Random Encounters
Wild Life
By Jesse Decker

Animal Companions for Any Character

The animal companions of druids and rangers, along with the paladin's magical mount and the familiars of arcane spellcasters, all provide interesting ways to bring animals into an adventuring party, but as interesting as these options are, they do not allow for characters of other classes to form a bond with a single animal. Many DMs allow the Leadership feat to be used to call strange and exotic creatures, many of which serve ably as mounts or guardians, but again, the idea of a lone wanderer and his trusty mount or animal companion is only partially served by the rules -- in this case the animal comes, but it comes accompanied by as many as a hundred humanoid followers. The Wild Cohort feat described below addresses many of these problems, but like the Leadership feat, it is meant as an option that DMs and players discuss together. Like the Leadership feat, the Wild Cohort feat gives the player access to another creature that can become powerful in its own right and therefore should be included in a campaign only when the DM judges it appropriate.

It would be entirely appropriate, for example, for a DM to require some story-based prerequisite to be fulfilled before allowing a character to take the Wild Cohort feat. Such a prerequisite might range for the clichéd pulling a thorn from the animal's foot to a more dramatic rescue scene where the character must win the animal's trust through a combination of the Handle Animal skill and careful roleplaying.

Wild Cohort [General]

You have a special bond with a wild animal, and it is willing to travel and adventure with you.

Benefit: You gain an animal cohort. The animal cohort is generally friendly to you and is willing to follow you and adventure with you. If given proper training, the animal cohort will willingly serve as your mount, guardian, and companion. (See the description of the Handle Animal skill on page 74 of the Player's Handbook for more details on training animals.)

You can use the Handle Animal skill on your animal cohort as a move action rather than as a standard action, and you gain a +2 bonus on all Handle Animal checks made to direct or influence your animal cohort.

Provided the DM gives her approval, at 1st level you can choose from a badger, camel, dire rat, dog, riding dog, eagle, hawk, horse (light or heavy), owl, pony, snake (Small or Medium viper), or wolf. Like a druid, you can choose more powerful animals as you increase in level. These alternative animal cohorts work like the alternative animal companions available to a druid, but they are available as cohorts later than they are available as animal companions. When selecting an alternative animal cohort, use the list of alternative animal companions on page 36 of the Player's Handbook, but treat yourself as a druid three levels lower than your character level. For example, once you reach 7th level, you can choose an animal cohort off the list of animal companions available to a 4th-level druid.

Special: Druids and rangers who take the wild cohort feat gain an animal cohort in addition to their animal companion. Although the two abilities are similar, they follow different sets of rules and must be tracked separately.

You can only ever have one wild cohort at any given time.

Like a druid's animal companion, your wild cohort improves as you gain experience. Although the animal cohort improves significantly compared to others of its kind, its abilities do not rival those of a druid's animal companion.

Character
Level
Bonus
HD
Natural
Armor Adj.
Str/Dex
Bonus
Bonus
Tricks
Special
1st-2nd +0 +0 +0 0
3rd-5th +1 +1 +0 1 Evasion
6th-8th +3 +3 +1 2
9th-11th +5 +5 +2 3
12th-14th +7 +7 +3 4 Devotion
15th-17th +9 +9 +4 5
18th-20th +11 +11 +5 6 Improved evasion

Animal Companion Basics: Use the base statistics for a creature of the companion's kind, as given in the Monster Manual, but make the following changes.

Class Level: The character's class levels and racial Hit Dice.

Bonus HD: Extra eight-sided (d8) Hit Dice, each of which gains a Constitution modifier, as normal. Remember that extra Hit Dice improve the animal cohort's base attack and base save bonuses. An animal cohort's base attack bonus is the same as that of a cleric or rogue of a level equal to the animal's HD. An animal cohort has good Fortitude and Reflex saves (treat it as a character whose level equals the animal's HD). An animal cohort gains additional skill points and feats for bonus HD as normal for advancing a monster's Hit Dice (see the Monster Manual). The number listed is the current total of extra HD over and above the base creature's total. For example, a creature that normally has 1 HD but that is a wild cohort for a 6th-level character gains an additional 3 HD for a total of 4 HD.

Natural Armor: The number noted here is an improvement to the animal cohort's existing natural armor bonus. For example, a creature that normally has a natural armor bonus of +2 but that is a wild cohort for a 6th-level character gains an additional +3 bonus for a total natural armor bonus of +5.

Str/Dex Bonus: Add this value to the base creature's Strength and Dexterity scores. For example, a creature that normally has a Strength score of 10 but that is a wild cohort for a 15th-level character gains an additional +4 for a total Strength score of 14.

Bonus Tricks: The value given in this column is the total number of "bonus" tricks that the animal knows in addition to any that the character might choose to teach it (see the Handle Animal skill, Player's Handbook page 74). These bonus tricks don't require any training time or Handle Animal checks, and they don't count against the normal limit of tricks known by the animal. The character selects these bonus tricks, and once selected, they can't be changed. For example, a wild cohort that belongs to an 11th-level character has a total of 3 bonus tricks.

Evasion (Ex): If an animal cohort is subjected to an attack that normally allows a Reflex saving throw for half damage, it takes no damage if it makes a successful saving throw.

Devotion (Ex): An animal cohort's devotion to its master is so complete that it gains a +4 morale bonus on Will saves against enchantment spells and effects.

Improved Evasion (Ex): When subjected to an attack that normally allows a Reflex saving throw for half damage, an animal cohort takes no damage if it makes a successful saving throw and only half damage if the saving throw fails.

Coming in Part 2 of Wild Life

Next week, train your mount, pet, or animal cohort with new tricks, and gain some special feats. Plus, make sure you've got the right gear for your mount.

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