Animal Training (5e Variant Rule)

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Animal Training[edit]

This is, yet another, response to the abhorrent animal companion rules found in the ranger beastmaster archetype, and the absolute absence of guidance on how the DM should handle NPC companions to the PCs. Clearly, I am very biased about the subject, so we'll just get right into the meat of this.

A player may spend their downtime creating an NPC animal companion to join them in their travels. This downtime activity also allows a player to "upgrade" a pre-existing pet by training them new tricks.

First off, the animal must be of a sort that would reasonably be available in the local environment. You can't just pull a baby red dragon out from under any old rock.

Second, it must actually be an animal. This is entirely dependent on the DM's conception of the distinction between "animals" and "monsters". Some DMs may feel creatures like griffons are basically just really neat, powerful wild animals. Other DMs may see them as fundamentally supernatural beings, and therefore disqualify them from this. Another distinction here is whether or not an "animal" is a "person." Again, some DMs may feel that dragons are just big talking lizards, while other DMs would insist that a dragon cannot be a pet because it is a person. Personally, I would draw the line at language. If the creature can speak and hold a conversation, it is a person, not an animal. I say this because the numbers below for training tricks to animals work fine if they're functionally mute, but seem to contradict the creature's intellect if it can speak.

Third, a PC may tame or train any available animal with a CR equal or below their character level. So, no pet carrion crawlers until you are at LEAST level 2, and nobody can train things like ancient black dragons, krakens, or the tarrasque.

For the sake of some semblance of rules balancing, if a PC is seeking to gain multiple trained animals through these rules, the maximum CR of animal companions should be reduced appropriately.

  • 1 Companion: CR = PC Level
  • 2 Companions: CR = PC Level-2
  • 3 Companions: CR = PC Level-4
  • 4 Companions: CR = PC Level-6


This way a PC doesn't have an army of tyrannosauruses at their beck and call, but 1 or 2 powerful companions, or an army of squirrels for instance. Costs for animal companion training and upkeep are also prohibitive in their own way, but at higher levels these costs can seem trivial.

If you're going to use these Variant Rules regarding animal training, it would be a good idea to improve the Ranger's Beast Master archetype to some degree. Primarily increasing the allowed CR of the animal companion to 1 from 1/4.


Taming an animal takes 10 x CR days, assuming no other modifiers are present. Each day/session the PC will roll its taming tools and add all of the rolls up.

The animal will have a taming DC equal to its cost in GP.

  • Reduce the time by 25% if the animal is good-aligned.
  • Reduce the time by 25% if the animal is lawful-aligned.
  • Increase the time by 50% if the animal is evil-aligned.
  • Increase the time by 50% if the animal is chaotic-aligned.
  • Reduce the base time by 1 day if you have proficiency with nature. (ie. 9 x CR)
  • Reduce the base time by 2 days if you have proficiency with animal handling. (ie. 8 x CR)
  • Reduce the time by 50% if you have access to the Animal Friendship spell.

In that time, you must provide it with adequate food and water, as given for creature size in the DMG on p.111. The price for food is really up to your DM, but for the sake of having a reference point to start with, I will give some numbers. These are based on the trade goods on p.157 of the PHB.

  • 1lb. of hay is worth 1cp, assuming wheat is about the same dang thing.
  • 1lb. meat is worth 2cp, assuming a chicken weighs about that much.

You will also need to care for the creature by keeping it somewhere safe. The larger the creature gets, the more expensive this gets. Basically, this just means you need to pay the lifestyle expense of your animal as if it were a "kennel fee". (If you own a stronghold or other such piece of property which could satisfy the creature's needs, you do not need to pay this fee) Again, just so we have some numbers as a reference point, we'll cannibalize some material from the corebooks. I'm going to mash the creature size and lifestyle expense charts together.

  • Tiny = 1sp/day
  • Small = 2sp/day
  • Medium = 1gp/day
  • Large = 2gp/day
  • Huge = 4gp/day
  • Gargantuan = 10gp/day

So, as an example, to tame a griffon would require you to be at least level 2, would take 20 days, (no modifiers, as it's unaligned) and would cost you 80lb. of food, which would likely be meat, which comes to 8sp. You would also need to make sure that wherever you're keeping the thing will have at least 80 gallons of water available for it to drink over that time, and such a "kennel" will run you up 40gp. Don't forget that you still need to feed yourself.

Once an animal has been tamed, it will behave peacefully toward you and non-aggressive people around you, follow in your general area, and mostly behave itself. (Let's be honest, even the best trained dogs are still just animals)


Ok, so now you want your animal to do some tricks! And when I say tricks, I mean some very basic stuff. Tricks are basically interaction functions you're allowed to use to say "Look DM, my animal CAN do this. You let me train my animal to do this."

When you tame an animal, it starts out with 5 tricks of your choice. This number is adjusted by their intelligence modifier. (So, for instance, a dog, which has an INT mod of -4, would start with only 1 trick after being trained. Humorously, an ancient black dragon, if your DM allowed it, would start with 8, despite being a centuries-wise sub-deific primordial being of fundamental power.)

Training an animal a new trick is far simpler than taming it in the first place. Firstly, you only need to foot the bill for their food; you don't need to pay someone to pen the thing in for you any more; it's already tame. The time it takes to train the animal is 5 * (10 - intelligence modifier). So, for example, a dog would take 70 days to teach a new trick, (10--4=14; 14*5=70) and would cost you 70lb. of meat, or 14sp.

A creature can know a total number of tricks equal to two times its intelligence score. (A griffon can learn 4, a mastiff can learn 6, an ape can learn 12, an ancient black dragon can learn 32, etc.)


Note, of course, that if your directions will intentionally harm the animal, like using it as a meat shield for cover from arrow fire, the DM has every right to have it act in self-preservation. During combat a Bonus Action is required to issue a command or change a target. (Requiring a player to exchange their own attack/action for the attack/action of an animal companion/summon never seemed sensible to me. For example; a dog in real life ordered to attack something doesn't suddenly stop every few seconds and wait for permission to bite again, but it must be commanded to stop.)

Come and Heel. This issue is more than just having an animal return when you call it. This command will cause the animal to act against its own desires. The animal will come to you, even if you are standing in a dangerous place. The animal will sit and stay still, even if it really wants to go kill that goblin.

Attack. This command will cause the creature to mercilessly attack who- or whatever you are directing it toward. Teaching the animal this trick also allows them to add your proficiency bonus to their attacks. It is unlikely to relent until the target is ruined, or a come and heel command is given.

Fetch. This command will send the animal to strive to obtain whatever you are directing it toward. If the animal cannot do it, (like say you told a rat to fetch a greatsword) it will attempt to open up any barriers which prevent you from getting it yourself.

Ride. If the animal is at least one size larger than you, (or some other person in your company) and of appropriate anatomy, it can be trained to be a mount. Prior to this training, the animal just acts of its own accord, tolerating your presence on its back. Just because it is trained does not necessarily mean that you know how to ride it though.

Perform. This is one amusing trick your animal does. A back flip on command, playing dead, speaking on command, etc. When used for practical purposes, this is the same as the animal having the perform skill.

Find. The animal can use its unique senses to search for things and track/hunt a mark. In practice, this functions as a guaranteed group check between yourself and the animal for the same task- this is almost like advantage, but the two die can have different modifiers- even penalties- and your proficiency only applies to your die.

Enlighten. You spend a great deal of time getting the animal to understand the subtleties of your expression, such that it has a higher understanding of people and what they are talking about. As an example, an unenlightened animal will feel good if you talk to it in a happy tone, even if your words are harsh, but an enlightened animal will get the hint that you're being facetious. This is represented by a one-time +1 intelligence score adjustment for the animal.

Work. The animal can be trained to carry, haul, and tow loads. While you could theoretically strap bags to the side of most any animal, this also applies to things like pulling carts, drawing a line to lift a load by a pulley, or tilling with a plow, which actually do normally require some training to be done well.

Help. Your animal has been trained to remember directions and the locations of important things- like people. If you are ever injured or lost, you could send your animal to seek help- it will always return to you. Animals trained in this trick will also find their way to you if you are separated.

Talent. This teaches the animal a skill or tool proficiency. It is up to the DM if the proficiency is something the animal can learn. For example, using a harp may seem doable for a large rat, but using a kettle drum would not. Likewise, training a horse to use its senses better for a perception proficiency makes more sense than teaching it knowledge: arcana. The animal uses your proficiency bonus.

Deliver. You have taught the animal how to navigate its way back to known settlements, and return to you, as well as how to carry and deliver messages and small parcels.

Hunt. Predatory animals, such as hawks or dogs, can be taught to hunt on their own and bring the kill back to you, rather than eating it for themselves. This is the same as the animal foraging independently of you.

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