Beasts, monsters, creatures, animals, lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my! There are a lot of terms in D&D, and some of them can get pretty confusing.
Today we’re talking about beasts, and if you don’t spend your days with your nose in source books (Hi, it’s me) then you might be pretty confused on what exactly a beast is.
“Beasts are nonhumanoid creatures that are a natural part of the fantasy ecology. Some of them have magical powers, but most are unintelligent and lack any society or language. Beasts include all variety of ordinary animals, dinosaurs, and giant versions of animals”
– Monster Manual, pg. 6
There you have it. There are many monster types in 5e, collectively referred to as either monsters or less commonly, creatures.
As someone who’s flipped through a thesaurus or two, I understand the confusion that can crop up. One more time for people in the back. All beasts are monsters, but not all monsters are beasts.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff. Beasts have a huge part in the world of D&D. From spells like Speak with Animals or Polymorph, to the druid’s wildshape ability, all the way to encounters and squaring off against a tyrannosaurus rex, beasts are sure to make an appearance at your table
Beasts of 5e
At the time of writing this article, there are almost 200 different types of beasts published in official 5e content. That’s a pretty big zoo. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than half of those are under CR 1.
In a world full of dragons, giants, and living breathing gods, it makes sense that bats, frogs, and giant flies aren’t going to be the most threatening things you face.
Still, beasts make great fodder for DMs to throw at their players early on, and anything CR 6 or lower is fair game for druids to wild shape into.
We’ll get into druids a bit later on, but I’ll give you some sample beasts and a bit of their stats to wet the palette.
- Cat; Cr 0
- Tiny, AC 12, HP 2
- Giant Crab; CR ⅛
- Medium, AC 15, HP 13 (3d8)
- Elk; CR ¼
- Large, AC 10, HP 13 (2d10 + 2)
- Black Bear; CR ½
- Medium, AC 11, HP 19 (3d8 + 6)
- Dire Wolf; CR 1
- Large, AC 14, HP 37 (5d10 + 10)
- Hunter Shark; CR 2
- Large, AC 12, HP 45 (6d10 + 12)
- Giant Scorpion; CR 3
- Large, AC 15, HP 52 (7d10 +14)
- Elephant; CR 4
- Huge, AC 12, HP 76 (8d12 + 24)
- Obliteros; CR 5
- Huge, AC 13, HP 126 (11d12 + 55)
- Mammoth; CR 6
- Huge, AC 13, HP 126 (11d12 + 55)
- Giant Ape; CR 7
- Huge, AC 12, HP 157 (15d12 + 60)
- Tyrannosaurus Rex; CR 8
- Huge, AC 13, HP 136 (13d12 + 52)
- Traxigor; CR 12
- Listen… don’t fight this otter okay. Be nice murderhobos for once.
You can find a full list of beasts sorted by CR at DNDBeyond here.
Most of these creatures make their way with natural armor and weapons, so you’ll see a lot of bites, claws, and other attacks made with body parts.
While you don’t have to worry about a lot of magic abilities, you’re almost always going to be dealing with multiattacks and things like goring, pouncing, and charging. Wild creatures use their ferocity to get the upper hand.
This carries into the creatures’ ability scores. Most often we see high strength, dexterity, and wisdom, with the mental stats significantly lagging behind.
Of the mental stats, intelligence is quite often the lowest score falling somewhere between 1 and 5 with substantial negative modifiers.
Facing a beast and pulling out a psychic spell like Mind Sliver or Tasha’s Mind Whip that requires an intelligence saving throw is a really safe way to deal some good damage.
Aside from the straight forward features, we see that most beasts have good senses or mobility, or both. Flying, climbing, and swimming speeds are all incredibly common amongst beasts.
There are quite a few spells that deal with beasts. Rather than just simply dealing more damage to them, these spells can get quite interactive.
Let’s talk about a few of them and how they really work.
Speak with Animals; 1st Level Divination
This spell lets you communicate with beasts. There’s a pretty simple line I think a lot of us miss where it says “the knowledge and awareness of many beasts is limited by their intelligence.”
As we talked about, most beasts are really lacking in the intelligence department. Typically 5 or less intelligence is very dismal, so you won’t be having an intense political debate with a frog anytime soon.
I’m guilty of misunderstanding this spell based on the name. I thought it gave the little creatures a voice and let you cinderella around with them.
I mean, I’ve given a squirrel a jersey accent and had it give directions through the forest like it was city blocks. Not my best moment when it comes to playing by the rules, but it sure was fun.
In reality, this spell, and similar features offered by druids, rangers, or even nature domain clerics all allow you to communicate. It doesn’t make them any smarter or suddenly grant them speech.
Instead, DMs can describe different gestures and cues the animals might make to signify something. The caster should then be able to easily understand what’s going on. An example of a RAW interpretation of this spell is as follows:
“The squirrel motions towards a tree and paws at the ground. His ears ruffle and he makes a series of chirps which you understand to be a warning of caution. It’s clear to you that there are dryads living in the trees and they are very upset at something that’s been going on.”
A really good place to look at this is in how Disney portrays its colorful animal sidekicks. Sven the reindeer from Frozen is so good at communicating with his human companion that Kristoff easily understands what the creatures’ subtle motions mean.
Conjure Animals; 3rd Level Conjuration
This spell, and a few other conjuration spells with similar wording, give the player a choice. They can summon up beasts with a total of 2 CR. This can be split into eight ¼ CR (or lower), four ½ CR (or lower), two 1 CR (or lower), and finally one big old 2 CR creature.
It should also be noted that while these are beasts for all intents and purposes, they also qualify as fey, because in actuality you’re summoning fey spirits which take the form of beasts.
Really cool right? It’s also incredibly powerful, keeping the theme that a lot of other 3rd level spells set by giving the caster a huge power jump. You can even upcast it and make as many as 32 beasts that have a combat rating of ⅛ or lower.
Conjuring creatures can be a lot of work, but this is an amazing spell and it is worth every second of time put into it. There’s a few problems that can come up when a druid conjures up 8 beasts all at once that we’re going to cover so this can be the best experience at your table.
First up, eight creatures means a player has nine turns, that’s a lot. It means pulling out the stats for a whole slew of creatures and being able to run them. Typically this falls on the player or the DM, and that means that everyone else at the table has way longer of a time to wait.
Put this in the hands of a player with analysis paralysis and you might end up with a 5 hour combat. That’s the worst case scenario though.
There are a few solutions for this that make it fun for everyone. One that I’m a big fan of is letting your fellow party members control some of the beasts as well.
Hopefully, you have a group that works well together and will make conjuring up a pack of wolves a fun experience.
Another solution is to treat the beasts you summon as a horde. This makes tactics a bit harder, but if you’re just going to be using them to attack then one roll should be plenty.
You can even roll two at time and split them up into smaller groups if you want to still get some battlefield control in there.
The final solution is to be prepared. Players should be figuring out their next moves when it’s not their turn anyways, but that goes even more so when your next move is going to be 9 turns long. Have everything planned and your turn doesn’t have to be much longer than it takes to speak and roll a few dice.
The next problem is one that’s a source of a lot of contention in the community. Should players be able to choose which beasts they summon? According to Jeremy Crawford, a WotC writer and editor, and the voice of the Sage Advice column, no.
At least that’s not the intent of the spell as written. RAI dictates that the player only chooses how many creatures and of what CR they are. It’s then at the DM’s discretion to figure out which beasts get brought in.
As a “nice” DM, I tend to let players choose which animals they bring to the party, but I have one consistent rule. Bring your own stat blocks. If you want to conjure up a giant toad or a swarm of flying snakes, be my guest.
I’m not rifling through the internet or my monster manual to find them. Part of learning your spells is knowing what you’re going to do with them.
Pro Tip: Conjuring up Chaos
The best beast to conjure up is a group of 8 wolves. Their pact tactics ability means that when they’re within 5 feet of an ally they get advantage. Keep your wolves in a tight formation and they’ll be biting your enemies with extreme precision.
Their bite also has the potential to knock creatures prone, creating even more advantage for other melee combatants in your party.
Polymorph; 4th Level Transmutation
One of the coolest spells that deals with beasts is the amazing Polymorph and its counterpart Mass Polymorph. These spells let you turn a creature (or many) into another creature.
Not just any creature though, this spell specifies that you have to turn a creature into a beast. Specifically, any beast that is equal to or less than the target’s level. Druids can eat my dust, I’m turning into a T-Rex.
This spell is just so powerful because you can use it to turn an evil pit fiend into a toad or to turn your barbarian into a dinosaur and watch the gates of hell swing wide open.
There’s not a lot to talk about, but it’s important to point out that the only things a creature retains are its alignment and personality. Everything else gets replaced by the beast’s statistics, which means you don’t get to stay in rage if you change forms.
In fact, any active class feature would be ended. The only things that don’t end are spells or effects placed upon you by an outside entity that isn’t transformed.
If you had barkskin cast on you, preventing your AC from dropping below 16, and you were to transform into a T-Rex with 13 AC, your armor class would remain at 16 because the spell isn’t a part of your character’s game statistics.
Find Familiar; 1st Level Conjuration
This is an interesting spell that wizards get a hold off that allows them to create any of a few beasts listed in the spell’s description. Like Conjure Animals, these are actually fey, fiend, or celestial spirits taking the form of a beast.
In fact, these creatures don’t even have the monster type beast, just the statistics of one.
Instead of a powerful combat spell though, Find Familiar lets you summon up a little helper. They stay with you until they drop to 0 hit points and don’t attack, although they can make any other actions.
The benefit they give to their casters, aside from being really cute and fun for roleplay, is in the fact that the caster can see and hear through their eyes. You can even cast spells with a range of touch through the familiar as long as it’s within 100 feet of you.
Wild Shape and Beast Companions
There are a few abilities classes might get that deal directly with beasts. While we cover them in more detail in our class and subclass guides, it’s important to at least discuss them a bit here.
The two that we’ll bring up are the wild shape ability of druids and the companion that the beast master conclave of ranger gets.
Wild shape is a transformation that druids undergo where they take on the form of a beast. When they change forms they choose a beast ( max ¼ CR at 2nd level, ½ CR at 4th level, and 1 CR at 8th level) and take on most of its stat block.
Unlike the transformations a character undergoes when subject to polymorph, druids get to keep their class abilities and their mental ability scores. This means that they can cast spells before they wild shape and hold concentration while in their new form, or benefit from other abilities like rage or sneak attack if they happen to be multiclassed.
Aside from being super cool, this allows druids to get right up into the fray without having to worry about impressive physical ability scores or crazy weapons. It also makes them so much more durable.
One of the great features of wild shape is that the hit points of the beast you transform into essentially act like temporary hit points. Once you get knocked to 0 in your animal form you revert to your original self with all your hit points intact. That is unless you take extra damage, but again, temporary hit points.
Druids use this to transform into some amazing creatures, once they get to 8th level they can even use it to transform into flying creatures and get a bird’s eye view of the battlefield before swooping in for the kill.
Of course, there is no druid better at wild shaping than the circle of the moon. They surpass the normal CR limits along with some other cool abilities that let them become far more powerful than your average druid can dream of.
Once they hit 18th level they can wild shape into creatures with a combat rating of as high as 6. That’s a mammoth with 126 hit points and a stomp attack that deals over 4d10 of damage! If you really want to be in tune with the beast within, this is the way to go.
Beast Master Conclave
This is a subclass of ranger that quite frankly used to be garbage. When it was originally published in the PHB, it only let you have a beast companion that had a CR of ¼.
The beasts in this challenge tier are too weak to focus a subclass around, and the community knew it. Luckily, the writers listened and we got a rewrite that let us choose from three custom beasts.
The beast of the land, sea, or sky are stat blocks accompanying the subclass in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything that feel much more akin to a CR 1 beast and it’s AC and hit points scale nicely in conjunction with your level.
What’s more is that after choosing the type, you get to decide what animal you want it to be, and you’re by no means restricted to the published beasts. Using them as a reference you can have sharks, giant crabs, pterodactyls, hyenas, you name it, it’s yours.
So there you have it. I hope this has cleared up what beasts are in 5e, and made you excited to go play with some animals. Now as my Speak with Animals squirrel once said “Go on! Get out of here! I got nuts to eat!” And as always, happy adventuring.