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I'm a first time player of D&D and have started the starter set's campaign with a group of friends that also wanted to play the game.

For the character I was intrigued by the idea of a ranger with a beast companion, and while searching online for ideas I found the UA version that I loved immediately, especially with a wolf companion that is awesome with my character's background.

Unfortunately after the first session I'm really worried that at level 3 the enemies will easily destroy the poor beast which has only 11 hit points. I don't like the Ape and Black bear options (that also have a lower AC).

Is possible to use my companion in combat and keep him alive or am I right in being worried about his survival?

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Let's look at your wolf first. A base wolf has AC 13, 11 hp, proficiency in Perception and Stealth, and not much more to help in its survival. UA Ranger's Companion's Bond gives it some considerable benefits at level 3, first of them being the ability to add your proficiency bonus to its AC and damage rolls, in addition to its skills, saving throws, and attacks it has proficiency with. Next, it gains two skill proficiencies and becomes proficient in all saving throws. Oh, plus all benefits of your Favored enemy.

What all of this means is that your wolf has AC 15, still 11 hp, but is proficient in all saving throws and has some skills that may help it further. As you gain levels, your beast will increase its maximum hp and proficiency bonus (applied to its AC, saves, skills, attack and damage rolls) at a rate similar to yours, and with a d8 Hit Die, it will not fall far behind. Sure, now it might have less than half your maximum hp, but at later levels it might have more than your party's Wizard or Bard. And even if it dies, you can call it back using 8 hours (can be done during other PC's long rest) and 25gp - to compare, a Potion of Healing (2d4+2) would cost at least twice that.

Now, how to keep it alive. You might have to employ some clever tactical thinking here, but even at 3rd level it should survive one or two blows from the enemy brutes, maybe even a spell. And if it gets hurt, you can just tell it to Disengage and retreat, and take a rest or heal it directly afterwards. As for tactics, a few come to mind:

1) Hit and Run/Assassinate. This utilizes the wolf's Stealth proficiency and comes down to it striking from the enemy's blind spot, Biting to knock the target prone and running away if it finds the situation too dangerous for its liking.

2) Keep it close. If you fight as a duo, you never have to worry about your companion being too far away to be healed, or getting surrounded without anybody to provide help. If you're a Halfling or a Gnome, you might even want to consider riding it into battle!

There are also some other points that may help. First, wolf's Bite can knock its target prone. This gives the wolf, you, and any other ally attacking this target advantage on attacks against it (while within 5', otherwise disadvantage), while having the prone target attack at disadvantage. This heavily shifts the balance in favor of the wolf, even when fighting 1v1. Second, Keen Hearing and Smell paired with proficiency in Perception means that the wolf can notice danger much faster than others, and will rarely be surprised. Third, Pack Tactics, which can help you quickly dispatch a powerful opponent together or curb the numbers of an uneven fight to better match your preferences, especially when paired with a successful knockdown on Bite.

To summarize, your best bet seems to either utilize the wolf's heightened awareness and Stealth to keep it out of harm's way, or heeding the saying "the best defense is a good offence", neutralizing your foes before they have a chance to do any serious damage.

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In Comparison to the PHB

UA version is hearty than the PHB version. Because it contains:

For each level you gain after 3rd, your animal companion gains an additional hit die and increases its hit points accordingly. Whenever you gain the Ability Score Improvement class feature, your companion’s abilities also improve. Your companion can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or it can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, your companion can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature unless its the description specifies otherwise.

Moreover, if the UA companion dies, it isn't dead forever.

If your animal companion is ever slain, the magical bond you share allows you to return it to life. With 8 hours of work and the expenditure of 25 gp worth of rare herbs and fine food, you call forth your companion’s spirit and use your magic to create a new body for it. You can return an animal companion to life in this manner even if you do not possess any part of its body

In Practice

I have a player who is a Revised Ranger (lvl 6 now) and has a Wolf. The Wolf has reached 0 HP twice and started making death saves. The wolf has never died. The wolf's ability to try to grapple the target on a successful bite attack means that the player doesn't tend to move the wolf away from large enemies as oft as she should. The player is also 7, so I'm sure with sound strategy you're wolf shouldn't get as close to death, unless your DM likes targeting it.

If Your Worried

Talk to your DM about your concerns. Realize that companion death is a real possibility as the dice fall where they may, but bringing the companion back is just a small amount of gold and 8 hours.

Also realize that even when you without your companion, you still have some pretty powerful abilities in the Revised Ranger. You get the drop on whatever you enter combat with -- as long as you aren't surprised:

Hunters Mark

Fighting Style Archery

  • You have advantage on initiative rolls.
  • On your first turn during combat, you have advantage on attack rolls against creatures that have not yet acted.

You're almost guaranteed to hit and do damage almost every first round of combat.

Level X Enemies

You say in your question that level 3 enemies will destroy the wolf, except that isn't quite right. Monsters don't have levels, they have Challenge Ratings and XP to determine level-appropriate encounters. I mention this because CR3 monster isn't going do as much damage to the wolf as a level 3 PC attacking a wolf as a monster. Monsters of CR equal to party level tend to deal less damage than PCs, but generally, have more HP... But CR and XP totals are more of an art than a science.

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