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PHB Ranger vs. Ranger/Rogue, or how multiclassing exposes badly made classes

Content of the article: "PHB Ranger vs. Ranger/Rogue, or how multiclassing exposes badly made classes"

TL;DR: Comparing the Ranger 5/Rogue X multiclass to just Ranger shows just how lacking Ranger’s lategame abilities are, and therefore the lack of incentive to actually play a pure Ranger. The XGE and UA ‘fixes’ for Ranger don’t do anything to the lategame, emphasizing the idea that T3 and T4 are mostly ignored

 

 

Part 1: “5 copper to throw sponges at the Ranger!”

 

It is known that PHB Ranger is indisputably the worst class of all, outstripping Sorcerer and Monk in just how lackluster and non-functioning it is. And if you somehow disagree with that last sentence, remember that the second half of Feral Senses (Ranger 18th) literally does nothing, Vanish (Ranger 14th) is objectively worse than Cunning Action (Rogue Level 2), and that Beastmaster was published in its current form. This indicates to me that Ranger had troubled development with little playtesting, either being rushed at the very end or done first and then forgotten about.

 

But fret not, if you want to play these foresty friends and not be super janky there are options! First, XGE provided 3 subclasses which were so powerful that they compensated for PHB Ranger’s weirdness. Second, you could play the UA Ranger, a re-balance of the first 10-or-so levels plus making Beastmaster actually goddamn function (though it was never published so DM discretion applies). Third, the Alternate Class Features UA provided some cool stuff for Ranger from 1st to 10th level (but again DM discretion). All helpful things that improve Ranger, especially at lower levels.

 

One thing you may notice is that all these fixes focus on the lower levels instead of the late-game. This seems odd to me – looking at PHB Ranger the late-game is when the class features utterly collapse into nothingness. This unresolved problem has inspired a secret fourth fix: PHB Ranger 5/Rogue X multiclass, i.e. taking first 5 levels of Ranger before heading into Rogue. This keeps Ranger’s earlygame, before transitioning into Rogue for a power boost. However, the inherent limitations of multiclassing keep this from just being purely better than a single class build… right?

 

I want to go through the multiclass (referred to as R/R from now on) compared to just Ranger (referred to as Pure from now on) as it REALLY highlights the problems of Pure. But to truly explore the tragedy of the situation, we must first explore why we even consider multiclassing.

 

 

Part 2: Viable Multiclassing 101

 

(This section is more of a vanity thing, feel free to skip. I just want to hammer home how messed up Pure is) Multiclassing is a fun way to spice up a character, giving them a considerably different flavour to a single class. However even if you’re not interested in fully optimising you don’t your character to fall into uselessness, so when planning a build you should keep several ideas into consideration.

  • "It gets better later, I swear!": The most important thing is that your build WORKS at all levels. There’s no point in having a Fighter/Cleric/Barbarian that comes online at 11th level if you die to an ogre at 5th. You need to consider how the build works level by level, not how good it could be at the very end (similarly, being good now is usually better than POTENTIALLY being good later – I might make a whole post on this in the future). The only exception to this is if you start at high-level and so don’t have to struggle through mediocrity to get everything working.
  • Gotta hit those peaks: Classes are designed to have power spikes which give your character a big boost. For every class (except maybe Rogue) the first big one is at 5th level – martials get extra attack, casters get 3rd level spells – though other power spikes exist such as Moon Druid 2 or Hexblade Warlock 1. So, when planning out your build, you don’t want to miss out these power spikes – Paladin 4/Bard X misses extra attack and suffers for it
  • No, 1 Level in every class is a bad idea: Tying into the above, delaying power spikes long after the point they are designed for is almost as bad. To use the above point, Moon Druid’s Circle Forms at 2nd level is utterly fantastic, the same feature is mediocre when picked up at 7th level. This is why alternating levels between two classes (Class A 1/Class B 1/Class A 1/Class B 1/…) is very bad, as you delay the power spikes of each class for way too late. Therefore when planning you’re build you also have to think about WHEN you are hitting your power spikes, and which ones you want to prioritise (e.g. Extra Attack is almost required to keep up early on, but Cunning Action can wait a while)
  • By our powers combined: The classes you pick for a multiclass should have features that synergise, and certainly shouldn’t clash. This is why the Wizard/Barbarian Muscle Mage doesn’t work – you can’t cast spells or concentrate on them whilst raging, so you’re either a barbarian with less hp and fewer features, or a mage with more hp and far fewer spells, inferior to an equivalent Pure Barbarian or Wizard.
  • Better SAD than MAD: You want to minimise the number of ability scores you need, as otherwise to make the build work you need to rely on a lucky stat roll (or suffer with Point Buy). This is called being SAD over MAD (single/multiple attribute dependent). This makes cleric/druid decent as you can focus on Wisdom and Constitution, with a supplement of Strength or Dex.
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(A common pitfall I see is the idea that missing out of capstone abilities is a mark against multiclass builds. Sure, if the capstone is strong enough it might make the Pure class better than the multiclass at 20th level, but a whole 19 other levels of play exist! If the multiclass has been dominating the past 14 levels, you're going to be far better for far more play time)

 

The method of how you multiclass is important as well, and defines the build:

  • Minor Dip to Main Class: taking a small number of levels in a class to gain proficiencies/early features, and then sticking in the second class for the rest of the game. This stunts your growth in the second class, but the initial proficiencies can be worth it. Fighter 2/Wizard X is a classic example – your spellcasting is held back by 2 levels however Heavy Armour Proficiency, Action Surge and Constitution saving throws are enticing enough to make this viable.
  • Big Power Spike to Second Class: This involves getting to the major bump around the 5th level feature before transitioning into the second class. This is good for when you only want the first few features and find the others underwhelming/better suited by a different class. As we will see, R/R is a perfect example of this
  • Main Class to Alternate Capstone: This involves taking the first class to T3, then taking a few levels in another class (either for a quick dip or until 20th level). The core identity is still determined by the original class, with the multiclass just adding some extra oomph. A classic example is Barbarian X/Champion Fighter 3/Barbarian Y – you miss out on a good capstone but pick up Action Surge and Improved Critical to greatly buff your DPS earlier on.

(Multiclassing with 3+ classes doesn’t fit nicely into this structure, and are much harder to pull off as all the issues compound. The notable exception is, of course, Sorhexadin)

 

One key idea that is comes up again and again is tradeoff – you miss out on goodies to get your multiclass benefits. This helps keep multiclassing in check as you can’t go for an objectively better upgrade. This also makes the individual classes viable – even in the case of Sorcerer (as someone who thinks the class is underpowered) you would choose it over Sorhexadin if you want to be a blaster. As for R/R… well, I’m making this post for a reason!

 

 

Part 3: The Actual Goddamn Point of the Post

 

Using the above criteria, R/R seems straightforward – a dexterity-stacking build, picks up some neat Ranger features ending at 5th level extra attack, before going into Rogue to get its proficiencies and power spikes. This is offset by Pure’s better DPS… I mean utility…. I mean survivability? Wait, what? OK, by the basic principles of multiclassing, there MUST be some significant tradeoff to make Pure viable at later levels. We can test this by comparing the builds level by level from 6th to 20th.

 

And that’s what I did.

 

Below is a table showing the features of R/R and Pure, considering several subclasses (both Rogue and Ranger). Note that the both Pure and R/R pick up the 3rd level Ranger subclass features – the Ranger subclasses are listed as R/R misses their later features and so are of interest for this comparison (with similar ideas for the Rogue subclasses and Pure). Not all subclasses are covered here as even I have my limits, however the only notable one I missed was Arcane Trickster (it gives R/R more spellcasting stuff, but I couldn’t be arsed to work out the spell slots/spells known).

 

Note that R/R works for both Strength and Dexterity builds! You only need a ranged/finesse weapon for sneak attack, and Strength builds can easily use shortswords and dual wielding to get this done. In addition, R/R requires 13 dexterity and 13 wisdom for multiclassing, both of which are doable for Strength or Dexterity (as Strength normally wants 14 dex for AC anyway)

Level R/R Core Thief (R/R) Scout (R/R) Pure Core Hunter (Pure) Gloomstalker (Pure)
6 (r1) Expertise (x2 prof in 2 skills), Thieves tools prof, Extra rogue skill, Thieves’ Cant, Sneak Attack (SA) 1d6 +1 Favoured enemy, language, terrain
7 (r2) Cunning Action (Dash, Disengage, Hide as BA) Ranger Archetype (RA) feature, +1 2nd level spell, +1 spell known Defensive Tactics (opp attacks made with disadvantage, if hit w/attack gain +4 AC vs all attacks from that creature, adv. On saving throws vs fear) Iron Mind (prof in wisdom saving throws
8 (r3) Roguish Archetype (RA), RA Feature, SA 2d6 Fast Hands (cunning action to make Sleight of Hand check, use thieves’ tools, or Use an Object action), Second Story Work (climb speed = move speed, extra jump distance) Skirmisher (move up to half speed as reaction when enemy ends turn next to you, no AoO provoked), Survivalist (proficiency + expertise in nature, survival) Land’s stride (ignore non-magical difficult terrain (and some damage), bonuses vs magical plant spells), ASI
9 (r4) ASI +1 3rd level spell, +1 spell known
10 (r5) Uncanny Dodge (halve attack damage as reaction), SA 3d6 Hide in plain sight (1 min, with supplies, get +10 to stealth checks unless move), +1 favoured terrain
11 (r6) Expertise (in 2 more skills) RA feature, +1 3rd level spell, +1 spell known Multiattack (ranged attacks in 10ft range of point, melee attack vs creatures within 5ft) Stalker’s flurry (one per round, when you miss, make another attack)
12 (r7) Evasion (half or no damage vs dex stuff), SA 4d6 ASI
13 (r8) ASI +1 4th level spell, +1 spell known
14 (r9) RA feature, SA 5d6 Supreme Sneak (adv on stealth checks when moving half speed) Superior Mobility (+10ft walking speed) +1 favoured enemy, language, Vanish (hide as bonus action)
15 (r10) ASI RA feature, +1 4th level spell, +1 spell known Superior Hunter’s Defense (Evasion, Uncanny Dodge, when enemy misses you w/ melee attack you use reaction to repeat attack vs other creature) Shadowy Dodge (when creature attacks you w/o advantage, use reaction to force disadvantage)
16 (r11) Reliable talent (min roll 10 on skill checks prof in) SA 6d6 ASI
17 (r12) ASI +1 4th level spell, +1 5th level spell, +1 spell known
18 (r13) RA feature, SA 7d6 Use magic device (what are restrictions on magic items?) Ambush master (advantage on initiative rolls, targets hit have advantage to hit for allies) Feral Senses (ignore hidden penalty to attacks, actually useless invis thing)
19 (r14) Blindsense (aware of hidden/invis creatures within 10ft) ASI, +1 5th level spell, +1 spell known
20 (r15) Slippery mind (Prof. in wis. saving throws), SA 8d6 Foe Slayer (+ wis to one attack or damage roll vs. favoured enemy, and cry yourself to sleep WoTC pls)
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Having done all that, let's see the advantages of the Pure build:

  • Spells: Pure gets some spells over R/R, a total of 1 2nd level spell, 3 3rd, 3 4th, 2 5th level spells plus 7 more known. While it is important to note that the Ranger spell list isn’t super strong or varied (it’s not like R/R is missing out on wizard or cleric spells), the extra utility and damage options is a real and tangible advantage. Do be wary though that, as a half-caster, you'll get the non-Ranger-exxlusive utility spells far later than your caster comrades.

  • ASI distribution: Both builds get the same number of ASIs, with Pure getting the second and third ones earlier (8th and 12th compared to 9th and 13th) and R/R getting fourth and fifth ones later (15th and 17th instead of 16th and 19th). However, as stated before, benefit now is better than potential later, so this is a mark in favour of Pure

  • Favoured Terrain and Enemy: The two extra options for each give some minor benefits to Pure in the given circumstances, including extra languages

  • Subclasses: Ranger subclass features are generally better than Rogue's.

  • Hit Dice: a d8 is better than a d10 for recovering HP on a short rest, and you get a marginally higher max HP (+15 at level 20)

And that's it. Really. As for R/R:

  • Sneak Attack! Y’know how Pure’s damage output doesn’t actually improve past level 5, outside of (mostly bad) spells and Hunter’s Multiattack in specific circumstances? Well, R/R gets a bunch of extra d6s every single round, for free. You even get 2 (3 with dual wielding) chances to activate this extra damage! So yeah, lots of extra damage, which stacks with the early Ranger damage subclass features (i.e. the good ones)
  • Skills: R/R gets an extra skill proficiency, Expertise in 4 skills, AND Reliable Talent, which not only eclipses the Favoured Terrain bonuses but also works in any terrain or against any creature
  • Actual Class Features: Cunning Action utterly clowns on Vanish (seriously, is anything vaguely dangerous tracking you non-magically at 14th goddamn level?) and comes 7 levels earlier. Also, Land’s Stride can be made up for via bonus action dash, and Hide in Plain Sight is replicated by Pass Without Trace (which R/R can learn!). Blindsense is comparable to Feral Senses (kinda bad but still technically usable), and free proficiency in wisdom saving throws is legit better than Foe Slayer as a capstone
  • Better Survivability: Pure gets a pittance of extra HP, however R/R gets both Evasion AND Uncanny Dodge for free, so in all real-world cases R/R has more effective health
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In summary, R/R gets far superior single target damage, skill proficiencies, survivability, mobility, and even capstone. Pure gets some options for AoE if you choose a certain subclass or specific spells (but only in very specific situations), some minor utility in terrain and favoured enemy, slightly better subclass features and mid-level spells (and to be frank, only the last one is enticing). This paints a picture of R/R supremacy over Pure from 6th to 20th level, very rare for multiclassing (only matched by hexblade charisma stacking bullshit).

 

The only niche Pure has is with a Strength Ranger using feats to get Polearm master and Heavy Armour (and at that point, why not just go Fighter or Paladin?)

 

 

Part 4: The Not-very-spicy takes:

 

In general, multiclassing is about giving up power in certain areas to excel in others, providing interesting build options. In R/R’s case, it eclipses Pure in every area that matters unless you’re really into those exclusive spells (and the Bard stole all the good ones 7 levels ago). And here’s the kicker – UA ranger doesn’t even fix this! It makes early game Ranger significantly better sure, but there’s still very little incentive to go above level 5!

 

You may ask the question “Why does this matter anyway? You can do R/R if you really want to squeeze out more power, and leave everyone else to the core class.” And the problem is that the current iteration of the class lets down the idea of the Ranger. A warrior prowling on the edge of civilisation, an Elf tracking down monsters in the wilderness armed with a bow and their wits, a Half-Orc bursting out of cover to strike with dual handaxes: these are all kickass character ideas, and they deserve to be good without having to go “well let’s switch into rogue now I guess”. There should never be the case where you pick a class based on its conceptual space to later find that, if you keep going down your path, you will be significantly worse compared to your friends (an awful feeling for a team-based game)

 

If there is a 5.5e, the main takeaway for ranger shouldn’t be to re-re-refix the earlygame – lots of work has already been done on that – but instead to look at the truly abysmal lategame (the reason WHY people drop the class). Even if we go straight to 6e, a key lesson has been learned from Ranger – a class should be viable and enticing at ALL levels of play, not just to fall flat on its face and be totally eclipsed by a multiclass by 10th level.

 

 

Thank you very much for reading all this to the very end! I had toyed around with this for ages, but the 'Worst Class Features' post a few days ago spurred me on to actually finish this. Next time on my assorted series of rants, I'll do a spicy take on caster's power levels or some moaning about Aarakockra

 

(EDIT: There's some formatting issues, shall try and fix ASAP)

Source: reddit.com

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