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I am brand spanking new to D&D. I have picked a Beast Master Ranger as my first class and I'm having serious issues with the survivability of the animal companion.

I picked a Panther as my pet. I see a lot of lists with the original pets you can choose from, but I can't seem to find a list of pet upgrades (stronger pets at higher levels). My Panther is pretty good right now while I'm only Level 4, but she took ONE hit and almost died twice. (Her AC=14 & HP=16) So I have to be very careful with her. This seems like a really big issue that is only going to get worse at higher levels.

What are the best ways for me to improve my companion's survivability going forward?

I'm open to any options including strategies, spells, class features, etc. that will help my animal companion survive more in battle.

Magic Items are an option, but they are not at all common in our world, so I'd prefer answers not to include them.

I'm playing with a Cleric, Druid, Warlock, Rogue, Wizard, Barbarian, & Bard. We are all Level 4. Our Cleric has "Bless", but I don't see any spells on their list that increase defenses. We don't have any tools at the moment.

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Switch to the Unearthed Arcana Revised Ranger

The ranger, particularly the Beast Master ranger, is a notoriously weak class. Effort have been made to improve it in errata, but they haven't gone far enough. You have already encountered just one of the issues with it. The Unearthed Arcana playtest material has a revised ranger class that significantly improves the utility of the ranger companion if you choose the Beast Conclave.

Note: this is only playtest material and not officially allowed; you will need your DM's approval to play it, and it cannot be used in organised play.

The revised Beast Conclave animal companion has several advantages over the Player's Handbook version that increase both its survivability and its usefulness in combat:

  • It is proficient in all saves
  • It gains an additional hit die for each level you gain after 3rd
  • When you get an ASI, so does your companion
  • At 7th level, it gets advantage on saving throws provided it can see you
  • At 15th level, it gains an ability equivalent to Uncanny Dodge, where it can use its reaction to half incoming damage.

Most significantly on top of being a much stronger and more useful companion, should your companion die you can revive it in a new body with 8 hours work and 25gp worth of rare herbs.

There are a lot of changes in this version of the ranger and it isn't perfect. You give up your extra attack to increase the damage of your companion but if that's the playstyle you want isn't so bad.

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To expand upon theCerealKillr's answer:

Barding

In the PHB under the Mounts and Vehicles section (specifically tack, harness, and drawn vehicles) you'll find Barding. It's a little vague about what you're supposed to do however it's intentions are suited for what you need. Take Armor from the Armor Section, multiply its weight by 2 and its cost by 4. That is how much your barding will be. And, since it's armor all of the attributes apply (e.g. Medium Armor giving a Max 2 Dex Bonus or certain armors applying disadvantage on stealth).

Likewise, your DM can use this to suggest Magical Barding.

Teamwork

Ask your Team to support the Panther. The Protection Fighting Style is not a Ranger thing. But a Fighter or Paladin can take it and use it to keep the Panther from getting struck. Likewise, having a team use disabling spells instead of maxxing damage does a lot more for the Panther's damage (and the party's in whole). There's a whole brevity to go over but very basic spells can get the job done (e.g. Command, Hold Person)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that if the animal is not proficient with barding, then they have disadvantage on all attacks, checks, and saves while wearing the armor. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Mar 13 at 1:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ While true, kind of, this falls far from the realm of explored rules. As your link suggests, there's no way to know if any creature at all is proficient in armor of any category. In addition, there's this line from the PHB. "Your Class gives you proficiency with certain types of armor". My argument would be 1. Armor proficiency is a Character rule not a Creature rule. This is supported by the line from the PHB (even the DMG says creatures don't typically have class levels). And it's supported by Creature stat blocks not having armor proficiencies. So this is entirely up to the DM in my eyes. \$\endgroup\$ – GuidingOlive Mar 13 at 15:30
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Spells

There are tons of spells that increase survivability. Many of these will require a friendly spellcaster, but let's look at the ones a Ranger can cast:

Ranger Spells:

  • Goodberry: Heal your panther up to 10hp over 1 minute. For use between fights.
  • Barkskin: Cast it on your panther to set their AC to 16 for the duration. (available at level 5)
  • Stoneskin: Give your panther resistance to all nonmagical bludgeoning/piercing/slashing damage for 1 hour. (available at level 13)

If you're getting help from your party's spellcasters, you can also use Mage Armor (bumps AC up to 15), Bless (which will help on saving throws), and Aid (for temporary extra HP).

At higher levels, your party can also give it spells like Greater Invisibility, or Death Ward. Although it's worth noting, your party may want to use spells like these on their front-line fighters instead of giving them to your panther.

Magic Items

The bad news is, there is no "barding" or "animal armor" in the DMG, as far as I'm aware. The good news is, your panther can attune to magic items, and your DM gets to choose whether or not your panther can wear magic armor intended for humans:

Dungeon Master's Guide p.141: In most cases, a magic item that's meant to be worn can fit a creature regardless of size or build. Many magic garments are made to be easily adjustable, or they magically adjust themselves to the wearer. [...] When a nonhumanoid tries to wear an item, use your discretion as to whether the item functions as intended.

Items your panther would almost certainly be able to utilize include the Cloak of Displacement, Cloak of Protection, the Ioun stones of Protection & Mastery, or possibly even the Saddle of the Cavalier. If your DM is generous, any type of magical armor (Adamantine armor, Mithril armor, +1/+2/+3 armor) might also fit your panther.

Class Features

Unfortunately, there aren't really any class features that specifically improve companion survivability. However, any class that has features that apply to their allies will generally apply to your panther as well. For example, your bard can give Bardic Inspiration to your panther. You could also take a level in Fighter or two levels in Paladin to unlock the Protection fighting style, which lets you use your reaction to impose disadvantage on an attack against your panther (as long as they are within 5 feet of you).

Strategy

You'll probably want to keep the panther off the front lines, for the most part. At 50 ft per round, the panther is incredibly fast. Make good use of that by fighting in a hit-and-run style. Run up to a weaker archer or spellcaster in the back row, and Pounce on them. If the enemies start to close in, have it take the Disengage action (so it won't provoke attacks of opportunity) and run away. Note that this can be dangerous if you're unable to use your action to have it Disengage - provoking attacks of opportunity is a good way to take a lot of damage.

You can also make use of the panther's Climb speed to get to tricky places, or just to stay out of melee range. And while you cannot command it to use the Hide action, its +8 Stealth check may come in handy before combat begins.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Party is only at level 4 and magic items aren't currently available/common. And there isn't a paladin in the group. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 12 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Noted, but OP does note "this is only going to get worse at higher levels" - I wanted to be more comprehensive than what is typically available to a 4th level party. I will adjust for party composition, though \$\endgroup\$ – theCerealKillr Mar 12 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Gotcha - may also want to address the dangers of kiting when you can't disengage. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 12 at 17:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not worth my own answer, but the Protection Fighting Style allows one to impose disadvantage against attacks an adjacent target; the Ranger in question would have to take a fighter or paladin dip. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Mar 12 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks both for the feedback - I've updated my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – theCerealKillr Mar 12 at 17:35
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As for “upgrading” the beast companion, there’s no such thing: the list you can pick from does not expand as you grow in levels. However your beast's HP (the higher of its normal HP, or 4 times your ranger level) and AC (its base AC + your proficiency bonus) does. As long as you’re party isn’t just leaving it to die when it’s making death saves, it shouldn’t die too easily, as a beast companion has, on average, more hit points than a wizard or sorcerer. Keep in mind, however, beast companions are never going to be be tanky.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 4 times your level is less, on average, than the 4.5 HP per level that a wizard or sorceror with 12 Constitution will get if they roll for HP, and is equal to the amount that they'll get if they don't roll without a Constitution bonus. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Jul 14 at 10:57
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