5E Pets The Problem and Solution

Zardnaar

Hero
D&D has never really been that big on pets, in AD&D a high level Ranger might get one but it was fairly useless at combat (literally it was more of a pet), while a Druid or priest in 2E might be able to find something and charm/tame it. Our best effort there was an Elephant but replacing said elephant was not easy but it wasn't exactly a major feature of the Druid who was a primary spellcaster nor was it built into the class as such as you did not get the pet automatically. You would also probably need the right non weapon proficiencies and/or magic to do much with any pet you found.

3E did introduce the idea that Rangers and Druids could have them and they scaled, the problem was the pet was a bit to good especially when combined with wildshape and/or more summoned stuff. In game I did see a high level Druid level a giant fort more or less solo via an animal army.

AD&D and 3E basically reveal the 2 problems with them. The pet is either to weak as to be useless, or the pet is to strong when combined with other class abilities, usually spellcasting. The 3.5 Ranger might be the best per class we have had so far as it was a lot weaker than the Druids but could still act independently of the Ranger and was not so weak as to be totally useless. Paladins did get a mount but in AD&D it was exactly that and mounts tended to be squishy as well.

5E adds the Beastmaster ranger which is more or less universally regarded as the weakest class. This is because they made the pet a major class feature and gave an AD&D 2E style pet but at a lot lower levels. In addition to being weak at combat the pet doesn't act independently of you either at least if you want it to attack anything. You give up your standard action or an attack once you get multiple attacks, conceptually the designers rated the pets attack ability equal to an attack by the Ranger. The beast also doesn't scale as you level up, and you don't get a replacement either but you can bond with one which means you have to go out and find one. That is yet another problem with pet based classes what happens if the pet dies? Last D&D session I played the Rangers pet got caught in a green dragons breath in LMoP RIP Bob 1.

The game designers rated said pet as a major feature, its more comparable IMHO to a minor ability that could be built into the class. Weak pet or hunter ranger hmmn. Even if you gave the class a better pet in 5E the size of said pet is often an issue as well as anyone who has used a Moon Druid to turn into a large and huge beastie knows, you often get in the way. Yet another problem with a pet.

The other problem is worldbuilding. Sure you might be able to convince your DM to let you have a pet tiger, but where do you source rpelacemebnts from if it was not local to your area. IRL certain breeds of dogs cause people to raise eyebrows so how about pet wolves, great cats and dinosaurs in a D&D world I am sure the good folk of Waterdeep would have no problem right? .

Now some 3pp have tried to do pet based classes as well such as EN5iders Mahout and Diabolist, and there are probably some on the DMGuild as well. They tend to be a bit messy,

TLDR Problems.

1. Power level of the pet to weak/strong.
2. Can the pet act independently of you
3. Is the pet a major class feature
4. What happens if the pet dies and how do you get a replacement.
5. The size of the pet.
6. Said pet in the campaign, local laws/mores/ local environment.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Pt 2 Solution

Here I will offer up some solutions to the D&D pet idea, the concept is not flawed but no one has really gotten it right perhaps in any edition of D&D. This will also be about pets as a class feature not a pet that anyone can get such as a domestic animal or fantasy equivalent. A herd of sheep could be useful in a trap infested dungeon but anyone can get said herd assuming resources and availability.

Power Level of the Pet To Strong/Weak

This is purely a game design mechanic. The only time I think someone got this right was in 3.5 with the Ranger class but people tend to remember the Druid version. The Ranger was treated as a Druid in terms of pet but at 50% strength. I think 5E Druids might have a solution here. A 5E pet is a major or minor class feature and the CRs used for the 5E Druid wildshape give some fairly decent examples. A minor pet feature is the pet can deal damage roughly equal to a single attack/dice of damage, while a major pet probably needs to deal damage similar to a Rogue or Fighter without feats. At certain levels the pet could break the CR guidelines but its a fixed example like the Druids elemental wildshape rather than any pet of CR XYZ.

Can the Pet Act Independently of You

The solution here I think is it depends. If the pet is a minor pet yes it can or perhaps it uses your bonus action. For example a beastmaster rangers pet isn't that great except at low level. A single attack is going to be comparable to an off hand attack. Hunter rangers can stack in extra dice or attacks and combine that with hunters quarry so it gives you an idea of how much damage a pet should be able to do independently or as a bonus action. A Beastmaster Ranger giving up a bonus action is missing out on the hunter ranger bonus damage ability plus the off hand attack or hunters quarry so any pet dealing up to around 8-10 points of damage is fine. A major pet would be something like a black bear at low levels or a dinosaur at higher levels using the Moon Druids wildshape CR as a guideline.

Is the Pet a Major Class Feature?

If the pet can deal damage similar to a fighter or Rogue the class you are designing needs to be a lot weaker at combat perhaps dealing cantrip level damage. Your pet+ a cantrip in a round is fairly decent damage. Higher level character can get a higher level CR critter, or the pet scales in some way such as the En5ider Mahout or the 3.5 Ranger. Any class with a big pet should not be a primary spellcaster, have multiple attacks or extra dice of dmaage like a Rogue assuming the pet acts independently of you. If the pet requires a bonus action you can probably make the class be a half caster or get a 2nd attack at level 5 or 6 like he martial characters or valor bard.

What Happens of the Pet Dies and How Do you Get a Replacement

Not the 5E beastmaster doesn't get a replacement pet even though its a class feature. You can't take away the Hunters bonus damage but you can kill a pet. For any pet based class I would treat the replacement as a ritual that you can summon one in 10 minutes. This means out of combat its not hard to replace them, and the extra damage since it is not guaranteed like say a Rogues can perhaps be marginally higher (1d8 vs d10 or d120 than say a hunter rangers abilities.

The Size of the Pet
Moon Druid wild shape is great, until you hit level 6 or so or when you start wildshaping you are so large/huge you get in the way of your own team mates. This problem doesn't go away if you are allowed to use beasts but t does if the beasts scale in some way so you can have a medium sized wolf that deals damage comparable to a dire wolf and has a similar amount of hit points. It also goes away if the pet is a fiend or celestial of some description or even a Dragon. using the Moon Druid as a guideline they can turn into a mammoth at level 18, a Dragon Summoner could conjure a Dragon CR6 or lower (a wyvern perhaps). A pet doesn't have to be a beast nor does it have to be a higher CR critter that is also larger physically.

Said Pet in the Campaign
[FONT=Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Calibri, Geneva, sans-serif] This doesn't really go away but a trapper with a very tough dog/wolf mountain lion is a lot less of a problem than one that rocks up with a CR 3 or 4 Dinosaur. A 3.5 Ranger could have a higher CR beastie or a tougher lower CR beastie. A Summoner with a fiend or celestial that can disguise itself is less of a problem than a pet mammoth, giant snake etc.

So that is basically it, work out how tough the pet is and scale the class that gets it to its abilities.
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77IM

Explorer!!!
Action-RPG video games often have an NPC or multiple NPCs who follow you you around and fight for you. But in older games, you would often get one of two problems:
- If the NPCs were incompetent, because their AI was too stupid, you'd often have to rescue them. Like the NPC would charge right into the heat of battle and get rapidly ganked. In some games the NPCs would walk right off a cliff. In a milder case, the NPCs would simply not take cover appropriately, and get hit too much.
- If the NPCs were too competent, then the best strategy would be for the player's character to hang back and just let the NPCs do all the work. That's no fun.


Nowadays many games have good enough AI that it's not a problem. But that wasn't always an option. One very interesting solution, which I first noticed in LEGO Star Wars, was to reduce the NPC's damage and reduce the damage done to them.
- The NPC would deal much less damage than the player. In LSW, the NPC would miss a lot, dealing maybe 1/4 to 1/2 as much damage as the player. Thus, because the NPC was ineffective, you couldn't just sit back and wait for them to deal with the enemies (I mean you could, but it would be boring, and often a certain amount of enemies would come after you instead).
- The NPC would take much less damage than the player. In LSW, enemies firing at the NPC would miss a lot, hitting maybe 1/4 to 1/2 as often as they do against the player. Thus, you didn't need to rush out and rescue the NPC, or worry that they would wander into a fire zone, because they had some natural resistance.
- So you might wonder, what's the point of the NPC? Well, they help you solve a lot of puzzles. LSW is normally a 2-player game so the single-player mode just makes the other character an NPC. Also, you can use the NPC as a kind of meat-shield; they'll hold up enemies for quite a while, so that you can move forward or activate a puzzle element.


So I think a crucial part of balancing pets is to make them low offense, high defense.
- Low offense means it doesn't matter that much whether they can act on their own, or give the ranger player "extra actions," because those extra actions are not that great.
- High defense means that the pet isn't too squishy and won't become a burden needing to be rescued all the time. "High" defense should still be worse than a fighter or barbarian or other dedicated tank, though.
- Put the two together, and the pet becomes a kind of movable terrain hazard that can harass foes, block their movement with OAs, or draw their fire. (But they are not as buff as the party tank, so you don't want them drawing TOO much fire.) Plus, such pets can often have a lot of utility, such as serving as a mount, or having a climb speed, or being able to track by scent.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
If I were overly concerned about pets and balance from scratch, it would go more of the familiar route. Take some features of Find Familiar, Spiritual Weapon snd Smites to combine into a conjurable ally that your class features allow to be more effective in combat at the cost of your spell slots.

That allows the up-ticks as you level to be metered by your gains in numbers of and levels of slots.

For its extra survivability, a class feature allowing "bonded ally" or whatever its called that gives it resistance but your character gets the damage too.

Let's you keep the original tier-1 beastie, and as you get more you do more for it. No need for huge monster snakes.

That's the approach I would take but it's a lot of work and testing to arrive there.

For me, the biggest flaws eith rsnge was the terrain and enemies needing more on-the- fly flexibility, not as much guessing where the game will be run.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
I like how the game Adventurer Conqueror King handles pets (animal companions)...

The game treats them like followers... which means:

1. You got to pay a monthly upkeep for them.
2. They get a 1/2 share of XP from the entire group.
3. They are subject to morale checks and may not always do what you want them to.

In my 5E game, I allow players to hire followers using the above rules (followers are classed but don't get sub-classes). If a player's character is suitably trained in animal husbandry, they can get an animal follower. They do add an extra attack and such, but its balanced by their gold cost and XP sink.

I just ignore Beastmaster ranger. Anyone suitably skilled can get a pet. Rangers can be awesome in other areas AND have a pet. But there are drawbacks.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
It's not an easy balancing act. Another factor to consider is how many attacks the pet can absorb (which spares the PCs' hit points). Too low, and you have a class feature that can last less than one encounter. Too high, and you have a damage sponge which may be ignored if it has low damage to counterbalance its survivability.

As for replacing a slain pet, that too can be tricky. Making it easy is convenient, but may also feel unsatisfying to players who like to invest (in terms of role playing) in their pet. IME, of course.

The simplest solution, IMO, is to take a page from the Persona games. The pet shares your actions and hit points. At that point it's mechanically the same as not having a pet at all, which is why it works (it doesn't really run into the design issues that pet classes usually face). Of course, many people will find that unsatisfying precisely because it is mechanically almost the same as not having a pet at all.
 

aco175

Explorer
I never liked having to use one of the PCs actions to get the pet to do something. I also not keen on the idea of letting a player have another attack because he has an animal. I best like the idea of them being like henchmen. This does give another attack and is like another character- even a weakened one, but has some restraints and DM control if needed. Again, nobody ever seemed to get this right. I would give new abilities and power similar to a henchman with half sounding right. This may start to lag behind the PCs at higher levels and may need adjusting at some point.

Another idea for pets is to give them minor powers instead of combat power. A dog that can slow someone or grant advantage rather than attacking for damage. A bird that may disrupt concentration or such would be useful without disrupting much. I may want to make that use a bonus action or some resources though.
 

Coroc

Explorer
To judge the value of a pet purely as a combat npc is to narrow imho. Think scout, distraction etc. You can always hand out pets with about the stats of a familiar. It won't break a thing in5e.
The more powerful a not class related pet is, the more it acts as a npc. To let do it specific actions takes up the PC's action that balances most issues. If the pet is a class property working on its own or not, then it should be scaling more careful.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
In some ways the most eloquent solution would be to create some classes for pets and then let players play the pet instead of a PC (good enough for Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and Flipper). Monk and barbarian can probably transition over easily enough, but it seems like there could be a rogue-like, fighter-like, ranger-like, and even paladin-like pet class. I have long thought that there should be a "martial sorcerer" who gets class abilities from his/her celestial/dragon/elemental/fey/fiend heritage, and that would be a good fit for the pet as well (it isn't like a lot of those types are picky about what they breed with).
 
D&D has never really been that big on pets, in AD&D a high level Ranger might get one but it was fairly useless at combat (literally it was more of a pet)
The Ranger's 'pet' could be a copper dragon, IIRC. High level rangers (and, of course, low-level druids) could also use Animal Friendship, and some pretty butch critters in the 1e MM were technically animals - prehistoric animals, but still. Then there was the Paladin's Mount, and wizard's Familiar (or Homunculus, or freak'n Golems, if he could make 'em). Then there were the subdual rules, which applied to dragons, and tame-able monsters like flying mounts, and, to stretch it a bit, Figurines of Wonderous Power...
 

Ristamar

Explorer
I'd have preferred any "pet" class features to be more akin to summons (i.e. situational, temporary help at the cost of a resource) and any long term followers, animal or otherwise, to function as NPCs. I believe it would have circumvented a lot of the ongoing bellyaching regarding class balance and the action economy.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
The Ranger's 'pet' could be a copper dragon, IIRC. High level rangers (and, of course, low-level druids) could also use Animal Friendship, and some pretty butch critters in the 1e MM were technically animals - prehistoric animals, but still. Then there was the Paladin's Mount, and wizard's Familiar (or Homunculus, or freak'n Golems, if he could make 'em). Then there were the subdual rules, which applied to dragons, and tame-able monsters like flying mounts, and, to stretch it a bit, Figurines of Wonderous Power...
Sure and virtually none of that was built into the class itself.
 
Sure and virtually none of that was built into the class itself.
I think Find Familiar and Animal Friendship were built into the class, since spell lists were pretty tightly coupled to class back in the day - maybe the ramifications of the latter weren't thought through too carefully.

But, yeah, homunculus, Golems, flying mounts & magic items weren't even in the PH, were hardly even alluded to in it.

But there was a lot of potential for 'pets' in the classic game … and, there were Henchmen & Hirelings. My old 1e Druid character had a veritable menagerie, and a pretty complete NPC adventuring party following him around. CHA's good for something, even back in the day.

There was even a pretty clear assumption that players would make fiendish use of Henchmen & Hirelings, and lots of DM advice how to handle it.

Maybe it was always problematic, but with the WotC era, it seems like there's more worry over the balance impact of such things. The controversy over the Druids animal companion supposedly rivaling the party fighter, for instance, or the harsh restrictions on pet/summon actions in 4e/E, or the current 5e take on the 'beastmaster…'
 

Zardnaar

Hero
I think Find Familiar and Animal Friendship were built into the class, since spell lists were pretty tightly coupled to class back in the day - maybe the ramifications of the latter weren't thought through too carefully.

But, yeah, homunculus, Golems, flying mounts & magic items weren't even in the PH, were hardly even alluded to in it.

But there was a lot of potential for 'pets' in the classic game … and, there were Henchmen & Hirelings. My old 1e Druid character had a veritable menagerie, and a pretty complete NPC adventuring party following him around. CHA's good for something, even back in the day.

There was even a pretty clear assumption that players would make fiendish use of Henchmen & Hirelings, and lots of DM advice how to handle it.

Maybe it was always problematic, but with the WotC era, it seems like there's more worry over the balance impact of such things. The controversy over the Druids animal companion supposedly rivaling the party fighter, for instance, or the harsh restrictions on pet/summon actions in 4e/E, or the current 5e take on the 'beastmaster…'
Its not even an option for the class and not every spell caster will want those spells, or aquire them. Its not like you got to chose those abilities either.

In 2E the Ranger did get a baked in follower- at level 10 or so IIRC and said follower wasn't that power. No AD&D class get pets baked in say compared with the 3.5 Ranger/Druid. The Ranger pet was fine IMHO. There was also big difference in the level of animal power, a horse was 2 or 3 HD. A Paladins horse was more a mount than a battle pet and horses weren't that good/ were squishy.

Sure you could have pets, anyone could buy a hippogriff but very few were baked in class features, Paladins and Rangers got them but yeah they weren't exactly great.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One solution that keeps pets in the fiction but keeps them out of the way of game play is to have pets be just that - pets. Ordinary (not fantastic!) animals that are either already tame e.g. dogs, cats, horses or have been tamed by the character e.g. a wolf or a pirate's parrot. If the pet dies, it dies, and the character then has to go and get a new one - it's not automatically replaced.

And the pets are statted out as basic pets would be - meaning that to take one into the field adventuring is probably a death sentence for the poor thing. But it allows for meeting the NPC woodsman with his pet wolf.

Obviously, things like trained warhorses are different; in that they would get extra attacks over and above those of the rider and also be reasonably tough. Those you'll just have to accept as a fact of life should a PC bring one along.

Even just banning any fantastic creatures as pets probably goes a long way toward solving most of the headaches.
 

Krachek

Explorer
Adding hit dice rather than flush hit points will help.
The pet should have the same number of hit dice as it’s master.

Maybe sharing hunter mark can help damage output.

Otherwise beastmaster is more for role play and fun than combat efficiency.
 

jgsugden

Explorer
We overthink this topic way too much.

1.) Pets are not class features.
2.) Pets are NPCs under the control of the DM.
3.) PCs can enhance pets with spells. For example, give rangers and druids (and nature clerics) a non-concentration spell that gives beasts temporary hps and bonus to hit/damage.

It works.

I have a first level spell that druids, rangers and nature clerics can cast in my games. It bonds a beast to the PCs with a CR no higher than half the character level of the PC. That animal is charmed by the PC until the spell is dispelled, it gains temporary hps at the end of each LR equal to twice the character level of the spellcaster, and it adds the spellcaster's proficiency bonus to hit and damage. The beast gains a rudimentary understanding of 1 language spoken by the caster. The beast remains an NPC. I've used it since the start of 5E (with some slight tweaks over the edition) and it has been fine.
 

Scott Graves

Villager
The solution to pets is to leave them at home. Bringing your pet with you to work rarely goes down well in the long run.
I tell my players that I target pets. I don't like them. I had one kid un a game capture a wild boar. HE couldn't take it with him and the stables wouldn't keep him. They recommended the butcher, the player didn't even think about it, offhe went to the butcher to "take care of the boar"... Then he went off to adventure. The butcher "took care of the boar", fed it sour apples and such, then slaughtered it and by the time the player got back his boar was smoked sausages, dried meat and other such travel food. The rest of the players got it... He was slightly gruntled.
 

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