Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hunting companion hunts companions

Pets are quite common in RPGs, from the simplistic NWN extra set of fangs on your team, to the attempted skill synergy of Loremaster pet flanking in LotRO, to good old City of Villains' Mastermind class which was dependent on its swarm of summonable creatures. However, there's usually something lacking. Pets are less of a constant faithful companion and more of an extraneous "attack" button to mash each fight.
This is epitomized by all the jokes about D&D wizards keeping their familiars in a bag of holding until they feel like taking them out to make them sit in a corner for a passive skill bonus.

The better interpretation is found in Dragon Age, where summonable creatures (and the Mabari hound companion) were given one of the most powerful crowd control abilities, supplementing the overall lack of crowd control of the more powerful human(oid) companions.

However I've recently been playing a bit of Legendary Heroes (and still cursing Stardock for making me go through Steam to get it) and I'm amused to find more depth to tamed pets than in most RPGs. I play a character with the "beastlord" trait, allowing me to tame one wild animal every ten combat rounds. These animals are relatively quite weak compared to, say, a squad of soldiers. Yet, as in Dragon Age, beasts are stacked with abilities which are difficult to get otherwise and which complement the bulk of an army quite nicely. They can immobilize enemies or tear away at them constantly as long as they're backed up by friendly troops, or confuse them into swinging at random targets or poison them from afar, or maybe they just have heavier armor than your leather-clad early-game troops etc. Mostly, beasts are just insanely fast.

I mean, you wouldn't want a whole army of physically weak wild animals but they're nice to have along for the ride, and hey, you don't need to pay them which is a big bonus. Except that sometimes you really do want to fill an army with beasts. Say for instance while you're hunting other beasts.

As I mentioned, the "tame" ability has a ten-round cooldown. Most spiders can web enemies, immobilizing them for three rounds. Though normally you'd tame one creature per fight and kill the rest, with enough spiders on your side you can keep netting animals at a safe distance and passing rounds to let "tame" cool down.
Which yields scenarios like the one below.
That'd be me on my warg mount with an army composed almost entirely of spiders, taming one cave bear after another. This is an army of wild animals specifically designed to do one thing only: hunt other wild animals. I love it. Good job on this, Stardock.

While I'm on the subject here's another hilarious scenario regarding bears. They come in three varieties: the big cave bears above, medium-sized regular brown bears and bear cubs, which are too weak to really be worth the mana cost to tame, except at the very start of a game. Bear cubs tend to spawn (naturally) with an adult bear.

So what you end up doing is attacking a peaceful ursine family to tame the big one for your army. And then since the little tykes are useless militarily, the fist order of business to mop up the fight is to have the momma-bear eat her own cubs!
Dass col', brutha, riel col' ...

Apropos of nothing, there's a chapter in Jack London's classic White Fang entitled The Enemy of His Kind.

P.P.S. Yes, cave bears in Elemental have horns for some reason. Probably for the same reason anything "dire" in NWN2 had giant spikes growing out of its back: visual artists think visually, not logically.

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