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


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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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?


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.


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.


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.


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.



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).


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


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.


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.

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