Well, here it is! It took me a month, but I finally built my ranger! After four weeks of teasing and taunting and over-long articles about class design, it’s finally here. And not only am I presenting it to you all, but I’m actually also going to talk about the design of the class. What abilities I chose, which ones I didn’t, and why.
Before any of that, though, I have a couple of notes.
When I said that it took me a month to build this class, I wasn’t lying. I went through several variations on class abilities and builds before I finally came to a configuration with which I was comfortable. And I’m still not 100% on the thing. You will see more versions arrive as I playtest and observe where the class exceeds and wanes.
In addition to my own playtesting, I would love to see the community participate. Share this document everywhere you can. Convince your DMs to let you try it out. DMs, let your players take it for a test drive. I know it might be imbalanced, but this is how the classes in the Player’s Handbook got to where they are: RIGOROUS PLAYTESTING. And please, if you do playtest it, send me your feedback. You can click the About/Contact Me tab at the top of this page to send me a message, and here, I’ll even Provide you with a link.
I want to make something entirely clear. I have no idea whether or not my version of the ranger is legal. This is free, which I figure counts in my favor, but I still wanted to cover my bases (unknowable as they are). I am using the 3rd edition OGL here, as I don’t think I’ve used any copyright terminology in this class. I did my level-best not to re-print any features word-for-word from the Player’s Handbook. I specifically used different names for similar features, and changed up the function of some of them. Most of this is due to the different direction of my ranger, but some of it is admittedly to prevent copyright infringement. I also made the conscious decision to NOT print features that saw no change from one version to the other. If you don’t own a Player’s Handbook and you’re looking for a free look at the ranger, then you have come to the wrong place.
With those out of the way, let’s get to it, shall we? Hold onto your butts, because this is gonna be a long one.
For those of you who want to follow along, or just want to grab the class and go, here’s the PDF:
General Design Concept
I did a lot of talking previously about where I wanted my ranger to go from a thematic perspective. It’s a survivalist, rather than a warrior. It knows how to fight, sure, but doesn’t specialize and isn’t interested in “technique.” My ranger is all about hitting fast and keeping mobile. Come level 6, it can keep up with the rogue in terms of raw speed, and its ability to avoid difficult terrain arguably makes it the most maneuverable class in the game, with the possible exception of the monk. The ranger is a class about getting where it needs to be, rather than getting somewhere and drawing enemies to it (like a fighter). It does not keep up with the fighter in terms of damage output (so far as I can tell), and is not intended to do so. The only possible exception to this is the hunter, but it still probably can’t keep up with an Action Surging fighter. This is by design, because a ranger isn’t intended to be a replacement for the fighter. It’s a martial class, for sure, but it’s more about longevity and tactics than the multiattack destruction of the fighter, or the paladin’s burst damage. In this way, it is actually a lot like the barbarian, which is appropriate.
How it’s not like the barbarian, though, is in its moment-to-moment tactics. I designed my ranger to take advantage of—and be cognizant of—action economy. In this way, it’s actually similar to the paladin. The paladin often has to maintain an understanding of which spells they cast and which features they use, because many of them cost bonus actions and can, therefore, be juggled in with attacks and other actions. The difference here is that my ranger doesn’t have spell slots. Instead, its play with action economy comes in the form of its Fight or Flight ability, as well as its Rapid Attack and Strider features and some of the features gained through its Ranger Path.
This concept of time management in combat is also expanded amongst many of its other abilities. Whether it’s the healing food from Survivalist, the fact that it heals most efficiently through hit dice, its various rituals, or its ability to use Camouflage, the ranger is a class that takes its time in doing things. This can be dangerous in a dungeon setting, where a DM might use the ranger’s ritual as an opportunity to roll for a wandering monster. The ranger is prepared for this by design, however, with a bonus to passive perception, and its Fight or Flight feature allowing it to always act first in combat.
Rangers are, above everything else, survivors, and I hope that comes through with its design.
I admit it. I’m in love with the 2d6 hit dice thing. It’s just such an elegant solution to the whole “survivalist warrior” idea, and I’m going to give props to a great design decision when it comes up.
I dropped medium armor proficiency. This was a tough decision, but I think it was necessary. See, the ranger actually doesn’t have a lot of necessary statistics. Constitution is, mostly, covered by the fact that it has big hit dice. And Beast Masters (and Hunters, to a degree) can get by without a Wisdom bonus until level 14. Therefore, I wanted Dexterity to be important.
This ranger only gets one save, and it’s an option between Dexterity or Constitution. I feel like this is going to end up feeling like blasphemy for a lot of people. Not only do they only get one save, but they have to choose between two of the most useful saves in the game. And no, there’s no way to get the other one as they advance. Originally, they weren’t even going to get Dexterity as an option. But I understand that people like jumpy stabby lithe-and-agile rangers. Sure. Fine. Whatever. I feel like my ranger is a bit more chunky, and the Constitution save flows with that idea.
Skills are the same as they’ve always been.
Starting equipment doesn’t have a medium armor option, obviously. And you get a free herbalism kit.
Anyone with half a brain can see that this is just Natural Explorer. Except…what’s that? You don’t have to choose a favored terrain? Imagine that! NOT limiting a ranger through arbitrary choice-making and the DM’s whim! I would like to state that if you really, REALLY want something akin to favored terrain, then Marsupialmancer’s Ranger uses an idea flows well enough.
You’ll also notice that they no longer gather double rations when foraging. Instead, they can create poultices similar to those from the Spell-less ranger, but more closely tied to its ritual casting to justify the speed of the healing. In addition, changing the healing to 1d6 + ranger level, rather than a number of d6s, was a conscious decision to try and reduce the amount of healing gained, while still maintaining its effectiveness throughout the ranger’s lifecycle. It was also an attempt to tie it to similar features like Second Wind.
I’ll just use this as an opportunity to talk about rituals overall, including the ranger’s ritual list. First, there’s the matter that the ranger no longer gains real spellcasting, but still maintains mysticism. There’s a lot of people who JUST want a ranger who wanders the wilds without any ties to magic whatsoever. At one point, I was one of those guys. I was a HUGE proponent of the Skirmisher archetype in Pathfinder, and still wouldn’t mind the idea. But I think that’s a fighter archetype in 5e, not a ranger. Rangers are inherently tied to mysticism. It’s just part of who they are. Whether we’re talking about Tolkien’s Dunedain, or Max’s weird, semi-psychic and symbolic visions in Fury Road, rangers aren’t normal warriors. They’re strange, and frightening, and magic is a good way to convey that. Just..not spell slots. Because, frankly, the majority of the classes in the Player’s Handbook use spell slots, and it just feels mundane to tie them to the ranger, as well. Warlocks get their weird pact magic to set them apart, and rangers get rituals.
The progression, going up to 5th level but at the rate of a full caster, was also inspired by the warlock. It was also due to the fact that I wanted rangers to gain access to Commune With Nature before 17th level. This ranger lost its one connection to the weird it previously had: Primeval Awareness. It felt wrong to keep the advanced version of that out of the ranger’s reach for so long.
In terms of their ritual list, I basically gave them the run of the place. They don’t get some of the more “wizardy” ones, nor some that simply don’t fit, like comprehend languages, but I think I gave them a nice, eclectic selection. Part of this was simply due to variety. The ranger gets 11 rituals over the course of its progression, and it only has 23 to choose from, because there actually not that many rituals in the game. And I invented one to fill a 4th level gap. The other reason is I wanted you to be able to pick your level of investment when it came to the ranger’s mysticism. Most of that mysticism comes from these rituals. And while I ensured that everyone gets them, there are many that can be written off as heightened sense, semi-psychic ability, and learned techniques that don’t need to be magical. No one can play a spell-less ranger in my variant, but that doesn’t mean you need to summon phantom steeds or unseen servants, nor do you need to meld into stone.
Fight or Flight
This is Ambuscade, with my suggested modifications. I also dropped the Hide action and added Dodge. The modified name, I think, says it all. Rangers are twitchy, and their fight-or-flight reflex is heightened. I picture this almost like Flash Vision, where you come across a group of enemies and everything slows down for a second as the adrenaline starts pumping and you have the choice: Fight, or Flight?
At 17th level, it improves and allows you to take a full turn. It’s a natural development, and waiting the whole game for that level of power doesn’t really bother me in the least.
This one is a nice little freebie at 2nd level, in addition to FoF. Darkvision and +5 to passive perception. In one sense, this is a preview to what you’ll be getting with Predator’s Senses at level 13. In another, it’s making up for the fact that the ranger will now never get the Darkvision spell.
The levels are the same. We’ll get into detail later. Suffice it to say that the options are Hunter, Beast Master, and a new option called the Hood.
A lot of people might be wondering why they get this instead of Extra Attack. The short version is that I wanted to give the ranger 3 attacks per round without stepping on the fighter’s toes (after all, the fighter’s second extra attack is its big level 11 milestone). Rapid attack, combined with Adrenaline Surge at 14th level, offers that. The second reason is because I wanted to tie the ranger’s combat effectiveness to its reliance on action economy. This way, you have to make a choice. Do you want that extra attack, or do you want to maneuver through difficult terrain (note that it gains this ability a level before Strider, allowing you to get used to the idea of 2 attacks per round before it presents you with that choice)? Also note that at 10th level, it can turn you into an interesting guerilla fighter. This one is a bit floaty in terms of balance, and we’ll see how it bears out in playtesting.
This feature went through a couple of iterations. At first, it was the Land’s Stride ability combined with a standard +10 foot boost to movement, because I wanted to make up for the fact that it lost the Longstrider spell, which has been with the class for a long time. However, as I progressed, and I came to this idea of using the ranger to explore action economy, I decided to use Strider as a conduit.
This is also where the ranger sets itself apart from other martial classes in a big way. The ranger is a switch-hitter in the same manner as the rogue, rather than a hardcore-heavy combatant. It can flit in and out of combat on a whim, and gains an incredible advantage if it can lure an enemy into difficult terrain (or create it). This is probably one of my favorite features of the class.
I didn’t want to take away ALL of the ranger’s casty toys, guys. I figured giving it the ability to cast a ritual using its original casting time once per rest was a simple and effective way to advance its magical agenda. In effect, this allows the ranger to use some of its more combat-effective rituals (speak with animals, silence, feign death, meld into stone, water walk, panacea) in combat. Plus, I think it fits well enough with the class’s theme. If it memorizes these rituals, then it can probably use a couple of them on instinct. It takes a lot of effort, since the ranger isn’t a traditional spellcaster, so it can’t do it a LOT, but it can do it.
Here’s your second save. Wisdom. I honestly couldn’t think of an uncommon save to give the ranger, so I just decided to delay its saving throw acquisition. In addition, you can’t be scryed with divination or locate person. I liked the idea of the big bad trying to seek out the ranger, but coming up with nothing. He can scry anyone else—even the rogue! But the ranger’s weird, man.
Other than changing the name, I actually did change its effect. I always felt it was a little…weak. You HAVE to press yourself against a thing, and the moment you’re spotted you can NEVER use your camouflage again. That’s not how camo works, man. It’s about blending in, so I figured I’d give it the added benefit of functioning while you remain totally still. Predator was totally a ranger.
In addition, I just stated that you need to find a new suitable hiding place. This means that your rocks and sticks and leaves and shit will work if you hide in another, similar bush, instead of suddenly becoming completely useless. You still need to take out whoever spotted you before you can hide again.
This is Feral Senses with a different name and a more divided progression. Simple as that.
Adrenaline surge is a neat feature, I think, and effectively allows the ranger to “Nova” a number of times per day equal to its Wisdom modifier. When you use this feature, you can make 2 extra attacks, make an extra attack and also maneuver through difficult terrain, command your animal, name a quarry, whatever. It’s basically the “I want to use all the things” button, since so many of the ranger’s features rely on bonus actions.
At 20th level, you become worthy to have This Song play wherever you go.
As stated above, you now have three paths to choose from. The Hunter, Beast Master, and Hood. One thing you’ll probably note is that the paths are stronger (potentially significantly so) than they were before. The reason for this is because I removed a big chunk of the ranger’s combat effectiveness by taking away its spells. I needed to make up for that, and the paths seemed like the place to do that. They’re already focused on combat, so I figured I’d play that up. It may (probably will) need tweaking along the way, but that’s what playtesting is for.
I also want to note the purpose of the subclasses. Unlike the fighter or the wizard, the ranger gains most of its flavor and theme from its core, rather than its sublcasses. These are different ways to be a ranger, rather than different kinds of rangers.
Honestly, this is the version that needs the most work. I came up with this cool Quarry dice mechanic, and I don’t take the time to re-write the class to take advantage of it? What the hell’s wrong with me?
Well, if I’m being honest, it’s a time issue. I had to get this class out today, and I had a LOT of backlog to work on, plus my actual job.
That said, I actually like what I did add to the hunter as it stands. Hunter’s Quarry is a solid method of blending the “superiority dice” mechanic to add damage with the concept of the ranger being a pack leader, or the lead during a hunt. The ranger is the one who marks the beast, tracks it, and then calls the shots when it comes time to bring it down. The fact that he can spend his quarry dice to add to an ally’s damage roll exemplifies this perfectly.
Also note that I tied it into Fight or Flight. That’s some more of that down home theming, with the ranger immediately recognizing a threat and calling it out.
The biggest change, however, has to be my Way of the Warrior. Rather than the piss-poor multiattack options (sorry, Mike Mearls. I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em), I wanted to provide the ranger with interesting options that had real, genuine benefits.
I know I talked a big talk during my First Ranger Article about giving them an extra attack, but it wasn’t until later that I really came to realize that a third attack as a part of the same action? That’s the fighter’s thing. It’s their level 11, man. And you can’t take that away from them. So, instead, I gave them a virtual third attack, in the form of Adrenaline Surge at 14th level. Therefore, I didn’t feel the need to include it here.
Retaliate is effectively the same feature that the Berserker gets at 14th level, except that it specifically notes that you must be hit by a melee attack. My thought process here was to play off the ranger’s twitchiness established by Fight or Flight. Bite a ranger, and they might bite back.
Vital Strike is a basic damage boost. Something that Brandes Stoddard noted the ranger needs quite a while ago.
Quick study is just a nice way to get back some spent dice in a pinch. It’s a 1/day technique, so I don’t think it’s too strong.
My goal with the beast master was to change the way it grew on a fundamental level. I kept the basic premise of adding your proficiency bonus and giving the animal 4 x your level in hit points. But the way it functions is very much different. As you can plainly see, it still requires an action (at first) to command it, but it will act on its own in special circumstances, and will continue attacking a foe you’ve commanded it to attack. This, I hope, will lessen the burden on the ranger’s action economy. The animal’s growth is also tied to its challenge, rather than the bonus attacks granted by the standard beast master. My hope is that this growth will allow for more versatile rangers as they have access to more interesting companions.
I also decided to allow large beasts from the start. Because I really don’t get why we’re restricted to the “boy and his dog” method of ranger from the beginning. What about cowboy rangers who bond with their horse? Or Final Fantasy rangers who bond with a chocobo? It just felt like an oversight. Plus, I mean, come on. Who doesn’t want a giant eagle companion?
Overall, my thought process with this version of the beast master was to create a version where you added to the versatility of both members of the union, rather than limit them for the sake of balance. Does this mean that the beast master is, in all likelihood, the most broken option I’ve created? Yeah. But that’s what playtesting is for, and I’d rather nerf it than have to make it stronger.
I didn’t want to call it stalker, and hood seemed like a neat, evocative name that conveyed the idea of the class. It’s the “stealth” option for the ranger, but it’s also the most worldly option, as it gains bonus skill and tool proficiencies. I mostly picture these guys working in towns and cities, functioning as masters of civilization’s underbelly and potentially acting as vigilantes. If I’m being honest, a big inspiration was this guy.
Mechanically, I wanted the hood to be the odd man out. They’re obviously not as combat-efficient as the other options in a straight-up fight. But they’re skilled in their own way at their own form of combat, as well as being the most skilled option outside of combat.
Skirmisher’s stealth is my version of the feature of the same name in the Revised Ranger. I wanted to keep the spirit of the idea—a ranger who can flit around the battlefield without being detected—without some of the more problematic aspects of the feature. This feature effectively acts as a single-turn invisibility so long as you start and end your turn hidden. The fact that the class never gets sneak attack means that the feature never gets 100% broken. And while you can take three levels of ranger and then the rest rogue, it still disallows you from gaining the most advantageous features of the subclass: Takedown and Vanish.
Savvy Survivalist gives you two free skills or tool proficiencies. I’d like to note that you can choose one of each. I just didn’t know how to phrase that in the document without it getting too wordy.
Takedown is essentially an Assassinate that becomes better at 15th level by boosting critical damage to triple instead of double.
Foe Slayer is a more manageable version of the old feature, and is designed to be a basic damage kicker for the hood.
Vanish is the hood’s big gun, as it were. Rather than functioning like the old Vanish, which just allows you to hide as a bonus action, this one is designed to be a 5e Hide in Plain Sight. You can, of course, take two levels of rogue to do this, but even then it consumes a valuable bonus action that could be used for Rapid Attack, Strider or Skirmisher’s Stealth. You should also note that you still need to meet the normal prerequisites for hiding. You can be observed, but simply standing there and saying “I’m hiding now” doesn’t prevent you from being seen. You still need to find a place to hide. You can just do it while someone is watching.
Finally, at 15th level, you gain no new feature, but both Takedown and Savvy Survivalist increase in power. Takedown triples your critical damage, as mentioned above, and Savvy Survivalist gives you another two skills or tools.
My intention with this class’s design was to take a step away from the “wilderness warrior” of the original and make it more of an all-around survivalist. I also wanted them to kind of walk the line between “loner” and “party leader.” They’re strong, complex, and actually tend to work well with others. Whether they’re handing out quarry dice to allies, maneuvering their animal companion around the battlefield, or stalking through the shadows in order to get a better vantage on their enemies, rangers actually work well as a support character. They also function well as a loner, with their ability to escape from basically any combat and their ability to recover outside of combat better than basically any other class.
I hope I conveyed some of these ideas, and I hope that anyone who reads this class (and this article) enjoys what I’ve provided here.
And to re-iterate, playtest feedback is INVALUABLE. I will be gathering my own playtest data, but my group is one of millions, and I would love to hear from all of you.
In case you missed it at the beginning, Here’s the PDF.
Thank you, and good night.