War dog class

Mabari War Hound in Dragon Age: Origins (personal photo)

War dogs are included in my list of starting retainers. By default, they function as normal humans (1 HD, 1d6 damage) that are cheaper to maintain, don’t consume XP, and have slightly different morale dynamics. However, I think (and my players agree) that it would be fun to have loyal war dogs advance in power just like retainers, to support their usefulness beyond the first few levels.

  • XP progression as fighter
  • Hit dice as thief
  • Attack ranks as cleric
  • Save as fighter
  • Natural AC as light armor (leather, AC 7)
  • Fearless regarding mundane creatures of large size or less
  • Subject to morale checks for supernatural or sorcerous creatures
  • Canine senses (as per hear noise for thief of equivalent level)
  • Post-combat HP recovery (see below)
Dogs can be loyal retainers, but unlike humans their capacity to understand commands and carry out complex tactics is limited. By default, they have three potential actions: attack, defend, and stay. Further commands or tricks may be added per level. When commanded to defend, a war dog will not attack, but may save versus wands to intercept an enemy attacking their master in melee. They may require a saving throw to avoid chasing very tempting things, such as squirrels. Ability scores need not be rolled.

If allowed to gnaw the bones of dead enemies or given a treat after combat, war dogs can recover up to 1d6 HP (no more than was lost in the previous combat). Treats are generally things like large dried bones and are encumbering. Gnawing bones or treats takes one turn.

Light barding (AC bonus of 1) may be purchased. Medium (AC bonus of 2) barding may be equipped, but the dog takes a -1 encumbrance penalty to all tasks and may carry no other items without further penalty. Dogs without barding may be equipped with saddlebags, which allow the carrying of 5 encumbering items before penalties begin to accrue (-1 per significant item). Heavy barding (AC bonus of 3) functions similarly, but with encumbrance penalties of -3. Barding cost as per standard light, medium, and heavy armor. The ironclad ability (described below) allows the dog to wear medium barding and carry up to 5 items (if also wearing saddlebags) without penalty. Dogs in heavy barding may carry no extra items, even if ironclad-trained.
War dog commands and abilities, roll or pick per level (including level 1):

  1. Fearless: no morale check required versus supernatural enemies
  2. Retriever: understands most common objects, and will fetch them
  3. Link-pup: knows how to carry a torch or lantern
  4. Porter: will happily pull a small cart or sledge full of loot (no move penalty)
  5. Canine missile: charge command (10′ required, 30′ range, +1 damage)
  6. Worry: hit implies vicelike bite, auto damage following rounds (as grab)
  7. Frisbee: save versus wands to snatch mundane missiles out of the air
  8. Mage-hound: can smell sorcery, including enchantment
  9. Hunter: flawlessly track one kind of creature & warn of proximity
  10. Dwarf-hound: can smell gold and gems
  11. Ironclad: may wear medium (+2) or heavy (+3) barding without penalty
  12. Serpent-hunter: immune to all poison
Mage-hound, dwarf-hound, and serpent-hunter require special training if not chosen at first level, and may not be untrained.

War dogs may have no more than 6 abilities at any one time, though they may be retrained at the cost of 1d6 * 100 GP (following standard retainer advancement training rules).

See also:

8 thoughts on “War dog class

  1. Heikki Hallamaa

    I’m doing something similar in my campaign, but our dogs need 500 xp to get to level two, 1000 to level three, etc. They don’t get a share of the group xp though. Instead the dog’s owner divides his xp gains among himself and his dogs as he sees fit.

    1. Brendan


      That’s very similar to the way I plan on doing retainer XP, though I have not formalized the method yet (up to now, I’ve been doing the forced 2 to 1 XP division as per Moldvay). But I’m planning on reframing retainer XP as training costs, since XP is only awarded for GP spent in my current game.

      I also plan on having PCs best able to advance retainers of their own class, and to give fighters some bonuses in this area (to support the idea of the fighter as a leader of soldiers). I’m not 100% set on the particular mechanics though.

  2. Alec Semicognito

    Possible drawbacks to dogs in the party:

    1) penalty to surprise rolls, because they’ll start barking as soon as they smell something (but also a penalty to monsters’ surprise rolls, for the same reason)

    2) must save vs. poison or will attempt to eat any really foul-smelling substance encountered, potentially including pudding- and ooze-type monsters

    3) may attempt to fetch thrown weapons in combat (actually may turn out to be a good thing but probably not)

    1. Brendan


      All reasonable suggestions in a given situation, though I tend to be rather generous about these sorts of things. Usually, I let player resources be either reliable, or have a clear risk trade-off, so that they can reason about whether or not to use something.

    1. Brendan

      Yeah maybe. The way I was figuring it, most PCs and retainers are not dogs, so this would have minimal impact. Further, control over dogs is pretty limited compared to a human retainer (consider the limited number of commands), so it seemed like an interesting way to distinguish a war dog from other options. And it doesn’t help if the dog goes to 0 HP, which is still likely in any given hit until the dog reaches second level.

      It’s also a way to test some ideas about lethality that I’ve been kicking around. If it turns out to be overpowered or feel out of place in play, we can always kick the recovery down to 1d3 or eliminate it.

      I am also interested to see how the dynamics of the “defend” command work out in play, because that essentially gives a PC a save versus melee attack (something that I have been contemplating in other contexts, such as parry abilities).

      I wouldn’t say that the primary goal is to make HP recover difficult, exactly. After all, the re-rolling hit dice system is essentially a streamlined (and generous, actually) method of representing natural healing, rather than counting HP recovered by day as most D&D style games do. Rather, danger should always be salient. I think that’s the most important thing that healing has the potential to disturb.


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