The Life of Pets, Familiars and Animal Companions

The Life of Pets, Familiars and Animal Companions

In our current campaign, everyone has felt the need to get a pet. Why this phenomenon took place, I have no idea. Could it be the the giant wolf pet effect from GoT? Or maybe the jealously that the fighter class has felt all these years towards magic users and their silly little familiars finally bubbled over. What ever the reason, we now have a party of 10 as each of the 5 party members has an animal friend of some sort.

Me and my buddy Worg - Art by Alex Honeycutt

Me and my buddy Worg - Art by Alex Honeycutt

Our Druid’s best friend is a raccoon named Dash. This makes sense since she’s a Druid, but why it’s a trash panda I have no idea. Our Atavist has an undead bat as a familiar (please don’t even get me started on this, just go with it). Our Bard, apparently not satisfied with having fuck buddies all throughout the city, needed to adopt a cat to fill that emotional void inside her. Then we have the Warforged Cleric, who went full Tin Man on us and found a little baby chick to care for - he literally keeps it in his chest piece where a person’s heart would be.

As I said in a recent episode of our podcast, I did not want a pet. Of course, Stephen then set it up that my Half-Orc Samurai would find a worg. Instead of setting it free - it had been the mount for some goblins we had fought - I took her with me. That said, I refuse to call it a pet. It’s an animal friend that happens to live and hang out with me. I have enough pets in real life. We have two dogs, two cats and as Stephen would say, my two kids fall in this category. I don’t need a pet in the fantasy game I play in.

There are different types of animal friends that someone can have in D&D. I have broken down this discussion into three parts; animal companions, familiars & mounts and pets. This week I’m going to look at animal companions and what makes them unique.

For those that don’t want my thought process behind Animal Companions:
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Animal Companions

Companions are different than pets. A pet implies ownership. An animal companion is a creature that travels with you of its own free will. The worg that travels with us, Worg (yes I named the worg Worg. I was inspired by Good Omens) is such an example. The Ranger beastmaster archetype gets a beast companion that bonds with you and won’t abandon you. This animal companion is under no such obligation to do so.

So let’s take a look at how the animal companion works. If your party comes upon a beast that it doesn’t attack - I know, fat chance that happens, but let’s pretend. Now this beast, Burt the brown bear, has lost his way and ends up near the outskirts of the city you are in. It’s lonely and confused and looks at you with more curiosity than hate. With its Keen Smell ability, it senses the jar of honey that the rogue stole for no other reason than he’s a rogue. Even though Burt is just a brown bear, he’s not an idiot. He knows if he attacks the rogue, the party will kill him, so he stares longingly at the pouch holding the honey. Our Druid, seeing an opportunity to make an animal friend, asks the DM if they can work with our buddy Burt.

Now just because we want a furry friend doesn’t mean we just get one. I’ve consulted with the best DM ever, Stephen, and this is what we’ve come up with to get us our friend, Burt, to hang out with us.

First, we are looking at this from a party standpoint, not as an individual character. The DM would call for an animal handling check by the party. Whoever has the highest bonus rolls. If they fall the check by 5 or less, the animal is wary of staying and will follow the party at a distance. If they fail the check by 10 or more, the animal will leave. Multiple party member can make animal handling checks, but if 2 or more characters fail their checks, the animal will leave.

So how do we determine the DC of the animal the party is trying to befriend? A DC 10 animal handling check seemed like the right place to start. But a DC 10 didn’t seem right for a camel on one hand and an eagle on the other. The DC is adjusted based on the beast’s Wisdom score, so our camel would be a DC 9 and our eagle would be more difficult at a DC 12. Intelligence was discussed as the modifier, but since these are mostly animals we are talking about, we thought it more important for the creature to be swayed by how they felt about the party (insight), versus the creature’s investigatory ability (Investigation).

Two final questions remain. How often does the party need to make a check to see if the animal will continue to travel with the party and what things would have an effect on the creature’s willingness to stick around.

Burt the brown bear - Art by Frankie Perezar

Burt the brown bear - Art by Frankie Perezar

The party should make a check whenever there is a serious change to the DC of the Animal Handling check, maybe there was a lot of combat that day that stressed the creature out, they’ve been traveling for weeks in the desert and the penguin wants to go back to glaciers or the party is fighting weird creepy things too often. I think it’s fair to say that Burt the brown bear would have to seriously think about staying with the party if they just fought a slew of kuo-toa. Of course, this is all up to DM’s discretion as to whether or not the party has a close enough bond with the animal to forgo a check. That said, there are also a number of things that can sway Burt to fight or run for the hills. I have attached a small chart in GM Binder to serve as a guideline of things that may have a positive or negative influence on our old friend Burt.

Once all of these things have been determined, your animal handling check will decide exactly what the companion will do while they are with you. Again, the chart found in GM Binder will list out what kind of actions the animal will take based on how well you roll. Animals are fickle creatures and they will not just lay their lives down for anyone. But if you and your party members have been treating Burt right (you know the Druid combs his fur out every night), he will stand next you in battle as one of the party, facing down that pack of tiny, ugly kobolds that deserve a painful death.

So, as I stated before, I have no desire to have a pet. But since Burt the Bear isn’t anywhere to be found, I am enjoying the company of our new companion, Worg… the worg.

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