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The Rangers Companion

Animal companions have had a long history in D&D. The Animal Friendship spell
was not part of the original game, but was introduced as part of Advanced Dungeons
& Dragons. This spell was usable by low-level druids and high-level rangers, and
allowed the caster to permanently gain one or more animals to act as friends or
defenders. Exactly what an animal companion could do was left rather undefined.
Third Edition gave a lot more definition to the animal companion (and trained
animals in general). They could do tricks, things like guard, follow, and attack.
Rules were given as to how the druid or ranger could command them, and, as far as I
can recall it, the system worked. Oh, and there was a lot of magic that could enhance
your companion.
In the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, animal companions have a problem.

It should be stated at this point that there are two ways in the new edition you can
have animals accompanying you on your adventures. The first is through the use of
the animal friendship spell, which has the potential to charm one or more animals
for 24 hours. (I imagine that you lock up the animal for the night, then cast the spell
again the next day). This method is available to both druids and rangers, and its not
entirely clear from the spell whether the animal will actually accompany you or not.
You get advantage on checks to interact with the animal, but will it help you? The
individual rulings of the Dungeon Master are likely to be quite important here; it will
be interesting to see if the Animal Handling skill gains further definition in
the Dungeon Masters Guide.
The other way is to be a ranger. Third level rangers can choose the Beast Master
archetype and gain an animal companion that way. This animal gains a bonus to its
AC, attack rolls, damage rolls equal to your proficiency bonus, as well as the saving
throws and skills its proficient in. It also increases its hit points to four times the
rangers level, if thats higher than its normal hit points.

My friend Lewis is playing a 3 level ranger (beast master) who is accompanied by a


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panther. This gives it AC 14, HP 13, Bite +5 (1d6+4), Perception +6 and Stealth +8.
As we played through Hoard of the Dragon Queen the other day, the group were
attacked several times, and he quickly became aware of a problem with the panther:
it doesnt take much for it to be knocked unconscious or even die. It just isnt
anywhere near as resilient as the player characters.
This is going to be an ongoing problem with animal companions. They just arent
that tough; it wont take long for them to be taken down by most monsters. The
ranger could conceivably use spells like barkskin and stoneskin to improve their
survival chances, but the spell that makes a difference stoneskin is a very high
level spell for a ranger.
One suggestion Ive heard for improving their survivability includes the use of
barding. Frankly, I have trouble with the idea of a panther in plate mail barding,
although it seems to be permitted by the rules (although the modifiers to the
armours cost and weight seem to imply its being used by a horse). My initial reaction
is that most animals wouldnt have a clue what to do in armour and so would suffer
the regular non-proficiency penalties until properly trained in their use. However,
the rules are somewhat silent on the matter, so in Adventurers League play it would
appear to be legal. It is also somewhat unclear if the barding gains your proficiency
bonus to AC, but lets say it does. After all, youre expending a lot of money to get this
plate armour on your panther. (Dont even try it with a bird companion!)

Still, if the animal companion does get hit or more likely through a spell effect its
likely to go down.

Further complicating play of the companion is that once combat begins, it doesnt do
that much. At 3 level, it can move around, but requires you to give up your action to
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do one of the few actions it can do: Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge or Help. This
means that if it attacks, you cant. At 5 level, when you get your extra attack ability,
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you can make one weapon attack when you command it to attack. 7 level allows you
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to command it to Dash, Disengage, Dodge or Help as a bonus action, but only if it


doesnt attack. 11 level is Bestial Fury, so it can now make two attacks, and 15 level
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spells targeting you also affect your companion.


Of course, there are some really good reasons that animal companions are so weak in
this edition. And most of those reasons come from 3E, where animal companions
were crazily good; I certainly ran a few games where the druids animal companion (a
bear) was by far the most effective combatant. Every edition tries to fix problems
with those that came before; and sometimes they overcompensate.

Lets be clear about it: the trouble with the companion is not that it takes an action
for it to attack at many levels, it makes more sense for the animal to attack than the
ranger, and once 7 level is achieved, the bonus action to allow it to Help is also really
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good but rather that it has a lot of trouble surviving once its in combat. That said,
that you can buy a mastiff and it may run into combat and attack each turn without
you spending a actions to command it (or have your trained mount attack at the
same time as you do) leads to a strange inconsistency in play. This may be changed in
a later rules update. It should be noted that animals acting independently is up to the
discretion of the DM, and it wouldnt utterly surprise me if a mastiff saw an ogre and
ran the other way instead. As it should!
So, you can use an animal companion in combat, but, although its attacks will be
fairly effective, it will have trouble surviving. From a game balance perspective, this
is probably functioning well the animal companion is providing you with a buffer of
hit points as the monster is not attacking you, but from the perspective of wanting a
significant relationship with one animal, it isnt working so well.

Your animal companion does have other uses; often its perception will be pretty high
although by the rules Survival is used for tracking and not perception, it might be
able to warn you about potential ambushes. The degree that it can perform further
tricks will generally depend on the kindness of your DM; having the animal as your
companion does not grant it any increase in intelligence, although its ability to follow
commands already puts it far ahead of regular animals.

Ultimately, the best use of an animal companion will come down to the use of your
ingenuity. Items that help protect it should be sought, and it may be wise not to
become too attached to the poor, doomed animal! Why were you taking it into the
Tomb of Horrors, anyway?