Companion Feats – The NPC Advantage
Non-Player Characters (NPC’s) form the backbone of any good campaign; they give a human (or demi-human) face to the world the characters live in and create motivations for the heroes to right wrongs and triumph over evil. Occasionally, this is taken a step further as NPC’s that are heroic in their own right travel with the heroes to face enemies themselves. Other times, heroes become burdened with caring for an NPC that is relatively helpless and requires the escort of the PC’s to avoid harm. In the worst case scenario, there is a merger of these two later types, where a relatively vulnerable ‘heroic NPC’ is scripted to journey with the party, and the PC’s walk the line between heroes and babysitters.
A disgruntled party can find that role unrewarding, and this can throw a monkey-wrench into the flow of a story. I’ve begun using the idea of Companion Feats to keep my party motivated, encourage good role-playing, and ease the burden of caring for a vulnerable NPC while adding a realistic benefit of their in-mission presence.
Companion feats fall into three categories: Minor, Major, and Bonded
Minor Companion feats: An NPC with a Minor Companion feat grants a bonus to a predesignated skill or skills based on the particular skill set of the NPC. The bonus affects all members of the group while the NPC is present, and reflects either their off-camera guidance and training of the PC’s, or their helpful advice, watchfulness, or direct assistance during the acts themselves. Minor companion feats act as the aid another ability, but occur as a free action whenever a party member uses the benefitted skill category. Example: the party befriends a smuggler who grants a +2 to stealth checks to all party members as long as he travels with the party and is present during the actions in question.
Major Companion feats: These powerful benefits derive from the presence and ongoing assistance of a major NPC, giving strong motivation to keep the NPC present, alive and happy, but also conveying a certain sense of power or significance to NPC in the context of the campaign. These benefits are closer to actual feats, or may be actual feats, but are shared amongst the party members (essentially giving a free feat to each party member). Accordingly, use these with caution.
Example: the plucky northern trader that has lost so much and fought so hard for revenge against the White Witches of Irrisen grants the party a +1 to Will Saves while she remains in their presence. The impression of her personal suffering and fortitude inspires the party to push on.
When gauging whether a Major Companion feat is too powerful, measure it against lower level spell effects the party has access to. If it is on par with abilities that could be granted with a lower level casting, it’s less likely you have blown the top off your game.
Bonded Companion Feats: These powerful feats arise where an NPC has formed a close bond with one particular character. This is reserved for instances where the PC and NPC are in love, or where an act has occurred to bring two friends together in a way in which only the darkest of betrayals could separate them. In this instance, the NPC grants the benefit of a full feat or feat-like ability to the PC. Example: the PC is wedded to the NPC, granting him the benefit of the Toughness feat, as he struggles that much harder to survive, not for himself, but for his bride and unborn son.
It may be recommended to progress through these levels in steps so that as the relationships continue to grow, the benefits similarly increase in measure, culminating with the Bonded Companion feat advantage for the hero that has truly connected with the NPC. The GM can continue to use this as a source of motivation for the players, as well as finally using it to mirror a sense of loss should something happen to the beloved NPC from mishap.
Hopefully, Companion feats will create a bit of interest for players paired with NPC’s in your game and create some affection for the companions that help define the world the PC’s live in.