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

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.
 

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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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