The Sneaky Bastards Guide to Animalism
On occasion, you run across a power or ability in a game that causes a compete failure of imagination. It's fairly easy to come up with interesting and useful applications for things, if it fires your imagination. But when you get right down to it, some powers leave you cold.
The best way to handle these situations is a little directed thinking. Sitting down with the book, reading the power over and over and trying to think of situations where the power might become more useful than for the most simple applications, the kind that you see all the time.
The project du jour is Animalism. I've seen a few interesting uses of this power and come up with a few myself. So allow me to share a few that hopefully will have your GM's scratching their heads and consulting the book to see if you can actually DO that sort of thing.
One of the more common ways that animalism is used is to press gang animals into service as haven guards and body guards.
Body guards of an exotic sort will be problematical in the modern world. One can't just go swanning about with animals other than Dogs in most places. And even so, if you come rolling up to the club entrance with two large pit bulls they might tell you to piss off. If i were the bouncer of a ritzy establishment, I certainly would beat the shit of a door guy who let a dude with pit bulls in. You might get away with it, if you're blind or can convince them that you are, and that your dog is a Working dog.
As a Keeper of Elysium, i would be similarly ill disposed to allow animals into the premises whether the bringer was a Ventrue or a Gangrel. It's simply too easy for something to get out of hand. And if your animal bit someone, that could be construed as an attack.
Body guard duty is a bit impractical unless you're expecting direct trouble coming your way. Then, it's perfectly alright to rouse up your small army of ghouled gators, boars, wolves, junkyard dogs, or what have you.
You might however get a bit of mileage out of passive forms of guard duty for your animals. A sneaky bastard type might be able to get a coral snake to "nap" in his pockets. Which would certainly be a surprise to any light fingered types, and in a tight situation, you might even toss the snake into a person's face. I even think you might be able to create an Animalism/Resilience devotion that would enable you to pull the "Thulsa Doom Trick" of straightening a snake, and shooting him from a bow like a poisoned arrow. I could even see a Sanctified Gangrel or Ventrue doing something similar to an old school D&D "Sticks to snakes" spell. Except the snake would be a snake the whole time.
Sure as hell doesn't show up on a metal detector. and if asked, you can truthfully say that you didn't bring a weapon.
Guard Duty (Haven):
You should probably own the place. You probably don't want a huge boa constrictor or a puma guarding you if you live in an apartment. Also, certain types of animals require licenses and immunizations. But let's be honest, hosting a party at your home with a puma strolling around accepting ear skritches from guests, makes a certain impression.
If you care about your animals, make certain they understand what to do in case of fire, and how to get out. You might want to take some extra effort to camouflage your dog door or puma door, as the case may be.
With enough resources, one can conceivably have a number of animals in ones home. Perhaps the pull of a single lever, might release them all. Won't that be fun?
You can even, with some preparation, have animals guard you in a torpor. I can't think of a more secure place to sleep off some time, than in the soil at the back of a cave full of bears.
Even passively, animals can be used as a sort of burglar alarm. The English have been doing it for centuries with geese and ducks. Put a pond near your home and you're pretty much in business during the warmer months. Chickens can be used for this same purpose. and chickens have the added bonus of being dumbly aggressive.
On more than one occasion, my players have run headlong into the fact that my antagonists had gone to a small amount of trouble to make nice with all the neighborhood pets. In at least one case, the Gangrel in question had gone to the trouble of making sure that no one could set foot on their mountain without them knowing in minutes.
Search (and Rescue?)
Now a lot of players seem to think that Animalism is a great way to look for people from the air. This is impractical for a lot of reasons. The short attention spans of most birds, not to mention that there aren't many nocturnal birds suited for that sort of work. Sure, you can command whole clouds of pigeons, but they won't be as useful to you as one owl. Unfortunately, owls aren't nearly as numerous as pigeons, and so you won't be able to do any kind of picket-fence surveilance of a city with them.
Animals also don't sense the beast in the same way kindred do, so some kindred might slide by detection in that way. Plus, animals acting oddly usually tip off the subject that they are being watched. Crabby sorts will take a shotgun to them.
and the ability to compel an animal will only go so far.
Rats are useful for finding specific things as long as you're dealing with underground spaces. While their utility at scouring a city is limited they can be used to great effect in order to sense incursions from the surface world on the underground world. If nothing else, they can tell you if the public works people are working in and around your underground haven.
The best way to use Animalism for search applications is with dogs and other canines. Such animals have incredibly strong and sensitive olfactory apparatus. A properly trained dog, could tell you not only that a kindred spilled blood here in this crime scene, but if you bump into him before he's had a proper wash, the dog might be able to ID the perp.
Dogs, wolves and other canines can also track across great distances, This is of limited utility in an urban environment, but they still use dogs to find drugs in large airports. So your mileage may vary.
Interested kindred with the right sort of attitudes might be able to have dogs track and harry prey for practical, or in the case of certain covenants, ritual purposes.
While flying animals are not so hot at tracking across a city, they are a positive boon when it comes to recon on a specific targeted area. It's usually best to stay away from large and obvious predator birds, regardless of how cool they may be. You'll get noticed more often if you recon bird of choice is a raven or a hawk than if it's a bird that is far more common in your area. I mean, who's going to look twice at pigeons or sparrows?
You should also consider ground recon as well. You can probably get some intel out of the target area if there are trees, as long as you have a squirrel or two to work with. Paranoid kindred who clear trees from their house in a wide circular areas (Called "kill zones") might still be vulnerable to intrusion by a garter snake, and such a creature is unlikely to set off Geo-phones or other intrusion counter measures.
In fact, I am reminded of a number of occasions where animals where able to invade my grandmother's house via the dryer outflow pipe. a few times, they were frog. Little teeny buggers. The whacky thing was, they looked just like the floor, so I only saw them when they moved in my line of sight. Don't know if they had chromatophores or if they were just the same color as the tile. On another occasion, the animal in question was a two foot long black snake. Which i had to kill with a rake.
A house is rarely impenetrable. Once, we lived in an apartment where the pigeons had managed to get inside the attic. There was a small hole into the top of the closet that housed our water heater and they would get in. I became very very adept at catching pigeons, before the kitties could do so. (Tip: use a towel.)
Small animals can exploit plumbing and HVAC systems in a number of ways to get inside of a house. After a certain point though, you'll know what you need to know, but it might be worth it to continue, just for harassment's sake.
Another way in which you can use this basic application is getting the animals to help you map a certain area. learning landmarks, Helping to find underground areas, Stuff like that. Could make cartography in a particularly non-urban area fairly easy. In a place like my home state, a quick word with the local animals might help you locate mineral deposits, toxic waste, sinkholes, and a dozen other things, as long as the animals know what to sniff for.
Animals that will take training are a positive boon to users of Animalism. When compelling an animal, you have to make them understand what you want and why you want it. But animals that will take training can understand that you require certain behavior from them even when you aren't around. And if you're smart, you can help them learn to do things that animals don't normally know how to to do.
Say i have 5 attack dogs. Say i've chosen a pit-bull/rottweiler mix for maximum ferocity. Pit bulls also can breathe through their nose while latched onto an attacker. They are the only breed that can do this, which adds to their utility in this regard.
So i've got dogs roaming around, peeing at the fence-line to scare off smaller predators and herbivores. Let's say you and your bunch of dudes come round to my place to roll me,
But if I am intelligent user of Animalism, Not only will i have trained my dogs not to accept food from any hand but mine, i will have trained them to move around singly or in pairs. In addition, i will have trained them to bark during a frontal attack. but not to bark during a flank attack... What this means, is tactically savvy doggies.
One or two who will bark when they site prey but the other three who will not bark as they flank the targets, and before you know it, they'll be on those dudes, like cheap on a K-mart.
Another application for this is training horses. Horses are skittish animals, but with proper training and reinforcement can be a positive terror on the battlefield. Some older kindred know this, and may keep a ghouled horse around for open warfare, should that sort of thing come to pass. A properly trained horse might even be able to put an iron-shod hoof in the face of a nosferatu attempting to cow it with Nightmare.
Another application would be the passing of extremely covert messages. Carrier pigeons can move messages about, but a properly trained Mynah bird could deliver the message directly to the user, even mimicking the speech patterns of the sender. All your target needs is a window. If the kindred on both ends have Animalism, then the messages length and complexity are no longer an issue. Even less so, if the animal is possessed by it's sender. In effect, that then would become a kind of low grade telepathy. Or at least would greatly facilitate informationally dense communication.
Not everyone has access to sharks,alligators, piranha fish, or even ill-tempered sea bass. And if you do, great, good on you. You're probably a not very frugal Ventrue with an Ernst Stavro Blofeld fixation, and a small white kitty that you stroke while planning your dastardly deeds.
But you hardly need that, while you might want to keep your DOGS from eating people of a regular basis, you might consider your HOGS a different story. I always joked that i'd have a character one day with a closet full of ghouled pygmy marmosets. (Which is a type of tiny monkey, no bigger than your fist. ) Just toss the living or dead person you want to be rid of in the closet ,and shut the door. Odds are good they'd strip the flesh from his bones as fast as piranha could.
While pushing around insects isn't exactly easy it can be damned useful if done with an eye toward working with their natural instincts. Tiny critters means tiny tiny brains, so you can't really do much out of the ordinary with them. But with the right work, there is nothing better for a long term urban harassment campaign.
You might have to take a specialty in Animal Ken for insects, and to do intricate work, you might even have to subsume an insect and direct the work from inside the hive as it were. But one wasps nest, or a batch of brown recluse spiders in the right spot can make an entire corporate building or apartment building uninhabitable. I mean seriously. Think of the lawsuits.
I bet that snooty elder who lives on the hill is real proud of his ancestral manse. Wouldn't it be an awful shame, if he got a bad case of termites. Especially termites that had been directed to feast in certain....LODE BEARING...spots.
There are companies that sell insect eggs online. You can drive the other kindred's animals to distraction if you plague them with fleas, ticks, mites, and nits. Might make his house damn near unliveable.
Certain animals have desirable characteristics. With blood, and time,and judicious use, you can crossbreed certain species and enhance those characteristics. Mortal horse breeders have been doing it for centuries. Dog breeders too. Suppose someone with the right attitude and tools decided to breed snakes for greater venom toxicity, and toads for greater hallucinogenic properties. How about hedgehogs with a decidedly aggressive edge? And Animalism certainly makes the task of milking poisonous animals for their venom a good deal easier. Certain types of animals even deliver contact poison, (Spitting snakes, certain frog types.)
Animal based jobs:
If you have to pull up stakes and go somewhere else, getting back on your feet monetarily might be fairly easy if you have animalism. You could get a job as a third shift animal control officer. Keeping some of the more exotic and vicious animals for yourself. You could get yourself a job as a horse trainer or horse "whisperer" which for a vampire is nearly ideal. Almost all of those jobs are paid under the table and are done in the EARLY morning hours.
With the right knowledge and forged credentials, you could have a semi-lucrative veterinarian practice. You might have to hire on an actual vet to take care of cases during the day, but if the calf is foaling in the middle of the night, You could be the guy the farmer calls at 3 am.
Spies on the street:
While most animals are not adapted for urban areas and most domesticated animals have very circumscribed limits on their movements, It is not impossible to create a spy network in a city with animalism. Squirrels, pigeons and badgers have all become acclimated to urban areas and move around in nearly all season. One could even pair them with a human partner, someone trained to interpret their behavior, or even a homeless ghoul trained in the use of animalism. Such a buddy system has many many intelligence gathering use as one can go where the other cannot.
While it is technically a slight fracture of the masquerade, calling up a shitload of pissed off bats, like Batman does in "Batman Begins" is an excellent distraction and/or getaway plan.
Once you've reached a certainly level in animalism use, you can of course put your soul into an animal and move about in daytime, if you like. Marry this ability to earth melding and you are fairly well secured to do so. This means that any animal in your menagerie can be possesed by you as a way of defending your lair. If i was you, I'd keep a bear around. Or maybe a mountain lion. And since you can use your animalism in animal form, you can make yourself the Alpha wolf, and command an entire pack.
Lest we forget, Animals also supply blood to hungry kindred. Granted they aren't as succulent as humans or other kindred. But in sufficient bulk and with the right tools and storage facilities, you can not only feed well, but develop enough overrage that you can feed other kindred. I'm certainly not talking about snacking on squirrels, but what's to stop a kindred with a little bit of money from starting his own cattle ranch. You could have a pig farm. If you really want to spend money, why not a full on horse farm. even a rabbit, sheep, or chicken farm can supply plentiful warm red food, and can also supply incidental commodities.
In order to evoke a frenzy or cool one out in another kindred, you must be within line of sight of the kindred in question. While you can certainly insult a kindred into a frenzy, or talk him down, Neither need necessarily be done by making any outward sign. This can lead to all sorts of sneaky work if played right, but if you get caught doing so in an elysium, it can be bad business. Not that Auspex immediately reveals it or anything. You can even do so while possessing the animal ghoul of another kindred. (which is another reason that smart keeper will want to keep animals out of Elysium.
You might even work with another kindred to provoke a frenzy. The other kindred insults or provokes the kindred, ostensibly with some minor cutting remark, and then you tag them with the Animalism sending them over the edge.
You might even make a case, that you could use the 5th dot of Animalism as a kind of preventative frenzy maintenance, cooling the fires of the passionate vampire nature, BEFORE stepping onto the political stage, That would also provide some preventative bulwark against sneaky pricks trying to push you into a frenzy at court.
If YOU can think of more sneaky bastard ideas for Animalism, I encourage you to add them in the comments below. I will be giving out sick twisted bastard points for the most creative.