Content of the article: "Rangers aren’t all that bad, actually."
Hey guys, I’m another optimizer here with another controversial opinion on class power levels. While posts like these in the past few weeks have been being posted and not very well received, I want to post one with a more positive outlook. Specifically, I want to shine a light on a class that many have written off as “the weakest”: The ranger. I wish to prove to you that rangers can be quite effective, but first, I have some explanations to do.
1)Assumptions: Many look down on optimizers who present information about classes, and their evaluation of the features. People have an emotional attachment to certain classes, and it’s important to set those aside when evaluating classes. Similarly, it’s important to evaluate things without thinking anecdotally. Yes, the one time the party monk ran by 4 enemies and hit and stunned them all probably made a lasting impression that the class is strong, but you must realize that this is both unlikely and costs an extraordinary amount of resources, and thinking anecdotally will lead to misleading conclusions. The human mind is terrible at thinking in averages, so if a number doesn’t seem like it reflects your experience, it could be something you aren’t perceiving.
When optimizing, we also make several assumptions about the way the game is run: -We actually do have 6-8 encounters in a day (or at least more than a few) -Enemies will make intelligent decisions about targeting and ability usage. You might state that this doesn’t reflect any game you’ve ever played in, and that could very well be true. The reality is though, that at a table that doesn’t have high difficulty through numerous difficult encounters with good tactical decisions, optimization really isn’t that important. However, the number of encounters really isn’t that important for the things that make ranger not as bad as many think,
2) Why do people think ranger is bad? So many people, including the designers, have said that ranger is bad. Why? Well, there are probably a few reasons: Number of bad features: Rangers, more than any other class, suffers from a bloat of features that sound bad. I won’t even try to defend favored enemy, natural explorer, primeval awareness, or hide in plain sight. These features are bad, and they do not help the ranger in any regard. I probably wouldn’t be mad at a player who didn’t even write them on their character sheets. Foe slayer is also probably one of the most underwhelming capstones in the game alongside the “resource recovery” ones. b) Bad features drown out good features: When you read a ranger’s class chart, not only do you see these bad features and more, but they come up again and again! When you see these awful features over and over, it’s natural to have a negative reaction, especially when the good features of a ranger (that we’ll get too), are understated or even not on the chart. c) Wonky to build: One problem that many don’t bring up with rangers is that the class is pushed thematically into subpar directions. Longbow usage, or even more egregiously, two weapon fighting (which doesn’t work with beastmaster, rip drizzt). d) Beastmaster: Here I’ll agree with the consensus and state that the beastmaster is underpowered and needs alterations. There are ways to build it to be effective, but they are extremely niche and easily circumvented. This is a real problem.
3) Why is ranger actually pretty good? With all of these flaws, why do I say ranger is actually pretty good? How could a class with so many flaws and dead features still be good? Well, as I alluded to previously, the glut of bad features drown out the features that are good. Those features are:
Starting proficiencies: Criminally left off the chart are the ranger’s starting proficiencies. You get all weapons, light armor, medium armor, shields, and 3 skills. With your armor, you can start with 16-18 AC, and use any weapon. This actually does give you a good start. A variant human ranger who uses a hand crossbow can be doing good damage at all levels of the game.
Fighting Style: Getting Archery here is great. Offsetting the penalties of Sharpshooter is always awesome. Defense is also good.
However, we now get to the ranger’s real saving grace: Spells. Being a half-caster gives rangers a versatility other martials could only dream of. The ranger’s spell list has some of the best spells of any half caster. Even better, almost none of them require much Wisdom, meaning you don’t even really have to worry about MAD! Some standouts are below:
Hunter’s mark: This is an excellent spell for dealing weapon damage, and many people recognize it as one of the saving grace of the ranger. However, the free and up-front damage often trap people into casting it every fight, even at higher levels, and this can lead to many to think that ranger doesn’t scale well. We’ll get to why this isn’t true a bit below.
Absorb elements: Hit by a powerful elemental attack? Nope. The extra damage is just the cherry on top of this very large sundae. This spell will save your life.
Goodberry: Oh, you’re a healer too!
Conjure animals: Here we get to the most important part of a ranger’s kit that allows them to scale into higher levels. Conjure animals is what you should usually switch to concentrating on as soon as you get it. DMs often rule it differently. If your DM lets you pick the animals and you want to do damage, summon 8 velociraptors and laugh as you put 16 attacks at advantage on the board. Yes, some bosses might be immune to nonmagic damage, but their mooks probably aren’t. Another good tip is to spread them out so that they can’t be taken out with one AoE spell. This will force enemies to target them if they want to deal with them. Targeting them means that they aren’t targeting party members, so you win either way.
Shoutouts also to Guardian of nature, especially to shore up late game beastmasters.
Subclasses: While the core of the ranger class might be primarily saved by spellcasting, one must also not forget about subclasses. While the beastmaster has problems as mentioned above, the other ranger subclasses are very good at bringing out its strengths, but none can compare to the Gloomstalker. Right off the bat, gloomstalkers get a ludicrous FIVE FEATURES at level 3. The gloomstalker’s expanded spells list contains standouts rope trick and greater invisibility, with a possible flex control option in fear. Adding a bonus to initiative means that you can go first more often, and combined with the other features helps the gloomstalker delete enemies before they ever get a chance to act. Not only do they get an extra attack on their first turn, but they also get extra damage on it. Since many rangers want to use hand crossbows to get a bonus action attack, this circumvents giving up an attack on the first round to set it up. Darkvision is always helpful on races that don’t have it, and no one will complain about expanding its ranger. However, arguably the best of these features (which, I remind you, we get right off the bat at 3) is being invisible to creatures relying on darkvision to see you. With this active, you will have advantage on your attack rolls, and enemies attacking you will have disadvantage. In certain campaigns, this will give you advantage on nearly every attack you make for free. We want to take sharpshooter, so this combined with Archery can mean that our accuracy penalty from sharpshooter will be heavily mitigated. Even after we get all this at 3, we still get more good features! Iron Mind means that we will have proficiency in Wisdom saves, which can often be the most debilitating effects in the game. Then, at 11, we get Stalker’s Flurry, a criminally underrated ability. If you’re using sharpshooter, this can be almost 85% of a fighter’s third Extra attack that they get at this level. For a character with good spells like the ranger, this is not a bad deal at all.
In conclusion, rangers are not nearly as bad as the consensus seems to be. The class has problems, but it can be one of the most effective martials in the game. If you want to be an effective ranger, put aside your emotions when looking at features and focus on the spells you’re getting. If you’re still questioning, try this quick and dirty build out:
-Play a variant human, boosting Dex and Con and taking Crossbow Expert at 1. Use a hand crossbow to make a bonus action attack.
-Play a ranger, taking the spells listed.
-Take the Archery fighting style.
-Choose gloomstalker at 3.
-Take the Sharpshooter feat at level 4.
-At level 9, conjure velociraptors.
-At some point (preferably after 5 when you have extra attack), take 2 levels of fighter to get Action surge, allowing you to make your choice of setting up conjure animals and attacking in the same round or making 2 of your Dread ambusher attacks to make 7 attacks in 1 round at the start of combat.
With this build you will be doing above average at all levels of the game.
If you have any questions, considerations, or just want to call me a dirty powergamer, leave a comment.
Edit 1: A bunch of people on discord are yelling at me about spike growth. Yeah its good too, have a warlock with repelling blast+grasp of hadar for funny push pull meme.
- The Ranger’s main (core) class feature after level 5 is its spellcasting !
- Question about Revised Ranger and Conclaves.
- How can I improve the beastmaster ranger (in a pet heavy party)
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