Aren't pets great? Well, in Pathfinder they can be REALLY good. Beyond the roleplay moments, and the flavor of having a big cuddly/scaly half-ton animal as your best buddy in the world, you may recall in another article how I talked about the action economy.
Having an animal companion is really having a force multiplier. It allows for you to do two full action per round of combat. Aside from summoning in other creatures, there isn't anything in the game that lets you do this. Depending on the kind of animal you pick, and how well you can handle it, you can squeeze out some amazing coordination in the middle of combat.
Further, whether you're soulless and willing to treat your pet as cannon fodder, or you cuddle and dote on Sparky, one reality is that this companion is another bag of hit points with a big target on it. That may sound awful, but it's a good thing. In the middle of a fight, ideally the enemy is going to end up being forced to spread their attacks out across several different targets. Your buddy hear makes a great target and if it dies, no worries as you get a new one next time around. If you die then it's either total death, or costly gold or prestige expenditures to come back to life.
It's perfectly fine, and even understandable to have the same animal companion throughout your character's career. The trusty companion is toughing it out, trusting you to lead it through danger after danger and so you stick it out till the end.
However, it should be noted that not all companions are equal and as you grow and mature you might notice that some of these critters get bigger and better than others.
If you are willing to kick your old pal to the curb and replace them with a fuzzy new buddy, then lets clear up exactly what you're getting.
Animal Companions grow level by level, but also have one other “growth spurt,” that either happens at level 4 or at level 7.
Because of these growth spurts, and because its so easy to get new companion, you might consider different companions, breaking it down between levels 1-3, 4-6, and then 7+.
Using some tediously long analysis derived from Challenging Challenge Ratings, I've ranked stats, attributes, abilities and whatnot of all of the animal companions. Then with some magical spreadsheet work I've come up with their CR value at their different evolutionary stages. Be prepared for long lists!
LEVELS 4 & 7 RANKED TOGETHER
OMG! WHAT IS ALL OF THIS STUFF?
These four lists tell you how much of a CR value these animals are at different stages in their development, however this does not include the Animal Companion table (under the Druid class) where they get their hit dice, BAB, feats and the like. So this value is just the stuff on top of the core Animal Companion table.
Obviously, the higher the number, the more potent the creature is. It should be noted that these numbers are benchmarks. Small changes in value aren't all that meaningful, but if you start looking at degrees of whole numbers then you're getting a much more clear picture of the general value of each animal companion.
If you just glanced at the stat write ups for the animal companions it would be pretty obvious that a Stingray stinks and an Allosaurus is rocking. This benchmark rating just confirms it when you just add up all the features and abilities for each of these animals.
It should be noted that these animals, particular when they finally have their growth spurt, have all sorts of different abilities. What you find desirable might fit your character concept well, but might not work at all for another character, so while the numbers help to sift things out more quickly, you'll still want to look at the write ups directly.
WHAT CAN I TAKE?
What animal companions are available depends on your class. Due to Pathfinder Society, there are nuances of what can or cannot be taken because it all depends on the “Available Resources” list, along with what is buried in individual class listings. As of this writing, not all of the animal companions in the Bestiary 2 are accessible, but eventually they might be.
Druids, Beastmasters (Ranger Archetype) and Clerics with the Animal Domain have the widest range of options, being able to pick from all of the companions in the core book, Bestiary 1, and the Vermin companions from Ultimate Magic. Well... the Vermin the Druid can definitely get, and I think the other two can also, but if you squint really hard there might be arguments saying only Druids get the Vermin.
Honestly, the Vermin largely suck, sans flavor, so it isn't really worth the debate anyway.
After this you have the Beastrider (Cavalier archetype) which has a long prescriptive list of animals that include ones from core, and Bestiary 1 AND 2. As of this writing, this is the only way to get some of the Bestiary 2 animal companions.
Lastly, you have the vanilla Ranger and Cavalier. Both classes have very restrictive lists, which the above archetypes fix (the Ranger more so). The archetypes dink you slightly for the longer lists, but it isn't too big of a deal if you want more options.
In the Seeker of Secrets book there is a feat called Boon Companion that Rangers, Clerics and those multiclassing with an animal companion class might consider taking. Basically it allows Rangers and Clerics to remove the level penalty for their companions. Thus at 5th level a Ranger could take Boon Companion and then have a full companion that is equal to the Rangers level, rather than being three levels behind. This one feat is a significant power boost to your character so NOT taking ought to have some good fluff reasons, or if you just want to keep the difficulty setting kind of high for your character.
PAIZO CLARIFIES INTELLIGENCE 3 FOR ANIMAL COMPANIONS
Not too long ago, Paizo put out a clarifying ruling about having an Intelligence 3 companion. What happens is that at 4th level you can add a point to one of your companions attributes. There are a lot of benefits to doing this for Intelligence as it opens up the full list of feats and skills for the animal to take. With a 3 Int your companion can take a rank in linguistics, take Common as the language, and then be able to understand what anyone is saying to it. They can't talk back, but they become more like Lassie, with anyone saying “Where is your master? Show me where to go!” and it'll understand you.
Now, prior to the clarification, one thing that Int 3 was generally interpreted as is that the animal had moved into a semi-human intelligence, and because of that you could do away with handle animal checks. Paizo's clarification is that you still have to do these checks. So just because you've got that Int 3 now doesn't mean you shouldn't keep putting ranks into Handle Animal, nor that you shouldn't keep training the creature.
THE TEDIUM OF TRAINING
Somehow the devs of the game thought that it would be “fun” to have to grind through a lot of handle animal checks to train your animal to do various tasks. In PFS you can only make one of these checks per session, so it usually takes many sessions to get your companion up to speed. However, you do get free tricks with the companion, so make sure you take advantage of those so that you don't spend half your combat screaming at Fluffy to get its move on.
Further, and this is important... You need to get the “double” combat training. If you don't get this then your animal won't attack unnatural creatures, and there are a lot of then, so high gear into to double combat training land!
BIG BUDDY CAN”T GO INSIDE!
One problem with animal companions is that just when they get really powerful, they also start getting too large to move around easily.
Don't give up on your buddy yet, you'd picked this class and you ought to be able to use it's features as much as possible.
First, creatures can squeeze into spaces. They take penalties, but it's better having a companion about who's squeezed than not having it at all. So just because it needs to squeeze through a door shouldn't deter you from getting your companion where you need to go.
There are some more remote instances where a module has a passage that is too small for a large creature to squeeze through. In these instances then you need a bit of magic to deal with the situation.
If you're a Druid or a Ranger than you can carry around a scroll of Reduce Animal. It'll cost you 150gp to buy, but it's well worth those rare moments when it is needed.
At higher levels you could also try the slightly dangerous process of using a Portable Hole. The animal would squeeze into the extra dimensional space of the whole, then you fold it up, and then quickly move to wherever you need to be and open the hole up again. There isn't really any air inside from a large creature, so they'd be holding their breath the whole time.
MY BUDDY CAN”T CLIMB!
Maybe you're GM will ignore the fact that your companion is an Elephant that is trying to climb a ladder, or maybe not... in that case bring lots of rope, a grappling hook and iron spikes. Plus, either have a wand of Ant Haul (750gp) or Mule Cords (1000gp) and pump up your encumbrance rating through the roof and just drag your buddy up, or lower them down to wherever you need to go. If it's down and the animal is medium then a ring or wand of Feather Fall is another handy way of solving the problem. The important thing is to not just leave your companion behind just because of a minor inconvenience.
I WANT TO RIDE MY COMPANION!
Want to ride the companion into battle? Sure you can. However, make sure you get a saddle, it really does help with the ride checks. Also, some companions might have rather weird shapes to them, and so you'd need to get an exotic saddle, which is a little more pricey.
Further, some animals aren't “suitable to be ridden” however you still can ride them. All you do is take a -5 to your Ride check when needed. If you've got plenty of Dexterity, or plenty of ranks in Ride, then this won't be much of an issue.
WHAT ABOUT A FLYING MOUNT?
You can do that to! If you are a Druid, a Beastmaster Ranger, or a Cleric then you can pick a Dire Bat, Roc or Pteranodon. If you want to do this at level one then you'll need to be a small character, or wait till 7th level when these animals grow large.
Weight is a big issue with flying creatures. Their encumbrance penalty is applied to the Fly skill, and it's amazing easy to end up crashing into things if you fail your fly checks. So the less weight and more Strength the better.
One way of doing this is to buy some Mule Cords from the Advanced Players Guide for your animal. Wrap these straps around the creature and it's encumbrance rating will shoot up like it had +8 to its Strength! That's usually enough to get rid of any of the issue, assuming the character is small. The cords cost only 1000gp, so you'll be able to pull this off fairly early in your character's career.
You also REALLY need a saddle, an exotic saddle to be precise, and make it military to boot. You don't want to be falling out of the sky because you had a spell cast on you or were tossed into unconscious by a storm of arrows.
For the companion, make sure they take Skill Focus (Fly) as one of their feats and crank that skill up and up. You want it to have a +14 net bonus. That means even on a roll of a 1 the animal can just hover in place. This is essential for all of the indoor adventures that one would expect.
BIG NASTY POINTED TEETH!
At higher levels, when the monsters you fight are immune to magic weapons, you're going to need to get those teeth, tails, claws, and horns all glowing like with magical energy.
You have a few options. Just getting a Wand of Magic Fang (750gp) ought to be enough to quickly pull out and cast on your pet. It'll last for a minute and likely be more than enough time. This will work fine for the Druid and Ranger.
However, if you want an “always on” ability so you don't have to do any buffing, or you're a Cavalier or Cleric that doesn't have the “Fur” domain, then you'll want the Amulet of Mighty Fists (5000gp) which will give you a +1 to hit and damage with all of the animals natural attacks.
That's it folks! There are so many permutations to the animal companion issue and this article could go on and on... but this ought to be a good primer to avoid any of the real pitfalls that might come from wanting and caring for a pet in Pathfinder.
If you have the tools, you have the talent!
- Neil Carr