Discussion:Should a druid upgrade his companion?
From D&D Wiki
 Should a druid upgrade his animal companion?
To put it in another way, should a druid select a new animal companion from the higher lists when he has the first opportunity?
Depends on what you like to use your druid for. I upgraded mine because I had lots of ranks in ride, and it is cool being able to ride a mount and use share spells to buff both of you with a single casting. Charging in on a Rhinoceros is also really sweet! The smaller companions have their uses though. I would never underestimate the power of a wolf's trip attack.
It also depends on the level of role-playing in the campaign. In the campaigns that I've played (and DM'ed), animal companions, familiars, and other things tend to be more about the story. It can be quite irritating to handle a wizard and his familiar, a druid and his companion, and another wizard with familiar in combat, especially when they all want to go on different initiatives. So these creatures will usually fall into the role of "story elements" and don't get involved in combat. This also keeps them from getting killed regularly...
For a druid, this can allow you to keep the same companion throughout the campaign and have a whole "story" about their adventures together. They can form an in-game bond that can add depth to a character's development. And, you can always use the rules for advancement of animals (if they have one) so that they do get "tougher" as time goes by...
I was discussing this with various playing groups and they seem to go along these lines:
- If fleshraker (MM3) is avaliable then discussion is over. Charge+Pounce+Grapple+Pin+Poison in one round cannot be replaced.
- If dire tortise (Sand) is avaliable then discussion is over. Never gets ambushed with awsome defences.
- At Level 1, nothing comes close to war-trained riding dog (with full barding and trips)
- The bonus HD lags behind your party, thus upgrades are important at higher level (exception being fleshraker). The disparity between HD and ECL is greater at higher levels. Size increases boosts grappling bonuses as well. You can just Pokemon them if you need to (such as in inns which don't appreciate dire animals).
In response to Skwyd's argument that they are flavor, I cannot agree. At lower levels a druid gets about 70% of his melee power from them (definately more than 50% as most druids won't participate in melee pre-wild shape effectively), not mentioning the fact that the druid suffer no consequences from death (24 hour ritual? meh).
As for familiars...they're not designed for combat with that half-HP rule...and the deliver-touch-spells-by-bird tactic is dubious at best, unless it paralyzes opponents. The XP penalty is not awful (because of how you earn it), but there are better tactics such as spectral hand.
I agree that most druids aren't effective in melee until they get wild shape. Of course, this presumes that the druid is being played as a melee character. The few times I've seen a druid played in 3rd edition (3.5 specifically) they were not focused on melee at all. The druids were divine casters and carried curative magics both as spells and as herbal ointments and such. Melee was left to the barbarian and ranger in the group.
And I'm not saying that animal companions are only flavour, I'm just saying that in a campaign that is focused on character development and not combat prowess, the companion can be much more of a story element and less of a "beat stick" in the game.
So I really had two points. One was that not all campaigns have as much focus on combat encounters and so the druid doesn't need to select a new animal companion as he increases in level. The other was that adding animal companions (and familiars, cohorts, followers, and other NPCs) to the table can disrupt a game. I am currently playing in a campaign with 5 PCs. Along with those 5 PCs are 4 other "members" of the party (2 cohorts, a summoned mount, and another NPC healer). So there are 9 individuals for which we have to track initiative just on the party side. Then, add in 3 or 4 opponents (in groups) and the initiative tracking gets downright ridiculous!
And to sum up my summary, I think that whether or not a druid should upgrade the animal companion is entirely a function of what the focus of the campaign is.
Off topic, but some DM hints for intiative:
- Get all "2nd members" to act immediately after their respective "1st members" e.g. animal companions go after druids, familiars after wizards, henchmen after their masters, NPC after the party face. Effectively, they wait for their leader to direct them. Simplifys things, but wastes high init bonuses.
- Use 2nd hand business cards (they're free!) to keep track of initiative. Write down the name, init modifier, and pre-rolled initiatives if appropiate.
- On that note, pre-roll initiatives for all non-PCs (including NPCs, cohorts etc not just monsters). Have about 10 cards for each NPC with Name/Encounter Number/Pre-rolled Initiative. This is where those large business card holders become useful.
- Have a list of pre-rolled random monsters (including initiative rolls) so you know in what order "random" encounters occur. Roll to see if they appear, not which ones are encounted. If the random encounter happens to be inappropiate, then skip it, random encounters are tedious, and a waste of everyone's time.
On another note, I was in a situation with 4 PCs, 1 animal companion, 1 familiar, 1 cohort, 1 paladin mount, 2 NPCs (1 plot, 1 rescued), being ambushed by troglodytes plus reinforcements. The druid spont-summoned 3 bears and 1 dire wolf, the wizard summoned 1 celestial hawk. From that point on, the DM just gave up and ordered everyone to take 10 for subsequent encounters. And everyone agreed. :D
- Edit: Two typos in one paragraph. n.b. wizards can't summon celestial hawks either, but this was for role playing reasons. --Pwsnafu 17:12, 3 July 2007 (MDT)
The suggestion of having the animal companion (or familiars or henchmen or whatever) go right after the "1st member" only goes so far. Typically we start out initiative that way so that we don't have to roll for 10 minutes and get the card stack in order. But once things like readied actions or delays or other initiative changing actions occur, that no longer works. For example, in a campaign where I'm currently playing, the wizard has a Psuedodragon familiar. This familiar will often delay until an opponent has taken their attack of opportunity and then move in. This doesn't always happen right after the wizard goes, so their initiative count often gets separated. A similar circumstance happens if a henchman readies to attack when an opponent comes within reach. This separates the initiatives from the main PC again. So only so much can be done.
Personally, I like having henchmen, cohorts, followers, familiars, animal companions, and other NPC types involved in the game as they add a lot of flair and, in my opinion, fun at the table. It can get tedious at times if you have 30 cards in the initiative stack and each combat round takes 30 minutes!