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According to the spell "Conjure Animals" on P. 225 of the PHB, the description states:

Choose one of the following options for what appears [...]

Besides selecting one or more beasts based on the challenge rating, how do you determine exactly which beast appears?

Is this a random roll by the DM or can the player select the specific beast?

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From the Sage Advice compendium:

Some spells of this sort specify that the spellcaster chooses the creature conjured. For example, Find Familiar gives the caster a list of animals to choose from. Other spells of this sort let the spellcaster choose from among several broad options. For example, Conjure Minor Elementals offers four options. The design intent for options like these is that the spellcaster chooses one of them, and then the DM decides what creatures appear that fit the chosen option.

Given that Conjure Animals only lets the player choose the beast's challenge rating, this would be one of the spells where the DM decides exactly what creature is conjured.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for using this Sage Advice. Many people thought the caster got to select both the parameters and the creatures that appear, now we know they choose an option and the DM chooses what happens then. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Nov 22 '15 at 23:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is how I'd always read these spells, so I'm glad to see Sage Advice clarifying it. There are answers elsewhere on RPG.se that, if I recall correctly, are popular and assume otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 22 '15 at 23:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this make your answer supported by RAI or RAW? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 23 '15 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ So, does that mean that if you choose the option "one beast CR2 or lower", the DM can choose to summon a bat? \$\endgroup\$ – Jesse de Bruijne Dec 6 '18 at 7:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you come to the conclusion that the player chooses the exact CR and not just the general option? I mean, it makes sense, but I don't see anything in the rules or in the SA that indicates that. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 17 at 14:45
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Rules as Intended: the DM chooses the monster

The rules as written does not define who gets to pick what or how. However, the Sage Advice Compendium clarifies how the spell was intended to work by the designers:

Some spells of this sort specify that the spellcaster chooses the creature conjured. For example, Find Familiar gives the caster a list of animals to choose from. Other spells of this sort let the spellcaster choose from among several broad options. For example, Conjure Minor Elementals offers four options. The design intent for options like these is that the spellcaster chooses one of them, and then the DM decides what creatures appear that fit the chosen option.

So it is clearly intended that the DM is able to pick the monster after the player picks which option they want.

There is no indication of how the DM would choose the beast, so that is left entirely up to the DM at your particular table to decide by the designers.

The player can only choose the broad option, not the CR or creature

For conjure animals, the spellcaster has 4 options:

  • One beast of challenge rating 2 or lower
  • Two beasts of challenge rating 1 or lower
  • Four beasts of challenge rating 1/2 or lower
  • Eight beasts of challenge rating 1/4 or lower

Again, according to RAW, there is no indication who picks what. But, the SAC as quoted above does give a hint as to the intent:

[...] Other spells of this sort let the spellcaster choose from among several broad options. For example, Conjure Minor Elementals offers four options. The design intent for options like these is that the spellcaster chooses one of them [...]

The options the spellcaster chooses from are broad. In other words, the implication is that they don't have any control over the fine details of the option they pick. Thus, the spellcaster, under this RAI interpretation, would only be able to pick one of the 4 options and everything else (CR and specific beast) would be up to the DM.

Of course, there is no reason a DM would have to run the spell this way, this just seems to be the way the designers intended. In fact, as a DM I often have the player pick the creature with an option to veto the choice.

If you are planning on taking and/or using the spell ask your DM ahead of time what method they will take and how you can help make it easy on them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Might be worth adding: Your DM is well within their rights to have you choose the kind of beast you want, with them reserving the right to overrule. DMs have enough to deal with already. Speak with your DM before learning/preparing the spell to know what their policy is. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Apr 17 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil that's actually exactly what I do! I've added that to the end. Thanks for the suggestion :) \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 17 at 17:31

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