A few months ago we announced the release of the Alpha, a new class for D&D 5th Edition that fills the role of a true "pet class" for the game. Calling real animals to aid you in your quest (so none of this, "poof your furry buddy back to life at the end of a long rest and ignore the consequences of him dying" shenanigans of the Beastmaster Ranger), when you first start out at 1st level you get to choose a small retinue of friends to join you. But what should you choose to meet your combat and non-combat needs?
Keep in mind that when you start as an alpha, your starting pack will be one CR1/4 creature, two CR1/8 creatures, or four CR0 creatures. You can tame other creatures, but this is your starting pack.
We will do a future post on the best choices at CR1/2, CR1, and CR2, which you'll be able to take pretty quickly after you start the campaign (or your GM might allow you to take at the start of a one shot if you are starting at higher than 1st level), and of course higher levels later in this series.
It should also be noted that, admittedly, CR 1/4 creatures tended to do better on this list; there are very few CR0 and CR1/8 creatures on this list (though there are a few!). But if you're looking for the best all-around creatures for your next adventure, this is a good starting point.
It's also worth noting that if you are playing a druid, these might be good choices for your wild shape.
The Top Ten Starter Pack for Alphas
Honorable Mentions: The following creatures are good, but didn't quite make the top ten: weasels (for scouting and sneaking into places), boars (the ability to shrug off one fatal wound in combat is nice), and panthers (for sneaking into places and knocking creatures prone) are excellent choices, but I think they offer less than the others on this list. But if you chose one of these for your wild shape form or as a pack member, you'd be making a good choice.
#10: Axe Beak (CR 1/4)
This creature may look funny and may be one-dimensional in its profile (which is why it's #10), but what it does it does very well. With a speed of 50ft and an attack that does anywhere from 3-10 points of slashing damage, axe beaks are about as simple a concept as it comes: run up to something and slash it to bits.
This becomes even more useful if you are a halfling, fairy, or gnome, as it's a large creature and thus you might be able to get some cover from behind it (or even ride on it). And while it has only 19 hit points, that's not too bad for a CR1/8 creature, and should keep you safe in the early game from a decent number of attacks. Just beware of that AC11; it won't last long in a drawn out fight where it is the subject of attacks.
#9: Draft/Riding Horse (CR 1/4)
Coming in at #9 is the horse - whether it's a draft horse or a riding horse, they offer reliable speed and good carrying capacity in addition to decent hit points and damage. And with the ability to bard them (albeit at an expensive price), you can make them pretty resilient to damage without having to argue with your DM about whether the creature can wear barding armor (I'd contend any small or larger creature can, but I am not every DM, so talk to your DM first about it).
Horses also have a decent Wisdom score, so they have decent senses, but not great senses, which is why they rank low on this list.
#8: Giant Bat (CR 1/4)
Okay upfront we should say that this is not a great creature for damage: even when compared with other CR 1/4 creatures it doesn't hold up well. But with both 60ft of blindsight and advantage on hearing, this is an excellent scout creature that backs up its support abilities with 22 hit points (which is good for a CR 1/4 creature) and a 60ft fly speed for getting out of trouble.
The bat also has decent stealth abilities and good Perception checks, but it's not as great as some of the other creatures on this list. So if you're looking for a scout you can do better (arguably even with the normal CR0 Bat).
#7: Blood Hawk (CR 1/8)
Yet another flying creature on this list, the Blood Hawk is not healthy by any stretch of the imagination, even by CR 1/8 standards. And while it only does 1d4+2 damage, it gets Pack Tactics, so its damage is actually more reliable than most low-level beasts. Couple this with good senses and a good flying speed, and you have a good scout that can double for reliable damage when the going gets tough. Just keep it safe from attacks and you'll be fine.
#6: Flying Snake (CR 1/8)
Not only does this snake have flying (as you can guess from the name), it also has a 10ft blindsight which makes it very effective both in and out of lighting. What is more, though, if it hits with its attack, it does 1 Piercing damage and 3d4 (so 3-12) Poison damage (for a total of 4-13 damage in a single attack at CR 1/8). Most creatures that do poison damage require the target to make a Constitution saving throw (which is the easiest saving throw in the game to pass), but this one has no such requirement: you just take the Poison damage. And that's very good, especially for a CR 1/8 creature.
Now naturally as you go up in levels this begins to become less useful as there are a growing number of creatures that are resistant/immune to poison, but as a starter pack member, this is a nice ability. If it had better non-combat abilities it would have ranked higher.
#5: Giant Badger (CR 1/4)
One of the common traits you'll find at the very top of this list is the presence of multi-attack, as that dramatically increases the ceiling of damage that your support creature can contribute, and the Giant Badger is the first on this list who has it. Not only do you get 13 hit points (which is decent for a CR 1/4 creature), you get a good speed and a burrow speed which allows you to approach targets more reliably without taking damage. When you get into melee you have a surprisingly high amount of damage you can do for a CR 1/4 creature, especially in the first few levels when enemies have 10-15 hit points.
Tack onto this good senses for detecting trouble, and you have a very multi-purpose pack member who can serve as scout, extra attacker, and findsman.
#4: Spider (CR 0)
Yeah, this is the classic sneak creature: you can get into pretty much anywhere with this creature and while some may freak out, are they really going to spend a lot of resources destroying it? This makes it a very good scout and sneak for when you need to get into tight places.
This is more useful for druid wild shapes, but for an alpha it can be nice to not only get cheap and easy access to a spy, but also get access to a chance at poisoning a target. It's not a great chance, but it can be done. So at least you have it in your arsenal by taking a spider.
#3: Giant Owl (CR 1/4)
Giant owls get all of the cool stuff: they can fly 60ft a turn, have good Perception for any level of creature (at a +5), but exceptionally good at early levels (as this is on-par with the best your party will offer short of taking a feat), and they get advantage on hearing and sight-based Perception rolls (with 120ft of darkvision). Tack onto this 2d6+1 Slashing damage, and you have a good fighter (albeit with only a +3 to hit) to accompany this.
But wait, there's more! Giant owls also gain Flyby, allowing them to leave an enemy's reach without provoking opportunity attacks. And with 19 hit points, that's an incredible feature for a CR1/4 creature.
This pushes it up into the top three: it's a versatile, well-rounded creature that can meet a lot of needs for the party.
#2: Tressym (CR 0)
At a CR0, you have to expect that this creature will not have a lot of hit points or damage potential. But in truth, at starting levels, this creature has almost as many hit points as a sorcerer or wizard, so maybe it's not so bad. But what you get from this creature is incredible: good movement speed whether running, climbing, or flying, the ability to understand Common (so you can give it commands like another person), and a poison sense: it can just detect (no roll required) whether something is poisonous (and is immune to poison damage and the poison condition).
But that's not all: it can also see any invisible thing - creature, object, trap, anything - within 60ft. Tack on a 60ft darkvision and a keen smell, and you've got a scout that surpasses the rest. And with a +4 to Stealth and a tiny size, it's not half bad at being the infiltrator either.
And in first place...
#1: Wolf (CR 1/4)
I might take some heat for this one, but I don't think it's close. It boasts the highest AC at 13, good hit points for a CR1/4, and a speed of 40ft, so it can close distance or get out of a bad situation fast. It's got good senses and the ability to sneak up on things, and it combines this with good damage and the ability to knock a creature prone (granting advantage to allies who attack it). But in addition it also has Pack Tactics, allowing it to gain advantage on its attack, hit the target, deal 4-10 piercing damage, and then have a chance to knock the target prone, granting advantage to all allies who attack it until it stands up.
The sheer amount of versatility that this creature gives is phenomenal, as it fills the role of scout, infiltrator, support attacker, and can be more tanky than even some members of the party at 1st level. If you're looking for a good boy to keep watch at night (probably better than everyone in your party), help you out in combat, or keep an ear out for would-be ambushers on the road, this is your pick.
As we go into CR1/2 and above these guys can be easily passed over, and that makes sense; as you level up taking these creatures will be dangerous for them due to the damage curve of higher level foes. But even at higher levels I hope you can see why you'd still keep a few of these in your pack to meet specific support needs; they still remain useful well into the later parts of the game thanks to the talents they have.
Until next time,