3e: The Beauhort

Back in 3rd edition Dungeons And Dragons there were a lot of problems in character building, but I dedicate special attention to those that pushed players making reasonable, desireable choices into things that made the game strain. It was super easy to make an overpowered cleric or druid if you just looked at what they could do. It was easy to snap the game in half with the Spelldancer, just doing what the class suggested you do. It was easy to buy into a class fantasy that stranded you unable to confront the challenges the game had.

And if you wanted to pick up a boyfriend in-game, there was an obvious and available way that kinda made the game buckle a bit โ€” just take the feat Leadership.

Leadership was a feat, available at level 6 and beyond for a 3rd edition character and it was pretty unique in what it offered. Simply put, Leadership is one of the most powerful feats available to player characters, because it gives you a second character on the field, who at a slightly lower level than you. Now, you might imagine, especially if you’ve been playing 5th edition or 4th edition, that there’s probably some system in place for how you spend your actions to get your cohort to do stuff in combat, right?


No, the leadership NPC, your cohort, is kind of loosely defined; they’re an NPC that follows you around, because you spent the feat to get them, and then the game sorts of trails off about what that means. It really did vary for game table to game table; it couldn’t just be an NPC joining the party, right, because that could happen anyway regardless of feats. A feat expenditure meant that you got something for it, that the character had to be, at least slightly, compliant with what you wanted.

The text was, generally, a bit squiffy; it said you could try to recruit based on race, class, and alignment, but it also didn’t say that was guaranteed. It didn’t say what you did with this NPC, whether they were meant to be wholly under the DM’s control or not, given you spent a feat on having them. The rules said you got them, they said you could try, and… then kinda just left the result of that alone.

Generally, I didn’t see many DMs welcoming the leadership cohort in terms of more work; suddenly a character they had to devote time and attention to managing in the complex mechanical state of the game already in play. Normally, what I saw happening was that DMs who allowed Leadership allowed the player to control the cohort in combat, so as to not get into arguments about it, and also to make the feat not seem like it didn’t do anything. This seemed reasonable and also, in hindsight, was hilariously overpowered.

Sure, there was room for a player to have just a second, smaller version of what they were already doing. The Cohort had their own equipment and budget, after all, it wasn’t like you had to gear them up on your own, and that meant that your fighter was now two fighters, one slightly weaker. That’s just the most basic idea, though, because what if you wanted to lead someone who had some synergy with you? A pair of rogues work together really well, since they both want flanking nad do more bonus damage with sneak attacks. Two wizards, two clerics, two druids, almost anything you do, you can do more of.

If you played a tough tank type, you could have your cohort doing ranged support or melee damage. You could play a tough character who got spell support from your cohort. Or you could play a wizard with a leadership cohort who existed to protect you, and didn’t care about their own damage any more. Hell, one thing I saw – because I did it! – was have a cohort that was a full-fledged spellcaster, who in the morning, buffed my character, and then stayed home safe where he grew flowers and baked bread. That’s spending one feat to get something like ten long-lasting buff spells on you for whole days at a time, as well as crafting potions and scrolls for characters who can use that โ€” which is again, just lots for a single feat.

I saw a lot of Leadership in my time playing 3rd edition, which made sense, because the feat ruled. I most often saw it either on a character starting out after level 6, or a character took it in the course of a campaign to have a mechanically codified reason to keep a particular NPC around. Also, every single one of them I remember was a boyfriend. I had more NPC boyfriends growing up than I ever had in reality, but it was also something that I felt I had a weird kind of gentle ownership over, that it wasn’t being put in any other player’s faces, that, behind the scenes, when nobody was around to be bothered by it, my druid was making out with his catboy wizard cohort.

And that wasn’t the only one I saw! It was so common for players to pick up Leadership in my space, in part because of its overwhelming power, but also because of the way it could be a sort of token to the DM: Hey, here’s a thing I want in this game, and please just don’t interfere with it. Ostensibly, the feat Leadership gave the player character a cohort, and followers, but I almost never saw followers brought to bear, just the cohort as a single vessel for that particular want. When I was maximising my own Leadership with the aforementioned catboy, I did make a point of tracking my followers: A grove full of sentient bunnies that my druid hung around and did things like maintain sleeping quarters for us.

None of this is required by the feat, of course. It’s also overpowered, but probably wouldn’t put the game out as if it were โ€” because not every player wants the vibe of the feat, even if it’s overwhelmingly strong. It makes it this strange mix of extremely 3e things: Huge power controlled by concept, in a rules ambiguity space, and always sticking out in my memory because of how it was being used for extremely gay stuff.

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