Level Up (A5E) Animal Companion Statistics: CR Comparison


Currently, only the Beastmaster ranger is blessed with an animal companion, and the only class with an equivalent, the Stitcher artificer, uses the 3rd-level Beastmaster ability as a template but with a zombie instead of a wolf or other furry friend. These classes set the precedent for dedicated minion stats and abilities in Advanced 5th Edition, which is that they start as CR 1/4 creatures with the following buffs:
  • Whenever initiative is rolled, your companion gains temporary Hit Points equal to your proficiency bonus multiplied by your levels in an appropriate class.
  • Add your proficiency bonus to your companion's AC (Beastmaster says to only do this when you roll initiative, which suggests that this bonus doesn't apply out of combat, at least depending on how strict your Narrator is—bummer for the ranger)
  • Add your proficiency bonus to your companion's to-hit and damage (again, this is a flat bonus for the Stitcher, but this only applies for the Beastmaster when you command your companion to attack, so for ranger some of this damage doesn't apply to things like Reactions—double bummer)
Using this information, I've compiled a chart and compared it to the average CR numbers in the Monstrous Menagerie (p501). Where the numbers were the same across different CRs, I applied the lower end of the CR range toward lower levels in a range and tried to match the rate of increase; where the numbers didn't quite land on the listed averages I rounded up or down the CR based on whether it was halfway there or under halfway there, respectively.

The columns:
  • Companion HP: The effective "Hit Points" that your companion will have on average. This includes the base average for a CR 1/4 creature (15) plus the temporary hit points you get every time your companion rolls initiative.
  • Companion AC: The AC that your companion will have on average. This includes the base average for a CR 1/4 creature plus your proficiency bonus.
  • Companion to-Hit: The average bonus that your companion will have to land an attack. This includes the base average ability modifier (+1) and the base average proficiency bonus (+2) for a CR 1/4 creature, combined and then added to your proficiency bonus.
    • Naturally, this assumes that the base average ability modifier is being used for the attack rather than a higher one or a lower one, but this may vary depending on the creature. For the Beastmaster and the Stitcher, it doesn't really vary.
  • Companion Damage: The average damage that your companion will deal, assuming the attack hits. This includes the average base damage for a CR 1/4 creature (5) plus your proficiency bonus.
  • Comparable Creature CR: How each number value for your companion translates in terms of CR average according to the table found on page 501 of the Monstrous Menagerie.
  • Creature CR Average: Using the above values alone, the average CR that your companion would be with its adjusted statistics. Note that this number would likely go down a little if we included the other columns of Table: Statistics for Monsters by Challenge Rating, but not a lot. The missing columns are Number of Attacks and Save DC (which the MM chart splits into two columns, Hard and Easy), both of which never go up for your companions.
There was a recent thread about adding more archetypes with animal companions, and for anyone interested in such a thing these numbers may be useful. They also may just be interesting for people who like to open the hood of the game and peer at its engine. IMO, these numbers are interesting because of the things we can learn from them to create alternative systems for granting pets that grow in power. For example:
  • According to the chart, and rounding down a little, the effective CR of existing, official companions are roughly equal to half the player's level. (Sometimes a little higher.) Thus, if someone wanted to create an archetype that provided a companion but had that companion swapped out for progressively more powerful creatures at this CR rate, it would on paper be just as powerful as the normal companion progression. (I, for one, would love to see such a thing.)
    • This would require more analysis to state definitely, though. For example, higher-CR minions grant access to more varied and stronger abilities and higher save DCs, things severely lacking with buffed CR 1/4 creatures, and harder to evaluate abilities, like spellcasting. But still, in theory, CR represents creatures that are entirely equal, right?... Totally...
    • As another example, using effective HP totals gets really skiddywhompus with the existing minion rules. They can get some pretty high effective HP totals, and these HP totals would refill every time initiative is rolled, which would not be the case for higher CR minions with larger HP pools. Then again, higher CR minions with larger HP pools can benefit from healing magic and spells that grant temporary HP, which I don't think entirely balances out the gap, but it's still something to think about.
  • Existing options for minions as a class feature lean toward really high AC and effective HP with abysmal damage and save DCs.
    • "Really high" AC and effective HP is relative. These numbers may be higher than squishy classes and builds, but they won't match players that focus on tankiness, but the fact that the temporary HP refreshes every fight is a huge boon.
    • There is unexplored design space for glass cannon minions—meh HP and AC, really high-damaging attacks.
  • Minions as a class feature average, in CR value, as strong or stronger than minions summoned by spells.
    • For example, at level 5 and using a 3rd-level slot, conjure animals can summon a CR 2 creature, while the animal companion has a rough CR of 3.67. This gap only grows with levels. On the other hand, conjure animals creates expendable monsters, whereas replacing a dead minion gained through Beastmaster or Stitcher has the potential to be time-consuming, expensive, or even impossible depending on your location and resources. There's also the fact that the Beastmaster/Stitcher minion requires you to use your Bonus Action every turn to attack, while a spell like conjure animals does not.
That's just a few thoughts I had examining the above chart. This is in no way complete analysis, and it isn't even intended to say that these numbers are the best representation of what fun and engaging minions should look like in the 5e family of rules variations. IMO, even with A5e's improvements on how minions have been handled, I still think that minions as a class feature are a bit of an undercooked system that needs some love, and maybe someone will look at these numbers and see fixes that escape me. That said, I do have a long-term project I hope to unveil in December 2022 or January 2023 that involves minions, and I am absolutely taking these numbers into account as part of that.

I also want to point out that this analysis does not take into consideration higher levels and future class features. For example, the Stitcher gets a lot of optional abilities that can increase a minion's damage output (but a lot or a little, I don't know, I need to play one, but it's above what the Beastmaster does), as well as its AC, and gives it some really unique features. The Beastmaster, on the other hand, gets a second companion at level 11, which doesn't increase the relative strength of each companion but does double the effective HP that an opponent has to eat through to get to the Beastmaster and might double the really weak damage output a Beastmaster gets through his minions, depending on how your DM feels about rules as written versus rules as intended. (I say might because the wording reads, to me, like the Beastmaster can only command one minion to attack at a time, but I'm not convinced that's how it's intended to work.)

Finally, for my friends in the previously-mentioned chat thread, it's too late—the Beastmaster has already been overshadowed by the Stitcher with an out-of-the-gate minion that's just plain better than the Beastmaster's, and way more flexible through the use of infusions. So go ham with your new archetypes and give a quick salute to the ranger, who will always be shafted no matter what is done to fix his problems. slow, sad trombone plays for the sad, sad ranger

@xiphumor Feel free to PM me if you want this chart. I don't know if it fits in with your work on being the A5e master of all data, but I'd be happy to contribute to your growing omniscience.

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