How to play with pets in D&D
Imagine a grizzled, old Wizard, staring down from a hill. He sends his pet raven to secretly spy on the band of orcs occupying the valley. The raven flies back and reports what is going on.
The adventurer with the familiar is a trope that works well in fantasy. Dungeons and Dragons is a game that has lots of pets available to players, and not just to the Ranger class. Let’s look at some of the options available to the different classes.
Find Familiar is a Wizard spell that allows a character to summon a creature, to have as a pet, and to use them in or out of combat. The familiar is limited in what it can take the form of, but there are still many choices within that limitation. The forms of the familiar, per the D&D Player Handbook are: bat, cat, crab, frog or toad, hawk, lizard, octopus, owl, poisonous snake, fish, rat, raven, sea horse, spider, or weasel. The player chooses the shape. The shape can be consistent, or the player could choose a different form when summoning.
Even though all of those forms are beasts, the familiar is not a beast. It is classified as either a Celestial, Fey, or Fiend. The player chooses what type of creature the familiar is. Whichever is chosen, the creature has the statistics of the beast the player selected for the appearance, and the abilities of that animal. For example, if the player chose a Fey that appeared to be a Raven, then the familiar uses the Raven statistics, available on sites like DnDBeyond.com. Yes, it can fly.
What the familiar can do, and where it can go, is important. In combat or not, the character can take control of the familiar, move it — separate from their own actions — and traverse into areas the character cannot. This might be because the familiar can fly, or because it is small and can fit inside a small crevice, or maybe the familiar is a fish and swims under water. The player’s character may also use an action to telepathically link their mind to the familiar, and experience what the familiar experiences, with all of their senses. Fly over an enemy camp and spy, or sneak through a wall and pull a switch to open a door.
A spell may also be cast through a familiar. For example, let’s say a spell requires the target to be in touch range, that is, 5 feet away. The caster is 100 feet away, and has no way to reach the target. Then the spell would not be able to be cast on the target. If the character had a familiar, the character could send the familiar to the target. Then they could cast the spell through the familiar, as if the familiar was the caster. There is a 100 foot limit on this, but this does allow extra positioning on the combat field.
A familiar adds a lot of flexibility in game play, and a fun pet to add to the role playing. And best of all, it is not limited by class! Yes, it is a Wizard spell, but it’s a level 1 Wizard spell. Every class has access to a Feat called Magic Initiate. This feat allows a character to choose one level 1 spell from another class. Choose this feat, choose Find Familiar, and select the pet of your choice.
Want a Rogue with a pirate theme that has a bird on the shoulder? Want a Sorcerer with a pet weasel? This is built in as an option for just such a character creation.
Pact of the Chain
Pact of the Chain is only for Warlocks. It is described as “Find Familiar on steroids.” At level 3, a warlock chooses a Pact. If they choose Pact of the Chain, they learn the Find Familiar spell they can cast as a ritual. However, when the warlock uses this, they not only can choose to summon one of the beast forms, they can also choose one of the following forms: imp, pseudodragon, quasit, or sprite. The familiar, in whichever form the Warlock chooses, has all the same functionality as the one from Find Familiar, plus has the ability to make an attack.
This is everything a player would want in a pet class. Extra character on the combat field, another character to cast a spell through, and another attack that doesn’t take away from their action. Also, Warlocks can summon random demons that can potentially wreak havoc on the party.
The Artificer class was added in Eberron, and originally thought to be unique to that setting. Yet, as D&D has been expanding, they have included new material for the Artificer. The Artificer is like engineering for D&D, a class that focuses on building equipment, combining the mechanical with the magical, to create armor and weapons, and occasionally a pet.
There exists a Homunculus Servant. Originally in the Eberron setting, it was reprinted in Xanthar’s Guide to Everything. This is learned at level 6. The Artificer infuses an item that serves as the creature’s heart, around which the creature’s body instantly forms. The player chooses what the homunculus looks like, and it functions appropriately. It could be a Crow, which flies, or it could be a walking cauldron.
Just like the familiar, this pet functions separately in combat, and the Artificer can cast spells through it, as if that was the space the Artificer was standing. Unlike the familiar that can just be re-summoned, the homunculus needs to be rebuilt, and all materials and cost need to be spent again.
Homunculus Servant has an attack, Force Strike, and also has an Evasion reaction, to help it stay alive when it is attacked. This is a mechanical pet the Artificer builds and keeps by their side.
Beast Master Ranger
Beast Master is a subclass the Ranger can choose at level 3. In the current incarnation of Beast Master, the Ranger character must use an action as if they are telling their pet beast what to do. The Ranger finishes their turn, then their pet takes their turn. If the Ranger used an action to command the pet, the pet then follows that action. The pet’s action took the place of the Ranger’s action.
At levels 3 and 4, this means that the Ranger does not attack. At level 5, the Ranger learns Extra Attack. The Ranger can then use its action to order the pet to attack, and then perform Extra Attack to make an attack of their own. The pet then takes its turn immediately after. The Beast Master Ranger never learns any additional attacks, through level 20, this is the extent of the attacks performed.
If the pet is killed, the pet cannot be revived. A Ranger must find and tame a new pet. Unlike the familiars, a pet that had personal meaning to the player is gone. This goes against the emotional ties of a pet. As a Ranger goes up in level, they are able to tame higher level beasts, and there is an expectation they would want new pets. This would be heavy on the character from a role playing aspect.
There is some saving grace to this subclass. Unearthed Arcana is newer supplemental material to D&D. It is in the Beta testing phase at this time. None of this should yet be considered official D&D material, as it could change. In any D&D session, players would need to consult with their Dungeon Master if this material could be used.
In Unearthed Arcana, there are many changes for the Ranger class, including the Beast Conclave — the new name for the Beast Master subclass. Now the pet can attack at the same time as the Ranger. The pet is able to be revived if it dies. There will be a small, specific list of starting pets. Currently, the Ranger may start with any low-level beast. While the flexibility may seem like a positive, there are only a few beasts that are viable, and too many beasts are not efficient pets, some will not have an attack. This will ensure the Ranger pet will be guaranteed to be useful from the start. Hopefully these changes will be made official soon, maybe even before the rest of Unearthed Arcana is released.
Mounts and Other Beasts of Burden
At level 5, Paladins learn Find Steed, which allows them to summon a spirit that takes the form of an animal they can ride. Usually this is a horse, but it could be a camel, an elk, or a giant mastiff. Bards can learn this with an ability to learn magic spells from other classes. Other classes will also learn mounts. Some will have started the game with enough gold to buy a mule and a cart. Others will save up, buy a warhorse and be a Cavalier Fighter with the ability for mounted combat.
This mount becomes a part of the group, at least a pet, if not a character in their own right. Eventually the adventurers will want to upgrade to flying mounts, like griffons or giant eagles. The game is always better with the addition of flying mounts.
Figurine of Wondrous Power
This is not exactly a pet. This isn’t reliable, as it will mean the DM has to include it in the game, either as treasure, or at an affordable price. And there is a cooldown on their usage. However, this is an official item listed in D&D: Figurine of Wondrous Power.
This is a collection of tiny statuettes of different animals, a menagerie of magical items with different abilities. Among others, there is an Ivory Goat that can be used as a riding horse. There are a pair of Golden Lions that can be used in combat. There is a Silver Raven that sends messages to others.
These items are all reusable, and the animals could be seen as pets. Animals that a player’s character calls out over and over, the same animal each time, that the character has a connection with. Just give the animal a name, and it makes it personal.
Conjuring The Same Creatures
This next one is tricky. These aren’t pets in the sense that the player’s character keeps them, and whether or not they always appear is up for debate. There are a number of spells that conjure a creature to assist the player. They can be completely random or have some direction in what appears, and if they are not completely random, there is discussion if the player decides what is conjured or if it is solely up to the DM’s discretion. There is room for the player and the DM to decide if the player’s character could always summon the same being when using these spells. This is not necessarily a pet, but could act in a similar fashion.
There is plenty of room in D&D for pets that don’t affect combat. The spell Speak With Animals allows characters to talk to animals, form a bond, and make them part of the group. Animal Handling could tame a creature, and take them on as a pet. The group could stumble upon a dragon egg and hatch it, then the dragon whelp mistakes the first character it sees as its parent, and forms a bond. A queen in the Fey Wilds might be impressed with the group of adventurers, and bestows upon them a Blink Dog pup as a reward.
This is entirely up to the DM and the players — and for everyone to talk about, to make sure they agree, and don’t unbalance the game. There is a lot of flexibility. That’s the great thing about it being pencil and paper — or text and screen. The rules are guidelines, but can be bent and changed to create what is fun for everyone. And what’s more fun than pets?
Please consider supporting our Patreon!
Join the Discussion
Blizzard Watch is a safe space for all readers. By leaving comments on this site you agree to follow our commenting and community guidelines.