The Player’s Handbook introduced two options for the ranger. Unfortunately for the Hunter, only one option brings back the Animal Companion feature from older editions. The Beast Master enlists the aid of a single animal who helps you in combat. They are the paragons of teamwork between nature and civilization, saving fey and kings with equal fervor. They work in partnership with the animals they command, treating them as more than just a pet; they’re best friends. Surely, this natural duo is more than fine in a dungeon right? Well, our Beast Master 5E Guide will show you why that might not be the case.
Who’s A Good Boy?: Beast Master 5E
The Beast Master suffers from a lot of balance choices concerning Ranger’s Companion. If it weren’t for Ranger’s Companion being the way it was, it’d be a completely valid archetype. You’re digging for diamonds in the rough, the animal has a pitifully small health pool, and your action economy is garbage. Still, you at least have a permanent summon that can be an acceptable meat shield.
This is my main problem with the archetype, and it’s main draw, which is extremely sad. At level 3, you get an animal companion that is completely loyal to you.
Choose a beast that is no larger than Medium and that has a challenge rating of 1/4 or lower. Add your proficiency bonus to the beast’s AC, attack rolls, and damage rolls, as well as to any saving throws and skills it is proficient in. Its hit point maximum equals its normal maximum or four times your ranger level, whichever is higher.
In order for the beast to do anything on its turn, you must be able to tell it where to move. You then must use your Action if you wish for it to Attack, Dash, Disengage, or Help – Once you get Extra Attack, you can command it and then make a single attack with your Attack action. If you give it no actions, it’ll simply use the Dodge action. The beast will defend you and itself if you’re unconscious, and can take reactions without any commands.
Your beast does not stop you from moving stealthily through your favored terrain. If it dies, you can bond with another beast in an 8 hour ritual.
Okay, so you have a ton of options for animals that are at most Medium and a CR of 1/4th or lower. Never, ever choose a CR 0 animal. That’ll do negligible damage, have no extra effects, and likely will have awful saves. Your animal companion is a significant part of your kit; you can’t afford to have an animal companion that is just a scout.
Our suggestions agree with a lot of the general consensus. If you’re a Small character, a Pony can work for a mount. The best scout that can work in combat is the Flying Snake, with dangerous poison and Blindsight. Pteranodons have much better damage than Flying Snakes and have the Flyby ability, which keeps it safe in melee combat. The Wolf has so many really strong abilities for combat, and makes for a good scout with Keen Hearing and Smell (though it’s Knockdown DC doesn’t scale without GM kindness).
This isn’t a definite guide, and there are a ton of other animal companions that can work. These are just the four most obvious options. As a general note, anything that says it’s Giant (other than the Fire Beetle) is probably okay, if you’re looking for something different.
Now, for the myriad of problems. At max, these beasts have 80 HP. At level 20. That’s problematic. Since they can’t add their Constitution modifier to every level, your melee animals will just get K.O.’d instantly in the mid-to-late game. And sometimes, they’ll just get caught in a Fireball or Flamestrike, fail the save, and be out of the fight. That’s tedious and annoying, and there’s so few ways to increase their durability.
Survivability is still rough, but the PHB has a section for animal barding. It’s double the weight, and quadrupel the cost, but you can boost the AC of your animal, at least!.. If your DM gives your animal proficiency in armor, which they might not.
Thankfully, animal companions can attune to a magic item if you force them to focus on it. Belt of Giant Strength, anyone?
Your action economy suffers heavily from your new best friend. Most animal companions do decent damage, and their attack and damage scales with your proficiency. But, your weapon (due to your awesome Dexterity) will probably do about the same damage. So, you’re replacing your Attack action with… basically the same Attack action. If you’re doing it with a Wolf or something, maybe you’ll get a trip off. By the time you get Extra Attack, this isn’t nearly as bad, since you still get to make one weapon attack. Also, by then, your animal will get a +3 to damage rolls, so they might start outpacing you!
All put together, this is an absolutely fantastic, flavorful ability, shut down by poor health, bad survivability, and mediocre action economy. And, unlike summoning, you care if this thing dies!
The animal companion isn’t done scaling quite yet. Four levels later, they get this!
Beginning at 7th level, on any of your turns when your beast companion doesn’t attack, you can use a bonus action to command the beast to take the Dash, Disengage, or Help action on its turn. In addition, the beast’s attacks now count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage.
The second sentence was added in with an Errata… And thank goodness it was!
So, this is… helpful? I guess? If your animal needs to get out of the fight and get healing, then that just costs a bonus action and you get to shoot twice. Or, if your animal is better off giving the Rogue advantage on an attack, then you can Attack and have your animal Help. This is good for if you made your animal companion into more of a Scout, less of a damage dealer.
As a Ranger, your bonus action is probably not used too often. You might want to consider Two-Weapon Fighting to make use of the amazing Hunter’s Mark spell, but remember that it doesn’t affect your companion.
Because of this class feature, it might be best to use a Bow or something that doesn’t eat Bonus Actions. That way, you can make good use of Exceptional Training on rounds where you want to deal damage and your animal wants to be anywhere else.
The added magical attacks are a drop of mercy from the Wizards of the Coast gods. Your poor animal companion has probably been spending about two to four levels headbutting non-magical resistance. Especially in undead campaigns! Now, it can deal with those problems as well as anyone with magical weapons can.
Another four levels have passed, and you’re probably sick of your animal companion eating up your command actions. Now, it can at least do so more efficiently.
Starting at 11th level, when you command your beast companion to take the Attack action, the beast can make two attacks, or it can take the Multiattack action if it has that action.
This is using the Errata’d version of Bestial Fury.
So, according to the Sage Advice column, you’d think that they could use the Multiattack action at level 3. You would be incorrect, if this errata is to be believed; they can only use Multiattack starting now. In all other cases, they can only make the Attack action to make one natural attack.
In a lot of cases, Multiattack uses a stronger natural attack, and then a weaker one… So just have the animal attack twice with it’s stronger natural attack, if that’s the case. You want them to just use their best attack twice.
On the bright side, at least you’ve finally doubled the damage potential of your animal companion. That’s good, right? It deals a lot more damage, and it adds your proficiency bonus to it’s rolls. It’ll hurt quite a bit, even with the Multiattack action. If your animal has three or more attacks with Multiattack, that’s a silly amount of additional damage.
Four levels pass of your animal kicking double the amount of ass, and you get your final ability.
Beginning at 15th level, when you cast a spell targeting yourself, you can also affect your beast companion with the spell if the beast is within 30 feet of you.
This is pretty nice! Or it would be, if Rangers had a lot of good options for self-buffs.
As it stands, the Ranger does have some okay options. This doubles the amount of spell slots you have for Stoneskin, Protection from Energy, Nondetection, Water Breathing, Pass without Trace, etc. You essentially double your situational (and non-situational!) buffs, which keeps you and your animal companion alive. This can be super helpful if your Companion took a lot of damage recently, and you’re not quite full health yourself! Cure Wounds doesn’t look quite as bad, eh?
Unfortunately, this does precious little to help your companion in the damage dealing department. The Ranger doesn’t get many buffs for specifically their weapons, or their damage. Hunter’s Mark targets an enemy, after all. Your animal is still stuck swinging for the fences, most likely without an Enchantment bonus.
Well, unless you decide to multiclass after 15 levels of ranger, specifically for this ability. Doubling Haste specifically for your animal companion seems like a bit of a waste, though… And then your animal companion would only be at 60 health. Ouch.
Best Races for Beast Master Rangers
Rangers naturally gravitate towards Dexterity; without Heavy Armor proficiency, Dexterity is just smart. Might as well use Finesse weapons, even in melee! Wisdom and Constitution are both fairly important. Constitution is great for staying alive, and Wisdom is good for anti-mind control, and the few DC spells you might have.
Mark of Handling Human
Eberron: Rising from the Last War introduced the Dragonmark Traits, ways to get new classes that occasionally are found on multiple races. These let players choose what race they might play with a specific set of traits. The Mark of Handling is only found on humans, but is perfect for this subclass. +1 to Dexterity and Wisdom, and +1 floating, is great! You gain a d4 for Animal Handling and Nature checks, can aid an animal companion or mount from afar, and you can cast Animal Friendship to help your allies! The Bigger They Are is cool, but only affects stupid monstrosities. Can be funny, but not necessarily useful; you’re a ranger, not a druid. Even so, this is crazy flavorful, and you can have really fun moments with it and your animal companion.
If I think this class is garbage, then surely putting it on top of a garbage race will work, right? Kobolds from Volo’s Guide to Monsters are by default the worst race in the game. +2 Dexterity, -2 Strength means you get a net gain of 0 stats. You are also at disadvantage for things in the light… which is a monster debuff. And you don’t even get the cool benefits that Drow get, like better weapon proficiencies and spells.
But, look past both of those, and you get Pack Tactics. That gives you advantage on attack rolls while an ally is within 5 feet of the creature. You know what you get with this class? An ally that follows your every move. That’s basically permanent Advantage, and you can still stay 60 feet away! Legitimately fantastic.
Just… try to find a way around Sunlight Sensitivity, be it a nice DM or making fantasy sunglasses. In the worst case, you at least negate disadvantage thanks to your animal.
Lotusden/Mark of Healing Halfling
The Halfling is perhaps the best choice for a mounted combatant character. Unlike the Kobold, the halflings’ +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom is better for casting, and the Halfling has better tools for melee combat; they’re better at getting to their mount, have better abilities for melee, and don’t have Sunlight Sensitivity. Oh, and their not-lowered Strength let’s them pick up Medium Armor without instantly collapsing. Lotusden Halflings can use Entangle and Spike Growth to lock down enemy combatants and keep them in range. The Mark of Healing Halfling adds a bunch of healing spells to your list, turning the Ranger into a competent non-main healer. And once you can cast spells on yourself to cast them on your Animal Companion, you’ll be super good at keeping them safe!
If you plan on taking a mount, the Pony is probably the best choice. Then, make sure you take the Mounted Combatant feat to keep the Pony safe in the mid-to-late game. Avoid those area of effects like a champion!
Conclusion – Our Take on the Beast Master Ranger
The Beast Master is probably the worst archetype a ranger has, and is arguably the worst archetype in the game. The animal companion is cute and will have wonderful RP moments, but turns into an 80 health wall of flesh with okay damage rolls in combat. It’s an archetype that strips a lot of what made Animal Companions strong in earlier editions, and replaces it with a weak, poorly-scaling beast that won’t be too helpful. I would not recommend taking this archetype at all; it’s probably the only subclass in this game that gives you an actual liability.