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The Ranger Beast Master subclass gets an animal companion under the ranger companion ability, which for free can move about the battle field, or using the Ranger's action can make an attack. Being a cr 1/4 creature, that attack is generally worse than the attack the ranger has by the time he gets the companion.

If the ranger was multiclassed a rogue, I could see the use of the companion moving about to be adjacent to enemies, but I'm not seeing what synergizes well without multiclassing.

Am I missing something, or should I tell my friend that his assessment is correct, and he should only choose the beast master if he wishes the fun of his animal companion but that the creature itself will not actually synergize very well with his class abilities?

I prefer a rules as written answer.

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Well, the way I reckon it, a third level Beast Master ranger has a proficiency bonus of +2, and assuming a 16 STR would attack at +5 for say 1d8+3 or 1d10+3 damage depending on weapon.

A third level Beast Master ranger that has e.g. a Wolf, adds his +2 proficiency bonus to its attack and damage, so its normal +4/7(2d4+2) attack becomes +6/9(2d4+4), which is +1/+1 better than the ranger's. The Wolf gets advantage when near an ally, as well... A Panther would get multiple attacks instead... I think their attacks are at least somewhat competitive with the ranger's. Their attack and damage scales with the ranger's proficiency bonus. And if they're in melee and not the ranger - then it's a lot longer before the ranger dies.

Having said that, I would certainly house rule that once you command an animal to attack someone, it's going to keep attacking of its own accord and you only need to spend an action to order it to change what it's doing. It's goofy otherwise. "Sit. I SAID SIT!!!"

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's silly to have to order a beast to attack a hostile creature every turn... even an untrained animal will attack a threat until neutralised. \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Sep 12 '14 at 16:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ We may also want to note that ranger companions may have more uses than simple combat; scent, for instance, is invaluable when tracking. I think that may be an important note when analyzing a class. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Sep 12 '14 at 16:54
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By a strict interpretation of the rules, in a very game-oriented way that is kind of hard to explain logically as the behavior of a real animal, the companion only attacks when you use up your own action to command it to do so. At higher levels, you get to basically share your own extra attacks, but it's not a net win. That makes beast companions questionable in combat — not necessary awful, but not really getting you anything (and no particular synergy).

However, movement is free, and once you get to 7th level, the direction to Help can be taken as a bonus action. That can be very powerful, and sets up a lot of possibilities for synergy. If your companion is an owl, it has a fly speed of 60ft, and the flyby ability avoids opportunity attacks — fly in, grant advantage, and fly out again. This great in cases where you go from nothing to advantage, and essential when you would otherwise have disadvantage. (Want to make a net fighter? Here you go. Hmmm, probably with a giant wolf spider companion....) And, you don't have to focus this on yourself — instead, grant advantage to the party's high-crit fighter, or whereever else it will do the most.

There can also be a lot of synergy with the ranger's role as a scout. Many possible companions have extra senses (darkvision, keen scent) and are skilled in Perception (so add your proficiency bonus to what's already there).

I think the house rule to give the companion a little more independent action isn't game-breaking, but if your DM/gaming group want to play this strictly RAW, Helpful companions might be the way to go.


An update, several years later: see the article The Ranger, Revised, part of the "Unearthed Arcana" series of exploratory mechanics and options published on the Wizards website. Among other things (largely, boosts) the Animal Companion is significantly reworked, and in particular the companion in this version now acts on its own initiative. If you're thinking of playing a ranger with a companion, ask your DM about this option.

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