15 August 2016

Going To The Dogs: Dogs In The FRPG Milieu

Most of the early era D&D books mention dogs, though mostly incidentally or by implication (animal trainers, for example). Here are some specifics sorted by edition. This is not an exhaustive index, merely a quick list of any significant information. 

No Listing. The section on NPC Specialists has an animal trainer with no specific mention of dogs. The monster section has a Small Insect Or Animal listing that could be used to stat out a dog but has no specific reference to them.

Blue Book
No Listing. Dr Holmes did include a monster entry for Blink Dogs that could be used as inspiration for statting a mundane dog.

No Listing. Basic mentions both wolf and dire wolf cubs could trained as dogs if the referee allowed, leading a referee to perhaps use the statistics for wolves as a basis for dogs in his campaign. Expert has an entry on Animal Trainer that specifically mentions dogs as a possibility for training. There is also a Blink Dog monster entry that might also give guidance for creating one's own dog statistics.

No Listing. Beyond references similar to those in B/X, no specifics on dogs and their capabilities.

Dog, guard 25 g.p., Dog, hunting 17 g.p. Beyond the price listing, no real specifics about dogs or their training.

Monster listings for Dog, War; and Dog, Wild. The first actual printed rules regarding the statistics for dogs in a D&D campaign world. Unfortunately, there is little useful information in the monster listings for running dogs as NPC companions.

Mounts And Beasts Of Burden (Sled Dog). Scant useful information.

A few mentions, with the discussion of them as beasts of burden on p. 60 being one of the better references of refereeing NPC dogs among a rather sparse field of same. 

Swords & Wizardry, Any
No direct reference. 

Labyrinth Lord
List prices for dogs. Stats blink dogs and references dogs in the Wolf monster listing.

Delving Deeper
Lists dogs in encounter tables, both dungeon and wilderness. Stats out dogs, gives description.

List dogs in various encounter tables. Stats out dogs, gives descriptions.

All That Aside?

We have our every day knowledge of dogs and their capabilities to guide us. Dogs are the oldest domesticated animals and have adapted to us as completely as we to them. So what can a dog do and, more importantly, what can a dog do that we (humans or our demi-human kin) cannot? 

Dogs have a superior sense of smell: they are able to track specific individuals over great distances. They are also able to detect approaching strangers: monsters, known enemies, anyone not its owner or his allies. Dogs can also be alert for specific smells, as using drug-sniffing and bomb-sniffing dogs has shown us.

Dogs have a superior sense of hearing: when serving in a guard capacity they can hear approaching enemies much farther away. They are more likely to awaken from sleep at the approach of a monster to camp. 

Non-Reliance On Vision: a dog's keen senses means it will detect invisible or otherwise magically veiled creatures or even objects. Their honed senses means this non-visual detection will be far more accurate than a human's. 

Sensitivity to magnetic fields: they can sense the approach of bad weather, for example. This also makes them sensitive to seismic events well in advance of their occurrence. Magnetic field sensitivity allows dogs to sense electrical current, giving warning adventurers of electrified traps if trained properly. 

Intelligence: while we will refrain from assigning specific INT ability scores to them, dogs are demonstrably intelligent. They are able to memorize and follow hundreds of commands (both verbal and gesture) and in at least one case, two thousand separate commands.  

Symbiosis: in addition to intelligence and learning, dogs are adept at reading human body language (including facial expression, posture, and emotion). This means a dog will be able to sense a person of malicious intent hiding behind a friendly face. 

Symbiosis Again: dogs have adapted well to the human diet and thrive on foods their wolf ancestors would be unable to live on. 

Anecdotally: dogs are able to sense spirits both malevolent and benign. Thus invisible spirits, possessed individuals, demons masquerading as humans, doppelgangers, even a polymorphed creature if the dog is familiar with the scent of either the true form or the represented form of the entity before it. 

The Bottom Line 

We've only scratched the surface of usefulness of dogs to a D&D player-character. We suggest the Monster Manual as a good starting place for dog statistics. Give them preternatural awareness (as discussed in my house rules, basically the ability to know your surroundings independent of vision) based upon their keen senses, and a strong sense of protectiveness regarding their master and secondarily his allies. Dogs should be able to sense strongly magical or otherwordly entities, and be able to sense storms, earthquakes, invisible creatures, as well as beings with hostile intent. Suggested statistics follow, for use as is or for inspiration:

Dog: AC 7[12], MV 15, HD 1+1, #ATT: 1, AL: N, MR: Standard, INT: Semi-


  1. I like a war dog at 1 + 1 HD. They should be just a little tougher than a NM. Can we also have a 2 HD war dog? Like, a pony-sized warhorse-dog? Something that would have to sit in a Retainer slot more than likely simply to avoid proliferation.

  2. IMO a 2HD war dog should be expensive, difficult to train, and rare. In this way you could have them in your game without unbalancing the campaign. Then, if it turns out to not be a big deal, you can find some reason to have them become a little more common. Otherwise you have a way of limiting their impact on your milieu without having to tell your players "no."