I'm mostly referring to druid and ranger, but also curious about wizard. How do these classes control their animals?

I thought the handle animal skill was mostly reserved for animals that you train/buy/find but after reading some more it sounds like it might apply to all animals.

EDIT: i.e. I want to know if I have to roll a handle animal check every time I want my animal to attack something.

Do you have to do a handle animal check every time you want them to do something or is that mostly reserved for animals you train/find? Also, does this change if your druid/ranger/wizard companion has a high intelligence?


3 Answers 3


For Animals - Handle Animal

Handle Animal is the skill for handling animals. That's true of animal companions, and animals you happen to buy or find in the wild. For tricks the animal knows, it's a DC 10 check. For others, it's a DC 25 check.

Druids & Ranger animal companions get the Link special ability, which gives +4 on handle checks and lets a handle be done as a free action. As Handle Animal is a class skill for both classes, it's fairly straightforward for both of them to get it up high enough that they can't fail the roll to use a trick.

So yes, you still have to use the Handle Animal skill to get your animal to do a command. But if it's a trick and it's your animal companion, doing so is a free action and with a few skill points in Handle Animal you should never be able to fail the roll. It's essentially automatic at that point, for tricks. For other non-trick commands (and people without animal companions), it's more involved.

More Intelligent Creatures (like Familiars)

The thing with normal animals is that they're not very intelligent. Familiars start with an intelligence of 6, which makes them intelligent enough to handle differently. Some of them can speak, and at 5th level you can communicate directly with them, so it's more like ordering a henchman around than trying to handle an animal.

Advice on how to play this

Ultimate Campaign has some advice on how to do this. The PFSRD has reprinted it on the Familiar page. Here's some excerpts, the whole thing is really long to copy.

Nonsentient Companions: a nonsentient companion (one with animal-level intelligence) is loyal to you in the way a well-trained dog is—the creature is conditioned to obey your commands, but its behavior is limited by its intelligence and it can't make altruistic moral decisions—such as nobly sacrificing itself to save another. Animal companions, cavalier mounts, and purchased creatures (such as common horses and guard dogs) fall into this category. In general they're GM-controlled companions. You can direct them using the Handle Animal skill, but their specific behavior is up to the GM.

Sentient Companions: a sentient companion (a creature that can understand language and has an Intelligence score of at least 3) is considered your ally and obeys your suggestions and orders to the best of its ability. It won't necessarily blindly follow a suicidal order, but it has your interests at heart and does what it can to keep you alive. Paladin bonded mounts, familiars, and cohorts fall into this category, and are usually player-controlled companions.


Handle Animal absolutely applies to animal companions. Keep in mind that an Animal Companion doesn't speak your language, nor do you have any kind of telepathic control, so you still need to train and control it like any other animal. The animal companion does get a number of tricks, though (a few for free, more can be trained). Those are things it knows, and will do with a simple command. It still requires a Handle Animal check, but an easy one (DC 10). If it knows the Attack trick, it will attack when you direct it to. (Note that you need Attack 2 to get it to attack unnatural beings.) Getting it to do something else will probably require a much harder Handle Animal check.

Edit: Familiars are totally different. Do not confuse them with Animal Companions! Some familiars share a language with their master (particularly improved familiars), the link you have with them is far more magical than with an Animal Companion, and familiars get increased Intelligence.

Edit 2: As pointed out in the comments, using a trick still requires a DC 10 Handle Animal check.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, i think I understand! So tricks are commands that DO NOT require skill checks at all? That makes more sense now. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nerevar
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nerevar Tricks skill require a skill check, but at DC 10. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tridus well I see that they have a DC but I assumed that was for training in the trick. Do you need a skill check to use a trained trick? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nerevar
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:44
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Nerevar Yes. "Handling" an animal means getting it to use a trick, which is DC 10. Training new tricks is listed seperately in the skill. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:44
  • 1

Ultimate Campaign, pg. 140, Controlling Companions gives general guidelines for the intended play of companions of all sorts.

Generally, sentient companions (Paladin mounts, familiars, and cohorts; or other companions with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher plus an understanding of language) are treated as a PC under the player's control. Sentient companions will obey suggestions and orders to the best of their ability, with the linked PC's interests and their own survival in mind.

The GM interprets Handle Animal checks on nonsentient companions (those with mere animal-level intelligence), and their specific behaviour lies at the GM's whim.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Does Ultimate Campaign say to treat them as PCs under the player's control? I thought the general wisdom was that they are NPCs allied to the PCs, but ultimately under the GM's control (though he may temporarily allow the player to control them within boundaries determined by the GM). This to prevent abuse of cohorts, familiars and companions. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcv
    Mar 27, 2014 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mcv General wisdom may say that, but page 140 of my hardcopy UCamp says "Paladin bonded mounts, familiars, and cohorts fall into [the category of sentient companions], and are usually player-controlled companions." \$\endgroup\$ Mar 27, 2014 at 12:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ But isn't Ultimate Campaign more advice rather than rules? Is there anything in Core that would support this? I guess "usually" would still allow the GM some leeway, but I really don't like the idea of Cohorts in particular as free bonus PCs. Note that Animal Companions are not sentient, by the way. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcv
    Mar 27, 2014 at 12:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that the question included "also curious about wizard." I suppose Ultimate Campaign could be considered just advice, though... Kinda moot anyway, considering Tridus just swooped in with... that. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 27, 2014 at 12:35

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