Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Animal BuddyA Guide to the Ranger’s Beast Companion
As originally published by Lord_Ventnor on the Wizards of the Coast message boards
Also available on Google Docs.
As originally published by Lord_Ventnor on the Wizards of the Coast message boards
Also available on Google Docs.
I will be using four different ratings for this guide, denoted by the following colors:
Blue choices are excellent. It’s hard to go wrong with one of these buddies.
Green choices are good. Maybe not top-tier, but you’ll do well with this choice.
Purple choices are situational. It could be good in the right situation, but probably not good.
Red choices are traps. Avoid these at all costs.
Special Thanks to:
- Other D&D Guide writers on the internet, whose format I’m shamelessly stealing.
- Undrhil on the D&D forums, for proofreading this
- Anyone and everyone reading. Thanks for giving this a look!
The Beast Master SpecializationNow, before we get into things, let’s take a look at the Beast Master Specialization to start with. At 3rd level, you get Ranger’s Companion, which gives you the beast companion. There are a few important things to note here:
- Your Ranger Companion has to be a beast. No pseudodragons, no imps, no skeletons. Your buddy is all-natural.
- Your Ranger Companion has to be Medium size or smaller. If you want to play a mounted ranger, you need to be small sized like a Halfling or a Gnome.
- Your companion has to have a 1/4 challenge rating or lower. So no bears as of now.
These limitations mean you can’t just pick any old beast, but its not all bad. Your beast companion adds your proficiency bonus to its AC, attack rolls, damage rolls, skills it’s proficient in, and saving throws that it’s proficient in. You also can boost its HP as you level too, though it will never have as many hit points as you do.
The beast moves as you direct it without you needing to take an action; however, if you want it to dash, disengage, or attack, then you must use your action. Once you hit 5th level, you can instead give up one of your two attacks to have your beast attack instead. This might seem like a bad deal at first, but some of the beasts you have access to have some pretty gnarly attacks. If you’re in your favored terrain, you can move stealthily without needing to slow down if your beast is near you, which means it doesn’t negatively impact your scouting role at all. If anything, having another set of eyes can be pretty helpful. Finally, if your beast ends up dying, you can bond with a new one after a long rest. And because all your companions are going to end up with 4 x your level hit points, you might need to make another animal friend at some point.
When you hit 7th level, if you don’t have your beast attack with an action, you can instead use your bonus action to have your beast do a helpful thing that isn’t an attack. Having your beast perform a help action can be very useful, especially since they can allow the party rogue to make a sneak attack or make the Battle Master’s next maneuver really count.
At level 11, when you command your beast to make an attack, it attacks twice. This means with the extra attack you make, you’re making 3 attacks total, at a minimum; depending on the beast companion you have or what kind of fighting style you use, you might be making even more attacks.
Finally, at level 15, you can share spells with your beast. It has to be a spell that you cast, but your Hunter’s mark can affect both of you, both you and your buddy can benefit from stoneskin, and your cure spell gets double value. It’s not a bad feature at all.
Looking at the BeastsI’m going to be evaluating each of the beasts primarily by how helpful they can be in combat, though I’ll also note any useful exploration bonuses that they could have. I’ll be listing each beast according to its source and its challenge rating. Generally, beasts with a higher challenge rating are going to be more useful than beasts with a lower one. There will also be a glossary of beast abilities after this section.
Player’s Handbook BeastsThese creatures can be found in the player’s handbook, and most DMs will let you take one.
Challenge 0These are generally intended to be summoned by Wizards or Warlocks with Find Familiar, but if you want a flying beast, these may be your only options.
Bat - An absolutely terrible companion in combat, but they have the best blindsight out of every beast and keen hearing, so they can make decent scouts.
Cat - It’s trained in perception and stealth, has keen smell, and can climb fairly fast. Don’t expect much from it on the combat front, though.
Frog - No attacks, which makes many of your class features absolutely useless. Pass.
Hawk - It flies and has advantage on seeing things, but it’s inferior compared to the owl.
Owl - Less accurate than the hawk, but you’re not taking these companions because they’re combat monsters. It has keen sight and hearing, darkvision, and flyby. The owl is pretty much your best option for a scouting creature in the Player’s Handbook.
Rat - It has darkvision and can smell well, but that’s about it.
Raven - Ravens are the only beasts right now with mimicry. That’s the reason to have one.
Challenge ⅛We’re starting to get somewhere decent, but these companions tend to get outclassed by the ¼ CR beasts.
Mastiff - The mastiff isn’t exactly bad, it’s just that a wolf does what it does but better. If a wolf is off the table, though, you could do worse than having a companion that can knock enemies prone, along with keen hearing and smell. Plus it’s a dog, and some people like dogs.
Mule - Mules are beasts of burden with sure-footed. They’re also about as close to a horse as you’re going to get, since the horses found in the Player’s Handbook are all size large.
Poisonous Snake - A Poisonous snake can potentially do a lot of damage, but it all depends on its poison bite. It also has blindsight and a swim speed, so there’s some utility there.
Challenge ¼You’re probably going to end up choosing one of these three beasts. Among other things, each of them can knock foes prone on failed a strength saves. This can help melee allies as it will grant them advantage, although ranged allies will face disadvantage.
Boar - Of the three ¼ beasts in the Player’s Handbook, the Boar is the toughest. It’s the only beast so far with the relentless trait, though the trait is tied to a 7 hit point threshold. It also needs to charge to make the most of its tusk attacks.
Panther - Probably the most powerful beast companion, combat-wise. This is because it’s the only beast companion right now which gets pounce. It’s sort of situational, but can be pretty deadly in the right circumstances. They also have keen smell.
Wolf - Wolves are all about advantage. They have pack attack, keen hearing and smell, and every bite attack they make has a chance of knocking an enemy prone, which means advantage for other allies in melee. While the panther is more likely to deal more damage in a single round, wolves have more overall utility.
Challenge 0Of all these beasts, only the octopus does some kind of unique things.
Baboon - Baboons have pack tactics and a climb speed, but with bad offense.
Badger - If you want a badger companion, look for a giant one. Trust me.
Crab - You could get a giant crab instead. Pass.
Deer - Deer are fast, and that’s about it. They’re not even the fastest companion, at that.
Eagle - Eagles are a slightly buffed Hawk. If you really want a bird, look elsewhere though.
Giant Fire Beetle - So far the only beast companion with illumination. Their attack sucks, though.
Goat - Goats are boars with a weaker charge and sure-footed instead of relentless. Pass.
Hyena - It’s a mastiff, but not as good.
Jackal - Like a wolf, but lamer. Sensing a pattern here?
Lizard - Lizards don’t really bring anything to the table that you couldn’t find elsewhere.
Octopus - The octopus has some unique abilities, such as grappling, an ink cloud, and underwater camouflage. However, they’re dependent on water.
Quipper - An odd name for what’s essentially a piranha. And one piranha on its own isn’t really that threatening, even if it does have blood frenzy.
Scorpion - Scorpions have venom, as you might expect, but said venom isn’t very good at all.
Seahorse - Only lives in the water, and has no attacks. Pass.
Spider - Spiders have spider climb, web sense, and web walker, which means that they’re pretty mobile. Their combat stats aren’t that good, though, even considering the poison damage they add on a failed Constitution save.
Vulture - Vultures can fly, have keen sight and smell, and have pack attack. Their attacks aren’t much to speak of, though.
Weasel - Weasels aren’t really that interesting. Keen hearing and smell and that’s it.
Challenge ⅛You’ve got some interesting options now. Some even compete with the ¼ beasts.
Blood Hawk - Their attack is a little weak, but they do have keen sight and pack tactics. They’re is the best bird companion that you can get at the moment. Not the best flying animal companion, though, since they lack flyby.
Flying Snake - It’s a snake, but it can fly! What’s interesting about this beast is that the venom delivered by its bite affects foes with no Constitution save allowed. So it’s better than most of the other poisoners, but still not good against foes that resist poison, since its damage is pitiful without its poison. Flyby and 10-foot blindsense round out the package.
Giant Crab - Giant Crabs are amphibious and they can grapple up to two foes at once. This can be pretty effective in making dodgy foes stay put. They also have one of the highest AC values of any beast companion along with 30 ft. of blindsight, so that’s a big plus.
Giant Rat - Giant Rats honestly don’t offer that much. They have darkvision, pack tactics, and keen smell, but they’re not good trackers and not good fighters.
Giant Weasel - They can be half-decent scouts, but their combat stats aren’t really good compared to some of the other companions.
Pony - The only horse companion you can get. It’s speed is terrible, but it rolls two damage dice for its attacks, if that is something you’re looking for.
Stirge - It’s a horrid mosquito monster, but if you want one, you can take it. If it hits with an attack, it attaches to the foe it hit and starts automatically dealing damage. The enemy can dislodge it with an action, which means it spent its action not doing anything dangerous.
Challenge ¼These are probably the most powerful beast companions you can get. There are some neat creatures to look at in this category.
Giant Badger - Giant Badgers are the only beast companions thus far that can make a multiattack as one of their actions. This is pretty awesome, as you might suspect, since this means you get 3 attacks at level 5, and 5 attacks at level 11. As far as a pure combat monster, a giant badger is as dangerous as it gets.
Giant Centipede - The most powerful small companion, without a doubt. Its poison can paralyze foes it drops to 0 hp instead of killing them, which makes giant centipedes a good choice if you’re the kind of Ranger who prefers taking his quarry alive. They also have a decent climb speed and 30-foot blindsight, which is pretty cool.
Giant Frog - These beasts can eat small enemies, which is vaguely disturbing. Other than that, they can grapple and restrain foes, which makes them a more controlling kind of companion. They’re also fairly mobile, as they have both the amphibious and standing leap.
Giant Poisonous Snake - If you’re a snake fan, it’s either this or the flying snake. The poison damage only occurs on a failed Constitution save, but it’s pretty decent without the poison damage, so the snake is still an effective combatant even when faced with poison-resistant or -immune enemies. They even have a 10-foot reach for this attack, a benefit that no other beast companion gets. Giant poisonous snakes also have 10-foot blindsight and a swim speed, though those are more bonuses than the main selling point.
Giant Wolf Spider - Like giant centipedes, Giant Wolf Spiders have a toxic bite that can paralyze foes instead of killing them. Said poison is less potent, but in return these spiders have spider climb, websense, and web walker. You’re choosing between power or mobility here, though do note that it is harder to hide a medium spider than it is to hide a small centipede. They have 10-foot blindsight, darkvision, and a +7 Stealth bonus too.
Pteranodon - I’m gonna go ahead and call this the best beast companion. First point of order, its a freakin’ dinosaur, and those are always cool. Second, its a medium creature that flies. Enjoy being a halfling archer who rains death from above! And if that doesn’t appeal to you, the Pteranodon has flyby, which means it’s pretty effective at striking enemies and then retreating before they can do anything about it.
A Glossary of Beast Abilities
Beast of Burden: Beasts of burden are considered 1 size category larger when determining their carrying capacity. So they can carry a lot of stuff like a beast of… you get the idea.
Blindsight: Beasts with blindsight don’t need light to perceive their surroundings. Any darkness, magical or not, isn’t going to impede their perception at all.
Blood Frenzy: These beasts gain advantage on melee attack rolls against foes who have taken damage. Generally reserved for quippers and sharks.
Burrow: Beasts with a burrow speed can move through the earth. This tends to be slow going at best, though.
Charge: Beasts with charge deal extra damage if they move at least 20 feet before they make an attack during their turn. The attack also forces the enemy to make a strength saving throw or fall prone.
Climb: Creatures with a climb speed don’t need to make ability checks to climb.
Darkvision: This is the same sense that elves and dwarves get in the basic rules.
Echolocation: Beasts with echolocation use sound waves to feel out their surrounding. Thus, their senses can be impaired if they become deafened.
Fly: Beasts with a fly speed can move in three dimensions. This can be incredibly useful as you might expect, though beasts who can fly also tend to not be as physically powerful as their more terrestrial counterparts.
Flyby: Beasts with flyby don’t provoke opportunity attacks when they move by flying. This makes them excellent skirmishers who can attack a foe and then fly out of melee range before they can get hurt.
Grapple: Some beasts can initiate a grapple as part of their attacks. Rules for grappling can be found in chapter 9 of the basic rules.
Hold Breath: These creatures can survive in water/out of water (depending on if they’re water breathing or not) for an extended period of time. Not quite as good as amphibious.
Illumination: These beasts can shed bright light in a 10-foot radius, which becomes dim light for another 10-foot radius. This light can’t be turned off.
Ink Cloud: The beast can generate a cloud of ink that obscures the area its in. So far, this ability can only be used underwater. It also can only be used once per short or long rest.
Keen Hearing: This ability grants beasts advantage on Wisdom (perception) checks to hear. Listening to detect hard-to-find enemies or environmental anomalies can be useful.
Keen Sight: Beasts with keen sight have advantage on Wisdom (perception) checks to see things. Probably the least useful of the Keen sense abilities, but still good overall.
Keen Smell: These beasts have advantage on Wisdom (perception) checks to smell things. This makes them pretty good trackers and good at pinpointing hidden or invisible enemies.
Mimicry: Beasts with mimicry can mimic sounds that they’ve heard. If a foe succeeds on an insight check, though, then they know that said sounds aren’t the real deal.
Multiattack: Beasts with multiattack can make multiple attacks as one action. This means they can deal a lot of damage pretty fast, as you might expect.
Pack Tactics: Beasts with this ability get advantage on melee attacks against enemies next to one of their allies. As such, they tend to work best if you have a melee-heavy party or you prefer using blades to bows.
Poison: Some beasts, such as snakes or spiders, can deal extra poison damage when they hit with their attacks. Generally, the enemy has to fail a constitution save or else they resist the poison, which means that they don’t take the extra damage. There are some enemies, like constructs, elementals, or the undead, who are either resistant or immune to poison damage.
Pounce: If a beast with the pounce attack moves 20 feet before they attack, then the attack can knock a foe prone if said foe fails a strength save. The pouncing beast then gets to make an extra attack as a bonus action. Obviously, beasts with this ability are pretty powerful combatants, though the strength save doesn’t really scale.
Relentless: Beasts with this trait can survive blows that might otherwise kill them. If the damage is under a threshold (say, 7 hit points) and would reduce the beast to 0 hit points, then the beast is reduced to 1 hit point instead. Unlike other beast abilities, the beast has to take a short or long rest before using this ability again.
Spider Climb: Beasts with spider climb can climb on walls and ceiling without having to make an ability check of any kind. So it’s basically climb +.
Standing Leap: Some beasts can jump really well without needing a running start.
Sure-Footed: Sure-footed beasts have advantage on strength and dexterity saving throws against being knocked prone.
Swallow: Some beasts can swallow smaller creatures whole. Swallowed creatures are blinded, restrained, and take automatic acid damage every turn.
Swim: Creatures with a swim speed can move in the water without needing to make an ability check. They also tend to be have either the amphibious or water breathing traits.
Underwater Camouflage: Beasts with this ability gain advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made underwater.
Water Breathing: This beast can only live in the water. If it leaves the water, it will die. Generally not good.
Websense: Generally a spider-only ability, websense allows beasts to detect the location of creatures on a web they’re in contact with.
Web Walker: Another spider ability that allows them to walk on webs while ignoring any movement penalties they would otherwise take.