Beast Exploits (5e Optimized Character Build)

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Beast Exploits[edit]

Animals. Gotta love 'em. We use them as mounts, companions, familiars, and shapeshifting forms. If you're like me (which I hope you aren't), you love your fictional pets just as much as your real ones. Ever wanted to min-max your animals? Here's how!

Beasts as Animal Companions[edit]

For beast master rangers, a good animal companion is key. The prerequisites are that it mustn't be larger than Medium size or higher than 1/4 CR. Also, if you're playing a Small or Tiny character, you can ride Medium beasts as mounts (however, using a longbow will be more difficult). With that in mind, here's the best picks:

Giant Frog
Swimming speed and amphibiousness make it adaptable to the water, and standing leap makes it very mobile. Can grapple and restrain targets for you, as well as swallow littler ones. Medium size makes it mountable if you're Small, allowing you to take advantage of its jumping and swimming capabilities.
Giant Wolf Spider
Can poison victims if their bite reduces the target to 0 hit points; great for a finishing blow. 40 ground and climbing speed, plus spider climb, making it good for a Small character mount (though I doubt you'd be able to stay on its back if you're upside down on a ceiling). If you can get your hands on Web or something that lets you cast it, such as a Cloak of Arachnida, you can potentially create bridges whenever you need them that only you can traverse.
Giant Crab
Similar benefits to a giant frog, but can grapple two targets and can't swallow them.
Best raw damage output. 50 speed and 40 climbing speed make it a great Small character mount. Can knock enemies prone and get extra attacks from it.
Giant Rat
Though pretty weak and not ridable, you can inflict disease with its bites. Since the DC for the saving throw against the rat's disease is a measly 10, it's probably not a good idea to choose this one, however.
Giant Fire Beetle
Wow, we've had a lot of giant creatures. Since the beetle emits light constantly, if you don't want a mount or a combatant, this is the companion for you.
If you're a medium character, this beast of burden is one of your only mount options. Otherwise, it's nothing special.

Beasts as Wild Shapes[edit]

For druids (especially moon circle druids), wild shape is more for mobility than combat. But many people neglect that at level 18, you get beast spells, which means that certain forms can be used to make offensive spellcasting easier. A last note is that if you're Medium or Large size, your party members can potentially ride you (don't take that the wrong way) while you're in a wild shape. Here's the best forms:

Once you reach level 18 as a moon circle druid, this is the most powerful offensive form. Great ability scores, solid damage output, and tanky hit points. The only problem is, as mentioned, you have to be a druid in the circle of the moon who is at least 18th level to unlock this form.
Giant Spider
Can potentially poison targets with a bite, and climbing speed with spider climb makes it useful. Its webbing is handy for a quick you-only bridge or just to restrain enemies.
Giant Toad
Can grapple, restrain, and swallow enemies. Has a decent swimming speed and standing leap.
Giant Vulture
Somewhat decent damage output, at the cost of additional effects. Powerful flying speed. Pack tactics is most always useful if you're in a group, especially if one of your party members is riding on your back.
Giant Scorpion
Requires circle of the moon, but can be attained at mid-levels. Can grapple two targets and inflict somewhat strong poison damage, and 40 ft. speed doesn't hurt, either.
Air/Water Elemental
Elemental wild shape gives you the 4 elementals once you hit 10th level in the circle of the moon. Air and water elementals have monstrous speed. Choose air for flying speed (plus hovering), or water for swimming speed.
Giant Eagle
Same benefits as a giant vulture, but faster and less offensive. You loose pack tactics, so use this one for mobility.

Beasts as Familiars[edit]

No more giant animals! With the Find Familiar spell, we gain the service of a spectral animal. Since it can't attack, offense is off the table here. What we're mainly looking for is speed, whether to boost our senses by seeing and hearing through the familiar, to deliver touch spells, or as a messenger. Warlocks get additional forms with pact of the chain, most of which get magic resistance that we can share. Imp is probably the best out of that list, but since not all classes get those additional forms, we're focusing on the basic ones:

A bit slower than some of the others, but its climbing speed and spider climb are good for hiding on the ceiling or scouting out difficult areas.
Best flying speed. It has keen hearing and sight, which makes it good for using your familiar's senses. Flyby is perfect for delivering touch spells without putting it at risk.
Poisonous Snake
Shouldn't it be called a venomous snake? Whatever. 30 ft. swimming and walking speed make it quite mobile, and best for the water if you don't want to change forms.
Best swimming speed. It's only useful underwater, however, so you should only use it as a temporary form for your familiar.

Beasts as Mounts[edit]

While wild shapes and animal companions come with mounting capability as a bonus feature, some animals are pretty much designed as mounts. We'll cover realistically obtainable mounts (sorry, no ancient gold dragons), as well as creatures that specifically state they can be trained as them. Also, unless you're using mounted combat, offense isn't of much note, but we'll point out the stronger mounts. Keep in mind that you'll need an exotic saddle for many of these bad boys. Let's take a look:

Blink Dog
Only ridable if you're a Small character; it's essentially a weaker, teleporting mastiff. You'll be able to teleport with it, because you're technically being carried by the dog. Since it can understand Sylvian, you can issue it direct commands. Just make sure to stay away from displacer beasts while you're riding a blink dog, which shouldn't be a big problem.
Giant Shark
Okay, let's face it. You're only getting this bad boy if you're a sahuagin. If you just so happen to be a bipedal vaporeon on a bad day, lucky you. You get great swimming speed and can telepathically command your mount, plus a wicked bite and blood frenzy. Welcome to shark week! The only problem is that it only works underwater.
Giant Sea Horse
Same situation as a giant shark, only you gotta be a sea elf. Not nearly as kick-butt, but it'll let you swim faster and increase your carrying capacity, so go for it if you want.
Warhorses are unsurprisingly designed as mounts. They have great speed and can knock enemies prone for you, making them perfect for mounted combat. Plus, if you're concerned about involving your mounts in danger, you can give them armor.
Giant Spider/Giant Wolf Spider
If you're a dark elf or something similar, you might be able to get a hold of one of these. Giant wolf spiders are faster but smaller, meaning they're probably of less use. Giant spiders can web things, which has a number of uses. Either way, you'll wind up with climbing speed equal to the mount's walking speed with spider climb to back it up, meaning you'll have a great mount for tricky areas (as long as you can hold on tight enough). Not to mention it's very intimidating to ride in on one of Australia's freshest hellspawn.
These two mounts are very similar, but have their own benefits. Griffons are faster in the air but slower on the ground, and hippogriffs are more balanced. Both get fairly good offense if you're into mounted combat.
Although hard to tame (and find), this is arguably the best straightforward mount. It has all the benefits of a warhorse (notwithstanding that armor is likely unusable) plus an extremely good flying speed. Additionally, it can understand a wide spectrum of languages, including Common.
If you're a paladin or a cleric, your god might grant this to you as a gift. Otherwise, give up hope on purloining a unicorn. If you're lucky enough to get one, in addition to similarity to and speed just short of a warhorse, you get all kinds of innate magic and healing features. It's the only mount you can realistically get (if you can call it that) that has legendary actions.
Strong offense and great flying speed, but difficult to tame and get a hold of. Use a wyvern only if you're up to the task.

Animal-Oriented Builds[edit]

Build 1: Magic Kaiju Scorpion of Pestilence[edit]

This build makes full use of wild shape to inflict major damage and subdue anything with your mighty pincers.

Race: Dwarf (duregar)

Class: Druid (circle of the moon), at least 18 levels

AS: Wisdom, otherwise unimportant

Equipment: Druidic focus

Feats: None

Spells: Contagion, Thorn Whip if you want it

The strategy:

Use wild shape as a bonus action to become a giant scorpion, then use your duregar magic to cast enlarge/reduce on yourself to become Huge size. Now nothing can escape your pincers. Grapple a target or two with them, then cast Contagion on one. The two effects that work the best here are Flesh Rot, since they'll have venerability to all your attacks, or Slimy Doom, since they'll be stunned every time you hit them, making it impossible to escape. Since the targets are restrained while they are grappled, you'll have advantage on casting Contagion, as well as all subsequent attacks, and you can either inflict major damage every hit, or make the target almost completely unable to escape your grasp.

Build 2: Owl that Makes You Die/Makes You Not Die/Makes You Un-die[edit]

This build fixes a liability in many clerics: Lack of range. You can be offensive and supportive with the aid of your trusty owl.

Race: Mostly unimportant, but variant human can get Magic Initiate off the bat

Class: Cleric (domain depends on how offensive or supportive you want to be), at least 4 levels, but you should go higher

AS: Wisdom, Dexterity

Equipment: Light crossbow

Feats: Magic Initiate

Spells: Focus on touch or melee spells, such as Cure Wounds, Gentle Repose, Inflict Wounds, Revivify, etc., and get Find Familiar with Magic Initiate

The strategy:

Use Find Familiar to get yourself an owl. Then use the owl to deliver touch and melee spells, while you pepper your foes with your crossbow from a safe distance. You could be offensive, utilizing spells like Inflict Wounds, or supportive, moving your owl to your allies and using touch-range healing or resurrection effects. Or go with a mix of the two. Since the owl has flyby, pretty much nothing can attack it, and the only real problem is that it is limited by its reaction as to how many spells you can cast through it.

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