Animal companions go back a long way in Dungeons and Dragons. Druids and Rangers alike always had one as a core feature.
In 5e, the animal companion became strictly a feature for the Beastmaster Ranger. That made sense: the wanderer with a special connection to an animal is iconic in fantasy.
However, Beastmaster Rangers have always been contested. The general complaint was that the animal companion should also gain power as the Ranger gains power.
In 3e, the animal companion got stronger, larger, or faster or even gained a magical ability or two.
This doesn’t happen in 5e. In fact, until 5th level, you have to spend your entire action telling your beast what to do. I mean, shouldn’t your companion have an idea of what is expected? We wanted a companion not a puppet.
5e seemed to be allergic to adding more allies to the game board in general, and the Beastmaster got hit hard by that bias.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything addressed this by offering a variant ability that gives Beastmasters the ability to summon a generic companion that can change depending on your needs.
The Beastmaster idea is still cool, though. If you’ve seen Hidalgo, Beastmaster, or even Lassie, the draw of a humanoid/animal connection is obviously strong.
If you still want to do it in 5e without relying on tons of homebrew, then your choice of animal companion will determine your abilities and your usefulness.
What Is an Animal Companion?
A Beastmaster Ranger gains the loyalty and friendship of a Beast with a CR of ¼ or lower. All of the Beastmaster abilities focus on the use of this companion.
In this post, we will have a comprehensive list of the different uses, tactical decisions, and character builds that can benefit from different types of companions.
As a Beastmaster Ranger, you can be in a few different places on the field, and each role requires a different type of companion.
To make this process even easier, we’ve included our normal Black Citadel color-coded rating system.
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the power and effectiveness of your character build very much if at all. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice but are largely less effective than other tiers.
- Green is a good option – Solid but nothing special OR pretty good but only useful sometimes.
- Blue is an excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
- Purple is S Tier. Hugely powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are strongly worth considering when you create your character.
Best Companions for Mounted Rangers (Ranged or Melee)
Mounted combat is easily your best choice for a Beastmaster ranger. You will get the most use out of your companion that way.
Since you won’t be able to attack on your turn without commanding your companion until 5th level and you won’t be able to do anything else until 7th level, using your companion as a mount gives you the most benefit.
Therefore, you’ll need to be a halfling, a gnome, a goblin, a kobold, or any other Small playable race.
For these rangers, a good companion will need a high AC, a high movement, and high HP, in that order.
The following list contains all mountable companions, color coded for effectiveness:
Best Companions for Utility Rangers (Ranged or Melee)
To use another game metaphor, these rangers make a great shortstop. They can be in the front, in the back, or anywhere in between doing whatever needs to be done.
These rangers could be specifically targeting one enemy instead of dealing with the horde of mobs, they could be sneaking around the battlefield trying to free a prisoner, or they could be using their superior movement to retrieve a macguffin.
Also, you can do all of those things while mounted. Just saying.
For these rangers, a good companion will need a high movement speed and a versatility among skills such as stealth, perception, and combat utility.
The following list has all possible companions color-coded for effectiveness:
Best Companions for Melee Rangers
The final best place for a Beastmaster is going to be in front where your extra ally can take up space and deliver damage.
Beastmasters of this sort will need to be paired with companions that are tough to hit and take a fair bit of damage before needing to be healed.
And, of course, this is something you can do while mounted!
Tasha’s Primal Companions
The Beastmaster options in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything were a vast improvement.
But before we go into that, a rant:
Tasha changed everything when it came out.
It was almost like Wizards of the Coast took the “Your Table, Your Rules” principle and applied it to their entire publishing and game-design model.
They took the most vocal complaints on the internet about the core rules and made a book of “fixes” under the guise of a supplement.
(And that’s how you profit off of the free labor of fandom, kids!)
Furthermore, the book shows Wizards’ evolving relationship with the more toxic aspects of D&D’s history:
Cauldron’s are symbolic of feminine power because of the esoteric and alchemical traditions of the late 1800 that equated various receptacles, such as grails and cauldrons, with the womb and the magical power of the feminine.
So, a Cauldron? Really? Can we get over the juvenile “boys are wizards and girls are witches” thing we all learned at Hogwarts? Just because we have a female magic user in the cannon doesn’t mean her power has to come from her uterus.
And that’s not even getting into where Tasha’s role as a character in D&D canon came from to begin with.
So, yes, Tasha’s Cauldron is a good and necessary book for 5e. The information is solid. It should be because it came from the fans and not the landlords of Intellectual Property.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything fixed everything with the Beastmaster by giving the optional Primal Companion feature.
Firstly, your companion can now be resurrected with a 1st-level spell slot, which means you don’t have to spend all of your downtime hunting a new
sacrificial lamb companion.
Secondly, every long rest, you can change the fundamental nature of your companion. You get three options: Beast of the Land, Beast of the Air, and Beast of the Sea.
Each one differs in obvious ways, such as fly or swim speeds and special attacks.
Beast of the Land
This variant can take the form of any land-based animal, such as a megafauna mammal like a saber tooth tiger, giant sloth, or 25-point elk. It could even be a dinosaur. Who cares?
The point is that this beast gains a charge ability that knocks its target prone if the beast moves 20 feet before attacking. Can you imagine a charging giant sloth? It would be as frightening as it is confusing.
And it’s medium sized, which means small rangers can ride it!
Beast of the Sky
Obviously, this variant can fly.
It gains a fly-by attack that allows it to move without provoking attacks of opportunity, which is useful because it has quite a few less hit points than the others.
This is a small creature, so, sadly, you will not be able to ride your giant and vicious attack pigeon.
Beast of the Sea
This variant is super cool because it is amphibious. It can travel on land as well as in water.
Granted, it only has a 5-feet land speed, so it kind of crawls or slimes its way around on land, like a seal or a pile of kelp.
Its swim speed is amazing, though! 60 feet is nothing to laugh at, unless it’s a giant clown fish. You’ve got to laugh at a clown fish; sorry, I don’t make the rules.
It has a nifty ability to grapple a target it hits with its strike.
The best part is this is medium sized, which, if you’ve been paying attention, means you can ride it if you are a small creature!
The Beastmaster is an interesting class not just because of its abilities but also for its meta-game history from an academic standpoint.
You can really see how the gaming industry operates by watching its evolution.
Not only that, but it takes a classic trope from all folkloric and mythic cultures. How many ancient stories from all over the world are there about a person and their mystical connection to a beast?
Take those into account, and get mythical with this class. It’s too awesome not to.