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If a Ranger's Animal Companion independently attacks a target that the Ranger is not also attacking, how do you resolve its success and damage? I am assuming that Animal Companions don't have moves like Hack and Slash, so what do you do?

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Animal Companion isn't meant to be independent

Resolving an outcome is a different thing in Dungeon World. DW uses the Powered by the Apocalypse system, which lacks the traditional simulationist approach, but has a strong narrative focus instead. Players' Moves are made by players' characters only. It's a story about heroes, not about NPCs nor about PCs' animal companions.

Mechanically, the Ranger's animal companion is not a player character, but is more like a character's feature. It has no HP, mechanically it can't be killed, it does not trigger any move by itself and you can't have a Bond with it. Instead, it helps you with your actions and abilities (its mechanics encourages teamwork, so to say). For an attack (melee or range) it boosts your damage output:

When you work with your animal companion on something it’s trained in and you attack the same target, add its ferocity to your damage

However, it can have additional training as its "cunning", like hunt or guard. Such activities might assume combat, but it is not about dealing damage mechanically. Instead, the companion does what it says it does — hunts (and brings you its prey), guards (keeps thieves away), etc.

It doesn't deal damage by itself, but still can be useful

If the Ranger commands its companion to attack an enemy and chooses not to interfere, the animal companion wouldn't deal any damage to the enemy in terms of mechanics (read "numbers"). But in terms of the narrative it can cause any result GM thinks is appropriate:

  • Keep the enemy busy
  • Delay the enemy's next attack
  • Scare the enemy and make them run away
  • Kill the enemy

In this case you don't "work with your animal companion", so you basically exchange your resource for a positive outcome (the Command move trigger for a narrative effect).

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There's no explicit rule for an Animal Companion to attack independently. Fall back to GM Principles, in particular, Begin and End with the Fiction.

Given what it's doing, what makes the most sense? Is it more of a harassing attack that gives the Ranger an opening? If the Ranger also attacks, then they're attacking the same target, so that aspect of Command happens. Otherwise, maybe it's just occupying that enemy, or keeping it away from the rest of the party, so that don't have to deal with it immediately. Maybe it drives one of the monsters off off. Let the player's description and the established fiction guide what happens.

Also keep the Animal Companion in mind for your GM moves. If someone rolls a 6-, especially if it's the Ranger, you can definitely change the Animal Companion's situation for the worse.

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That should depend on how your table is going about narrating the situation. I can think of a few cases.

  1. You as the GM narrate the animal companion attacking some monster, and the ranger is happy with the outcome, so that is what happens.
  2. You as the GM narrate the animal companion attacking some monster, and the ranger is not happy with the outcome, so they do something to intervene. All the rules apply and if moves are triggered, then they are resolved.
  3. The ranger narrates the attack, no moves apply and the outcome sounds awesome. Then again, that is what happens.
  4. The ranger narrates the attack, apparently no moves are triggered yet, and it somehow doesn't sound right to you. Then you ask questions and use the answers until things make sense, and resolve any moves that may come up.
  5. The ranger narrates the attack, and moves are triggered, so you resolve them.
  6. The ranger narrates the attack and looks to you to find out what happens, so you just make a move.
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Just narrate what happens in the fiction, instead of trying to calculate results or apply move-like rules.

There should be no rolling required, as "my animal companion attacks the monster" does not usually trigger a move by itself. Likewise there is no damage roll associated with the companion's solo attacks - although you could add one, it is not clear how or when it would get applied.

However, most likely a solo attack by a companion will end up resolving to a move by the GM or one of the players eventually. The animal companion will get into danger, and require sensible command by the ranger (e.g. Defy Danger, perhaps using Intelligence or other mental stat depending on situation) and/or physical intervention by another character (e.g. Guard, Hack and Slash, or Defy Danger).

As GM, you may have to be creative when handling negative consequences. There is no logical reason why an animal companion could not be injured or die - you are in the same part of the game then as if you gave out a broken bone or other unlisted injury at that point.

There is one ranger move that you could take inspiration from: Man’s Best Friend. In that, an injured companion has Ferocity set to 0 until it has a chance to recover.

As for "success" of the attack or any damage that an animal companion could do, I would suggest the following:

  • Where possible treat the animal companion attack as part of an extended Hack and Slash by the Ranger. When the Ranger eventually gets to resolve damage, count the earlier attack by the companion as assisting the Ranger, and add its ferocity to the damage as normal.

  • If there has been no move triggered yet, note the attack by the animal companion narratively, and try to work it in as some tactical advantage for any player. E.g. perhaps by joining the fray it is able to delay the attack of a goblin briefly and so another character only has damage rolled for one goblin, not two, if they fail their own Hack and Slash.

  • In some circumstances, you could eyeball the situation and decide it makes sense for the animal companion to just win. For instance a cougar with the Ferocious trait facing off against a giant rat. No roll, no damage done, just "your companion pins the giant rat down and rips it apart".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My problem is whether a successful attack is 'logical' or not \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jan 28 '18 at 10:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs I have added bit more. The important thing is there is no move for it, so you have to decide and try to allow for the action as part of other moves. Avoid giving out forwards and holds too, as they are parts of moves. But there is plenty of freedom narratively to make the companion's solo attack have meaning and effect. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jan 28 '18 at 10:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think your use of “logically” complicates your answer unnecessarily. Maybe instead “Just narrate what follows in the fiction”. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Jan 28 '18 at 16:12
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What An Animal Companion Is Not

PCs are the only ones who actually make rolls in Dungeon World. Everything else just kind of happens at the GM's discretion as appropriate to the current goings-on.

An animal companion, by itself, is not a PC. An animal companion is not a way for the Ranger to make two rolls instead of one against a target. An animal companion is not a way for the Ranger to get twice the spotlight time as anyone else.

Command, which is pretty much the only existing mechanical hook to an animal companion's stats, requires that the animal companion is working with the Ranger. Nevertheless, there's certainly some narrative space for the Ranger doing one thing and their animal companion doing another. But what you need to ask is, why? What's going on that the two of them need to separate?

"Deal damage" is one of the least effective moves in your arsenal, both as a GM and a player. It's usually just a stop-gap on the way to accomplishing other things. So when the animal companion is acting independently, how much damage it's doing is not as important as what it's accomplishing.

Tactical Scale - still assisting the Ranger

The Ranger orders their animal companion to attack one target while they stab the one right next to it. Really, that's not a separate attack. Hack and Slash is more than just one weapon swing one time, it's putting yourself into melee, willing to hit and get hit. As long as you're in the same melee, you're pretty much fighting "the same target" - the skeleton skirmishers, the orc frontliners, etc. Take your armor and damage bonuses as appropriate for "attacking the same target".

The Ranger orders their animal companion to distract a target while they try to do something that target wants to stop. Like running across a bridge while a manticore shoots spikes at them, or climbing a tower while goblins are pouring flaming oil down. In this case, the attack isn't important as much as the distraction. After the pattern of Command, let the Ranger take the animal's cunning as a bonus to their Defy Danger, which is almost always what they're going to be rolling in the scenario. Of course, if the animal's not trained for the situation, it's not going to work, same as with Command. An animal companion who can't fight monsters won't be much good trying to distract a manticore.

Strategic Scale - doing what the Ranger could do, but isn't

The Ranger orders their animal companion to help another PC. Treat this as the Ranger helping another PC through the medium of their animal companion - roll +Hx as normal for Aid Or Interfere. On a 7-9, the danger is more likely to drop on the companion than the Ranger. Again, assuming it's something the animal is trained to do in the first place.

The Ranger orders their animal companion to take an independent action they're trained for - a guard animal protecting people, or a scout animal keeping watch - while circumstances force the Ranger to do something else. In general, a Ranger should be taking action alongside their animal companion, not use it as a way to disclaim themselves from having to go into danger themselves. But if circumstances come to it, well, at this point we've left the territory of formal moves and guaranteed bonuses and gone well into the territory of GM fiat, so the best play as a GM is to tell them the requirements or consequences and then ask. They'll need to roll -instinct and pass it to stay still, the Ranger will need to check in and occasionally pitch an arrow or five as covering fire, it'll only be able to act for so long and be wounded in the process. It's not really cheating somehow to say any of this -- after all, who knows the animal better than the Ranger?

Not "it'll take so many hit points of damage" because again, dealing damage is boring. Wounded, and the Ranger will need to take time and care tending to it before it's capable of assisting them again. If they're fine with the risks, then what happens happens.

Dramatic Scale - doing what the Ranger currently cannot

You know how it is. Sometimes there's a ridiculous pitched battle against the forces of darkness and everything goes wrong and the paladin sworn to carry the blade of evil's bane is one eyelash away from oblivion and if only there was a faithful hawk who could fly over with a healing potion OH WAIT.

So for those exceptional moments, when the outcome is in doubt, you'd want to go to the dice same as everything else, right? It seems a little unfair to just say "yes" or "no". Well, for those cases:

  • take +ferocity if raw strength or speed are the most important thing here
  • take +cunning if this is something you've trained the animal to do
  • take +instinct if this is something the animal would do in the wild
  • or, take -instinct if this is something it would actively avoid

then roll 2d6 and apply the results as normal. (In this case the most important thing is getting the potion there intact, so no ferocity bonus, perform or labor are both valid trainings for getting a hawk to make precision deliveries so the cunning bonus applies with them, and instinct is on the hawk's side in this since, absent other considerations, they certainly pick up prey and fly it to a different place.)

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