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Question in title.

Seems odd that an animal isn't naturally inclined to get bonuses to Survival, which typically involves dealing with the wilds and it's associated difficulties (an animal's natural home).

This is mainly in respect to Pathfinder, but I believe DnD 3.5e also lists some animals with Survival as a skill (and therefore an automatic class skill) and some without (which this question relates to).

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+1 excellent question! As a DM I think from now on I'll house rule that all animals get a racial +4 survival (in addition to whatever other bonuses they already get) –  Ben-Jamin Feb 12 '13 at 2:27
They're obviously not that good at it. After all roughly 99.9% of wild animals die out there in the wild. –  Joe Bedurndurn Feb 12 '13 at 2:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 54 down vote accepted

They don't actually need it.

I realize this is radical, but bear with me. We need to not expect them to be masters of wilderness survival --in all honesty, they aren't. Animals die in the wild all the time. They starve, they freeze, they get lost, they fall in caves and can't get out. That said, they're actually not awful at Survival and the way they're statted reflects that without needing ranks at all.

Let's look at some crunch.

First, I looked at animals and their skill ranks. Animals get 2 + Int mod skill ranks per HD --but because they all have 1 or 2 Intelligence, that modifier is always negative, so effectively animals have 1 skill rank per HD.

Animals have six class skills to choose where to put that one skill rank. Happily PF is nice and gives them a +3 bonus to any class skill they choose to drop it into. But still, giving them another choice seems mean and taunting unless that new skill is really significant to the "animal" concept.

So I turned the question around in my head:

What does Survival do, and is it something animals are expected to accomplish?

DC 10: Get along in the wild. Move [...] while hunting and foraging (no food or water supplies needed).

Nearly anyone can do this by taking ten; I couldn't find anywhere in the PF SRD that says you can't take ten on this use. If you can't take ten, then animals still have a decent chance of succeeding without any ranks. Real animals regularly starve in the wild anyway.

DC 15: Gain a [...] bonus [...] against severe weather.

I can see where animals don't need this as a game mechanic. If a fox freezes, it freezes. Not usually relevant to the game. Real animals regularly perish from exposure.

DC 15: Keep from getting lost or avoid natural hazards.

A wolf in his territory probably doesn't need to make a check for these things. A wolf out of his territory might rightfully be confused. You wouldn't get the awesome boneyard that is the La Brea Tar Pits if animals had more ranks in Survival.

DC 15: Predict the weather.

Elephants and earthquakes aside, this doesn't seem common enough or important enough to justify training. Their untrained 25%-35% chance to anticipate weather probably reflects this pretty well if it's something you want to include in your games.

DC [varies, gets high really fast]: Follow tracks.

This, some animals need to be good at. Others... not so much.

So several of the functions granted by Survival are tangential to an animal's role in Pathfinder --probably so much so that making it a class skill and giving them access to all those abilities with high probability of success is overkill. Besides...

These are low DCs and animals have Wisdom

It's worth noting that most animals have positive Wisdom modifiers, and none to my knowledge have negative Wis mods. This means that even untrained, an animal has a decent chance of achieving the above abilities with their DCs of 10 and 15.

This means that a "lone wolf" (Wis 12, and unusual; wolves should be in packs) eats just a bit more than every other day on average (9 or higher on a d20). He's not even in bad shape until he misses at least two days in a row (at which point the starving rules kick in).

Let's put him in a pack. Most of the wolves use Aid Another for a single check by one wolf, or they all roll individually and the ones who roll high can compensate for the ones who roll low. Since they've got a 60% chance of each being able to feed himself, the pack won't get fat, but they're unlikely to starve: one wolf need only roll 11 to compensate for another wolf's 8.

If you give even 1 rank of Survival to a lone wolf, his chances of eating on a given day rise to 80% and the sad, dismal, starving lone wolf is instead a paragon of health and wonders why he needed that pack anyway.

But what about when something like tracking is vital to an animal's iconic abilities?

Let's look at an example: the wolf

The 2HD wolf puts its precious skill points in Perception and Stealth, and its one solitary feat goes into Perception. Survival is left out in the cold, so how can a wolf track anything with its legendary nose?

Racial Modifiers: +4 Survival when tracking by scent.

This bonus is exactly the same as the bonus he'd have with 1 rank in Survival and a +3 class skill bonus, but it only applies in the situation where a wolf is expected to excel.

Racial bonuses can give an animal a much-needed edge in a specific subset of a skill, when it would be inefficient or inappropriate --and definitely unnecessary-- to give the animal access to the skill's entire set of features.

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I like the analysis, but ultimately I'm unconvinced: "getting by in the wild" alone seems reason enough to give it to Animals as a class skill, if not going further and just saying they have free automatic ranks equal to their HD. –  KRyan Feb 12 '13 at 2:30
@KRyan I added an example to my answer. Your average animal will eat between 55% and 65% percent of the time, which seems reasonable. Wolves don't get fat in the wild. –  BESW Feb 12 '13 at 2:54
can they take 10 on survival (getting by in wild)? If so I guess that's all they really need right? –  Ben-Jamin Feb 12 '13 at 3:21
Sorry, this is just the best answer ever. I wish I could multiple up vote this. This kind of detailed analysis on the minutiae of animals in a Pathfinder RPG is what I believe life is all about. –  darelf Feb 12 '13 at 13:50
Another aspect to consider is that the majority of animals know how to build or find their own shelter. –  TREE Feb 12 '13 at 22:27

The Survival skill allows a character to survive in any biome. Most animals only know how to survive within their natural habitat.

If extreme weather is common in their homeland, they instinctively know how to deal with it. If it's a freak storm, they have no idea what to do and are potentially stuffed.

When you take them out of their natural habitat, their instinctive survival skills are useless. The land is simply to alien to them. While a wolf in the desert might know he needs shade and water, is he capable of finding it?

So I'd say that most animals don't need to roll for Survival in their homeland, much like a human doesn't roll to survive in a friendly city. It's when they're out of their element they need to bring more than instincts to the table.

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This might have been the reasoning, but it's useful to note that surviving in any biome - including one's own - is a function of Survival unless you pay for food or otherwise acquire it. –  Lord_Gareth Feb 12 '13 at 2:59
An animal that stumbles into the city and has to find water and food... IT really needs survival skills! :D –  Julix May 24 '13 at 1:40

Mostly, designer incompetence

Sorta like how Ravids aren't immune to the effects of the Positive Energy Plane by RAW (pro tip: they're supposed to live there) and fire elementals don't shed light, this is pretty clearly one of those situations where the game designers dropped the ball and never picked it up. However, Survival is also associated with tracking and the like, and the lack of it as a skill might indicate that the animal in question is a bad tracker.

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I can't help but think this might totally be the reason. –  Hydronium Feb 12 '13 at 2:24
+1 Designer Incompetence –  Ben-Jamin Feb 12 '13 at 2:25
Your last sentence raises a very good point, which makes the rest of this answer feel even more like a hasty and biased generalization. Obviously you think there IS potentially an intelligent justification for Survival's exclusion; maybe you could expand on the idea that Survival's absence implies information about animals, and spend less space acknowledging that it might be accidental? –  BESW Feb 12 '13 at 5:16
While there may indeed be oversights on the part of the designers (Ravids), most of what you're saying doesn't actually seem to be such. Fire elementals are fire, fire sheds light. Do you need a specific rule to say that that particular type of fire sheds light? As for Survival and tracking, the animals which are supposed to be particularly good trackers invariably have abilities which provide them with a bonus on tracking by their particular method of choice (such as scent). BESW's answer really explains this in full. –  Theo Brinkman Jan 15 at 16:14

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