5E D&D archer

5 Animal Handling Challenges for 5E D&D

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Salutations, nerds! Following up on the Acrobatics post from last week, this time we’re going to talk about Animal Handling in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Once again the idea is you could take any of these five skill challenges and drop them right into your game to give a 5E D&D character who leans heavily on that skill to shine and solve a smaller problem. Or, you know, eat some time if your adventure is going by a little bit faster than you expected. Not that that happens to any of us, right?

5E D&D archer animal handling skill challenge
Illustrator Robson Michel describes this as a redesign inspired by the old D&D cartoon. [Art by Robson Michel]

5E D&D Animal Handling skill challenges

The Runaway Carriage

A pair of horses got spooked when a gnomish explosive went off unexpectedly and are now careening down the road, still attached to the carriage they were hitched to. People are bailing out of the way back and forth and the streets are in chaos.

Use When. You’re having a slow moment in a city or town situation. If you want this to be an easier encounter it’s a simple enough matter to have the horses stopped by piled on boxes in an alley or a fence, or if you want it to be more difficult you can add an Athletics check to catch up with the horses in the first place.

Result of Failure. The horses aren’t stopped. Depending on how dark you want to go with this they might run someone over, potentially leading into a subsequent Medicine check.

Like a Dog in a Storm

Lightning cracks outside and the dog in the tavern is having nerves about it. For some parties it will be enough to have the dog lying under a table and looking nervous. For others you might ramp the tension up by having the dog bark and growl from the storm induced nerves. Regardless, the name of the game here is calming the dog.

Use When. You’re running a game where something ominous is about to happen in a tavern, like a murder mystery, and you need to stretch the intro sequence before you really get into the action, in order to introduce your suspects for instance. Or if your characters have taken shelter from a storm in a wayside inn.

Result of Failure. The dog remains nervous. If it’s simply frightened and hiding it could be as simple as the dog not being of any help when someone tries to hold the inn up later, or continuing to whine over the course of the evening. If the dog is aggressive, it might bite someone.

The Stolen Key

We all know crows like shiny things. In this instance, a crow has stolen the key to something. Be it a door or a chest or the shackle of a pillory in the town square. There’s an NPC who very much wants the key back and has been chasing this crow around for the better part of an hour.

Note if there’s a rogue in the party, picking the lock is of course a viable option as well but if you want a way to get around this you can always have the NPC say something about the rogue not always being there to open the lock and wanting to be able to lock it back.

Use When. You need a quirky way to introduce an NPC you want the player characters to interact with and for your players to bond with to an extent. People tend to get attached to people they’ve helped. You can also use this as a handy tool to establish this is the kind of town that uses a pillory, if you decide to take it in this direction. What the key opens is very telling.

Result of Failure. The crow laughs at the characters for their failure in what is certainly malicious mockery. Or perhaps it just feels like it because they’ve been outsmarted by an animal.

A Bear?!

A bear is on the loose in town and the local constabulary has no idea what to do about it. For weeks, the town has been doing what amounts to bear watch and simply avoiding the areas of town where the bear has decided to be that day.

The bear isn’t particularly aggressive, it’s just kind of decided it lives here now. Because who is going to argue with a bear?

Use When. You want something with a little bit of levity but still has stakes. Admittedly, there is something pretty comical about this situation in general.

Result of Failure. The party will probably end up in combat with a bear. They might opt to fight the bear anyway. In this case a failure might end with someone taking home a bear pelt.

In the Pit of Lions

There are two hungry lions either getting ready to be thrown into an arena to ravage a prisoner or already in the pit with the poor sap backed into a corner. There’s no guarantee the characters will be moved to intervene in this case but if they are, calming the lions to stop a potential blood bath could be an excellent side challenge.

Of course, offering the lions food gives a character advantage on their check.

Use When. You want to establish a location as having particularly harsh punishments and not being opposed to animal cruelty.

Result of Failure. You get to give a detailed description of a pair of lions eating an NPC. Or possibly the characters have to fight some lions. You know, as you do.

So there you have it. Five Animal Handling problems with a variety of levels of stakes and uses for use in your home game. As always, we all know the dungeon never survives first contact with the players. If you do end up using any of these or if this comes in handy for you, do let me know how it went for you in the comments below, and as always, stay nerdy!

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Follow Megan R. Miller:
Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Megan R. Miller lives in southern Ohio where she keeps mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. She has a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and she is happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Her fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.

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