|Drake Companion||Animal Companions||Animal Choices|
|Animal Companion Descriptions||Vermin Companions||Accursed Companions|
|Magical Beast Companions||Plant Companions||Reviving And Replacing Companions|
How a companion works depends on the campaign as well as the companion’s nature, intelligence, and abilities. In some cases, the rules do not specify whether you or the GM controls the companion. If you’re entirely in control, the companion acts like a subsidiary PC, doing exactly what you want just like a true PC. If the GM is control, you can make suggestions or attempt to influence the companion, but the GM determines whether the creature is willing or able to attempt what you want.
Aspects of Control
Whether you or the GM controls a particular companion depends largely on the creature’s intelligence and level of independence from you.
Nonsentient Companions: a nonsentient companion (one with animal-level intelligence) is loyal to you in the way a well-trained dog is—the creature is conditioned to obey your commands, but its behavior is limited by its intelligence and it can’t make altruistic moral decisions—such as nobly sacrificing itself to save another. Animal companions, cavalier mounts, and purchased creatures (such as common horses and guard dogs) fall into this category. In general they’re GM-controlled companions. You can direct them using the Handle Animal skill, but their specific behavior is up to the GM.
Sentient Companions: a sentient companion (a creature that can understand language and has an Intelligence score of at least 3) is considered your ally and obeys your suggestions and orders to the best of its ability. It won’t necessarily blindly follow a suicidal order, but it has your interests at heart and does what it can to keep you alive. Paladin bonded mounts, familiars, and cohorts fall into this category, and are usually player-controlled companions.
Eidolons: Outside the linear obedience and intelligence scale of sentient and nonsentient companions are eidolons: intelligent entities magically bound to you. Whether you wish to roleplay this relationship as friendly or coerced, the eidolon is inclined to obey you unless you give a command only to spite it. An eidolon would obey a cruel summoner’s order to save a child from a burning building, knowing that at worst the fire damage would temporarily banish it, but it wouldn’t stand in a bonfire just because the summoner said to. An eidolon is normally a player-controlled companion, but the GM can have the eidolon refuse extreme orders that would cause it to suffer needlessly.
Magical Control: Charm person, dominate person, and similar effects turn an NPC into a companion for a limited time. Most charm-like effects make the target friendly to you—the target has to follow your requests only if they’re reasonable, and has its own ideas about what is reasonable. For example, few creatures consider “hand over all your valuables” or “let me put these manacles on you” a reasonable request from a friend. You might have to use Diplomacy or Intimidate checks to influence a charmed ally, and the GM has the final say as to what happens. Though the target of a charm effect considers you a friend, it probably feels indifferent at best toward the other PCs and won’t listen to requests from them. a creature under a dominate effect is more of a puppet, and you can force it to do anything that isn’t suicidal or otherwise against its well-being. Treat it as player-controlled, with the GM making its saving throws to resist inappropriate commands.
Common Exceptions: Some companions are exceptions, such as an intelligent companion who doesn’t bear exceptional loyalty toward you (for example, a hired guard), a weaker minion who is loyal to you but lacks the abilities or resources to assist in adventuring tasks, and a called outsider (such as from planar ally) who agrees to a specific service but still has a sense of self-preservation. You can use Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate to influence such companions, but the GM is the final arbiter of their actions. For example, a PC might use threats to convince a caravan guard to hold back an ogre for a few rounds or to prevent her zealous followers from attacking a rival adventurer, but the GM makes the decision whether the guard runs away after getting hit once or the followers attack when provoked.
The GM may deviate from the above suggestions, such as allowing a druid to control an animal companion directly, creating a more equivalent or even antagonistic relationship between a summoner and an eidolon, or roleplaying a mentoring relationship between a veteran warhorse and the young paladin who inherited his loyalty. Before you create a character with a companion creature (or decide to add a companion in play), the GM should explain to everyone how much influence you and the GM each have over the creature’s actions. That way, everyone is fully informed about all aspects of dealing with the companion.
The specifics of controlling a companion vary for different campaigns. a gritty campaign where animal companions can’t do anything that real animals can’t do forces the GM to act as a check against you pushing the bounds of creativity. a high-fantasy game where familiars are nearly as important to the storyline as the PCs—or are played as near-PCs by other players—is a very different feel and can create interesting roleplaying opportunities.
An evil campaign where companions are unwilling slaves of the PCs creates a dynamic where the PCs are trying to exploit them as much as possible—perhaps even sacrificing and replacing them as needed—and treat them more like living tools than reluctant allies.
Issues of Control
The GM should keep in mind several factors when it comes to companions, whether handling them as suggested above or altering the balance to give you more or less control.
Ease of Play: Changing who controls a companion can make the game easier or harder for the GM. Controlling a cohort in combat is one more complex thing for the GM to deal with. The GM must keep track of a cohort’s tactics and motivations and how those affect it in combat while keeping her own knowledge of the monsters separate from the cohort’s knowledge; otherwise, the cohort will outshine the PCs with superior tactics. Giving you control over these decisions (while still allowing the GM to veto certain actions) alleviates some of the burden and allows you to plan interesting tactics between yourself and your cohort, much as you would have mastered during times you trained together.
Conversely, giving a player full control over the actions of two characters can slow down the game. If you’re prone to choice paralysis, playing two turns every round can drag the game to a halt. If this is a problem, the GM should suggest that another player help run the companion or ask you to give up the companion and alter yourself to compensate (such as by choosing a different feat in place of Leadership, taking a domain instead of a druid animal companion, or selecting the “companions” option for a ranger’s hunter’s bond ability instead of an animal).
Game Balance: Even a simple change like allowing players to directly control companions has repercussions in the game mechanics. For example, if a druid has complete control over an animal companion, there’s no reason for her to put ranks in Handle Animal, freeing up those ranks for other valuable skills like Perception. If a wizard with a guard dog doesn’t have to use a move action to make a Handle Animal check to have the dog attack, he has a full set of actions each round and a minion creature that doesn’t require investing any extra time to “summon” it. If companion animals don’t have to know specific tricks, the PC can use any animal like an ally and plan strategies (like flanking) as if the animal were much smarter than it actually is.
With intelligent companions such as cohorts, giving you full control means you’re controlling two characters and can take twice as many actions as the other players. The GM can create a middle ground, such as requiring you to put ranks in Handle Animal but not requiring you to make checks, or reducing the action needed to command an animal, but these decisions should be made before the companion joins the group.
Sharing Information: Whenever you control multiple creatures, there are issues of sharing information between you and your companions. Some companions have special abilities that facilitate this sort of communication, such as a familiar’s empathic link or an eidolon’s bond senses ability, but most companions are limited to what they can observe with their own senses. For example, if a wizard using see invisibility knows there is an invisible rogue across the room, he can’t just direct his guard dog to attack the rogue; he has to use the seek command to move the dog to the general area of the rogue, and even then he can’t use the attack command to attack the rogue because the rogue isn’t an “apparent enemy.” If the GM allows the wizard to make the dog fight the invisible rogue, that makes the animal much more versatile than normal, and also devalues the special nature of a true empathic or telepathic bond with a companion. If the dog is allowed to work outside the PC’s line of sight, it devalues abilities such as a wizard’s ability to scry on his familiar. Of course, intelligent companions using speech can bypass some of these limitations (such as telling a cohort there’s an invisible rogue in the corner).
Another issue is who gets to control the companion’s advancement. Animal companions, eidolons, and cohorts all advance much like PCs, making choices about feats, skills, special abilities, and (in the case of cohorts) class levels. Whoever controls the companion’s actions also makes decisions about its advancement, but there is more of a shared role between you and the GM for some types of companions.
Animal Companion: Advancement choices for an animal companion include feats, skills, ability score increases, and tricks.
If the companion’s Intelligence score is 2 or lower, it is limited to a small selection of feats. You should decide what feats the animal learns, though the GM should have a say about whether a desired feat is appropriate to the animal’s type and training—fortunately, the feats on the list are appropriate for just about any animal. If the animal’s Intelligence is 3 or higher (whether from using its ability score increase or a magic item), it can select any feat that it qualifies for. You should decide what feat it learns, subject to GM approval, although the creature’s higher intelligence might mean it has its own ideas about what it wants to learn.
As with feats, you should decide what skills your animal companion learns, chosen from the Animal Skills list and subject to GM approval. If the animal’s Intelligence score is 3 or higher, it can put its ranks into any skill, with the GM’s approval. Of course, the animal might not have the physical ability to perform certain skills (a dog can’t create disguises, an elephant can’t use the Ride skill, and so on).
Ability score increases are straightforward when it comes to physical ability scores—training an animal to be stronger, more agile, or tougher are all reasonable tasks. Training an animal to be smarter, more intuitive, or more self-aware is less easy to justify—except in the context where people can cast spells and speak with animals.
Because you’re responsible for using the Handle Animal skill to teach your companion its tricks, you decide what tricks the companion learns. If you’re not skilled at training animals or lack the time to do it yourself, you can hire an expert trainer to do it for you or use the downtime system to take care of this training.
Cohort: Advancement choices for a cohort include feats, skills, ability score increases, and class levels.
A cohort is generally considered a player-controlled companion, and therefore you get to decide how the cohort advances. The GM might step in if you make choices that are inappropriate for the cohort, use the cohort as a mechanism for pushing the boundaries of the game rules, or treat the cohort unfairly. a cohort is a loyal companion and ally to you, and expects you to treat him fairly, generously, without aloofness or cruelty, and without devoting too much attention to other minions such as familiars or animal companions. The cohort’s attitude toward you is generally helpful (as if using the Diplomacy skill); he complies with most of your requests without any sort of skill check, except for requests that are against his nature or put him in serious peril.
If you exploit your cohort, you’ll quickly find your Leadership score shrinking away. Although this doesn’t change the cohort’s level, the cohort can’t gain levels until your Leadership score allows for a level increase, so if you’re a poor leader, you must wait longer for your cohort to level up. In extreme cases, the cohort might abandon you, and you’ll have to recruit a new cohort.
Examples of inappropriate advancement choices are a good-aligned companion selecting morally questionable feats, a clumsy cohort suddenly putting many ranks in Disable Device (so he can take all the risks in searching for traps instead of you), a spellcaster cohort taking nothing but item creation feats (so you get access to plenty of cheap magic items at the cost of just one feat, Leadership), a fighter cohort taking a level in wizard when he had no previous interest in magic, or you not interacting with your cleric cohort other than to gain defensive spells from a different class or a flanking bonus.
When you select the Leadership feat, you and the GM should discuss the cohort’s background, personality, interests, and role in the campaign and party. Not only does this give the GM the opportunity to reject a cohort concept that goes against the theme of the campaign, but the GM can plan adventure hooks involving the cohort for future quests. The random background generator can help greatly when filling in details about the cohort. Once the discussion is done, writing down a biography and personality profile of the cohort helps cement his role in the campaign and provides a strong reference point for later talks about what is or is not appropriate advancement for the cohort.
Eidolon: Compared to an animal companion or cohort, an eidolon is a unique type of companion—it is intelligent and loyal to you, and you have absolute power over whether it is present in the material world or banished to its home plane. You literally have the power to reshape the eidolon’s body using the transmogrify spell, and though technically the eidolon can resist this—the Saving Throw is “Will negates (harmless)”—it is assumed that the eidolon complies with what you want. After all, the eidolon can’t actually be killed while summoned; at worst, it might experience pain before damage sends it back to its home plane. This means the eidolon is usually willing to take great risks to help you. If swimming through acid was the only way to save you, it would do so, knowing that it won’t die and will recover. The eidolon is a subservient creature whose very nature depends upon your will, so you decide what feats, skill points, ability score increases, and evolutions the eidolon gains as it advances.
Follower: Because a follower is much lower level than you, it’s generally not worth determining a follower’s exact feats and skill ranks, as he would be ineffective against opponents appropriate for your level. In most cases, knowing the follower’s name, gender, race, class, level, and profession is sufficient, such as “Lars, male human expert 1, sailor.” Since followers lack full stat blocks, the issue of advancing them is irrelevant. If your Leadership score improves, just add new followers rather than advancing existing ones. However, if events require advancing a follower (such as turning a follower into a cohort to replace a dead cohort), use the same guidelines as for cohorts.
Hirelings: Hirelings don’t normally gain levels. If the GM is running a kingdom-building campaign where hireling NPCs are heavily involved, you might suggest ways for NPCs to advance, but the final decision is up to the GM. If you want more control over your hireling’s feats, skills, and class levels, you should select that hireling as a follower with the Leadership feat.
Mounts: Common mounts (such as horses or riding dogs bought from a merchant, rather than mounts that are class features) don’t normally advance. If extraordinary circumstances merit a mount gaining Hit Dice, and you have Handle Animal ranks and take an interest in training the animal, use the same guidelines as those for animal companions.
Increasing an animal’s Intelligence to 3 or higher means it is smart enough to understand a language. However, unless an awaken spell is used, the animal doesn’t automatically and instantly learn a language, any more than a human child does. The animal must be taught a language, usually over the course of months, giving it the understanding of the meaning of words and sentences beyond its trained responses to commands like “attack” and “heel.”
Even if the animal is taught to understand a language, it probably lacks the anatomy to actually speak (unless awaken is used). For example, dogs, elephants, and even gorillas lack the proper physiology to speak humanoid languages, though they can use their limited “vocabulary” of sounds to articulate concepts, especially if working with a person who learns what the sounds mean.
An intelligent animal is smart enough to use tools, but might lack the ability to manipulate them. a crow could be able to use simple lockpicks, but a dog can’t. Even if the animal is physically capable of using a tool, it might still prefer its own natural body to manufactured items, especially when it comes to weapons. An intelligent gorilla could hold or wield a sword, but its inclination is to make slam attacks. No amount of training (including weapon proficiency feats) is going to make it fully comfortable attacking in any other way.
Even if an animal’s Intelligence increases to 3 or higher, you must still use the Handle Animal skill to direct the animal, as it is a smart animal rather than a low-intelligence person (using awaken is an exception—an awakened animal takes orders like a person). The GM should take the animal’s Intelligence into account when determining its response to commands or its behavior when it doesn’t have specific instructions. For example, an intelligent wolf companion can pick the weakest-looking target if directed to do so, and that same wolf trapped in a burning building might push open a door or window without being told.