Animal Companions: Training Mechanics

Back in August, I wrote a post about incorporating Animal Companions (AnC) into your D&D party. I enjoyed the topic so much, I wanted to explore it further!

In our Heroes of Iyastera campaigns, each party has its own AnCs, whether through class-granted bonds (Ranger and Wizard), or through backstory. In an effort to elevate these furred/feathered/scaled heroes to a status higher than just a scene prop, I began formulating more ideas about how they may be able to interact with the party and even level up alongside them.

I explored this topic in more detail during one of my last Chill Creation streams on Twitch— with a Scribbler-created Morgan the Cheetah– and ended up with a basic framework for a leveled Training System. Check it out and let me know what you think!

The AnC Training System is a graduated progression which allows the adoption of increasingly complex skills, each of which requires a time committment for Focused Training and improving the bond between PC and AnC.

The pre-requisite for beginning to train an AnC is the formation of a Bond. Similar to the concept of Attunement, a Bond requires a PC to spend time gaining the AnC’s trust. Unlike Attunement, however, an AnC can Bond to more than one PC, depending on its nature. For Cheetahs, they will often travel in groups of 2 or 3 (A “Coalition of Cheetahs”), therefore Morgan can bond with up to 3 PCs.

Anyone who is Bonded to an AnC can train them, however Morgan could be at a different training stage with each PC, unless they train him together. For example, the party Ranger might spend quite a lot of time with Morgan as they hunt and train together– they might be at the Intermediate Stage. If the Wizard only spends a little bit of time training Morgan, they may only be at the Basic Stage.

Focused Training is more than just passively spending time together. Think about the enchanted tome-type of magical items, which require a specified amount of reading time to gain the effects. It’s the same with your AnC– you must spend a specified number of hours across each day to adequately teach a new skill or task.

The AnC’s natural Training Level, or how quickly it can learn new tasks, is dependent on its Intelligence Score. As the average Intelligence for most normal Animals is about a 3, we can use this as the baseline. Therefore, your AnC gains a Training Level for each INT point higher than 3. For each Training Level, the AnC can learn tasks 10% faster and gain more HP after graduating to each new Training Stage. For example, Morgan has a Training Level of 2, so he learns 20% faster and gains 1d8+2 at each stage.

For a baseline Training Level of 0 (3 INT), these are the standard hourly requirements for teaching new commands and abilities at each stage:

Basic: 8 hours per task

This stage includes simple commands such as Sit, Stay, Come, Retrieve, Carry, etc. Think about the types of things you would teach a new puppy! Your AnC must learn 5 Basic commands before progressing to Intermediate.

Intermediate: 28 hours per task

The Intermediate stage is characterized by more more complex tasks that build upon the Basic commands. For example, you could teach Morgan how to keep watch, or scout ahead, which could be broken down into the simpler tasks of Stay, Come, or Retrieve. This stage also can include improvements to the AnC’s inherent abilities (in this case, Heightened Senses and Camoflauge). You AnC must learn 10 Intermediate Commands before progressing to Advanced.

Advanced: 120 hours per task

The Advanced stage builds upon the previously learned skills and will improve upon the AnC’s natural ability by gaining new proficiencies and improving base Ability Scores. This is also the stage in which the AnC can operate more independently of the PCs. Morgan can stay at the camp to keep watch for a longer period of time, or scout ahead over the course of a few hours and then return. Your AnC must learn 4 Advanced commands before progressing to the Master level.

Master: 800 hours of Focused Training

To reach the Master stage, your AnC must have worked up through each of the previous stages, for a total of 800 hours of Focused Training. At this stage, you will have formed an Unbroken Bond, which connects you to your AnC intellectually and emotionally (see the AnC page above for a breakdown).

There you have it– the initial draft for Scriv’s Animal Companion Training System! I will begin implementing this in the Heroes of Iyastera campaigns and continue to refine the stages. Please feel free to try this out in your own games and share your thoughts below!

2 thoughts on “Animal Companions: Training Mechanics

  1. I never even thought of having multiple party members bond to a single companion; so obvious now that you’ve said it, yet I’ve never seen it discussed elsewhere. Using a Bond mechanic makes so much sense for that.

    I am running a campaign of mixed kids (9 y/o) and parents, and at 7 players combat is already unwieldy, so the idea of throwing animals and more into the mix is not appealing. The one-companion-of-everyone idea is genius.

    I plan to first implement a “taming” phase before the animal can even get to training (does the animal run away?). I think both taking and training need to take into account magic such as Animal Friendship and Speak with Animals. Just because a creature won’t attack you, or CAN talk with you, doesn’t mean its animal instincts or motivations have changed, or that it has much to say.

    As for your system, I might suggest turning that sheet into a mini game. Create clearer boxes to mark progression, and even consequences for failure. Players can move an animal token to show progress. At least, that’s what I’m planning to do.

    • I’m so happy you like the idea! Please feel free to give it a shot and share your feedback here– it’s very much a work in progress. I agree that you need to have a “taming phase” first…we started using this during a game over the weekend and started with exactly that!

      I do like the idea of making the progression more interactive. I printed it out as a chart for the players this weekend (similar to the bottom of the Cheetah page), but I think it can be smoother.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

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