D&D Ranger Beast Master: Beast and Ranger are One
The video above from the Nerdarchy You Tube channel is part of the ongoing series “New Ways to Use Recovery Dice in D&D.” In each installment, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted and Nate the Nerdarch discuss alternative uses for hit dice, presenting class-specific options. Focusing on each character class as they appear in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, the options are designed to provide one use for the class in general, plus an additional use specific to each archetype.
One of the class archetypes for the D&D ranger, which is a point of contention among many players, is the Beast Master. A few Nerdarchy staff writers and i recently discussed the Beast Master archetype, and part of our conversation dovetailed with the alternative hit die option in the video.
Through the eyes of the Beast MasterThe observation Nerdarchist Dave makes in the video is in regards to the hunter’s mark spell. Because the spell deals extra damage to the marked creature whenever the caster hits it with a weapon attack, a ranger Beast Master’s beast companion is excluded from the effect. The usefulness and popularity of hunter’s mark may even in fact contribute to criticisms of the Beast Master due to the lack of synergy.
During our writers’ discussion I noted this as well. The point I tried to make in defense of the Beast Master is the ranger’s beast companion essentially is their weapon. In my perspective, the design intent of a ranger Beast Master is not the beast and master attacking together in concert (at least not at first). Rather the ranger is attacking through the kindred beast.
This makes sense for balance, too. With a single Attack, a 3rd level ranger can deal a respectable 2d4 +4 piercing damage through a wolf companion, plus a chance to knock the target prone. The wolf might also have advantage on the attack thanks to pack tactics, with a +6 to hit. Working with a party rogue within 5 feet would give the rogue advantage (and sneak attack) as well. Not too shabby, and I don’t feel slighted that the rangers themselves aren’t able to get their own Attack in there on top of it.
With that in mind, I consulted D&D Beyond to look over potential options. My thinking was “what else can a Beast Master ranger do if the companion functionally is the weapon?” Taking the concept from the video, where an alternative use for a ranger’s hit die is allowing the beast companion to gain the benefit of hunter’s mark, one step further, what if the beast companion counted as a weapon attack?
D&D Ranger spells: Hunter’s mark and more
Admittedly, I thought there’d be more going on here. The only ranger spell with the same wording as hunter’s mark is ensnaring strike. Even so, that’s a nifty bit of utility to a beast companion attack. A little disappointing but what if we start thinking more outside the box? What if, for the purposes of ranger spellcasting, the beast companion and the ranger are one?
This becomes moot when the ranger reaches 15th level and gains the Share Spells feature from the archetype. At that point, using Nerdarchy’s alternative hit die options frees up the resource for the general class ideas from the video or simply the intended use to recover hit points after a short rest. Keep in mind the beast companion has hit dice of their own, too. So if you go all in for this alternative hit dice option and include those as well, a ranger Beast Master has a pretty significant pool of resources to draw from.Casting absorb elements on a beast companion makes them much more survivable. Cast as a reaction whenever you take acid, cold, fire, lightning or thunder damage, the beast companion hit with an unexpected thunderwave suddenly absorbs half the damage and gives it right back on the next attack.
Setting up camp for the night? Maybe out in the wild with only your beast companion? Cast alarm and sleep soundly, knowing both you and your beast buddy will awaken when trouble nears.
Let your creature companion do the charming! Animal friendship means a low Intelligence beast that sees and hears your beast becomes its new best friend (and yours). Essentially the same effect, but it gives your own beast a sense of pride to know they’ve got their own beast companion. It’s companionception.
How about find traps, which would let your beast companion scout ahead safely. If you’ve got beast bond going at the same time, your animal friend can convey the info back telepathically.
Stretching the concept a bit further, perhaps hail of thorns and lightning arrow could apply to the beast companion attacks, too. These two spells specifically indicate ranged weapon attacks…but we’re already cooking up some oddball homebrew ideas here so why not throw these in the mix? A bite or claw attack generating a cloud of pointy barbs or burst of lightning isn’t too far-fetched.
Then there’s tree stride, giving the beast companion a lot of magical mobility.
Aside from applying the alternative hit die uses to give allow a beast companion to function as a weapon or extension of the ranger themselves, There’s a nice selection of buffs a ranger Beast Master can cast on their beast companion.
- Freedom of movement
- Protection from energy
- Protection from poison
- Water walk
Multiclass options for the Beast MasterSpending a hit die to extend the concept of “you” to include a ranger beast companion has applications outside the ranger class itself, too.
A ranger who makes an oath and becomes a paladin could have a beast companion that can lay on hands, generate auras…and smite!
Rangers who get in touch with their primal fury could have a beast companion just as furious, getting the benefits of barbarian rage and reckless attack.
Sneaky rangers could cash in a hit die so the beast companion could deliver a sneak attack.
These are just a few examples of potential interactions. I’m certain there are many, many others and probably more than a few broken possibilities. Tying the option to expending hit dice is a fair limitation, putting a hard cap on how often the ability can be used.
What’s it all mean?
Going back to the original idea presented in the video, and from my discussion with colleagues, is the ranger Beast Master’s beast companion could and should be much more than a simple damage add-on after the ranger makes their attack.
Even just RAW I argue in the Beast Master’s favor. The fifth edition D&D ranger at the core excels at exploration, and does so with aplomb. Both archetypes offer combat applications, but in different ways. The Hunter gets more explicitly aggressive combat abilities. What the Beast Master gets might not be extra damage through free attacks, but instead gains a loyal protector through which to deliver their attacks.
I imagine a Beast Master less as someone making coordinated attacks alongside a beast companion and more a skilled trainer making attacks through a beast companion. Using the alternative hit dice option adds another layer to this relationship, allowing a ranger to buff their beast’s prowess through spells and abilities. The idea that the beast is an extension of the master becomes much more powerful.
But what do you think? Do you like the alternate hit die options from the video? Do you want to try a ranger Beast Master for your next D&D character? What amazing, crazy or interesting synergies can you think of when the beast and the ranger are one? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, stay nerdy!
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