So, you’ve decided to play the ranger class and get to choose your ranger’s animal companion. Sure, you could choose the panther, but that’s been done before and you don’t want to be a clone. That leaves you with wolf, mastiff, a different big cat or a falcon, right? Those have the best stats if you’re trying to min-max your character, it’s what everyone does. Everyone has a wolf or panther and it’s making a sea of ranger sameness. Yet, have you considered not picking an animal based on the stats and how well it’ll do in a fight and instead, pick one based on sheer roleplaying opportunity?
Here’s a list of possible, less prestigious animals that would liven up your game and make your ranger unique among a sea of copycat (or copypanther) rangers:
You can’t get any less prestigious or cool than a rat. We all saw Harry Potter and know how it came out when there was a rat familiar, right? They aren’t much use in a fight, either. Yet, have you considered the real advantages? With a rat on your side, you never have to worry about being held captive again. You will always have an escape half planned as your trusty rodent will be gnawing at your bonds before the orcs realize you’re even conscious. Do you need information? Lots of people are scared of rats. Try holding one up to their face and threatening to let Squeaker snuffle their hair if they don’t talk. Don’t underestimate the ability of sending a rat ahead to do reconnaissance in a dungeon or help you find a way out. The best thing? Most people ignore rats or look away in disgust.
If anyone makes fun of you, then Squeaker doesn’t have to gnaw their bonds when you all are captured later. See who has the last laugh then.
2. House Cat
Okay, so this seems like the complete opposite of the above, but maybe the rat just isn’t for you. You like the idea of a smaller less conspicuous companion, however and maybe you still feel like it would be cool to have a panther like that other ranger. Why not a house panther then? So common, the house cat won’t be conspicuous and could come in useful. If you plan on town adventures, a cat would be key in getting intelligence and for scouting. If your party doesn’t have a thief, perhaps the cat could act as a stand-in. If you don’t think a cat will be effective in a fight, you should see how my legs look like a pincushion due to my young cat climbing me like a tree. It hurts. I’d probably drop my sword if it happened suddenly. Then you might as well use a cat’s penchant for acting like a jerk to your advantage. Is the evil cleric’s power based on a crystal skull? Let the cat knock it off the dais . Perhaps knocking your drinks off the bar continually may even let you win a drinking contest with an ogre.
You can even name the cat Jennifer.
A bat as an animal companion in a game where you will find yourself exploring dungeons frequently seems like a no-brainer. It’s practically like a secret weapon! The echolocation skill means it can double as your party’s mapper. If you choose a small bat, the size should give it some nice pluses in dexterity, since it can’t easily be hit by arrows. Smaller ones are also adorable, like the Honduran White or Cottonball bat. You can use it as a starting point for getting information from reluctant villagers. If you have to get a bit more hostile with an interrogation, then just show the recalcitrant brigand the bat’s nose. It’s still a bat and let’s face it, bats do have freaky looking noses sometimes, even if you like bats.
Bonus points if you name your companion Bruce.
4. Elf Owl
Oh, now you’re thinking my list is just making fun of animal companions and isn’t the least bit serious and seems to be filled with small cute things. Well, yes, I am making fun of the bigger, “cooler” companions that tend to be chosen and this list is filled with little cute things. However, you are playing a fantasy RPG, the name of this bird of prey fits right in. Sure, it’s tiny, but it has all the same features of a big raptor, just fun sized. Also, if you know anything about the tiny owls, you know they are scrappy tough birds who go toe to toe with the bigger birds and often win because they are fierce. The Elf Owl eats scorpions for breakfast. Literally. Even Mogg the Barbarian in your party isn’t as tough as this little owl. In general, an owl makes a much more practical companion than other birds of prey. They fly silently and work well in low light conditions.
Owls. They’re not just for wizards anymore.
I’m kidding, sort of. I mean, I would have one of these as my companion in a heartbeat, but other than making your enemies squee and die from cute overload, I can’t think of any use. It is a flying squirrel, that could be useful. Squirrels are resourceful and acrobatic. You can annoy people with them. Perhaps your character is from one of those magical girl anime shows of the 90s. That’s a valid fantasy RPG world. Maybe you are just an awesome RPG player who can make this work. Find a reason. Just look at that face!
If you choose a momonga though, I want to know about it.
Take your pick here! You can go with the memeish honey badger, a dire badger, or a plain old badger. Other members within the badger’s Mustelidae family are otters and wolverines. Obviously, there are a lot of options here. In addition to being completely mean animals who don’t care (except for your ranger, of course) you have the bonus of annoying your party members by working in the phrase, “We do need my stinkin’ badgers!” Being chased through the woods? Let your badger dig some holes for the pursuers to stumble into. The fighting stats should be great on a badger. If they aren’t, badger your GameMaster until the stats reflect the true powers of your companion.
Did you know that chickens are domesticated versions of the Red Junglefowl that live in the wild? That’s right, that sedate, slightly stupid farm bird we think of as the chicken is actually a hardened survivor. After all, can you survive being delicious in the middle of a dangerous jungle for five thousand years? I didn’t think so. Yet, the Red Junglefowl has done just that and infiltrated the very foundation of the world by convincing people to import it all over and into the heart of the agricultural industry. Being descended from velociraptors doesn’t hurt either. Chickens are instrumental in battling basilisks and their related monsters. If your image is a concern, don’t get one of the common Leghorn or Rhode Island Red types. Go for the colorful ones or the strange looking ones with David Bowie Goblin King hair.
Here’s a little secret about dogs. Believe me, I’m a long time dog owner and I train them. Every dog, no matter what breed can seriously hurt someone. There’s no such thing as a nice breed or a vicious breed. Every single one is a carnivorous predator. All dogs can injure you and many of the more sizable breeds can kill a grown human. That’s where the poodle comes in. Not one of those tiny teacup poodles, but a proper Standard Poodle. Imagine the advantages you’ll have when your enemies underestimate exactly how much hurt you can deal to them! Think of their faces as they start laughing, guards completely down, allowing ample attacks of surprise or opportunity when you give the command, “Fifi! Sic!”. Hey, you warned them your animal companion was not to be messed with.
After the first incident, you can always claim you have a Dire Poodle.
9. Dire Spider
Do I really need to go over all the advantages of a spider? They can do whatever a spider can. They can spin a web, any size. Catch kobolds just like flies! And are they strong? Listen bud, even the small ones are, but a bigger one, better yet a giant one, is going to be less likely to be accidentally squished between your iron rations and rope. It wasn’t a mistake that the secret entrance to Mount Doom was guarded by a spider. They’re very effective against insects, such as giant ants, giant wasps and well, giant anything. Playing into phobias isn’t a bad strategy either. You may not want to share in the dried out husk of whatever food they bring you, no matter how desperate your situation. You won’t get much out of it and perhaps a lot of paralyzing venom to boot.
The real question when it comes to having a dinosaur as your animal companion is not, “Why?” but, “Why would you not want one?” Really, it’s a dinosaur. I don’t have to justify this anymore than to say that.
While the list is a little on the tongue-in-cheek side, my real point is that there’s so many reasons to pick an animal companion other than coolness factor (except when it comes to a dinosaur). You can liven up any RPG game with a bit of creativity that doesn’t depend on the rule of cool. It’s also possible to have a cool animal companion that’s cool and unusual, like a velociraptor. As long as your DM/GM approves, there’s nothing limiting you, so don’t be boring.