The Gassy Gnoll: Man’s Best Friends

The gnoll is vaguely similar to John Candy‘s character Barf in Spaceballs. Barf called himself a MOG, or as John Candy puts it – “I’m a mog: half man, half dog. I’m my own best friend!” And, as a dog owner since getting married, I have to say that dogs can definitely be a serious part of your family. Sure, they require tending – poop duty, vet bills, and the like – but so do kids halflings, right?

Beastmaster (1982)

So here’s my question for the week. Why don’t we see more animals in RPG materials? I’m not just talking about the usual suspects in D&D where rangers or druids will sometimes have animal companions and wizards may have familiars. Sure, that’s great and all, but what about the other characters who may want to have pets too? Why can’t your average fighter, cleric, or thief have an animal friend?

But it goes far beyond PCs… I can see why a PC may decide not to have a pet if they’re always on the road to adventure. But why wouldn’t NPCs have more pets? I’ve been read a lot of game materials in the last couple of years and I don’t remember a single NPC description that included an animal. There may have been a few, but nothing just leaps to mind.

Let’s say the party is exploring a new town. Why wouldn’t a general store owner have a cat to try and keep the mice at bay? What about the butcher who also helps with hunting parties to get food for his own table? Wouldn’t he want a set of smart hunting dogs by his side? Or what about the rogue who has managed to train a pet rat to retrieve keys and other small items from hard-to-reach places?

The possibilities are endless really. Even in the real world I’ve been in my share of shops with an animal greeter. More than one liquor store or shop selling curios has had a dog or cat sleeping in a corner, actively checking out the clientèle, or hanging out with the owner behind the counter. Isn’t that a descriptive quality that should also find its way into our games as well?

Even if you just explore examples from stories, there should be more appearing regularly (there’s a great list at Lia Keyes’ website about animal companions):

If you’re looking for ideas for animal companions, check out Chaotic Shiny’s Animal Companion Generator which can offer some great randomly generated suggestions. I used it to come up with one – “This proud young adult raven has fawn feathers and black eyes. He is large and somewhat intelligent. He likes hiding, expensive things and escaping, and hates direct orders and certain animals.” Imagine a gravedigger with this raven as a friend…

Next time you’re populating an encounter, a town, a dungeon, or anywhere PCs or NPCs may be living, why not give them some animal companionship?

When was the last time your character had a pet? Or when was the last time you used an animal companion in your campaign?

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2 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Man’s Best Friends

  • In my home campaign as DM, I used a trio of wise-cracking crows to great effect. I had three PCs at the time and each sort of “adopted” a crow as his own. The crows taunting and insulting each other (as well as each other’s “masters”) was a really, really fun time. Plus the crows allowed the party to scout further into the wilderness (always a battle to see who would put their crow at risk on the scouting missions) and they allowed me as a DM to give advice when the PCs were stuck (one crow was the smart one who also had minor spell-casting ability) and to move the game along when things lulled (oh no! a crow has ticked off a powerful and drunk bar patron!). Always loved those featherheads!

  • Any 4e D&D players who like Ranger Beastmasters but would like a few more choices for animal companion may I direct your attention to this product?….

    Canine Companions for Rangers includes five new dogs that will serve their ranger masters with skill and panache!

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