Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dog Training, Old School Style

"Aw man, I only have 70 silver pieces.  I'm SO POOR"

"... Wait a dog costs 1 silver piece?"


"Steven, can I buy 70 dogs??"


"WAIT Steven, can I buy 140 pigeons???"


So you bought a dog.  And you're playing an old school game, so you don't have the "animal handling" skill.  So here's what I'm gonna do in my offline game.

Design sidebar

At a high level, it makes sense to consider your dog like a very loyal retainer who just doesn't understand you- training the dog to understand what you want of it is the hardest part.

How can we emulate that with in-game mechanics?


Dogs can learn commands.  For the purposes of gameplay a thing only counts as a "command" if it's an order you'd give in a circumstance when the dog might have pressure to act otherwise.  So, like, we can just assume that you can teach your dog to "sit" or "shake" fairly well.

Here are some commands you might use in a dangerous circumstance:

* Attack
* Down / Heel
* Fetch
* Jump
* Track
* Guard / Watch
* Threaten

It's not an exhaustive list.  Be creative.  Dogs are smart, they can learn a lot of commands.

Dog Training

Each command you teach your dog has its own individual saving throw.  A successful save means the dog successfully performs the command to the best of its ability.  A failure means the dog doesn't understand.  It wants to obey you!  Maybe it rolls over?  Offers a paw to shake?  Barks?  Runs in circles?  It just doesn't quite get what you're asking for.

Every command save starts at 18.  You always add your CHA modifier to the roll when making the save.

You can "train" your dog.  If you're adventuring, a training session takes one Turn, focuses on a single command, and allows you to test the saving throw for the command you're focusing on.  If you succeed on the saving throw, then the saving throw permanently decreases by 1.  You can only decrease each command by 1 point each day.

If you're in downtime you can just focus on training your dog.  Each command save drops by 1 per week you spend focusing on the training, no rolls required.

You can only train your dog if it doesn't have any loyalty strikes (see "when to test loyalty," below).  A dog has to be happy with you to engage in productive training.

Designer's note: with continued training, your dog responds to your commands more reliably.

Dog Loyalty

Dogs start with a loyalty of 8.  Each command you train down to 5 or lower on the saving throw increases the dog's loyalty by 1, up to a max of 12.  Dogs like being trained.

Designer's note: with more time spent training your dog, their loyalty increases.

When to test Loyalty

(Remember, loyalty is a test on 2d6- less than or equal is a success, over is a failure)

Your dog is obedient to you, especially if you've trained it well.  Only test loyalty in the following circumstances:

* Each day you fail to feed the dog, test loyalty (each day unfed beyond the first applies a -1 to all loyalty tests)
* If the dog is injured following a command you gave it, test loyalty

Dogs have three strikes for loyalty.  On accruing three failures, you're not worth it any more- the dog goes feral and fends for itself.

You can erase a loyalty strike by spending a full day pampering your dog.  Belly rubs, chasing squirrels, well fed, who's a good boy.  No dangerous commands.

You can only train your dog if it doesn't have any loyalty strikes.

Designer's note: dogs can't really decide to quit, so it's really only repeated mistreatment that will make them take off- but they need TLC to get over the effects of the mistreatment.


  1. I was curious, is using a 2d6 type of roll considered old school gaming from the prospective that it averages a roll (more likely to hit the middle markers than the end points), versus rolling a d12, where every number is equally as likely.

    Asking, b/c not certain if that is an "old school" issue or not with people.

    1. 2d6 is commonly used for NPC reactions, hireling loyalty and monster morale in Moldvay Basic D&D; it's mostly just keeping the mechanics as similar to existing mechanics as possible, I'd imagine.

  2. This is brilliant! But what OSR system are you using? I've seen a lot of "clones". Which one should I read first?

    1. I'll be playing Lamentations of the Flame Princess at work.