Seeking GM Advice - Animal Companions


Advice

Liberty's Edge

I'm looking for advice on how my fellow GMs handle PCs with animal companions.

I find it's a tricky row to hoe in enforcing/interpreting the RAW on how animal companions function vs. a player's assumptions. More often than not animal companions are treated as extensions of the controlling PC, acting with pinpoint precision and always following orders perfectly despite having minimal intelligence and being distinct beings. Rather than being a companion they become effectively a second PC under the player's complete control.

I'm disallowing stuff like the ordering the PC moving into position, readying and action, ordering the companion to flank, and then both of them attacking with because that sort of complex maneuvering is clearly outside the parameters of the RAW, but where does the line get drawn?

An example that came up in my last session. The PCs were faced with an otyugh. It was in a small room connected to a larger one by a narrow corridor in which there were two PCs and no room to pass by them. The PC with a animal companion ordered it to attack the otyugh. In order to do so it would need to go down the corridor, risk taking an AoA, and then have to make and acrobatics check to move through the otyugh to get to the other side of it. I ruled it was too difficult for the animal companion to do, the player argued it's the only way for the companion to fulfill the order to attack and so should do so.

I don't want to completely gut the efficacy of the animal companion but at the same time I don't want to simply hand wave it away and effectively give the player two PCs. This situation will be exacerbated when the PC is allowed to increase the companion's INT to 3, at which point it can understand language and spoken commands.

All advice is welcome.

Grand Lodge

Based on what you wrote I'm not sure you're going to like my opinion, but maybe it will be helpful.

For most pet classes Handle Animal is a free action. Handling an animal using a trick is clearly speech, a whistle or some form of gesture which seems like it can be used not on your turn.

Remember that tricks often include complicated multistep processes things like serve, seek, subdue, watch, rescue, get help, maneuver, guide, detect demolish, Build Simple Structure and Bombard are often as complicated as go and attack.

It is possible without being directed to a specific target the animal may just attack the first creature it sees but that would be the risk of saying attack and sending it down a hallway.

These should serve as a guideline for what can be done with a single command.

Perform (DC 15) covers sit, stay, go other basic dog tricks.

These actually allow animal companions to do a lot. Flank, Down, Attack or simply flank then attack on a given command seem perfectly fine to me.

If you find them disruptive use the PFS rules of one companion per character, limited item slots and no languages ever.

Here is where BNW collected a bunch of animal companion ruling that may work for your game.

https://paizo.com/threads/rzs2ql8b?Druids-Log-Animal-companions


Considering how much power is put into an animal companion from a class and how overall fragile it is, there shouldn't be any restriction on them outside "go walk off a cliff to die" sort of stuff.

Flanking a foe is one of the main combat uses for an AC. Most classes can pick up Pack Hunter too to not even need to get in a normal flanking position to flank a foe.

If an animal companion knows Flank trick (different from Attack Trick), there is no reason why the AC and PC wouldn't wait for each other. They act on the same initiative.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

INT of 3 lets the animal companion take any feat desired, but it doesn't change the rules for animal handling (and it understanding a language is quite debatable.)

I think you need to identify what you think is 'wrong' with the player assumptions on how it works.

Is it that you think it is unbalanced and will overshadow other characters?
Is it that you think it is unbalanced and will make encounter design more difficult for you?
Is it that you think it is unrealistic and offends your sense of how things should work?
Is it that you think it is a violation of the strict interpretation of the rules and you believe that following the rules is important?

Each of these different motivations for you would present different 'best ways' of resolving the situation in a way that will work out for you and be fun for your players.

That being said, my go to if I think a command would be harder to convey than normal, for example 'force your way past the enemy to engage from the far side' would be to increase the DC. In this case, it would probably be +5 to the handle animal check DC. It would be fair to talk about this with your players first and try and give them some guidance as well as listen to feedback on what some different DCs would be.


I handle it quite simply:

DM: You have an animal companion. It has an intelligence of 2 (or 3). It either as intelligent as a well trained dog, or a (smart) toddler. Do not expect it to be capable of tactical maneuvers unless it has specialized feats or training (tricks). Otherwise, you are free to control the companion. If you have a question about if it will be able to do X, ask me and I will let you know. If I determine that what you are asking it to do is more complex than a toddler can follow (even a smart one), I will determine if it can comply, using a dice roll to see how well it does (or does not).

Player: Got it.

And that is about all I have to do. As for your example, as long as the animal companion had the attack trick (twice, as this is not a 'normal' creature they are trained to fight) and ranks in acrobatics, I'd have allowed the companion to attempt the maneuver (also, assuming it had a 'flank' or similar trick know). Otherwise, I'd roll my dice and determine what will happened based on what the companion is missing.

Dark Archive

There are specific tricks you can teach an animal companion to do this. Keep in mind the animal needs to have the attack trick twice to attack aberrations and undead.

The flank trick should work
Flank (DC 20): You can instruct an animal to attack a foe you point to and to always attempt to be adjacent to (and threatening) that foe. If you or an ally is also threatening the foe, the animal attempts to flank the foe, if possible. While animals following the attack trick will flank when convenient, this trick instructs them to flank even if doing so denies it a full attack or puts the animal companion at an inconvenience or at risk, such as from attacks of opportunity, dangerous positioning, or difficult terrain. The animal must know the attack trick before it can learn this trick, and it performs it only against foes it would normally attack. Source: PZO1140


Depending on the animal, some will flank naturally. For examples wolf packs will have a wolf attacking the front while another goes around and grabs the ankle from behind. It's not unreasonable for a wolf or similar animal companion to do the same with a druid/ranger.

According to RAW the druid/ranger has to role a handle animal check and the AC has to have the trick. If the animal has the flank trick, then it can flank on an order pending the skill check. Since AC's don't have great intelligence, it shouldn't be making intelligent battlefield decisions such as advantageous tactical positioning outside of what its master directs.


Ultimate campaign has a lot to say about this.
http://legacy.aonprd.com/ultimateCampaign/campaignSystems/companions.html


Yeah dude... you’re trying to nerf a massive class mechanic that specifically covers things like this via tricks for what? What you’re talking about is not allowing to have combat trained animal companions when the rules literally cover this. If you think it’s too powerful adjust your encounter CR.

Silver Crusade

Having used and run many games with animal companions. Here is how I run animal companions in my game.

1: They are NPC that the PC control most of the time. Think of them as a sort of cohort. At any time you feel the animal would act different then what the player dose you can change it and still be with in the rules. As long as it's not doing a trick it knows and the handle animal check is made.

2: Animal companions can only do what they are trained to do. The DC is 10 if they are not injured or 12 if they are injured. The DC to get them to do a trick they don't know is 25, or 27. Read and understand what the tricks are. This will solve most of your problems.

3: Animals that are trained to attack. Don't ever go around they target they are commanded to attack. They do not flank any more as they have been trained to suppress there normal actions in order to act as they are trained to. They will attack the opponent they are sent after with no regards for AoO. They also can't be commanded to flank with out some one in place to flank with. They do not posses the reasoning need to do so.

4: Animal companions can't benefit from language dependent effects. There are more of them then most people think. As a general rule unless it's a spell most class ability's will not affect the animal companions.

Dark Archive

calagnar wrote:


4: Animal companions can't benefit from language dependent effects. There are more of them then most people think. As a general rule unless it's a spell most class ability's will not affect the animal companions.

unless you give it a 3 int


Name Violation wrote:
calagnar wrote:


4: Animal companions can't benefit from language dependent effects. There are more of them then most people think. As a general rule unless it's a spell most class ability's will not affect the animal companions.

unless you give it a 3 int

That also applies to the flanking thing as well.


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I really feel passionately about this subject: Players should not directly control their animals.

Watch game of thrones. Look how hard it is for Jon Snow to control Ghost the Dire Wolf. The guy is rolling handle animal checks all the time and teaching his animal"tricks" like stay, attack, etc. There's a Certain realism to this approach that makes things a little more complex and tactical: Teaching tricks and handling checks is a sort of minigame that makes one animal trainer different from another. The player controlled method practically makes handle animal a useless skill and dumbs down the game IMHO.


There’s a bit of a difference between being an animal handler and having a true companion creature though. Jon Snow reminds me of that cheesy tactic, where you use the rich parents trait to start with combat trained tigers.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder has its own unique mythology for animals that can accompany adventures. There are enough archetypes (class and animal companions) that makes it clear that special animals in this fiction are capable of doing amazing things.

This is also a game in which animal companions can cast spells, act as bodyguards, specialize in breaking objects, be half or full robot, gain sentience, be fully awakened, be turned into a dragon.

Not to mention what with Evolve companion you can have a long neck horse, a Chimp that is far better than any human at nearly any skill of the players choice, or a camel with wings.

They can also be so blessed that they can smite evil, be part dragon, be so precocious as the be wiser and more charming than half the group, grant fey themed spell.

Bonded precocious mounts can have an int of 8 which can be ten or more playing a human or halfling.


Here's a question: are you worried about the power of the animal companion or are you just thematically disliking it doing stuff you think is too advanced?

Personally, I was concerned with the power of the companion but took a different approach. I let players control it unless it was going to do something I thought was outlandish for an animal and didn't even enforce tricks -- but I did tone down the power a bit and make it scale more smoothly in growth.

Silver Crusade

Grandlounge wrote:

Pathfinder has its own unique mythology for animals that can accompany adventures. There are enough archetypes (class and animal companions) that makes it clear that special animals in this fiction are capable of doing amazing things.

.

Just a note. Well trained animals IN REALITY are capable of doing amazing things. In many cases, far more than Animal Companions can do in game.

For those who think players are getting away with too much I urge you to actually look at what well trained horses, dogs, etc can actually do IN REAL LIFE. It will open your eyes.

Of course, in real life different animals have very different capabilities. Training enhances what the animal naturally does. That is a very hard thing for the rules to correctly mirror.

Grand Lodge

Paul makes a very good point.


in your specific case, there's rules to handle this, honestly. Does the animal have the flank trick? then its a trivial DC (and a free action to have them flank). Would you consider it another trick to have them tumble through an enemies square? then have the handler roll a handle animal check for that. that's really the only part that is even a question

beyond that, you do seem somewhat punitive, but only if the player hasnt actually selected tricks or anything


Casual aside: all players with animals must realize, at some point, that having them risk AoOs in order to get into position to generate relatively modest flanking bonuses to attack for their owners is not worth it unless said animal is incredibly resilient, and/or part of a mount/rider combo with shared teamwork feats.

Grand Lodge

Right there is trample, meancing which buffs all flanking, large size means flanking with 2 PCs. Shield companion for non-melee animal users virtually doubles there HP making them highly effective damage sinks. Scaling bonuses to natural armor and dex keep most of there armor competitive. Spell share allows buff like mirror image, shield of darkness, shield, etc. Displacement can be cast on them by any caster with the spell.

Dark Archive

I always thought that animal companion tricks were a bit lame. Just let the PC control it.

Silver Crusade

Slim Jim wrote:
Casual aside: all players with animals must realize, at some point, that having them risk AoOs in order to get into position to generate relatively modest flanking bonuses to attack for their owners is not worth it unless said animal is incredibly resilient, and/or part of a mount/rider combo with shared teamwork feats.

Assuming that you're not allowed to have the animals move so as to avoid attacks of opportunity, of course.

For every player that I've seen try to have their animal (directed by the character) move so as to avoid attacks of opportunity I've seen GMs have the NPC animals move so as to avoid attacks of opportunity, flank, etc.

And the GM controlled animals aren't directed by somebody. Heck, they're often vermin without even animal level intelligence.

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