Welcome to the table.
I sat down with Jess and Keith Pendley to talk about their rule variations for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons titled “Creature Companions: A New Option for Any Class”
Anton Kromoff: Hello Jess and Keith, and thank you so very much for taking the time to talk to me. I am going to jump right into the questions as I am very intrigued with one of your current projects, a new rules variation for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons titled “Creature Companions: A New Option for Any Class”
Out of the gate I think everyone would love to learn a little bit more about the two of you and the team involved in the creation of Creature Companions. Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Jess Pendley: I’m one half of Underground Oracle Publishing.
Keith Pendley: …and I’m the other half of Underground Oracle Publishing. That’s the whole team! Outside of art, Jess and I take care of everything.
Anton: How long have you been engaged in tabletop gaming?
Jess: Since I was a kid I was always making up new rules and creating new games out of our old board games with my brother and sister, so I’ve been in that headspace for as long as I can remember. I started playing D&D when I was around 16 or 17 and then started trying to turn my own ideas into playable options pretty soon after. I cut my teeth on third edition, which will always hold a special place in my heart.
Keith: I’ve been playing and running games for over 3 decades. I initially found a module in a bargain bin and didn’t know what it was, I thought it was going to be something like a graphic story or comic book, but then I realized it was supposed to be a game! I got extremely excited that this was a thing that existed. I showed it to a friend of mine at martial arts class and he told me about D&D and showed me how to play. He let me borrow a rule book and since we didn’t really have any money, I invented my own world and other materials so we could keep playing.
Anton: What inspired you to build a new set of optional rules for allowing any type of player character to connect with a creature companion? This is typically something we only see done with druids, rangers, and wizards.
Keith: Honestly, my best friend has been in our home games for years and she’s always trying to connect herself to these little monsters and animals that I would put in front of them. Then she would always want to push that connection into something that would increase as she leveled
and her creature got stronger, so I would throw out these small bonuses that she would get and that her creature would get and then do it again the next game when she picked a new creature. And since then I’ve had a lot of other players in my games that loved that we allowed that and would really lean into it. Jess is the one who took my old ideas and turned them into a very slick set of mechanics for 5e. She’s the in-depth mechanics person in our partnership and I definitely give her full credit for doing that.
Jess: For me, it was about not being able to express the sorts of characters that I wanted to play with the current options that were available, and I knew I couldn’t be alone in that. I wanted to be able to play the knight who had that special bond with her steed or the barbarian that travels with this big loveable bear. There are all of these incredibly cool creature companions in the fantasy genre and the rules as they are didn’t really express them in the way that I wanted. I would also be remiss if I didn’t say that all of the monster capturing and raising media that dominated my youth had a pretty big impact.
Anton: I would like to take a moment and make note of an aside in the opening pages of the ruleset. The passage reads…
As with all new rules and game options, it is highly recommended that the addition of creature companion options into your game be discussed during your pre-campaign conversation or during your group’s session zero, specifically how players and GMs will handle the danger and mortality that accompanies adventuring with a living creature and how that creature will be handled mechanically through the course of their gameplay.
As someone who runs three weekly games and has been sitting behind the Storyteller screen for over 20 years, I have to applaud such a heartfelt consideration to both the player and the Storyteller before even getting into the brilliant rule work and systems found in this supplement. Taking into consideration an emotional attachment formed with a companion creature and viewing it as something as important to the group storytelling as the NPCs and Players themselves shows such care for the tables that will use this supplement. Can you please speak on what made this consideration such an important callout to you both that you had it included in the opening pages of the supplement?
Jess: First of all, thank you so much for the compliment. That truly means so much to us. We thought bringing that to the forefront was very important because we personally have a very immersive style of play in our own games. We encourage folks to treat the PCs at the table and the NPCs in the world like they’re all the same. And that means that people can understandably become pretty emotionally invested with different characters in the game and I think that goes doubly when you put yourself in a “caretaker” position. Having a special creature that you’ve built this bond with come along with you on your adventures is incredibly appealing to pretty much everyone, but we wanted to make sure that groups had thought out the possible emotional ramifications that could occur, just like with character death. We wanted people to get the same fun that we’ve had without going into anything unprepared.
Keith: The only thing that I would add to what Jess said is that as an animal and nature lover myself, experiencing the death of animals I’ve been close to has always had a big impact on me and I think it’s important to understand how that might effect a player, their character, and the overall story of the game.
Anton: Using this rule set the Player is able to use a bit of their own essence to forge a mystic link with a willing Creature Companion. Once that link is formed the player gains access to an associated ability based on the Creature Companion they have linked with. Some of these creatures are fairly common among what you find in the typical fantasy setting but there are some fun and unique offerings as well including the Noggle’s Beetle, Pygmy Owlbear, and my personal favorite the Wyrm Toad. I’ve seen some mention across social platforms that there may be even more creatures coming, can you give us an idea of what to expect?
Keith: The hardest part is just choosing five, which was the expansion we promised at the milestone goal. We’ve created so many fantastic creatures over the years and now choosing which to place in the core module is hard!
Jess: I can say we will definitely expand on a few more SRD creatures, so that people have familiar options that they enjoy, but it’s the original creatures that I think people will be really pumped about.
Anton: Now currently the Creature Companion can be found on DriveThru at this link. Are there other platforms or sites that Players and Storytellers can locate it at?
Jess: We have a Ko-fi store where you can grab the pdf and we have a VTT version available on Shard Tabletop. To plug shamelessly for a moment, the best way to snag it is to subscribe with us on Patreon or Ko-fi. It’s just $3 per month and you’ll get a ton of very rad 5e supplements. K: We also have a subscription option on Shard that unlocks our entire catalog there for only $6 a month.
Anton: Is there a possibility for print on Demand or physical print copies of this in the near future?
Jess: There is! We haven’t mentioned this to anyone publicly yet, but we’re actually planning a Kickstarter in the near future that will expand this supplement with everything relating to it from our campaign setting. A setting, encounters, many more creatures, rivals and their creature companions, just a ton of incredibly cool stuff. We’re beyond stoked. But that will also allow us to do print-on-demand copies as well, so stay tuned!
Keith: Like Jess said, we’re absolutely making big plans on that, and it starts with the setting where all of this creature bonding began, the island of Onaska!
Anton: As we wrap up I wanted to take a moment a thank you both so much for giving me the opportunity to speak with you. Before we close can you give us any insight on what is next on the horizon for you, future projects that we should be keeping our eyes out for, and also let our readers know where they can keep up with you across the digital spaces?
Jess: We release new supplements through our Patreon and Ko-fi every month. Following along there is the best way to keep up to date on our supplements. Beyond that, you can find us on Twitter where we keep everyone updated on what we’re doing and all of the free materials and titles that we drop.
Keith: And you can pop into our discord. It’s a really great space filled with very kind and supportive people. I’m really proud of the community that we’ve built there and we’d love to grow it even more.