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If a Beast Master ranger's animal companion has the awaken spell cast on it, does the ranger still need to spend an action to command it to attack?

Acting on their own accord, the druid and ranger of my party decided to buy the 1000 gp agate and cast awaken on the Beast Master ranger's wolf companion. Now the wolf has an Int score of 10 and speaks in a British accent (don't ask... I at least forbade the monocle).

They argued that the wolf is now basically an NPC and can think for himself, and therefore it can attack on its own. Is their argument wrong, or does it hold water?

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Yes, it requires an action, but...

Ignoring the Charm effect, as you mentioned, the wolf, regardless of intelligence, is still subject to the rules of the Animal Companion feature. That means that the wolf still requires an action to order it to attack and I would impose that. (Beastmaster ranger is, in my opinion, weaker than Hunter ranger, so you might want to weigh out how much damage it would actually be adding, but RAW, yes it would still require an action.)

However, I would argue that, so long as your Ranger already has the Extra Attack feature, the wolf can act on its on, on the Ranger's turn as it previously did--the only difference being that your Ranger no longer has to verbally command it (personally I find that a fair trade-off for 1000 GP, but mechanically that is your decision).

However, remind the players that they need to take caution with how they treat their awakened wolf friend--according to the text of the Awaken spell, you could still impose the ability of the wolf to leave the party if you so chose. However, since you mentioned ignoring the Charm effect due to Animal Companion, I don't know how that would work out; it might be more of a plot device than anything.

TL;DR, I think your players have a legitimate argument, but I would keep the rules of the combat the same so you don't have to roll extra initiative counts or anything (WoTC always likes to point out that rolling more dice is usually bad, because it makes a combat slower). You could however, add the bonus that the Wolf doesn't need to be verbally commanded (it still uses one of the ranger's attacks, and attacks on his turn though).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It was already friendly, so the charmed condition is moot. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mindwin
    Jul 12, 2017 at 23:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess you would still have the minor effect of getting advantage on CHA checks vs. the wolf but I don't know if that would ever be necessary. Even choosing to ignore the Charmed condition, I would still say that the wolf can act on its own, because that just seems like a relatively minor benefit that fits within the framework of the Companion feature already. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 12, 2017 at 23:19
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Commanding the Wolf to attack still requires an action

Awaken does not free the beast companion from its bond to its Ranger. The Ranger's Companion ability is not contradicted by awaken in any way.

Realize that the reason you have to use an "action" -- a mechanical implement, not a narrative one -- is for balance and the sake of the action economy. A player with two characters has a strong potential to be "broken" mechanically, compared to the other classes.

Also realize that the reason why a Ranger's Companion doesn't get its own turn in initiative is not due to its low Intelligence score. Anyone can get a pet dog that fights with them in battle, and that pet dog will have its own initiative. It's not the Intelligence score that matters here, as there is no minimum score requirement to have your own turn.

Your companion does not gain what your players want as long as you have it remain your companion. You can free it (and risk it leaving), and bind with another animal. Then the ex-companion then becomes unburdened of the need for your actions to direct it in combat.

I would further like to emphasize this point:

They argued that the wolf is now basically an NPC and can think for himself. Therefore it can attack on its own.

If the Wolf was an NPC, then you, the DM, are now the Wolf's controller. This means the Wolf does not do what the player commands, but what you, the DM, says. It should be voiced by the DM because an NPC means "Non-Player Character."

This means, the Wolf will not necessarily obey all of its players orders -- except that it is still a Companion, so it must, since it is still bound by all the rules of a Companion (one of them being: PHB 93 "The beast obeys your commands as best as it can" and another: "You can use your action to verbally command it to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, or Help action.").

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree to some extent. Yes, it seems that ordering too attack would require an action. Still, I see no reason why 10 int creature couldn't attack on its own. It is no longer limited by animal (lack of) intelligence. Oh, but of course it would be a DM call to decide what wolf is doing when not commanded anything. Wolf's ideas about what and when to bite might be bit different from player's - but should be based on prior experiences and appropriate for that species. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jul 13, 2017 at 0:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Consider your character was not a Ranger, but something else, and he had a pet dog. You enter combat and the dog attacks your enemies with you. It isn't awakened, but it will still have its own turn. This seems to imply you don't need to have Int 10 to have your own turn -- and that Int is not related at all to whether or not you can have a turn of your own. Ranger Companions are restricted by PHB 93 that they cannot have their own turns, and this is not contingent on their Int levels. \$\endgroup\$
    – user27327
    Jul 13, 2017 at 0:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Your reasoning implies the cause of the Ranger Companion not having its own turn is because it's not smart enough. But there is no Int minimum for taking your own turn in combat -- low Int creatures do and have taken their own turns in initiative. There is no reason for a Companion to have its own turn just based on it gaining intelligence. \$\endgroup\$
    – user27327
    Jul 13, 2017 at 0:17
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Their argument doesn't hold water; it still takes an action

The Ranger's beast companion is a class feature. Increasing its Intelligence doesn't change this.

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Yes, but...

The animal is now a non player character, controlled by the DM, acts on its own initiative count, and even gets his own share of experience. The DM could use the rules of customizing monsters to advance his levels. Your animal companion is essentially free form the beast master bond, and he is now simply your friend, as the other player characters.

If you want to keep the animal companion mechanics, then you should abide by its rules and spend an action to control it. In this case, the awakening would add only a storytelling flavor to it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Which question are you saying "yes" to? The one in the post title, or the one in the body of the post? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 26, 2021 at 10:12
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By RAW No, not since the errata to the Ranger Companion feature.

Going strictly by RAW any creature can take any actions it wishes from the actions available to all creatures, regardless of awakened status and regardless of the Ranger Companion class feature. Unless, something says it can't:

When a monster takes its action, it can choose from the options in the Actions section of its stat block or use one of the actions available to all creatures, such as the Dash or Hide action, as described in the Player’s Handbook. (- Monster Manual)

The Ranger Companion class feature doesn't actually say the animal can't take actions on it's own. Here are the relevant parts of the feature:

The beast obeys your commands as best as it can. It takes its turn on your initiative. On your turn, you can verbally command the beast where to move (no action required by you). You can use your action to verbally command it to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, or Help action. If you don't issue a command, the beast takes the Dodge action. Once you have the Extra Attack feature, you can make one weapon attack yourself when you command the beast to take the Attack action.

If you are incapacitated or absent, the beast acts on its own, focusing on protecting you and itself. The beast never requires your command to use its reaction, such as when making an opportunity attack.

While traveling through your favored terrain with only the beast, you can move stealthily at a normal pace.

Compare this to the alternate class feature in Tasha's:

In combat, the beast acts during your turn. It can move and use its reaction on its own, but the only action it takes is the Dodge action, unless you take a bonus action on your turn to command it to take another action. That action can be one in its stat block or some other action. You can also sacrifice one of your attacks when you take the Attack action to command the beast to take the Attack action. If you are incapacitated, the beast can take any action of its choice, not just Dodge.

Note that the new feature explicitly disallows all actions other than the commanded one and dodge. At a first glance you may think the original feature does this as well but it doesn't - instead it forces the creature to dodge if you don't issue a command at all. This is important because "move" is a command, and it takes no action to issue - if you command the beast to move it no longer has to dodge, and nothing at all stops it from acting of its own initiative. Move is the only command you can issue which takes neither your action, nor the beast's, so it leaves you both with an open action on your turns.

There is at least some reason to believe this is intentional, and that WotC tried to make it so that Awakened beasts would work better for rangers, while allowing non-awakened beasts to have a default action. It's ham-handed, but consider the pre-errata version of this ability:

The beast obeys your commands as best it can. It takes its turn on your initiative, though it doesn't take an action unless you command it to.

That's right, the original version of this feature flat out prevented non-commanded actions, and the errata removed that text. For some reason, people have continued to treat it like it still exists, but that's not the case.

The only issue is that an unawakened animal can't really take advantage of this, it's not smart enough. Not by RAW, but practically speaking no DM is likely to allow it. Awaken gets around that - yes you have to tell the animal to move each turn, but if you do it is otherwise able to act intelligently of its own free will.

Some other things to consider:

  • Look at the last line of the original feature and tell me how it makes sense if the beast is unable to take the Hide action (not one of the listed commands). You literally cannot command the beast to hide, so either it's incapable of making stealth checks or it's able to hide on its own (presumably while moving stealthily).
  • Some other answers have mentioned that awakening a beast gives it it's own turn, but that's not accurate, as it already has it's own turn (it's just on your initiative count, meaning you can choose to have it go before or after you the same as a controlled mount - though only after makes sense). As a side note, if you look at the level 7 ability - by RAW the beast never attacks on your turn, it attacks on it's turn, so the bonus action is always able to be taken.
  • This is exactly the same logic that allows Familiars to take actions other than attacking (Help, Hide, etc). Same for Steeds summoned with Find Steed.
  • Being awakened does not prevent a creature from being a Ranger Companion as some of the answers here suggest, the only requirement there is that they be a beast of CR 1/4 or lower (Awaken does not increase CR, see the DMG for things that do increase CR). An Awakened beast is still subject to all the clauses in the Ranger Companion feature (such as trying to obey your commands as best it is able - but now it can understand those commands better.)
  • The beastmaster features are absurdly poorly written.
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    – V2Blast
    Jun 26, 2021 at 10:13

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