Companion Characters as Items

15 April, 2010

My campaign has a lot of named NPCs, heroes in their own right, but not quite NPCs. I have a vague idea of their stats. They have character shields. But they do cool things only behind the scenes, so they don’t detract from the players. Recently, the party had to tactically withdraw from a dragon fight. Two NPCs, a recently freed demon and a steamgunner tried to finish him off. They ended up being defeated, but being able to provide the PCs with information about his hideout.

I think that’s an acceptable use of companion npcs. But I want a little bit more than cut-scene flavor.

DMG2 provides rules for Companion Characters. I see those rules as guidelines for DMs that need to fill a spot. I have a table that ranges from 5-7 people. I don’t want to add an additional turn every round.

I’ve been playing with the idea of companion-type characters for awhile. I had a playtest sometime last year where I made several companion characters work similar to Ranger Beasts. It didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.

Then I had a great idea. What if I made companions work like items? Finding higher level magic items is difficult in my campaign, anyway. This way, I can increase the players’ item worths, and provide them with small bonuses earned from gaining favor with their companions.

The following cards were created with Magic Set Editor and using images searched with Danbooru. I plan to print them out for the players, when they earn them.

Here is ramaL, our Sorceror’s familiar. He didn’t take the Arcane Familiar feat, so this little guy provides almost no bonuses, other than being a mascot, and standing around, staring at things. This little Ibixian is based on the Wondrous Figurine series of items. The Sorceror will be able to summon ramaL for combat for the use of an item daily.

This is a heroine NPC of a previous campaign, ultimately, the Optimized Berserker’s quest reward. She’s based on a few things, including the Solitaire, a Tattoo, the wizard spell Ice Tomb, and a druid at-will. Being quite powerful, she will only be provided on select missions. The way Yuuya is designed means she doesn’t usually deserve a 5 ft by 5 ft space (1 square) on the combat field.

This is the recently freed demon. He gives a noticeable edge to the party. He, however, does have his own defenses and a pool of hit points. If lazy, his hit points will equal the damage of two solid successful attacks. Due to character shield, he cannot be killed by mundane attacks.

The purpose of these allied NPCs is to give players a measurable companion benefit. What they are not, is giving the terrifically powerful PCs a lowly NPC to protect. The PCs have more important things on their mind. If targeted and defeated, these NPCs, if logically possible, will stop giving their benefits and will withdraw from combat. Conversely, they are also not Hit Point sponges, who can never die. So while you shouldn’t worry about Kurja charging off on his own, you don’t want to order Yuuya to jump into a 4×4 square pit of vampire stirges. Finally, they are not overpowered separate entities that make the PCs envious of their powers. That’s just bad form.

If this fails, spectacularly, you’ll be hearing from me.

-Lancar

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