3.5 Awakened Animals as Player Characters
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  1. #1
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    Awakened Animals as Player Characters

    My group is looking at the Awaken Animal spell, what it is, what it does, and Awakened animals as PCs.

    Consider the Brown Bear.

    It starts with six "Monster levels", represented by six hit dice, and is considered a Challenge Level 4.

    Physically it's Large, though it only has a 5 foot reach. Str 27, Dex 13, Con 19, Int 3, Wis 12 and Charisma 6.

    Base attack is +4, actual attack is +11 melee (Claws) and +6 Melee (bite). Ac is 15 (- 1 for size, +1 for Dex, +5 Natural).

    The Awaken spell gives a +1D3 to Charisma, and a 3D6 roll for Intelligence. It also gives an extra two Hit Dice.

    So how would you calculate the ECL on this, for player character purposes?

    Seems like 8 dice of Monster, but no actual Level adjustment. I'd probably interpret him as having Barbarian as "Preferred Class".

    As a fair note: I'm currently running such a character. I chose to forgo the two extra dice, running him instead as a straight 6 dice creature, advancing by level. As it is, he has three Barbarian levels, and seems more than a little broken.
    Last edited by Greenfield; Monday, 3rd December, 2018 at 08:52 PM.

  2. #2
    I remember something like this in "Savage Species". I don't advice PCs without opposable thumbs.

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    Large Size, massively unbalanced stats, scent special ability, that more than makes up for the limitations. I'd consider it LA +2 or so. So an awakened Brown Bear is in the range of 10 ECL.

    By dumping the relatively useless 2 extra animal HD, you are definitely power gaming. Trading animal HD for barbarian levels is definitely min/maxing. Your equivalent to an 11th level character IMO. While you aren't too broken on your own, if you have someone in the party that can buff you, you are a killing machine.

    And I should know, I had a PC shaman with a brown bear animal companion in my game for the longest time, and it finally stopped seeming OP (and got killed) right about the time the character hit 10th level. (To be fair, the shaman had little to no combat ability aside from the 1000lb brown bear, but the brown bear made up for that rather well and pretty much matched the 9th and 10th level front-liners in damage dealing capability.)

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    In theory the awakened bear could have taken those two extra hit dice as character levels. Not sure how forgoing extra hit dice is power gaming, but to each his own I suppose.

    He's been playing the party weakling though, since he's currently 9 hit dice in a 16th level game. His AC says "Power attack me, please!", and his to-hit is relatively pitiful at +15 (BAB of 7 plus 8 for Strength.) Saves are relatively poor as well. The 19 CON isn't bad, and helps his hit points stay above the one-punch stage, but he's a long way from power gaming in the regular setting.

    Our DM has recently decided to run an adventure for him and some similarly leveled characters, and in that setting he's the big-bang of melee combat. Still relatively easy to hit. He's magic light, and gear light in general (Bears don't come with starting money, after all), and a cohort's treasure share is supposed to be a fraction of a full share, but in practice the party doesn't count him in the splits, so he gets whatever his "master" can spare.

    Finding weapons and armor appropriate for him in loot is essentially impossible, and items like gloves or boots won't fit. Rings are arguable.

    By DM fiat this particular bear has opposable thumbs (he's from a dream realm), but his claws are smaller and do less damage.

    Improved Grab is nice once in a while, but not as nice as Improved Grapple. (Bear hits and does damage with claws, then gets a free grapple attempt. Improved grapple calls for a touch-attack hit that does no damage, and gives a plus four on the grapple check. Easier to hit, easier to win the grapple check.)

    But I see your point about the ECL. Plus two character adjustment seems fair.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Greenfield View Post
    In theory the awakened bear could have taken those two extra hit dice as character levels. Not sure how forgoing extra hit dice is power gaming, but to each his own I suppose.
    Not every HD is worth having. Your bear character would be a lot more powerful if you traded every HD of animal for a HD of barbarian. The more animal HD you forego, the more you are powering up the character.

    He's been playing the party weakling though, since he's currently 9 hit dice in a 16th level game.
    That said, I was assuming from what you'd said earlier that you'd brought this character into an 9th level game, not a 16th level one. Against 16 CR foes, yes, this is definitely the party weakling. You'd need at least 5 more levels of Barbarian to really keep up in a 16th level game IMO plus appropriately twinked out loot, and of course that's never perfect because it's unfortunately impossible to balance the LA/ECL system as written - which is why I never allow any +LA race into my game, and anything above +1 LA is going to be problematic for some range of play (too weak or too powerful, likely both in the same character).
    XP Greenfield gave XP for this post

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    The original question was a general one, not about the one specific case.

    In the 16th level game a 9th level character of just about any build will be underpowered. That's a given. The same character, as an awakened animal, can be broken as hell in a game at "its own" level.

    Celebrim, you suggested a two level "character adjustment" was in order for the bear, in addition to the "animal" hit dice.

    I guess the answer I'm looking for, though, doesn't exist. There is no hard rule or even a decent guideline for Awakened animals as PCs. The power differential is too varied, since not all animals are created equal.

    Still, I'm going to propose a standard: +1 Character adjustment per three base "monster" dice, rounded normally. That is, a 1 dice animal should get a +0 CA. A 2 dice should get a +1 CA, as should 3 and 4. 5, 6 and 7 dice animals should get +2 CA, etc.

    Thoughts?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Greenfield View Post
    Still, I'm going to propose a standard: +1 Character adjustment per three base "monster" dice, rounded normally. That is, a 1 dice animal should get a +0 CA. A 2 dice should get a +1 CA, as should 3 and 4. 5, 6 and 7 dice animals should get +2 CA, etc.

    Thoughts?
    The vast majority of LA comes from having net positive attributes. Anything, whether an awakened animal or not, with net positive attribute adjustments needs to have some sort of +LA. Eventually, attributes exceed HD. That is to say, for some HD 'n', there is a HD 'n-m' where you'd rather play the character that forgoes 'm' HD if you have unbalanced stats. Pretty much everything that HD gives you, you can get through stats. Skill points? Intelligence + attribute bonuses. BAB? Strength. Hit Points? Constitution. Savings throws? Attribute bonuses.

    This is why you can never balance +LA characters. At low level, losing all that HD sucks. But as your HD increases, the HD multiplies the effect of your higher ability scores, until eventually they become more valuable than the HD. Consider a trivial case: an 18th level fighter would totally be willing to trade one level of fighter for a permanent +4 increase in STR and CON, two levels for a +8 increase, and even three levels for a +12 increase. We could quibble around the break even point, but clearly there is a point where you are willing to trade several HD for a +LA race. Typically though, this point is at a high enough level that you never try to advance this character from a starting point.

    Anyway, my point is that there is no easy formula for figuring out what LA you should assign. It depends on ability bonus primarily, but to a lesser extent access to things that otherwise would be difficult to get, but which have long term value - advanced flight, advanced senses, natural armor bonuses, etc.

  8. #8
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    In one 3e game, I had a player that played one of his druid's awakened animals for a couple of side quests. He played an awakened dire wolf he named Fenrus.

    Now, Fenrus could not wield a sword or bow as he was a big wolf, but he had an amulet of natural attacks that added to his to hit and damage with his nasty bite. He had magic leather barding as armor that had to be custom made for him for quite a bit of cost. He could have rings, but they had to be special made as well.

    But, Fenrus was a very capable scout and rogue.

    His only downsides were he had limited equipment slots, plus the fact he was a canine. A lot of shop owners and such would not do business with a talking dog and quite a few inkeeps and barkeeps would not let him in for fear he might attack a patron or pee on the furniture. That, and some hunters if they did not know he was awakened might want to make a platinum off his pelt.

    But that made good role play!

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