I'm playing Game WISH catch-up today...
What have pets and companions belonging to PCs and NPCs in campaigns you咩e GMed or played in added? What have their bad points been? How do they compare to sentient magic items in terms of their effect on play (good or bad)?
I had started to write a response to this ages ago, but it seems to have vanished. Probably at home on the laptop.
My current D&D character, Skyler, has quite a few companion animals. She could have more, but I am not bothering to do so.
She started in 2nd Edition, wherein using Skills & Powers I purchased the elven pet as part of her background. However, I chose her to have a raven named Thunderclaw instead of an elven cat or dog. Considering her background, it made more sense. Thunderclaw ran into some issues early on in the game, where he was captured by the bad guys. Once rescued, Skyler never sent him out on any scouting missions again. I must admit, I was very upset that he had been lured in by the bad guys, because I had assumed he was smarter than that, since he was the equivalent of an elven cat, and not just a dumb bird. It took a while for Lou and I to work out the differences we had in how the animal companion worked. I think Lou was possibly just thinking he was a slightly smart bird (and we already know how smart ravens are), not as intelligent as the pet I thought I had paid for. I can understand the desire they have for shiny objects (how he was lured in), but it still bothered me at the time.
Thunderclaw rarely comes with me on journeys now, even though he has been possessed by the great spirit of Raven and is a bit more powerful that he was at the start.
Later in the game, our NPC ranger cast animal friendship on the baby dire tiger that was dragging him up into the tree (hey, one of the material components is a piece of food that the animal likes to eat!). After Stalker wandered with us for a bit, and Skyler had progressed enough in levels, she awakened him. So now we had an intelligent (more intelligent than some members of the party!) talking, growing dire tiger to accompany us. Stalker's main allegiance is to the NPC ranger, but he's still a valued member of the group. And taking rogue levels. Be very frightened. No real bad points here.
And much more recently, Skyler awakened the horse that had been with her all these days (she's from a plains horse tribe), Calandra. We hardly ever go anywhere that Calandra can go (our current group is *notorious* for not taking horses with us, much to Calandra's, and Skyler's, dismay), but she always get invited. She's also been possessed by a great spirit of the Horse, so is a bit more than an average horse.
In previous games, I've had an intelligent pegasus, a little dragon from the Pern books (I've never read them, so the name is not sticking with me), and Bree had her paladin's mount, basically a cross between an antelope and a cow (Lou modified the ancient auroch). They've all had their benefits and their drawbacks, but I think they're an integral part of the game.
As for intelligent/sentient magic items - I've had very little experience with them. I'd love to have more, to be honest. Anne had an intelligent sword in our last AD&D game, and in this game, we ran into two swords (named Bleys and Brand, natch) who were not very nice swords. They were ancient artifacts that were left over from when the time local country was a patriarchy, not a matriarchy. In fact, they were the Baron's swords - the Baron who was overthrown by his Baroness who established the matrilineal line. So they were not happy, and wanted the guy who found them, the male descendent of the line (the party's NPC), to take over the throne. He got them melted down and made them into a new sword. *chuckle*
I think, with some controls and limits, having pets and companion animals is a good thing and should definitely not be overlooked.