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Author Topic: Dogs  (Read 2594 times)

WillInNewHaven

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« on: July 26, 2017, 01:06:12 am »
The topic of the usefulness of a dog or dogs on an adventure is probably as old as gaming. I can remember a Dungeon Master getting all bent out of shape because my friend wanted her character to bring a dog along on early OD&D adventure. He finally told her that she could but “I will kill it the first chance I get.” It turns out that he had nothing against dogs but he was afraid that he would not be able to handle the complication that would ensue. Like all of us in that game, he was a beginner and there were no rules for dogs that he knew of. I would like to start a discussion of the use of a dog in a fantasy RPG. I have been playing and running RPG since 1979 and trained dogs professionally. I trained and owned dogs that would have been very useful on the right sorts of adventures but the dogs I have now, Samantha Shi-Tzu and Sophie Iguana’s Bane would not be useful, unless chasing iguanas away from your mangoes is a big part of your campaign.
The primary advantage of having a dog along on an adventure lies in its senses, which can give warning when the characters suspect nothing. The problem with this advantage is that an untrained dog will tend to give warning when nothing more alarming than some deer browsing nearby or an iguana strolling near your camp is going on. This can lead to the loss of sleep and the loss of confidence in the dog’s ability to warn. The answer to this is training. Training dogs can be a skill in a skill-based system. If one of the characters has it, he or she can invest some time and effort into training the dog. Another way to wind up with a trained dog is for the character to be someone of a high enough social class that her or his family has a dog-trainer on their staff or have enough cash to hire someone to train the dog  or to buy a trained dog. The character will still need to pick up the skill to handle the trained dog. The training can be focused on giving the alarm only when certain specific menaces are detected or on not giving the alarm when a fairly large number of harmless beings are detected. The flaw in the former approach is that a menace other than what you trained the dog for may appear. The problem with the latter is that there will always be some harmless critter that the dog doesn’t know not to bark about. However, either of these methods will give you pretty reasonable alarm dog.
If it is well-trained, a little floof dog that can ride in a saddle-bag can be about as good at this job as a mighty boar-hound and a lot easier to conceal and feed.
Then there is the question of what you want the dog to do if and when it detects a menace. The default action is barking and that is what you will get if you don’t train for something else. A dog can be trained to make a little chuffing noise and make eye-contact with its handler if the handler is awake or to go to the sleeping handler and wake him or her up. Alternatively, the dog could be trained to get the attention of whoever is awake if the handler isn’t. This is extensive training but well worth it.
So how good is a dog at detecting a menace?  I want to keep this system-independent as far as possible so I will just say that a dog that is awake is a bit more likely to detect a menace than a sentry when it is light out and nearly half-again as likely if it is dark. And that is presuming an alert sentry. A sleeping dog is half as likely to detect a menace in daylight as a sentry who is awake and almost as likely if it is dark.
There are other uses for a dog on an adventure and I will be talking about them later.

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Harlock

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« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2017, 01:09:37 am »
Quote from: WillInNewHaven;978276

Quote from: WillInNewHaven;978276
The topic of the usefulness of a dog or dogs on an adventure is probably as old as gaming. I can remember a Dungeon Master getting all bent out of shape because my friend wanted her character to bring a dog along on early OD&D adventure. He finally told her that she could but “I will kill it the first chance I get.” It turns out that he had nothing against dogs but he was afraid that he would not be able to handle the complication that would ensue.

Like all of us in that game, he was a beginner and there were no rules for dogs that he knew of. I would like to start a discussion of the use of a dog in a fantasy RPG. I have been playing and running RPG since 1979 and trained dogs professionally. I trained and owned dogs that would have been very useful on the right sorts of adventures but the dogs I have now, Samantha Shi-Tzu and Sophie Iguana’s Bane would not be useful, unless chasing iguanas away from your mangoes is a big part of your campaign.

The primary advantage of having a dog along on an adventure lies in its senses, which can give warning when the characters suspect nothing. The problem with this advantage is that an untrained dog will tend to give warning when nothing more alarming than some deer browsing nearby or an iguana strolling near your camp is going on. This can lead to the loss of sleep and the loss of confidence in the dog’s ability to warn. The answer to this is training. Training dogs can be a skill in a skill-based system. If one of the characters has it, he or she can invest some time and effort into training the dog. Another way to wind up with a trained dog is for the character to be someone of a high enough social class that her or his family has a dog-trainer on their staff or have enough cash to hire someone to train the dog  or to buy a trained dog.

The character will still need to pick up the skill to handle the trained dog. The training can be focused on giving the alarm only when certain specific menaces are detected or on not giving the alarm when a fairly large number of harmless beings are detected. The flaw in the former approach is that a menace other than what you trained the dog for may appear. The problem with the latter is that there will always be some harmless critter that the dog doesn’t know not to bark about. However, either of these methods will give you pretty reasonable alarm dog.

If it is well-trained, a little floof dog that can ride in a saddle-bag can be about as good at this job as a mighty boar-hound and a lot easier to conceal and feed.
Then there is the question of what you want the dog to do if and when it detects a menace. The default action is barking and that is what you will get if you don’t train for something else. A dog can be trained to make a little chuffing noise and make eye-contact with its handler if the handler is awake or to go to the sleeping handler and wake him or her up. Alternatively, the dog could be trained to get the attention of whoever is awake if the handler isn’t. This is extensive training but well worth it.

So how good is a dog at detecting a menace?  I want to keep this system-independent as far as possible so I will just say that a dog that is awake is a bit more likely to detect a menace than a sentry when it is light out and nearly half-again as likely if it is dark. And that is presuming an alert sentry. A sleeping dog is half as likely to detect a menace in daylight as a sentry who is awake and almost as likely if it is dark.
There are other uses for a dog on an adventure and I will be talking about them later.



Hopefully when you talk about them later you might try some actual spaces between paragraphs, like in the quote, so it's not a wall of text that is difficult to read and therefore unlikely to be read by as many folks as you might want.
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Headless

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« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2017, 02:20:59 am »
Dogs are one of those things that the DM and the player need to have a near identical understanding of what they do.  So thanks for the description.

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« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2017, 02:44:28 am »
I allow war dogs in OD&D, but they are a mixed blessing. They need a handler to be fully useful. Otherwise, its the PC who can't handle the animal well and it will die easily. In OD&D, I give them 1D6-2 HP, +0 bite that does 1D6-2 damage. So, great sense of smell and tracking, but probably gonna die in the first blow.

Willie the Duck

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« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2017, 07:34:03 am »
For OD&D, just make them effectively a new type of 1st level 'men' monster with no armor and a dagger (if variable weapon damage) but let them have the high level fighter ability to sense magic creatures. Low (effective) morale checks if not lead by a handler.

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« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2017, 07:47:52 am »
All I have to contribute is something you may cover later in 'other uses'.

In my current Ancient Egyptian campaign (run with Barbarians of Lemuria) one of the PCs acquired the dog of a murder victim - he is a medjay (policeman) and was investigating the death. The adopted the dog as the victim's wife hated the Nubian hound and so it had become homeless. While not a tracker or trained guard dog, Set warned everyone at the medjay's home of an attack by undead, called up by a necromancer. A retired NPC watchman hired by the PC is now training the dog to be a proper guard dog. It will probably be rubbish at this, as it's being trained when too old, but that in itself is a useful device for false alarms, jokes, etc.

Also, the PC bought a bitch and gave one of the powerful patron NPCs one of the resulting puppies - the NPC had fond memories of a childhood pet. So, all good for keeping in with the movers and shakers of Thebes.
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Omega

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« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2017, 07:49:39 am »
Dragon had at least three articles on pets for D&D and adding some fantasy dog breeds too. Even an article for playing animals/pets/familliars.

estar

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« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2017, 08:03:55 am »
Of course Harn has an article for that.

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« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2017, 08:07:59 am »
I admit I still run wardogs as 2 HD combatants, and just accept the fact they're outright stronger than first level characters.  PCs need a few breaks in old school play, and wardogs are one of them.

I'm not entirely satisfied with having them always do just what the owner's player wants in combat.  For a while I was rolling morale to see whether they'd attack the right target, but the main war dog wrangler invested in animal handling as a proficiency and I figured he could get his beasts to do as he wished with that.

Quote from: Harlock;978277
Hopefully when you talk about them later you might try some actual spaces between paragraphs, like in the quote, so it's not a wall of text that is difficult to read and therefore unlikely to be read by as many folks as you might want.


Hopefully when you quote someone later you won't quote the entire lengthy post that's directly above your own reply, which has no upside whatsoever, and only serves to make your own post tedious to scroll past.

WillInNewHaven

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« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2017, 10:20:29 am »
Quote from: Spinachcat;978286
I allow war dogs in OD&D, but they are a mixed blessing. They need a handler to be fully useful. Otherwise, its the PC who can't handle the animal well and it will die easily. In OD&D, I give them 1D6-2 HP, +0 bite that does 1D6-2 damage. So, great sense of smell and tracking, but probably gonna die in the first blow.

That is why I didn't start with a dog's usefulness as a combatant. A dog can be better than what you describe here but not much better. Combat comes after alarm, and tracking. That is also one advantage of a small dog. You will probably keep him out of a fight.

WillInNewHaven

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« Reply #10 on: July 26, 2017, 10:25:43 am »
Quote from: Harlock;978277
Quote from: WillInNewHaven;978276


Hopefully when you talk about them later you might try some actual spaces between paragraphs, like in the quote, so it's not a wall of text that is difficult to read and therefore unlikely to be read by as many folks as you might want.

Thanks for the heads up.

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JeremyR

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« Reply #11 on: July 26, 2017, 03:44:52 pm »
The thing with dogs is they are pretty much only useful in real life against people who are wearing normal clothing. Anything more, padded clothing or leather, and a dog can't harm you. Hell if you have metal armor, it would harm the dog.

On the flip side, they don't have any sort of defense. Even on heavy furred dogs like a Great Pyrenees or Newfoundland, it's protection against the cold, not so much any sort of blow.

They might be useful game rules wise due to how D&D handles combat (unless you use the weapon vs armor adjustment table and I don't think they have one for dogs), but I don't think they would actually be much practical use.
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« Reply #12 on: July 26, 2017, 04:14:35 pm »
Alone maybe. Bulldogs were trained to hold bull's throats still and near the ground so that the butcher can get a "humane" kill with the knife.

So if the dog has your foot/leg (while twisting it to knock you down) and you are facing some-one with shield and sword you're pretty screwed.

I've seen leathers for dogs (not sure how historical this is).

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« Reply #13 on: July 26, 2017, 04:36:31 pm »
In my 1980s Runequest campaign (based on Griffin Mountain) all the primitive Balazaring characters had dogs. They were very useful for hunting and tracking, were sometimes helpful for avoiding ambushes while traveling, and were very useful for guarding their camp especially at night.
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« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2017, 06:59:09 pm »
I remember years ago having a wizard who took 3 war dogs around with him as little bodyguards. They had barding and everything. It was good fun. They didnt last long however.
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