So, there's a long-established story tradition of braving the odds with an animal at your side whose courage and devotion are the stuff of legends. Be it atop a noble steed or alongside a noble dog, D&D 3e has lots of ways for you to get in touch with your wild side.
The druid would be the poster child for this sort of thing, as this flower child comes with its own animal companion starting from level 1. As the druid grows in levels, the animal companion gains strength, toughness, and the ability to dodge area attacks, or the druid can upgrade from a starting companion such as a wolf to a larger companion such as a bear, elephant, or even a T-Rex.
A starting druid can choose from the following creatures: badger, camel, dire rat, dog, riding dog, eagle, hawk, horse, owl, pony, snake, or wolf (in addition to octopi, porpoises or sharks for aquatic campaigns).
Upon looking at this list, many players might think "hmm... many of these creatures are either mounts or small animals. The most obvious choice for a druid would be to harness the killing power of the predator who has been a source of countless stories, the noble wolf."
They'd be wrong.
About this wrong, in fact
Enter the riding dog, designed to be used as a mount by smaller races such as halflings and gnomes.
This category includes working breeds such as collies, huskies, and St. Bernards.
Compared to a wolf, the riding dog is slower, but flat-out stronger and has a better AC owing to its better natural armor (basically, a thicker hide/coat), and if trained for war not only can it copy the wolf's trip gimmick, but can also wear armor. Throw even some basic barding on this thing and it's got the same AC as someone with full plate and shield, plus added mobility, tracking skills, and the ability to knock dudes on their asses. And it will only get better with spells.
Pictured: A terrifying tank
Of course, as you level you might be tempted to replace your dog buddy with something bigger, like maybe a small bear. That's nice, but if you really want to mix things up, you don't want bears...
...you want dinosaurs
You have no idea how much you want this one
Meet the Fleshraker Dinosaur from the Monster Manual III. Unlike previous monster manuals, the dinosaurs from the MM3 weren't concerned with anything like "actually existed", freeing them to create what is pretty much a Jurassic Park raptor from hell. While most animals only have one to three attacks (bite, maybe two claw attacks), the fleshraker starts with four, and can add in another claw when it makes a pounce attack. And boy, do these guys like making pounce attacks. Not only does pounce eliminate that annoying trade-off between "make all your attacks" and "move a significant distance" by allowing it to move and make all attacks at the same time, but if it hits something its size or smaller, it can trip its foe (without being tripped in return if it fails) and then grab it in a grapple, so you have raptor come flying across the battlefield (traveling up to 100 feet in a charge attack), knock you to the ground, then sit on you and continually shred your face. It is also poisonous.
We are not done here.
As a druid, you are a spellcaster, with a host of your own spells. Maybe you want to give it thicker skin, maybe you want to make it ten feet tall, maybe you want to enchant its attacks.
Serpent Kingdoms posted:
Level: CLeric 3, druid 3, ranger 4
Components: V, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Target: Creature touched
Duration: 1 hour/level
Saving Throw: Fortitude negates (harmless)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)
You cause the subject's venom to become caustic, dealing an additional 1d6 points of acid damage per caster level with each use. This spell has no effect on creatures that do not naturally produce poison.
Material Component: A drop of acid.
Maybe you want its claws to drip acid, having three of its six attacks per round each do more damage than a fireball, and you want this ability to last all day.
We are not done here.
See, the druid has this ability called "wild shape" which allows it to assume the form of an animal, starting with small or medium ones. So not only can you have a pet dinosaur blender that spews acid, but you can be one too! And still cast your spells in the process if you have Natural Spell as a feat (there's a word for druids without natural spell. That word is "fool").
One of the starting features of animal companions is the ability to share spells, so any spell that a druid casts upon himself/herself also gets cast upon the animal companion as long as it remains within 5 feet of the druid once the spell has been cast. In theory this means that you have to carefully maneuver yourself so you and your animal companion remain side-by-side in the heat of battle.
In practice, this just means that one of you rides on top of the other, since D&D allows you to use anything as a mount so long as it's larger than you are. So you can be a gorilla riding a bear while carrying a lance to take advantage of your massive strength (and the lance's double damage when used in a mounted charge). Or a bear riding a larger bear. Or a gorilla or a bear riding a dinosaur. Or anything, really.
Of course, since the animal companion is a separate character from your druid, it can take its own actions, make its own checks and generally act under your direction, granting you two turns for one player (or more if you start spamming summons as well). Given that high level animal companions can be regular murder machines when combined with a druid's spell support, it's not much of an exaggeration to say that a druid comes with a free fighter, especially at lower levels where a fighter's contributions as damage dealer and meatwall are the most highly valued.
The Ranger also gets an animal companion, but unlike druid, the 3e ranger's animal companion progresses like a druid whose level is equal to half the ranger's level. So a 20th level druid is bringing a 20th level animal, but a 20th level ranger is only bring a 10th level animal to a 20th level fight, plopping it squarely in the "liability" category.
"Liability" is a pretty accurate term for many animals in D&D, since if you were a fighter who wanted to ride into battle atop a horse, it might serve you well enough for the first few levels, but twenty HP and 20-odd AC after armor won't exactly hold down the fort in the mid-levels, and will be knocked into the dust with a sneeze at higher levels. True, you can upgrade to more impressive mounts, but those ones suffer from the same static defenses, and people can shoot them out from under you, destroying thousands of gp worth of investment that you aren't getting back, forcing you into an expensive treadmill if you want to keep your knightly cred.
Or you can be a paladin. At level 5, the paladin gets a special mount in the form of a horse, pony, riding dog or shark (for aquatic campaigns). Like the druid's animal companion, the mount gains offensive and defensive abilities as the paladin levels, becoming stronger and capable of surviving the higher level environments, making the paladin capable of remaining mounted and functioning even against the most challenging foes. You can even dismiss it and resummon it to keep it out of danger and let it heal up.
But why settle for acceptable?
Dungeon Master's Guide, p. 204 posted:
A paladin of 6th level or higher can use a celestial heavy warhorse, dire wolf, hippogriff, large monstrous spider, large shark, unicorn, celestial warpony, dire bat, dire badger, dire weasel or giant lizard as a mount.
At 7th level, the dire boar, dire wolverine, giant eagle, giant owl, pegasus, rhinoceros and sea cat become available.
At 8th level, a paladin can use a dire lion or griffon as a mount.
Much like with the druid, a higher level paladin can use a better mount by taking a slight penalty to the paladin's effective level when determining the mount's bonus abilities. This is usually a spectacularly good deal.
A level 6 paladin can ride around on a unicorn, which is a horse except stronger, tougher, faster, more nimble, possessing an enchanted weapon, thicker hide, the ability to heal wounds and poisons, the ability to also detect evil faster than a paladin, a bucket of immunities to things like poisons and mind control along with a permanent magic circle against evil effect which means the paladin and everyone within 10 feet has better saves and AC against evil creatures (most of the things a paladin fights are evil) in addition to being immune to mind control.
We are not done here.
The paladin's mount abilities take that unicorn and make it tougher still, giving it a thicker hide, stronger body, the ability to share saves and spells as well as take half damage from area attacks on a failed save, and no damage on a successful one.
We are not done here.
A unicorn can wear barding to further increase its AC from a respectable 22 to something like 26 or more (28 against evil characters thanks to magic circle). If you can't afford barding, mage armor will suffice, as will the paladin's own golden barding spell, which is like mage armor except it's for horses and scales with caster level (eventually matching plate armor). Slather on spells like barkskin or magic vestment and your unicorn's AC climbs into the 30s.
We are not done here.
A 6th level paladin can either spend a feat or take a level in Planar Paladin, sacrificing a use of Remove Disease to change your mount into a celestial version. A 6th level paladins' mount will have DR 5/magic, and there are not a whole lot of monsters a 6th level paladin will face that have access to magic weapons.
We are not done here.
Paladin mounts have a minimum of 6 intelligence, above the 3 necessary to be barely sapient and qualify for normal character options. A unicorn has 10 intelligence, making it as smart as the average human (and perfectly capable of talking). A 6th level paladin's unicorn mount will have three feats thanks to its boosted hit dice, and with rules for retraining you can tag out some of its lousier starting feats like Skill Focus (Survival) in exchange for something more interesting. Like stuff from Tome of Battle: the Book of Nine Swords. Two feats can dip into the Devoted Spirit school of fighting, letting you pick up the Iron Guard's Glare stance. While in this stance, enemies within your unicorn's reach take a -4 penalty to attacks against anything that isn't the unicorn (the stance itself is the predecessor to 4e's marking system). So your enemy can either attack you or your allies (and likely miss) or go for your mighty steed. At this point, with 30 AC, 60+ HP, healing abilities, and DR 5/magic, it's not so much a mount as it is a sparkling Robocop who eats personal weaponry for breakfast while you sit atop of it and smite evil with your lance.
Pretty much this
If that's a bit too bullshit for your taste, you can always go for something a bit more reasonable. Take a hippogriff, griffon, giant owl, giant eagle, or pegasus as your mount at level 6, 7 or 8 and you will have all-day flight at a time when even the wizard struggles to stay aloft more than half an hour each day. Pegasi in particular are not only flying, but the fastest on land or in the air compared to the other flying mounts (at 120 ft fly speed, 60 foot ground speed, it's 20% faster than its next competitor, the hippogriff), and you can always take improved flight as one of your mount's feats to upgrade from average maneuverability to good maneuverability, granting your mount Vertical Take-Off and Landing capabilities along with the ability to hover. If you share the Fire Emblem fear of archers, the Magic Item Compendium has an armor crystal that can be mounted into a shield to grant an improved AC against ranged attacks and the ability to Deflect Arrows (assuming you don't want to spend money on getting a shield that does it anyways) so your falcoknight dreams can continue unhindered. Your pegasus doesn't even have to be proficient in the shield if you can't afford it, since nonproficiency just gives a penalty to attack rolls, and it's not as though you need your mobility platform to bite someone to death.
Now, those who are fond of things such as "reason" may think "well, My Little Murderpony is nice and all, but there's no way you're fitting a horse into a dungeon." Those people forget that D&D is many things, but very few of them ever make sense.
Any creature in the game is capable of squeezing to pass through a space that's at least half its size. A horse, as a creature occupy a 10 foot by 10 foot square (as of 3.5e) can thus squeeze into any 5 foot by 5 foot square, traveling at half speed and taking a -4 penalty to attacks and AC. Even with those penalties, your unicorn terminator is at still as tough and as fast as your average fighter, if not better. They can't fit through small-sized spaces, but then again most player characters are unlikely to chase kobolds into tunnels.
"Well," others may think, "that's corridors covered, but good luck getting your horse across elevation changes."
Guess what? Rules As Written, there's nothing that prevents your horse from making Climb checks. Lack of gripping appendages is not a factor. Stairs, cliff faces, you can even climb a rope- in fact, the unicorn's high Strength means that it's probably better climbing a rope than the wizard is (and a better jumper too. In fact, thanks to high strength and speed, an elephant in D&D is a better jumper than a cat, even though in real life elephants are too big to jump and risk serious injury just by falling over). If your DM is still some sort of house-ruling tyrant, you can always solve your elevation problem via spell, item or even just dismissing your mount and summoning it back later. All this is assuming you're not riding on a VTOL pegasus who can just fly up wherever you need to go.
If only someone had read the PHB, this never would have happened.
Paizo, in their attempts to reign in some of 3e's nonsense, attempted to standardize the druid's animal companions so that they received bonuses at a more reasonable rate. While druids can no longer roll around with acid-dripping raptor chainsaws, at least they can start with a T-Rex at level one (albeit a small one). Most of the flying animal companions become large enough for human riders at level 7 (though halflings and gnomes can fly at level 1 if they're light enough).
Rangers draw from the druid's list of companions as well (albeit at a penalty to their effective level), and so does just about any other class with a special mount or companion such as a cavalier, samurai, beastmaster barbarian or paladin. For the paladin, their divine bond is a little weirdly worded, since it says "this mount is usually a heavy horse (for a Medium paladin) or a pony (for a Small paladin), although more exotic mounts, such as a boar, camel, or dog are also suitable." The wording seems to suggest that they want you to use things that are actually usable as mounts, though given that paladins function as druids of their level, it's arguable that the rules let the paladin ride bears, wolves, gorillas or dinosaurs into battle. Though if your GM insists on being a stickler, the paladin's divine bond can be formed with their weapons instead, allowing them to enhance their chosen weapon with a variety of neat powers for several minutes up to several times per day, something that's probably going to be useful in any combat situation.
Of course, since this thread is about ridiculously exploitable rules, this system is not foolproof. While the druid (and by extension the paladin, ranger, cavalier, samurai and a few other variants) have been reigned in by the new system, not all classes use it.
Meet the antipaladin.
Blood for the blood god, skulls for the skull threads
The antipaladin is much like the regular paladin, except negative. While the paladins smites evil, heals wounds and afflictions with a touch and defends against fear, the antipaladin smites good, inflicts wounds and afflictions with a touch and penalizes saves against fear. The paladin has Divine Bond, and the antipaladin has Fiendish Boon and while Fiendish Boon works similarly on weapons, it does something completely different when it comes to companions. The paladin's companion uses the druid rules for animal companions, but the antipaladin's companion is a permanent summon monster. While the antipaladin can still access some fiendish versions of animals that the paladin can use, the antipaladin doesn't have the same size cap that prevents animal companions from growing bigger than Large, so you can roll around with full-sized rocs and T-Rexes. While novel, the greatest advantage of using summon monster is that it grants the antipaladin access to evil outsiders, and those fiends have something that animal companions will never have- spell-like abilities.
Behold the succubus.
There are so many jokes you could make, but that would only serve to distract from the horror that is yet to come
One of the oddities about 3e and its offspring is the fact that all creatures now have ability scores that govern their stats- The thing that makes it absolutely ridiculous is that ability scores are assigned based on how well they fit the monster concept. The succubus is a demon of seduction, and is supposed to be ridiculously attractive, thus it has a Charisma score of 27. Aside from it being used by nerds as a sort of indicator of hotness, it gives the succubus a rather substantial boost to social skills. Oh, and it also determines the difficulty class of it spell-like abilities. There are maybe twenty or so creatures who have a higher charisma than the succubus, and about two thirds of those are boss monsters such as archfiends. The standard succubus has the same Charisma as the balor, the most powerful demon in the game that isn't a demon lord.
The succubus is a CR 7 monster with a CR 14 Save-Or-Lose spell in the form of Charm Monster, which the succubus can use at-will all day, every day. Charm Monster affects damn near anything with a pulse, and makes friends for almost two weeks per casting. Charmed monsters are friendly, not suicidal, but the succubus also has a ridiculous Bluff modifier, making it easy enough to con your target into doing a lot of things it wouldn't normally do. The succubus also has a once-per-day dominate person, which does make the target do incredibly stupid things for the next week or two (albeit with a chance to save), assuming the target is a humanoid. The succubus has at-will suggestion, which isn't as directly controlling as dominating someone, but does allow for some interesting functions assuming you can creatively phrase them. Suggestion is language-dependent, but the succubus has 100 ft telepathy and the ability to speak, understand, read and write all languages thanks to a permanent tongues. The succubus also has at-will detect thoughts and the ability to shapechange into any humanoid creature.
We are not done yet.
The succubus has an at-will greater teleport and ethereal jaunt, which allow the succubus to travel all over the planet as well as onto another plane where they're invisible and can move through walls. Succubi can only transport themselves plus 50 pounds of gear, but that's not actually a limitation- a Bag of Holding Type III weighs 35 pounds and holds 1000 pounds of stuff, while a portable hole weighs almost nothing and is limited only by volume. It's not fast enough to be valid for "scry and fry" attacks, but by piling your party into extra-dimensional storage, you can be on the other side of the world within thirty seconds and you can do that all day. If you're worried about breathing, just buy the right magic item for the trip.
Edit: Actually this isn't the case since I forgot that summoned monsters can't use any summoning, teleportation, planar travel abilities of their own. I still like the idea, and the rest of it is just as dangerous, but you can't legally do the teleportation taxi routine unless the DM allows it
We are not done yet.
Succubi are summoned with Summon Monster VI, which shows up at level 11 for an antipaladin. At level 11, the antipaladin's companion gains the advanced template, which boosts all ability scores by 4, pushing the succubus from 27 Charisma to 31. The succubus is human-shaped enough to have no trouble using magic items, such a headband of charisma that boosts the succubus' charisma even further, to a 35 or even 37, boosting the DCs by four to five each. With retraining rules, a succubus could swap out lackluster combat feats for Spell Focus (enchantment) and Greater Spell Focus (enchantment), pushing save-or-lose DCs up by another two. Charm Monster could have have a DC of 28 or so, giving it an at-will ability with a DC found on CR 22 monsters. Even a 20th level sorcerer who focuses on enchantment spells will have a difficult time exceeding that DC without using higher level spell slots, and that sorcerer will run out of slots eventually. This is the sidekick to an 11th level character.
And this is before the target has been hit with anything to reduce its saving throw, such as making the target shaken, sickened, or cursed via intimidation or the antipaladin's touch, or maybe something like...
Aura of Despair (Su)
At 8th level, enemies within 10 feet of an antipaladin take a –2 penalty on all saving throws. This penalty does not stack with the penalty from aura of cowardice.
Aura of Depravity (Su)
At 17th level, an antipaladin gains DR 5/good. Each enemy within 10 feet takes a –4 penalty on saving throws against compulsion effects.
We are not done yet.
Pathfinder succubi also have a new ability compared to 3e- the ability to once per day bestow a gift upon a willing humanoid target. This grants a +2 profane bonus to one ability score, and grants the succubus the ability to telepathically communicate with the target across any distance (and possibly even planar boundaries). No one may be the recipient of more than one succubus gift, but the succubi can give a gift to one person a day forever. If your allies already tolerate your demon-summoning antipaladin antics, they probably won't say no to a free +2 to their best ability score that stacks with any other bonus from items and the like. Furthermore, since talking is a free action, the succubus basically becomes an unlimited range wireless network, able to relay communications between any gifted party members without anyone else being the wiser. Furthermore, the succubus can use suggestion through the link, and while the rules seem to intend for it to be the succubus making suggestions on the target of the gift, it can also be read as allowing the succubus to use suggestion on enemies the target is fighting even while the succubus is lying on a beach on the other side of the world.
The succubus is a glass cannon of a companion with a massively powerful save-or-lose at-will ability, and a host of utility powers that make the companion an excellent source of espionage, social skills, information gathering, shopping, communication and transportation. The problem is that while the advanced template and buying gear helps, the succubus doesn't have much to boost saves or HP at higher levels, though you can partly compensate by hanging back, flying out of reach or teleporting/ghosting out of danger. Higher level summons may be tougher, but they don't have the ridiculous Charm Cannon that comes from the massive Charisma of the succubus (though figure out what you can do when you've got a glabrezu who can grant a wish once a month to a mortal humanoid i.e. you). At higher levels the companion will gain spell resistance based on the level of the antipaladin, which can help, and maybe you can see if your GM will let you add levels/hit dice to your succubus instead of upgrading to higher level beatsticks. Even if you can't, you still have a super-charged companion who can raise an army, coordinate an assault,
Maybe that's a fair trade for the ability to have a vorpal sword for an hour a day?