10
\$\begingroup\$

I recently playtested a Beast Master ranger from level 1 to level 20 (I was playtesting a new homebrew archetype, which was my primary reason for doing so; the Beast Master ranger was just one of the other party members), but there were a few things I noticed regarding the relative power of the beast companion itself. For reference, the beast I went with was a wolf, which is probably a fairly standard choice.

Issues

Now, I know that Beast Master rangers are infamously weak, but I still wanted to see if I could try to improve what I felt were some of its weakest points during my playtesting. I was already using the popular houserule of letting the ranger tell the beast to attack using a bonus action instead of an action, but the other things that bothered me were:

  • Relatively low HP (as the first linked Q&A points out), although this was more of a problem during Tier 1/2, less so during Tier 3/4, at least during my playtesting;
  • Hardly any hit die, which is related to the above problem, since I remember having to spend a lot of healing resources to keep bringing the wolf's health back up to full/close to full;
  • The DC for resisting the knocked prone secondary effect from the wolf's Bite attack remains pathetically low at DC 11 for the whole game.
  • The lack of any saving throw proficiencies really screwed the wolf over during the big finale where it died to a meteor swarm, but with a decent DEX saving throw bonus, it would probably have made it.
  • I was sometimes hesitant to use the wolf, because it was dropped to 0 HP a few times at lower levels, unless I knew it would probably land the killing blow or could avoid an opportunity attack or otherwise being hit.

I will point out that at higher levels, the AC was fairly decent (for a wolf), and the HP wasn't as bad as it was at earlier levels, and I was impressed with the damage output thanks to attack rolls and damage scaling with the ranger's proficiency bonus. Its Stealth and Perception skill bonuses were also impressive. These things I don't feel the need to change.

Changes

Here are the changes I propose, somewhat inspired by the UA Sidekick rules and the Class Feature Variant rules (see below section for why I'm not just using the Class Feature Variant as-is):

  • The beast has as many hit die as your ranger level, although they're not used for calculating their HP since the HP that scales based on the ranger's level will always be better, so it would only really be for the purposes of healing during short rests.

  • To improve the max HP a little, maybe something as simple as adding the beast's CON modifier to that, but then seeing that the "Beast of Air" and "Beast of Earth" from UA already kinda do this, I thought I might just go with that, although they aren't scaling the beast's CON modifier like I was planning on doing. So going with their suggestion, it's now:

    \begin{align} \text{ beasts's CON modifier + ranger's WIS modifier + (ranger level} \times 5 \text{)} \end{align}

    This way, the animal's toughness is also taken into an account; I feel like the wolf having even just 5 instead of 4 more HP each level would have been just enough to help, so having 5 HP per level from a larger starting HP pool would have certainly helped a lot, especially combined with more hie die to heal.

    That said, from a flavour perspective, I feel like choosing a boar should end up tougher than a hawk, whereas using the above, they would both have roughly the same HP, so I'm still tempted to scale the beast's CON modifier (i.e. include that within the brackets in the above formula) but not the ranger's WIS modifier.

  • Any DCs it has, such as the wolf's ability to knock people prone, should scale with your proficiency bonus, like this AC and attack/damage rolls do, so rather than a measly 11, at level 3-4 it would be 13, and at level 5, it would be 14 ... ending up at 18 at level 17+.

  • Unless it already has a "physical" saving throw proficiency (meaning STR, DEX or CON), it gains one of your choice at level 3, which of course would just mean a +2 (because that's every valid animal companions's proficiency bonus) but that also has your proficiency bonus added to it, like AC, etc. This would have certainly helped when it was hit by meteor swarm during our final level 20 showdown, it might have actually survived (even with its RAW hit points) had it made that DEX saving throw.

  • Finally, since I'm letting the beast be commanded as a bonus action, the first half of the 7th level ranger feature Exceptional Training is kinda wasted, so I was considering changing that to not only make the beast's attacks magical, but also to effectively give the beast a rogue's Cunning Action, which it can use if you command it to using the same bonus action you used to command it to attack (or do something else with its action). In short, you use one bonus action to tell it what to do with its turn, and it can now effectively use its action and bonus action to do something useful.

Unearthed Arcana

There are two Unearthed Arcana articles that have attempted to solve the same problems I'm trying to solve, so why am I doing this and not just going with the UA?

Firstly, the Revised Ranger changes a lot of the core ranger class, and I'm trying to keep the ranger class as it is in the PHB. My focus is on improving the beast, not the ranger. Even if I ignore the changes to the ranger, still I feel like gaining proficiency in all saving throws and gaining ASIs is a bit much, since this is supposed to be a class feature, not a whole extra character to play as.

I once used the Sidekick rules to give a bear companion to a totem barbarian PC, and the bear ended up feeling like a fully fledged PC on its own, so doing the same with the Beast Master just seems too much to me. The intention is to shore up the ranger's beast companion enough to complement the ranger, not completely outshine them.

The other UA article is the Class Feature Variants article, which includes the Ranger Companion Options. The HP and hit die that it suggests is closer to what I've suggested above (in fact, I've updated my original suggestion regarding HP and hit die to match this UA's suggestion). The main reason I don't want to go with this UA as-is, however, is that I don't like the idea of gaining a set stat block that removes the uniqueness of actually picking a different animal.

For example, my wolf had Pack Tactics and was able to push people prone (occasionally), whereas the "Beast of Earth" that would otherwise have represented my wolf can't do those things, and instead can only "Charge" and "Maul". In other words, I feel this homogenises the beasts in a way that the original Beast Master does not, nor do I like the "primal beast" flavour of it (at least, not as a blanket thing for all rangers; certain rangers who's beast is a "primal beast" can be cool, but not every time).

Question

Do the above changes seem reasonable, and do you foresee any balance issues coming from my proposed changes? My intention is for the Beast Master's beast in particular to become more useful and survivable, without increasing its damage output (since I was happy with that), but not making it more powerful than I intended by overlooking something. I suppose also double checking whether there's a problem with making some animals tougher than others based on their CON; does this unfairly favour tougher animals to the point where that's a balance issue in and of itself?

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious if you have considered including in this proposal revisions to how the Ranger can recover their companion in the event of death. Are you fine with what's provided in the PHB or do you think something needs to be added to balance it? On first glance, an 8 hour ritual with a docile, suitable animal seems like a pretty major impediment to accessing someone's signature class feature. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jun 26 at 22:27
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyro I don't disagree, but in my case my wolf managed to stay alive until the level 20 finale, so I don't have any experience with how much of an annoyance that is. I'd rather keep this to problems I actually encountered. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jun 26 at 22:58
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS Yeah I think it is more in line with the actual question now. I guess it was a little bit of nit picking from me but I like to be precise haha \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 27 at 20:50
3
\$\begingroup\$
  • With the introduction of the Artificer and the Battle Smith's Steel Defender, we now have precedent for a companion having HP equal its Con + your casting stat + 5 times your level, and the Steel Defender isn't breaking the game with its durability.

  • Regarding scaling toughness based on Con, almost every CR 1/4 beast has a Con modifier of +1, with a select few having +0 or +2. You would have to make the Con scaling very significant in order for it to make a major difference. CR 0 or CR 1/8 beasts sometimes have lower Con, but they're already made weaker by their lower CR, they don't need to be doubly punished with lower hit points.

  • Giving the beast a saving throw proficiency would certainly help and likely not be too strong.

  • Making the DC scale would certainly help, but I think would be too strong specifically for the Giant Poisonous Snake. Because the snake can add your proficiency bonus to its damage rolls, it can bite for 1d4+4+prof piercing, and then the poison deals 3d6+prof, half on a save. Normally the DC is 11, but if it scaled, then it would do its full damage much more often. Using a bonus action to attack for 3d6+1d4+4+double proficiency is too strong, especially if the snake also has cunning action and can try to hide and get Advantage.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi, welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour to find out how things work here, and visit the help center for more guidance. Thanks for your answer; that's a good point about the Steel Defender's HP. I think the last point isn't quite accurate, though, since the snake's extra poison damage is "secondary damage", so I don't think the ranger's proficiency bonus would be applied to that too. That said, the rest of that point is still valid... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jun 27 at 20:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The Beast Master's ability states that you can add your proficiency bonus to all of the the beast's damage rolls. By my interpretation of this sage advice: sageadvice.eu/2014/11/24/critical-poison, the damage caused by a poison saving throw from an attack is a separate damage roll, and would allow you to add your proficiency bonus a second time. \$\endgroup\$ – SmugLookingBarrel Jun 27 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, actually, I think you might be right about that after all. In that case, raising the DC might significantly increase its damage output after all, so yeah, that requires more thought. Of course, I was only thinking about my wolf's prone thing, so it's good that you mentioned the snake's poison damage... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jun 27 at 21:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I've just found an even worse example; the constrictor snake; it can restrain people with a DC 14 check RAW, if proficiency bonus was added to this, it becomes an almost guaranteed insta-restrained button. I think I need to leave the beasts' save DCs alone after all... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jun 29 at 16:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.