One of my players recently picked up a pair of wardogs, and it’s quickly become apparent that they’re well away the best investment the party has made so far. Since dogs are 2HD monsters, and monsters are effectively fighters, he’s effectively picking up 2nd level henchman instead of 0th level henchmen, and for a fraction of the cost since they don’t get a share of the loot!
The only downside to them so far is that the regular Healing prof doesn’t apply to them- You need animal caretaking, so after a large battle his current dogs died, but he’s gotten more than enough wealth to get more.
It seems odd that, statistically speaking, Wardogs are worth 2 or 3 humans on the battlefield, unless those humans are battle-scarred veterans. I’m having a difficult time imagining a dog killing three light infantry, but because of his high attack bonus, cleave potential, and decent damage, it happened ingame more than once (admittedly, the party had already scorched the enemy up by tricking them into charging through an oil trap and setting them alight, but either dog still claimed more kills than all four of their mercenaries combined)
German Shepherd K9 police dogs are a good example: most are around 90 pounds, and the average human target stands very close to zero chance of stopping them. The padded training suits are no joke: they’re the only thing keeping the trainer alive, and that’s someone trained at working with the dogs. Most war dogs range from 80-120 lbs.
With that said, I think the expense and difficulty of maintaining a proper war dog has been glossed over somewhat. They require a lot of face time (I count them against the henchmen limit, myself), and they eat more per pound than a horse (and what they eat is more expensive than what a horse requires). You are replacing henchman treasure shares with hireling upkeep costs, essentially, but this isn’t explicitly stated anywhere.
(Owning more war dogs than your henchmen limit basically means you can’t control them: they start to form their own pack, and you might not be the alpha anymore.)
I’m not denying that war dogs should be effective combatants, but as they’re statted, they’re better than 1st or 0th light infantry, and I have a difficult time believing that a dog against a swordsman should win every time against anyone less than a veteran.
Realism aside, it also seems odd to let a 1st level fighter hire what is effectively a 2nd level fighter (and even if you count them against the henchmen limit, you can still have several, which means he can effectively replace the whole party in combat)
I always thought this was the point of Beast Friendship. It’s a tradeoff because you get henchmen who are stronger in combat and don’t require loot shares… but they don’t have proficiencies of their own, are pretty dumb, can’t follow complicated orders, don’t benefit from the Healing proficiency (they need the animal version callend animal husbandry or something), can’t attack at range, and are a waste of a Henchman slot late-game because animals can’t manage domains.
Also, I think the existence of animal henchmen implies that normal animals will, like mercenaries, refuse to follow you into a dungeon unless you have them as Henchmen as per Beast Friendship.
I also interpreted the proficiency to mean that you treat animal HD as Henchman levels for the purposes of upkeep and whether you can hire them, so you can’t have a gang of T-Rex henchmen at 1st level. Also, they shouldn’t require loot shares, because that’s absurd.
There’s a rule somewhere on the board suggesting characters can handle one pretrained animal without the animal training proficiency. With it, they can handle up to their number of henchmen (but not treating them as henchmen). Remember that they have specific tasks they can do that need to be pre-determined (you can’t ask a default war dog to do anything but attack to kill). You might say that they can go after one opponent, and once it is down, they will just rip onto it, rather than going on to the next one.
I like the idea that they won’t follow you into a dungeon. They are probably at least going to need a Morale check for that, and be easier to spook in one.
There’s a long history of dogs in war. Among the things to consider training them to do… Pack animal, hunt for survivors, carry messages, scout for traps. These are all things with real precedent.
There was a famous pug in WWII named Sergeant Stubby (real rank), who could detect poisonous gas and warn everyone before it became dangerous, tell the difference between German and English, find injured soldiers in no-man’s land, hear incoming artillery and warn everybody, and generally help morale. He even caught a German spy. He was gassed once (leading to his ability to detect the stuff) and was wounded by a hand grenade, but continued to help the morale of his fellow wounded soldiers in the hospital.
There are plenty of other stories of famous war animals including Rags a messenger dog and Wojtek the Polish soldier bear who helped transport artillery shells (he also would wrestle with the men and found a spy).
These are of course the famous examples in more modern times and didn’t really fight much, but it shows some of the more extreme possibilities reality has to show.