I got the chance to contribute to Raging Swan Press‘s impressive Places of Power-series and my little installment, “Oleander’s Sanctuary,” has just hit sites!
So, what is this little booklet about? Well, let me ramble a second. Animal companions have been a tried and true tradition in our roleplaying games, but their depiction in game isn’t perfect. Gaming systems tend to depict them as extensions of the character’s performance capabilities and to be fair: That’s pretty much what they are!
However, when compared to the novels etc. set in roleplaying game worlds or when contrasted to how we behave towards our own animals in real life, there is a discrepancy evident in the portrayal of animal companions: Since they are extensions of the character, they can end up as basically living buffs or meat shields.
There’s a system-immanent reason for this – for example, a wolf animal companion stops being useful once the campaign takes a left turn and focuses on aquatic environments…which often ends up with dismissing the companion and getting a new one. Heck, some systems actually have optional means to replace companions with something more potent, encouraging the treating of companions as disposable.
That’s all fine and dandy and most groups have their default mode of operation handling this tendency. However, what about the ROLEplaying aspect? What if a player really plays the dynamic between character and companion well, cares about the companion, but the realities of the campaign don’t work anymore with it? That’s pretty much where this sanctuary comes into place.
The mistress/master of the sanctuary would be the eponymous Oleander, a mysterious entity that looks like a beautiful witch most of the time…but she seems to be able to change her gender and looks like most people change their wardrobe. Oleander can communicate with companions, make them intelligent…and modify them to suit the changing needs of the campaign…but only when the companion consents to it. The mechanics provided for these modifications are wholly tied to roleplaying and thus retain the full GM/referee/judge-control over how/when they are available, so no, you cannot cheese this – Oleander represents, on a meta-angle, a means to reward players for caring.
But perhaps, you are not interested in these meta-considerations and more intrigued by locales and unique characters. Well, Oleander’s entourage would be an intelligent, massive bear, a venerable, spellcasting wolf and an owl spymaster with grand ambitions. …yes, this is deliberately quirky and reminiscent of fairy tale and fable aesthetics.
I took great care to allow the GM control over where and how to play out these characters, though: While it is perfectly possible to play this as a wholesome sidetrek for kids, playing up the Disney-esque component, there is enough of the uncanny here to add a sinister tint to the proceedings, should you desire. Similarly, I provided some ideas for more down to earth campaigns to use a place with talking animals.
Furthermore, there is an ethical dimension as well: Classic druids and champions of the natural order are not necessarily happy about the “unnatural” changes made to the companions…but are they right? Oh, and did I mention that Oleander seems to have no regard for powerful persons abusing their animals? The enigmatic entity seems to have made quite an array of enemies…
So yeah, I really hope you’ll check out Oleander’s Sanctuary. If you do, let me know if and what you liked or disliked about it. If you use it, tell me how it worked at your table!
I hope you’ll enjoy visiting this place as much as I did enjoy writing it!
You can get the PFRPG-version here on OBS!
You can get the 5e-version here on OBS!
You can get the system neutral version here on OBS!
You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!
You can support me and what I’m doing here on my patreon – if you like what I’m doing, please consider donating: Every single buck helps!