One of the more iconic images in fantasy gaming is the hero of nature adventuring with their best four-legged friend against forces that would disrupt the natural world.
The Ranger with his trusty wolf, the Druid with their sleek jungle cat, the sea elf, and their…giant octopus?
Yes, you read that right. Giant Octopus!
Animal Companions in Pathfinder are more versatile and more potent than most could even imagine.
While there are no wrong choices when it comes to an animal companion for a character, there are some options that might be more efficient choices.
Here we are going to go into the details of how Animal Companions work separated into Pathfinder 1e and Pathfinder 2e.
We will also go into which ones are the best choices for players depending on what they want to get out of their animal companions.
Animal Companions in Pathfinder First Edition
In the first edition of Pathfinder, Animal Companions grow and level slowly as the player does. They will gain abilities surpassing average members of their species in raw stats, skills, increased armor, and increased bonuses.
Who Gets An Animal Companion?
Druids, Paladins, and Rangers get access to Animal Companions, but they get them at different levels.
In the case of the Druid, they get an animal companion at level one right out of the starting gate.
Paladins also get an Animal Companion with their Divine Bond ability at level 5, but they are considered a Druid as far as their Class levels on the below Table for Animal Companions. Though their choices on companions are very limited.
Rangers get an Animal Companion with their Hunter’s Bond ability at level 4, but they are not as powerful as the Druid Animal Companion. In effect, a Ranger is treated as a Druid at 4 levels lower for the purposes of their Animal Companion’s stats and abilities.
Animal Companion Mechanics
The progression of these stats and bonuses are listed on the following Table taken from the Animal Companions entry on the d20 SRD:
This table looks a great deal like most class tables, and it is just about the same with a few exceptions.
In addition to these bonuses, most animal companions will also get an advance at either 4th or 7th level depending on the stat block for the creature in question.
Class Level: Your Character’s Class level in the job that gives them an Animal Companion. Paladins gain their Divine Bond at level 6, and at that point are treated like a level 6 Druid for the purposes of the table. Rangers treat this as 4 levels lower, so a 4th level Ranger has an effective class level of 1 for the purposes of this table.
HD: The number of Hit Dice your Companion has. Animal Companions have d8s for hit dice, and each hit die has their constitution modifier added to it.
BAB: Base Attack Bonus for your Animal Companion. Animal Companions don’t gain any secondary or tertiary attacks from a high Base Attack Bonus like Player Characters do.
Fort/Ref/Will: Base Save bonuses for your Animal Companion.
Skills: Animal Companions have access to a limited skill list. As they gain levels, they will get skill ranks to put into those skills. They cannot have more ranks in any skill than they have HD.
The available skill list for Animal Companion: Acrobatics* (Dex), Climb* (Str), Escape Artist (Dex), Fly* (Dex), Intimidate (Cha), Perception* (Wis), Stealth* (Dex), Survival (Wis), and Swim* (Str).
Skills with the * next to them are considered class skills for all Animal Companions.
If your Animal Companion has an intelligence score of 3 or over, they can take whichever skill they want, but those are considered cross-class for the purposes of skill ranks.
Feats: Animal Companions have access to a selection of feats listed under Animal Companion Feats as well as a shortlist of general feats: Acrobatic, Agile Maneuvers, Armor Proficiency (light, medium, and heavy), Athletic, Blind-Fight, Combat Reflexes, Diehard, Dodge, Endurance, Great Fortitude, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Initiative, Improved Natural Armor, Improved Natural Attack, Improved Overrun, Intimidating Prowess, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, Mobility, Power Attack, Run, Skill Focus, Spring Attack, Stealthy, Toughness, Weapon Finesse, and Weapon Focus.
Natural Armor Bonus: Simple option here, this adds to your companion’s natural armor.
Str/Dex Bonus: This value is added directly to the Animal’s Strength and Dexterity.
Bonus Tricks: The Handle Animal skill details the idea of teaching animals “tricks” to perform in combat or narrative play, but it requires time training them along with a successful Handle Animal check. Animal Companions have bonus tricks that they already have access to when they come into play.
In addition to that, most animals can only learn a small number of tricks. An animal with 1 intelligence can only learn up to 3 tricks, and an animal with 2 intelligence can learn up to six.
The Bonus Tricks granted here do not count against that maximum amount.
Link (Ex): Link allows you to work easier with your Animal Companion than with other animals. You can use Handle Animal as a free action for the purposes of getting it to perform a trick. If you are pushing your Animal Companion, it counts as a Move-Action. You also get a +4 on Handle Animal and Wild Empathy tests when using them on your Companion.
Share Spells: When casting a spell that is supposed to affect yourself only, you can cast it on your Animal Companion as a ranged touch spell. This can affect your companion even if the animal type would not normally be affected by the spell, but the spell MUST come from the class you got your Animal Companion through.
Evasion: This grants your Animal Companion the Evasion ability if it didn’t already have it.
Ability Score Increase: Your Animal Companion gets a +1 to the ability score of your choice.
Devotion: Your Companion gets a +4 bonus to all Will saves against Enchantment magic or its effects.
Multiattack: If your Companion has three or more natural attacks, they gain the Multiattack feat. If they don’t have three or more natural attacks, they get a second attack with their primary natural weapon, but take a -5 penalty on the attack roll.
Improved Evasion: Your Companion gains the Improved Evasion ability.
Gaining a New Companion
Companions are not immortal, and sometimes the worst can happen. Other times you may want to trade out for a different animal companion. Maybe the companion you have would not do well in a new environment you are moving into, or perhaps you want to upgrade to something more powerful.
The game has options for that!
In the case of a dead companion, they can be resurrected through the normal magical means of resurrection (Raise Dead, Resurrection, True Resurrection), and they will remember why and how they died for what that is worth.
The Reincarnate spell can also work, but it might reincarnate the character into another animal that might be in the same family, but not the same type. A Wolf might return as a hunting dog, or a lion might return as a leopard.
In the case of gaining a new companion, your character would need to spend 24 hours in prayer or devotion to the concepts of their class (i.e. praying to their Deity, or spending extended time in a natural setting).
This might attract and bond you with a new animal companion appropriate to your surroundings. You can also find a specific animal and perform the same ritual with that animal present to bond it to you.
Either way, you should talk to your GM about the best way to RP this out in a way that works for both of you.
Best In Class Animal Companion Choices
While there are a myriad of options for the customization and development of your Animal companion, there are some options that are (from a mechanics perspective) more efficient than others.
The first step to think about when it comes to “best choices” is what kind of Animal you would like. When worried about being efficient with the choice, it is important to consider what possible holes or empty spaces your party might have and use your Animal Companion to shore up that weakness.
- Allosaurus: Good Striker (DPS option). Has multiple attacks with its bite and class. Has a decent starting AC as well, with an impressive speed.
- Ankylosaurus: Dino Tank! Very high starting armor, but has a lower Constitution. First priority should be bumping his Constitution.
- Arsinoitherium: Prehistoric Rhino. Has decent natural armor and a powerful gore attack. Works really well as a mount, especially at level 7 when it gains Powerful Charge and Trample.
- Cat, Big: An Iconic choice. Fast with 3 attacks out of the gate. The Rake ability is a huge damage bump when it hits. Massive power boost when they hit level 7 and get larger.
- Deinonychus: Velociraptor by any other name. Fast moving with multiple attacks very early. Hits their strike at level 7 when they get Pounce and a total of 5 attacks a round.
- Diplodocus: A superior mount with some really great natural armor. When it gets the tail lash ability, they start to moonlight as a striker as much as a tanker.
- Elephant/Mastodon: From the start, Elephants are another good choice as a mount and or tanker companion. They move to a better striker at level 7 once they gain Trample and their impressive gore attack.
- Tyrannosaurus: The Tyrant Lizard themselves! They start out with mostly average stats, natural armor, and a slower move. When they reach level 7 though, they really come out of the shell, getting a Powerful Bite attack and a massive strength score. Great for locking down an opponent with their jaws and ripping things to shreds.
- Velociraptor: The Big Cat option, just with feathers and scales. Velociraptors are cunning, and what they lack in grabs and the Rake ability, they gain in multiple attacks.
From an efficiency perspective, Acrobatics, and/or Perception are the best skills to acquire on your companion. Stealth and Survival come up as close seconds.
Acrobatics allow them to tumble past foes without provoking Attacks of Opportunity.
Perception is just the best skill overall in Pathfinder with how often it is rolled, and works really well with any companion that has something like blind sight or darkvision.
Stealth is great if you are using a companion who is an ambush predator, but otherwise can be very situational.
Survival is also somewhat situational but can come in handy if you are needing to track your enemies. Most animal companions have the Scent special ability, which provides a bonus to track targets using the Survival skill.
The standout top options here are Agile Maneuvers and Armor Proficiency (Light).
Agile Maneuvers let a high dexterity companion really capitalize on their tricks and combat maneuvers.
Armor Proficiency (Light) allows you to armor up your companion to protect them without having to depend on their own natural armor or dexterity. Armor Proficiency (Medium) might also help with this, but it will start to slow your companion down.
Blind-Fight is a good choice as well, especially if your companion has a scent.
Dodge also helps with the AC issues companions have, but can be more situational than just adding armor.
Improved Bull Rush is a great option if you are going with stronger and larger companions.
Improved Overrun is a go-to option for companions you use as mounts. This feat can help mounted characters get into the enemies’ back ranks and avoid any defenses.
Iron Will is a good choice overall, mostly because Will saves are always going to be your companion’s weakest save.
Lightning Reflexes are another good choice for saves, especially to capitalize on the Evasion abilities your companion starts to develop. Nothing sucks more than losing a companion to a stray fireball.
Mobility is like Improved Overrun for non-mounts. This would let your companion get into the back ranks quickly to strike at less protected enemies.
Power Attack is possibly a good choice for striker companions, but your animal is not going to have the best Base Attack Bonus. Only take this if you have no other better options.
Toughness also isn’t a bad choice. They won’t get as much out of it as you, but more hit points are never bad. Not a bad choice for Tanker Companions.
Weapon Finesse is a worthy idea for Dex-based companions, and might be necessary for some of the more complicated tricks in combat.
Weapon Focus is another feat for striker companions. This can definitely improve your companion’s chance to hit with many maneuvers, so it’s worth considering.
Just play PCs, Animal Companions can benefit from using magic items just like you. Make sure to take them shopping as well.
Specifically look for:
- Amulet of Mighty Fists: great for boosting the natural weapon attacks of any companion. Also helps with getting your companion to do damage against an enemy with Damage Reduction.
- Belt of Physical Perfection: The BEST item for your companion. Almost all their rolls are physical based, so this will be a direct benefit to them.
- Cloak of Resistance: An amazing item as well. This one is going to boost their saves and should definitely be a priority.
Animal Companions in Pathfinder Second Edition
Animal Companions are somewhat more abstract in Pathfinder Second Edition. They are less like other characters, and more like an extension of your own character with a more simplified method of advancing them.
Who Gets An Animal Companion?
Three classes in Pathfinder 2e get access to Animal Companions. Each one has a tree of feats that deal specifically with their animal companion and their own specific abilities.
Champions gain the iconic Paladin Warhorse. Their Class Feats are based around the idea of a loyal steed, but it is possible to stretch some of the concepts for it to be something other than a horse.
Druids gain access to their animal companion at the first level, and gain it for free when they join their Druidic Order. They get the ability to improve their companion much quicker than their Ranger counterparts.
The Ranger gains their companion at first level like the druid, but it takes a longer time to improve. They also get a feat known as Companion’s Cry. This lets the Ranger give their companions more actions to get them to be a more active part of combat than the Druid.
Animal Companion Mechanics
Unlike 1e, Animal Companions in 2e Pathfinder work much more similarly to monsters rather than extra characters.
Animal Companions use an array of ability modifiers to make managing their growth a great deal easier to understand and manage rather than the more micromanaging aspects of 1e Pathfinder.
The Base Array is Str +2, Dex +2, Con +1, Int -4, Wis +1, and Cha +0.
Based on the Animal Companion’s type, they start with a base number of Hit Points. Either 4, 6, or 8.
Every level after that, the Companion will gain 6+Con Hit Points. They are not really tanking by any means, and should not be treated as such…unless you want to lose your companion horribly.
Animal Companions are considered proficient in their own unarmed attacks, unarmored defense, barding, all saving throws, Perception, Acrobatics, and Athletics. They don’t really have the intelligence for much more than that.
Every Animal Companion has an additional benefit beyond just their normal attacks. They can use this Support Benefit as an action on their turn, but they cannot do anything else other than move.
Therefore, you can’t have an Animal Companion both use a Support Benefit and attack in the same round. They also can’t use their Support Benefit if they are being ridden, unless the Companion also has the Mount Trait.
Support Benefits are specific to the type of Animal Companion. You should consider how to build your Companion to tie into your own strengths of your character.
At later levels, an Animal Companion can select either Nimble or Savage as an option. When they do, they get access to something called an Advanced Maneuver that is thematically unique for them.
Over time, your companion will gain and advance along with you as you select the feats to improve them.
Companions first start out as Young Animal Companions . A young animal companion is a small creature, with the exception of the Horse Mount, and has just the base stats.
The next step is when your companion becomes a Mature Animal Companion. This is when your companion comes into their own. Their proficiencies improve, they gain a +1 to their ability modifiers, and a second damage die. At this stage, most Animal Companions become Medium sized, with the exception of Horses.
Next comes a branching decision into Nimble or Savage Animal Companions.
If your Companion becomes a Nimble Companion, it will get bonuses to Dexterity and smaller bonuses to the other states. The Nimble option is best for smaller, more agile companions who are going to be doing more than just striking during combat.
If you take the Savage Animal Companion, they will get major bonuses to Strength and some of the other stats, as well as a bonus to their unarmed strikes.
This option is more for building a companion who is going to wade into combat with you. If you take this option, it is more than likely you will need to invest in Barding Armor for your Companion.
Finally you will also have the option multiple times to give your Animal Companion a Specialization: Ambusher, Bully, Daredevil, Racer, Tracker, and Wrecker. You can take a Specialization multiple times, but you cannot take the same one more than once.
Best In Class Animal Companion Choices (2e)
Of the options to build your Companion, the real options are between the specialization of your choice. Animal types can vary somewhat, but every Support Benefit and Advance Maneuver is useful.
Best in Class Specializations
Daredevil is head and shoulders the best option overall, especially if you have a Nimble Companion. It boosts unarmored defense, and gains the deny advantage ability so they won’t be caught with their pants down.
Bully and Wrecker are good secondary Specializations, giving your Companion some real weight in combat. Bully makes your Companion extra intimidating, which is great for RP. Wrecker turns your Companion into a living wrecking ball as well.
Ambusher and Racer are really situational, unfortunately. Ambusher’s benefits only really work if you want to combine it with a Cat Companion. Racer is somewhat useless unless your Companion is too slow to keep up with you.
Tracker is extremely situational and neigh useless unless you have somehow no other option.