In the dark wanderer's answer to "How can my party improve our overland travel speed?", it is quite seriously suggested that (skeletal) horses should use trekking poles to increase their speed.

As far as I understand, trekking poles are held in hands. Horses would have a hard time grasping them and taking advantange of them due to reasons of anatomy.

For similar reasons, we might want to say that elephants have difficulty climbing, even though they have high strength. We might want to say that snakes have problems using lockpicks.

There is, of course, also the question if a horse would need some training to use those trekking poles, or would even agree to it. But let us focus on anatomy for now.

Do the Pathfinder rules have any provisions taking into account such anatomical features of animals and monsters? Or do they explicitly leave this up to the game master, or are they completely silent?


4 Answers 4


Yes, there are rules, as long as you're willing to accept Jason Bulmahn, Paizos Lead Developer, as an authority on the rules.

There's actually a Paizo blog post about animals and their use of items. The blog post is mostly directed towards int scores and feat taking for the animals to utilize weapons, but tool use is also mentioned.


Jason Bulmahn wrote:

Another aspect of intelligent animals is tool use. There are a number of feats that convey an understanding and the proper use of weapons and armor. Generally speaking, these feats are off-limits to animals, but when their intelligence reaches 3, the rules state that they can use any feat that they are physically capable of using. Some people take this to mean that they can equip their animal companion in chainmail and arm him with a greatsword given the correct feats. While you could interpret the rules in this way, the "capable of use" clause is very important. Most weapons require thumbs to use properly, and even then, few animals would choose to use an artificial weapon in place of the natural weapons that have served them all their life.

Emphasis is mine.


I think it's mostly assumed. The rules are largely humanoid-centric, and don't weigh in on whether horses can climb a rope, light a torch, or use trekking poles.

If one's DMing style tends toward realism, your answer is easy: those poles were made for a humanoid with hands.

If you wants RAW, you're mostly on your own...but I think the are a few places in the rules that suggest that Anatomy Matters, e.g.

The Eldritch Guardian Fighter archetype shares all combat feats with one's familiar, but goes out of the way to note that anatomy is still a thing: "For example, an eldritch guardian’s pig familiar with access to Exotic Weapon Proficiency (spiked chain) would not gain the ability to use spiked chains, since it doesn’t have any limbs capable of properly handling them."

If you're looking for RAW to generalize from, I think this strongly implies that some real life animal anatomy is assumed.


If you're willing to use rules from Pathfinder's antecedent Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, that game's Monster Manual on Natural Tendencies says

Some creatures simply aren’t made for certain types of physical activity. Elephants, despite their great Strength scores, are terrible at jumping. Giant crocodiles, despite their high Strength scores, don’t climb well. Horses can’t walk tightropes. If it seems clear to you that a particular creature simply is not made for a particular physical activity, you can say that the creature takes a –8 penalty on skill checks that defy its natural tendencies. In extreme circumstances (a porpoise attempting a Climb check, for instance) you can rule that the creature fails the check automatically. (7)

An abbreviated version of this text is available in the section Reading the Entries on Skills on Natural Tendencies in the System Reference Document (pretty much the D&D 3.5 core rules without examples) that Pathfinder used as its spine. I couldn't find this text—in whole or in part—on Archives of Nethys or d20pfsrd. Still, if you're okay with using material from Pathfinder's dad, then you can tell your players with confidence that in your Pathfinder games a porpoise just can't climb a rope.

Why did Pathfinder exclude Natural Tendencies?

I can't know for sure, but I can speculate. Starting with about its Monster Maunual IV, D&D 3.5 used a different stat block format than that used in the SRD, and, rather than use the SRD's stat block format, Paizo opted to use for Pathfinder a stat block format that was very similar to that later 3.5 stat block format. I further suspect that this was because the newer stat block was close enough to the stat block fans had been using at the end of the D&D 3.5 life cycle, and Paizo was trying to maintain any 3.5 it could. Also, I suspect that because many of Paizo's Pathfinder developers at the time had migrated to Paizo from Wizards of the Coast that they were already familiar with how to write those new-style stat blocks therefore the only slightly different Pathfinder stat blocks.

Anyway, this even newer stat block format necessitated writing for Pathfinder a brand new Reading the Entries section called Monster Entry Format. Its entire section on Skills says, "The creature’s skills are listed here alphabetically. Racial modifiers to skills are indicated at the end of this entry. Skill names are always capitalized." (This is identical to what Pathfinder's first Bestiary says on Skills (6), but I don't know if later bestiaries have more detail.) I doubt the lack of that Natural Tendencies information is an intentional change (like, for instance, the changes Pathfinder made to the skill Disguise; also see here), and, instead, that information was either lost in the shuffle or—in my opinion, more likely—omitted as unnecessary… probably because, when it was released, Pathfinder players (most of whom were D&D 3.5 players) who bought the Bestiary (Nov. 2009) already knew—intuitively or because of that section on Natural Tendencies—that a porpoise can't climb a rope.


(Most) Animals don't have Hand item slots

Most animals, notably Horses and their Skeleton counterparts, lack "Hand" slots. While this table is ostensibly for magic items, it has a more relevant column: Grasp/Carry. Any animal (for example, quadrapeds) that is unable to Grasp or Carry an object would be wholly unable to utilize something that requires hands to use. This includes most Adventuring supplies as well as weapons.


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