It’s Running Away with the Spotlight! After It!

“While Kueng is lecturing Black Rooster on how renouncing his greed will end the curse, the Enlightened Master steals a few of Black Rooster’s buttons.”

On the night of New Year’s Eve, we discovered (in the Weapons of the Gods/Legends of the Wulin sense, mind you, the fact was there all along but we never really put words to it until today) a tendency of my primary game group—a tendency for whatever small animal companion has just wandered or been brought in to immediately commandeer a central role in the plot. The master’s role varies, but the critter? It’s small, often egotistical or with a massive Small Critter Complex, highly expressive, and immediately sucks up the attention of the entire party, whether it’s a PC’s pet hamster/mantis/crow/gliding lizard, an NPC’s mostly unwanted new demon companion, or (as in the case of the above example) a Chinese(ish) flying squirrel whose favorite perch is convinced it speaks with the voice of enlightenment.

What makes these small animals so nifty?

First… eeeee they’re adorable! Either they’re naturally cute and cuddly (particularly the demon, who practically oozed subconscious cuteness cues, and the flying squirrel, represented by a stuffed sugar glider with big black eyes), or it’s more the things they do (the mantis recognizing her master’s new friend’s status by offering him a fly).

Second, they get to be the wild and crazy side of the characters, particularly the ones who can’t get away with it themselves. We have a lot of straight man/crazy familiar pairings in our games: Kueng the priest and his Enlightened Master are the latest in my boyfriend’s string of three or four, Lan the orchid mantis was an instigator on the shoulder of her voice of reason (or at least voice of “we might get caught”) master, and I designed Tuyet’s familiar Chiko as a way to get around the fact that her position in the world not just required but mandated poise, dignity, careful word choice, and tact everywhere but the battlefield.

Third, it’s a well-known fact that characters without any spoken dialogue but decently expressive depictions get all the best lines, since we can fill in for ourselves what they say. Granted, this isn’t true for all of our cases (Chiko was able to communicate with the full group, and the Enlightened Master was translated for, though it was anyone’s guess how accurately, by his devoted disciple/perch), but generally even the ones who are engaging in dialogue have the advantage of a unique and interesting species-based viewpoint.

Fourth, who doesn’t love underdogs who still think—and rightly so—that they can have an impact? The small animal companion is nowhere near the level of the PCs, but that doesn’t keep us from trying to make sure that it gets the spotlight, sometimes by influencing the PCs’ direction and sometimes by a necessarily small but pivotal appearance in an actual fight.

Do small animals steal your spotlights?

1 comment

  1. Michael says:

    Just once — Melanie, the black cat in The Adventures of Athribar, who had a knack for saving the group through her agility and small size allowing her to reach places none of the others could. Interestingly, Veronica (Melanie’s owner), although human, fitted most of your criteria as well: she was certainly cute and cuddly as well as wild and crazy; she did speak but she lacked complex grammar; and being a young child, she would have had the role of using her agility and small size to advantage if Melanie hadn’t been even better. Both of them left the group at the end of Part II because I felt they’d stolen the spotlight for long enough :)

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