Thursday, 4 August 2011

But the Dogs, Well They're Only Dogs

Having just read this piece, in which a modern-day war-dog (a Belgian Malinois) plays a starring role, I got to thinking about dogs in RPGs. As any old schooler knows, dogs are indispensable to an adventurer - especially to magic-users. They give muscle, an extra set of eyes, an extra nose, and, if push comes to shove, meat. Forget hirelings. No 1st level character should ever leave home without a dog or three.

They're also historically accurate. Real-world D and D parties - for instance, bandeirantes and conquistadors - were constantly surrounded by dogs and pigs wherever they went. Dogs were used for hunting and fighting (the conquistadors used armoured mastiffs specially trained to disembowel their semi-naked native American adversaries), and pigs were slaughtered for food (it is believed that escapee pigs were one of the major disease spreaders in native populaces). It would be extremely unusual for a group of roguish adventurers in a fantasy world to venture out into the wilds without a pack of hounds.

I've always been fond of the AD&D 2nd Edition DMG's 'Horse Personality' table, which allowed you to randomly determine a set of traits for any given horse (from being a good jumper to being a notorious biter). So without further ado, here's the equivalent for a conquistador's best friend:

Dog Personality Table

A dog will have d2 traits, randomly determined from the following table (roll 1d12); if the dog is expensive (+10% cost), add +1 to the roll, and if it is particularly expensive (+25% cost), add +2 to the roll; corresponding negative penalties should be applied to the roll for cheap and particularly cheap dogs respectively.

-2: The dog is extremely bad tempered. It will attack anybody except for the owner who approaches within 5 feet.
-1: The dog has only three legs. It moves at half rate.
0: The dog is very bad tempered. There is a 25% chance it will attack anybody except for the owner who approaches within 5 feet.
1: The dog is a coward. Before a fight it has to check morale (10) or it will cower behind its owner.
2: The dog is stupid. It cannot be trained to do anything, though it will attack enemies of its owner and is generally docile otherwise.
3: The dog has an unfortunate body odour that doesn't seem to go away. The stench can be detected within 15 yards.
4: The dog is easily distracted. It will try to chase anything fast-moving that it sees.
5: The dog is a nipper. Anybody except the owner who tries to touch it will be bitten (roll for attack as normal; damage is 1 hp).
6: The dog has a strange taste for a certain type of food (player's choice). It will try, remorselessly, to eat this food if it ever comes across it.
7: The dog is greedy. It will eat uncontrollably at any chance it gets, and if it kills an opponent will stop to feed rather than continue the fight.
8: The dog is very intelligent. It can pick up new tricks very easily (+3 bonus to Animal Training proficiency checks).
9: The dog is very tough (maximum hit points).
10: The dog is very fast (+2 to initiative rolls).
11: The dog seems to be a very good judge of character (will growl at any evil human it comes across).
12: The dog is extremely brave and loyal (always passes morale checks).
13: The dog has animal perception (can see invisible things on a 25% chance).
14: The dog is immensely powerful (+4 damage)


  1. A one legged dog? :) I'll bet they call him Stumpy.

  2. Very nice. My primary problem with dogs, though, has been that they just don't scale well. When you start going up against basilisks and beholders, the dogs just can't keep up. I've never quite come up with a good solution for that.

    Incidentally, did you know that animals in RPGs was this month's RPG Blog Carnival topic? Happy coincidence.

  3. mthomas768: Ha! Obviously that was a typo and I meant it only has three legs... Let me fix that!

    Marshall Smith: I agree, but they're good for levels 1-4, and still useful at higher levels for non-combat related things.

  4. In an old Warhammer FRP game I ran, one of my players was a Troll Slayer who kept these two mean, ornery dogs as his "boys." They even had orange mohawks. Any time one died, he'd spend some of his gold on a tattoo immortalizing the dog. It was awesome.

    In real life, I loved going on missions with dog teams. Seeing them in action was glorious to behold. Also, one of the times I went to the Vietnam Memorial in D.C., there was an ad hoc memorial in the corner to Military Working Dogs. One of the most touching memorials I've ever seen.

    My players don't ever seem to grasp the awesome potential of a dog ally, even when I explain it to them. Dogs in the Dungeon and this blog both go a long way to enhancing the playability of a canine companion, and I hope to either use it myself one day or finally get my players to do the same.

  5. Great post! As a new dog owner, I very much appreciate the personality table. It's so easy to treat animal companions (horses, dogs, and so on) as just another tool in the PC's kit rather than an NPC companion.

    Marshall Smith: Dogs don't scale well against mighty foes? Clearly you're not thinking creatively enough. ;)

  6. Dog's scale up fine. Then again I let dogs be character's and gain levels.

    A level 4 Doberman Paladin is pretty good against foes. Especially as its bark can now turn undead.

  7. Dogs are overrated. Dogs aren't very good at climbing ropes or ladders, if one bites a green-slime you end up with more green-slime, they don't pay much attention to runes and glyphs and most importantly many dogs are smart enough to run away when they smell dragon. ;-)

    Good table actually.

  8. As a professional dog walker and trainer, as well as a life time fan of our amazing canine companions, I will give you some notes about dogs that are not so well known...

    Don't scale against large foes? Don't tell that to the Rhodesian Ridgeback, also known as the African Lion Hound as they were used to hunt lions. You read that right. Hunt. Lions.

    The Phu Quoc Ridgeback was commonly used to tracking and protecting horses. A very useful skill for a party of adventurers on the go.

    The Catahoula Leopard Dog (which is a breed I know quite a bit about as I have one) is a 'paw dog', known for using their paws in almost 'hand like' ways (not unlike a Boxer). My girl holds her toys and bones and can fish objects she loses behind the bed with her paws.

    The Catahoula Leopard Dog (aka The Louisianna Leopard Dog or Catahoula Cur) is one of the only dog breeds equally adept at both hunting and herding. Normally you wouldn't want one dog doing both (less they make a mistake and eat the flock). Originally used to capture and herd wild pigs.

  9. Dogs are awesome! And that's a great list!

    @Zzarchov dogs with levels... I'd be ok with that!

    @Barking Alien - I'd never heard of a Catahoula Leopard Dog before... I usually prefer herding dogs myself, but a hunting/herding dog? Very cool!

  10. Higgipedia: Thanks for letting me know about Dogs in the Dungeon. Hadn't heard of that article.

    sirlarkins: I like the idea of an NPC 'dog' class. I might start working on that...

    JDJarvis: Yeah, the ladder/rope thing is a problem. In those situations you have to tie the dog to your back and carry it. Not something they enjoy.

    Zzarkhov: You should write that up on your blog.

    Barking Alien: A family friend used to own a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Beautiful dogs.

  11. Shouldn't all dogs be able to detect invisible enemies to some degree? In fact, in any milieu where magic is common you'd expect a bloodhound to be the go-to defence against invisible infiltrators.

  12. John: Yes, perhaps so, if only by sense of smell... I like the idea of a type of hound which can percieve ethereal things like poltergeists and other spirits.

  13. My partner edited a couple of books by Australian Vietnam veterans, called Trackers (and something else) about the dogs used in the Vietnam war. If you're interested in stories about dogs in war I strongly recommend them.

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