Valenar Animal Tactics

The Valenar hawk, Valenar hound and Valenar steed are presented as archetypal examples of a more general class of creatures: fey animals, inhabited by the spirits of long-dead elven druids, which bond to humanoids (usually elves themselves, but not always) as companions. This bond is distinct from, and potentially in addition to, that of the Beast Master ranger’s companion animal; it allows telepathic communication over a distance of up to 100 feet. With a little reverse engineering, you can make a Valenar animal out of any beast stat block by applying the following template (approximate, since the changes aren’t as consistent as those of, say, nonhumanoid skeletons):

  • Add a total of 21 points to the beast’s ability scores, bringing its Intelligence to 9 or greater, its Wisdom to 15 or greater and its Charisma to 11 or greater.
  • Add proficiency in Perception and increase its passive Perception accordingly.
  • Allow it to understand Common, Elvish and Sylvan.
  • Add the Bonding trait, whose wording is identical across all three of the archetypal Valenar animals.
  • Recalculate the attack bonus, damage and saving throw DCs of its existing attack(s) based on its new ability scores.

And that’s basically it. Unless you deliberately mess with a beast’s ability contour by adding lots of points to an ability that isn’t already its strong suit, a Valenar animal will fight in largely the same way as an ordinary animal of the same species. As it happens, the hawk, hound and steed are all fast, flexible shock attackers that can Disengage and escape easily if things go poorly after they strike.

However, thanks to its increased Intelligence and Wisdom and the Bonding trait, a Valenar animal gains the ability to coordinate with the humanoid to which it’s bonded. Thus, a Valenar hawk, for example, might use its Keen Sight to act as a spotter for its companion, telepathically informing them where to shoot. A Valenar hound might use its Keen Smell to sniff out a hidden enemy, then knock it prone with a Bite attack and tell its companion to close in to melee range for an attack with advantage. A Valenar steed makes an excellent independent mount (see Player’s Handbook, chapter 9, “Controlling a Mount”), as it can act freely on its own turn but also discuss options with its rider.

The question arises, what part is a Valenar animal playing in your adventure, anyway? Is it the companion of a player character or the companion of a villain? If it’s a PC’s companion, who’s running it, the player or the Dungeon Master? I’d generally expect the DM to run it, since it’s effectively an NPC, not a player-run appendage of the PC like the ranger’s companion and not a copiloted sidekick like the retainers of a PC with the Knight background. But this means that player and DM can’t have an adversarial relationship: As when a PC casts conjure animals, the DM is ethically obligated to make choices that don’t screw the player over.

That being said, the DM isn’t required to hurl a Valenar animal into the path of incoming danger in order to save a PC’s skin, either. Despite the nature of the bond, these creatures have a healthy self-preservation instinct, and they’re more useful to their companions alive than dead. A seriously wounded Valenar animal (reduced to 40 percent or less of its maximum hit points) retreats to safety, apologizing to its companion that it wasn’t able to do more. Conversely, though, a healthy Valenar animal willingly places itself between a seriously wounded companion and their enemy, delaying the enemy so that the companion can withdraw.

With the publication of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, it’s amusing to note that all three of the archetypal Valenar animals published in Eberron: Rising From the Last War, having challenge ratings of 1/2 or lower, qualify as sidekicks! However, if you make a spellcasting sidekick out of a Valenar animal, I’d suggest that you ought to limit it to the Healer role, since it is, canonically, an ex-druid. Pretty awesome, though, to have a keen-eyed bird of prey that can target enemies hidden from you with sacred flame, a dog that can lick you healthy again with cure wounds or a horse that can give you guidance as you ride it!

Note that Valenar animals are classified as fey creatures and therefore are ineligible to be summoned with conjure animals. They are eligible to be summoned with conjure woodland beings, but this spell is a bit of a trap choice, because except for Bonding, Valenar animals don’t have any powers beyond those of ordinary animals of the same species, and you can’t take advantage of Bonding within the duration of the spell. You simply get fewer hawks/mastiffs/riding horses than you would have by casting the 3rd-level conjure animals (because the Valenar versions’ CRs are higher), or you get a fey creature with fewer interesting abilities than a sea hag, dryad or blink dog possesses.

If conjure woodland beings is a pointless waste of a spell level when used to summon Valenar animals, conjure fey is an even greater waste—but also a potentially entertaining waste, because (a) the caster gets to choose the creature summoned, and (b) the CR 6 ceiling permits such awesome concoctions as the Valenar elephant, the Valenar orca and the Valenar polar bear.

Next: dusk hags.

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