I’m a huge fan of Companion Characters as described in the DMG2 (Pgs. 28-33).
In a nutshell, a companion character is a “monster” that the players get to control. I call them “monsters” because with the exception of hit points, they have similar stat blocks and powers to monsters. When I make a companion character, it’s likely to be identical to some monster I found in the Monster Builder, with but a few modifications.
Why Use Companion Characters?
- Fill a Role
- Plant a Seed
- Create a Villain
- Create a Bond
- Cure ADD
- Speed Up Combat
1. Fill a Role
This is the reason for my first companion character. My group only had four members and they were debating over whether they needed a healer or not. Everybody had a character in mind they wanted to play, none was a Leader. They decided to, “see how it goes and take the sacrifice if they needed to.” I wasn’t going to let that happen.
A companion character can round out a small group or fill in when a player misses a night. They can be tanks, artillery, controllers, thieves, and leaders. If your group has a hole needing filled, a companion character is a good substitute.
2. Plant a Seed
This is the reason for our current companion character, Suri.
Every hero cycle has its mentor. She’s admittedly a little more powerful than a companion character should be, but hey, she was once the god of judgement and balance. She’s meant to be played as “true neutral” as possible. She helps when needed and sits to observe when not. So far, the players have all role played her accordingly.
Suri planted the seed that sent the players on their quest. She tells them what they need to know on a need-to-know-basis. She’s a constant and tangible reminder of their objective. She’s a source of information if the players get stuck. She’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.
A seed planting companion character could be anything, but they will always lead the players to something, either literally… or long after they’re dead.
3. Create a Villain
If you’ve never played Lunar: The Silver Star, then stop reading right now, go play the best role-playing video game ever made, and then come back… I’ll wait, I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Ok, now, you remember that part where you went and met the White Dragon, like, right at the beginning of the game? Yeah, he was like, “Oh hey, you can call me Quark, the last dragon” and you were like, “Got any poop?” And he was like, “Sure, what do you want… nevermind… See ya later green eyes.” Then like a month later, you met Ghalleon and he was like, “Oh hey,” and you were like, “Oh my god you’re GHALLEON, one of the original four heroes!!!” And he was like, “Yeah… seen Quark lately? Can you take me to him?” And you’re like “Oh… oh… anything… anything for you, Ghalleon.” Boom! Companion character.
Sorry, got caught up in the moment. Anyway, Ghalleon was slaughtering slimes left and right, taking out beetles like they were nothing, then eventually, all too soon, you took him to Quark. All the sudden you heard Ghalleons side of the story, and he wasn’t too fond of ol’ Quark. You scream, “Ghalleon, what are you doing!?! NO!!!” and watch as he destroys the last dragon with one massive ball of white light. Then he struts away laughing, leaving you in the ashes. Epic.
Companion villains will turn on the players at the perfect moment, usually after they’ve manipulated the players and given a long eye-opening monologue.
4. Create a Bond
These companions become friends, lovers, sometimes daughters. A companion character becomes more than an NPC when they’re under a players control.
To forge the best bond, you’ll need a real sappy back story and some interesting character quirks. It also helps if they’re frail or in constant need of protection. Saving somebody’s life can be addicting… they’re always so grateful.
In my current campaign, the players are escorting some refugees across the desert. Two of these refugees aren’t too bad with a weapon, but their hit points are crap. Notice also, I wrote character traits into their powers, one with obvious intent, the other questionable.
A companion character meant to forge a bond will always be loveable, trustworthy, and memorable.
5. Cure ADD
If you have a player that constantly fidgets, or loses focus, or talks too much, give them a companion character with lots of options, maybe even an immediate reaction. Make sure their initiatives are separate so they’re always having to keep track of the battle. Enough said.
6. Speed Up Combat
Combat speed is a hot topic in D&D. Sometimes you just need some extra damage in your group. This is akin to point one, filling a role, but speed isn’t really a role. Maybe you have two strikers, but they’re both ardents (just joking, but seriously). Maybe you just need help with minions. If your battles are grudgingly slow, you need a companion character.
These companions should be quick and to the point. Dangar and Clipman up above are good examples. The easiest way to attain this is to find a minion and rewrite its powers allowing for a dice roll. Even a little damage helps, you don’t ever want the companions to overshadow your players.
A speed based companion is quick to play, likely to hit, and does moderate damage.
So that’s about it for now. I’ve been thinking of doing a regular column on companion characters, featuring a new companion every week. What do you think? Would you be interested?
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