Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything Fixes the 5E D&D Beast Master Ranger
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons is full of new options for players and Dungeon Masters. The book adds new content for characters in 5E D&D and provide alternatives for existing character options. While 5E D&D has been incredibly successful many players feel certain discrepancies exist among the classes, frequently with the ranger at the forefront of these views. Several times over the years the 5E D&D design team released Unearthed Arcana playtest documents focused on the ranger class with one iteration removing magic from the class entirely. This muddies the ranger’s identity without really addressing the balance concerns. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything offers new and exciting optional class features for all the core classes providing players a plethora of options to help each character feel unique — even those of the same class. The book’s Beast Master Companions optional class feature is the focus for this post.
Oonga, Berk and beyond for the 5E D&D Beast Master
If you’re familiar with Nerdarchy Live and our live play streams over there then you know we love our rangers — especially the Beast Masters. From the earnest yet jaded half-orc Oonga and his giant crab friend Shelldon to the gentle bumpkin Berk and his baby gantuan Hefty Beast Master rangers feature in multiple 5E D&D games. As such we’ve got a bit of a vested interest in the balance and dynamics of Beast Masters.
Since their inception Beast Master rangers have occupied a sort of underused space in tables I’ve seen in spite of the popularity of characters like Critical Role’s Vex’ahlia and her Beast Companion Trinket. What’s more they’ve been the talk of many forums where they’ve been accused of being underwhelming, oversimplified and outright gimped compared to other subclasses — even those for the ranger. Coupled with the struggle the ranger has been through you’ve got a recipe for what’s happened with this subclass through the years 5E D&D has been around.
Beast Master ranger struggles
Let’s break down the complaints for the ranger and the Beast Master before we talk about how Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything addresses them. In the case of rangers many of their class features from the Player’s Handbook are extremely situational. They aren’t weak by any means. In fact there’s argument they’re far too powerful. The problem lies in the fact many of the ranger’s class features depend on environment. If your character doesn’t find themselves in a certain type of terrain they’re not likely to benefit from many of their core features. Conversely when the ranger does happen to find themselves in their chosen environment they outshine nearly every other character in utility and features such that even other wilderness themed characters feel quite underpowered. This combined with many people’s perceptions that the ranger lacks core identity and flavor have contributed to their underappreciation.
As for the Beast Master the subclass struggled even after several errata and tweets from 5E D&D design team members. Anytime a class has a functional second character attached, such as the Beast Master, balance is bound to be an issue. After all at this point you’re functionally attempting to balance two characters as one — a difficult task to say the least.
The Beast Master’s core features attempt this but with mixed results. Much of the problems surrounding the Beast Master ironically pertain to treating the beast companion as a wholly separate character from the character commanding them. There’s no real option for the Beast Master to heal or revive their beast companion during early levels, at least not without using valuable spells that could otherwise be used on party members.
What’s more the restrictions on the creature feel overly convoluted and limiting. You’ll notice for example Vex from Critical Role doesn’t technically even follow the limitations for the beast companion as Trinket is a brown bear. Compound these negatives with having no means to magically summon or dismiss the companion or change its stat block for versatility and you’re left with a mildly underwhelming initial subclass feature struggling with overly complex descriptions and limitations that just don’t feel like they fit either thematically or in terms of fun.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything resolves Beast Master issues
Along comes Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything with a slew of new Optional Class Features for rangers primed to swap on enhance previous ones. Not only does it offer new fighting styles (with Druidic Warrior being an especially welcome dose of flavor) but it also offers new options for your class to help make the ranger more universally useful, less specialized and also less overpowered — a welcome round of balance on the whole.
Where Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything really shines is in the Primal Companion feature, which functionally causes your beast companion to instead be more a spirit creature a la find familiar. You can choose from one of three different stat blocks for this creature companion and you can swap among them for how the beast manifests after a long rest. This might be through magical adaptations or through actually gaining a new Primal Companion. The choice is yours. The ability to revive your Primal Companion with a 1st-level spell slot really helps this class as well, making the beast companion much less of an escort quest companion you shudder to send to the front lines.
It sounds strange but this simple replacement of features fixes many of the problems with the subclass. While I would still like to see the 5E D&D designers do more with adjusting the size of the creature and possibly allowing for more customization of your beast companion this is a welcome start to a better subclass. The inclusion of the three stat blocks not only helps with versatility and usefulness but also helps the presentation significantly. I read through the Ranger’s Companion feature half a dozen times and still struggled to understand what exactly the feature’s text conveyed but with these stat blocks for the three different beast companions it all makes so much more sense. Good job, Tasha.
A beast of a future
With Beast Masters being especially prevalent in the genre I don’t see this subclass leaving anytime soon. From the Hunter in World of Warcraft to the Beast Master of the titular movie characters with animal mastery are a welcome staple of the fantasy genre and RPGs by extension. Players love pets — naming them, collecting them and roleplaying their antics.
As I’ve written in this post the 5E D&D Beast Master ranger still isn’t its best version — at least not yet and even with the Optional Class Features from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Give it time and I expect this subclass will evolve into something really special and likely join the ranks of Champion fighter, Life Domain cleric and Wild Magic sorcerer as a staple subclass of this and future editions alike.
*Featured image — A halfling ranger explores the wilds as seen in the 5E D&D Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]