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The Totem Warrior barbarian's 3rd-level Totem Spirit feature has the Wolf option, whose description states (PHB, p. 50; emphasis mine):

While you're raging, your friends have advantage on melee attack rolls against any creature within 5 feet of you that is hostile to you. The spirit of the wolf makes you a leader of hunters.

What qualifies as a "friend" for the purpose of this feature?

Does it require some sort of lasting relationship between the Barbarian and the creature? Or is it enough that the creature be "friendly" to the Barbarian?

Would friendly allies such as an hired escort, a conjured animal, a friendly skeleton, or the Beast Master ranger's pet qualify as "friends"?

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Yes, maybe - up to the DM, but maybe the player

It is difficult to determine this by RAW because there is space for interpretation in the meaning. In this case, as a DM I think of this feature in terms of what the intended purpose of this feature may be; at my table I rule that any non-hostile creature attacking the creature who is 5 feet from the Wolf Totem barbarian would get advantage on melee attack rolls.

That said, if I were playing at another DM's table and they ruled that it only applied to "party members", I would not find that ruling odd either - though that personally would not be my choice.

As a middle ground, I might ask the player who is playing the Wolf Totem Warrior barbarian to make a list of their "friends". If an ad-hoc ally NPC or creature joins in the fight against a common enemy, I would then rule that that NPC/creature does not get advantage because it's not on the list of "friends".

Curiously, in the writing on 5e spells, class features, and feats, there are a variety of descriptions. The plot thickens!

For instance:

  • The paladin spell Aura of Life (PHB, p. 216) refers to a "nonhostile creature" within the aura. Aura of Purity (PHB, p. 216) is similar.
  • The Circle of the Shepherd druid has a Spirit Totem feature with three options; the description of each one mentions how the totem benefits the PC's "allies" (XGE, p. 23).
  • The Inspiring Leader feat mentions "companions" and "friendly creatures" (PHB, p. 167):

    You can spend 10 minutes inspiring your companions, shoring up their resolve to fight. When you do so, choose up to six friendly creatures (which can include yourself).

In the spirit of simplicity, I would rule at my table that in all the above cases, it is up to the player to decide who their friends, allies, nonhostile creatures, companions, or friendly creatures are in game.

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There's no clear definition of "what makes something friendly?" that I could find, but I found enough pointers to answer the questions. I'd say all of the things you mention almost certainly qualify as "friendly".

Regarding anything you summon: all the summoning spells I found explicitly include the line "the creature(s) is/are friendly to you", so they are friendly.

Regarding the pet, that would basically up to the pet's owner, but they're a player at your table so it's up to them (and I don't see why they would not want the beast to be your friend; other than maybe roleplaying reasons but that's between you and them)

Regarding other NPCs: the paragraph on "social interaction" on page 185 of the PHB states:

In general terms, an NPC's altitude toward you is described as friendly, indifferent, or hostile. Friendly NPCs are predisposed to help you, and hostile ones are inclined to get in your way. It's easier to get what you want from a friendly NPC, of course

So I'd say anyone you hired to protect you would fall under the "predisposed to help you", simply because that's what you're paying them to do.

The animate dead spell doesn't explicitly say it makes them friendly, but they do obey your instructions. The School of Necromancy wizard's Command Undead feature (PHB, p. 119) does state explicitly that it makes the target friendly to the wizard.

Based on the social interaction paragraph, a controlled creature is "predisposed to help you", even though in this case it's through coercion. I'd say any form of direct control is then enough to be considered friendly, but you might want to check this with your DM to see if they agree with the idea.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like your answer. Could you elaborate on whether "friendly" and "friend" are interchangeable? Also, is being friendly a transitive property - for example is a conjured creature friendly to the druid also friendly to the barbarian? \$\endgroup\$ – Guillaume F. Apr 17 at 11:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GuillaumeF.: In plain English, being "friendly" toward someone is easily possible even if they don't like you back. (e.g. a fan of a celebrity who doesn't know you exist). But "friend" is stronger: Being a "friend" of someone usually implies that you consider them a friend as well. None of this sheds any light on how the rule meant to use it, as plain English or as short-hand for someone who is currently friendly toward you. (I think Kirt's answer makes a lot of sense to justify the "currently friendly" interpretation.) \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Apr 17 at 21:02
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Consider the Interaction at Hand

There is no game definition of what is a friend. However, the PHB does tell us what being "friendly" means (p. 185):

In general terms, an NPC’s attitude toward you is described as friendly, indifferent, or hostile. Friendly NPCs are predisposed to help you, and hostile ones are inclined to get in your way

Thus, a "friend" of the Barbarian is someone who is predisposed to help them. Now, you could go down a rabbit hole questioning what this means - what if they are a spy and only pretending to help them? What if they personally don't like the Barbarian but their master has ordered them to help? What if they like the Barbarian but it is not reciprocated? Fortunately, you are not adjudicating a Wand of Enemy Detection, where motivation is relevant. Rather, this is a combat ability - you only need to define what a friend is for the combat at hand.

Both mechanistically and thematically, the Wolf Totem Barbarian's ability is similar to Pack Tactics. My closest personal experience with this came when, as a graduate student in Brazil, I took a wrong turn walking back from lunch and instead of arriving at the Uni, I found myself alongside an overgrown riverbank in the territory of a pack of feral dogs. The big dogs would charge forward to menace me, threatening to bite, but staying just out of my reach so long as I was facing them. The little dogs would then come in behind me and actually bite my ankles and legs when I could not see them or respond. It was well-coordinated and terrorizing - a bit of googling will likely find you a video of an actual wolf pack taking down something like a bull elk in a similar manner.

As the "leader of hunters", this strategy is what the Barbarian's ability is simulating. From the Barbarian's perspective, a "friend" is an ally in combat - someone for whom the Barbarian is willing to risk themselves by attacking from the front, in order to give their friend advantage on their attacks. From the friend's perspective, it is someone who trusts the Barbarian enough to know that they will not back away and allow the target to turn on them, and trusts the Barbarian enough to allow openings when the Barbarian could actually attack them if desired.

Thus, you need only consider the motivations of the parties involved for this particular combat. Is the Barbarian predisposed to take a hit so that the hired escort can get in a better shot? Then the escort is a friend. Is the skeleton controlled by the party necromancer restricting its movement around the target so as to not allow the Barbarian opportunity attacks on itself because it obeys the necromancer, not the Barbarian? Then it is not a friend.

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If you're the DM, allow it

If you're the DM, I suggest interpreting this rule in player's favor. A player chose the totem for a reason. (S)he wants to be "a leader of hunters". A hireling fighting shoulder to shoulder with the character is the exact situation where that feature should shine. Saying "no you can't provide advantage to the hireling; the rules say he has to be your friend, and you didn't have any kind of lasting relationship yet" would be a violation of Wheaton's Law.

Allowing this does not break anything. The 3rd level feature of the Wolf Totem is very similar to the Flanking optional rule, which can be applied to all combatants by default:

When a creature and at least one of its allies are adjacent to an enemy and on opposite sides or corners of the enemy's space, they flank that enemy, and each of them has advantage on melee attack rolls against that enemy

You can say Wolf Totem is even inferior, since it works only when raging and gives advantage only to the ally. It worth noticing it uses the word "allies", not "friends". Neither is a strict game term, so we can treat both as synonyms in that context. See What does 'ally' mean, as a game term?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point that Flanking, when available as an option, only requires an ally (lower bar than a friend?), and treats allies reciprocally (one more person affected than the Wolf Totem). As you say, this argues that Wolf Totem can be allowed generously without being overpowered. You could say that Wolf totem is inferior, but this ignores the consideration that if Flanking is permitted as an option, it will more often be used by the PC's opponents than by the PC's, given that monsters typically outnumber players. In this case the value of Wolf Totem derives from its use by PCs only. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Apr 18 at 15:03
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A creature the barbarian is friendly toward

While the PHB doesn't define the word "friend" per se, it does define the world "friendly" in the "Social Interaction" section (p. 185):

In general terms, an NPC’s attitude toward you is described as friendly, indifferent, or hostile. Friendly NPCs are predisposed to help you, and hostile ones are inclined to get in your way. It’s easier to get what you want from a friendly NPC, of course.

Logically, a "friend" should either be a creature who is friendly toward you or a creature that you are friendly toward. Many rules already use the term "friendly creature" to describe a creature who is friendly toward you, and if that were the intended interpretation, the same phrasing would likely have been used here. Therefore, it's most reasonable to conclude that a "friend" refers to a creature that the barbarian is friendly toward.

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Don't overthink everything. It's a game, with a rough simulation to make the game work.

For this, and any similar purpose, "friend" or "friendly" means anyone on your side in the fight.

"Hostile" means anyone on the other side in the fight.

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To be clear, I read this as "any creature that is friendly towards the barbarian," not "any creature the barbarian is friendly towards." The flavor text says the effect is that you are "a leader." So, the people who respect the barbarian's prowess in combat should benefit.

This distinction is important because raging barbarians have been known to bury axes in their 'allies' if they're in the way.

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