Sidekicks – 5e houserule

This house rule does not completely ignore the Unearthed Arcana sidekick rules, but removes a great proportion of them in favor of something more sidekick-like and less NPC-like. 

The basics

The basic premise of a sidekick is that they have a single relationship, with their main character, but that they can appear in group activities in a helpful way, by way of a single d10 roll and a very small amount of real time. No extra spotlight-shining occurs. Major character-to-sidekick conversations occur off-screen. 

Sidekicks can come and go (environment based, for example) or tag along indefinitely (suggesting a genuine personal bond).

Recruiting your sidekick

You must work through how your sidekick relationship actually works with your GM and the other players. Then, you all come up with a plausible scenario for the sidekick’s introduction. The default, where ideas are completely lacking, is the good old “involuntary caregiver” trope which is done in anime and movies all the time.

Sidekick requirements

  1. Any creature CR 1 or lower
  2. If they are to say things, you must share a language 
  3. You must have a main character-to-sidekick relationship with them
  4. You may not have a familiar while you have a sidekick 

How they are known

Your sidekick’s personality must be able to be described with a word (preferable) or two (less preferable).

Their background must match the expertise you use them for, and must be able to be summed up in a sentence. (If you work up a D&D background with all of the traits bonds and flaws, all of that needs to be reduced down to a sentence.)
If they are to remain with you their background and personality must not contradict that premise.

Your sidekick must have a known physical appearance, colour and dimension if an animal, or up to three words and (if necessary) height/weight for a person.

Types

  1. Warrior: is there to help you shine in combat. Unlimited re-use.
  2. Expert: is there to help you look smart. Skill points recharge on a long rest.
  3. Spellcaster: is there to help you with a pinch of fairydust. Charm points recharge on a long rest.

The warrior is primarily a melee concept, and aimed very much at being by your side. If your style or gear will put you out of touch or remove you from the immediate battle, a warrior is of limited use. The warrior will not contribute to non-martial matters (so yes, they will help stand watch or guard baggage) except to make you look smarter by virtue of their own inane comments. As you level up, the warrior becomes more likely to be helpful in melee.

The expert is a master of certain tasks or knowledge. They will never assist in any martial matters, but may have useful suggestions about how they might avoid that. Scouting (but not sniping or fighting or even swooping by to distract a foe) is a valid field of expertise. As you level up, the expert will be more likely to help with a wider selection of tasks.

The spellcaster has some use of a form of magic. Unlike the other two types, they may contribute to anything you attempt, if it fits their magic form. They cannot be a full spellcaster class, but may be a priest, hedge wizard, soothsayer, wise woman or some similar NPC type. As you level up, the spellcaster will be more likely to have useful charms or rituals.

Use in combat

Warrior in combat

A warrior sidekick will try to either help you (advantage to your attack) or defend you (disadvantage to attacks on you). If you are remote from your sidekick – for example if you use an 80’ move and your sidekick has no more than 60’ move – they will still attempt to contribute.

Your warrior sidekick activates on your turn. You may choose to do nothing with them, keep them beside you, or use them at a distance (remote from you).

Each turn you want to use your sidekick, roll a d10. Choose either help or defend. If you roll a 1, they flail about in an unhelpful way, reversing the effect.

At Tier one, you need a score of 6 or better to add your sidekick’s effect. A score that is not a 1 and below your required score means your sidekick is trying but not succeeding. At Tier two, you need a score of 4 or better to add your sidekick’s effect. A score that is not a 1 and below your required score means your sidekick is trying but not succeeding. At Tier three, you need a score of 2 or better to add your sidekick’s effect, so you are always successful unless you roll a 1.

A remote warrior sidekick, with a successful roll from you, adds your proficiency to your AC while defending, or adds your proficiency to your attack, while helping.

You can activate a warrior sidekick while you use range attacks with a missile weapon. As long as they are adjacent to you, they can add the same +proficiency bonus to either your attack or your AC.

Spellcaster in combat

A spellcaster sidekick will try to either buff you (advantage to a SV), debuff your opponents (disadvantage to a SV), or shift the playing field (typically, moving light condition, ground cover, or terrain difficulty by one step). A spellcaster sidekick has charm points that recharge on a long rest. These are equal to your normal proficiency (3 at Tier two, 4 at Tier 3).

A spellcaster sidekick can be activated in combat with a d10. They activate on your turn. Each turn you want to use your sidekick, roll a d10. 

At Tier one, you need a score of 6 or better to add your sidekick’s effect. A score that is not a 1 and below your required score means your sidekick is trying but not succeeding. At Tier two, you need a score of 4 or better to add your sidekick’s effect. A score that is not a 1 and below your required score means your sidekick is trying but not succeeding. At Tier three, you need a score of 2 or better to add your sidekick’s effect, so you are always successful unless you roll a 1.

If you roll a 1, your sidekick flails about in an unhelpful way, causing a debuff to you – if you attack it is with disadvantage, if you move, your move speed is halved for example.

You do not need to choose to spend their remaining points, until your spellcaster sidekick is of use. Rolling a 1 does not use their points up. You may choose to spend one or more of their remaining points:

  1. When attacking, spending 1 point to debuff your opponent on a particular SV; or
  2. At some other point in the melee round, spending 1 point to buff yourself on a particular SV; or
  3. At the start of your turn, spending 2 points to shift the field in some particular way one step – from lightly obscured to clear, from no cover to half cover, from difficult terrain to clear, for example. Dimensions in feet: If circular, spherical or hemispherical this area effect has a radius of 10’ at Tier two and 15’ at Tier 3; if conical the length and end-width is 10’ at Tier two and 15’ at Tier 3; and if a cube each dimension is 10’ at Tier two and 15’ at Tier three.
  4. In cases 1 and 2 above, the effect is instantaneous; in case 3 above, the effect lasts 1 minute or at your sidekick’s discretion. For example if cover is created but an opponent occupies it, your sidekick can remove that cover at the start of your next turn. 

Expert in combat

As stated above your expert sidekick will never help in combat. If your sidekick is a scout or street urchin type you may delegate them off away from the battlefield to watch out for fresh trouble. Assuming you have some way for them to communicate with you remotely, they can do that. They will never advance to the battlefield to warn you in person. If the battlefield moves to their position, they will retreat from it or hide if that is impossible.

Use away from combat

Expert away from combat

Your expert sidekick focuses on their own expertise. They have three skill points to spend as you see fit, recharged after each long rest (unless playing the long game). At Tier three, they have four skill points.

Each time you wish your expert to use their skill, roll a d10. 

At Tier one, you need a score of 6 or better to add your sidekick’s effect. A score that is not a 1 and below your required score means your sidekick is trying but not succeeding. At Tier two, you need a score of 4 or better to add your sidekick’s effect. A score that is not a 1 and below your required score means your sidekick intends to do their best but is not succeeding. At Tier three, you need a score of 2 or better to add your sidekick’s effect, so you are always successful unless you roll a 1.

If you roll a 1, your sidekick flails about in an unhelpful way, causing trouble to you – if you want something crafted it has flaws, if you want advice it is wrong, if you want someone convinced (as in the long game) they distrust you. Rolling a 1 does not use your expert’s points up, but you can’t ask them to “do it again, but right this time” – because they are the expert, not you.

  1. Help: costing 1 point, your expert provides you with advantage on a skill check where you already have proficiency
  2. Sub: costing 1 point, your expert allows you to substitute their proficiency for your lack of it. This can be used whether a skill check is actually required, or you simply need some knowledge of the subject.
  3. Pinch-hit: costing 1 point, the expert actually performs a task that you can’t or don’t want to do. The task can’t take more than a day. The core skills associated with it must relate to the expertise of your sidekick.
  4. Long game: costing 2 points, which cannot recharge until the task is complete, the expert works on a project. The core skills associated with it must relate to your sidekick’s expertise.

Spellcaster away from combat

Your spellcaster sidekick is able to spend their charm points in non-combat ways. These are the exact same charm points, 3 at Tier two and 4 at Tier three, that you may choose to have them spend in combat, recharging on a long rest: so if spent outside of combat they are not available for combat, and vice versa.

Spellcaster charms outside of combat can be used either as a SV buff; or as a Check buff or debuff; or finally as a scenery change.

Each time you wish your spellcaster to use their charm points, roll a d10. 

At Tier one, you need a score of 6 or better to add your sidekick’s effect. A score that is not a 1 and below your required score means your sidekick is trying but not succeeding. At Tier two, you need a score of 4 or better to add your sidekick’s effect. A score that is not a 1 and below your required score means your sidekick intends to do their best but is not succeeding. At Tier three, you need a score of 2 or better to add your sidekick’s effect, so you are always successful unless you roll a 1.

If you roll a 1, your sidekick flails about in an unhelpful way, causing trouble to you – disadvantage instead of advantage, or the reverse if applied to an opposing creature/object, or making the scene worse for you instead of better. Rolling a 1 does not use their points up. You may choose to spend one or more of their remaining points:

When attempting a check, spending 1 point to debuff (disadvantage) an opposing creature/object on a check; or 1 point to buff (advantage) your own check; or

Spending 1 point to give yourself advantage for a non-combat SV; or

Spending 2 points to “shift the scene” to move in or out of one environment to an environment one degree away either geographically/topographically, or in terms of environmental conditions.

Duration: checks and SV effects are instantaneous. A scene shift cannot normally persist for more than a short rest.

Warrior away from combat

You can ask your warrior sidekick to guard or stand watch. If you do, roll a d10. On a 1, their effort is unhelpful. If they were to guard, and no-one else was around to help, your DM may have some bad news for you. If they were to watch and you were to rest, you were roused and did not rest. If they were to watch in other circumstances, your DM may have some bad news for you.