only one game did that for me – Star Wars d6 and the ship rules, where you spent credits and experience to upgrade the ship, and therefor build a mechanical attachment to the ship. Animal handling could work in the same way.

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