Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Animal Training for Non-Rangers

Animal Companions are a pretty sweet gig, but what if you don't have quasi-mystical mental control over your pet beast?
Looks like you're going to have to train it the hard way.

Instructions on how to use the spreadsheet itself are at the end, but links are here for convenience:
Animal Training sheet is here. (So you can save your own version)
Excel verson is here (Works better, click on the yellow box on the Lookup tab to get a drop-down menu of available creatures)
Gygaxian Democracy sheet that YOU can add to is here. (Add new creatures to the Backend tab and it should all update automagically)

This training system should result in a lot of emergent complexity from some fairly simple rules. That's the plan, anyway.


Animal Instinct

Each type of animal has four natural Instincts.
Take the humble dog.

This is the natural instincts of a dog, boiled down to four things.
In any given situation, the dog will follow these instincts.
If there is some doubt as to what the dog does in a situation, choose the course of action that satisfies the most Instincts. That's what the Weight column is for, just add them up and see which course of action has the most Weight.

But not all dogs act the same, right? That's silly! Let's add a random personality.

This dog LOVES to play. It's a very friendly dog. In fact, given the choice between barking at a stranger and playing with them, it'll choose to play every time.
Personality gives +1 to a single instinct, randomly chosen when you generate the dog.
This means dogs are generally either playful, yappy or clingy-protective. Good enough for me!

Finally, the most important part. Training!

With Training, you can adjust each of the dog's instincts up or down by one point.
So if you wanted a guard dog, you'd train it so it has +1 in "Bark at potential danger" and -1 in "Run around and play".

The exception to this whole thing is that every animal has the fourth instinct to Survive.
This always has 1 Weight, can't be Trained, and can't be boosted by Personality.
Every animal has the will to Survive. The only way to get over that instinct is to outweigh it. A dog's will to Survive can be outweighed by its will to protect its master.

The main wrinkle here is that the players have to work out what instincts an animal has. Fairly obvious for dogs, but more important if they try to train some exotic beast!


Training examples:

This dog has been trained as a guard dog. His instincts are weighted so he'll bark at strangers and protect his master.
Note that you can't completely train the dog's personality away, this guy will always want to run around and play if he's got nothing else to worry about. You can't train all the dogginess out of a dog.

This dog has been trained to be the friendliest dog in the world. His instincts are weighted so he'll will always prefer to run around and play (even at the expense of protecting his master) and never barks at danger.
Good for being your bestest friend, bad for adventuring.


So that's the basic concept, animals have Instincts and you can Train them to enhance or reduce how much they follow those instincts.
The neat part is that these instincts are different depending on the animal.

Here's a horse:

This horse will stay in his stall if he hears a loud noise, because "Remain safe and secure" is more powerful than "Flee danger and noise".
A more skittish horse with a "Flee danger and noise" personality might run away as soon as it hears a loud bang, causing horses with strong "follow the herd" instincts to follow!
The trick with a horse is to make the horse consider you part of their herd, much like the trick with a dog is to make him consider you his master.

And here's a giant spider:

Good luck training this thing, she's got no instinct that makes her want to follow you. Spiders aren't domesticated. Without Training, the best you could do is try to make her change her territory, and maybe chase her towards enemies with a light. Make sure you're not on your own though, because this spider's instinct to "Ambush lone prey" outweighs its instinct to "Stay away from light"!

This is a good example of why the Survive instinct is important. If this spider sees lone prey with a light wandering about outside it's territory, it won't bother approaching.
But if the spider is hungry, the need to Survive will clock in and it'll leave its territory and ignore its light aversion in order to eat that tasty morsel.
Keep a spider hungry if you want it to eat your foes!

You could use this for working out wild creature's reactions if you wanted to go that far, but you'd do just as well with a reaction roll honestly. Best for pets.

The other trick with predators - try not to be considered Prey

Teaching Tricks

"But how do I teach my doggo to play Fetch?" you say.

Behold, the Learned Instincts section aka Tricks.
The Learned bit is where you put new instincts you've trained into your dog.
Two crucial points:
- Once an animal fills up a slot with a trick, it can't be unlearned. That's permanent. You can't teach an old dog new tricks and all that.
- Not all animals can learn new tricks. Dogs get all 4 slots, horses get 2 slots, undomesticated beasts (like Giant Spiders) get none.

Let's train your doggo to Sit, Shake, and Sic Balls.
You can improve or negate these learned instincts through Training, like natural instincts.
If you want your command to Sic Balls to outweigh the dog's instinct to Survive, you'll want to add +1 to that learned instinct through Training.
But if you give away your dog to a good home, training him not to Sic Balls on command any more is probably a good idea!

But How Do You Actually Train Things

Honestly, for all the layered complexity of this system, I'm leaving that to player skill.
The core difficulty of this system on the player side is:
- How do I identify the creature's instincts?
- How do I train those instincts?

Instead of an Animal Handling skill, it's on them to work out what a creature wants and what to do to train it. Plus, since it's player skill, they'll get better at training a certain type of animal over time.

The other issue is time.
You don't have to be especially strong or kind or wise to train an animal, but you do need patience.

Training an existing Instinct takes one week.
This can be done during normal adventuring time, presumably while you're resting between adventuring days.
You have to say what you're doing to train it. If it can't understand what you're trying to make it do, or you really freak it out, or otherwise fuck up - see Stress Mishaps below.
If you succeed, at the end of the week it gets a +1 or -1 to whatever instinct you were working on!

Teaching a new Instinct takes one week.
This has to be done during downtime, no adventuring for you while you're training a new trick!
You have to say what you're doing to teach it. If you try to teach it more tricks when it's already filled up those slots, or really freak it out, or otherwise fuck up - see Stress Mishaps below.
If you succeed, at the end of the week fill one of its Learned Instinct slots with the new trick!

I figure it's up to the DM to work out what is and isn't good for a particular animal. What's good for a dog isn't useful for a horse, etc.
Of course, in either case, you could pay a trainer to train your animal for you. Dog trainers and horse trainers are likely to exist, basilisk trainers not so much. You're on your own there!

This is a lot of work, but if you want perfect control of an animal you should play as the animal dominator class. Otherwise it's on you to train your beasts as best you can!

Stress Mishaps

All that said, this is basically just programming. Sometimes there will be times when your pet simply locks up based on this simple AI, usually because it has two equally weighted but conflicting options on what to do.
In a non-stressful situation it'll probably just lie down or look around for food.
In a stressful situation it needs something to break the deadlock. That's when a Stress Mishap happens.

And as above, if you fuck up training your animal you'll stress it out and cause a Stress Mishap too.

Just roll a d6 and see what the animal does! Gaining a permanent +1 to Personality will hopefully be fun, because it means an animal can get more set in its ways over time.

Walkies is over

The Table Itself

With all that knowledge at your side, and without further ado, here's the tables.

Animal Training sheet is here. (So you can save your own version)
Excel verson is here (Works better, you can use the List on the first tab to see what's available)
Gygaxian Democracy sheet that YOU can add to is here. (Add new creatures to Backend and it should all update automagically)

And here's the basics on how to use them:


This first page is where you can look up the instincts of a particular animal.
Put a "Y" under "Personality?" to generate a random personality. Put an "N" if you're going to choose it yourself.
In Excel, clicking the yellow box will give you access to a drop-down menu (down arrow to the right) with all the available animals in it. It's pretty neat.

Individual Player Tabs

This is where you put each PCs unique beasts so you can track them and update them whenever they get trained or stressed.


Probably best to copy-paste values from this Template tab rather than the Lookup tab.
To paste values: Copy an area then press Ctrl+Alt+V and select "Values".


This is where the magic happens - the database of all the creatures and instincts you've added thus far.
When adding a new creature:
- Put its name four times in the Creature column (so it's easy to sort)
- Add 3 animal-specific instincts plus Survive
- Add how many Learning Slots it has at the end of the row.

Everything should have updated automatically, so you can go ahead and try typing it into the Lookup tab to see if it pulls everything through correctly.


Woah, henchmen are on here?!
Yes, turns out this works out ok for human minions too. It feels weird to put them on the Animal Training table but there you go.
The big difference is that they check Morale if you ask them to do something they're not inclined to do. On success, they do it anyway.
Also you can't train people like animals (probably). Instead, after every session or delve, add an extra thing that they've learned that might influence their future actions.
"Don't trust the PCs" is a common one, naturally.

There's an entry for generic hired Henchmen, and an entry for Followers who are your more unique NPC characters and hangers-on. The latter get some bespoke "instincts" that describe how they act on a more individual level.