How To Use Leadership Part 3: Cohorts
Cohorts are probably the craziest thing about the Leadership feat. They are defined in a few paragraphs but left somewhat ambiguous as to their nature. The Core Rulebook feels like it is suggesting a cohort who has a core race and player character class, but only because they gain levels and appear to be treated as lesser PCs. In the Bestiary there is a list of suggested monstrous cohorts, which opens up possibilities even further into the bizzare, mostly because a few of the suggestions are creatures you wouldn’t consider having class levels.
To help with this crazy thing we call a cohort, I suggest a few guidelines on how the GM should handle them. First, if they are not a Bestiary creature the heroic NPC stats should be used for the ability scores. If they are a Bestiary creature then you should keep their ability scores where they are at. Cohorts are not player characters, and so 25 point buy or rolling for ability scores shouldn’t be used. Those methods will result in higher and better ability scores, and even risk them being superior to their leader’s scores. The Heroic NPC ability scores are high enough to be effective in any class but low enough to not risk overshadowing their master.
The second thing that should be done is to give them Heroic NPC wealth. They come with whatever gear they can buy with it. At a minimum of 5th level, that would at least be a magic weapon or one nice magic item. I suggest buying one expensive item that fits the cohort’s class and then buying mundane gear and consumables. In some settings a mount would be needed for the cohort, and if that is the case it is one of the first things that should be bought.
The GM is going to be the one to stat them up, mostly because doing so allows them to keep control and balance in their game. It also helps them keep the cohort within the theme of the game, though a cohort that fits into a player character’s background is also important. This also prevents players who want to “break” the game with leadership. Some have tried by having cohorts who also have the leadership feat, which shouldn’t happen. Thematically, cohorts are never leaders themselves, but followers of a greater person. Having cohorts who have cohorts, who in turn have cohorts, leads down a path of silliness and chaos. There is also the player who creates a cohort just to have another PC to play with, and most often the cohort created by them isn’t just min-maxed, but they are also built to super compliment the PC leader and further minimize any weaknesses they may have. While this isn’t really breaking the game, unless you are playing a solo PC game I would discourage it. With a group of four or more this could cause combat to slow down a bit as the player controls the actions of two characters, and it could also allow the player to shine brighter than everyone else as their ability to handle situations on their own increases.
Cohorts can be of any class, archetype, and prestige class. They can also be of any race and, if the Bestiary is any indication, could be any monster as well. The list in the back of the Bestiary is a list of suggestions, so the GM is free to use it as a guideline. Some of those cohort suggestions are odd enough to confuse some people. A giant owl, for example, is an animal with animal intelligence. Would that mean that they gain levels as a cohort? I would like to think so, as I cannot currently find any intelligence requirement for taking a class level. However, I advise considering just raising the racial HD first. While there isn’t anything against a horse with fighter levels, especially one for a mounted fighter, you should have a good reason for that animal to have those PC class levels. You also need to think long and hard about if PC levels on an animal are right for your game in balance, theme, and plot. If you are a GM and you don’t feel comfortable with a animals and monsters gaining class levels, just use additional HD. If you do so do not forget the feats, skills, and ability score increases that come with them.
Looking at all of the possibilities, you may be tempted to just do something completely gonzo. Doing that may be fun but it needs to fit the character and setting. An human, fey blooded sorceress with a satyr bard, for example, would be an appropriate pairing. You may also, for example, have an archon in disguise become the cohort for a paladin or an awakened plant for a druid. More often though the best fit is a more mundane one. There is nothing wrong with having a human fighter for a cohort, because while bland in concept that may be exactly what is desired and needed. That is just fine and the mundane cohort is going to be just as effective as the odd one.
The most important things to consider when designing a cohort is the player character and player desires. The cohort needs to complement them in several ways, most importantly through the way the player desires. Remember, the player picked the feat and thus has an idea of what they want, and if it doesn’t compliment their character in the way they desire you are almost punishing them for taking the feat. For example, if they are looking for a further role play tool and want a cohort who complements them mostly through background and plot, it wouldn’t be advisable to hand them a cohort who is min-maxed really well but is thematically bland and just seemed to have come out of nowhere. On the other hand, if you spend a whole day writing a cool background for the cohort but stat wise they are weak and not up to par with the player’s expectations, things are just as bad.
The tasks that cohorts can do for their master is wide, much wider than those tasks followers can do. Cohorts have a much better chance of surviving dangerous situations, and could even be used in combat if needed. They are also going to be more skilled and better equipped. I suggest finding ways to keep them out of combat though. For one, as a player you shouldn’t risk the cohort’s life as much. Doing so might cause you to lose a really neat cohort. Also, in games with four or more players the combats are going to become slower and less challenging if you have cohorts join in, especially if there are two or more PCs with cohorts. Removing combat as a focus opens up all the other possibilities as well. They could be item craftsmen that stay home and customize gear for the PCs. They could run the castle and estate. They could follow behind the PCs in the dungeons and be the one who searches for treasure and organizes its extraction. They could be the one who looks for and disables traps. The possibilities are pretty broad and wide.
One neat role is that of special mount. If you are playing a fighter or another class without an animal companion or mount, you could use Leadership to gain a mount that levels with you. This would increase the survivability of your mount in combat and allow you to take advantage of the benefits mounts give you. A small sized character benefits from medium sized mounts more so, as they can ride around in most dungeon areas.
Another role that assists the party in a big way is that of dedicated healer. You wouldn’t have to have them come into a fight, but wait in the wings until they are needed. This is especially good for groups who have no dedicated healer but find that they are having trouble recovering from battle cheaply. The dedicated cohort healer will allow them to have the free healing they need, and if built focused entirely on healing they will have a low impact on any combats they are in. Why? That is really for another blog post, but basically all healing does is prolong the fight. Your healer cohort could also be the one to prepare all the utility spells you never think to prepare, like cure disease and death ward.
How ever you use the cohorts in your game, treat them well. You want to be sure to do all you can to increase your Leadership score, and being fair and generous will help with that. Cohorts are great tools, so treating them well, giving them loot, and keeping them safe will ensure that you will have them sharp and ready when you need them.
With these suggestions your cohort can thrive and provide great services to the whole gaming group. Even if they are unusual or bizarre, they can still be balanced and proper for the game they are in. The is helps when you have a proper role for them, especially if it is one the player desires them to have. So treat them right, keep them safe, and have fun with them.