I once ran a campaign where one of the players had the goal that their character’s pet goat would kill a dragon. It came from a long discussion about how there were always goats around dragon nests in Skyrim so they were probably the secret guardians of humanity that…well, I’d probably better not try to explain it actually. That would take a whole other post.
For this post I would like to talk about pets, specifically having a character pet in Fate. We love them as players, we agonize over them as GMs, and we talk about them years after the campaign is over. Fate Core actually does a very good job of making sure that you can build a variety of pets depending on what you want them to be able to do, mechanically.
The Endearing Pet
Sometimes we just want a sentimental pet that adds flavor more than mechanical value. Mechanically, this type of pet is a Character Aspect, a permanent defining quality of your player character. If you want a story pet, this is the way to go.
For example, let’s say your character has a pet monkey named Bobo. You could have an aspect such as Bobo Goes Bananas to reflect a monkey that is always getting into trouble. A GM invokes this aspect to make a monkey fling a monkey mud by at the duchess you are negotiating with, or you invoke the aspect for Bobo to fetch the keys to your prison cell.
Changes to your pet would, of course, alter your aspect. If the monkey learns how to behave but still has a rebellious streak, the aspect becomes Bobo Knows His Monkey Mud. If the monkey dies, the character is still affected by the pet with an aspect such as “I Miss Bobo” or something similar.
The Helpful Pet
Sometimes we just want a pet that is dependable and useful, such as a mount or a beast of burden. Representing this type of pet with Fate mechanics means taking a stunt. If you want a pet that does the thing, this is the option for you.
For example, let’s say you have a flying bison. Wait. Bison can’t fly. Let’s say you have a Pegasus. That makes more sense. So you take a stunt that you call Niblet Can Fly Us There. It gives you the ability to travel to any location that a flying creature could reach without having to roll a climb or swim check. That is well worth the refresh cost a stunt will cost your character, especially in an exploration game.
Taking away or altering a stunt is much more difficult than changing an aspect, so you are less likely to see changes to your pet. But you are also less likely to see the pet do anything besides what the stunt allows it to do, so it will be less prominent in the rest of the game. Which is fine, right? More spotlight time for you.
The NPC Pet
Sometimes we want a pet that is their own character entirely. We don’t just want another pokémon. We want a Pikachu that will help us in combat and interact with us on the sidelines. For these characters, the NPC route is the way to go.
Now obviously this route has two major issues that MUST be addressed if they are going to be used: balance of power and run time. The power balance is easy enough to address: either give everyone a pet or have the character split refresh and skills with the NPC pet. Run time is a bit trickier, especially if not everyone has a pet. Combat takes time, and if someone is getting 2 turns while everyone else only gets 1 it can really slow things down. I would recommend having both characters share initiative or limiting what the NPC pet can do, but really it is going to come down to whatever your group agrees is best.
An example I have used before is the pet dragon. Who doesn’t want to have a pet dragon, right? So let your character build a pet baby dragon with 2 free stunts and 20 skill points. Refresh is shared, and characters can spend their own level up bonuses on themselves or their pet dragon. The free stunts are for things like breath weapon, flying, elemental resistance, or genetic memory, and the skills will build you a relatively 1st level character. I do recommend ignoring the skill stacking rule for pets, but that’s just my personal preferences.
Mixing It Up
Fate Core does recommend some mixing as well for pets, such as one represented by a stunt AND an aspect, or maybe one that has its own stress bar or maybe a skill or two of its own. There are a lot of combination abilities to play with.
My personal favorite stunt is Faithful/Loyal Pet stunt, which gives a character the ability to spend a fate point to participate in one round of combat that they have already been taken out of (without the benefit of other stunts or abilities). Basically this mechanic represents your pet acting on your behalf for 1 action after you have passed out or been captured or killed or something.
So yes, it cost the goat his life but he was able to kill a dragon and had a huge statue raised in his honor. Pets are epic like that. I’m sure you have some stories to tell as well, so feel free to share them with us!