There has been an ongoing debate over the effectiveness of the Beast Master ranger archetype, with its supporters pointing to the excellent beasts available in the Monster Manual and how they function with the class. Meanwhile, its critics point to the problems the beasts have at surviving and their limitations. A recent episode of The Round Table saw Dan Dillon and Schuyler Esau discussing why the class wasn’t as bad as many people thought, but in which they made a few references to Dave “Jester” Gibson’s opposing views on the class.
Dan and Dave have continued their discussion about the effectiveness of the class, and, based on those discussions, Dave ended up writing this supplement: The Beast Master Companion, which provide a few options to enhance the effectiveness of the companion. I’m sort of disappointed it’s not called “The Beast Master’s Companion’s Companion”, but that’s probably just me.
This eleven-page supplement offers a selection of new feats, equipment choices and animal companion statistics you can use to enhance your campaign. The bulk of the product is taken up with the new stat blocks, and a sidebar offers suggestions in adjusting the base Beast Master abilities to improve the effectiveness of the companion, although you don’t need to do so to make use of this product. Basically, if you like the Beast Master as it is, the options in this book won’t break anything. They just offer more you can do with the class.
The feats are quite interesting. There are only four of them, and three of them increase one of your companion’s ability scores by 2 (Con, Wis or Dex, depending on the feat), while providing some other useful abilities. This will necessitate a recalculation of the beast’s derived statistics (attack bonus, skill checks, etc.), which may not always be obvious to players; the way monster statistics are calculated is no longer as clearly defined as in 3E, although the principles are simple enough.
The Guard Companion feat grants the companion an increase in hit points and the ability to reduce the speed of creatures it successfully makes opportunity attacks against. The Hunting Companion feat allows you to make ranged attacks without your companion getting in the way, and to provide a damage bonus when you both attack the same target. The Scouting Companion feat improves the companion’s capabilities when travelling through the wilderness. These are well-considered abilities that properly aid the companion work in a particular role, although the Scouting Companion’s abilities are less obviously effective than those of the Guard and Hunting Companions.
The final feat, Undead Companion, is very unusual. I presume the intent of the feat is that it transforms your (dead) companion into an undead beast, the primary effect of which is that it can never truly die – even if reduced to 0 hit points, it can be restored through healing magic. It’s the most problematic feat of the four, and makes sure you’ll never have to permanently say goodbye to a companion.
The magic items have a number of problems with the phrasing of their powers; I’m particularly amused by the magic items that refer to “you” which can only be used by your companion! The items are somewhat of a mixture of good and bad. I rather like the targeting arrow, which allows your companion to spend a reaction to attack the creature you’ve just struck with the arrow, but this section needs a major rewrite to properly make sense.
Two new magic spells, magic fang and revivify companion, are definitely in the mold of “companions have a problem with this, let’s fix it”. The implementation of the latter may bother you less than it does me; I’d prefer to see it have a material component cost. The former works well enough.
The remainder of the product contains new stat blocks for potential companions. The list is as follows: Alligator, Deep Bat, Moon Bear, Capuchin, Cheetah, Deinonychus, Hooded Falcon, Ferret, Gorilla, Miniature Giant Space Hamster(!), Elven Hound, Plains Lion, Orangutan, Giant Platypus (!), Miniature Constrictor Snake, Spitting Lizard, Thrum Worm, and Giant Turtle.
It’s definitely a mixed bag. How the Thrum Worm (a worm that can emit a sonic ray) exists on a list of standard beasts, I have no idea. I really like how the Giant Turtle’s Armour Class increases when it takes the Dodge action (as it retreats inside its shell!) The miniature constrictor snake is medium rather than large (or tiny), and the miniature giant space hamster has an appropriate blinding attack that triggers on a critical hit.
Despite many of the beasts having both bite and claw attacks, the multiattack action is not to be found.
It’s unlikely that most of the beasts would be chosen as animal companions, but they may be useful for characters casting various spells that summon beasts.
As it stands, The Beast Master Companion offers a good amount of useful content for its very low price (50 cents), but – as usual with supplementary material – you will need to determine if it is a good fit for your campaign. Personally, I’d allow a couple of the feats, most of the monsters and some of the magic items, which is not a bad selection.