Monster Training - Player Input Requested

Hello crew - As part of working on D@W and Lairs & Encounters, I'm drawing up a list of which monsters can be trained, and which must be magically controlled. I need your opinion on a few problem areas!!


Question Areas:

Some animals: crocodiles, dinosaurs, fish, lizards, octopuses, rhinoceroses, shark, snakes, squids, toads

Some vermin: caecilian, giant ants, giant killer bees, giant beetles, giant crabs, carcass scavengers, purple worms, rhagodessa, giant scorpions, giant spiders


Certainly Trainable Creatures: These must be trained by an animal trainer.

Most animals: ​apes, rock baboons, bats, bears, boars, camels, cats, dogs, elephants, ferrets, hawks, herd animals, horses, mules,  rats, shrews, weasels, whales, wolves

Some fantastic creatures: basilisks, cockatrices, gorgons, griffons, hippogriffs, hydra, remorhaz, rust monsters, owlbears, sea serpents, stirges, or wyverns


Certainly Sentient Creatures: These must be recruited as henchmen or hirelings, or enslaved. They may also require training for specific tasks that are not natural to them (e.g. serving as a mount).

All giants

All humanoids

All undead except skeletons and zombies

Most fantastic creatures: blink dogs, chimera, demon boars, doppelgangers, dragons, dragon turtles, harpies, hell hounds, lamia, lammasu, lycanthropes, manticores, medusas, minotaurs, pegasi, phase tigers, rocs, shadows, throghrin, treants, and unicorns 


Certainly Untrainable CreaturesThese could only be used if controlled via magic.

All oozes

Some vermin: cavern locusts, giant centipedes, insect swarms, giant leeches, rot grubs, shriekers

Some undead: skeletons, zombies


So the question is "to what extent do we want to allow creatures which, in real life, are untrainable - such as lizards, spiders, snakes, and similar - to be trainable without magic in ACKS?" The arguments in favor of allowing them to be trained are:

1. Growth: For giant spiders and so on, their brains are much larger than that of their real-life versions that they might be smart enough

2. Cool Factor: Spider riders and beetle-pulled carts and triceratops war mounts seem awesome.


Let me know your thoughts on all of the above. Anything I mentioned above as smart that you think is supposed to be dumb, or dumb that you think is supposed to be smart? 


I guess Animal Training (the proficiency) includes everything up to combat use?

I’d probably categorize everything into four-ish categories:

  1. Can it act as an independent combatant?
  2. Can it act as a fighting mount?
  3. Can it act as a transport mount?
  4. Can it act as a beast of burden?

as far as how they’d relate to D@W mechanics, and that may vary by type - I may not think an Apatosaurus could be #1 or #2 without a bit more research/thinking/argumentation.

I would agree in taking a page from general mythology and making ‘large’ versions of common animals a bit more intelligent - while I may or may not go full Tolkien and make my giant spiders able to understand Common/speak, they may be able to intuit as well as any mammalian predator.

I’d also say there’s “fantasy world” allowances to be made depending on what type of humanoid is training them - bullywugs can train toads, sahuagin can train more aquatic creatures, etc.

Off your list though:

Crocodiles/Lizards: Perhaps only by Lizardmen and the like.
Dinosaur: Trainable via the “Clever Girl” rule.
Fish: No. Aquaman is magic.
Octopus/Squid: They’re supposed to be pretty smart in their own way. I’d might allow it for the humanoid aquatic races. It’d be worth it when D@W:Naval comes out :wink:
Rhinos: Sure. Very difficult. Same for hippos, etc. Attitude problem.
Shark: No, Aquaman.
Toads: Same as squids - ‘yes’ if you are a bullywug or the like.

Caecilian/Purple Worm/Carcass Scavenger: No.

Giant Crabs: Maybe aquatic race’s coastal assault units.

Giant Ants/Beetles: Unsure, but only as beasts of burden/transport.
Giant Killer Bees: Unsure again. Is there a bug people race? Then yes…oh, heck. Wasn’t there a group of people in Malazan Book of the Fallen that flew on giant dragonflies…Ah! Moranth, and the quorl. They weren’t ever confirmed as human though I don’t think.

Giant Scorp/Spider/Rhagodessa: Yes, Tolkien rule.

I like the idea of making “untrainable” creatures trainable, mostly for the cool factor, however, it should be more difficult to do so (whether do to penalties to rolls, increased time, chance of injury, reduction in how much can be trained, or special proficiency requirements). Such creatures should NOT be common or easy to train. Rust monsters, for example, should be fed scrap metal regularly and never fully lose the instinct to rust any metal brought into reach (especially when hungry).

One thing I was interested in was if the animal-inteligence-level fantastic creatures could be taken as henchmen using beast friendship (maybe hippogriffs). Another ambiguity is just how intelligent certain creatures are, like pegasi. Are they closer in intelligence to animals or humans or are they the equal or even more intelligent then humans? Does this increased intelligence allow for communication or understanding of basic language?

I guess I would fall on the side of ‘everything on the Question list above is potentially trainable with the proper amount of investment in proficiencies, time, and gold.’ Especially if we’ve seen them ‘trained’ in fantasy fiction, such as giant spiders.

If I have a player who wants to drop a bunch of his or her proficiency slots into animal training and invest sums of gold into creating a habitat to raise and train giant ants, for instance - well why not? As long as I can balance it with the rest of the game I’m inclined to say yes. I wouldn’t allow the character to hire someone to do it for them - they would need to invest their own resources to do it, in my opinion, or at least find and recruit a special henchman that they need to keep happy in order to have access to the creatures in question.

Second paragraph above says everything I would want to say on the matter. Thanks, moorcrys, you saved me some writing!

I’d say ants probably can’t be trained, since their behavior patterns seem a little too ingrained. If they operated as part of a magical hive mind, with a sentient queen, then I’d say the Queen speaks for her hive and they’re hired like a small army of mercenaries.

I haven’t read the entry for all these creatures, but I could see any of the below as having animalistic intelligence, and being trainable like dogs/horses. Blink dogs, chimera, demon boars, dragon turtles, hell hounds, manticores, pegasi, phase tigers, rocs, shadows, and unicorns.

Also, I definitely think that any non-vermin animal should be trainable. Let’s have our battle snakes and pet rhinos.

The d20 SRD helps a bit, since that edition went out of it’s way to stat everything up specifically - looks like many of the intelligent fantastic beast types (hell hounds, harpies, manticores) are stretching between the INT 6-8 range.

Pegasi get listed as INT 10, so, average human intelligence.

I haven’t clicked them all, but the general trend seems to be that the “bad guys” are inbetween human and animal intelligence (dumb and mean, essentially) and the “good guys” (Pegasi, Lammasu) at average or above average.

Lamia break the trend, being slightly above average.

…and invest sums of gold into creating a habitat to raise and train giant ants…

I’ve got this image of a party stumbling into a enormous underground cavern, hundreds of feet high and wide. Against the far wall, the largest Wall of Force they’ve ever seen covers the wall, several feet away.

Giant ants mill about inside, going about their work, their tunnels open to the viewer: the largest ant farm in the world.

Crocodiles/Lizards: 5 “Yes”, 1 “Perhaps only by Lizardmen and the like”
Dinosaur: 6 “Yes”
Fish: 5 "Yes, 1 “No”.
Octopus/Squid: 6 “Yes”
Rhinos: 6 “Yes”
Shark: 5 “Yes”, 1 “No”
Snakes: 5 “Yes”, 1 “No”
Toads: 5 “Yes”, 1 “'yes if you are a bullywug or the like.”
Caecilian/Purple Worm/Carcass Scavenger: 4 “Yes”, 2 “No”
Giant Crabs: 4 “Yes”, 1 “Maybe aquatic race’s coastal assault units.”, 1 “No”
Giant Ants/Beetles: 4 “Yes”, 1 “Unsure, but only as beasts of burden/transport.”, 1 “No”
Giant Killer Bees: 4 “Yes”, 1 “Unsure again. Is there a bug people race?”, 1 “No”
Giant Scorp/Spider/Rhagodessa: 5 “Yes”, 1 “No”

By the standards of an RPG forum, that’s an overwhelming consensus! I’m really glad I asked. It is invaluable to have a forum where I can get feedback on aesthetic issues in real-time. Thanks so much!

I will implement a general rule of trainability for everything, with certain caveats and restrictions. The base time for training non-realistic creatures will be much higher than for, e.g., a dog, but there will be optional rules for the Judge to reduce training time when trained by sentient species of a similar type. For example, Lizardmen might train giant lizards more quickly.

Note that because of the work I’ve been doing, Domains at War is now going to have full gp costs for all manner of wild-and-crazy creatures.

How much for a Venerable Dragon? It’s in there!
How much for a formation of trained giant rats? It’s in there!

All I ask is that you don’t make the trainability and/or sapience levels of fantastic creatures too fixed. There needs to be some room for DM authorship and worldbuilding. For instance, in the Crusader Kingdoms, dragons that cannot speak are clever-but-non-sapient beasts, like wyverns. Having trainability/sapience categories you can slot monsters into, with a list of suggested categories for published creatures, would the most useful presentation.

Very good!
If in doubt, always go the awesome route. :slight_smile:

While my formulas are still being slightly refined, here are some initial prices to give you a sense of how they work out.

Some of the prices are still being adjusted - these are “beta prices”!
Prices would be to purchase a fully-trained war mount or guard animal.

Venerable Dragon: 965,000gp
Giant Roc: 580,000gp
Ancient Dragon: 300,000gp
Very Old Dragon: 250,000gp
Old Dragon: 125,000gp
Dragon Turtle: 112,000gp
Mature Dragon: 105,000gp
Adult Dragon: 85,000gp
Large Roc: 65,000gp
Gorgon: 56,000gp
Juvenile Dragon: 51,000gp
Basilisk: 30,000gp
Wyvern: 25,000gp
Chimera: 20,000gp
Small Roc: 16,000gp
Tyrannosaurus Rex: 12,850gp
Griffon: 10,850gp
Manticore: 9,500gp
12-Headed Hydra: 8,600gp
Cockatrice: 8,375gp
Mastodon: 7,600gp
Triceratops: 6,450gp
Greater Hellhound: 4,865gp
Pegasus: 4,000gp
Hippogriff: 3,200gp
Owl Bear: 1,200gp
Cave Bear: 1,150gp
Lion: 1,150gp
Giant Boar: 815gp
Panther: 630gp
Ogre: 560gp
White Ape: 433gp
Rock Baboon: 400gp
Dire Wolf: 250gp
Wolf: 100gp

I’m thinking some of the more simple-minded hive-vermin, like ants might be less “trained” and more “steered” by exploiting existing instincts through application of certain stimulii (like spraying the enemy with “kill-it” pheromone, or making the trainer smell like the queen).

One annoying, yet vitally important aspect to exotic animal husbandry and training is defining the rate of breeding, litter-size, age of maturity, and other aspects of breeding a new set of exotic creatures. Potentially equally important is how this interacts with the cross-breeding rules and how much sway a caster has to meddle with the details. Someone will want to mass produce dragon-like flying mounts, especially if it can be done profitably (which it should be difficult to do, considering that horses are still popular in the setting). This seems like it might be a judge thing, now that I think about it…

For me, I think I’d restrict the trainability of certain creatures to specific intelligent races where a described affinity exists.

Goblins and wargs, for example. It gives that race a particular niche and if a PC wanted to learn to train wargs then they’d have to go and spend time with the goblins to uncover their secrets.

I’d also be tempted to use some kind of ‘Control’ score, ranging from ‘complete control’ to ‘uncontrolled’, so that you can have the thing where the high priests pet snake turns on him because he loses control of it.

My answer here would be to scale with HD, like Alex did with everything else.
Dog gestation 2 months, 1+1 HD
Gorilla gestation ~ human at 8-9 months, white ape is 4 HD
Elephant gestation 20 months, 9 HD

So maybe 2 months per HD for animals, double or quadruple if intelligent?

I’d considered mentioning alchemical means as well; but it felt way out of scope given there’s not more than the usual passing mention of alchemy in ACKS - though I suppose mundane master alchemists could emulate a potion of insect control (that sort of defeats the purpose of figuring out what can be done without magic however, depending on how the line is drawn between ‘magic’ and ‘alchemy’).

James said: I’d also be tempted to use some kind of ‘Control’ score, ranging from ‘complete control’ to ‘uncontrolled’, so that you can have the thing where the high priests pet snake turns on him because he loses control of it.

There’s definitely something to this, and it has me thinking about ways to work Morale into dangerous creatures breaking their master’s control, possibly similar to a Henchman leaving his/her master’s employ.

Alex said: Certainly Sentient Creatures: These must be recruited as henchmen or hirelings, or enslaved. They may also require training for specific tasks that are not natural to them (e.g. serving as a mount).
{snip for brevity}
All undead except skeletons and zombies
Most fantastic creatures: blink dogs, chimera, demon boars, doppelgangers, dragons, dragon turtles, harpies, hell hounds, lamia, lammasu, lycanthropes, manticores, medusas, minotaurs, pegasi, phase tigers, rocs, shadows, throghrin, treants, and unicorns

I’m having difficulty with a lot of the “Certainly Sentient” creatures from Alex’s post being recruitable, particularly by characters not matching their Alignment. Most respondents didn’t specifically mention it, but should a Wraith or Spectre be “recruitable” in some fashion (henchman as opposed to magical domination)?

While many intelligent undead strike me as quite problematic (imagine recruiting Tolkien’s Barrow Wight; and yes, I know that’s just one representation of that monster concept), other monsters in Alex’s list jump out at me as well. To be clear, I dislike the idea of mandating certain creatures as totally unrecruitable, as every campaign is a law unto itself, but still - how easy can it be to recruit a Shadow, or a Dragon Turtle, or a Chimera, or a…

Remember that ACKS rules are meant to apply more or less the same for PCs and NPCs, both lawful and chaotic (hence all the rules about blood sacrifice and chaotic domains). Wraiths might be recruit-able, but it won’t necessarily be easy and they may veto any “no slaying innocents” clause to their employment contract. However, if you find a wraith who is willing to serve, have the power to earn its respect/fear, and are okay with letting it participate in its normal “hobbies”, then maybe you can have a wraith. To qualify for the above, you might have to be a particularly charismatic lich, though.

I too think some sort of “controlability” score or some such is warranted, if only as a relative measure of creature’s amicability and intelligence. I could actually see multiple measures of temperament that would be useful to calculate, but I fear that this could quickly become an over-complex system if we go beyond a few numbers.

My thought on training crocodiles and other such undomesticable animals is that perhaps a culture might selectively breed over time for a domesticable or otherwise suitable animal - if anyone would have specialized riding or war crocodiles, it would be the lizardmen, but it need not be explained just by cultural affinity as by, well, animal husbandry.

As for giant vermin, the way I figure it is that a giant land arthropod is going to need some physiological (respiratory and circulatory) upgrades to be biologically feasible anyway - why not upgrade the brain too? If it closely resembles a spider externally but is the size of a horse, folks are going to call it a giant spider even if a taxonomist might not.