D&D 5E Beast Master Primal Companion Still Frustrating at level 10+

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So this weekend my friend ran a level 10 “1-shot” in his homebrew setting loosely inspired by Exandria.

I played a Forest Gnome Beast Master Ranger using Primal Companion with a musket, the Gunner feat, Skulker, and level 1 bonus feat of Squat Nimbleness. We rolled stats so I had a 30 Dex, 14 Str, 16 con, 16 Wis. rolled hot dice had me at 100hp, rather than the static 84. We each had 3 magic items, and I grabbed +1 Half Plate, corpse slayer musket, and a homebrew mithral longsword (2d6 extra crit damage, finesse). I was not a weak character, by any means.

I chose the beast of the land, flavored as a giant Fox. My DM has lore that the giant foxes of the forest I’m from have the ability to make themselves and a bonded companion nearly invisible (pass without trace, targeting only the two).

So every possible advantage, basically. The fox still almost died twice, and made maybe 3 attacks. Useful as a mount, because it’s independent but does what I want, has good saves, and can take the Dodge action without me commanding it. Sometimes it’s useful to have it attack in place of one of my attacks, especially from level 11 on, since it then can do 2 attacks for one of mine, but that still doesn’t allow me to give any other commands using one of my attacks.

And I can’t heal it, other than taking healing spells which my only reason to take is for the beast. I also am not any better at healing it between fights than I am at healing anyone else. And I still have to wait until a long rest to get him back if he falls. And it has no self-heal.

Like why not just model it after the damn steel defender for the artificer? And if not that, give it more HP or easier action economy than the steel defender.

If I ever play a BM Ranger from low level in a real campaign, I will either use the revised Ranger, or work out a homebrew version that mirrors the Battlesmith artificer.
 

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Don't know if it will help much or if your DM would allow it, but when it comes to Animal Companions of any type for Ranger/Druids/Whatever PC has ones, I just use the rules for the Revised Ranger's Beast Conclave's Companion's Bond, no matter if it's a regular trained animal or Tasha's Primal Companion stat block. And IIRC, you use a free action, Verbal, to command said Animal Companion to attack.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Well, the Beast of the Land does have hit dice, so conceivably it should be able to heal itself with a short rest - did short rests not come up?

Likewise, I'm assuming most of the hits the beast took were hits the ranger wasn't taking instead; that is sort of giving your character an extra 50 hit points to work with (as long as the enemy isn't using area attacks). Note also that the artificer also only gets D8 for hit points, not D10 like the Ranger. I always ask people who send their animal companions into combat and then get upset when they die, "If you didn't want to risk it dying, then why did you send it into a fight in the first place?"

I don't doubt that it still felt weak, but the animal companion is a feature that's basically an extra arm and bonus hit points. Wouldn't want the companion to outshine the character, but certainly want it to feel like it's worthwhile. Personally, I haven't been enamored with the 5E Ranger's companion myself, but I haven't found the magic bullet to fix the feel of the companion either.

<EDIT: I'm further confused - the Beast of the Land from Tasha's has this:
If the beast has died within the last hour, you can use your action to touch it and expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher. The beast returns to life after 1 minute with all its hit points restored.>
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Well, the Beast of the Land does have hit dice, so conceivably it should be able to heal itself with a short rest - did short rests not come up?
They rarely do. Nor do they help with losing my entire subclass for the rest of the fight, at least, because the DM threw a fireball and the companion has half the HP of the rogue.
Likewise, I'm assuming most of the hits the beast took were hits the ranger wasn't taking instead; that is sort of giving your character an extra 50 hit points to work with (as long as the enemy isn't using area attacks).
Area attacks are a significant part of combat, not an afterthought. And since I’m playing a very stealthy archer with high acrobatics and athletics, it’s definitely not saving me from attacks that often.
Note also that the artificer also only gets D8 for hit points, not D10 like the Ranger.
And the artificer gets a lot in exchange. Especially the Battlesmith compared to the BM.
I always ask people who send their animal companions into combat and then get upset when they die, "If you didn't want to risk it dying, then why did you send it into a fight in the first place?"
I’m sorry but this is absurd. The better question is, why give the option of a combat companion, whose features are primarily about fighting, such insufficient defenses that it isn’t practical to take it into fights?
I don't doubt that it still felt weak, but the animal companion is a feature that's basically an extra arm and bonus hit points. Wouldn't want the companion to outshine the character, but certainly want it to feel like it's worthwhile. Personally, I haven't been enamored with the 5E Ranger's companion myself, but I haven't found the magic bullet to fix the feel of the companion either.
I’d say that even with the note you’ve made below, the BM companion is quite weak, and not in any danger of outshining a mundane dog with a sidekick class.
<EDIT: I'm further confused - the Beast of the Land from Tasha's has this:
If the beast has died within the last hour, you can use your action to touch it and expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher. The beast returns to life after 1 minute with all its hit points restored.>
Huh. Guess that’s what I get for relying on dndbeyond’s character sheet. That does solve one of the main problems I’ve seen with the BM.
 

You can use your Bonus Action to make the beast take ANY action.

You can completely heal your beast with any spell slot if you have 1 minute to spare.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Don't know if it will help much or if your DM would allow it, but when it comes to Animal Companions of any type for Ranger/Druids/Whatever PC has ones, I just use the rules for the Revised Ranger's Beast Conclave's Companion's Bond, no matter if it's a regular trained animal or Tasha's Primal Companion stat block. And IIRC, you use a free action, Verbal, to command said Animal Companion to attack.
Yeah I’ve thought about that. I may look at it. This DM prefers companions to go on thier controller’s turn, but that’s easy to just slightly alter. Not much difference between that and “shares your initiative but goes after you”.
 



doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Your OP gave me the impression you were not using either ability. Seemed worth mentioning.
Ah, ok.

To clarify, the frustration is mostly about how easily the beast is taken out during a fight. @Stormonu pointed out that I had missed the ability to bring the primal companion back by spending a spell slot as an action. That helps, especially since once back it can then move and attack, meaning I can still do dmagage in a turn where I need to do that. I do still think that it could use either more HP or something like absorb elements or evasion or something.

edit: also, the action economy, which is also just a general Ranger problem, alongside concentration, that makes the Ranger’s Spellcasting pretty frustrating.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Okay, so it's not as much that the BM is frustrating, though damage mitigation would be simpler and more user friendly than several ways to heal the thing. It's more that the Ranger has multiple intersecting points of frustrating limitation, and the BM is just the subclass that illustrates this dynamic most clearly.

So the frustrating mechanical conflicts within the Ranger's design (or in the general design of 5e that seems to hit the Ranger harder than many other classes) are:

  • Very limited Spellcasting, with a spell list that speaks to versatility but can't really deliver due to the tiny amount of spells known (I feel like I'm using a 1/3 caster that traded cantrips for more spell slots, at low level, and I'm not sure I think the trade was worth it). Ritual casting would help, or simply more new spells known as you level than is the case. Tasha's helps a bit, in that I've got 3 more spells than I'd have without it, but it's not comparable to prepared casters.
    • I'd simply fix this by having Ranger have the same number of spells known (or a few more) as the paladin has spells prepared. Or make the Ranger a prepared caster, so their toolkit is much more broad than it currently is.
  • Nearly every offensive spell, and most of your other spells besides, are concentration. You cannot nova like a paladin, and you can't even buff the team offensively, which feels like something the ranger should be good at. The PHB Ranger even has to spend spell slots (and concentrate I think), in order to use one of it's exploration powers that isn't a spell!
  • The action economy is pretty bad. The ranger is hyper reliant on the bonus action, and few subclasses mitigate this at all. Favored Foe does in theory, but it is pretty much always less powerful than casting hunter's mark.
    • In the case of the BM, you need to use your bonus action to cast your bread and butter combat spells, to command the beast to attack, to use some ranger class features, and several of your best support spells. The melee ranger simply cannot be a dual wielding beast master.
    • One benefit the BM does have, is that you can have the beast attack in a round where you cast an action spell. Of course, I feel like most ranger subclasses get their main damage buff even when using a turn to cast an offensive spell, but I could be wrong.
 


vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I guess it wont help much since you are not the DM, but I'll still argue that removing the bonus action from dual-wielding does.not.break.anything. It still requires a specific fighting style, a specific kind of weapon, no shield etc. There's enough drawback without putting an additional action economy cost!

Now. There's also the matter of concentration. I think that spells that requires being in the thick of battle should not require concentration. Hunter's Mark, Stoneskin, Smites etc dont need concentration if staple powerhouse spells like spiritual weapon dont need it!

Bonus Action...sigh.... BA spells are now free action, but you can only cast one leveled spell per round anyway. Done.

Then. In combat healing. You know the feat that allows dwarves to spend a HD when they use the dodge action? Well give that to everybody. Removed the Dodge action (dodging is part AC, part Dex saves, its not a specific action: you are always dodging in combat) then bring back Total Defense from 4e. As an action, all attacks have disadvantage and you have advantage on STR and DEX saves. You can spend 1 HD to regain HP. (I could see it being THP, also). This action cant be used if your speed is reduced by an effect (restrained, slow, grapples etc).

So...all of this just to say that rangers and some other classes are weak because the system puts an extra burden on the actions they are supposed to be good at. If a feature is already restricted in a way (once per turn, uses spells slots, limited uses per day, etc), you dont need to put 25 other restrictions on it unless its a reality-altering, world-breaking super power.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I really think the companion should get Evasion.
Also, it stinks that there’s not an option (fighting style, feat, class feature) to let certain classes change two-weapon fighting from a bonus action to no action cost. At the least, ranger and rogue should get the ability (possibly fighter, as part of the two-weapon fighting style).
 

And I can’t heal it, other than taking healing spells which my only reason to take is for the beast. I also am not any better at healing it between fights than I am at healing anyone else. And I still have to wait until a long rest to get him back if he falls. And it has no self-heal.
You missed an extremely important rule here. The rules for the Primal Companion state:
If the beast has died within the last hour, you can use your action to touch it and expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher. The beast returns to life after 1 minute with all its hit points restored.​

I also have a house rule that a primal companion ranger can heal their companion to full for the cost of a 1st level spell slot. They do not have to slit its throat, wait for it to die, and then restore it to spend a slot to return it to full HP.

The lack of any sort of healing for the companion (and it being even harder to get back) was why the PHB companion was of negative use as it basically saddled the entire party with an escort mission
 

I guess it wont help much since you are not the DM, but I'll still argue that removing the bonus action from dual-wielding does.not.break.anything. It still requires a specific fighting style, a specific kind of weapon, no shield etc. There's enough drawback without putting an additional action economy cost!
100% in agreement, and this is a long standing request from tons of players. The amount of investment necessary to get good mileage out of it is opportunity cost enough.
I also have a house rule that a primal companion ranger can heal their companion to full for the cost of a 1st level spell slot. They do not have to slit its throat, wait for it to die, and then restore it to spend a slot to return it to full HP.
Thor's Goats!
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I guess it wont help much since you are not the DM, but I'll still argue that removing the bonus action from dual-wielding does.not.break.anything. It still requires a specific fighting style, a specific kind of weapon, no shield etc. There's enough drawback without putting an additional action economy cost!
I agree.
Now. There's also the matter of concentration. I think that spells that requires being in the thick of battle should not require concentration. Hunter's Mark, Stoneskin, Smites etc dont need concentration if staple powerhouse spells like spiritual weapon dont need it!
Yeah Hunter’s Mark I’m actually okay with because it also has an out of combat benefit that I’ve used and seen used a decent amount.
Ensnaring Strike would also make sense if it wasn’t kinda terrible as a spell, due to how easy it is for it to have absolutely no benefit. I’d say it either needs to keep going until the spell works, and then ends, or it needs to deal extra damage to the target (save for half) when you hit.
Bonus Action...sigh.... BA spells are now free action, but you can only cast one leveled spell per round anyway. Done.
I do think it’s fine for some bonus action spells to stay that way, but most of the attack spells should just be part of the attack action. Which would also remove the need to be concentration.
Then. In combat healing. You know the feat that allows dwarves to spend a HD when they use the dodge action? Well give that to everybody. Removed the Dodge action (dodging is part AC, part Dex saves, its not a specific action: you are always dodging in combat) then bring back Total Defense from 4e. As an action, all attacks have disadvantage and you have advantage on STR and DEX saves. You can spend 1 HD to regain HP. (I could see it being THP, also). This action cant be used if your speed is reduced by an effect (restrained, slow, grapples etc).
That, to me, goes too far. Dodge is a good system feature IMO. Adding some self-healing could be fine, as long as you then beef up class features that give similar self-healing.
So...all of this just to say that rangers and some other classes are weak because the system puts an extra burden on the actions they are supposed to be good at. If a feature is already restricted in a way (once per turn, uses spells slots, limited uses per day, etc), you dont need to put 25 other restrictions on it unless its a reality-altering, world-breaking super power.
Or if you want it to be mutually exclusive with certain other abilities in order to generate a gameplay experience and/or create tactical choices with a cost/benefit analysis.
I really think the companion should get Evasion.
Also, it stinks that there’s not an option (fighting style, feat, class feature) to let certain classes change two-weapon fighting from a bonus action to no action cost. At the least, ranger and rogue should get the ability (possibly fighter, as part of the two-weapon fighting style).
I’d give the rogue the ability to attack as a bonus action regardless of what you do with your action, as well.
You missed an extremely important rule here. The rules for the Primal Companion state:
If the beast has died within the last hour, you can use your action to touch it and expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher. The beast returns to life after 1 minute with all its hit points restored.​
Yeah that was pointed out already upthread.
I also have a house rule that a primal companion ranger can heal their companion to full for the cost of a 1st level spell slot. They do not have to slit its throat, wait for it to die, and then restore it to spend a slot to return it to full HP.
I’d settle for the pet being able to heal itself a few times per day, but that works too.
The lack of any sort of healing for the companion (and it being even harder to get back) was why the PHB companion was of negative use as it basically saddled the entire party with an escort mission
Yeah it got real painful at high level where even if you got a freebie upgrade to a CR 1/2 or even 1 critter, they were still dying from AoEs pretty easily.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Okay, so without making big changes to the general rules, looking at what remains after my glaring oversights, what is to be done, I wonder.


Some ideas.

  • Move shared spells down to 7, along with making the beast's attacks magical, keep Bestial Fury at level 11, allow the beast to take the dash, dodge, disengage, or help action without needing any of your action economy, right from level 3.
    • Also at level 3, you can understand the beast as if you shared a language.
    • At level 15, you and the beast deal extra damage on attacks when the target is within 5ft of the other.
    • All this would help to make the beast actually a scouting benefit, as well.
  • Give the beast a self-heal, and an at-will "spend a minute to heal the beast for 2d6" feature.
  • Give the subclass a feature that lets you share special senses stuff, like darkvision or blindsight.
  • Combine the revised Ranger subclass (other than the level 5 replacement for extra attack) with the Tasha's Beast of The Whatever statblocks.
  • Just let the beast be a familiar with a Beast of The Whatever statblock, which is much simpler than the rest of my ideas.
 

Maybe as an archer, your beast and you should never be that close together to be caught in the same area of attack.

You can also use spells to protect your animal companion.

The amount of extra of extra hp the beast brings to the table can be a big advantage in other fights, so it is a tradeoff.

My solution however would be adding the option of spending your hit dice to heal the beast companion. That way the extra hp don't come from nothing, but you can give transfer your hp reserves to the beast. I would also not mind lowering shared spells to level 7 or even below.
 

Another idea, though again is more of an unofficial patch or fix, is to give your Ranger the Whirling Blades Fighting Style by Mike Mearls during one of his Happy Fun Hours streams. Basically, if you're a Ranger and only wearing Light/No Armor when Two Weapon Fighting, you get a "free" use of your Bonus Action, while adding your STR or DEX Modifier to your Damage Rolls. The second time you use your Bonus Action during your turn is when your Bonus Action is actually spent.

This would allow you to not only be able to use the Bonus Action attack when Two Weapon Fighting, but should still allow you to "actually" use your additional Bonus Action to command your Beast Companion to do its thing.

Of course, the catch 22 is, It's pretty much a modified Two Weapon Fighting style fix and isn't technically official so it would be a whole lotta DM fiat/Ask the DM to see if you could take it. (On the plus side, it's intended as a Ranger Only Fighting Style which is a clear shout out back to when it kinda became the iconic Ranger fighting style image.)

But it would help a tad bit with the Bonus Actions and not having enough as a Ranger.

Look I'm only a Troubleshooter, not a miracle worker when it comes to finding a solution: I just make it work.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Maybe as an archer, your beast and you should never be that close together to be caught in the same area of attack.
The beast is a melee combatant. It’ll get hit by AoEs on occasion.
You can also use spells to protect your animal companion.
You can, sure. Few of your best protection spells have a range other than self, IIRC, and you have very few spells known, however.
The amount of extra of extra hp the beast brings to the table can be a big advantage in other fights, so it is a tradeoff.
Not all trade offs are good.
My solution however would be adding the option of spending your hit dice to heal the beast companion. That way the extra hp don't come from nothing, but you can give transfer your hp reserves to the beast. I would also not mind lowering shared spells to level 7 or even below.
Yeah I think honestly one thing that would help is if you can just apply any class features or spells that affect you to also affect the pet at a fairly low level. It costs something, and doesn’t complicate the subclass, and doesn’t make the “trade off” negative.
Another idea, though again is more of an unofficial patch or fix, is to give your Ranger the Whirling Blades Fighting Style by Mike Mearls during one of his Happy Fun Hours streams. Basically, if you're a Ranger and only wearing Light/No Armor when Two Weapon Fighting, you get a "free" use of your Bonus Action, while adding your STR or DEX Modifier to your Damage Rolls. The second time you use your Bonus Action during your turn is when your Bonus Action is actually spent.

This would allow you to not only be able to use the Bonus Action attack when Two Weapon Fighting, but should still allow you to "actually" use your additional Bonus Action to command your Beast Companion to do its thing.

Of course, the catch 22 is, It's pretty much a modified Two Weapon Fighting style fix and isn't technically official so it would be a whole lotta DM fiat/Ask the DM to see if you could take it. (On the plus side, it's intended as a Ranger Only Fighting Style which is a clear shout out back to when it kinda became the iconic Ranger fighting style image.)

But it would help a tad bit with the Bonus Actions and not having enough as a Ranger.

Look I'm only a Troubleshooter, not a miracle worker when it comes to finding a solution: I just make it work.
I think that may also be accomplished by saying, “Once per round when you take the attack action while wielding two weapons, you can make an additional attack as part of the same action, rather than as a bonus action.”
 

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