Two months ago we did a post on the top ten starter pack for alphas, discussing the best creatures at CR1/4 and lower that are available to you. In today's post we are continuing this series by looking at CR1/2 and CR1 beasts to find which ones are the best for your use.
This may also be useful for thinking through druid wild shapes, but keep in mind that druids cannot turn into swarms, so inasmuch as you see a swarm on this list you cannot shapeshift into that profile.
Like in the last post, we will be looking at combat and utility abilities, weighing the attacks, senses, resilience, and special abilities you gain from these creatures. It will not surprise you that most of the top ten are CR1 creatures (as there's a pretty decent jump it seems in quality from CR1/2 and CR1), but I'll note in passing that the CR1/2 creatures do give good value - just not as much value on the whole as the CR1 creatures.
The Top Ten Low CR Beasts for Alphas
Honorable Mentions: The follow creatures are good, but didn't quite make the top ten: Ape (Multiattack both up close and at range? That's unique), Black Bear (a CR 1/2 creature with decent hit points, good senses, and Multiattack), Giant Hyena (a sack of 45 hit points backed up by a good attack and a chance for a second attack if it kills the target), and the Crocodile (this is not the greatest killing machine, but doing 10ish damage each turn after grappling and restraining a creature, thereby increasing your chance of hitting on future turns is no joke).
#10: Warhorse (CR1)
This bad boy has an incredible +6 to its Attack rolls for above-average damage, and the chance to get in a second attack if the target fails to pass the Strength save, which on a DC14, is a decent chance if you are up against a character that does not use Strength as its primary stat. It has decent hit points past a good Armor Class, but it gets better: this is one of those beasts where you don't need to convince your GM that you can buy barding armor for it, so you can have a far better AC than the starting profile.
Combine this with good senses and a good movement speed, and you have a good selection for any occasion. It's not amazing, but it's pretty good as an option and meets a lot of needs.
#9: Swarm of Quippers (CR1)
This is basically a swarm of piranhas, and they are dangerous. With AC13 and 28 hit points they are decently survivable, definitely capable of taking on 1st - 3rd level characters with a good chance of doing damage, and boy is it a lot of damage: 4d6 piercing damage when above half health, and 2d6 piercing when at half health or lower, which is not bad even against 3rd level characters.
But it doesn't stop there: with advantage on attacks against wounded characters and several damage resistances and condition immunities, dealing with these guys is not easy at all. So while they only have a swimming speed, when it comes to water threats, these guys are up there.
#8: Giant Octopus (CR1)
With only 1 attack dealing on average 10 damage, this is not a great damage dealing creature, but where this creature excels is in its other tactical abilities. With the ability to restrain a target (so disadvantage on its attacks and advantage on all attacks against it), dash as a bonus action when using its Ink Cloud, good senses and stealth, and an incredible 52 hit points (8d10 hit die - that's insane) coupled with 60ft of swim speed, the giant octopus offers a lot of unique and potent abilities.
But that's not all: the grappling/restraining ability that the octopus has can only be escaped on a DC16 Strength check - which is insane for a CR1 creature (it's even insane for a CR2 or 3 creature, let alone a CR1). So while its maximum damage is less than most creatures, it is pretty consistent in its damage, and if it's in a fight only against one creature it will last for a while due to inflicting disadvantage on the grappled creature's attacks.
#7: Giant Toad (CR1)
With an Armor Class of 11 and 39 hit points the Giant Toad is not resilient, especially as it lacks resistances or immunities to keep it safe from specific attacks or abilities. That being said, the giant toad offers very unique control abilities at this level, with the ability to grapple the target with its bite (albeit only on a DC13 to escape, which is about average) which can then lead to a Swallow attack: if it succeeds on this attack, the creature is blinded and restrained (which is excellent, as it makes getting out and even attacking the creature hard to do) and deals automatic damage every turn (and 10 acid every turn at that).
It also has decent movement, but the big reason you take these guys is for battlefield control: holding down and swallowing targets. And hopefully they live long enough to deal a lot of damage to the enemy.
#6: Tiger (CR1)
Near the middle of the list we have stealthy creatures, which have the chance at an attack in a surprise round before their enemies can react, and that brings us to the tiger. With a +6 to Stealth this creature is, on average, going to be above your average target's passive perception, and has a good chance of being above a perception roll as well.
This pairs really well with its speed and Pounce attack, allowing it to knock a target prone and, if it succeeds in this (which it has a decent chance at), perform a second attack.
The tiger places low because it's attacks are okay but not great, and it only gets one unless it knocks the target down, and with a DC13 Strength save there's a decent chance you pass, but there's a good chance the target passes the save as well, thereby denying you the second attack (which is also your stronger attack). So it's a good choice and decently survivable, but not the best beast at this CR level.
#5: Giant Spider (CR1)
No picture here due to trigger concerns for our viewers, but you get the idea: a big ol' spider. With a whopping +7 to Stealth this is another sneaky attacker, and it takes advantage of this with a Web attack and a Bite attack that it can use depending on whether you want to restrain the target or just go straight for damage. It also has great senses, cool sensory abilities, and unique movements, all of which give you a variety of options.
And while it does have an AC of 14 (which is high for this level), it only has 26 hit points, so be careful. This is a bit below par, especially for the top ten, and without resistances or condition immunities those can evaporate pretty quickly.
#4: Dire Wolf (CR1)
Ah yes - a big ol' wolf, but far more than that. Your average wolf gets Pack Tactics (which the Dire Wolf also gets), has good senses (which the Dire Wolf also has), is decently stealthy (which the Dire Wolf also is), and deals good damage (which the Dire Wolf also does) with the chance to knock a creature over (which makes escaping the pack harder to do). And all of this is good, filling a lot of roles.
Where the Dire Wolf shines is an impressive AC14 with 37 hit points, all combined with a 50ft speed, allowing it to quickly dart in from out of nowhere and tear you apart. And with the chance to ambush a target from stealth, a Dire Wolf (or worse, a pack of them) can wreck a party of adventurers relatively easily.
It doesn't have multiattack (which is very common at the higher levels), but that's the only thing it wants for.
#3: Giant Vulture (CR1)
It should be said upfront that giant vultures are not resilient: with only AC10 and 22 hit points these guys are fragile, but to be honest most flying creatures are. Because of this you will need to guard the vulture, lest it die quickly in a fight.
That being said, offensively it has everything you'd want: multiattack on two good attacks, Pack Tactics to help that +4 to Attacks result in a hit, good senses, and 60ft of flying movement to give you the positioning you want. What it adds, though, is the ability to understand the Common language, which means you can give this creature commands without having to cast Speak with Animals. That can be very useful for reconnaissance and exploration.
#2: Brown Bear (CR1)
The big attacker on the ground, I don't think it will surprise you that the Brown Bear is near the top of this list. At AC11 and 34 hit points, the Brown Bear is not as resilient as a Giant Hyena or a Dire Wolf, but it's good enough. While it doesn't get Pack Tactics like a Giant Vulture or Dire Wolf, it has a +5 to its Attacks on a Multiattack ability, which is pretty good (though my math says these should probably be +6s instead of +5s, but whatever).
But the damage on the Brown Bear is unmatched at this level. With both attacks dealing on average 8-11 points of damage, this is crazy good, and unlike a lot of other creatures at this level that can hit 10+ on a single attack, this creature doesn't have to knock someone prone or drop someone to 0 hit points to get that second attack.
Now personally I think the Brown Bear should have some sort of ability to knock people prone, but it's fine; the profile is good as-is.
#1: Giant Eagle (CR 1)
If you're looking for the best of the best at CR1, this is it: the Giant Eagle has it all. Need good senses? Perception+4 with advantage on sight checks. 80ft of flying movement. The ability to understand multiple languages, so you can give it specific commands. AC13 and 26 hit points, which is good enough for a mobile striker, and all of that supporting a multiattack that does anywhere from 6-10 damage each.
And again, none of what it does is conditional on the target failing a saving throw, or attacking while near an ally, etc. This you get all of this out of the box.
And what's more, since the eagle understands a language, technically this creature can learn spells. That's huge: if you put spells on this thing it can cast spells for you. That's crazy. And all from a CR1.
We will be doing one more post looking at CR2-4 (as there aren't many above that, and few alphas or druids will be taking creatures above this level anyway), but I hope you see from this post just how good CR1 creatures can be. They offer quite a bit, even though they are not the most powerful creatures out there.
Until next time,