For some time, I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate animal companions, allies, summons, minions, and familiars into a game without breaking its balance. If you look at how Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons handled animal companions, you could easily have a Druid’s bear outstrip the party’s Fighter. That just isn’t cool.

Fourth Edition alleviated this strain somewhat by having a Ranger share actions with his beast companion. The same is true for the Sentinel (druid), and I really think that’s probably the best way to handle such a thing. Really, the more pieces you put on the battlefield, the more complicate things get. But it shouldn’t have to be that way.

I brought this up to cookiemonger last night, and I remarked that classes like the Ranger were set up to enhance a beast companion, whereas the Wizard basically used a familiar as another kind of implement (compare: wand, staff, orb, tome). The familiar is essentially useless unless the Wizard takes the right kind of powers.

But then, how powerful should a companion be? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that a companion should be basically worth the same number of hit points a character could otherwise heal themselves for during a fight, because any sort of companion is basically a damage sponge. I think that much is fair to say. But what of actions?

I made a list yesterday that helped me put things together. While working on my Wednesday-night DnD campaign, I began implementing a number of my new ideas about monster creation and stat manipulation, and that included the streamlining of Elite monsters. My list put Elites, Solos, Minions, and Standard monsters in a row.

“Below” Minions, I added a space for Swarms and Mobs. My thinking was that if four to six Minions were worth one Standard creature, then it would take about the same number of Swarm-lings to affect a Minion. And then actions came into it. Why does each Minion get a full turn? That didn’t make sense to me.

I thought, Mob-lings must get in each others’ way. Minions should too. I think, if you start with a mess of Minions (you must always have four to six to constitute one group of Minions), then they should share actions, like beast companions, summons, or familiars. You have a “Gang” that has two turns, for all its remaining members.

If you “bloody” a Gang of minions (reduce its numbers to half or less), it is effectively Dazed, gets no Opportunity Attacks, and receives only two Standard actions per round instead of the full complement of six (Standard, Move, Minor). That might not mean a lot to a swarm necessarily, but it makes maneuvering more difficult.

This idea of sharing and trading actions and such, I think could be expanded to encompass the entire spectrum of creatures, from Minions to Solos, making all monsters (and perhaps players) more effective across the board.