by Eric Funk

Pets (BE98) are an often-overlooked roleplaying tool. (Star)ships can have their cat and/or dog. A soldier on an alien planet can befriend an electric squirrel. An adventurer in cyberspace can pick up a cute floating diamond. Pirates can have their parrots. While mainly a comedy, the movie Fierce Creatures illustrates different levels of bonds between trainers and animals. Pets can often identify strangers attempting to infiltrate a group, and locate secret passages. Animals can lead the way to new friends, and new enemies. In steampunk, alternate present, or in futuristic campaigns, pet translators may work and allow humans to understand pets' vocalizations. (A web search on "bowlingual" or "meowlingual" will reveal 2002 technology that was mass marketed!)

Examples of "Ordinary" Pets






Alice in Wonderland










Harry Potter


Arthur Weasley's Car



Herbie the Love Bug




Volkswagon Beetle

Lord of the Rings





The Mummy





Nightmare before Christmas




ghost dog





cyberspace watchdog





alien electric squirrel

Star Trek: the Next Generation









bit 0/1

Wizard of Oz





Examples of "Intelligent" Animals






Kiki's Delivery Service










Littlest Hobo









Kryptonian dog

"Hi, I'm Elle Woods and this is Bruiser Woods"
-- Legally Blonde

There are three levels of intensity for which a person can care for a pet:

  1. As a Friend or Loved One (Dependent, see p. B38). The character cares about the pet and it follows him freely. This is most common with dogs, as well as a few cats. Intensely trained animals, such as birds and horses, may follow a person willingly after their education is finished. If let loose, it will seek out its owner. Competent pets (with a value of over 75 character points) are indeed Allies (p. B23).
  2. While in the proximity of its keeper, this pet may listen to instructions, but given the chance, it's gone. While not hostile to the owner, this pet must be kept on a leash or it will run away, not listening to instructions. One way to model this may be Ally (Unwilling) (p. CI19), or a variant for unwilling Dependents. Treat the dependent as one point value category smaller for cost purposes, the lowest being "0 or fewer." The behavior may be modeled using the "Wild Animals as Companions" section on p. BE102. If it escapes, it may seek a place of refuge, or perhaps attack the owner.
  3. The creature is kept in a cage, and may or may not recognize its owner as friendly. This is less of a Dependent, and more of a Sense of Duty or Obsession of the owner (but not both). As 2) above, but it may only be able to follow a few instructions, and then only while in the cage.

The GM must decide how often the pet can reasonably show up in adventures; this will then be built into the Dependant/Ally value. A dog with a doggy door may find the hero at the scene of the crime. The ship may be taken over while the party is away, and the hero should be worried about the pet. If the pet escapes, the owner is bound by the above disadvantages to seek to recover the creature as swiftly as possible, uninjured. They must also dissuade anyone else from taking violent action against the creature, unless the PC has a greater Duty/Sense of Duty in direct conflict to the Dependent/Obsession/Sense of Duty (pet) combination. As indicated in Dependent (see p. B38), there is a significant emotional tie to the target, and if something happens to them, then the progress of the player character can be hindered.

Special Care

"Where's my elephant?"
-- Bart Simpson, The Simpsons

Many modern pets have tattoos which identify their kennel and serial number. Cutting-edge technology involves short-range transponder implants (like those beginning to replace UPC codes in the United States). In the future, GPS may even be available to find the pets wherever they are.

Most pets cannot survive on human food alone. A successful roll against Animal Handling (appropriate)-6, Biochemistry-2, Survival (creatures' native terrain), Veterinary (appropriate specialty), Zoology, or Xenology (if appropriate) is required to identify what the pet would need. Pet-specific medicine may be hard to find away from population centers. Out in the wilds, smaller pets can also attract predators that would otherwise ignore humanoids.


"Friends, help! The Guinea pig tricked me!"
-- Dr. Zoidberg, Futurama

Commercial travelers between planets may have to show proof of immunizations for their pets with them. In low and ultra-tech societies, this is generally less of a problem for different reasons. In a low-tech society, "border officers" often don't care as long as the animal isn't obviously sick; all that may be required is to pay a toll or tax. In ultra-tech societies, the pets can get a proprietary version of Panimmunity (at increased cost). Panimmunity gives one an "active" immune system, which actively destroys any foreign organisms, thus preventing them from being carriers of diseases they are immune to.

In settings where magic is not uncommon, the Wealthy may be able to purchase collars enchanted with Resist Disease (G54) (wizard's cost of $63,500). This could server to protect the pet, and perhaps to avoid legislation. Large centers may require all animals brought in be treated with Cure Disease, Resist Disease, or even Sterilize! Suspended Animation may be an alternative if the animal is to simply pass through.

Modern Australia has a one to four month quarantine on imported animals. In Britain, the quarantine could be up to six months if the animal does not have proper medical documentation. At borders, if the pets are refused entry (or are being held for a time), they may be held in a boarding kennel. This is an excellent tool for roleplaying. If the heroes are in the Capitol and hear about a fire at the boarding kennel at the border, they can be torn between Duty and Sense of Duty. Unfair kennels may institute changes in policy that can only be corrected in person. This is also a good place for a super-villain (or unrelated ninjas, or both!) to try to kidnap the mascot while the team is off on business; while not necessarily someone's pet, the loss of the animal should spark a reaction within anyone who has the Duty or Sense of Duty to (the team). Note that many hotels do not allow pets, and the ones that do often set their "pet-friendly" rooms as a subset of the smoking rooms.


Cats and dogs can sense those that are uneasy around them and some even become extra "friendly" toward persons who are allergic to them. For great ideas on how to handle allergies check out the Pyramid article "Allergies" by Andrew J. Shelden.

GURPS Statistics

"Today, we're going to teach poodles how to fly!"
-- Raoul, UHF


Reputation: (Keeper of _____): In a modern, western campaign, someone who is a keeper of a certain type of animal can easily have a certain positive reaction with others who keep the same kind. (i.e.: a kind of brotherhood of cat owners). Others may grant a general bonus if the animal in question is normally only owned by the social "elite", or requires unusually hard to gain permits (e.g.: Only the Crown can breed dragons, and nobles require a permit for each dragon). Mixed reactions will be gained by those known to hold "endangered" species in captivity. Owning some other kinds of pets can easily generate negative reputations, even if the pet is legal. Many people react negatively to the owner of a tarantula while the topic is relevant, even if they are not especially arachnophobic. A reputation as an owner of a particularly vicious animal should get a bonus to intimidation equal to the absolute value of the reputation to the affected party.

Pet as an excuse to gain advantages: There are some who have claimed to gain advantages while learning to care for pets. Some claim to have gained Combat Reflexes, High Pain Threshold, and Toughness from just being cat owners for 10 years. In a less serious campaign this may be a real way to gain such advantages. See GURPS Goblins pp. 65-67 for suggestions on how to gain advantages through "mistreatment."


Some people take pets as a form of confrontational therapy. Others enjoy keeping animals about them that frighten others. Having a vicious-looking pit bull at one's side, or a tarantula on one's shoulder may count as a display of strength or bloodthirstiness (see Intimidation rules p. B246). Those with specific phobias must roll to resist them before rolling to resist intimidation attempts.






Animals in general






Dogs (or rabies)










For more phobias, please consult the Links section at the end.

Related, there is Brontophobia (see p. B36), which can be activated by medium or large dogs' barking. Animals that are self-cleaning (cats and rabbits) or well-groomed will keep someone with Rupophobia from reacting poorly. A Will roll would be needed before such a person could approach wild animals or even unkept farm animals.

"Then I get Fang." "Fine. Just so's you know, he's a ruddy coward."
-- Draco and Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone


Rules for animals learning skills are covered on pp. BE118-119. The skills for the trainer/owner is Animal Handling(specialty). This allows a person to know the moods and tendencies of an animal, and can be used as an Influence skill when dealing with them. Animal Empathy or Beast Kin also help a person relate to the beasts. The only other generic animal skill is Veterinary(specialty), which gives a great bonus if one is familiar with the animal in addition to the optional specialization. This means that someone with 1/2 point in Veterinary(dogs) gets the skill at IQ+7 when working with their own dog, or a dog that "trusts" them.

Adventure Seeds

"If there's one thing a cat never gives, it's a straight answer."
-- The cat, The Last Unicorn


So, when the ship is set to self-destruct and a slimy alien is killing everything in sight, please remember to take the cat along in the escape pod, too.


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Article publication date: January 30, 2004

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