Magical Animal Companion Flaw - how to handle

ArM5 states that Magical Animal Companions (MAC's) should be 10 - size might. RoP:M expands on this considerably. The table lists low, medium, high, and legendary power levels, and for each, provides a suggested might for grog, companion, and magus level characters. The descriptive text suggests that grog level is appropriate for creatures that act as an extension of the PC with the flaw, and companion level is appropriate for creatures that are played by another player. Also, a magic creatures can have 100-1500 experience, depending on season and virtues/flaws.

What power and character level do you use for M.A.C.'s? What season do you use? Who creates the character, and who plays it?

Edit: I'm trying to let my players have fun and create potent characters (they are magi after all) without creating characters that steal the spotlight from other players or break the rules by turning a flaw into a major advantage by essentially doubling the magus' versatility.

It is a game where one player has summoning + commanding, and another has a fairie friend, so they've each got their own "entourage."

We all have munchkin tendencies but try to keep ourselves in check by staying focused on the story. This makes it harder for me to veto choices though; their munchkinism comes with plausible, interesting stories.

As we're still learning the rules, it can be hard for us to know when we are munchkins and when we are just using the rules effectively.

The player presented me with a magic raven of virtue, might 10-size, autumn season (720 xp). It has the gift, but no parma. He would like to control his companion as well as his magus. I think this essentially gives him 2-characters in one, making him more versatile and stealing spotlight. But the summoner can have any number of spirits, dragons, etc under his command...

It really depends on the companion character.

I'd usually suggest summer, but spring or autumn could work - depending, again, on the animal in question. An ancient immortal crow that has watched over the family for generations would be autumn, while a magical foal is more likely to be spring.

Each of these suggests vastly different stories - so not only is this a YSMV situation, but a YCMV (character) scenario.

From a SG perspective, the main thing to watch out for is whether the companion is being developed to enrich the story or as a 'power' character. If the aforementioned crow has magic theory 15, teaching 10 and the 'good teacher' virtue then it's probably time to glare at the player and tell them to try again. That said, a knight with a magical warhorse that's good in combat isn't unreasonable - so this is still very YSMV.

The main thing to remember with animal companions is they are a story flaw. The more potent the companion, the less likely it is going to leap in and help -every- time, and the more likely the stories it prompts are going to be big and epic. As long as the created animal companion drags the companion-owner into stories, it's fulfilling its purpose.

I've always liked the variant 'magical object companion' - we had a character in our saga with a flying persian carpet that was afraid of heights.

Unfortunately, if I tell most people, "you can take a minor flaw and then choose an amount between $1 - 1,000,000 that you have in the bank," most players will take a number on the higher end.

Well, yes, when I'm creating an npc, sure. But when its a player creating a subordinate character under their control, what player would choose a character with 100 xp when they could choose one with 1200? Its hard to know where the line into munckin is crossed.

What if its both? My players are PRO munchkins, not amateurs. He has a plausible interesting background for this animal and their relationship. The animal also has the gift and more xp than the pc, as well as other powers.

What if the PC is a Vim specialist, boosting others' magics? And his companion can cast spells? And the pc wants to fight ghosts, something the creature's powers are good at? And all this is wound into a story about the pc's upbringing at the covenant (gifted Mercere).

The player wanted to have his companion be able to teach him the "flexible hermetic magic" major virtue next season. I had previously said we could use the rule for teaching virtues from apprentices. As we workshopped his character and companion, we realized that he would have to raise the companions teaching score by 2 and add a major hermetic flaw to the creature, so it could incorporate that to make the virtue teaching possible. I said he would have to find another teacher or join a mystery cult, as the animal isn't good enough. Is adjusting teaching from 5 to 7 munchkin? Or is it a new player still learning the rules and adjusting after testing the rough draft against other rules?

What if it drags him into stories 5% of the time, and is useful to him 75% of the time? Having say, a fire-breathing dragon companion would naturally lead to stories, like knights showing up to kill it. But anytime that's not the story, you still got a fire-breathing dragon around, which can be handy. Of course, someone will say, "the dragon doesn't have to help." Sure, but its a companion, with a personality written by the player, who is unlikely to saddle himself with an underling/friend/mentor who makes huge demands.

In my case, the player made the creature vis-dependent. It needs 1 pawn mentum/season. So, in the player's mind, that makes it a flaw, and generates stories. But its also a flaw for the creature, that can be used to buy even more powers. So its not so simple as either the creature is story or power. What do you do when both are intertwinned?

If you're letting the players go whole hog and you think they'll abuse it, give them either spring or summer - depending on how quickly you envision the saga moving. A slow saga that is not likely to go 10-15 years past gauntlet should be spring, while a bigger one can probably get away with summer. It also depends on the character. If you're starting the game with archmagi PCs, an autumn-level magical companion probably isn't a huge issue.

The Gift?
I've always asked players to create animal-companions at grog-level. Companion level is a rare exception, and anything more is essentially a magus slot. Giving The Gift to an animal companion is giving the player two magi. In this case, I would most assuredly take control of the animal companion away from the player. If it is Gifted, and has the Arts opened, then it's going to want its own lab and is probably going to cooperate with the player magus as much as the other player magi do.

If the player does intend to keep playing two magi in one lab, I would make darned sure it comes with serious consequences -all- the time. Because that's otherwise a bit unfair on the rest of your players. Either that, or take the companion off the player in some way (perhaps in a story the animal has its gift 'stolen' by a villain - and it can't be returned except with a long, arduous quest?). Never mind that the animal companion now doesn't have balancing virtue/flaws - it's not a PC, it's a story flaw*.

(unless the animal companion is actually one of your other player's magus. In which case... no problem!)

I'd point at the issue of virtue-teaching as being the source of the problem here. Still, I'd look at that and simply say no to the concept. If the character wants to learn something like flexible formulaic magic, they should have to work for it. If the story flaw is closing down story options (no initiation quest required anymore), it's not doing its job.

I'd say that the flaws the creature has are to offset the virtues it has, and that comes in -addition- to the fact its a story flaw. Having to cough up the vis is a downer, sure, but that shouldn't be a free pass to not having it drag the player character into other stories.

If a player doesn't want to saddle themselves with a demanding underling, just tell them to not make something that comes with a lot of extra demands. Remind them that it's a flaw, and the more they try and make it uber the more it's going to have consequences. If they're looking to 'buy off' potential stories (having a fire breathing dragon around is handy!), make it clear to them that it will introduce more stories as a result (having a fire-breathing dragon that decides knowledge is wealth and starts barring every other magus entry to the covenant library because it claims it as its own treasure trove is a story).

To answer an earlier question: I think Animal Companions can be grog-esque, which means players can play it, but equally the SG has rights to take control at -any- time and make it do things the players might not want it to. Again, story flaw. The thing its doing is (hopefully) something to drag the group into a story.

Whether the proposed power-level is too great or not is really only something that you and your troupe can answer, depending on the context of the other characters you have in play.

But, for myself, I would say that an animal companion couldn't have the Gift unless the animal was a replacement for a magus character. More generally, I would say if a companion character (animal or otherwise) is equal in power (or more powerful) than a magus, then he is a replacement for a magus character not a "companion".

Finally, I would recommend that the animal companion (or indeed any companion) character should be made up by a different player to the player of the corresponding magus character. This might not do anything to eliminate excessive munckinism, but it makes things more interesting during game-time --- cuts down on everyone watching one player talking to himself.

All PC magi just completed a gauntlet -adventure and now we're fine tuning the characters after that test drive, so, fresh out of gauntlet. I see the saga moving at an alternating rate, 4 or more seasons a session when its largely downtime, and 1-4 sessions per season when adventuring, politicing, etc.

Spring could be too limiting, particularly if I give them decent might, given the might penalty to source qualities for xp.

Its unfortunate because I'm quashing player creativity here a bit if I say no, on something he's already put a lot of work into, but, sigh, I think you're right, I agreed to something I shouldn't have (the gift) and now I'll have to go back on my word. Too much of that and I lose players' trust and perhaps presence.

The player was not entirely at fault. The first magic animal I created and shared with them as an example was 10 might. The player then created one. The gift was not "free," he bought it with 3 of 10 might as a major virtue. Is that legal? The player claims it is noted in RoP as rare but not impossible for an animal to have the gift. He has my copy at the moment so I can't verify the text.

At this point, each player has created one grog. They have the option to create more, but are pretty overwhelmed just understanding what their magi can do. They will have the option to create secondary companion-level characters later when they understand the system and setting better. Thus far, they have either each played one grog, or each one apprentice, with me handling the grog pool.

I think I will allow:

  • 5 might/summer/grog limitations, if played as an extension of a player's primary character and/or part of the grog pool
  • 10 might/autumn/companion limits if played as a companion character by another pc
  • 20 might/autumn/magus limits (but not also a mythic companion), if played in lieu of a magus' primary character

I think I'm going to say that all PC controlled magic animals/humans have subject to deprivation and age at human rates, to avoid the oddities and exploitations. What do you think? I really need to nail down a consistent guideline. Intended power level is high but not legendary.

Is it a good or bad idea to let one person's story flaw be another person's character? So much of Ars is just foreign to my gaming experience.

Yes, although not knowing Parma, sort of a hermetic-hedgie. Ok, so I'm not off base in thinking this should be an independent pc if allowed at all.

Understood. Next I'll need to start a thread asking for help on preventing the summoning/commanding PC from stealing the spotlight.

Understand. Not my preferred solution. Were trying to minimize taking shiny toys away later by ironing out problems now.

Keep in mind, the player may be as much unfamiliar with the rules as a munchkin. He doesn't understand anything about mystery cults yet. He didn't even understand how virtues could be developed after character creation, assuming they were bought with xp like arts and abilities. In this session, we were workshopping his character and planning his first 4 seasons post-gauntlet. He wanted to know if he could learn a new major virtue. Since, at that point in the discussion, I was tentatively okaying some version of this MAC I handed him apprentices (okaying use of those rules post-gauntlet). I will now instead give him the option of seeking out a teacher or a cult that can teach it.

Got it. I just can't figure out how to convey that to the player when I really want to applaud his attempting to put some limits on things by having a vis cost, making the animal subject to deprivation, etc.

Got it. If I was starting over, I would have simply denied such things, but now that one pc has a fairie friend, and another is summoning/commanding, I can't really deny a MAC. And in my initial player survey, they wanted high fantasy - I'm really the only one who cares about realism and balance and such.

My players do understand that I can "grab the reins" at any time but I've usually got enough npcs of my own in play so I let them run their entourages most of the time and only step in if they are treating them as slave-robots.

Honestly, I must be blnd, because I don't really see the dichotomy.
If they take a MAC based on the flaw, they get a MAC based in the flaw - unless someone volunteers to play the critter, n which case I'd haul out the RoP: M

Cool! Who plays them?

Dragons only if the summoner is really good!

..wait, did you write that raven had the Gift?
And he plans to have it tag along as just another NPC critter?
Bury him in his own back garden, tell his family and the other players he had to leave suddently, said something about a loan shark...
Then get a new player.

I would not allow a Gifted RoP: M critter into the sagas I play in/SG (we use troupe style, mostly), unless it is that player's "magus slot" character.
I can live with people having multiple characters, even multiple magi (who should usually dislike eachother enough to not go on the same stories), apprentices and a horde of summoned minions. That's all cool.
But a Gifted critter is not an MAC, bought with a minor flaw - that's a character in and of itself!

IMAO ofcourse. YSMV.

If everyone has a variety of interesting tag-alongs, then having one more shouldn't break things too much. I would definitely curtail the extra Gift.

For a first saga, I'd strongly advise having just regular magi in magus slots. With magical critters, they tend to be a bit more potent than other characters to begin with, but they don't grow. A might-20 critter will gain very little if any xp during the course of the saga - we're talking probably averaging 1-2xp/year at most, compared to the ~30-40 everyone else will be getting. Appealing for that 'I'm more powerful!' at character creation, but give it a few sessions and the player will likely be getting bored of the character while watching everyone else gain xp in arts, abilities, etc.

The reason: might is deducted from source quality for any xp source. Thus, a might-2 critter never gets exposure xp, while a might-10 critter can't practice either. At might 20, you need a source quality above 20 (good teachers) just to gain even a tiny amount of xp. Getting a high teaching quality is even harder for a Gifted critter (without Parma - if it has the Parma the players will be required to kill it), as the Gift penalty applies to teaching source qualities.

Thanks everyone for your responses. Gonna mull it all over today while I'm at work. Should have the solution ironed out by tonight.

I don't really like the RoPM rules. But in this case, I think they make a good foundation: an animal companion should generally be a Grog-level character, and as such should not have the Gift. If, alternatively, a Companion-level character is used, it should be treated as such and probably played by another. And a magus-level character is just that - the major character of a player, which should not be played by the PC with the Flaw unless you allow two major characters; and in this case, as a general rule, two characters that match together like that are a bad idea (the different characters should go to separate adventures, and so on).

More generally, the animal companion should be primarily a Story Flaw. As the text for story flaws suggest, most of the time it should be "merely background color", but also allow some "solid benefit" in line with other Minor Story Flaws. Things like Mentor, Blackmail, Close Family Ties... A magical animal companion can be a more powerful "benefit", but not to the extreme - when it reaches the point where the magical animal companion is more potent than the magus, and more involved than a Mentor, then it really is too much IMHO.