Pets in D&D does not refer to animal companions or familiars. The pets that we are going to talk about are the pets that anyone can acquire regardless of class and how they work/should be used in D&D.
Pets in D&D should never be as strong as an animal companion/familiar, but players should be allowed to have them. Pets in D&D also might be a liability.
There are many positives and negatives to having pets in D&D. Today we will go over all of them and why your players have the desire to catch everything.
Why players want pets
A rational question for most dungeon masters is ‘why?’ Why do players want pets when they cannot help in combat or are more trouble than they are worth? Think about why we have pets in our daily lives.
Pets are cute, emotional, and something to protect. Players can gain a bond with these animals as we do in our daily lives. It should not be too surprising that players want pets and that they want to protect pets once they are introduced.
Pets in D&D are also unlike pets that we can gain in real life. This air of mystery of just difference makes players interested in how to raise a creature and if they even can.
This leads to a challenge and players love challenges. How do you raise a pet? Is it even possible? If it is not possible how do you make it possible? And lastly, how do you collect them all?
Players may suffer a little bit from the Pokemon complex where they want to have as many pets as they possibly can. This is where you end up having 12 pets or more by the end of a high-level campaign. How did they get these pets and what in the world are players doing with them?
What are some important things that you need to keep in mind when using pets in D&D? Let’s dive into it!
How players acquire pets
Players can acquire pets in D&D through any number of ways. The most obvious is by buying them from a person, but players are adventurers. Players will most likely acquire pets from ther adventurers.
Players could stop escaping animals from a zoo, find one in the wild and want to raise it, or just kill the pet’s parents.
However players find pets, they still need to tame them. We have problems taming things in real life. If you have ever tried to tame a real-life adult tiger, you might find that it is difficult. For a more relatable instance, try taming an adult cat that is feral. The chances of success are extremely low.
Now apply this to monsters. The nature of some animals are for them to be feral and untamable themselves. That is why some animals should not be able to become pets. Unless your players are creative.
Creative players can use animal friendship and keep that on the animal for a while. Eventually, that animal might become tame when they are not under the influence, but that will take a while.
That is why every animal is technically tamable. Magic. Magic and extremely high rolls make the impossible possible in DnD and you will have to deal with that.
Players can acquire pets through a variety of means and get pets to not maul the players, but how do they tame them?
Training pets in D&D is not that hard to do. Generally, dungeon masters just require an animal handling check and state how long, if at all the pet is able to learn something from their masters.
This method is the most common because it is simple and there is technically no guide in the rules on how to train pets.
The creators did not think very hard about their world becoming a Pokemon simulator. That is why almost every rule involving pet training is homebrewed. If you have a cool idea, then use it to make training an animal more fun than just a roll.
You can combine the amount of care that players give their animals and how well nourished they are. The better nourishment, care, and bond can add extra modifiers to the roll. I am not going to put forth a system for this since raising pets is subjective and any care given to pets is subjective.
Some dungeon masters might roll to see if the pet has taken a liking to a player and puts that into account. Others just go with circumstances. Whatever you do, try to make player interaction affect success. Do not just make it a flat animal handling roll. If you can, tell the players about what effect their actions had on the training rolls.
You should also factor in when a pet is taken in. If a cat is taken in at 2 years old and is feral the chances of training are low. If the cat is taken in at 2 weeks old the chances of successful training is much higher.
When a player trains a pet it should take some time and pets should never do more than an animal companion or familiar.
Pet power levels
Pets should never be stronger than animal companions or better than animal familiars. This is an almost ironclad rule that should be in every game. If you are making a few pieces of gold and minor game time equal or even surpass class features that players will feel that their class is worthless. The worst part is that the player is partially right. Their class is being made less due to pets and this should not happen.
Pets should never be better than animal companions or familiars.
I cannot stress this enough, and as players get higher in level they should be allowed to get more powerful pets. Is a blink dog an asset to a level 8 party? Not really. By the time that blink dog is trained to do minor things the party will be level 9 or 10 and even then the blink dog would not be as useful as a familiar.
Pets are useful for information and pure stat damage. Pets should always be significantly weaker stat-wise than an animal companion and never as useful information-wise as a familiar.
That is why many pets are taken as babies. They are cute and will not be a stat issue for your campaign. Babies will also never be as good as familiars since they cannot shape change and provide a direct link back to their master. Communicating information should always be hard and never as useful as a familiar would be.
That is why I would suggest caution when adding levels to pets. Yes, the DMG has a section where you can add monster levels. This is primarily used for monsters that the players will fight but you can use it for pets.
Personally, I wouldn’t do this because it is not what pets are intended for. Pets are not meant to fight and can be used for other things.
Most players will try to find a use for pets. They could make an intelligent pet a buttler or give other pets something to do. In real life, we try to find out what our pets can do, and this is no different in D&D.
Some pets in D&D can be used to guard areas and others can be used for parlor tricks. Each pet will have a use but that use does not make them better than an animal companion/familiar.
Pets should be useful but not too useful.
If the players want to make use of a pet in a way that doesn’t upstage class pet features, let them try. They can still fail to convey the message or fail in training with a failed animal handling, but they should still get a chance.
Now that pets have some uses, it is best to let the players control the pets. If you control the pets it will be a nightmare on you and there can be miscommunication. Let the players handle the pets.
Having the players handle the pets can lead to them forgetting about the pets, so there are already a few issues.
Issues with pets
Pets in D&D were never meant to be. They do not add anything to the game system-wise and were never considered. This means that players will also forget that pets are there at times. Players will remember they have pets when it suits them, even if it doesn’t make sense.
If the players need to make a quick getaway they might remember that they tamed a chimera. The players want to fly away on it, but it was never accounted for in previous encounters. In order to solve the ‘oh, I have that!’ problem first make sure that you remember.
In your plot notes or somewhere you check write a list of the pets. Ask what the players are doing with them at the beginning of the session to remind the players that the pets exist.
Now that the players and you know the pets that exist, use them. If a pet is on a person who is caught in a fireball that fireball may cook said pet. Players will have to think about the consequences of their actions and be more cautious when using pets like a person normally would.
This means that pets are not just something that you catch and put into a box. They are living breathing beings which can be a hindrance. It should take a little bit more thought to have a pet then just buying or capturing them.
Pets can be useful and fun, but like anything in D&D there should be consequences. Consequences, as described in this article, will make your game more meaningful and players will think more about their pets instead of just trying to acquire as many as possible.
Pets in D&D are a topic that isn’t given a ton of thought, but it comes up in almost every group. Players should be able to have pets but there have to be limits.
Pets cannot be as good as familiars or animal companions. There should be drawbacks and pets shouldn’t be forgotten like an item to be pulled out at the right time.
There are consequences to having pets. Pets are not pokemon and should be a fun part of the game, but they should also be viewed as living beings.
Have your players control the pets and do not control them yourself.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!