No-Spell Beastmaster Ranger

Everyone and their sister has their own version of the Beastmaster ranger archetype, as the one found in the Player’s Handbook is commonly considered one of the worst-performing 5e archetypes due to action ineconomy and the low hit points of the companion at upper tiers of play.  Fans of 3.x animal companions argue that it’s unrealistic to have to use your entire action each turn to cajole an instinctual predator and trained intelligent beast to attack someone threatening it.  

But allowing them to attack for “free” each turn is a huge power increase.  As huge as…spellcasting?  Let’s find out.  

These are the playtest rules Sarah is going to try out with her ranger, Devlin.  House rules for using trained beasts in combat are included as they tie in to how our table’s version of the Beastmaster gives commands to its companion.  The archetype should feel a lot more like a 3.5 druid or WoW hunter, with much of its offensive output coming from the companion.  As the Ranger progresses, so does the companion, and they gain synergies for working together at higher levels, promoting the theme of the archetype.

Beast Master

The Beast Master archetype embodies a friendship between the civilized races and the beasts of the wild.  United in focus, beast and ranger fight the monsters that threaten civilization and the wilderness alike.

This archetype uses the base ranger class features from the player’s handbook, but loses all features related to Spellcasting or powered by spell slots.

Ranger’s Companion

At 3rd level, you gain a beast companion that accompanies you on your adventures and is trained to fight alongside you.  Choose a beast that is no larger than Medium and has a challenge rating of ¼ or lower.  Add your proficiency bonus to the beast’s AC, attack rolls, damage rolls, as well as to any saving throws and skills in which it is proficient.  Its hit point maximum is calculated as follows:

Hit Points in creature stat block + your ranger level * (4 + creature’s Constitution bonus))

A companion with 13 Hit Points in its stat block and a Constitution bonus of 2, belonging to a 3rd level ranger, would have 13 + 3*(4+2) or 31 Hit Points.  The same companion would gain an additional 6 Hit Points whenever the ranger advanced a level.

When you gain the benefits of an Ability Score Increase class feature, you may also increase two of your companion’s abilities by 1 point each (or increase one ability by 2 points).  Alternately, with your DMs approval, you can choose it to gain the benefits of one feat for which it meets the prerequisites from the following list:

alert, durable, heavily armored, lucky, mobile, moderately armored, resilient, savage attacker, sentinel, skulker, slightly armored, tough

The companion has Hit Dice equal to the number of Hit Dice in its stat block plus your ranger level.  Like any creature, it can spend Hit Dice during a short rest to regain Hit Points.

You gain proficiency in the Wisdom (Animal Handling) skill if you don’t already have it.

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Potential Ranger Companions

CR ⅛: blood hawk, flying snake, giant crab, giant rat, giant weasel, mastiff, mule, poisonous snake, pony, stirge

CR ¼: boar, giant badger, giant centipede, giant frog, giant poisonous snake, giant wolf spider, panther, pteranodon, wolf.

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The beast is considered war trained and can be commanded as per the rules for commanding war trained animals.  It also knows the advanced commands: help, dodge, fetch, give, and take.  If you are incapacitated or absent, the beast acts on its own, focusing on protecting you and itself.  The beast never requires your command to use its reactions, such as when making an opportunity attack.

While traveling through your favored terrain with only your companion, you can move stealthily at a normal pace.

If the beast dies, you can obtain a new companion by spending 8 hours magically bonding with a beast that isn’t hostile to you and meets the requirements.

Tying this “auto-advantage” power to melee range is the only way to prevent all beastmaster rangers from going ranged weapon builds.  I think this makes both tanky pet/greatsword master ranger builds and defensive specialist ranger/dps critter builds vialble.  7 levels in this class prevent this from being a “dippable” power for optimizers.

Exceptional Training

Beginning at 7th level, your link with your companion is second nature to you both.  You can issue commands to your companion without an action cost each turn.  Additionally, while both you and your companion are within 5 feet of an enemy, you have advantage on attacks targeting that enemy.

Bestial Fury

Starting at 11th level, your companion gains the multiattack action if it doesn’t already have it.  It can make two attacks with its primary weapon attack.  If the beast already has multiattack, it can make one additional attack with its most damaging weapon attack as part of that multiattack.

I think the level 15 ability is a huge capstone for the archetype, making the beast master ranger one of the most accurate combatants in the game.  Have to look at the synergies between this and the damage-adding feats, or should it just be assumed that by this level, everyone’s got some way of regularly gaining advantage on attacks?  Not as big a boost for melee rangers as they’ve been doing this with their pets since level 7, but it’s the boost the archer build has been waiting for.

Pack Tactics

Beginning at 15th level, you gain pack tactics.  Attack rolls you make against an enemy have advantage if an ally (including your animal companion) is with 5 feet of the target and not disabled.

 

Rules for using mounts and other domesticated beasts in combat

The key determining factor for how a domesticated beast or mount acts in combat is whether or not that creature has been war trained.  Warhorses are the only animal on the list of mounts in the PHB which are considered to be war trained when purchased. Mastiffs, and other beasts with your DMs approval, can be war trained.  DMs are encouraged to assign exponential cost-increases for war training higher CR beasts.

War training by a skilled NPC takes 90 days and costs 180 gp.  Alternately, a PC can attempt to train a creature during downtime.  This costs 1 gp per day in training materials.  After each 30 days of training, the trainer must make a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  A failed roll indicates the training costs are lost and the animal does not learn from that training period.  After three successful checks (minimum of 90 days), the animal gains the War Trained trait.

At the DM’s discretion, some war trained creatures (mastiffs) may be available for purchase.  Such creatures will cost their listed amount plus 200 gp.

Benefits

At any one time, a war trained creature can be bound to one other creature known as its handler.  For mounts, their current rider is always considered their handler.  For other beasts, such as a war mastiff, their handler is a creature which has spent 8 hours of downtime bonding with the creature through training and succeeding in a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  

When not being ridden as a mount, the war trained creature acts independently from its handler in combat. It acts on its own turn immediately following its handler’s turn in the initiative order.  It defends itself if attacked using its offensive and defensive abilities appropriately, attempting to flee if injured.  It stays by its handler’s side, and acts as if commanded to guard its handler (see Guard <target> below), until issued a different command.  

If you are its handler, you may issue a command to a war trained creature as a bonus action that requires a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check..  A successful check allows you to give the creature one command it knows.  The creature acts 

When it has fulfilled the requirements of a given command, and the creature is not threatened, it reverts to its default behavior of guarding its handler.

The commands known by all war trained creatures are listed below.

Attack <target>– the creature engages the target if it can perceive it, using its offensive abilities appropriately for a creature of its intelligence: dogs/wolves make trip attacks.  War horses attempt to overrun and trample, etc.  It ignores other enemies in favor of its target, pursuing if necessary, until the target is disabled or flees.

Heel – the creature returns to its owner’s side, using disengage actions as appropriate if currently engaged with an enemy.  It remains passive, using attack actions only to defend itself.

Follow – the creature uses its movement to maintain a pace with its owner

Guard <target> – the creature moves to the target’s side, and remains there, readying an action if possible each turn to attack the first opponent that threatens the target in melee combat.  If the target moves, it follows as if it were issued the follow command.  Once it has engaged an opponent which threatens the target, it acts as if under an Attack command until that target has been disabled or flees.  If other targets threaten the target, it then engages the next nearest opponent and repeats the process.

Additional commands can be taught to a war trained creature by spending an appropriate amount of downtime and spending 1 gp per day of training for training materials/expenses.  Each of these commands takes fourteen days of training and 30 gp by a skilled NPC, or fourteen days of training at 1 gp a day by a PC during downtime, requiring a successful DC 15 Animal Handling check at the end of that period.  Like other commands, these require a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check made as a bonus action during combat.

Help <target> – the creature uses its turns to move an unoccupied square within 5 feet of the indicated ally and uses the help action on its next turn to aid the individual indicated by the handler the next time it is able.  It then acts as if given the Guard <target> action unless a new command is issued.

Dodge – the creature remains engaged with its opponent, but takes the dodge action on each of its turns rather than making any attack actions.

Fetch – the creature uses its turns to move to and pick up the item indicated by its handler, and then return that item to its handler.  It uses its mouth to carry the item unless it can manipulate objects with a different appendage (an ape’s hands, a monkey’s tail, etc).  Strength and encumbrance rules apply, as well as common sense (a tiny chihuahua will not be fetching a medium greatsword).

Give <target> – the creature uses its turns to move to and drop the item it is carrying to the indicated target.  The command is ignored if the creature is not carrying an item.

Take <item> – the creature uses its turns to move to its handler and take an offered item from the handler’s hand.  The handler can use their reaction to let go of the item, or let go of it during their next turn for no action cost.

War trained Creatures as mounts

When acting as a mount, a war trained creature acts in unison with its handler on its handler’s initiative, and under the control of that player.  The player uses his or her turn’s movement to move the mount (at the mount’s movement speed), and can take actions normally while mounted.  The mount is considered to have taken the same action as the player if that action is dodge, disengage, or dash.  

As a bonus action, the player can make a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  If successful, the mount can immediately use one of its melee attack actions against a creature within that action’s range.

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