View Full Version : 4e-inspired animal handling for 3e-ish game

2012-07-01, 12:16 PM
So this is the main set of rules concerning animal handling. It's largely derived from 4e's Beastmaster Ranger ability, but with some tweaks that push it more towards 3e without getting as busted on the action economy.

I've had this written for close to two years, and I thought it might be time to re-examine the rules and get some general opinions. I'm also looking at copying some of this over into general-used Command tricks for controlling humanoid/etc minions, also without breaking the action economy (at least as badly as it's broken now..).

This was written before I began my major rewrites to the system, but I was already borrowing back some 4e-isms, like passive skill checks and passive-saves-as-defenses. Intimidate checks used for Handle Animal, while Wild Empathy is built-in for rangers, druids/shamans, and so on. I also started using Fortitude for stability. Then the new actions: Surge, a standard-action charge that moves single-speed and only grants a +1 to attack. Sidestep, move-action 5ft step (can be combined with other movement).

The control and usage of a combat-trained animal. This includes trained animals and beasts bonded by Rangers and members of the Master of Beasts prestige class.

Skill Tricks
All skill tricks are learned by you, not your animal. Some skill tricks have prerequisites which describe a feature of the animal, such as base attack bonus, a particular feat or special ability, or an ability score. You must current own (or be bonded to) an animal with that feature in order to learn that trick, and only an animal which possesses the requisite feature can use the trick, if you later change animals or gain the ability to command multiple animals. If your animal no longer meets the prerequisite, you can choose to retrain that trick, refunding those skill points to be spent however you choose. If the trick was gained as a bonus trick from Ranger levels, you must select a different skill trick for which you qualify.

All combat-trained creatures use the following basic states, which may be referenced in trick descriptions:
Guard: By default, any trained animal will be in their Guard state. While in this state, they will fight defensively, taking a -4 on all attack rolls and gaining a +2 dodge bonus to AC. They will make opportunity attacks when possible, taking the penalty to attack, but will not pursue that foe or use any special attack options they possess.
Attack: Any time you use any trick which specifies an attack against a specific foe on your turn, they will stop fighting defensively and move to attack that opponent, charging if possible. While in this state, they will make all possible opportunity attacks on their target, but ignore other enemies around them. They will use any available special attacks against that target, or if the ability targets multiple foes, center their focus on the target. If that target moves or flees, the animal will do its best to pursue and attack it until it drops.
Defend: When severely injured, (at 1/4 hit points or less), an animal will enter this state, taking a Total Defense action on its turn, refusing to attack any foes around it, and taking sidesteps to back away from combat. (If you and your animal are adjacent, the dodge bonus to AC from Total Defense increases by 2, to a total of +6. This also applies to you, if you are also in Total Defense.) To force it to break from this state, as part of your command attempt, you must make an Intimidate or Wild Empathy check against its passive Will score (10 + its Will save modifier). Failing this check means the animal retreats to what it feels is a safe position away from combat using its move action, while continuing to maintain Total Defense. If you intentionally command your animal to enter this state while above hit points, or it is healed above this amount by any effect, it will obey your commands normally.
Heel: While in cities, towns, and villages, you can order your animal to heel, ignoring the busy bustle of urban life. The animal will stay by your side, though it makes a passive Intimidate check against anyone around it, which may cause issues with townspeople. Any sudden flurry of action may set your animal off into its Guard or even Attack states; You must make an Intimidate or Wild Empathy check as a standard action against its passive Will score (10 + its Will save modifier) to calm it down again.
Command Tricks
The following four basic commands should be the first tricks you acquire, and can be gained as a set with the Handle Animal feat. Rangers gain this feat for free at 1st level.

Attack Command
Use: At-will
Activation: Standard action
You command your animal to attack a specified target. If not adjacent, your animal will move towards that target, surging or charging if possible, and continue to attack the target until you specify otherwise.

Defend Command
Use: At-will
Activation: Standard action (Free when combined with your Total Defense action)
You command your animal into its Defense state. It takes a Total Defense action. If you and your animal are adjacent, the dodge bonus to AC from Total Defense increases by 2, to a total of +6.

Move Command
Use: At-will
Activation: Move action (Free when combined with your Move as a move action)
Your animal moves to a specified position, going into its Guard state.

Opportunity Command
Use: At-will
Activation: Immediate interrupt
You command your animal to attack an enemy who has just provoked an opportunity attack. Your animal can use attack options if you so choose.

I'll look at copying up my further tricks, but I've got to doublecheck on how much they're just retreads of the 4e ranger's powers. I recall a few were built from that base, but massively rewritten to be useable for multiple-companion characters, as well as being retrofitted into the 3e-style skill points/feats system.

2012-07-01, 12:18 PM
Filtering out this list is harder than I thought. A few are 3e translations of 4e powers, while others are much more rewritten, and there's a couple I've written up from scratch. Because these are *tricks*, I had to strip out the ones that are basically "you make an attack, and so does your beast", if for no other reason than they would be really repetitive, but also because I'm thinking of putting together a martial discipline (or at least my own mechanical counterpart) based around interoperating with your animal companion. (Presently, that kind of discipline doesn't make sense, with 3e-style ACs getting their own full action suite.) I've also got to do more analysis of the other disciplines, and figure out some interesting tricks, since Bo9S maneuvers seem a bit more mechanically creative than most 4e powers.

Ambush Command
Prerequisite: Stealth 5 ranks
Use: Encounter
Activation: Move action, Immediate/Swift action
You command your animal to hide itself in some fashion under nearby cover within its move speed, such as within bushes or undergrowth, or in branches overhead. Make a Stealth check, using the better of yours and your animal's skill rank modifiers, applying any camouflage or circumstance bonuses your animal possesses, and use this as your animal's hiding check.

You can trigger your animal to surge and attack, as an Immediate action, the next unfamiliar creature (IE, not yourself or a member of your party) that passes within your animal's move speed that you can see. If the enemy failed to notice the animal with a Perception check against your animal's hiding check, they are flat-footed against the attack.

You can also cancel this state as a Swift action, returning the animal to your side at its best speed.

Beast Latch
Use: Encounter
Activation: Swift action
When you make a melee attack against a target threatened by your animal, you can command your animal to stick with it. If that target moves during its next turn, your animal can match its movement (up to the limit of your animal's move speed), moving to an adjacent position as a free action.

Bloodied Frenzy
Prerequisite: Animal BAB +4
Use: Daily
Activation: Immediate action
Trigger: When either you or your animal are reduced to below one-half hit points.
Your animal surges the enemy who dealt the damage. If your animal hits, it deals double damage, and the target is immobilized (Fortitude DC 13 + your animal's Strength modifier).

Defensive Posture
Prerequisite: Animal BAB +3
Use: Encounter
Activation: Immediate interrupt
You spot danger and shout a word of warning to your animal, causing it to react instinctively. When your animal is hit by an effect with a saving throw, add a +4 bonus to its saves against this effect.

Fetch Command
Use: Encounter
Activation: Standard action/Swift action
You command your animal to attack an armed enemy adjacent to it. If this attack hits and deals damage, the animal and enemy make opposed attack rolls, as a Disarm check, the enemy taking a -2 penalty on its check for every 5 points of damage dealt by your animal's attack. If your animal succeeds, it seizes the weapon and returns to your position at the start of your next turn, if it can travel this distance in a single round's movement, or else as far as it can.

You can also use this command as a Swift action to order your animal to sieze an unattended object, which it returns to you at the start of your next turn, if it can travel this distance in a single round's movement, or else as far as it can.

Pack Alertness
Use: Encounter
Activation: Free action
Whenever you would be able to make a Perception check to notice something, your animal is also able to make this check. If either of you succeeds, the other also succeeds.

If you have more than one animal under your control, only the one with the best Perception modifier is able to make the additional check.

Pack of Predators
Prerequisite: BAB +6
Use: Encounter
Activation: Swift action
If you and your animals are adjacent to a target, for every successful melee attack you make on the target until the end of your turn, your animals will also attack that target.
Not sure how this one falls out when combined with my base rule (more recently written) that iteratives act as re-rolls-on-missed-attacks rather than extras.. Might still work, but becomes more difficult. Maybe this one would be better as a maneuver that replicates a 3e full attack, or at least coordinate better with maneuvers that grant multiple attacks..

Pack Runner
Use: At-will
Activation: Move Action
You and all animals under your control that are adjacent to you or each other move together, at the fastest animal's speed, or your speed, whichever is lowest. At the end of this move, you and all animals must be adjacent to one another. Animals which would need to run to keep up with this pace count as doing so. All creatures provoke opportunity attacks as normal.

Savage Maneuverability
Prerequisite: Acrobatics 5 ranks
Use: Encounter
Activation: Standard action
Make a melee attack against an enemy. If this attack hits, deal damage and make an Acrobatics check to tumble against this enemy, but don't move. Instead, your animal moves up to half its speed (or more, according to the results of the check to tumble) without provoking an opportunity attack from your target, and makes a melee attack of its own against that target. Your animal still provokes opportunity attacks from other foes as normal.
This one might work better as a maneuver, but I like it.

Startling Strike
Use: Encounter
Activation: Swift action
Your animal makes an attack against an enemy in its reach. If your animal hits, that enemy is flat-footed against your next attack.

Track Command
Prerequisite: Animal's Scent special quality
Use: At will
Activation: Standard action
You command your animal to follow the trail of a given scent. You must present your animal with an example of this scent, such as an article of clothing or a handled object. Use the animal's Perception check, making checks as needed. See the Wilderness Tracking entry for more information.

If anyone has any suggestions for any additional tricks, or for possible future maneuvers, I'd be glad to hear them.

2012-07-01, 11:59 PM
There's about half the list from my private wiki. It's taking a while because I'm not just copying straight, I'm also tweaking mechanics to make a little more sense. I'm still pretty close to source on a couple of these. The others are mostly Martial Power II powers, or otherwise are a little too 'off' in terms of being an attack-centric ability.

Wrote up the Ambush Command, Fetch Command, and Pack Runner tricks from scratch while I was copying the others, but then they're a little less 4e-style, although still action-economy-driven.

2012-07-03, 11:32 PM
I just realized, I'm not using the control check as much as I wanted to. (handle animal, which in my skill system is folded into Intimidate, except for classes with Wild Empathy, which just use a flat Wild Empathy check for controlling animals.) I mention it a bit in the Heel state, but I had intended for it to be something used a little more often (although not to the extent of needing to roll it every round or anything..)

Maybe one for pushing the animal to fight ghastly/aberrant creatures.. They do make mention of that in the core rules..

Anyone got any suggestions? Some of it is just the basics, training an animal to do tasks, but there's room for having an animal being a mini-challenge unto itself.

2012-09-16, 01:16 PM
Just wanted to say thanks for sharing this. I'm running into a party member that is looking at training an animal and this gives me ideas for how to go through that process and definitely shows some abilities that the wolf might have if she is successful. Not very experienced as a DM yet so sorry I have no suggestions atm. Thanks again!

2012-09-17, 08:40 AM
I acknowledge that 3.5 didn't support some of it's Skills very well, so you had maybe a dozen that where required and quite a few more that where all but useless in day-to-day gameplay.

While this is a workable solution, I still like the idea of using skill checks to accomplish tasks within the game; fixing rather than replacing. I like the ideas that this presents: having a default set of behaviors for animal companions and then other actions for the player to use in battle. If/when I ever get around to writing out a fix for Handle Animal I'll certainly use this for inspiration.

2012-09-17, 02:23 PM
I've been (on the back burner) working on a magic system that involves teaching your magic (an incorporeal being that follows you about) a variety of tricks.

I'll be stealing some ideas from this.