Why would you slay dragons when you could adventure with them by day and snuggle with them by night? The Drakewarden ranger summons a draconic spirit in the form of drake, that scales in power alongside your ranger! This subclass debuted in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons alongside the monk's Way of the Ascendant Dragon. These two subclasses, alongside the Draconic Bloodline sorcerer, are fifth edition's most explicitly draconic subclasses.
If you're drawn in by the flavor of a draconic sidekick or simply looking for an alternative to the Beast Master subclass, read below for a breakdown of the Drakewarden ranger and fire up the Character Builder to start making your own!
Hey, We Heard You Like Dragons
So here's your chance to take on evil dragons while riding into battle on your good dragon! Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen takes your party to the world of Krynn where you'll face off against the Dragon Queen, Takhisis, and her evil Dragon Armies for the fate of the world!
Most of the Drakewarden's features will amplify your Drake Companion ability, which you gain when you select the subclass at 3rd level. Your drake has a core set of abilities that will increase in power and breadth as you level up, culminating in a Large flying creature that can act as a mount, grant you a damage resistance, and breathe a 30-foot cone of 10d6 damage.
- Draconic Gift (3rd level): Whether you're communicating with a dragon or like a dragon, do so with some flair. Draconic Gift provides the thaumaturgy cantrip (match eye color with your drake companion!) and teaches you draconic or another language of your choice.
- Drake Companion (3rd level): The main attraction. Summon a drake companion, a Small (for now) draconic sidekick to fight by your side. This drake is aligned with an element of your choice (between acid, cold, fire, lightning, and poison), and it can use its reaction to empower your attacks with this element. For example, you can command the drake to Bite using your bonus action. Otherwise, it will Dodge and, if you wish, help flank enemies. All future subclass abilities will reflect this drake companion's growth and the development of your arcane bond.
- Bond of Fang and Scale (7th level): At this point, your drake companion has eaten quite a lot of food and hopefully none of your fellow party members' pets. It increases to Medium size, grows wings and gains a flying speed, its Bite deals an extra 1d6 elemental damage, and now you also gain resistance to the damage type chosen for its Draconic Essence. Finally, you can use the drake as a mount if your size is Medium or smaller, although it cannot fly if you are riding it (yet!).
- Drake's Breath (11th level): As an action, you can exhale a 30-foot cone of damaging breath or cause your drake to exhale it. You must choose from the same list of damage types, but it doesn't have to match your drake's current Draconic Essence. At 15th level, this damage will increase from 8d6 (equal to fireball or lightning bolt) to 10d6 (equal to freezing sphere).
- Perfected Bond (15th level): Soar to new heights as your drake grows to Large size and is no longer prohibited from flying while acting as a mount. Its Bite damage increases further, keeping up with late game play, and you can now use your reaction to grant either yourself or the drake resistance to an instance of damage. At this point, you can officially call yourself a dragon rider.
The Drakewarden ranger nails what it should feel like to travel with a powerful draconic sidekick. The companion is mechanically customizable (choose a new damage type with each summon), easily resummoned (one action, one 1st-level spell slot), and it can emit a breath weapon that rivals 5th- or 6th-level spells in damage by 15th level. In addition, the drake isn't so fragile that the player is forced to be highly cautious or risk losing their ally, and the drake's scaling effectively keeps it competitive.
The Drakewarden boasts features that people intuitively want when they reach for a sidekick-based subclass, such as the ability to protect your companion as a reaction or ride it when it's big enough. Its mechanics do its concept justice.
Special mention for Resistance
Damage resistances are one of the most valuable features in the game. Magic items don’t often bestow it without attunement, spells rarely grant it without concentration, and potions of resistance (presumably) don’t come cheap. By 7th level, the Drakewarden ranger receives a damage resistance of their choice that lasts as long as their drake stays alive, and they can change this damage type for one 1st level spell slot. Compare this to the spell protection from energy, which requires a 3rd-level spell slot, lasts one hour, cannot change the damage type once it is cast, and requires concentration.
The most obvious con to any companion subclass is its demands on action economy. Drakewardens must use their bonus action to command their drake, which is better than prior designs that required an action. However, I wish the Drakewarden was designed with the flexibility to choose whether to use its bonus action or action to command its drake companion. Plenty of ranger spells have a casting time of a bonus action, and a Drakewarden can't use any of them without giving up their drake's entire turn.
The Drakewarden also shares an above-game con with other companion subclasses: they take longer to run and can be more challenging for players to learn. I find the Drakewarden ranger easier to play than other companion classes, like the Battle Smith artificer. Still, it can't compete with Champion fighters or Oath of Devotion paladins in terms of simplicity.
Finally, a fair number of ranger class features (Hide in Plain Sight, Vanish) don't interact well, if at all, with having a drake companion around. Replacement optional features like Nature's Veil don't, either.
Rangers, like fighters, decide early whether their offense will rely on Strength or Dexterity. This choice will ultimately determine whether they prefer fighting up close or from range. The Drakewarden subclass works well with either option, but those looking to attack their enemies from a distance (and eventually from dragonback) should focus on Dexterity.
In early play, it makes sense for Drakewarden rangers to stay up close to get the most out of their drake's Bite attacks and their shared breath weapon. This carries risks, as your drake companion probably has fewer hit points than you, but your arcane tie to your buddy allows you to resummon it with a spell slot. Also—look at those teeth. They want to chomp; let them chomp.
Next, prioritize Wisdom to boost your magic. Many ranger spells pair nicely with a follow-up attack from your drake companion, and higher Wisdom means a higher save DC, both for your spells and your Drake's Breath feature at 11th level.
Thanks to the 'Customizing Your Origin' optional rule from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, we can tweak the ability scores we get when choosing our lineage. Because of this, it's best to focus on what innate abilities the lineage provides rather than what Ability Score Improvements it comes with. For the Drakewarden ranger, I recommend lineages with few abilities activated via bonus action since you'll be using your bonus action on most turns to command your drake companion.
- Gem dragonborn: Your drake companion will gain a breath weapon at 11th level, but by playing a dragonborn, you can teach them how to use it with your very own breath weapon. Though there are plenty of dragonborn options to choose from, I recommend the gem dragonborn because their Psionic Mind ability allows you to communicate with your drake companion silently and subtly if it is within 30 feet of you. Plus, they're the only dragonborn that can fly. Your drake can fly at 7th level, but you cannot fly on the drake until 15th level. If you are a gem dragonborn, then for one minute a day (presumably one encounter), you can at least fly alongside your drake at earlier levels.
- Fairy: The fairy will be able to enter battle airborne with the drake companion as soon as the little drake gets its wings. In addition, fairies can innately cast enlarge/reduce, which synergizes with a drake companion quite nicely. (Other flying options include the aarakocra and the owlin.)
- Wood elf: Some classics are classic for a reason. Any elf lineage suits the ranger class well, providing darkvision, proficiency in perception, and advantage on saving throws against being charmed. Wood elves add a little extra by boasting a walking speed of 35 feet, allowing you greater mobility to move around enemies to flank them with your drake. Plus, characters that don't need to sleep have hours of extra time to hang out with their drake! (Other lineages with additional mobility include the leonin and the tabaxi.)
- Eladrin: Above, I recommended against lineages with innate abilities that use your bonus action. However, some of the eladrin's Fey Step options could be used to aid the drake companion, especially on turns where it was going to Dodge anyways. Spring's Fey Step, in particular, could teleport your drake companion 30 feet away, potentially moving it out of danger. Finally, eladrin do not need to sleep, providing more roleplay opportunities for PC-companion bonding time.
Try to look for feats that pair well with fighting close to an ally or for feats that provide a bonus to Strength/Dexterity or Wisdom.
- Gift of the Gem Dragon: More gem dragons, I know. But really, consider any draconic feat—Fizban's introduced the three "draconic gift" feats, but if you're playing a dragonborn, you'll also have access to Dragon Fear and Dragon Hide. I recommend Gift of the Gem Dragon here because it can provide a +1 to Wisdom, it doesn't have an ability that requires a bonus action, and its Telekinetic Reprisal feature can potentially help you move enemies into or out of range of your drake companion.
- Mounted Combatant: This feat won't really work for the Drakewarden until 7th level when your drake can act as a mount. With Mounted Combatant, you can — without using any action economy — force an attack targeted at your mount to target you instead, a game-changing impact on your drake's survivability. This feat also essentially gives your drake companion Evasion, allowing it to take no damage if it succeeds on a Dexterity saving throw and half damage if it fails. Finally, you have an advantage on melee attack rolls against any unmounted creature smaller than your mount. However, this may not provide much benefit until the drake companion increases to Large at 15th level.
- Piercer/Slasher/Crusher: I love these feats. They grant a +1 bonus to your offensive ability score (Strength or Dexterity for Piercer and Slasher, Strength or Constitution for Crusher). They also each provide one additional effect for a critical hit and another that you can apply on a hit each turn. Simply pick according to your Drakewarden's preferred weapon and ability score.
- Sentinel: Sentinel is most well-known for its ability to reduce a fleeing enemy's movement to zero. If you and your drake have an enemy flanked, you don't want it to be able to simply disengage and scamper away. However, I recommend Sentinel because it allows you to make a melee attack against an enemy as a reaction to them hitting your drake, which seems like the most appropriate use of a Drakewarden's reaction.
Here we've got an 11th-level Drakewarden ranger, lovingly crafted by yours truly. I chose gem dragonborn because they're extremely cool, but also because I wanted the ranger to be able to fly alongside their drake for one encounter per day, and I wanted the ranger to have a telepathic connection to their drake companion, Gideon.
This Drakewarden focuses on close-range combat with their rapier and breath weapons, and has proficiency in Athletics to avoid being physically overpowered or knocked from their mount. I used the first Ability Score Improvement to increase their Dexterity, and the second went to the Mounted Combatant feat to increase the drake's survivability. Unfortunately, mounted Combatant won't grant advantage to the ranger's attacks against most enemies yet, so in the meanwhile, I selected the entangle spell. The ranger can cast entangle as an action, restraining several targets, then use their bonus action to instruct Gideon to start using its Bite attack with advantage. The area will be difficult terrain, and they might get surrounded, but the ranger will have hopefully cast longstrider and aid beforehand. I also selected the silence spell to combat spellcasters; fortunately, due to the gem dragonborn's Psionic Mind, the ranger can continue communicating with their companion within the silence.
Building Your Own Drakewarden
While I've discussed many aspects of the Drakewarden here, the most significant decision you'll make when building your character will be about your relationship with your drake companion. Do you protect nearby communities, prowling the environment for monsters that prey on innocents? Are you avoiding danger together, on the run, sheltering each other through tough times? How does the nature of your enemy affect the nature of your bond? Is it undead that threaten you both, or natural disasters, or — hey now, here's a thought — dragons?
When you're ready to roll some dice and tackle these questions, jump into D&D Beyond's Character Builder to get started.
Damen Cook (@damen_joseph) is a lifelong fantasy reader, writer, and gamer. If he woke up tomorrow in Faerun, he would bolt through the nearest fey crossing and drink from every stream and eat fruit from every tree in the Feywild until he found that sweet, sweet wild magic.