I think every GM has at one time wished they could make the party fight a certain monster just because it was really cool. But does combat really have to be our best option for putting PCs in front of cool beasts?
Dear DovahQueen: What are some ways to incorporate the friendly creatures from the bestiaries (celestials, thriae, flumphs, etc.) into my campaign? I know that some are on the summoning list, and they can serve as quest givers, but how can I give them extended interactions with the party? If my party wants one as an ally, what’s an appropriate CR (relative to APL) to help the party but not make them overpowered?—Brian from Florida
Dear Floridaman: There are some *hella* cool monsters in the Bestiary, and honestly, I think a lot of them deserve more time in front of the party. As a community, we tend to do a disservice to the cool entries from these books when we mainly only using them as adversaries or interesting one-offs. I remember a few times when something cool was a quest-giver, but you’re thinking about these creatures in a more productive way…and I like it! Fortunately for us, there are some in-game precedents that have been set which we can co-opt to get our favorites in front of (or beside) our players more often. My personal favorite are Valkyries so I’ll use them as an example.
For starters, one of the things I’ve loved most about the Bestiaries or Monster Manuals is the descriptions for the entries that precede them. Even the most “why does this even exist” monster has a description underneath of it to give some ideas about how to use them in the store. Anytime I wanna use a cool monster, I start here to see if any ideas jump out and hit me. The Valkyries of PF fit the fit the stereotypic description pretty well—warrior women who choose honorable and powerful warriors from among the dead. Maybe I’d have the PCs encounter an enslaved Valkyrie who the villain is using to fight them. If the PCs can recover the souls of warriors she was transporting from the BBG, then she might swear to them a favor.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the easiest one: writing them in as an NPC in the plot. Just because this is the simplest one to pull, doesn’t mean it not without a considerable amount of merits. There’s certainly something to be said for handwaving a cool thing into your game because it doesn’t have to involve a lot of math. If you want your players to have a flumphy friend, but you’re worried about unbalancing the game, consider making it an unreliable ally. Perhaps it only shows up when they’re already winning, or it’s prone to running off an doing its own thing when they need it most. Give them the option to make it more reliable by fulfilling certain conditions.
For inserting your monster into a game fairly quickly and easily, I think simply writing it in based on the descriptions in the book is a good baseline, but if you’re like me, you’d like something a little more substantial to hang your hat on. So, I’d like to suggest that you hijack the Leadership feat for this purpose. With it, the rules for giving a player a Diet PC are already written, and Monstrous Companion expands the concept to having a monster buddy. The problem with both of them is that they don’t list rules for befriending 99% of the other creatures that exist. This is where we gotta try to “feel out” the way they were balanced. I think the easiest method is to take the target creature’s CR+3 and set that as the Effective Cohort Level. For the most part, this seems to be how Paizo balanced Monstrous Companion +/- 1, so I think it’d be a fair metric by which to judge who you can give to your party. So if my party was 7th level, I could try sliding a Forest Drake into their lineup if I felt like it was cool and made sense in the story. Now for something like this, think of it as a trial-run. Let the monster be GM-controlled with the option for a player to *actually* take Leadership or Monstrous Companion to put it under their personal control if you didn’t feel like it was too strong. If there’s a monster you’d love to have around, but is too underpowered for the PCs, just a slap a class level on it and call it a day. For my game, a Valkyrie would end up being Effective Cohort Level 15 so they’d have to be around leadership 21. Also, consider coming up with your own Leadership Modifiers unique to that monster. If my players did free the Valkyrie by rescuing the honorable souls, I’d give them a +2 Leadership Modifier for her specifically. They’re going to get a hoss companion, but they’re also going to be around level 15 where it’s not super OP. And if someone actually takes Leadership (and proves themself to her in the story), I don’t see why she couldn’t be their personal ally.
But that’s just my take on it. We’re already talking outside of RAW so you’re gonna have to make some executive decisions and just be prepared to adjust course from there. In summary, brush up on the established material for inspiration, don’t shy away from handwaving a cool idea, and consider the Leadership/Monstrous Companion precedent for a rough estimate of balance.
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