Back around 1986-1988, four friends and I were playing in an AD&D campaign using the 1st edition rules (including the Unearthed Arcana). We wandered around in a sort of plot-hook based sandbox run by our pal Geoff, and mostly got caught up in picaresque wandering and trouble-making.
One of the things that marked the game for us, though, was our use of pets. Demian ran the party thief, who had a pet monkey who provided the comic relief and whose only contribution to combat was the occasional offal-flinging to distract enemies. He also was an extra set of hands to bring us things or sneak behind bars with a key. I ran the party barbarian, a real brute of a man, who had two pet war dogs, Hammer and Anvil. The three of them were a wall of steel and teeth that proved to be a devastating combination in low-level combat. Since we ranged from 3rd - 5th level, those dogs were mean mofos.
This is why Zak's latest post on his blog, Playing D&D with Pornstars, seemed so amusing to me. In the old AD&D price list, pets seemed like good investments. A good mule and a wardog seemed like excellent purchases. Real no-brainers. They seemed cheaper, more loyal, and more effective than bringing along hirelings, and easier to recruit than henchmen.
What's interesting to me, though, is that bringing along back-up of this sort (pets, hirelings and henchmen) was so central to old-school gaming, and kind of an assumed exploit for players who understood the value of numbers. Since 3rd edition, pets and followers became more of a problem of balance -- largely because they became powers for the characters, but also because combat complexity has gone up. In fact, pets and summoned creatures are now treated with a lot of care in D&D 4th edition to keep one player from getting too many actions to hog up table time, a concern I would never have had as a fledgling AD&D DM or player -- perhaps because even with followers, monster summoning spells, and pet war dogs, the whole turn was over so quickly.