Mastiff 5e: Wild Shape into a Hound

Last Updated on July 22, 2022

Mastiffs are the archetypical attack dog, powerful creatures that come in a variety of breeds.

In D&D, their power rates are considerably lower than that of a dragon, but they can still be effective at what they do. Mastiffs have a few interesting ways to interact with players through mounts and druids, and they’re a lot more practical than getting a dragon. 

If you want to know how to make the best use of dogs in 5e, this is the article for you. 

Stats

It’s always good to start out with the stats of a creature to provide context for the less-numbers-oriented information. Here are the mastiff’s:

  • Ability Scores: STR 13 (+1), DEX 14 (+2), CON 12 (+1), INT 3 (-4), WIS 12 (+1), CHA 7 (-2)
  • AC: 12
  • Hit Points: 1d8+1 (5 avg.)
  • Speed: 40 ft.
  • Skills: Perception +3 
  • Senses: Passive Perception 13
  • Proficiency Bonus: +2
  • CR: ⅛ 

The mastiff only has one ability: Keen Hearing and Smell. This allows it advantage on perception checks that use those abilities.

In combat, the mastiff is capable of a +3 (5-foot range) bite attack that does 1d6+1 (4 avg) piercing damage on hit. This isn’t terribly exciting, but if the target is a creature, it must make a DC 11 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. 

Mastiffs in the “Wild

While it’s technically possible for mastiffs to just show up, it’s unlikely that you’d ever find them in the wilderness or in dungeons. For these beasts, real life is the best place from which to draw inspiration. 

In the world of D&D, mastiffs are likely to be bred as protectors and guard dogs, just as they often are in real life. True, they are a low-CR beast (though with decent stats for their rating). However, the ease with which mastiffs are likely to be available compared to other kinds of beasts, combined with their excellent senses and ability to knock creatures prone, make mastiffs an excellent, practical choice for people across your campaign world. 

In addition to serving as a niche and a useful kind of cheap muscle, mastiff’s can also serve as mounts for small humanoids like Halflings. Their ability to be trained for battle and/or hunting make them a popular choice here as well; obviously, more powerful beasts are better in combat, but numbers and price matter a lot more for the average NPC than they do for adventuring parties. 

Mastiffs and PCs

For PCs, mastiffs can play similar roles of guard dog, mount, or just an attacking ally. At low levels, their higher base speed makes them a viable option for the cost of a mount. 

PCs may also wish to acquire a pack of mastiffs; as the next section will demonstrate, mastiffs are primarily effective with allies. However, for druids, the mastiff represents a good early-mid game utility pick for wild shape.

While even the ⅛ CR beast can be effective for the first few levels in combat, the mastiff is most useful for urban scouting and a specific kind of stealth.

Mastiffs are a common breed of dog, and a wild-shaped druid can pass without comment in places other animals with technically higher stealth scores might stand out if spotted. That isn’t to say that the mastiff is the ideal form of urban scouting; that requires a more in-depth look at all the beasts of 5e and their abilities (which you can find here!). If you’re interested in what else druids can shapeshift into, you can check out our druid guides. The Circle of the Moon druid is a particularly good choice for maximizing wildshape’s effectiveness.

What’s important to know about mastiffs, however, is that for druids, they are a good option for when you need to infiltrate an estate’s security and they use guard dogs, when you need the mastiffs excellent senses for tracking, or just when you need to give the gnome in your party a lift.

Tactics

Mastiffs don’t have very complex tactics. In fact, you can sum up how a combat encounter with mastiffs will work with one simple rule: dogs don’t work alone. It’s a flexible rule, but it is a rule. There are practically no scenarios where a lone mastiff would attack a party. Instead, mastiffs are usually well trained and work with allies. 

These can be other mastiffs, and a pack of wild dogs could be dangerous if it were large enough. However, most likely, the mastiffs will have humanoid allies, like guards, they can alert or help, guides to drive them toward their prey in a hunt, or trained handlers with dog whistles meant to coordinate a pack of war mastiffs with the larger army’s formation. 

Their primary goal in combat is to swarm an enemy, knock them down, and then either press their and their allies’ advantage against a prone target or force a grapple until they can drag their target away.

While the knockdown DC is low, multiple attempts in a round make it very likely that the target will eventually just roll a 1. 

When they’re the only dog around (or if they’re a druid), the strategy is similar: spam attempted knockdowns and grapples. When out of combat, their primary goal is to use their excellent senses to warn their allies if someone is sneaking up on them. 

These tactics can make mastiffs, even at CR ⅛, a multiplier for the effectiveness of a greater enemy (like a pack of mastiffs). Of course, these tactics are relatively simple to counter too, so they aren’t game-breaking. Avoid melee, use magical push effects, and take advantage of mastiff’s low hit points with AOEs. For stealth, consider using peppermint oil bombs in crowded areas to lose your pursuer or to confuse the dog’s nose. 

However, don’t mistake the ease with which you can counter mastiffs for ineffectiveness. Eight mastiffs only add up to CR1, but added at just the right moment in a more difficult fight could mean a quick loss if your party isn’t careful. It’s wise to respect the prone condition and the power of multiple grapples, even at a high level. 

Final Thoughts

While low CR, mastiffs are interesting beasts with a lot of potential. Attack dogs, mounts, and even shapeshifting into mastiffs can open new strategies and ways to move through the story. 

Whether you’re a druid, small humanoid, or just someone who wants to say “Release the hounds!” mastiffs can be an excellent choice.