Remembering that your minions, familiars, and cohorts actually exist.

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

Maybe it's just my old age and lousy memory, but I've noticed familiars and porters tend to disappear from my games.

The problem is that working the "extended party" into a game is straight up hard. It’s tough enough to hold your own PC in your mind’s eye, allowing them to react to situations naturally and in-character. Start tacking on all the squires and animal companions and escort quests you’ve picked up along the way and your attention fractures.

Worse than that is the limited limelight. Everyone wants their moment at center stage, but those moments get smaller and smaller when “the party” becomes “the party + the help.” And while a big group can make for a rich living world, it also risks taking attention away from the real stars of the show. Someone is going to get slighted, and that’s a great big feels-bad.

That's why I tend to favor a “one NPC per party” model. It allows a GM to provide a little in-character commentary, but doesn’t detract too much attention from the campaign’s headliners.

What about the rest of you guys though? What’s the largest party you’ve ever traveled with, NPCs included? Did you find that the extra bodies got in the way of the PCs, or did you enjoy the rich cast of characters?

(Comic related.)

Having the cohorts controlled by different players can help with remembering them, as they then feel less like an extension of their primary PC.

For the most part, though, having everyone forget that familiars exist unless they're called upon to do something tends to help those familiars survive a lot better. One of the few things I appreciated about D&D 5e's change to familiars was the ability to just casually put the familiar in and out of hammer space.

Liberty's Edge

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It is the famous "furniture" skill, an advanced skill that allows NPCs only to resemble furniture (or a normal rock, or a plant, depending on the location) and disappear in the background.

Scarab Sages

I like my familiars and always do my best to remember them. . . it has in the past resulted in one cat being eaten by wargs and another bearing a bitter grudge towards me for winding up dumped in a well of blood. I'm not sure I like the 1 NPC per player rule as it feels like it penalizes those who come with an NPC built in (familiar, animal companion). There's also a difference between Mittens to Kitten Familar, Bob the cavaliers squire/cohort and Frank the rogues NPC husband. This is assuming the NPC has stats and at least some mechanical impact if you include things like a pack mule it gets worse. Not to mention gray areas like a paladins mount.

One GM I know and I allow cohorts on the condition that we create them and play them. We try to make them useful and will usually take requests for general classes and themes, but the details are up to us. Yes, this increases our load but we find most of our players are capable (in some cases barely) of playing one character but more than that quickly gets difficult.
In combat they are often run by the appriproate player, but for RP purposes they are technically NPCs.

Notecards or extra character sheets; miniatures; a special set of dice just for the Cohort. These are a few of the ways I've reminded myself or seen players at my games do it. It also helps me to give NPCs a unique kind of quirk.

Kaylee Kimbertoes, a halfling Warpriest(Divine Commander)/Hunter rode around on her wolf AC named Magda. The wolf was based on several female wrestlers from my youth and would try to pose and flex when she could.

Argentica Silvermane kept an owl familiar named Mr Nails as her "muscle." Since Argie had a proper English accent, Mr Nails was a cockney enforcer with an aesthetic based on gangster films of the 50's; bowler hat, pinstripes and white spats on his talons.

Magda just had her stats on Kaylee's character sheet but Mr Nails had his own notecard. Every time I sat down to play Argie, to get into character, I'd put her sheet down neatly, arrange my dice "properly" on the left and then line up Mr Nais' card on the top right of the paper.

DRD1812 wrote:

What about the rest of you guys though? What’s the largest party you’ve ever traveled with, NPCs included? Did you find that the extra bodies got in the way of the PCs, or did you enjoy the rich cast of characters?

(Comic related.)

We've made a rule against minions, cohorts, and followers, as well as things like eidolons, and highly interactive pets/familiars. Basically we want each player ONLY playing a single character and not having a second body that has a full set of actions, or great influence on the game.

So, mounts are fine, familiars are fine if minimally used, but no eidolons, or minions/followers etc.

I think the issue with followers depends on the table. Some tables are already stuffed with PCs, like 6+ isn't that unusual. In that case, followers can bog things down or just get ignored entirely. But if you are running with a party of 3, then that cohort or other follower may be the boost the party needs to overcome its action economy limits.

The key to a memorable NPC is not having the player who the NPC is connected to play them. Often this means the GM playing them, but that does not need to be the case. In the game Ars Magica, each player has only one magi but can have a lesser but still significant character called a companion. The companion is supposed to be tied to another player's magi not your own.

If there are only a small number of significant NPC’s it is probably best if the GM controls them. If there are a large enough number that it is causing the GM difficulty, I could see assigning some of them to players that they are not associated with.

Most people have trouble arguing with themselves. Having an NPC that is under your control is often just as difficult. On the other hand most gamers do not have any trouble arguing with each other. As long as the other player respect the fact that the NPC ‘s ties to the other character this can lead to more interesting interaction between the characters. It is rare for a player to be able to roleplay out an argument between their character and an NPC they control. The players that also GM tend to be better at this than those that do not run games but is still sometimes difficult for them as well.

It usually helps if you plan out what you're going to do in battle ahead of time.

For example, in my gestalt group, I have a Leshy Warden Druid / Herald Caller Cleric. He has a leshy familiar from the druid archetype and a falcon companion from the Animal domain. And with Superior Summoning and the Cauldron of Overwhelming Allies, all summoning spells are a minimum of 3 creatures.

I have 3 character sheets - one for the PC, one for the falcon, and one for the leshy. I also have a stack of index cards with the stats of various animals that I use for the summons.

Turn one - cleric casts Summon Monster. Falcon moves to attack. And leshy readies an action to use its entangle attack if an enemy approaches.

Turn two - cleric casts Bless. Falcon and summons all attack. Leshy stays ready.

Turn three - cleric shoots his crossbow. Falcon and summons all attack. Leshy stays ready.

Repeat turn three until battle is over.

I tell my players upfront if they want a minion, familiar, cohort, hireling, flunky, groupie, dealer, whatever, THEY are in charge of it, not me. I won't remind them of it and honestly won't even bother factoring it in when I tell the party to roll saving throws. I have enough to keep up with.

I think I was in one campaign with 5-6 PCs, where half of them had some kind of companion: the wizard had a familiar, the summoner had their eidolon, and somebody else had a cohort.

I've also played a number of Society games where there was an overabundance of companion creatures. Sometimes it feels like the number of pets is inversely proportional to the amount of space for them on the encounter maps! However, Society play does have rules banning Leadership and limiting PCs to only one active companion, so that does avoid the worst excesses.

Off the top of my head, I've had PCs with the following companion types in PF1:

- Cavalier with a mount. Easy to remember they're there, it's the character's main schtick.

- Hunter/rogue with an animal companion. Ditto on the main schtick, optimized for flanking tactics.

- Sorcerer with a viper familiar. Usually hidden in his robes, very rarely seen. It nearly died the once or twice it ever tried to deliver a spell. I'd probably dispense with it altogether if not for the skill bonus and Alertness.

- Undine white-haired witch with a crab familiar (for the grapple bonus). She usually carried it around in an aquarium ball (ugh, so heavy!), until she learned merge with familiar. In both cases, it rarely played an active role, outside the usual passive familiar bennies.

- Shaman with a spirit animal. His first one was a thrush, so could talk, and regularly aided with social skill rolls, but not much else. His second one was a unique Improved Familiar from a PFS boon (a wyrmling dragon), with which he used merge with familiar, but she was a Sage so would emerge regularly to roll Knowledge checks, then go back to hiding during fights. I loved the cool, creepy visual (nightmare dragon covered in stars, looking like a tiny dragon-shaped hole in space, emerging from this half-orc covered in arcane tattoos) so would mention it at least once a scenario.

- Oracle with a cohort in a non-PFS AP campaign. The party lacks other spellcasters, so the cohort is one, too (witch), but with an archetype giving spontaneous casting so I don't have to spend time agonizing over which spells to prepare every day for a secondary character. The GM lets me run the cohort with only minimal input (which was mostly limited to her initial introduction, before becoming a full-fledged cohort). She provides AOE spells, occasional hexes (when she's closer to the fight than she wants to be), Int skills, and emergency healing if the oracle ever goes down. So she gets a fair amount of screen time, but not remotely as much as any of the PCs.

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Tie in your minion with your shtick. That's great advice Tim Emrick. If you're, say, playing a Fire Elementalist Wizard, picking an Improved Familiar that has to do with fire is a safe bet.

Another key, IMO is to not think of these creatures as another set of numbers for actions in and out of combat. They're your friends, confidants, possibly more. They have a connection to your PC, perhaps a very real, mechanical connection like a cavalier's mount or a witch's familiar.

Tip for GMs: ENFORCE some of the soft skill areas of the Leadership feat. Does the PC have a good reputation? Well, if their cohort goes with them on adventures, what info is that Cohort bringing back with them? Does this PC maintain a level of integrity and honor even with foes, or do they systematically wipe out whole lairs of intelligent humanoids for no discernable reason other than looting the corpses with all the emotions of a siege engine?

When there are consequences to their PCs' actions, players will often remember that the combat spreadsheet they take with them on quests has a name, a personality, a home address and so on.

Last but not least... daydream. Take 5 to 10 minutes every once in a while, think about your character and their story. I'm not talking about feats they need to complete the build or what their DPR is, but answer questions like what do they wear, what does their signature weapon look like, what does their voice sound like when they're afraid and so on.

Taking some time every so often to actually consider who your character is can help you zero in on relationships this PC has with important NPCs in their life, such as these minion types.

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