Animal Handling Skill

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by Tom Verreault

Animals as adventure pets in role playing games date back to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and the inclusion of war dogs in the equipment list.  Television and movies reinforced the idea of adventure pets with pirate captains having pet parrots and monkeys on their shoulders, truck drivers with a primate as a side kick, and Westerns that depicted cowboy heroes with their faithful horse of above average intelligence.  The ultimate Hollywood presentation of this troupe was The Beastmaster, released in 1982 where the title character, Dar, had a whole menagerie of animals he controlled in a fantasy setting.  Animals as adventure pets have been a significant, though sometimes minor, theme in the forty year history of role playing games. 

What has often been overlooked is a rules framework for handling animals in game.  The Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn rule books lacked this but Zebulon’s Guide introduced them in the fragmented skill system of its incomplete revision.  The flexibility and ease of use of the Alpha Dawn skill system has demonstrated its elegance and explains why it was never really been supplanted by the Zeb’s skill system.  What is called for is an adaption of animal handling skills from the Zeb’s Guide to the AD rules.

The Skills

As a skill, Animal Training best fits in the Bio-Social Primary Skill Area (PSA).  Veterinary Medicine also belongs in this PSA. 

Animal Training Skill

(Skill check= ½ INT +10% per level)

Animal training deals with all aspects of animal behavior, training, and care.  Its sub-skills are: Analyze Behavior, Taming, Training, and Care. 

The Analyze Behavior sub-skill

This sub-skill allows a character, given ten minutes of observation, to determine if an animal is harmless or aggressive.  The animal can be observed further (2d5 hours -1 hour per level of skill but for a minimum of 1 hour) to determine den location and eating and drinking habits.  A full analysis of how the animal fits into its environment would require 200 hours of observation. 

A failed skill check with this sub-skill will cause all other sub-skill checks to fail.  The character may not realize that he failed this skill action if he fails by more than 10 points on the percentile roll.  A player may recheck for this sub-skill once per GST day or alternately may consider this sub-skill as automatically passed on a particular animal after 200 hours of active observation.  Once an animal trainer is completely familiar with a particular animal species he never needs to roll for this action with that animal as success is automatic.  Note that an individual animal from a species that normally is not aggressive could be aggressive because of illness, injury, or some other reason and unless the animal handler is completely familiar with the species, with a skill check he should spot right away that something is wrong.

The Taming sub-skill

This sub-skill allows a character to tame a creature so that it can be handled safely without it attacking or hurting someone.  A tamed creature can only be used as a beast of burden or herd animal.  Anything further requires actual training.  If this skill check fails then there is a 25% chance the animal will attack the animal trainer.

Taming is time consuming and requires the character to work with the animal day after day.  If more than two days of taming are missed the trainer must begin again from the beginning.  The taming process takes 1d10 days minus 1 day per skill level but one day is the minimum.  It is further modified by the following but the minimum of 1 day to tame is still in effect:




-1 day


+1 day

Domesticated Species (see below)

-1 day

Giant Sized

+2 days

Large Sized

+1 day

Small or Tiny Sized

-1 day

Prior Experience Taming this Animal species

-1 day

If a character has worked with an animal to tame it, believing he passed his analyze behavior skill check when he actually failed, the referee can hint to the player after 3 days of taming that perhaps he did not fully understand the animal’s behavior.  Realizing and fixing the failed analyze behavior skill check during taming only adds 1 day to the taming procedure but prevents an automatic failure that would otherwise occur. 

Once tamed, an animal remains that way unless abandoned.  The following types of creatures carry a -10% penalty to tame:  tiny creatures, giant herbivores, all insectivores, large omnivores, and large carnivores.  Giant omnivores and giant carnivores have a -20% modifier for taming.  Monsters (like a queequig or sand shark), weird genetic constructs or Sathar creatures cannot be tamed.  Taming does not mean that the animal does not require a cage, pen, or other accommodations usual to animals.  Taming simply means that the animal may be safely handled unless provoked or stressed. 

Animal Training Sub-skill

Training may be performed on a tamed animal.  It functions like a robotics program installed in a robot.  For example a robot cannot fight without the appropriate program installed like Attack/Defense.  In a similar way animal training “programs” an animal to perform specific tasks in response to the right stimuli.  An animal trainer learns one training program for every level of skill and may pay 4 EXP to learn a new training program after level 6.  The animal trainer may actively manage one animal per level of skill in stressful situations like combat.

Some animals may not possess enough intelligence for some training; the referee must first approve the training course before training begins.  Animal training works by practicing a training program for 1d5 weeks after which a skill roll is made.  If it succeeds, the animal is trained in that program but otherwise the trainer must redo the regime.  The following are six training programs but more are possible if approved by the referee.


This training regime must be performed with an animal to house (or space ship) break it.  Otherwise, a pen, cage, corral, or other suitable facility is required to house the animal.  The animal will be content to associate with its owner and look to him for his needs.  This program will also train an animal to associate with animals it would not normally do so, allowing an animal trainer to mix carnivores with herbivores.  If the animal is to be ship broken then 0g familiarization is part of its training.  Ship- broken animals not in a cage when the ship goes into 0g will require an incontinence garment to prevent waste products from floating around the ship.


This regime teaches an animal to guard a location or person.  Herbivores will usually sound an alarm (5% chance of biting the intruder or attacker), omnivores may (50%) actually bite an intruder or attacker, but carnivores may (75%) bite an intruder or attacker.  Otherwise they sound an alarm.  If the omnivore or carnivore has been through the Attack training then it will attack intruders or attackers 100% of the time.



This regime teaches the animal to use its natural weaponry to attack.  Some herbivores can be trained to attack if the referee approves.  Herbivores that are injured flee 5-50 meters.  When an omnivore or carnivore is injured for more than half its STA it will flee 2-20 meters if the trainer fails a skill check.  The training program includes the ability to call off an attack as well.


This training program requires an animal that uses its sense of smell to follow prey.  Most herbivores will not be suitable while most omnivores and carnivores will.  The animal will follow a track but if it crosses a body of water or a food source the animal trainer must make a skill check to urge the animal on. 


This training program teaches basic useful commands.  If the animal feels threatened or experiences stress in the form of combat it will flee or act erratically unless the trainer passes a skill check.


This training program can be taught to omnivores and carnivores.  If the animal is a pack hunter it will work in concert with the animal trainer while hunting. 

The Care Sub-skill

This sub-skill functions automatically if the character has already successfully analyzed animal behavior.  It allows the character to know how to house, feed, and otherwise maintain the animal.  Because animal handlers have specialized knowledge they may perform some limited veterinary actions for animals they have spent days working with.  For a standard skill check they may perform basic first aid and heal 10 STA for their animal.  If they have a specialized first aid kit matched to their animal’s biology (usually cost 25 Cr and is good for 3 uses) they have a +10% bonus to the first aid skill check.  First aid may only be attempted once per day by the animal trainer whether it succeeds or not.

Veterinary Skill

(Skill check= ½ LOG +10% per level)

This optional skill is simply the medical skill applied to animals.  As an optional rule, Medics can use their medic skill to work on animals at ½ their skill rounded down and conversely a Vet can use their skill and knowledge to help a sapient being at ½ their skill level rounded down.  Rounding down the skill level means that a first level skill cannot be used in this way.  A veterinarian needs a tool kit of similar cost and weight to the medic’s tool kit but the Telol drug is replaced with an animal sedative.  Sedation is required for most medical treatment of an animal.  The modifier for a medic working on a being with alien biology (-20) also applies to the veterinarian.  A vet has studied the biology of creatures native to the ecosystems that the core four races evolved in, all others are considered alien.

Referee Section


Taming an animal does not domesticate it.  Domestication is a process where animals are bred over generations for features that make them easily handled and worked with.  Even though the Terran Wolf and Terran Dog are 99% similar in DNA and can interbreed, taming a wolf does not make it a dog.  The reality is a wolf makes a poor house pet.  For game purposes, a domesticated animal is any animal that has had a long association with the core four player character races and has experienced generations of breeding for desirable features.  Use of Animal handling skill with a domesticated species carries a +20 bonus to skill checks.  The decision as to what domesticated animals exist in the game setting will largely be up to the game referee.


Instinct is programing that nature has given the animal.  In the case of the Terran Dog, various breeds have been bred for a particular instinct and this instinct has become locked into the breed.  For example some dog breeds have a strong shepherding instinct while others have a strong prey instinct. 

My own house pet, a mix breed terrier has the hunting and killing instinct of his forbearers.  There is not one aggressive bone in his body and he wouldn’t hurt a fly but the instinct to grab small prey and break its neck is hard wired into him from being a terrier breed.  Just paying attention to him, talking to him, or trying to pet him will cause him to become excited and hunt for his toy rope.  The only time he ever growls is while vigorously shaking the rope to “break its neck.” If it wasn’t for his inability to relax and sit on your lap, he’d make a great lap dog, which was what I thought I was getting when I bought him for the wife and kids because he was small and fluffy.  His instinct is simply locked into his genes and we’ve managed it by training him to only “kill” his toy rope, after he had destroyed a couple of the kid’s toys.

Animal training can help manage an instinct and it is best to work with the animal’s instinct when training it.  A referee can apply a 10% penalty or bonus for characters working for or against an animal’s basic instincts in its training. 

Referee Notes on Instincts

Referee’s will need to look at a particular animal that is intended to be an adventure pet and make a judgment call as to the type of basic instinct that it may possess.  Fight or flight strategies turn up in herbivores as well as carnivores and is a good way to handle combat for an adventure pet that is not trained to attack or defend.  Animals that flee have a flight distance.  A domesticated animal will tend to have a short flight distance while tamed wild animals will tend to have a longer flight distance.  A short flight distance can be as short as a few meters while a long flight distance can be as far as a half kilometer.  A common tactic used by fleeing animals is to double back or circle around blocking terrain.  Circling around or doubling back helps to throw a pursuer off the trail but in a carnivore or omnivore it can serve to turn the tables on the pursuer.

The following instinctive reactions can serve to make an animal more distinctive in game.  Again these are guidelines that will require the referee to make a judgment call about the animal, but matching one to an animal can give the referee a consistent plan for handling the animal in stressful situations.

Prey Instinct

A strong prey instinct makes for an animal that is a good hunter.  This instinct compels them to chase and catch animals that are usually its size or smaller.  Animals with this instinct are good at stalking and hunting.  They can solo hunt or group hunt and if bonded with their handler they will work almost intuitively with them in activities that mimic stalking and hunting. 

Shepherd Instinct

A strong shepherding instinct makes for a good working animal well able to manage other domesticated animals.  The trained animal becomes an extension of the animal handler, allowing him to control it by vocal commands and move domesticated animals as if by remote control.  In an untrained animal, this instinct can lead to biting of domesticated animals.  Typically, the shepherding instinct is a modification of the prey instinct brought about during the domestication process.  For that reason a wild animal is unlikely to possess this instinct.

Protective Instinct

A strong protective instinct gives an animal a strong sense of protection for the beings with which it lives.  It may stem from an evolutionary strategy to protect its progeny or strictly from being territorial.  Once it becomes familiar with a location it will assume guardianship over it.  Animals with this instinct will vocalize a warning at strangers and can launch an independent attack.  Whether trained or not this instinct can lead to a very aggressive animal. 

Social Instinct

This instinct is found in social animals that cooperatively hunt their prey or cooperatively defend themselves from predators.  This can make it easier to train the animal to work with a sapient being.  Behavior issues can sometimes arise if the animal is left alone or caged for long periods of time.  The instinct can express itself in carnivores by endurance hunting as a pack.  Endurance hunters drive their prey, rarely closing with it but simply preventing it from resting till it succumbs to exhaustion.  In an herbivore the instinct can present as a strong protective streak bordering on heroic.

Equipment for Animal Handlers

Light Weight Cages

These cages are made of light weight alloys and are inexpensive.  Cages are rated by the size of the creature to be held in them.  There is a 50% chance that the cage for a large creature will fail due to light construction. There is no such thing as a light weight cage for giant creatures. 

Cage Size





5 Cr


1 kg

10 Cr


3 kg

20 Cr


5 kg

40 Cr


Heavy Duty Cages

These cages are made of heavy weight metal alloy.  Cages are rated by the size of the creature to be held in them.  There is a 50% chance that the cage for a giant animal will fail.

Cage Size




1 kg

10 Cr


2 kg

20 Cr


4 kg

60 Cr


8 kg

200 Cr


16 kg

400 Cr


Giant Sized Federanium Cage

Cages made from federanium alloy are guaranteed not to fail.  They are constructed specifically for giant sized animals.

Cost:  2000 Cr, 20kg


A leash adds +10% to skill checks to control the animal in stressful situations.  They are rated by creature sized and an animal must have a leash matched to its size.  Large and giant creatures are generally not suitable for a leash.

Leash Size



2 Cr


3 Cr


4 Cr


Animal First Aid Kit

This is just a simple first aid kit and can only be used to perform first aid on an animal.  It must be matched for the biology of the animal and it will provide a +10% to the first aid skill check by the animal handler.  The kit is good for 3 uses. 

Cost: 25 Cr.

Veterinarian Medical Kit

It is similar to the standard medic’s tool kit for medical treatment of sapient beings.  In this tool kit the telol drug has been replaced with 25 dose of broad spectrum sedative.  It also lacks a freeze field and autodoc. 

Cost: 400 Cr, 8 kg

Food and Bedding

An animal handler needs to provide food and bedding for his animal.  This expense is computed as a weekly cost.  Inadequate food or bedding can lead to illness and behavior issues.  If a player character has failed to provide for these basic needs the referee can apply a variety of penalties.  Everything from infections, to behavior issues, or the local chapter of Beings Against Cruelty to Animals cadre complaining to authorities about the player character.

Animal rights activists or local law enforcement paying the player character a visit is an in game penalty that must be handled through role playing.  Behavior issues can have a wide variety of effects which are up to the referee to decide how they play out in encounters but a good rule of thumb would be a -10 to -20% penalty for skill checks while handling the animal.  However, the animal’s reaction could be as extreme as turning on the handler. 

Finally the Alpha Dawn rule mechanic for an infection is expressed in this way: (S5/D8).  This means the infection has a strength of 5 and will cause that much damage to the animal’s STA every 10 hours for 80 hours.  If the infection formula is followed by an “!” as in: (S10/D5!) then the animal will take 10 points of damage every 10 hours for 50 hours and at the end of that time if the infection has not been cured it kills the animal.  A veterinarian skill check is required to “control infections” similar to the medic’s sub skill. The attempt to control the infection requires a dose of animal omnimycin. Failure means the dose is used up and the infection is out of control. Another attempt can be made in 1 GST day.

Food & Bedding

by Size


(Galactic Std.  Time)


5 Cr


15 Cr


30 Cr


100 Cr


250 Cr