D&D 5E The problem with Pet classes and a possible solution?

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
The biggest problem with pets in my experience isn't really balance, although I grant that can be a problem.

The biggest problem with pets, steeds, summoned creatures, henchmen, minions, etc. is that when the PCs become a small army instead of a squad of commandos it massively slows down play. I groan inside whenever a player wants to play a concept that invests in minions of any sort because that one player's turn can take as long as the entire rest of the party.
This is a problem indeed. I must admit I didn't think of it when writing my post. My proposed solution would also solve this problem, as the pet controller would essentially be a cheerleader in battle.
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It was mainly a way to make a non-casting Ranger. :) Use the spellcasting chart for Pet Abilities rather than spellcasting.
Ah, fair enough.
But sure... a person could absolutely make additional pet abilities to add to next to the spell list that the Ranger player could select from when Preparing spells/pet abilities each day if the player wanted to have both.
Yeah, I think you could thread the needle and essentially do both, and only the most staunch anti-spell slots folks would object. I mean, if you only learn pet abilities, so spells, you're not a spellcaster, right?
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I've been thinking about this for a while. For warrior types the Tasha's/artificer ones are ok.
For a dedicated class.

Half caster with cantrips no multi attack.

Bonus action command pet.

Pet is similar to moon druid wildshape in terms of CR you can have. This means you can end up with a CR6 pet.

Pet is specific type eg beast, dragon, outsider.

You can resummon pet if killed after short rest or prof bonus per long rest. Takes 10 minutes.

If you're not a half caster pet can be stronger either by CR or you buff it by existing.

Full caster well use Tasha's/artificer for something similar.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Pinned to the rules of 5e, I would set up pets to act like magic items and not be attached to the subclass at all.

The pet can only be 'defeated' and never killed, it has abilities you can activate by using an action, bonus action, or paying movement speed.

You get one as a reward for doing what it takes to tame/imprint it or paying money for someone to do so.
 

ECMO3

Hero
It was mainly a way to make a non-casting Ranger. :) Use the spellcasting chart for Pet Abilities rather than spellcasting.

But sure... a person could absolutely make additional pet abilities to add to next to the spell list that the Ranger player could select from when Preparing spells/pet abilities each day if the player wanted to have both.
So pet abilities should be very limited, an attack, movement and maybe a bonus action.

When you start creating different pet abilities you are developing a tiered pet that is a heck of a lot more complex.

I think the best pet is just something that has the statistics of a Mastiff, then flavor it anyway you want and you need to use a bonus action to let him take an action. It is simple and elegant and it is weak enough it won't change the power dynamic.
 

Weiley31

Legend
For me: the best possible solution that I like is just following how the Revised Ranger does it with their pets. Just follow the ENTIRE ruling listed out in the Companion's Bond class feature.

Of course, that means Barding just become "Shields" with four times the cost, but that's the simplest way of making sure it's not rendered pointless by PB score AC scaling.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
So

A number of D&D subclasses have "pets" - the ranger beastmaster is a classic example, but there are others - the steel defender from the artificer, the drakewarden, etc. (I don't see familiars as really fitting into this, they are too "minor").

The idea behind this concept is quite sound, as is quite clear that a portion of players really like this type of characters. But do they work well in play? From what I've seen in person, and from reports I've read from others, not very well.

The problem is like this: Because of the action economy and bound accuracy, the pet can't be too good, otherwise you're essentially doubling your offensive power so this limits them somewhat, balancing them is tricky. However, because of the way HP work, the pet is also a vulnerability. If a barbarian has lost half their HP, they still can fight just as well. But if the pet has lost that much HP, it's kaput. Another example of this dynamic is a bit how a goblin duo gets to attack twice and an orc only has one, but if a hit for 8 hp hits, the orc is still swinging, but the goblin duo has just lost half their offensive power (as one of the 2 goblins is down).

This leads the player to try to protect their pet, because a not insignificant portion of their power is invested in said pet. Furthermore, some are emotionally attached to their bear/robot/etc. This leads to players having their PC spend turns defending/buffing/healing their pets instead of taking more impactful action on the battlefield.

A current Drakkenheim playtest has replicated the issue - but also perhaps pointed to a solution. I am going to skip most of the details, but I decided to playtest this class (the apothecary, int-based spellcaster), and my party was a bit weak in the tank department. 2 subclasses in particular seemed like they could fit the bill: The reanimator, who can create a frankenstein-monster esque creature to fight for them (ie, another "pet subclass"), or the Mutagenist, who becomes the monster, a bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. After looking at the two options, I quickly realized that once again, the pet subclass wasn't really delivering, while turning into the hulk and smashing things was quite effective. (AND fun!)

My particular PC is a goblin (Mr Butters). But what if Mr Butters, instead of becoming a hulk like monster, rode on the back of one, or perhaps hid behind debris and shouted orders and encouragement to the monster while doing nothing of significance during the fight. This would be mere re-flavoring - the HP, the AC, the action economy, would be identical as if Mr Butters had transformed. But the feel would be very different. Perhaps there should be a shared pool of HP, and the player decides in this fight if they are going to "tag in" their pet (to use a wrestling analogy). This would fix the action economy balancing issue and allow pet design to be more bold and impactful.

I don't have quite all the details (the Mutagenist has the stats for the hulk-like monster, what should they be for the other improved pets?) but I think there is potential here...
Yeah, I think of this approach as the FFX Summoner approach (in that game a summon would replace the entire party, but otherwise was basically as you describe). It's not a bad option per se. I've considered creating powerful summon spells based on this design, which would essentially have the mage trade places with the summon until it ended.

The main issue I have with it is that I think it falls short of the fantasy for some. If I'm playing a Beastmaster then riding the beast can be cool, but if I can't dismount and send the beast to go deal with something over there, while I deal with things here, the fantasy breaks. I'm not playing a Beastmaster but rather a Fighter with a higher than average movement speed.

IMO, the problem with pet classes is that the pet is almost always tacked on as an afterthought, when IMO it ought to be the core concept.

If I were to design it, I would probably make two primary pet classes. A Martial Unnamed Pet Class (MUPC) and a Summoner (Caster Pet Class).

I would design the MUPC such that both the character and the beast are each relatively weak, but have teamwork abilities that boost their capabilities. They'd have a spiritual bond such that they could communicate without words, and would be difficult to kill while the other still stood (maybe automatic success on death saves while the partner is above 0 HP). If one were incapacitated, this would enrage the partner, boosting their capabilities. All of these play into the fantasy of playing a MUPC.

For the summoner, I would have them bond an incorporeal spirit. This spirit would allow them to use special summoning spells that require an action from other casters to command, without having to expend those actions. They could expend spell slots to empower their summons and fuel special abilities. Multiple summons would be treated as a single monster using horde rules (so that your dozen skeleton archers don't bog down play). Since they're fundamentally more replaceable, summons would be balanced to be expendable.

As for those who want a menagerie with distinct actions? IMO that's not particularly suitable for a game like D&D (outside of solo play). It's a team based game. You shouldn't be running your own team when you already have a team (made up of the other PCs).

Once you have a fully fledged pet class and you want to create a weak variant like the Beastmaster Ranger, then fine. Because if you have Unnamed Pet Class and you choose Beastmaster instead, you're opting for a ranger with a pet, not the Pet Class (akin to opting for playing an Arcane Trickster instead of a Wizard).
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I think the Swarmkeeper and Drakewarden have the best answer to pets - they are weilded as special weapon effects that can grapple, strike (damage) Or do ‘trick’ via the players Bonus Action.

Having rules for a swarm of wolves or Apes would be cool though :)

otherwise make them side kicks
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all you need to do to accomplish this is put a decent chunk of the pets power in a feature that uses spell slots.

I wouldn’t love that version, but it’d be a lot better than removing Spellcasting from the base class or making the pet most of the classes power. That dynamic fits a “mage or priest with pet” class a lot more than it does the ranger.

Having played with a revised BM and DMed for one as well, it’s nicely balanced, doesn’t overshadow anyone else, and is a lot of fun.

That's why I'm still for a 4e style shaman class. This "priest with a pet" can cast spells to enhance the pet and allow you burn spell slots to support the spirit directly.

If the player wants a ranger with a highly active pet, they multiclass and make the animal companion a spirit.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I have never understood this problem.

The game works great if you run the animal as a friendly NPC. If you want it to survive for a long time, allow it to gain some NPC type class levels to maintain survivability.

I've used this approach for decades - going so far as to make a 1st level spell for druids, rangers and nature clerics that sets the stages for the gaining HD - and it has never been problematic.

You can give a ranger class abilities that buff an animal ally or grants them abilities - that is fine ... but why do we have to put the animal under the fine control of the PC? The player is running one PC - the DM running the ally, the best, should be expected and sensible.
 

ECMO3

Hero
I have never understood this problem.

The game works great if you run the animal as a friendly NPC. If you want it to survive for a long time, allow it to gain some NPC type class levels to maintain survivability.

I've used this approach for decades - going so far as to make a 1st level spell for druids, rangers and nature clerics that sets the stages for the gaining HD - and it has never been problematic.

You can give a ranger class abilities that buff an animal ally or grants them abilities - that is fine ... but why do we have to put the animal under the fine control of the PC? The player is running one PC - the DM running the ally, the best, should be expected and sensible.
If it is an NPC then the DM is choosing who it attacks and what it is doing, when it fails morale and just flees and if something is against its nature or moral code or whatever.

The current 5E design has pets under the absolute control of the PC.
 

jgsugden

Legend
If it is an NPC then the DM is choosing who it attacks and what it is doing, when it fails morale and just flees and if something is against its nature or moral code or whatever.

The current 5E design has pets under the absolute control of the PC.
Right - that is the design. But why is that a problem? We generally do not allow PCs to take precise control over henchmen, family or friends in the game - why pets?

If you look at how Matt Mercer handled the NPC voice of Trinket in the Vox Machina campaign you can see that players can still have fun when the DM is handling a good degree of control over the NPC pet. Further, if you think about how much Vex'ahlia sacrificed to attack with Trinket when she'd have been better off letting Trinket just be a loyal NPC ...

Making them NPCs just works better. Seriously. I've run them that way for well over 30 years. It just works better than all of this fiddly stuff - both mechanically and from a story telling standpoint. When the PC runs the pet, you can't have the pet decide not to follow the PC's order because the loyal thing to do is to stay with the PC when the PC is in trouble - and that is story gold. When the PC runs the pet you can't have it have knowledge the PC doesn't.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I have never understood this problem.

The game works great if you run the animal as a friendly NPC. If you want it to survive for a long time, allow it to gain some NPC type class levels to maintain survivability.

I've used this approach for decades - going so far as to make a 1st level spell for druids, rangers and nature clerics that sets the stages for the gaining HD - and it has never been problematic.

You can give a ranger class abilities that buff an animal ally or grants them abilities - that is fine ... but why do we have to put the animal under the fine control of the PC? The player is running one PC - the DM running the ally, the best, should be expected and sensible.
Because if the pet is an independent NPC, the DM controls them.
If the pet is a dependent NPC, the player now gets 2 full turns.
 

ECMO3

Hero
Right - that is the design. But why is that a problem? We generally do not allow PCs to take precise control over henchmen, family or friends in the game - why pets?

If you look at how Matt Mercer handled the NPC voice of Trinket in the Vox Machina campaign you can see that players can still have fun when the DM is handling a good degree of control over the NPC pet. Further, if you think about how much Vex'ahlia sacrificed to attack with Trinket when she'd have been better off letting Trinket just be a loyal NPC ...

Making them NPCs just works better. Seriously. I've run them that way for well over 30 years. It just works better than all of this fiddly stuff - both mechanically and from a story telling standpoint. When the PC runs the pet, you can't have the pet decide not to follow the PC's order because the loyal thing to do is to stay with the PC when the PC is in trouble - and that is story gold. When the PC runs the pet you can't have it have knowledge the PC doesn't.
I would agree with this design, but I think many modern players would be offended when their pet Wolf turns and flees after getting hit with Dragon fear ...... which is what should happen if a wolf get frightened by a Dragon.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I would design the MUPC such that both the character and the beast are each relatively weak, but have teamwork abilities that boost their capabilities. They'd have a spiritual bond such that they could communicate without words, and would be difficult to kill while the other still stood (maybe automatic success on death saves while the partner is above 0 HP). If one were incapacitated, this would enrage the partner, boosting their capabilities. All of these play into the fantasy of playing a MUPC.

For the summoner, I would have them bond an incorporeal spirit. This spirit would allow them to use special summoning spells that require an action from other casters to command, without having to expend those actions. They could expend spell slots to empower their summons and fuel special abilities. Multiple summons would be treated as a single monster using horde rules (so that your dozen skeleton archers don't bog down play). Since they're fundamentally more replaceable, summons would be balanced to be expendable.
I like this approach.

I just think the MUPC has 2 problems.
  1. Without magic, the MUPC has 2 few ways to support a beast in the adventuring environment. They can't revive it. They can't alter it. Buffs to it would be limited
    1. Which means when the beast dies, the MUPC is weak.
    2. And if the MUPC dies or is incapacitated, the player is stuck with a non-talking beast with no hands.
  2. There is little subclass fantasy for the MUPC to go on if the Summoner exists to create new subclasses.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I like this approach.

I just think the MUPC has 2 problems.
  1. Without magic, the MUPC has 2 few ways to support a beast in the adventuring environment. They can't revive it. They can't alter it. Buffs to it would be limited
    1. Which means when the beast dies, the MUPC is weak.
    2. And if the MUPC dies or is incapacitated, the player is stuck with a non-talking beast with no hands.
  2. There is little subclass fantasy for the MUPC to go on if the Summoner exists to create new subclasses.
That's why I added that the MUPC and pet are resistant to death while the other is above 0 hp. I think that would probably be sufficient, since you would have to down both before death is a major risk in most cases.

However you could go further with it and say that because of their spiritual bond they function as phylacteries for each other, meaning that as long as one survives, the other automatically returns to life after X time. At that point the only way for either to stay dead is to kill both.

I don't think that I agree with your second premise. IMO, the "Duo"/Beastmaster concept is quite distinct from that of a Summoner. One is about working with a partner. The other is about conjuring and controlling creatures. Having classes able to cast Conjure Animals doesn't render the Beastmaster conceptually irrelevant.

I don't agree that you can satisfyingly cover the cop and his K-9 partner with the same class as a necromancer and his expendable skeletal minions. It might be possible in looser systems, like Dungeon World, but not so much in D&D, IMO. I think it would be fundamentally on the designer to design those classes so that the Summoner didn't obviate the MUPC, but I certainly do believe that it could be done.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
So...

The easy answer, to me, is "Suspend disbelief and have the pet and the master share HP and action economy. If they're both caught in an AoE, they take the damage once. And increase the total health pool by a value equal to the pet's average health.

Give the pet the following reaction:

"Nooooooo!"
As a reaction to an attack that would reduce you to 0HP, your pet nobly sacrifices themself to leave you at 1hp.

... I feel like that would solve most of the proposed issues. Pet's still a danger... since they likely have a lower AC than the master, but not nearly as much of one.

'Course, then you end up with the "People beat John Wick's puppy to death and he has 1hp at the end of it" as an issue. But pobody's nerfect.
 
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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
That's why I added that the MUPC and pet are resistant to death while the other is above 0 hp. I think that would probably be sufficient, since you would have to down both before death is a major risk in most cases.

However you could go further with it and say that because of their spiritual bond they function as phylacteries for each other, meaning that as long as one survives, the other automatically returns to life after X time. At that point the only way for either to stay dead is to kill both.

You'll have to go into a semi mystical or even magical element to it. A purely martial beastmaster doesn't work in the D&D structure even with the most expanded definition of martial.

I don't think that I agree with your second premise. IMO, the "Duo"/Beastmaster concept is quite distinct from that of a Summoner. One is about working with a partner. The other is about conjuring and controlling creatures. Having classes able to cast Conjure Animals doesn't render the Beastmaster conceptually irrelevant.

I'm not saying that that MUPC and the Summoner are the same. I'm saying that their subclass types will overlap. It'll either be by origin (natural, fey, fiend, undead) or combat role (tank, stalker, striker, controller, buffer). Much how the Warlock and Sorcerer have slowly collided in subclasses (Undying/Shadow, Celestial/Divine). And the MUPC desn't have as many ways to go without adding more magic.

And by the nature of the Summoner being magical, the summoner will have more leeway mechanically.
 

The drakewarden in our party we have allowed to be a full NPC. Doesn't seem to cause any unbalance
To get the pet right I'd make it a wizard type subclass where the wizards spell slots go into powering up the Pet.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
You'll have to go into a semi mystical or even magical element to it. A purely martial beastmaster doesn't work in the D&D structure even with the most expanded definition of martial.



I'm not saying that that MUPC and the Summoner are the same. I'm saying that their subclass types will overlap. It'll either be by origin (natural, fey, fiend, undead) or combat role (tank, stalker, striker, controller, buffer). Much how the Warlock and Sorcerer have slowly collided in subclasses (Undying/Shadow, Celestial/Divine). And the MUPC desn't have as many ways to go without adding more magic.

And by the nature of the Summoner being magical, the summoner will have more leeway mechanically.
Reread my original post. I mentioned the spiritual bond there too. I don't ascribe to the notion that martial == mundane.

IMO, that kind of thinking is at the heart of martial/caster disparity. Just look at the source that the Beastmaster draws upon. It's arguably inspired by the Beastmaster movie, in which the character has the ability to innately commune with animals. He isn't a spellcaster, as he's clearly built from a martial archetype, but he certainly isn't mundane either.

The subclasses between the two will be similar if the designers make them similar. They operate in a shared space, it is true, but no moreso than other classes that operate in a shared space (ie, sorcerer and wizard).
 

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