Saturday, July 10, 2010

Beast Companions, Familiars & Other Tag-Alongs

I think that having companions in D&D run properly as an actual skill to do well. They can bring enhancing mechanics, liabilities for the party and possible flavour to the game. I personally feel that they really need to be played with character along with some hints of backstory and cues that lead to development. I've seen equipment with more personality in some cases.
My premier experience was from the first ever campaign that I got to play in. Our Wizard had a Falcon Familiar that he would use to channel his powers through. Outside of encounters, this thing rarely ever showed up and aside from when it was mentioned that he was using the falcon to cast _____, it wasn't much more to me than a tiny based mini that sometimes sat on the battlemat grid. Nothing against the player of the Wizard as he's a really great guy but was just not taking advantage of the roleplaying possibilities that this bird could have brought to the table.
The next one that I would have the pleasure of "meeting" had absolutely no game mechanics whatsoever. In that same first campaign set in Eberron, the Dwarf Warden went into the slums of Sharn and hired an Orc hanging around some street corner. This Orc would become his minstrel hired for more than two shinies and the DM even came up with some basic songs that he would sing. On many occassions when Volstag the Mighty (Dwarf Warden) was doing something or our DM was describing what Gorsh (the stupid Orc) was up to, I would catch myself singing his songs at the table. He added a ton of flavour to our sessions and prior to my leaving that campaign, I was even thinking about taking on the role of Gorsh as my Changeling Rogue was now staying in a kingdom posing as the recent secretly murdered king. Mechanic wise, Gorsh had nothing in terms of rules and was never presented on the board even though in most cases he was assumed to be in the room when fights broke out.
The shortest lived companion I would see came from the first Session of Paper Legends. Ulfr was originally created as a Beastmaster Ranger. The rules behind how the beast companion worked in tandem with the Ranger proved way too limiting and frustrating for Ross that all the coolness factor behind having a panther following you around town was lost. Ross ended up letting the cat die in the middle of the session and retooled his Ranger's fighting style. The only thing that would've saved this panther would've been character attachment. Or maybe not.
I've seen a couple more show up but they were in store games with players coming and going that they meant absolutely nothing to me.
Here's my current favourite example of a tag-along. In the first session of Paper Legends, Kris's character, Vincent Moren decided to keep the Kobold that they had interrogated as a pet and named him Puppy. I had this Kobold killed later that night and it drove the character into a frenzy. For the third session, Kris had requested that Puppy's body be reanimated and I agreed to have an NPC do a ritual making him into a Zombie Kobold. Puppy has proven to be amazing story telling element in and out of combat situations to where this Zombie has more flavour than many PCs. Very funny (or sad), especially when you consider he doesn't speak or really do much of anything aside from follow Vincent around and make sandwhiches. I myself might have as much attachment to Puppy as Kris does as we're always talking about different ways to justify Puppy's preservation from you know...decomposing, etc and how we'd like him to evolve. When interacting with NPCs, they're always trying to figure out what's up with "that smelly thing". Puppy makes for great conversation starters within the world of Paper Legends, prepares sandwhiches (we've actually house ruled a Daily Power out of this) and allows Vincent to shows his "tender" side as he is a very OCD and self-centered character until Puppy is put into danger.
Now for our newest Familiar. In the campaign that I'm playing called "On The Bones Of Dead God aka Heavy Metal D&D", which is DMed by Kris that plays as Vincent in my setting, our Sorceress recently acquired a Dragon Familiar. This to be named tiny Dragon is the half-brother of our Drow Sorceress. Her mother, the Queen of Spine is married to a Black Dragon after having her previous husband assassinated. Don't ask me if this little guy was hatched or birthed and we met him as he snuck up on our party following Matilda (who prefers to be called Skull) in order to protect her. Holly has played it up that Skull is repulsed by the little guy (mostly due to the concept of a Drow and Dragon breeding)and my character, Memphis Green(a gun toting Elf Seeker) has been interacting with her Dragon Familiar more than she has. Kris roleplays on behalf of the little guy (thank God as I do not want to see Holly talking to herself when trying to be both characters)and I hope that during this campaign, even though the Familiar makes Holly's Sorceress more badass, he will actually be more attached to my Seeker.
In summary after a long ramble of my experiences and using many brackets, I just want to say that these tag-alongs in an RPG can be so much more than "items" to your PCs. They are characters just waiting to be explored, especially when you realize that they're going thru hell and high water with your party.

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