Arcane Game Lore

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Gems from D&D 4th Edition: Adventure Companions in RPGs

I took a 20 year hiatus from D&D and around the time I was turning 40 I reconnected with a local D&D group playing edition 3.5. I was prepared to craft an interesting character and had a specific character concept in mind but quickly discovered that was not how the game was played. The expectation in this group was that you maximized your character under the ins and outs of the printed rules and followed the expected character path. I didn’t really find that fun and resented the need to forsake my character concept for the expediency of game play. On top of that I had never played D&D 3.5 so I brought fresh eyes to it and critically examined everything which led to me frequently griping about combat dragging out so long. About half way through my 3 year run with that group Wizards of the Coast released 4th edition and I bought up books like a thirsty man running for water only to discover that certain members of the group were not interested in changing editions because they had invested so much over the years into the 3.5 edition materials and 3.5 compatible materials. Apparently they had bought more stuff then they ever could play out at the glacially slow combat pace and could not stomach admitting that they had made an error in buying what was reportedly thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff to try something different. I did manage to run a 4.0 campaign briefly but eventually decided to leave this group.

I’ve heard many of the criticism of 4th edition and perhaps some are warranted. However there were some real gems in the DMG rule books, like adventure companions.

According to DMG 2 for this edition the benefits are that a companion character can aid a small group in combat or help in a large group if there are player absences.  They can add fun and excitement to a game as well. In science fiction (my favorite gaming genre) Han Solo had Chewie as a companion and Buck Rogers had the robot Twiki (on the TV show). For myself I loved Chewie and looked forward to his grumpy outbursts that you knew the gist of what was said because of the way Han Solo answered him.

Companion characters have been a part of RPGs for as long as I can remember. My first RPG was Basic Dungeons and Dragons and the bundled module, Keep on the Borderlands,   had an opportunity for a companion character. One to the prisoners being kept in the caves had a statement that he would follow the player characters for rescuing him. I remember this character tagging along with our group for a while even though he never actually had name.

It was rather nice to see the concept codified in the 4th edition rules. The basics are:

  1. The companion is game master created and player controlled.
  2. It’s not as detailed as the player character
  3. Use existing monsters (from the monster manual)
  4. Keep it simple
  5. Traits, agenda,  & secrets

Traits, agendas and secrets where rolled up on a d10 and d20 tables. They were largely vague and generic. For example possible agendas could be: wants revenge, needs money, seeks fame, or owes a PC a favor.  The traits table had 20 possible results and was things like violent, greed, barbaric, bookish, or vengeful. Any list of traits from any RPG document could be used to generate traits though I’m more in favor of the game master picking the trait. The secrets table was handy for those who needed ideas but I also felt it was something that the game master should invent for the campaign at hand.

In a PBP run through of the classic Star Frontiers  modules I grabbed a youthful kurabunga primitive from the Volturnus campaign and had him latch onto one of the player characters in a bit of hero worship after a medical emergency. In this set up he just uses the brief line of statistics that other kurabunga use in the module. He has a name and a very brief background. His agenda is that he looks up to the player character as a hero and his basic traits are happy go lucky (he got into trouble with other youth while throwing rocks at acid spitters) His one skill that I assigned him was throwing. He was youthful and I didn’t see the need for a secret like “#6 Once belonged to evil cult”. I did think through why he would get away with leaving his village and following the player characters and decided that he was orphaned and that his prospects to become a respected hunter will slim. The stories told by the other hunters who witnessed the player character’s fighting the hated “sky devils” (space pirates) inflamed his imagination plus his rescue by one of the PCs lead to his following them into the wilderness and joining the party. He’s never had his manhood/hunter rites so the PC he follows will need to see to this. If the party and this kurabunga survive the campaign he will seek to leave the planet with the party but might eventually return to spread the knowledge he’s learned to his people.

Categorised as: Game Aids


  1. jedion357 says:

    OOOOpps I probably should have brought up henchmen from AD&D rules when writing this.

  2. [...] « Gems from D&D 4th Edition: Adventure Companions in RPGs [...]

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