Ally Cards

As part of an ongoing effort to find new ways to make D&D PCs feel heroic and awesome, I recently developed the idea of ally cards. The idea began when, during a recent climactic encounter, I gave the PCs the ability to pick up a bunch of NPCs to help during the fight. Each of the six PCs had an ally that he or she could control during his or her turn. To keep things simple, the NPCs weren’t statted out. Instead, each had only a move action and a standard action, and it had one simple ability it could use that did not require an attack roll.

Dak, githzerai waveshaper

HP: [] [] []

Defenses: AC 31; Fort 29; Will 28; Ref 27

Special Ability: Dak slides one creature within 5 squares of him up to 5 squares. [] []/Encounter

Vale, Human Necromancer

HP: [] [] []

Defenses: AC 29; Fort 27; Will 28; Ref 29

Special Ability: Vale weakens one creature adjacent to him until the end of his next turn. []/Encounter

Mirana, Former Exarch of the Raven Queen

HP: [] [] []

Defenses: AC 30; Fort 28; Will 29; Ref 27

Special Ability: Mirana restores 20 hit points to a creature adjacent to her. [] [] []/Day

Gendar, Drow Merchant

HP: [] []

Defenses: AC 29; Fort 27; Will 28; Ref 29

Special Ability: One creature adjacent to Gendar takes ongoing 10 poison damage (save ends). [] []/Encounter

Quelenna, Daughter of the Summer Queen

HP: [] []

Defenses: AC 30; Fort 29; Will 29; Ref 28

Special Ability: Quelenna teleports one ally within 10 squares of her 5 squares. [] []/Encounter

Marek, Deva Invoker

HP: [] [] []

Defenses: AC 30; Fort 28; Will 29; Ref 27

Special Ability: One enemy within 10 squares of Marek takes 10 damage. [] []/Encounter

Osrik

Defenses: AC 31; Fort 29; Will 27; Ref 28

Special Ability: One enemy adjacent to Osrik takes 10 damage and a –2 penalty until the end of Osrik’s next turn.

Each of these allies ended up playing an important part in combat, allowing for an extra dimension of strategy. In effect, it gave each character an additional power that they could use on their turn. It also added an extra degree of drama, since the PCs were fighting to protect their new allies as well as themselves. Like minions, the allies’ “hit points” were based on being hit rather than the amount of damage is done to them. Whenever the ally took damage, whether from an aura, ongoing damage, or a normal hit, he or she would lose a hit point box. When an ally had no points left, it fell unconscious and was dying. If a character could perform first aid before the end of the next round, they could stabilize the ally and keep him or her from dying.

Each of the allies had significance in the story, so that also incentivized the characters to keep them alive. Ultimately, it paid off for them, because the allies joined them on their airship. Giving the PCs a posse makes them feel badass, especially when the characters joining them are impressive. I took the idea of ally cards a step further, though. After the allies were no longer serving a combat function, I gave them noncombat functions—the ability to craft magic items and potions, perform certain rituals at no cost, and provide bonuses to specific knowledge checks. The PCs are now at maximum capacity in their planar dromond, so if they want to pick up more allies, they’re going to have to find a new ship. I haven’t fully fleshed out the idea, but I think this acquisition of allies is all amount toward some climactic epic encounter. Since some of my players read this blog, though, I can’t give away any more than that. 🙂

Next time I blog, I’ll reveal the cards for the non-combat allies and talk about “faction” cards.

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15 thoughts on “Ally Cards

  1. As far as the noncombat functions go, I’ve got a similar thing going on with my players. We’re playing 4E and running through the old Dragonlance modules from 3E, but rather than tossing out the old characters, I’ve made them a caravan that basically gives them the services of a town whenever they meet back up.

    The idea of giving them a use in combat without having to go through all the trouble of companion characters is an appealing one. Allies that are more like familiars or summoned creatures….I like it.

    1. Playing through the old DL modules? Awesome. If you have a blog, you should totally write up something about doing the conversion. Sounds like the ally cards would work great for you campaign. Let me know how it goes 🙂

      1. I don’t have a blog. Though come to think of it, if there’s interest in one about my campaign I might consider doing one. Might help keep up interest in the campaign.

  2. I like this idea quite a lot. I might just use it. In fact, consider it stolen.

    What I like about it is that it gives allies in important role in encounters, can be easily adapted to fill non-combat functions, and it’s really simple to run. I have a player who might be absent for a while, so might whip up one of these allies to take his place. Thanks!

    1. Glad it could be of use. I’ve run a few encounters where I’ve given players NPCs to use, but the level of complexity always ended up slowing down combat. This only adds about 30 seconds to a player’s turns and achieves the same effect.

      Let me know how it goes!

  3. Hey Greg Im I reading it right that the allies only have two or three Hit Points each? I gotta be missing something there.

    1. I don’t think Greg is suggesting two or three hitpoints. I think he’s proposing the ally will go down after two or three hits. That way you don’t have to keep track of ally hitpoints or even count up how much damage is dealt to an ally. Once he/she gets hit the third time, he’s down.

  4. The ally cards sound fun. I think most players have a desire to play more than just their character, whether it’s an NPC or “ally card” or pet/familiar or whatever. I agree it makes characters feel more heroic if they have that additional resource under their control.

    My only concern would be slowing down initiative-based combat/encounters. If you’ve got six players and a few enemies turns can get pretty slow. Maybe once players have the rules down pretty well it would be a good time to add ally cards – or if one or two players can’t make it to a session.

    1. I think it does slow down combat if you use them regularly. I only recommend using allies on climactic fights that you expect to take a couple hours, regardless of whether the allies are there or not. I think it can actually help make a slow combat a little more fun and interesting. Might even be a good idea to let a player’s ally act on the adventurer’s initiative – 10 so that the player gets to act twice a round.

  5. I really like this idea! This may be an alternative to massive loot for sidequests (especially valuable at low levels). Oh the possibilities!

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