Somewhere just off-screen, Antipaladin is all like, “What is it, boy? What’s the matter?” This mess has been going on for months now at Team Bounty Hunter HQ. Ever since he joined the party, Patches the Unkicked has taken an odd dislike to “””Magus.””” It must be that cats and dogs trope acting up again, right?

Animal behavior is one of those details that doesn’t come natural. If you’ve ever stumbled across the all animals are dogs trope, you might understand why. For most of us 21st century humanoids, the closest we get to animal handling is scooping a litterbox or telling Rover to sit. We are familiar with domesticated pets, and so every animal interaction begins to look like a walk at the dog park.

“Fetch,” we tell our trained hawks.

“Want a treat?” we ask the aurumvorax.

“Play dead,” we tell our dinosaur companions, just before we spring the ambush.

This is all in good fun. Fantastic beasts and trained critters are a tradition of the genre. Making them intelligible to players by drawing on familiar points of reference is only natural. But to my way of thinking, making animal characters highly-legible is only one way to bring them into the story.

The alternative is the inscrutable non-human. The alien creature with the mysterious motivation that must be uncovered. Think of all those moments where a character said “we’re in its territory” or “she’s defending her young.” The opportunity here is animal encounters based on exploring creature behavior.

Why is it making the sound? 

What made them suddenly go quiet? 

Why does the tarrasque need all those spines

Allowing players to discover those answers for themselves is a fine formula for wilderness encounters. It also goes that all-important step beyond the Lassie model of animal interaction. Because even if, “What is it girl? Did Timmy fall down the well?” makes for decent television, it can get a bit repetitive on the tabletop.

So for today’s discussion, why don’t we trot out our favorite animal interactions? What was the beast doing? How did the players divine meaning from its actions? And how could you turn that moment into a full-blown encounter? Tell us all about your vibration-hunting graboids, murderous piggies, and misunderstood mama bears down in the comments!


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