Should You Let Your Players Have Pets in DnD?

Pets in Dungeons and Dragons can be a great way to increase both morale and emotional investment in a group of player characters, but they have to be appropriately used to prevent problems. Throwing someone’s pet into a gnarly combat situation can be a formula for a death scene that will scar your players for life.

Pets in Dungeons and Dragons can be a great source of role-play and fun, as well as an incentive for characters to explore nearby areas and bond together as a party. Pets that are not familiars or animal companions should be relegated to non-combat to avoid being killed in an encounter. 

If you don’t know the difference between an animal companion, familiar, and pet, be sure to read this article which fully explains the differences. (There are more differences than you might think!)

While pets might just seem like one more thing the Dungeon Master has to keep up with, they can also add a lot of fun and flavor to the game and I hightly recommend you give them a try!

A Pet is Different from a Familiar or Animal Companion

Unlike a familiar or animal companion, pets are typically acquired more for roleplaying and immersion purposes rather than as an extra meat shield in combat. Often, pets in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign end up becoming a character or party’s mascot for roleplaying purposes, but more powerful creatures can also be used in combat. 

Familiars are different from pets in that they aren’t beasts—instead, these creatures are classed as Celestial, Fey, or Fiend depending on the choice of the player. Players are also able to take several actions with a familiar that they are unable to take with a regular non-combat pet, such as seeing through a familiar’s eyes or communicating telepathically. Familiars are used by the Wizard class. (see more on familiars)

Animal Companions are also different from pets in that these animals usually form some type of utility role within the party—for example, a beast of burden such as a horse will carry a rider or supplies, and a Beast Ranger or Druid’s animal companion will participate in combat. Animal companions are only accessible by the Beast Master and Druid classes. Beast Masters may treat their beasts as a pet, but it is still a trained animal used for combat, not for snuggles.

Non-Combat Pets can be acquired by any character regardless of class and can be trained by anyone with the Animal Handling skill. These pets (usually smaller or scenario-based) can help the party in non-combat scenarios but should be ordered to a safe distance in hostile encounters. The type of non-combat pet depends on the campaign, and there are limitless ways for players to acquire them. 

How Do Player Characters Acquire Pets in a DnD Campaign? 

Player characters can acquire pets in all kinds of different ways in a campaign, and the DM can help to facilitate these actions. Here are some of the various ways that a player character could theoretically acquire a pet: 

  • As a reward for helping a wizard or other passerby (quest reward)
  • Bought from a market
  • By using the spell Speak with Animals to befriend local wildlife
  • Finding an egg or abandoned baby creature
  • Being bestowed the pet as a gift

The situations that could potentially lead up to the party acquiring a pet are as diverse as the imaginations of the DMs. There are plenty of creative opportunities in almost any DnD campaign to shoehorn in a chance to take on a non-combat pet for one or all of the player characters. 

While Non-Combat Pets also don’t have an impact on hostile encounters, their skills can be used outside of combat to aid the party in a variety of ways, from sneaking out of a jail cell and stealing a key from a guard to alerting the party to an attack in the wilderness in the middle of the night. 

The utility of non-combat pets is a direct reflection of the DM’s creativity in using them as part of the campaign. A good DM will look for opportunities to allow the players to roleplay with their pets and use them in the story. 

What Kind of Pets Can DnD Characters Have? 

It is best to avoid giving players overpowered pets right from the start, so choosing lower-level animals for early campaign pets is a better choice. Here are some of the various pets that could be taken on by the party: 

  • Guard or hunting dogs
  • Falcons or other domesticated birds of prey
  • Parrots or singing birds
  • Small rodents (rats, weasels, squirrels, rabbits or ground hog)
  • Lizards, turtles and frogs

Here is an extensive list of potential pets that you might give your player characters. Choosing pets that fit the theme of the campaign is also a good idea—for example, if much of the campaign will take place underwater, many aquatic pets would be an excellent choice as companions. 

What Can Pets Do?

Non-Combat Pets can’t do much, especially when thrown up against combat pets such as familiars or companion beasts. Instead, pets are used as a flavor element in roleplaying and can be utilized circumstantially in campaign encounters outside of combat. 

Players with Speak with Animals or Animal Handling could potentially train their pets to perform some minor commands for the party at the discretion of the DM. Players (and the DM) need to be aware of any pets that are tagging along in the party and keep in mind how they would potentially react to ongoing situations. 

For example, an untrained dog might bark and give away the party during an ambush attack, or a housecat may knock over and destroy a valuable artifact. If a pet is used in combat, the rules are the same as for a summoned creature—the DM controls the pet’s actions. 

To figure out how pets will be incorporated in the campaign, the best thing to do is ask the players themselves why they want pets and what they want to do with them. This can help the DM get a better handle on the types of pets that are suitable for the campaign—including which pets they could reasonably come into the game with, and which pets could be acquired later. 

Don’t Kill the Pet!

While as the DM you might occasionally find some of the antics of your party’s pets to be annoying or distracting, especially if one of the players gets overly attached to their pet, it is always a bad idea to use campaign situations to kill them off. Not only does this decrease morale for the entire party, but you’re also increasing the chances of causing a serious rift in the game by doing so. 

However, if a Beast Master or Druid’s combat pet falls in battle because of unforeseen scenarios, let the dice fall where they may. A good rule of thumb is that if a player wants their pet to have mechanical value and fight in encounters, it has to be vulnerable to death as a result. Otherwise, if a player wants their pet to remain safe, it must be designated as a non-combat pet only. 

Pets Can Add More Fun to a DnD Campaign

They might require a little more planning to incorporate, but player pets can be a fun way to help players bond together as a party and increase the amount of fun everyone is having during the campaign. 

Not only do pets act as a mode of expression for players, (and maybe even a form or therapy!) but they can also set up some great comedic moments or epic saves in the story that will have players talking for months to come. 

Until next time, my friends,

May your game have advantage!

-Halfling Hannah

Halfling Hannah

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