Time issues again, but that doesn’t mean, I can’t post anything. Just an overview is too much, especially now we got to the paladin, which is a very diverse class, bringing defending, striking, healing and even more to the table. For now we talk about a thing, which had my attention for a while: The ranger subclass Beast Master.
While this subclass is fairly easy to understand, it’s difficult to play it. All features but the very basic one (and partially Share Spells) are all about enhancing the combat abilities of the companion of yours. But let’s concentrate on the basic one for now: To have an animal companion at all! What are the benefits between an animal companion and a trained animal?
- Animal Companions got better stats
- Animal Companions aren’t running that free, your bound gives you an amount of control
- Said Control means, you have to use (Bonus) Actions or an attack
- Animal Companions won’t do actions unless you command one
- Animal Companions are able to join in stealth-mode as fast as yourself in your favorite terrain
- 8 hours beats training for weeks for combat readiness
- sadly only up to medium size, so the medium-sized ranger wouldn’t get a steed. But gnomes and halflings flying on Pteranodons are A-OK!
Even though the survivability of the beast is better than that of other beasts of its kind, it will be always kinda squishy and even though you can muster a great offensive potential, it won’t survive many of the stronger attacks and spells.
But I’m kinda tight on time, so I’ll not dig too deeply into it. For me, the Animal Companion is all about having a companion and a special bound to it, to have it trained and a trusted and useful friend and not a class feature, which I can regain after 8 hours bonding (I rather stick to the same companion) and if you see it that way, too, you might consider to take an animal companion, which aren’t as combat-focused. For combat-focused ones, I’d like to introduce this guide. These picks are some special ones, which either carries a lot of fluff or ultimate out-of-combat usefulness!
These are those in the Appendix D of the PHB. There are some good choices in the DM-Base Rules and the MM (which I don’t possess at the moment, since it sucks to live in Europe when it comes to attaining rule books for U.S.-games). But time issues.
The Scouts: These animals are pretty good at scouting, either due their size, their senses and sometimes even both.
- Bat: Best blindsense so far, can fly, can almost take over your whole job in the darkness
- Cat: Climb, good senses and stealth
- Hawk: Good senses and such, but inferior to the owl stat-wise in every way. At least if the DM allows the owl to be awake during the whole day.
- Owl: Most likely best scout companion in existence. Might be night-active, depending on your DM. In my campaigns they will be.
- Rat: Can squeeze into tiny holes and have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks for smelling. Not much, but at least a bit.
The Spies: Other than scouts, these animals are mostly about fitting into urban environment, since the ranger simply lacks in that one.
- Cat: Use its scout abilities in the urban area! There are tons of cats in any human settlement.
- Mastiff: Or any other dog, less obvious than wolfs. And sometimes simply more fluffy.
- Rat: The reason why there are so many cats. Because there are much more rats!
The Surprises: These animal companions are either great psychological threats, secret weapons and guardians or have other forms of surprising hapless NPCs and monsters.
- Frog: More meant to be a familiar, but seriously: I would be surprise to see a ranger to actually and totally waste all these attack enhancers for his companion by picking one which can’t attack!
- Mule: If you have a beast of burden for your loot, you should be fair and make it a full member of the party, right? And it’s like a secret weapon, because who would think that actually a mule is a ranger’s beast friend?!
- Poisonous Snake: A little blindsight (not enough to spy), a swim speed and poison, which is better used out of combat instead of in-combat.
- Rat: Most people are disgust by rats. Maybe because they carries plagues.
- Raven: Mimicry! Wonderful utility ability, especially on a bird.
My personal pick: The Rat! Why? Because rats are everywhere, so it can blend in totally fine. It can fit into most holes, means that it can even scout ahead to look into houses, etc. And the most important one: To use Sleight of Hand to get my rat under the clothes of my enemy, let’s see if the enemy is desperate enough to hit basically himself with spells or weapons, to get an annoyance out of the way. Even though strictly speaking there is no damage roll involved in its bite, so the proficiency bonus as an animal companion wouldn’t kick in… at least if your DM sees it like that. I’d definitely allow this.
You can carry it in your pocket, use it as an interrogation help and smuggle it into about everywhere. Even if the stats aren’t too promising, the utility you can get out of it is pretty good.