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I'd like to start by saying that I'm playing 5E, and with that, my question is whether there's has ever been in D&D in general (1E-5E) a ruleset for dealing with the idea of having Vanity Pets. I.e., non-combat capable pets. So the kind of pet one might have if they're not a Beast Master.

Is there anything stating that those are against the rules, or in any way break the game? I mean, if you would like to have it as part of your backstory, and/or for purely RPing purposes? I'm trying to think, but I can't really see if that would give any single player an edge over another.

I ask because the group I play with is preparing to start another campaign after the one we're on finishes, and the two people who are co-GMing, aren't sold on the idea of a non-combat pet, mostly coming from a rule-based perspective. As I understand, the main concern is that I might be getting something out of it that they can't see yet, something that would give me a work around the rules, or some sort of advantage. Which is way over thinking it, since I just want some sort of vanity pet that follows my character around 'cuz backstory...

That said, this is something that I am curious about for my own reasons, because this is something that I've been thinking about trying to encourage players to think about for a campaign I'm putting together. And if this does indeed cause an issue, I'd like to be able to see it so that I don't end up breaking the game for my players when I end up GMing myself.

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There is nothing in the 5e rules (at least that I'm aware of) that either allows or prevents the acquisition of a non-combat non-magical pet.

That means that whether or not you can have a pet is completely and totally up to your DM.

As to whether or not there is a balance issue related to having a pet, I would not be very worried about it. It may occasionally provide a very small benefit (I'd maybe let it provide advantage once a day if I wanted something explicitly mechanical for it), but in general it's not going to be important and is merely a flavor element for a character.

That said, if you did want a mechanical element to a pet, the Find Familiar spell would be a good place to look to get a non-combat effective pet that does have some mechanical utility.

In summary, there's nothing in the rules that allows or prevents this, so consult your DM, but do so knowing that it's probably not going to be a mechanical concern (especially if it's spelled out explicitly that it can't be). If there is a need for more mechanical weight, then find familiar is a good model.

On the more general aspect, I can only speak to 4e, but it had a theme called Animal Master that gave you an animal companion that was basically just a vanity pet with a small mechanical benefit (you could use it to gain combat advantage once per day). It was a minion, so not very combat effective and was mostly a flavor piece with a minor benefit.

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Documented "Vanity pet:" The background "Urchin" gives you a pet mouse as part of the equipment.

If your DM is afraid you'll abuse the use of the pet, then suggest to them that you won't be able to ask anything out of the ordinary to it unless you spend the money and time necessary to train them (and the animal handling ability check).

And if you'll be the DM, you could do the same, remembering that a pet is just not any piece of equipment and requires care and has a personality, just like any NPC. Do you have enough food for your dog? Will it run and hide if scared? Will it enter willingly that scary cave? And create some type of downtime activity with handle animal to train the pet, if they wish to do so (Here's an idea of how to do that). I think if you remember those things the pets are balanced, a dog could bark and help you detect an ambush, but it could also make a noise and ruin your surprise attack.

If balance is so important, you could assign pets a service cost like a hireling, living expenses for the pet. But I personally don't think it's necessary.

I've played several games (not 5e) with parties with pets and they didn't unbalance the game at all. I don't see why 5e would be any different.

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I mean, if you would like to have it as part of your backstory, and/or for purely RPing purposes?

and the two people who are co-GMing, aren't sold on the idea of a non-combat pet, mostly coming from a rule-based perspective

I would suggest to ask them why. Are they afraid that you'll try to elevate the status of your pet (e.g. "my dog would have barked if someone approached in the dark")? Is it RP reasons e.g. it's not realistic that a little bunny follows you in the dark dungeon filled with undead? Or maybe that you'll be too attached and have a problem if it dies by a fireball?

I would then draw parallels with a backstory item with big emotional value.

I'm not going to make my father's signet ring a Ring of Power (without actually enchanting or agreeing that it makes a cool story). And a innanimate item could also be destroyed by a fireball; why shouldn’t a pet revival be handwaived the same way that cloth repairs do? The only difference would be having the pet following you 24/7; if that's the problem it might be best to agree to leave it before going in the cave or putting it in some special pocket (afaik bag of holding would suffocate it but there must be alternatives).

Of course, all these might cost money but that would be good in my book: what's greater sign of immersion than the player investing money and time in something that brings no mechanical benefit?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As a possible carrying case, you could always use a Mirror of Life Trapping, which contains about a dozen extraplanar cells that can each carry a single creature, which does not need to eat or drink while inside, nor does it age. \$\endgroup\$ – Passage Sep 14 '16 at 23:32
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In many versions of D&D, there are prices for (some) pet-like animals in the equipment list, along with the usual mounts and pack animals. So, you could buy a dog or a chicken for the listed price. These have no mechanical benefit, though if the DM allows it, you may be able to train them to perform some tasks.

For example, I don't have access to the 5e PHB, but Basic lists a Mastiff (a large dog) for 25gp. Donkeys and mules are only 8gp however, so other obviously non-combat pets should be cheaper.

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In a 5ed game I am GMing currently one player wrote his back story as a dwarf that had a trusted goat.

I used the Rangers animal companion rules to create it, he had planned for it to be just a background thing.

My rational is that because he is a cleric he cannot get any of the ranger class ability's that are need the take advantage of the animal companion.

In combat it can move when he does but he needs to give up his action to give it an order and it will never get better than that. More of a liability than a bonus and he often leaves it out of combat.

RP wise its worth its weight in gold. Often its used as a pack mule, but mostly just adding comedy to the situations, like having to run back into the castle because you forgot the goat or the crazy half-orc hitting up every blacksmith in every town to try to get it barding.

It provides no mechanical benefit you couldn't achieve with a small amount of gold and we have yet to have any problems with it.

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I played 3e. (I feel so old). Having a pet was well described there. Prices were given in DM Guide, stats in MM, and rules of teaching your pet new tricks were given in Player's Handbook. Everything was quite well explained. You couldn't teach it something a normal animal cannot do, some examples of difficulty levels were given in "handle animal" skill description, I recall. But teaching it anything was quite difficult and took very long, and then - you had to make it do the trick, which also wasn't that easy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Please take a look at the tour, it's a useful introduction to the site. The Stack is a Q&A site, not a traditional forum, so answers should focus on resolving the challenge the querent is asking about. This will probably be downvoted until you edit it to say something actionable about pets in the querent's 5e game. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW May 22 '15 at 6:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW The question explicitly asks about all editions. If that makes the question too broad, edit the question. \$\endgroup\$ – CodesInChaos May 22 '15 at 7:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CodesInChaos The question isn't theoretical, there's an actual problem to be solved (otherwise it might very well be too broad). All Mike has to do for this to be a Stack-y answer is describe how this info about 3e's handling of pets is useful/actionable for the problem which brought the querent to us for help. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW May 22 '15 at 9:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ The OP specifically asked for rules he might be able to scavenge from previous editions, so pointing out the 3e rules for teaching animals "tricks" is exactly the right sort of answer. I think this is being downvoted solely for being written in first-person rather than passive voice. \$\endgroup\$ – Sebkha May 23 '15 at 0:59
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Generally speaking, the only thing in 5e regarding non-player creatures is that anything that isn't explicitly controlled by the player, such as a familiar or a summon, is controlled by the DM. It's up to the DM to decide if they want to manage additional NPCs.

That said, this is my take as a DM:

  • Small vanity pets can be kept as a character decoration, nothing more. They eat nibbles off the players' food and rations, and are generally not considered anymore than the characters personal equipment in regards to spell or environment effects. If the player has some feature that allows communication, I could allow some direction to happen, but the creature is still an NPC (and thus, more useful to me), and once it leaves the characters' person, can be considered vulnerable.

  • A player with proficiency in animal handling can start with a dog/half-wolf breed, pack mule, or riding horse. This gives the player opportunities to use their proficiencies, as I feel the skill is very underutilized. The animals are still under DM control, but will generally respond positively to their owner. I can gauge the animals loyalty based on how or if the character is willing to interact and build that relationship, and decide if it will be willing to risk combat to aid their owner or resist attackers. it can add a lot to a Fighter to have a pet dog he travels with as a best friend.

  • I personally encourage the use and purchase of horses, mules, carts, dogs, and hirelings, and generally avoid giving out bags of holding or haversacks. Hirelings and dogs can guard a camp outside a dungeon or keep an eye on belongings while inside a city while the party cavorts. This can be useful for keeping a party pushing forward knowing their animals won't behave and sit around forever. I often embed discovered wealth in valuable books, art, sculptures, or masterwork items like tools, weapons, and decorative armors; the cart can quickly become a necessity.

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