A Hobbit lay here, and the other…
Tracking is a pretty intrinsic part of being a Hunter, one of the defining and unique characteristics of the class. But how do you RP it? Well, Aragorn’s tracking scene from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a good start, but it doesn’t give you much information about the theory behind tracking. I was privileged enough recently to meet a man, a wildlife reserve ‘Ranger’ (best description of his job I can think of) in South Africa. He was around seventy-two years old and, frankly, made Aragorn look blind; I kid you not, the man could spot and follow two-day old tracks whilst driving off road at a good thirty miles per hour. He also stopped to tell us the theory behind tracking, funnily enough, so I’ll share – it really does add to your roleplay when you are trying to track IC.
With tracking it is all about experience, the more time you have spent doing it the better – bare that in mind for your character; how much active experience does he/she have?
The first thing you are looking for is actual tracks, footprints, of animals. There is, of course, a lot more to spoors than footprints; dung, fur, and so on, but let’s keep it simple. You are going to know, from your experience, what track is what animal (provided you have seen them before). In real life this can be pretty hard depending on what you are tracking; White Rhino tracks are hard to notice but pretty easy to tell apart from other animals (even Black Rhinos, to be fair), when you get into antelope you are trying to notice very tiny differences; for instance an Impala has perfectly straight lines for footprints, whereas those of a Springbok come to an arrow-like point at the front end. Once you know what you are looking at you need to know where it is going; you need to know which side of the track is the front. For some animals, as the above mentioned Springbok, this is easy. For some it is hard, for example; you can tell where a Snake is going by looking at the long line of where it has ‘crawled’ and observing where small stones have been shifted from their original positions. It sounds crazy but seriously, it works if you have a decent track. Then you need to know how many there are and how fast they are moving. You can count up tracks roughly and get an estimate (I think there are between 8 and 14 of them, for example) of how many animals were in the group. As for speed, running if easy to tell; there will be flicks of dust on either end of the track, the back should be slightly less pronounced. Walking will be a pretty good and well defined track (environmental conditions permitting). Finally, how old is it? There are several ways to tell this; the edges of a track fade with time, a well-pronounced track is newer (or in the words of the gentleman I met “A new track looks like a new track”). Also, use your head; if it has rained the night before, should the spots of rain be on the track you know that the track was laid down before the rain, if the track is over the rain then you know that the animal passed by after the rain had stopped. Obviously, all of these descriptions and so on are presuming South African Savannah Bushveld as the environment. It is harder to track on rocky terrain. Snow, wet mud, sand, are all pretty good for tracking. Your environment has a very strong impact on the visibility, pronunciation, and ‘life expectancy’ of a track. As in all things; use your head. How fast can an experienced person get all of this information? The man I met could seemingly take one look at a track and tell you all of this, he even had the modesty to tell us that he wasn’t even very good at tracking compared to some of the professional trackers in South Africa – imagine what they are like if he was serious. I stress again, it is all about experience. I spent two weeks out there; it is surprising how much better you get at recognising animals and so on in that time if you are constantly doing it. The more time your character spends/has spent out ‘there’, the better they will be. Finally, don’t forget to stay downwind of what you are following, if they smell you and start running you are never going to catch up with them and might as well go home.
The Lion King
Interestingly, the above was the name given to the first animal trainer to create a circus act with big cats; sticking his head into the open jaws of his trained Lion, and so on. Taming is the second main defining feature of the Hunter class, and no doubt a controversial one when it comes to the simple question “How long, and how much effort does it take to tame an animal?”. I want to make a strict point here now; a tamed wild animal is not a pet, it is not domesticated, it has been trained to perform certain behaviours on response to a cue and to not undertake other behaviours. Domestication is an artificial selection, evolutionary, process which takes many generations and affects a species, not an individual (see Silver Fox Experiment). When you train an animal and it bites you, for instance, you slap it and take away its toys; in future, eventually, it will cease this behaviour. When you whistle and it attacks a target dummy, you give it its favourite treat; in future, eventually, it will increase this behaviour in response to the stimulus (your whistle). This is an insanely simplified example, unfortunately I have not had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a professional animal trainer, but the above is the basic point. Throughout history different cultures have managed to train; elephants, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, and so on for various purposes. It is perfectly possible, of course. But how long does it take? From birth, you should be fine. What about an animal you first meet in the wild? Can you spend ten hours out-wrestling a tiger such that it will eventually do everything you instruct it to? No, for starters it will have no idea what your instructions mean. Once you have an animal that isn’t trying to kill you, you still need to spend months training it to understand what you want it to and when you want it to do it. This is the thing about roleplayed hunters that quickly gets old to an onlooker – the animal appears to either speak Common or just miraculously know what its master wants it to do. In reality there would be distinct stimuli – whistles, single-word instructions, visual stimuli (perhaps touching your right arm or pointing at the target). The animal will have been taught that when it receives this stimulus, it must do something in order to get its reward. Furthermore, if you stop rewarding the animal practically every time it performs the behaviour, the behaviour will be discontinued – the animal isn’t getting anything out of it anymore. To every Hunter who has ever come out of a fight/told their pet to do something and not then given it a treat, I say this to you; congratulations, you have successfully untrained your Hunter pet. Use your head. It isn’t doing what you say because it loves you and wants to protect you, it is doing what you say for a Scooby snack.
I could go on to question which animals are tameable and which are not (Moths…really?), but I shall leave this topic here. I recommend looking up animal training and so on if you are interested in trying to roleplay the Hunter-Pet relationship more realistically, many animals -can- be tamed to incredible proportions (there are elephants that paint, poorly mind you, but they paint) if you know what you are doing and spend a lot of time doing it.