Go Wild with Beasts in Your 5E D&D Games
Animals, or beasts as they are referred to in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, play an important role in the game and to be fair in the story too. As early as 1st level wizards, variant humans or characters created using the Custom Lineage guidelines who take the right feat can get a familiar. Familiars can be very useful at scouting without being noticed as out of place, but more on that later. Druids gain the Wild Shape feature at 2nd level and at 3rd level Beast Master rangers gain a beast companion. By 5th level druids (and rangers at 9th level) get access to the conjure animals spell. Lastly many spellcasters gain access to the polymorph spell at 7th level. Why am I wild about animals in 5E D&D? It could be because in the game I run for my kids for a while it was more like them collecting interesting creatures, like a Pokemon game or it could be how useful they are in the game — if used correctly.
Make the most of 5E D&D beasts
As previously mentioned, characters with a familiar can look through the eyes and hear through the ears of those creatures. Since the caster chooses the form of their familiar and it can be changed with a new casting they can summon these creatures in the form they need or want to do the most natural scouting without setting off any alarms. If a bird flies over head or a squirrel jumps from tree to tree generally speaking no one would be the wiser.
Druids then have the ability to Wild Shape and the best advantage here is they retain their mental abilities in the new form, which makes them amazing at doing a lot without possible observation. So in essence everything the familiar can do but while retaining some abilities and features.
A Beast Master ranger’s beast companion can aid in combat granting a flank if you play with the optional rule for flanking found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide chapter 8: Running the Game. This can allow a rogue to use their Sneak Attack feature because they have an ally flanking a target. Even without the optional rule for flanking a ranger can use their action to command their beast companion to take the Help action and achieve the same result. A ranger’s beast companion can also be an intelligent creature using their own senses to explore and Help with Perception and tracking through the Survival skill.
As characters reach even higher levels and can literally conjure animals to do their bidding these beasts might be less effective than a fireball but there’s room to get creative. Given time to set up a spellcaster could employ magic to create illusory animals and beast sounds before conjure animals summons real beasts and create a cunning ruse of animals attacking with more coming. Creativity should be rewarded in 5E D&D and setting elaborate ambushes or scenarios like this are certainly creative.
Now comes the even easier sell. Polymorph. This potent and versatile spell can be used offensively by casting it on a powerful enemy to change them into something harmless or it can be used to help the party. Transform the Beast Master ranger’s companion into a dinosaur. Polymorph an ally into a giant eagle to fly away with a massive 80 foot flight speed (160 feet with a Dash) and speed up travel time across rough terrain — even bypass an obstacle like a chasm or cliff face. Using a limited resource like spell slots to overcome these challenges should be commended.
Why all the love for animals? Because they are awesome and should be applauded for what they do for our 5E D&D adventurers but also because WizKids is at it again with D&D Icons of The Realms: Dungeons & Dragons: Wild Shape & Polymorph Sets. These amazing sets of miniatures incorporate beasts to use for Wild Shape and polymorph to great extent. They are perfect for players using a cat or rat as a familiar or who want to polymorph an enemy into something easy to handle. Set 1 also has aquatic environments covered with a giant shark and giant octopus. There are giant versions of a boar, toad and scorpion as well as a tiger. Set 2 comes loaded with power like the giant eagle I mentionedas well as a giant ape to help climb and tear down structures in the party’s way. It also has the low challenge beasts like the giant wolf spider, owl, brown bear, polar bear and a dire wolf.
The options are there and only your imagination is holding you back. And after writing this I think I have found that the next character I make just might be a druid just so I can get wild on 5E D&D. Pick up your sets here.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, stay nerdy!
*Featured image — Looking for even more fantastical beasts to Wild Shape into, call a beast companion or mount up? Chimes of Discordia: Fantastical Mounts contains a bunch of new beasts for 5E D&D along with guidelines for training them and more like the kangoram. When you sign up for Nerdarchy the Newsletter in addition to weekly tips, deals on RPG stuff and fresh content to drop right into you’ll get a free gift along with $9.99 in store credit so you could add these beasts to your collection with credit to spare!