I don’t quite understand the Ranger’s animal companion.

I don’t quite understand the Ranger’s animal companion.

I don’t quite understand the Ranger’s animal companion.

So, the book / character sheet says, “You have a supernatural connection to with a loyal animal. You can’t talk to it per se but it always acts as you wish”.

However, all of the rules seem to be about the animal helping the ranger do things like hack and slash, discern realities, etc, but not where the ranger just says, “I want the animal to do this thing independent of me”.

I’ve been reading around and it seems like most people treat the animal as an NPC that the GM controls, but that seems really weird since it “always acts as you wish”.

Specifically, there are situations where the ranger will probably want the animal to do something like fight a monster while the ranger themselves fights a different monster.

And if the companion is, say, a bear, the bear will likely be pretty capable. But there are no mechanics for this – it seems like it always just then becomes, “the bear distracts the monster”. But that’s lame – it’s a bear! It should be doing some damage.

So, what am I missing?

13 thoughts on “I don’t quite understand the Ranger’s animal companion.”

  1. It is a little wonky.

    For starters, the ranger commands the animal. Sometimes I describe what it looks like when it does stuff and sometimes I ask the player to describe it. When it comes to giving the animal a personality, I mostly do that as the GM, especially if the player tends to treat it as an object/henchman. If the player is into giving it a personality, I step back and let them at it.

    As for combat, the Command move details what happens when you attack the same target. When you attack different targets, I just use stats for the animal that I make based on other monsters in the book. After all, your example Bear is trained to fight humanoids and possibly other things, depending on your choices during creation. Sometimes I just say what the bear does – how many guys it takes out or whatever. Sometimes I have the player Roll+Ferocity for the animal and direct any hard choices or whatever at the character. Figure a 6- means the creature is in trouble and may need help.

    I don’t know if I’m “right” or how other people do it. I think the rules leave you hanging just a little here and you have the choice to either just work the fiction or to go with stats and treat it as a henchman. I actually kind of do a hybrid of the two.

  2. I think it can do whatever it’s tags suggest. Is it huge and terrifying? It can probably intimidate some monsters just with its presence. is it stealthy and small? Sure it can get those keys from the table while the guard is sleeping. But it probably can’t deal with that dog if it wakes up. Still want it to try?

    I agree a lot with Ray Otus​ that the rules for it are wonky. I have never used their stats as he suggested, but I have determined if a animal companion could handle a task the Ranger gives them. Once my wife’s Ranger was fighting a couple NPCs that had firearms. She was going to send her wolf but I warned her the enemies could get some shots off. They were in a desperate situation so she asked the wolf if he could take them. I decided he wanted her to survive, regardless of his safety, so he said yes. I had him lunge at the pair while she fought their leader. She heard a couple shots while she fought, then found her wolf laying between two dead men.

    An NPC she helped earlier saved her wolf (gave him golem parts to keep him alive), but it was still dramatic for her. I think rolling damage or to have the wolf attack would have lessened the overall cinematic effect the scene had.

  3. That’s a good point Scott Selvidge. As I said, I’ve done it both ways and I think you are right. Handling it in the fiction (no stats/rolls outside of the Command move) seems more generally satisfying. It’s also easier!

  4. This is really one area that I feel uncertain about with Dungeon World – I think perhaps because it is an NPC of sorts, that the player mostly controls. Usually, my player simply adds additional damage to each combat encounter, and I forget to ask them what their creature is doing… obviously something fixable, but it feels less “natural” than other parts of the game to me.

  5. Yeah this is a great example of fictional positioning and where the rubber meets the road with mechanical implications. You want your bear to be attacking? Sweet, roll hack and slash plus the bonus. If it works, roll damage. That damage applies to the one you attack and the one the bear attacks. But if things start going poorly and your animal companion is incorporated into the fiction it is a great opportunity to show them a weakness. The animal companion can get hurt fictionally, making it mechanically dysfunctional until the fictional damage done is resolved. This has the added benefit of making the character really care more about how and when they get their animal companion to help.

    As a GM I generally describe the animals actions, but let the player describe on occasion and definitely direct its actions. During downtime I ask questions about what the animal is up to. I usually give the animal a personality so they are interested in it.

  6. I read “acts as you wish” to mean the animal companion will always follow the Ranger’s directions to the best of it’s ability. As an example, if the Ranger sends their animal companion off to fight a monster that can clearly overpower it, the animal companion will still go and fight rather than slinking off and cowering somewhere. It’s not exactly mental control. I feel it’s just telling the GM “Hey, don’t play gotcha with the Ranger’s animal companion.”

    I’ve never used stats when the animal companion fights something all by itself. I just treat it like an NPC and have it do whatever seems fictionally and dramatically appropriate. That includes doing damage, or even killing foes if the situation makes sense. But I don’t think I would ever give an animal companion a damage die.

    While Dungeon World isn’t meant to be “balanced” like other games, giving the animal companion mechanics and a damage die seems like the Ranger would easily outclass the Fighter in combat. As combat is meant to be the Fighter’s area of expertise, I think it’s only fair to keep the Ranger’s animal companion more focused on utility.

  7. What you are saying makes some sense Chris Stone-Bush, and yet the rules of companion creation clearly let you build the animal to, for instance, “fight monsters.” So you have to make it somewhat capable at combat (when the player chooses combat abilities for the companion) or you are robbing the ranger of something the playbook gives her.

    True, you don’t have to give the animal a damage die, but a monster-fighting creature should clearly do something in battle. An eagle might blind a foe or a bear pin them down, for instance. The fighter is such combat machine that I don’t worry about the ranger + companion outclassing that playbook. The difference is that a ranger+comp. might be better at fighting a dozen weenies (because they can split up). But when it comes to a big, tough monster, you are going to depend on a fighter to land a blow that really matters.

    Due to the way the fiction works in DW, I hardly ever worry about balance or niche protection anyway. (Though I personally dislike moves that let you borrow moves from other playbooks unless the player really has a neat idea for that.)

  8. The game is about the character heros. A strong, capable animal companion can take away the spotlight from the heros. I think that was the design thoughts in building the Ranger’s animal the way it is.

    If you want the animal to have stats, you can simply build it like any other monster in your world. Or use the Perilous Wilds version (pretty darn good in my opinion).

  9. Thanks for all of the responses everyone. I think when I play, if a Ranger appears in the group, I will explain the animal can be given commands, and it will do its best, but ultimately it is still an npc – it’s not going to be like the player saying, “oh now the bear needs to pin down the orc, and slash it with its claws!”

    Also definitely going to be taking notes of the features the ranger picks for the animal. In fact in the past I have been so terrible at stuff like this, I have made duplicate sheets I am going to fill out during character creation, so I can easily see what everyone has going on!

  10. I personally like to handle the Animal Companion as a bit of a “Tag team Partner” and ask the Player to describe how they both attack the same Enemy most of the time.

    If it acts on their own it is based upon fictional Positioning. If you have a large Bird it may disarm large foes or snap smaller foes into the air and let them drop for example.

    On who controls it: The GM does it normally but the Player can always “take control” by giving it commands (ask him how he does it and how it works). It feels a lot more natural that way and you can make the Animal more funny/important if you want to. The Companion should do what brings the Narrative forward and not only be the Second Character for the Player. It is after all still an animal.

    I would also encourage to give Players more Option of animals if they come from somewhere exotic. My Wife once played and “Australian” based Ranger and she had a Kangaroo as a companion. It was just sooo much fun he hugged every teammate very forcefully at first. ^^

  11. David LaFreniere you just made a light go off in my head when you said that the Ranger could deal damage to more than one creature at a time with their animal companion. I had been in the mindset of it having to be the same creature, but “My bear and I attack the goblins” would allow them to narratively murder at least two of them with a single roll. That’s crazy that I hadn’t thought of that until now!

    Vincent Shine​ I agree with giving them more animal options. Makes things more interesting for sure!.

  12. If the rules for companions fall short (when you want them to take independent action, for example) you might look at how summoned elementals work, as a guide.

Comments are closed.