Four Legs Friendly
Getting Timmy Out of the Well in GURPS Fourth Edition
by Phil Masters
One of the benefits of the considerably cleaned, tidied, and smoothed- over rules mechanisms in GURPS Fourth Edition is that they make the treatment of animals as characters a snap. In fact, any reasonably complete species stat block is a ready-made framework for a racial template, often requiring little more than the insertion of some point values. This in turn means that special animal companions -- usually purchased as Allies -- are not only feasible, but very easy to define.
For example, let's look at two of the species which make appealing (and perhaps downright stereotyped) potential companions, and convert the data from chapter 16 of the new Basic Set directly to racial templates:
Large Guard Dog
Attribute Modifiers: ST-1 (No Fine Manipulators, -40%) [-6]; DX+1 ; IQ-6 [-120]; HT+2 .
Secondary Characteristic Modifiers: SM 0; Will+6 ; Per+8 ; Basic Move+5 .
Advantages & Perks: Discriminatory Smell ; Fur ; Sharp Teeth .
Disadvantages: Chummy [-5]; Domestic Animal [-30]; Quadruped [-35]; Short Lifespan 2 [-20].
Racially Learned Skills: Brawling (E) DX+2 -13; Tracking (A) Per+1 -13.
Attribute Modifiers: ST+14 (No Fine Manipulators, -40%; Size, -10%) ; DX-1 [-20]; IQ-7 [-140]; HT+2 .
Secondary Characteristic Modifiers: SM+1; Will+8 ; Per+9 ; Basic Move +2 .
Advantages & Perks: Combat Reflexes ; Enhanced Move 1 ; Fur ; Hooves ; Peripheral Vision .
Disadvantages: Bad Temper (12) [-10]; Domestic Animal [-30]; Quadruped [-35]; Short Lifespan 1 [-10]; Weak Bite [-2].
Racially Learned Skills: Brawling (E) DX+3 -12; Mount (A) DX+4 -13.
(Okay, these add Short Lifespan and the "Fur" Perk, which standard animal stat blocks don't bother mentioning. Similarly, a properly detailed treatment of some species might require the addition of, say, Less Sleep or Extra Sleep. Many animals might also have Colorblindness, although in fact, this condition may not usually be as bad as the full GURPS disadvantage.)
But that's just a start. After all, an animal worth treating as an Ally ought to be slightly more interesting than the sort of thing that a character can buy in the public market. The fun comes when we notice that all the things which make animals like these rather mundane are bundled together in one place -- the "Domestic Animal" meta-trait. So, for the sort of game worlds which are infested with helpful pets, we can just chop this out and replace it with a brand new meta-trait:
Cinematic Animal Companion: An animal noted for its helpfulness, devotion, intelligence, and uncanny ability to understand humans and convey useful information to them. IQ+1 ; Sensitive ; Cannot Speak [-15]; Social Stigma (Valuable Property) [-10]; Taboo Trait (Fixed IQ) ; and Gesture Skill at IQ+4 . 2 points.
Note that the Sensitive advantage specifically makes the creature alert to the emotional states of ordinary fully sapient beings such as humans. GMs may assume that, by logical symmetry with Animal Empathy, Spirit Empathy, etc., when possessed by humans, this permits an animal to use Influence Skills on humans (and the like).
Using this will of course raise the cost of any species template which previously included either the Domestic Animal or Wild Animal meta-traits by 32 points. The Taboo Trait fixes the animal's IQ at its raised level, of course, and this might be deleted in some cases, with GM consent, or more likely changed to "IQ can only be raised by +1 more"; for example, in highly cinematic games, a "wonder horse" might have IQ 5. Raising animal IQ beyond that level, though, would really be getting silly -- unless that's the point of the game. Note that an IQ 6+ creature should theoretically be capable of speech; indeed, cinematic animal companions with that level of exceptional intelligence generally seem to understand everything that's said to them, simply possessing the Mute disadvantage and -- usually! -- illiteracy.
It should also be noted here that the vast majority of animals are Dead Broke; their position in relation to human society prevents them from doing much useful with money, even if they somehow have any idea what it is. Equipment such as saddles, armor, etc., should be paid for by the character acquiring an animal companion, not by the animal itself.
So, having done all this work, let's build ourselves -- or rather, some hypothetical characters -- a couple of animal companions:
ST 9 ; DX 13 ; IQ 5 ; HT 12 .
Secondary Attributes: SM 0; Dmg 1d-2/1d-1; BL 16; HP 9 ; Will 11 ; Per 13 ; FP 12 ; Basic Speed 6.25 ; Basic Move 11 ; Dodge 10.
Advantages: Combat Reflexes ; Night Vision 6 ; Pitiable .
Disadvantages: Dead Broke [-25]; Fanaticism (Kurtswallider family) [-15]; Gluttony (12) [-5]; Large Guard Dog w/Cinematic Animal Companion instead of Domestic Animal [-24]; Secret (Utter ruthlessness) [-10].
Quirks: Avoids human children he doesn't know, if possible; Likes traveling by car (but doesn't stick his head out of the window); Overdoes the innocent act around Mr. and Mrs. Kurtswallider. [-3]
Skills: Acting-8 ; Brawling-17 ; Camouflage-9 ; Filch-13 ; Gesture-10 ; Observation-12 ; Stealth-13 ; Tracking-14 .
Mr. and Mrs. Kurtswallider aren't bad people, even though their fabulous wealth and jet-set lifestyle do tend to distract them from things that other people might find important; they're just terribly busy. They really do love their adopted daughter, Jenny Kurtswallider, even though they sometimes only seem to pay her much attention when she gets into trouble. Fortunately, they're quite clever about spending their money, and Little Jenny has had some of the best nannies and tutors that can be afforded anywhere. She's also got a pet which any child would envy.
She picked out Mr. Snompom when he was a cute puppy. Had Mr. and Mrs. Kurtswallider been paying more attention that day, they might have noticed that he was quite a large puppy, even then, but they just agreed that he was adorable and paid what he cost. Jenny promised to look after him and house-train him properly, and she carried out that promise faithfully with the aid of the Kurtswallider family's faithful chauffeur, Thurl. She did spoil him rather, but fortunately he gets lots of exercise to burn off all that expensive dog food.
The sweet puppy has grown quite large indeed, but even if the adult Kurtswalliders sometimes worry about him, it's become clear that Little Jenny loves him far too much for them to get rid of him. Anyway, he's perfectly well behaved, and sometimes helps Little Jenny in small ways when she gets into her funny little scrapes -- and despite his size and strength, and the impressive way he has of moving quite quietly when he wants to, he does still have the most adorable puppy-dog eyes.
There are quite a lot of people with different views of Mr. Snompom, actually, but very few of them choose to come anywhere near the family these days. (There'd be more, but not all of them are in any state to express that opinion -- or anything else.) Little Jenny worked very hard to house-train Mr. Snompom, and he understands very well that he shouldn't leave messes lying around -- so he doesn't. And when Little Jenny's Weirdness Magnet and assorted Unknown Enemies make for messes bigger than Mr. Snompom can hide on his own, the taciturn, equally loyal, seven-foot-tall Thurl (Little Jenny's other Ally) will always step in to help.
Come to think of it, Mr. and Mrs. Kurtswallider probably ought to pay a bit more attention to a lot of things.
ST 25 ; DX 9 ; IQ 4 ; HT 12 .
Secondary Attributes: SM+1; Dmg 2d+2/5d-1; BL 125; HP 25 ; Will 12 ; Per 13 ; FP 12 ; Basic Speed 5.25 ; Basic Move 7 ; Dodge 11.
Advantages: Fearlessness 1 ; Heavy Warhorse w/Cinematic Animal Companion instead of Domestic Animal .
Disadvantages: Dead Broke [-25]; Impulsiveness (12) [-10]; Intolerance (Dwarves) [-5].
Quirks: Quiet and respectful around human women; Hates to retreat. [-2]
Skills: Brawling-14 ; Gesture-8 ; Mount-14 .
The human-ruled Empire of Megalos and the underground dwarf kingdom of Zarak are at peace, and have been for centuries. That's the official position, anyway. But once upon a time, they were at war, and it was a bitter war, and if there's one thing which the Megalan aristocracy and the dwarven race have in common, it's the ability to hold grudges. Add to this the fact that the borderlands between the two are sometimes remote and wild, and little watched by the high lords and law-givers of either realm, and you've got a recipe for blood feuds, petty raiding, and vicious ambushes.
Sir Lionel of High Rassingbourne maintains the traditions of his class in every sense that he understands them, and does what he feels is appropriate about the "d---ed dwarf problem" whenever he can. As a proud knight, he has of course acquired a fine warhorse, and thanks to good luck in his purchase, a long and diligent regime of training, and his natural sense for animal handling, he has perhaps the best mount on the northern borders.
His faithful steed, Dwarfcrusher, is a wonderful creature, which understands him perfectly and works well with his squires and men-at- arms even when Sir Lionel isn't around. (It has a trained warhorse's hair-trigger temper, but is intelligent enough to understand when a human isn't actually being provocative.) Dwarfcrusher has also absorbed Sir Lionel's basic views and instincts on many subjects, especially dwarves, and may even have accumulated a higher body count than Sir Lionel himself.
Article publication date: October 22, 2004
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