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The Beast Master ranger's Ranger's Companion feature says:

At 3rd level, you gain a beast companion that accompanies you on your adventures and is trained to fight alongside you. Choose a beast that is no larger than Medium and that has a challenge rating of 1/4 or lower (appendix D presents statistics for the hawk, mastiff, and panther as examples). (PHB, p. 93)

May a Beast Master ranger choose a swarm of ravens as an animal companion?

A swarm of ravens has a challenge rating of 1/4, and is classified as a beast, as required by the Ranger's Companion feature.

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No, you can not choose a swarm

The simplest argument is that the Ranger must choose a beast, singular, not a swarm of beasts, plural. Jeremy Crawford even supports this interpretation (although in this case referring to Wild Shaping druids.)

Natural vs unnatural

There are also additional arguments to be made against a swarm being a valid option.

For example, consider the description of the Beast type, in the Monster Manual:

Monster Manual p6

Beasts are nonhumanoid creatures that are a natural part of the fantasy ecology.

And then look at the sidebar in the section listing various types of swarms.

Monster Manual p377

The Nature of Swarms

The swarms presented here aren't ordinary or benign assemblies of little creatures. They form as a result of some sinister or unwholesome influence.

A creature with the beast type is a natural creature. A swarm is something that does not occur naturally.

Buyer beware

Of course, your DM may choose to allow you to choose a swarm. However, be wary of making such a choice. Each swarm, including the Swarm of Ravens has the following text:

The swarm can't regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.

Not being able to heal your swarm is likely going to cause you issues, especially given the relative squishiness of the animal companion in general.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Further buyer beware. Even if you skin a beast as a swarm, you lose the mechanic that if half are killed, they provide half damage. Who would want that? \$\endgroup\$ – Jammin4CO Aug 19 '19 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sometimes I see these rulings coming from the DMG or the MM and I think "And they told me there was no secret rules..." \$\endgroup\$ – Nacht - Reinstate Monica Aug 20 '19 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Spells only do what they say they do" except Restoration spells, which are explicitly called out in many stat blocks or other spells as fixing the problem at hand and not called out in the actual spell's block. \$\endgroup\$ – Nacht - Reinstate Monica Aug 20 '19 at 0:32
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RAW, no you could not choose a swarm

Throughout the relevant rules text, the companion is continually referred to in the singular as 'a beast or 'the beast'. Most crucially in the section that details eligible choices it says 'Choose a beast'.

The swarm of ravens is never referred to as a singular beast in the rules, it is a 'swarm of Tiny beasts' (plural) or thereafter simply 'the swarm' - therefore, RAW it's not an eligible pick.

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While the rules as written state that you must pick a single beast as an animal companion, I would ask your DM.

The Monster Manual does have a stat block, causing it to function as a single entity, and the stat block does meet all other qualifications for being an animal companion. While you would be unable to heal the swarm with spells, you would be able to regenerate the swarm using hit dice with the Ranger's Companion ability in the Player's Handbook. I personally would rule this narratively as amassing more ravens over time.

For those worried about balance, a raven swarm does meet the challenge rating requirement, and while it does have some strange mechanics for an animal companion, there is nothing I would find too game breaking. Ultimately it comes down to how your Dungeon Master wants to run the game, but personally I think it is an interesting way to spice up the Beast Master subclass.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Have you tried using your recommended solution, or seen it tried? How has it worked, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 31 '19 at 2:53
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I mean technically I think these other answers are right but I'd talk about it with the DM. Maybe you bond with one Raven and it sort of commands the swarm for flavor. Another complaint is the swarms resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage but I think it's counteracted by generally lower ACs. Also you might bargain by removing some immunities to certain crowd control affects like charming and such by saying the pack leader animal is charmed.

Also maybe you can only heal on short or long rests by recruiting new ravens, and maybe also where they could be found (outdoors), so in a dungeon you would have to be very careful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack and please take our tour to learn more about how we operate. Unlike forums, we need answers that are supported by rules or experience. Currently, yours seems more like an idea for a solution that you haven't seen or used. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 21 '19 at 21:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Have you tried using your recommended solution, or seen it tried? How has it worked, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 22 '19 at 2:28

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