In a recent article on Wizard’s of the Coast’s Unearthed Arcana column, Mike Mearls tackles the Ranger class with some redesign suggestions in response to a general disappointment with the class in its current incarnation in the 5th edition Player’s Handbook here. Mearls describes the mixed heritage of the class at large, from the chassis of the fighter class and the inclusion of features from other classes along with some unique traits. The simplification and flexibility that grew within the game ultimately removed some of the ranger’s luster and claim to fame, such as wielding two weapons while fighting, stealth, and even tracking. The need to focus on a particular enemy became the core theme for the class for a time, but it was never enough to make it the sole signature ability, even though it was the most familiar of abilities. The only other aspect that was originally unique for the Ranger that ultimately ended up reducing the Ranger’s overall effectiveness was the animal companion.
Let’s break down what we have to work with and what were the design intentions in this suggested redesign. Now Mearls has stated that the article were merely suggestions for DMs and players to give more of a unique or targeted role for the Ranger.
Let’s look at the most iconic of all Rangers, that practically inspired the existence the class since its inception; Aragorn from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. Aragorn was a wanderer and outlander, bridging the world of the elves and men. Aragorn was good with a sword and even dual-wielded a few instances through the narrative and the movies. Aragorn was an exceptional tracker and also equally proficient with a bow, he knew bits of Elvish magics and how to use herbs and roots for injuries and ailments.
Keeping those things in mind, Mearls breaks down the concepts that serve to make the Ranger distinct and unique compared to other classes.
Looking over this aspect of the Ranger as a stalking predator, making sudden and vicious strikes that hit with great lethality. Ambuscade, as a feature are quite powerful, the Ranger gets a special round all to themselves to either Attack or Hide. Which leads to an interesting predicament, if the players get a surprise round, the Ranger gets this special round before even the surprise round for the players. If the Ranger is surprised in any way, the Ranger is considered not surprised and does not gain the special turn. The only other method to be not surprised during a surprise round would be through the Alert feat and that’s only if your DM allows feats in the first place. For the price of half of a feat, the Ranger is already ahead of the curve (yes this is me being clever).
The Skirmisher’s Stealth is an interesting mechanic especially when dealing with the BBEG or a solo monster encounter. While it does empower the Ranger significantly since the ability explicitly states: “You remain hidden from that creature during your turn, regardless of your actions or the actions of other creatures”. Let’s look at the mechanic benefits of this ability, attack while hidden grants Advantage on the attack roll which grants a higher probability to hit the Ranger’s quarry. Now using a bonus at the end of the turn to satisfy the conditions necessary to remain hidden otherwise the creatures become aware of your location. Granted the entire ability relies heavily on the fact that the Ranger is already hidden from the creature at the start of their turns, which personifies classic hit and run tactics. Both of these new features truly give the Ranger something very powerful and special as a combatant. I like them, let’s keep them for now.
This is something I had never considered, I was actually quite surprised when I saw this concept show up on the Unearthed Arcana article. It took a second to ponder the significance of 2d6 as Hit Dice before I realized the longevity that this feature bestowed upon the Ranger. A 5th level Ranger has 10d6 worth of Hit Dice, this really gives a lot of healing potency and longevity during an adventuring day compared to any class. My take would have been to keep the 1d10 Hit Dice that was originally in the Player’s Handbook, but instead include a feature that gives the Ranger another pool of dice for healing, perhaps 1d6 Hit Dice for every two Ranger levels. Using the 5th level Ranger, the ranger has their 5d10 normal Hit Dice, and this other feature has 2d6 worth of Hit Dice for healing purposes. So a 5th level Ranger using say 3 of their d10’s averages 21 hit points normally, with the extra pool, let’s say the Ranger used both due to a hard encounter previously, so 2d6 is averaged at 8 additional hit points. So the Ranger in this example has regained 29 hit points. Using Mearl’s version of the feature, using 6d6 (for 3 levels worth of Hit Dice) yields an average of 24 hit points replenished. So while my version of the feature gives more hit points in the end, with some more fine tuning we may even consider reducing the bonus pool of hit dice to be d4’s. This feature is something truly novel and should be looked as something truly innovative instead of prejudice or scorn, it’s a mechanical flair of a visualization.
Now for the hardest feature of this critique. Anyone who has seen the Beastmaster archetype knows that it is quite underwhelming and underpowered compared to other subclass options. The Hunter archetype is a personification of the Ranger’s desire to fight in melee combat or be ranged weapon user but acknowledging the ever pressing issue of playing a Ranger, eventually you have to choose a preferred method of combat. The spirit path choices to me emphasize the spirit (pun intended) of the old animal companion. The article mentions the issue of balance with companions for the Ranger, which is why familiars (which were a staple in older editions of D&D) became absent and exiled off as a ritual spell. This iteration gives the player a short-term animal companion akin to a Conjure Elemental spell but act after the player since it uses the statistics of the creature it manifests. The feature also grants a sort of spirit or “totem” boon that the Ranger can use based on their choice when choosing the path.
Honestly, this entire feature should be one entire Ranger archetype, probably called Warden or something along those lines. Using the design of the Path of the Totem from the Barbarian class, a totem is chosen along the way to get a benefit. While the Barbarian had the option to mix their totem choices, this class feature would only have the player make the selection once. Unless we decide to increase the manifesting per day, increasing the number of times the boons can be used between rests and even the spirit companion’s manifestation per day will extend the options for the player in higher levels. In addition, we’ll need to add some other boons that are tiered in their acquisition, like the Hunter archetype.
New Ranger Archetype: Warden
At 3rd level, you form a bond with a nature spirit-a companion forged by your link to the wild. This spirit protects you while you travel and watches your back in battle. When you select this path you must choose the form and magic the spirit takes: the Guardian, the Seeker, or the Stalker. Your choice grants you features at 3rd level and again at 7th, 11th, and 15th level.
Rangers gains a spirit companion and the ability to invoke its magical power. You regain your ability to call your spirit companion in this way when you finish a short or long rest.
Once per day as a bonus action, you command your spirit companion to materialize as a living creature, determined by the spirit choice made upon entry of this path. Your spirit comp anion manifests as an animal for 1 minute or until your concentration is broken (as if you are concentrating on a spell). You can dismiss it as a bonus action. You can an additional use per day at 11th level and you can materialize your spirit companion three times per day at 17th level.
The manifested creature gains a bonus to attack rolls and saving throws equal to your Wisdom modifier. It uses the hit points in the animal’s stat block or half your hit points maximum, whichever is higher.
The manifested creature takes its turn on your initiative and acts immediately after you. You control its actions, even if you are unconscious or otherwise unable to act.
Now for this playtest that was given out to the community, we were only given one benefit per Spirit path, the avenue of design can be that at each tier of class feature acquisition, the base boon of the spirit companion is given further bonuses on top of the initial magic. The other venue is to have separate boons for each spirit type which all get reset to be used after a short or long rest. It really depends on how you wish to interpret the spirit and the Ranger’s relationship. But overall, I think the edit I made with the Spirit Companion truly gives added versatility at higher levels, giving the player the feel of a companion in combat when needed, I kept to 1 minute duration as I happen to agree that having an enhanced animal can be powerful and thus a limitation is a good measure to balance it.
If you have suggestions or comments, please leave them below or contact me via Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear them if you got them. This is a huge work in progress for both us as a community and for Wizards in the design realm, let’s keep the discussions flowing.