Well after two years of the 5th Edition ruleset’s official release and Dungeons and Dragons has practically become a household name. The game has become insanely popular with the advent of online live-gameplays and a focus for community created content (such as the DMsGuild). Out of the game’s overall success and integration into the lives of so many people, there will always be the occasional shortfalls.
Since the Player’s Handbook’s release, one of the largest criticisms out of the game mechanics was the underpowered display of the Ranger class in 5th edition. For players it was deeply dissatisfying with the available path choices even when it tailored the class through two of the more iconic ways to play a ranger: a beast companion or martial hunter.
Wizards heard the community through various surveys and attempted in various attempts to revise or offer alternative mechanics for the Ranger (seen here). This proposed playtest of the Ranger class in September of 2015 offered additional mechanics to give the Ranger that more guerilla combat style with Ambuscade as a highlighted feature. It went further and proposed spiritual companions that could grant special features in combat when utilized. The ideas were novel and did attempt to address some of the downplay that many players felt about the class overall. In a later Unearthed Arcana, Wizards tackled on giving an another archetype (or path), this one was flavored for the Underdark and hunting the many dark and vile creatures that made the subterranean world their home. I wrote an article sometime ago with my impressions about the revised Ranger class (found here) and gave some of my critiques on their idea with my own twist.
After a year of listening to additional feedback and probably more backbreaking attempts to fix an iconic class, Wizards unveiled their latest revision for the Ranger class (found here) with some of the proposed ideas from their first revision attempt.
What it means to be a Ranger
Let’s look back again what it means to be a “Ranger”, the iconic ranger borrows many of its themes and motifs from Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. That imagery itself is not enough but it should give you an impression of what has come as the expectation for the class as a role. A ranger thematically is a protector of both nature and civilization, an individual who lives off the land and knows it like the back of their hand, skilled at hunting and fighting against creatures they designated as their foes.
In later editions, the Ranger took on my druidic aspects with animal companions, adding some roguish features for stealth tactics when traversing through natural environments. In short, the history of the ranger class has in large part been a compilation of the fighter, druid, and rogue classes. Making the ranger distinct from these three core parental trees can be a daunting task, as previous editions have shown.
So the question now for the revised Ranger is whether or not it managed to retain the original “feel” of the Ranger while still having satisfying features and abilities to make it unique and stand above the other classes?
Short answer: Not quite.
Longer answer: There are some revisions done to the core aesthetic feature of Favored Enemy, granting some much desired benefits other than for the exploratory aspect of the game. Especially in a class that predominantly excels in exploration and combat. There was a callback to an older design of the feature but felt half-finished or as a design oversight with the lack of additional favored enemies acquired later in the class itself. The original class had favored enemies at 1st, 6th, and 14th level, this new iteration only shows 1st and 6th which feels a design oversight unless they could not fit another favored enemy which seems unlikely. But the improvement that I personally enjoyed was restricting the 1st level favored enemies to primarily mundane creatures and then by 6th level dealing with creatures of more heroic tier like aberrations and fiends. The additional damage bonus against a Ranger’s favored enemy was a callback to the need for the Favored Enemy feature to have more meaningful impact in combat like in previous editions.
A vast majority of the late game features remained entirely the same as the original class itself. Which again seems like the design team felt these features were well-balanced and needed no additional changes. With the inclusion of the damage bonus to favored enemies, this makes the Foe Slayer capstone more reasonable since it adds the Wisdom modifier bonus to an attack or damage roll which gives it versatility back to the feature. Though it still feels underwhelming as a capstone ability but that’s another argument for further down.
The Ranger Conclaves are the new name for the Ranger archetypes, the Beast companion one had the largest overhaul which was one with largest amount of criticism out of the whole class itself. The Beast Conclave continues to give a bonus to the companion based on the ranger’s proficiency bonus but they now receive a bonus to their saving throws, can gain hit dice, and even receives the Ability Score Increase whenever the ranger levels up. This treats the beast companion as a character as opposed some an NPC creature that happens to be there. The features additionally offer more combat versatility to the ranger and the companion. This iteration truly gives more emphasis the companion and stylizes itself as a unique path.
The Hunter Conclave remained unchanged, personally it always felt lackluster but the design team felt that it was still a solid class path. My only personal change would be that the ranger can adapt different techniques after each long rest, sort of reflecting the need for a hunter to adapt and change strategies based upon their prey and situation.
The Stalker Conclave is the same archetype from the Underdark Unearthed Arcana article so again no changes and does offer a different view-point of a hunter or protector that seeks to eliminate threats from the world below before they reach the surface. We will cover more about the mechanics further down but overall the theme and implementation does add a unique flair for the ranger class as a whole.
Underpowered or Just right?
The original Ranger class in 5th edition seemed underwhelming in both damage calculation in combat and felt equally underwhelming in non-combat situations unless it involved traversing through terrain that the ranger had as a favored terrain.
The revision does try to address the combat portion with the damage bonus implemented in the Favored Enemy feature. They did change the feature level layout to 3rd, 5th, 7th, 11th, and 15th level while the original was 3rd, 7th 11th, and 15th level. The reasoning for the 5th level feature add-on was primarily for the changes to Extra Attacks between the Beast Conclave and other two Conclaves. Otherwise the structure remains largely the same.
Much of the mechanics were heavily focused on the Beast Conclave which was understandably the weakest path in the original printing.
The beast companion has its own initiative order, it’s stats and abilities and follows the ranger’s command. The Coordinated Attack feature removes the Ranger’s ability to gain a 2nd attack like other Extra Attack features and offers the companion the ability to attack using its own reaction instead. But on a combat round, the companion would get one attack, followed by the ranger, and if the companion can see the ranger it can use its reaction to make another attack. So in actuality, this version offers the potential for 3 attacks. This lets the companion shine more than in the original text which is a nice change of pace and really sticks out which was something needed.
The hunter conclave was unchanged and I felt that it needed a boost of its own. Instead of simply picking a feature and being pigeon-holed for it, I would suggest that once each subset of abilities were unlocked that the ranger selection a feature from each group between long rests: Hunter’s Prey, Defensive Tactics, Multiattack, and Superior Defense. So at 15th level, a ranger can selection for a period to have Colossus Slayer, Multiattack Defense, Volley, and Uncanny Dodge. After a long rest, the ranger can choose new features or keep them which broadens this conclave’s viability and versatility. The hunter conclave always felt that players were punished for their choices more so than any other archetype across all other classes.
The Dark Stalker conclave fits a path for a ranger dealing with Underdark foes since they gain the ability to blend in with the locals and handle Wisdom saving throws against Mind Flayers and worse. This is more centric to a particular type of campaign or game as opposed to anything generic. But it’s still a unique spin and I do like when we expand spell lists for classes. Though from a design point of view I do not think the expanded spell list will endure should this revision go to print as previously the Storm Sorcery bloodline for Sorcerers provided expanded spell lists and were later removed due to a feeling of imbalance. But since the spells here are more for exploration and interactions than combat related it may hold up more likely though that remains to be seen.
The greatest takeaway in the revision would have to be the Natural Explorer feature. It combines some of the original features from the class and superimposes additional content from the first revision attempt. The ranger has advantage on initiative rolls and gain the assassin-like ability of advantage on attack rolls on creatures that had not acted yet in the first round. This feature got some overhaul in the exploration pillar as well with more benefits for the party as well. The Primeval Awareness also received a boon with detected favored enemies as the original version did not favorably give the ranger any benefit for his favored enemy which was considered a design and flavor oversight. This version accommodates for that and so much more.
We add Fleet of Foot as a new feature, letting the Ranger gain Dash as a bonus action. In essence, this revision follows the design mentality that the Ranger can and originally had rogue-like class elements. In this iteration we get both Dash and Hide as bonus action options at staggered level features as opposed to a singular level. This creates the level investment needed for the class though it still feels clunky as many optimized players would rather choose to multiclass into Rogue for 2 levels and gain the Cunning Action feature. So this add-on still does not quite address the problem of investment vs reward.
Foe Slayer has become marginally better with the damage bonus from Favored and Greater Favored Enemy but still continues to not feel like a real capstone ability. Let’s assess this from a damage perspective. Clerics gain Divine Strike in some form at 8th level, which by 14th level becomes 2d8 of damage once per turn to a weapon attack that hits. If we have a Ranger at 20th level with say an 18 in Wisdom (so +4 modifier), on each turn they may add +4 to any one attack or damage roll. A longbow deals 1d8 plus Dexterity modifier in damage, let’s assume the Dexterity is also an 18, the overall damage is 1d8 + 8 at minimum for one attack. With Extra Attack, that’s 2d8+12 if both attacks hit; a cleric of similar numerical features would deal with a mace: 1d6+2d8+4 (we’re assuming Strength is an 18). The average damage output is 21 for the Ranger with Foe Slayer against the Cleric’s 17. If the Cleric is a martial cleric, the damage output potential becomes 2d6+2d8+ 8 if both attacks hit, with an average damage of 24.
The Foe Slayer feature personally has always been regarded as an underwhelming capstone feature. Let’s take a look at a class with a 20th level capstone that is similar in design: the Paladin. Both are half caster primarily martial classes, both are divine casters, and both were conceived as blends of core classes from the early days of D&D. The Paladin capstone for all 3 (or 4 if we use Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide) give a huge game defining boon for a limited period of time. For that one moment in combat, they become martial juggernauts that can deal damage and take hits. The Ranger on the other hand is only given an ability that can give a minor boost to their combat capabilities and still falls short of a martial cleric build. If you wanted to boost this feature, I would try to give the Wisdom bonus to both attack and damage rolls (including the additional damage from Favored Enemy) when attacking a creature that’s the ranger’s favored enemy and anything else they would get the option to choose like the original ability granted. This would improve the overall investment of the player from their choices. If including the Favored Enemy damage bonus seems too high, than perhaps the higher between Wisdom modifier or Favored Enemy. But they should get a real bonus against Favored Enemies because the player and character have made solid investments and should feel rewarded for them.
The Future – Far by not Far Away
So Mike Mearls opened this Unearthed Arcana with the mention of the community’s feelings regarding the Ranger, this playtest will still be surveyed afterwards by the community for their impressions but know that some ideas and design choices will remain.
A revision of the Ranger class is a rather difficult job, there needs to be balance so that the class does not outshine the other classes but still be unique and have its own identity. This class has suffered more identity crises than any other class across D&D’s history.
Ultimately, the plan with the design team at Wizards of the Coast is that they will eventually present a revision of the Ranger in a future official supplement. Whether it’s this version or another after some tweaks is really up to the community. We voiced our opinions about the Ranger, Wizards heard our pleas and has made many efforts to try to improve the class. This revision touched on many of the early level aspects of the game that needed to be addressed, but many of the later levels still remained the same and still feel underwhelming.
I implore that everyone that reads this article to please look over the Unearthed Arcana article of the revised Ranger. Be critical and objectively weigh it against other classes across each major level development. Don’t forget to check that the Ranger is still identifiably a “Ranger” class and not some knockoff. Keep an open mind, if you wish to discuss about the revision, you are free to do so in the comments below. Thanks again and we’ll see you all again soon.