Excerpts Archive | 8/21/2009
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Excerpts: DMG2 Ch. 1 Companion Characters
Dungeon Master's Guide 2

In today’s Dungeon Master's Guide 2 preview, we continue exploring the first chapter, introducing the concept of companion characters, to help round out a party.

Companion Characters

A paladin rescues an imprisoned knight who swears to follow her as a faithful companion for a year and a day. A shaman tends to the wounds of a young black bear, and the friendly animal follows the shaman on his quest. A wizard takes on an apprentice, a youthful elf eager to learn the ways of magic and use them to battle evil.

The young sidekick, the eager beast follower, and the faithful henchman feature regularly in fantasy novels, comics, and movies. Although adding an extra character to the adventuring group might make perfect sense from a story point of view, instantly recognizable pitfalls can make this decision a bad one:

  • Players might consider running a single character to be a full-time job; running two adds a lot of work and slows down the game.

  • Allowing one player to run two characters diminishes the participation of the other players in the game, which can lead to frustration and disappointment from those players.

  • Adding characters can dilute the individual strengths of other party members by doubling (or even tripling) particular roles, which can lead to player feeling as though his or her character isn’t important anymore.

If you can cope with these issues, adding an extra character can yield significant benefits. No matter how compelling the story angle, however, remember one rule: Add an extra character only when it helps fill out a small party or an underserved role. If fewer than five players participate in a game, your group probably struggles with standard encounters designed for groups of five PCs. In addition, your group probably lacks one or more character roles. Adding the right companion character can solve both problems.

Even in full-size groups, having a few companion characters available for use helps you cope with unexpected player absences. When the party’s leader misses a gaming session, that friendly local priest of Kord willing to adventure with you can keep the game on track.

Creating a Companion Character

You can craft a companion character by adapting a monster from the Monster Manual or another source, or by building one from scratch, the same way you create an NPC opponent.

When you create a companion character, consider involving the players in the process, particularly any player whose character has strong ties to the companion character. For example, if the paladin PC decides to take on a squire, the paladin’s player might want to determine the characteristics of that companion character.

You can allow that player to sketch out or design the squire, but you have ultimate veto authority. If you want to change something in the player’s design, explain your reason to avoid appearing arbitrary or unfair. Maybe the companion character’s race doesn’t fit into your world, or maybe you think the powers the player chose for the character are inappropriate.

Turning a Monster into a Companion Character

When you use an existing monster as a companion character, keep these rules in mind.

1. Level. Make a companion character of the same level as the party. You can adjust an existing monster’s level up or down to bring it in line with the party’s level. If you increase a monster’s level to make it a companion character, advance it according to the rules in “Companion Characters in Play” on page 33. Reduce the companion character’s level by reversing the same process. For example, if you reduce a human mage’s level from 4 to 3, reduce her hit points by 4, lower her attack bonus and defense scores by 1, and apply a –1 penalty to her damage rolls.

2. Role. A monster’s normal role helps determine its appropriate role in the party. Use the following guidelines to determine a monster’s appropriateness for a particular role in the PC party.

Controller: Controller monsters obviously work well for this role. Look particularly for controllers with area attacks. Artillery monsters that use area attacks also count as controllers.

Defender: Soldiers make good defenders. If a creature can mark its enemies as an at-will attack, consider it a defender regardless of its monster role. Controller monsters, particularly ones that prefer to engage in melee and control a limited swath of the battlefield immediately around their own space, can act as defenders in a PC party.

Leader: Few monsters fit this role because only a small number have the ability to bolster their allies. A monster that has the leader subtype can function as a backup leader in the party, but many of these monsters have more complicated arrays of powers that make them otherwise inappropriate. Instead, choose a monster that fits the controller or defender role, and add the default power for leader companion characters detailed in step 8 for creating companion characters, “Assign Feature,” on page 31.

Striker: Brutes, lurkers, and skirmishers function well as strikers. Artillery monsters that use single-target ranged attacks also fit the striker role.

3. Hit Points and Healing Surges. Do not use the monster’s normal hit points. The role you assign to a companion character determines its hit points as shown on the Companion Character Statistics table on page 30. It also gains healing surges, according to the same table.

4. Defenses. If you want to tweak the monster’s defenses, increase one or two defenses while reducing other defenses. Don’t adjust any defense by more than 2 from the baseline given in the Companion Character Statistics table.

  • +1 AC: Reduce two other defenses by 1.
  • +2 Fortitude, Reflex, or Will: Reduce AC by 1 or reduce one other non-AC defense by 2.

5. Powers. You might have to adjust a monster’s powers to make them fit a companion character.

Recharge: If the creature has a power that recharges during the encounter, treat it as a normal, nonrechargeable encounter power.

Swapping Powers: If a monster’s power causes trouble in the game because it’s overly complicated or powerful, trade one of the creature’s encounter attack powers for an encounter attack power from a class that shares the companion character’s party role. Choose a power of a level equal to or lower than the companion character’s level. For instance, you can trade a human mage’s thunder burst attack for shock sphere (a 3rd-level wizard encounter power).

Avoid Record-Keeping Effects: Powers that have effects that a saving throw can end, or that a monster can sustain, burden the player (and frequently prove too powerful in the hands of a companion character). Either avoid these monsters or remove the aspect of the power that requires record-keeping. For example, change a “save ends” duration to make the effect last until the end of the companion character’s next turn.

Avoid Immediate Actions: Players should have to worry about immediate actions for only one character at a time. If a player’s PC has no immediate actions, allow his companion character to have one.

Beware of Gamebreakers: Don’t allow a companion character to have abilities that allow that character (and potentially the party) to avoid common obstacles or ignore normal resource management, particularly in the heroic tier. Your own experience at the table can tell you what powers or abilities would offer too much of an advantage to the party. For example:

  • A companion character who has darkvision, blindsight, or tremorsense gives the party a warning system beyond their normal abilities.

  • A companion character who can fly, particularly one capable of carrying another character, eliminates too many challenges and potential risks to the PCs. The same holds true for companion characters who have teleportation or phasing.

  • A companion character who can daze, stun, or immobilize foes with an at-will power has too much clout. If you want to use such a creature, change the at-will power to an encounter power.

  • A power that restores hit points without costing a healing surge makes a companion character too potent. Make such a power a daily power.

6. Magic Items. As a general rule, companion characters don’t use magic items. A PC might give a magic item to a companion character, but if one does so, do not add the magic item’s enhancement bonus to the companion character’s statistics. The companion character’s attack and defense values are already set at appropriate values for the character’s level, so adding these bonuses could lead to an overpowered character.

A companion character can use only one daily magic item power per day. The character doesn’t gain additional uses at higher tiers or when the party reaches a milestone.

Excerpt Schedule

Monday Friday

August 17

Ch 1. Group Storytelling

August 21

Ch.1 Companion Characters

August 24

Ch. 2 Advanced Encounters

August 28

Ch. 2 Terrain

August 31

Ch. 3 Skill Challenges

September 4

Ch. 4 Customizing Monsters

September 7

Ch. 5 Adventures and Rewards

September 11

Ch. 6 Paragon Campaigns

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