Long ago, I remember playing a D&D game where our group had several pets. There was a bear who ended up being killed by a goblin firing squad. Two wolves that were killed because the player kept demanding we heal their injuries even after we did all we could. A mountain lion that my Monk left at home when he saw the fate of the other pets. Let’s just say pets are not that easy to put into a game or a story. Here are some tips:
- For the love of all that is holy, have the pet make sense. Even if it’s a dragon or a three-headed marmoset, you need to make it clear how the character has the thing tamed. Normal pets can be explained easily since we’re used to those. The more exotic critters may need a touch of back story. Especially if the same animal can show up as a monster.
- Remember that they’re in the story. One of the mistakes I made in the first draft of Beginning of a Hero is not giving much time to Stiletto the dog. He wasn’t really around and I kept ignoring him, so his big scene fell flat. The easy thing about a pet in a book is that you don’t need to do much. Honestly, they really only have to be in a scene and interact with their owner. Bring them up in conversation too and it reveals the bond.
- If they aren’t battle-oriented then keep them out of a fight. Wizards with familiars is one thing since the animal gives them strength. A warrior with a wolf that obeys his orders makes sense since that’s a fighting system. Having a knight carry his pet parakeet into a war . . . that thing better do something impressive.
- Give them some method of showing mood. This goes for all animal characters because they can’t talk. Facial expressions, non-word sounds, and tail movements are all methods of communication for them. It helps to do a little research on how each animal communicates. If you’re working with a fictional beast then try to find a real world equivalent to examine. For example, study hawks and lions to create the way a griffin shows emotions and thoughts.
- If the pet is big enough for the character to ride then have them do it. Unless the creature lacks the temperament. Seriously, riding a bear into battle is a great idea as long as Mr. Grizzly isn’t prone to eating his rider. Again, give reasons/explanations for certain beast’s taming.
- Personal opinion: If you don’t have the courage to harm an animal in fiction then don’t put them in dangerous positions. A pet that follows a warrior has a high risk of getting caught in a fight. Be careful creating an animal companion if you think you’ll have it survive every extremely dangerous encounter unscathed.