The second leg of the druid Triad of Power, the Animal Companion is a vital part of what makes a druid. A properly built companion can function as almost another party member (or even make the poorly optimized fighter cry, depending on your group
), but the key to getting the most out of your furry (scaly/feathery) friend is choosing a role for them and stick to it. Companions aren't druids themselves; they can't do everything
So, what are the roles that companions can do well?Grappler
- best served by a pet with all-around good stats, the grappler gets into the thick of things. Yes they do some damage, but more importantly, they lock down one or more of the enemy, while serving as a barrier to others. This is really valuable if you spend a lot of time dungeon crawling, or fighting in places without a whole lot of space. Crocodiles, bears and some of the dinosaurs make the best grapplers.Pouncer
- the pure damage dealing option. Pouncers all do full attacks on a charge, and often a few extra attacks as well. The downside is that most of them are pretty fragile and they require a fair amount of space to do their thing. But when properly buffed up, a pouncer can put serious hurt on the bad guys. The alternate method is the Charger - they usually have one big attack and Powerful Charge for double damage. If they have trample, they can charge in, trample, move away as part of the trample, and then charge back in (the infamous Triceratops Shuffle, as it's known). It requires even more room though, and it's a bit too conditional for my tastes. For pouncers, look for the big cats and raptor dinosaurs for the power. For chargers, look for the horned dinosaurs and rhinos.Mount
- You're no paladin, but that doesn't mean you can't use your companion for a mount. Now, I do think it's a waste to just
use your companion for a mount. While it is an easy way to get flight, there are other ways to get that - there aren't a lot of ways to get another loyal-unto-death combatant. If you're going to go the mount route, make sure it fits with your own combat style. Being mounted means that it's easy to take advantage of Share Spell, so you could, for example, grab a lance, and charge in on a Charger to do all sorts of ridiculous damage. There are lots of companions that work as mounts - just make sure it's one size larger than you.Dire Tortoise
- it doesn't really fit in with the other categories, but it's still incredibly good. Huge HP, great AC, good trample, and an auto-surprise round make for a surprisingly effective pet. I've never been disappointed by this guy.
Now that you know what role you want to focus on, it's time to pick out your companion. To level up, or change companions?
Probably the most frequently asked question. Do you swap out your pet every three levels, or let it gain the bonuses from leveling? Generally speaking
, it's better to swap them out. There are exceptions, but most of the time, you gain more from a higher level base pet. Now, if you do stick with the same pet, there are a couple advantages. 1. it will end up with higher AC - most base animals tend to stay in the 14-17AC range, regardless of level. 2. you get to select its feats.
Most of the time, that's not enough to make up for the increased damage, number of attacks, increased size, etc. The exceptions: Fleshraker
- it's good enough that it can last you pretty much your whole career, and if venomfire
is allowed in the campaign, it's hands down the best selection all the way to 20. Magebred Bear/Ghost Tiger
- the boosts this template give you, combined with the generally poor selection at level 10 means that it's worth it to hang onto them until at least 13 and possibly until 16. Dire Tortoise
- it's base stats are so high, and it's so unusual, that if you like it, it can serve until 20 without any problem.
On to the lists!Level 1
Level 4 Core
- Badger: Has multiple attacks but that's pretty much all it has going for it. Also, good luck getting it's rage ability to go off before it's dead
- Camel: If you're looking for a companion to be just a non-combat beast of burden, this is the best first level choice. Don't waste your class feature on that though - if you want a mount, the heavy horse is better in every way except for carrying capacity.
- Dire Rat: extremely fragile, low damage and the disease is worthless. One of the worst options available.
- Dog: the Riding Dog is superior in every way. Don't take this.
- Riding dog: Make sure yours is trained for war, per the monster entry. Tough, relatively hard-hitting, can wear barding without wasting feats. Superior in every way to a wolf. Good mount (small druids only) and substitute low-level tank if you give it barding. Probably the best first level choice.
- Eagle: Fast flight speed and multiple attacks make this a not horrible choice if you're looking for a scout. Very low hp though, so combat is very dangerous for them.
- Hawk: Inferior to the eagle in every way.
- Light Horse: Faster than a heavy horse, but weaker. The heavy horse is probably the better over-all choice if you want a companion of this type.
- Heavy horse: Fast mount for medium druids. Large.
- Owl: Get an eagle if you want a flier. The Move Silently bonus is not worth giving up all offensive capability.
- Pony: Get a horse if you want a mount.
- Snake, Small/Medium Viper: slow, weak, fragile. Even with Venomfire these guys wouldn't be worth using.
- Wolf: It is strictly worse than a war trained riding dog, but even so, it's not a terrible choice. If you're looking for a decent attacker and don't like the riding dog flavor, this guy is alright.
- BrixashultyRoW: Halfling-only. Very close to a riding dog; gives up a little damage for higher Con, and trades the trip for a knockback. Solid choice. Non-halflings can get these at level four - don't bother.
- CaribouFrost: Strictly inferior to several other choices. Low speed for a mount, medium sized, low damage. Pick something else.
- ChordevocRoW: Halfling-only. Better than an owl, but stat-wise, inferior to an eagle. The only potential saving grace is its 60' Blindsense. Not a strong option, but it does have it's niche if you need an early sentry against invisible assassins. Non-halflings can get these at level four - don't bother.
- ClimbdogA&E: A wolf without the trip attack. I guess the massive climb bonus could come in handy is some campaigns - but for the other 99.99% of druids, get something else.
- JackelSand: Literally identical to the dog entry.
- ServalSand: Actually a pretty decent damage dealer. The only first level pouncer, with three attacks and has Improved Grab and a Rake attack. On the downside, it's Small, so it's unlikely that its Grab will work, and with 5 hp, combat is not a safe place for it.
- Swindlespitter DinosaurMM3: Harasser with paralyzing AoE attack
- VultureSand: Inferior in every way to the eagle.
Level 7 Core
- Ape: Decent hp, 3 attacks; nothing to get real excited about, but a decent choice.
- Dire Badger: Much better than the non-dire version. This one can actually be a decent option.
- Dire Bat: Flying mount for medium druids. Good hp and decent AC. Large.
- Black Bear: Inferior to the ape in pretty much every way.
- Bison: A sack of hp with not much else going for it. Avoid.
- Boar: Another weak choice.
- Cheetah: Its speed is the only thing it has going for it. If it had Pounce it might be a decent option, but it doesn't, so it's not.
- Crocodile: Grappler and general slugger. (PHB 3.5 and PHB2 confirm that this is a level 4 choice. The SRD lists it as available at level 1 for aquatic druids; the SRD is wrong in this case.)
- Leopard: Solid damage dealer, but a bit fragile like all cats. Has Pounce, Improved Grab and Rake. If you like cats, this is the best cat for the level.
- Monitor Lizard: No.
- Snake, Large Viper/Constrictor: Still bad.
- Dire Weasel: Its Drain attack is too slow to make up for its abysmal overall stats.
- Wolverine: It's not quite as good as the ape, but if size is a major factor in your campaign, this is the best core medium animal.
- Fleshraker DinosaurMM3: Pouncer/tripper/grappler with poison. Far and away the best companion at this level, and possibly the best companion, period.
- AxebeakA&E: one of the better ground mounts. Fast, decent hp, and reasonable attacks.
- Dire HawkRoW: Raptoran-only. A solid defensive creature with decent AC and hp. Their attacks are nothing to write home about though. Non-Raptorans can get these at level 7 - but don't bother.
- Horrid RatECS: This first of the Horrid options, this one isn't quite good enough to use. 1HD just isn't enough.
- SailsnakeMM4: A fan of Alan Dean Foster's Flinx series? Now you can have your own Pip, venom spitting and all. Overall, not very strong unless you're using venomfire - a very good option if you are.
- Dire ToadMM2: it's poison is ok, but probably not enough to make up for it's weak base attack. Its Swallow Whole ability is pretty much useless as well.
- WatchspiderCoS: An interesting option for those wanting to use venomfire without a fleshraker. It's not a very strong companion, but it is the only magical beast available without a feat or PrC. It's tremorsense could be potentially useful as well.
Level 10 Core
- Dire Ape: It gets a Rend attack that does decent damage, otherwise very similar to its non-dire version. Really low hp for this level.
- Brown Bear: Grappler. Not as good in a grapple as Giant Crocodile, but better-rounded and harder-hitting in a straight fight. Large.
- Dire Boar: A lot of hp and Str and the Ferocity can be nice, but a single attack just isn't very good by this point.
- Giant Crocodile: If you're looking for a dedicated grappler, then this is your guy. Inferior to the bear for anything else though. Huge.
- Deinonychus: Pounce and four attacks balances out the abysmally low hp. Still inferior to the tiger however.
- Lion: Like a tiger, but not as good.
- Rhinoceros: High hp and Powerful Charge make this a not terrible option.
- Snake, Huge Viper: Like the rest of the snakes, still terrible.
- Tiger: Pounce, multiple attacks, Improved Grab and a Rake attack with decent hp. If you're limited to Core-only, it's a toss up between this guy and brown bear for the best of this level.
- Dire Wolf: The wolf was decent at level 1, but by this point, one attack + Trip doesn't really cut it.
- Dire Wolverine: Its Rage ability in no way makes up for its lower damage and lack of Pounce compared to the other options available.
- Horrid BadgerECS: Low HP, but very good damage, and its high AC does help out with the survivability issue.
- Horrid BatECS: Excellent AC, and by now, the Con boost from the Horrid template is starting to partially make up for the low HD. Not an option I would choose, but a decent flying mount.
- Magebred Brown Bear5N: A straight upgrade to the already good brown bear. A very attractive option.
- Cave AnklyosaurusMiniHB/PHB2: A tough trampler that hits almost as hard as a Giant Crocodile. Large.
- Dire EagleRoS: Flying mount for medium characters, for games where Horrid animals aren't available. Large.
- MegalocerosFrost: Really bad. Not quite as bad as say, a snake, but still not worth taking.
- ProtoceratopsSand: Even with Powerful Charge, this thing is terrible. A rhino is superior in every way.
- Terror BirdFF: Flesh-eating ostriches are cool and all, but aside from its higher than normal initiative, this is not a good choice.
- Magebred Ghost Tiger5N: Hard-hitting and tough pouncer. It's only arguably better than Fleshraker. Large.
- Horrid WeaselECS: Nope. The weasel is too weak for even this template to save.
Level 13 Core
- Polar Bear: Aside from its swim speed, it's inferior to just staying with the Brown Bear in every way.
- Dire Lion: Almost identical to a leveled up tiger, except that the tiger has better feats.
- Megaraptor: If size isn't an issue, this guy is ok - he would be a lot better if he had more than one primary attack, and he lacks the grab/rake combo of the cats. Fairly durable for a pouncer though.
- Giant Constrictor Snake: Odds are good that you know the answer to this already: snakes are not good companions, period.
- AllosaurusMM2/PHB2: Hard-hitting grappler and quite passable trampler. (Not as good at trampling as the Dire Tortoise, though.) Huge.
- Horrid ApeECS: The dire ape's low base HP makes this template a bad fit.
- BloodstrikerMM3: An offensively- and defensively-balanced choice. (Don't mistake it for a game-balanced choice. It eats melee attackers alive.) It has tons of HP and decent AC, but can still deal respectable damage (especially with Powerful Charge). Plus, anyone who tries to attack it in melee will take a dozen damage per hit. Top it off with a breath weapon and it's a very reasonable choice.
- Horrid BoarECS: Only having one attack really doesn't cut it.
- Dragonhawk5N:Fast flying mount, with Blindsense and some fairly decent attacks. It's big enough to carry several party members, depending on encumbrance. Huge.
- GlyptodonFrost: As cool as having a pet giant armadillo would be, he's not a very good companion. DR 5/piercing doesn't make up for the very low damage output, and surprisingly low AC. Avoid
- HippopotamusSand: Despite how deadly as these guys are in real life, they aren't very deadly in D&D. Low AC, low speed, one attack - even the above average feats that it has can't make up the shortfall.
- Dire HorseMM2: Even if you're just looking for a mount, you can do way better than this.
- Horrid HorseECS: However, when you throw the Horrid template on the terrible dire horse, it becomes pretty damn awesome.
- Dire PumaSand: I can only conclude that someone messed up and meant this to be a much lower level choice. There are core-only lower level choices that are superior.
- Dire SnakeMM2: Sigh. Ok, if you really, really want a snake, this is the one to choose. It poisons and constricts and is faster than most of it's brethren. It's still bad, but not as bad as the rest.
- Smilodon (Saber-Toothed Tiger)Frost: Comparable to the tiger/dire lion, the smilodon has the better burst damage, but the tiger wins out if combat goes for more than a round.
- Dire TortoiseSand: Trampler, unlikely-but-effective scout and mount. This is the ideal defensive choice at this level, with plenty of HP and AC. But none of that is why you want this guy - it's for his automatic surprise round every encounter. For a mostly outdoor campaign, this guy is one of the very best options. (he's a leetle too big to go dungeon crawling without some serious work on your part ) Huge.
- Cave TriceratopsMH: It's Powerful Charge ability makes its one attack pretty threatening, and its trample attack isn't bad, but it's pretty mediocre all things considered.
- Cave TyrannosaurusMH: Wins some points for style, but the stats are really weak.
- Dire VultureSand: Seriously, who was in charge of picking levels for the Sandstorm companions? Dire Puma, Dire Tortoise and Dire Vulture are all in a row in the book, and it would take an idiot to think that the vulture or puma were even close to being a 10th level pet. Anyway, the vulture is terrible. Really, really terrible.
- Horrid WolfECS: Like the horrid boar, one attack without anything else interesting to back it up just doesn't cut it.
- Horrid WolverineECS: again, the dire wolverine is just too weak to for this template to save.
Level 16 Core
- Dire Bear: Grappler and just generally mean brute. Best of all, it has a much better than average Will save. Large.
- Elephant: Decent damage + trample, but inferior to a lot of other choices.
- AnkylosaurusMM2: Decent HP and AC (though nothing compared to the Dire Tortoise), but only one relatively weak attack.
- DiprotodonSand: Low HP, low AC, low damage = loser companion.
- Dire ElkMM2: Like the elephant, but slightly weaker in every way except for saves. (also, no trample)
- FhorgeFF: Only one really weak attack, and only average stats in other areas. Just say no.
- Horrid LionECS: Excellent damage, though it's low BAB does hurt a bit. A solid choice, regardless.
- Giant Banded LizardSand: Grappler and general combatant with poison, possible mount. Huge.
Level 19 Core
- Dire Tiger: Pouncer, with good feats and a lot of damage potential. Large.
- Triceratops: Charger - does decent damage on its first attack, but requires the "triceratops shuffle" to do sustained damage. (charge in, trample, move away as part of the trample, charge back in, etc). Not my favorite, but it's functional if you always fight in areas with lots of room.
- Tyrannosaurus Dinosaur: Grappler and very stylish mount. Only one attack, but it hits decently hard. Huge.
- Dire Polar BearFrost: A better grappler than the tyrannosaurus, with better damage potential. An all-around all star.
- Horrid BearECS: If huge animals are a no-no, this guy is comparable to the dire polar bear - it doesn't grapple as well, but it does a lot more damage thanks to the Improved Natural Attack feat on all its attacks and the 3d6 acid damage added to both claw attacks. Large.
- Dire ElephantSand/MM2: An enormous HP pool and decent trample damage. Put a howdah on top and attack Minas Tirith. Gargantuan.
- Horrid ElkECS: Only one primary attack to get the acid damage, and generally lower stats than the horrid bear. Not a bad choice all things considered, but either of the bears are better.
- Dire HippopotamusSand: A decent grappler, but inferior to most of the other choices this level.
- IndricothereFF: Unimpressive stats all around. Nothing terrible, but you can do so much better.
- Woolly MammothFrost: Nope. Nothing to see here.
- MastadonMM3: Almost identical to the woolly mammoth.
- Grizzly MastadonMM2: and now for entry #3 of our "almost identical prehistorical elephants"... bleh.
- MegatheriumFF: For a giant sloth, this thing is pretty quick A nice AC, decent HP (though both worse than the dire tortoise), but it's Pin move is what makes it stand out. Not a great companion, but it's workable.
- QuetzacoatlusMM2: A Huge flying mount with Swallow Whole. Since Swallow Whole is terrible, and you can get Roc if you need a flying mount for the party, give this guy a pass.
- Dire RhinocerosFF: Similar to the triceratops, except without Powerful Charge. Much better other feats though; it really too bad =/
- RocSand/MM: Flying mount for the entire party, replaces Horrid Bat (assuming size isn't an issue). Gargantuan.
- Horrid ElephantECS: Trampler, replaces Dire Elephant. Gargantuan.
- Horrid RhinocerosECS: Sigh. This would be an interesting choice if it actually had Powerful Charge.
- Horrid TigerECS: It does a lot of damage, but ends up being inferior to some other choices due to already having Improved Natural Attack on its weapons. Still a strong choice though.
[/list]Further Companion optimization
First of all, if you're playing in a very High-Op game, go ahead and grab the Fleshraker, toss venomfire
on it, and don't look back. The combination is too incredible not to take if that's the direction your group is going.
Now with that out of the way, let's look at some of the more generally applicable tips.
Get some barding! Even if they're not trained for it, getting your companion some barding with no Armor Check Penalty is a relatively cheap and easy way to increase it's survivability. And remember, just because you can't wear metal armor, there's nothing that extends that restriction to your companion. And a set of +1 magic armor lets you attach armor crystals from MiC, and other goodies.
The Warbeast Template from MM2 should also be available if you have a decent amount of downtime between adventures. It's an awesome template: +3 Str, +3 Con, +2 Wis, +1HD, +10 Move, armor proficiency, plus a few other minor benefits. In fact, it's so good that I've never had a DM that actually allowed it in-game
Best of luck to you on that, though!
Magebred/Horrid template: while it's never explicitly stated, it's implied in the ECS that the Horrid template can be applied to any dire animal at a -3 level adjustment. If so, it opens up a lot of cool choices. The two main things to look for are animals with 1. multiple primary attacks 2. high HD for the level. There are a ton of benefits to this template, and I highly recommend it. Magebred is trickier - on one hand, ECS flat out says "No Magebred Animal Companions", but then 5N comes out and explicitly gives us magebred bears and tigers. Talk to your DM and find out how they rule it, and if you can get magebred, it's an awesome addition as well.
For those more serious about getting better companions, there are some more options to consider:Feats
: At first glance, this feat seems pretty cool; adds baboon to your list of allowed companions and treats it as +3 levels. Except, the baboon is really terrible, so sadly this option is a waste. Exalted CompanionBoED
: this feat expands your companion list a bit, and more to the point, lets you get an animal with the celestial template. The DR, SR, and energy resistance are nice, but what really makes the template worthwhile is the bump up to 3 Int. At 3 Int, your companion has actual intelligence and doesn't need to worry about tricks or anything like that.
Celestial Template added to any animal at an additional -1 level (so a -3 (4th level) becomes a -4 (5th level) option). As mentioned, a solid option.
AsperiMM2 - a cool mount with some interesting tricks. Not a particularly powerful or versatile option though.
Giant Eagle/Giant Owl - the high intelligence is nice, and they do make good flying mounts, but they hardly seem worth a feat.
: A second, slightly weaker companion for the cost of one feat isn't a bad trade.Natural BondCAdv
: to echo what I said above, a liberal reading of this feat could potentially give you and extra 3 effective levels to your companion progression. Unlikely to fly unless your DM is familiar with Char-Op though.A 1 level BeastmasterCAdv dip
: you trade one level of spellcasting and wild shape progression for +3 to your effective level for animal companion. Let me make it clear - this is a bad tradeoff from an overall optimizing point of view!
However, if you have a concept that wants to rely on the companion as much as possible, it's not the end of the world. No more than one level though! The rest of the abilities are rubbish.