One of my players rolled a natural 20 for Animal Handling on a Grick which had previously been trained by goblins. What happens to the grick now? Can he tame it or should it just now be calmed?
Hold the phone...
The 20 is a failure. Gricks are not “Animals.”
A grick is of the type monstrosity and thus is not an animal. Animals have the type beast.
Monstrosities are monsters in the strictest sense — frightening creatures that are not ordinary, not truly natural
MM, p. 7
Beasts include all varieties of ordinary animals.
MM, p. 6
(And those are the hazards of arguing with your DM.)
Connecting the Dots
The game terms are well-defined. Just to connect the dots, here’s a little formal proof:
- The Animal Handling skill works specifically on animals
- “All varieties of ordinary animals” are beasts
- Monstrosities are not beasts
- Monstrosities are therefore not animals (in game terms)
- We can conclude Animal Handling does not work on monstrosities
The only point to argue, in my opinion, is how much of a loophole the word “ordinary” creates. I would argue not much, as the phrase “all varieties” is expansive.
Taming does not equal Domestication
Some have argued that a “tamed monstrosity” is equivalent to a “domesticated beast” (domestic beats being explicitly called out as valid targets for animal handling). But taming and domestication are different things:
Domestication should not be confused with taming. Taming is the conditioned behavioral modification of a wild-born animal when its natural avoidance of humans is reduced and it accepts the presence of humans, but domestication is the permanent genetic modification of a bred lineage that leads to an inherited predisposition toward humans.
Please note, in this Wikipedia article, “animal” is not a game term.
(Also see CGP Grey’s Zebras vs. Horses.)
A goblin might tame a monstrosity; a drow might tame a slave. Taming them doesn’t make either an domesticated animal.
A word on alignment
All the ordinary animals/beasts in the Monster Manual have an alignment of unaligned — “they don’t make moral or ethical choices, but act on instinct.” (MM, p.7) Grick are aligned neutral, not unaligned. Thus, although they have low intelligence, their minds are different than those of animals.
What about monstrosities that are trainable?
Some monstrosities, such as griffons and hippogriffs, can be trained as mounts. That’s because a specific rule says they can be (under the stipulations set out by those rules).
How could the goblins train this untrainable grick in the first place? Well, that is a decision made by the DM in question. In previous editions of D&D, goblins were known for training all sorts of monsters. In any case, it is not really relevant to the rules analysis here.
Skills checks that could never succeed
Why would a DM call for a skill check that could never succeed, such as an Animal Handling roll on something that can’t be swayed by animal handling? That would be done whenever doing otherwise would give away information to the players (via a little inevitable meta-gaming).
For example, if a druid tries to call a cat over to him, the DM may call for an Animal Handling check (of course). If the cat is actually a polymorphed wizard, the skill check could never succeed. If the druid rolls a 20 and still fails, then that is a hint to the players that something may not be as it seems. If they roll poorly, they may think they simply failed. So there is still a point to the roll.
A Note on Monster Types
It’s worthwhile to get familiar with monster types listed in the front of the Monster Manual. These are not fluff descriptions — they impact game mechanics in lots of ways. See my answer here.
A natural 20 means nothing on a skill check. Only attack rolls have special rules for handling natural 20s (or natural 1s), but skills aren't attack rolls and don't have any special rules of their own for rolling a natural 20.
While the DM is free to change the outcome to something more exciting, the rules say it is merely calmed and nothing else. If the player insists that something extra should happen and the DM doesn't agree, the player should be reminded that turnabout is fair play and the next natural 1 on a skill check will bring catastrophic failure (even though it also should not do that).
Under the rules of D&D 5e, it is unclear if Gricks are animals.
All ordinary animals are beasts. This adjective -- ordinary -- weakly implies that there are non-ordinary animals that are not beasts. It definitely does not imply all animals are beasts -- that the two words mean the same thing.
Animal handling works on animals. Nothing in the text restricts it to ordinary animals. So there is no rules as written justification to claim that animal handling only works on creatures of the beast subtype. If that was the case, it would have been easy to use the word beast in the skill definition.
And not being able to use animal handling on a griffon that some Elven Riders where using would be a farce.
If the Grick is an animal, and you consider a tamed animal "domesticated", then it is a valid use of the skill. Each step is the DM's call.
Players don't pick which skills to roll. Players describe what they want their character to do.
The DM calls for a roll.
Never call for a roll if there is no chance of anything resembling "success" or "failure" regardless of the modifier on the roll or the result of the die.
You can ask for a roll if a 0 would mean "the Grick bites your head off", even if they have a +13 modifier to animal handling.
Or you could set the DC to be 50 and ask for a roll. (Note, however, that DC 30 is the highest DC the DMG usually recommends using; DC 30 is "nearly impossible").
While there is no natural 20 rule in 5e for skill checks, if the PC has a +0 modifier or higher they just pulled off something "Hard", a 25 means "Very Hard" and a 30 means "Nearly Impossible".
Now, the Grick might treat everything non-goblin smelling as food when not near a handler. So it might be "Hard" to get it to not attack you immediately, and "Very Hard" to get it to be passive near you, and "Nearly Impossible" to get it to be passive near a bunch of non-goblins.
A natural 20 doesn't have to mean "the Grick is suddenly your pet". But if the PC is skilled in animal handling, it might mean "the Grick is willing to come with you if you feed it, and the other PCs stay away from it".
First, it seems that you are using the optional rule in the DMG that allow critical success or failure on ability (thus skill) checks. This is indeed detailed on page 242 of the DMG.
Furthermore, as the grick is trained / already tamed I could treat it as an animal. Goblins should train any creature that they can encounter in the vicinity.
A crit' may allow the PC to avoid the dangerousness of the grick and if some time is spent with the creature it can be trained a little bit (not to attack allies, to bring back some stuff, to reach objects for his master, etc ...). The more time spent with the creature and with more other Animal Handling successful checks, the more the creature will be friendly and willing to obey orders.
A natural 20 is not an automatic success, so depending on the character's bonus and the DC of the check, it is possible for a PC to roll a 20 on a check and still fail. This is especially common with opposed checks (grapple, stealth, deception, etc) but it can also happen with DM-set DCs if the DM doesn't want this task to be achievable by that PC. For example, the stereotypical "bard who seduces everything" can be easily shut down by having the character they're trying to seduce have an unreachable DC.
It's also unclear that Animal Handling would be the appropriate skill check. Rules as written, Animal Handling is applicable to animals, presumably meaning creatures of the "beast" type, whereas a grick is a "monstrosity".
However, DMs decide what skills apply, and since the grick has similar intelligence to an animal and monstrosities are presumably motivated by desire for food, safety, etc similar to beasts, it's reasonable to rule that the same tactics that might work to calm an animal could soothe a grick as well. In addition, in earlier editions of D&D, Animal Handling has been used on non-beast type creatures - in 3.5, the Handle Animal check rules say that a non-beast who has an Int of 1 or 2 (the intelligence of all standard beasts in that edition) can also be trained, but the DC is +5. If you wish to apply a similar rule to 5e, you could increase the DC or give disadvantage on the check.
If the grick is a valid target, and the PC succeeds on the check, the results depend on DM ruling. Generally, I'd recommend asking the PC what they want to influence the target to do prior to rolling, and set the DC depending on how hard it'd be to get that creature to do that thing. Offering it an incentive such as food would lower the DC. If I recall correctly the grick in question wasn't stated to know any actual commands, and if it did they'd have to be spoken in the Goblin language, so most likely the PCs couldn't actually tell it to do anything. They might be able to convince it to stop attacking, maybe to follow them in the hope that they'll feed it, but not help them in combat or do any tasks for them. To teach it to do specific tasks would require actual training, consisting of multiple checks over the course of several weeks.