The Joys of Animal Abuse and Husbandry in Pathfinder RPG
Every den of role-playing and lodge of Pathfinder agents has traditions and habits all their own; an eccentric character composed of eccentric characters. In my PFS lodge, a certain predilection (to which I have no doubt contributed) has emerged of attempting to solve as many problems as possible with small, purchased animals. As it turns out, they have a shockingly wide utility portfolio…provided you don’t grow too attached.
There are multitudinous manners in which fowl, livestock, and pets can serve an enterprising adventurer. For some uses and pets, one will require successful Handle Animal checks, and potentially the teaching of tricks. For others, you can throw or herd a critter without its say-so. I’m focusing on affordable non-combat animals in this article, so don’t expect me to dive into min-maxing your Deinonychus’ pounce damage and mounted-lancing from it. I should also note that many uses of animals can be emulated with a wand of summon mount. It’s 750 gp, but it allows you to not worry about having animals until the moment you need them. Every 15 gp charge gives you a horse for 2 hours.
We will begin with the most obvious, and most frequent method of use. The trap-springer. It will happen in an adventurer’s career that there is a floor-based or area of magical detection trap that would be too risky (or outright impossible) for the party to attempt to disable. Some of these traps do not automatically reset. So…a weasel or goat could…disable it for you, while the party maintains a safe distance. If you’re lucky, it will be a fireball trap. If so, put some dry rub in its fur before you send it to the great beyond.
The Scout is a similar role. Imagine you are standing at the beginning of a long, wide corridor. At the end is where you need to go, and posted throughout the room are various statues and suits of armor. You have strong reason to suspect that at some point in this hallway, something with the construct type is going to try to kill you. It would help to know which of the ‘inanimate objects’ in the room will be of the murderous persuasion.
Simply scare the bajeezus out of an animal and watch it scurry down the hall towards its doom. At some point, it will get splattered, and you’ll know more about the situation at hand. It’s not always long hallways and statues, but you get the idea. Sometimes you wanna see what happens to anything that enters an area.
Actual classes that get animal empathy or similar as class features can scout in more traditional ways; by actually sending a flying or sneaky critter in to survey the area without (hopefully) dying.
Food. You can eat many animals. Some of them are very tasty. I recommend the chicken.
The Porter carries your things. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people recommend to wizards of all things, “You don’t want to dump your Strength all the way to 7, you won’t be able to carry a thing!”
Only, mules exist. They’re 8 freaking gold. One can travel at 30′ while carrying 225 lbs. If you buy some muleback cords for your mule, it can carry 690 lbs. Donkeys aren’t a requirement, a variety of animals could fulfill this function.
There are even some specialized forms of carrying things. A well trained bird could pick up small objects out of reach with the fetch trick, or carry rope somewhere. Crows are perfectly capable of tying knots with proper training. That could help the party surmount a number of environmental challenges. A well-trained baboon can be useful in this regard as well.
The food taster, experimental subject, or canary – Occasionally adventurers are invited to feasts and so forth, and one never quite knows if they’re to be poisoned. A weasel is a wonderful barometer of your host’s intentions; just feed your little beasty a portion of your meal before tucking in, and see how he feels about the chef’s performance. I recommend leaving your food-taster in a perpetually half-starving state, to ensure it eats its fill quickly and lacks the proper constitution to properly fight toxins.
An analogous situation might be a strange glowing stone in a long-forgotten temple. Maybe it cures all of your wounds, maybe it steals your soul: who knows? Weasels are excellent diagnostic tools for mysterious, potentially cursed objects.
The gift/sacrifice of an animal is not to be underestimated. One might encounter an agricultural community where livestock and pets are highly prized. Similarly, one might encounter a demonic altar that won’t stop spewing ghosts until it feels a life end on it’s surface.
In either case, giving up a pig can serve the greater good. Whoever you’re currying favor with, no one argues with a nice side of ham.
Cover can be taken behind creatures animals of your size category or larger. If you are a character that prefers to stay in the rear line during combat, a +4 to your AC isn’t a bad deal. Of course, your AC bonus has a (tiny) hit-point pool, so don’t expect the same cow to last through a 14 level career. Still, most GMs don’t want to spend actions trying to take down your ox, so they’ll ignore it. They tend to die from AoEs, which prompt some field-dressing and a trip to a local farm for your shield’s replacement. This is mostly useful against ranged attacks, though if you can position yourself properly you’ll get some advantage in melee as well.
The perimeter alarm can be made out of basically any animal with the scent ability (which is a lot of them), particularly if it is paired with a good Perception modifier. If something tries to get close to you, you may well get automatically alerted and avoid surprise rounds. When Fido the 25 gp guard-dog starts growling, get your sword out.
Depth gauges can be fashioned out of chickens. They don’t really take falling damage, but they don’t really fly. The also make a lot of noise if you toss them down a deep well full of magical darkness, and evil sorcerers so rarely think to layer permanent silence onto their terrifying dungeon features. Rolling Perception successfully will reveal the bird’s distance by cluck-o-location as it descends into the Underdark or what-have-you. Of course, one should ensure the bird is good and pissed off before lobbing it into an abyss: otherwise it might make insufficient noise.
Cyclops Deception Vehicles (CDVs) can be made from many species of goats and sheep. By tying yourself to the bottom of such an animal, you can bypass watchful cyclopes unmolested. Disclaimer: results not guaranteed, do not attempt with species of giant possessing the scent ability.
Rappeling gear can be replaced with a riding gecko. They’re a bit pricey at 300-400 gp, but that’s still chump change by wondrous item standards. Tack on a bit of cost for a half-way decent saddle, and you’ve got a permanent spider climb item without occupying your boot slot. The geckos also serve as decent porters, cover, and mounts, and rarely suffer from the problem most Large creatures get stuck on: small hallways. A 5′ wide hallway is perfectly passable as long as the ceiling is 10′ tall. The gecko can just walk down the wall without issues.
I hope this has elucidated the value of affordable animals. I can personally attest to their nobility and expendability of purpose, as a certain Cleric of whom I am fond has had 14 Weasels (Binky I – XII and Binky XIV-XV) die in his name, and Binky XVI has been horribly warped into a Skunk/Owl abomination by a dungeon feature. We don’t like to talk about what happened to Binky XIII.
If I or others think of some great usages for purchasable animals, I’ll update the page.