Ranger Problems: Favored Enemy, Presentation, Choices, and Capstones


Hi everyone, Xeviat here, fresh over from the WotC boards. My sn here is a little old, but hardly used except for lurking until more recently. So, I, like pretty much everyone else, has feelings about the Ranger. I'm largely a traditionalist, so I don't want to change very much about it. I don't agree that the ranger has lost sight of what it is; I think we (and by we I mean mostly the designers) have lost sight of how to make the ranger be what it is.

Favored Enemy was always the ranger's unique thing. Sure, they had stealth from the rogue, fighting from the fighter, and spells from the druid, but no one else had favored enemy. 4E recognized that favored enemy's flaw was in that it required the DM to choose whether or not to use it. This is bad. No class should dictate this much to the DM. Either Favored Enemy is worthless because it never comes up, it's too good because it comes up all the time, or it's somewhere in between. We aren't given a baseline to work off of, even if that baseline were to be ignored by the majority of DMs.

So, 5E made Favored Enemy largely a ribbon ability (an ability that doesn't add to combat, but flavors a class and helps it out in exploration or social challenges), except for the capstone level 20 ability (which I'll touch on later). This leaves the Ranger with a host of other abilities that are largely shared with other classes, and thus clouds its identity.

Another issue with the 5E ranger is how much of their potency is hidden in their spells. Now, this is true of all the 1-9th level spellcasters, but we know what they're getting out of them, it's rather obvious when you read their class entry. The paladin, on the other hand, has their Divine Smite ability staring you in the face, letting you know exactly what their spell slots do for them. The ranger, on the other hand, has some awesome spells like Hunter's Mark, Hail of Thorns, Lightning Arrow, and Swift Quiver ... but that isn't stated in the class entry. It's easy to assume their spells are going to be largely utility, then look at the class entry and feel like they aren't given enough offensive oomph for when they need it.

The beast master suffers similarly through presentation. Their pets actually deal comparable damage to single attacks from the Hunter with colossus slayer, or they deal less damage but have riders like prone. But, since the stat blocks are hidden away from you when you read the class entry, you don't really see what they are capable of (and they suggest you choose a mastif and not a wolf ... what's up with that?).

The last flaw of the ranger is their capstone ability. IF you use all your ASIs to boost your Str/Dex and Wis, you could end up with +5 modifiers in both. Foe slayer becomes a potent ability, and I argue that it's comparable to a fighter's 4th attack. Either they can add +5 damage if both attacks hit, reasonably comparable to the fighter's 1d8+7ish damage (remembering that the fighter can miss with this), or they can turn a miss into a hit and get their full 1d8+5ish damage. But it doesn't feel like that. It also only works on 3 creature types to 6 humanoid types, not really everything, not as reliable as the fighter's 4th attack. It's not cool like the Paladin's auras, or even the assassin's level 17 death strike.


So how would I "fix" the Ranger?

Natural Exporer: Retain all the bonuses, but rather than choosing a terrain at certain levels, the ranger acclimates to the terrain they are in during a long rest. At 6th level, they acclimate on a short rest, and at 10th level they can acclimate automatically.

Fighting Style: Move this to 1st level.

Favored Enemy: Move this to 2nd level. You do not choose an enemy. Instead, this absorbs the Hunter's Mark spell, adding the advantage on Intelligence checks about the creature to it. It becomes a magical ability to learn about a foe and to track and sense it, as well as to kill it. Additionally, allow it to be cast upon tracks, to allow the ranger to heighten their tracking ability.

I think the ranger should switch to a spells prepared class instead of a spells known class. This will utilize their wisdom score more, and also improve their versatility. I also think they maybe should get "domain" spells for the terrain they are acclimated to, though not exactly the same spells the Druid of the Land has.

Primeval Awareness: Make this a 1st level spell.

Land's Stride: Move this to 6th level, since 6th level is kind of blank now.

Hide in Plain Sight: Drop this weird camouflage stuff; anyone should be able to do that with stealth and survival skills. Instead, make it its 3E ability, allowing the ranger to hide while under direct observation as long as they could otherwise hide (meaning elven rangers can hide in light concealment, halfling rangers can hide behind medium creatures, and everyone else still needs total cover or concealment). The Shadow Monk can become invisible at will, let the Ranger vanish before your eyes.

Foe Slayer: Ugh ... I have no idea what to do with this. The ability isn't terrible as it is, it just doesn't feel good.

There are two problematic things in the archetypes. First off, the Hunter's Multiattack ability at level 11 replaces the fighter's 3rd attack and the paladin's +1d8 radiant damage on each attack. Both are balanced against each other rather well. Multiattack only balances against it IF the ranger targets 3 or more foes every round with it. I don't think this is a problem, per-say, but you'll lag if you aren't going for the multi-attacks. I think there should be a 3rd ability to choose from, especially for the giant/dragon hunters, who are trained to take down one foe at a time. Some kind of flurry would be good.

Second is the beast master. Again, it is one of presentation. If the pets options were right there, you could see what they have to offer. Also, there's some issues with actions until 7th level. So, I think the 7th level ability should be dropped and the companion be treated like a familiar. The companion gets its own action, but it cannot attack unless the ranger gives up an attack (like the chain warlock). This means the companion can attack (which is very comparable to the hunter's attack), or the companion can aid the ranger attack (which ends up being comparable to the hunter's attack). Exceptional Training can be replaced with a choice between a size increase for the pet for more HP or something like more AC if it stays its size (the level 7 hunter ability is defensive in nature).

I also think the pets should largely use their own stats, and that their HP should be based on their Con so low AC pets get more HP. I'd present the stats for the pets right in the book, and adjust them so they have reasonable trade offs.

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First Post
I'm going to indulge in plugging my own alt ranger because you and I have a lot of similar idea.

I like a lot of this, though I can't quite make the time to do a point-by-point analysis right now. The one thing that stands out is moving Combat Style to 1st level. There's a reason it isn't introduced at 1st level RAW. The idea is to keep Combat Style restricted to the Fighter at 1st level; otherwise there's a risk of the Fighter losing some of what makes it unique. If the Paladin and Ranger got Combat Style at 1st just like the Fighter, but also have these cool flavorful 1st level abilities, then the Fighter just seems bland in comparison. This way we emphasize that the Fighter class is the class best at fighting.


The combat style change was actually something I wrestled with for a while. Even with the change, I think the fighter is still the best at fighting. Without combat style at first level, the Paladin and Ranger kind of fall behind the Fighter, and for what? A level that's over in a session? Here's what they have at first level (only noting where they differ):

Fighter: Up to Heavy Armor Proficiency, Fighting Style, Second Wind (Avg +6 HP per short rest, or about +18 over the day).
Paladin: Up to Heavy Armor Proficiency, Divine Sense (ribbon), Lay on Hands (+5 HP to self or others per day, or can neutralize 1 disease or poison per day).
Ranger (by the book): Up to Medium Armor Proficiency (with 14 Dex, equal AC if they want a stealth penalty, or -1 AC if they want to go stealth penalty free), 1 extra skill (I'd say that balances against the heavy armor prof), Favored Enemy (two free languages, advantage on some checks against favored enemy; nearly a ribbon), Natural Explorer (some nice bonuses).

So their Armor proficiencies are almost equal; Ranger potentially has a penalty here, or at the very least a Str ranger has to focus on a little more stats (but that comes with its own benefits).

Fighter clearly gets more HP for themselves with second wind than Lay on Hands allows for, but Lay on Hands allows for some other effects and works on others; I'd say they're mostly balanced? Even though it's in a different Pillar of the game, I'd say Natural Explorer balances against these as well; it's mostly an exploration bonus, instead of a combat bonus, but it's a pretty big exploration bonus if the DM is nice and starts you out in your favored terrain and keeps you there for a while.

Then we have the last trio of abilities: Fighting Style vs. Divine Sense vs. Favored Enemy. These don't compare at all. Divine Sense is entirely non-combat, and only applies to the social pillar and maybe the exploration pillar. Likewise, Favored Enemy is non-combat.

When level 2 comes around, the paladin gets Fighting Style, Spellcasting, and Smite (which I consider a bonus spell known; I still think it should be limited to once per round and maybe cost a bonus action, but that's just me). At 2nd level, the Ranger gets Fighting style and Spellcasting. The fighter gets Action Surge, which I'm willing to go out on a limb and say is balanced against the spellcasting. The Fighting Styles are just gravy at this point.

Especially since Fighting Styles don't stack (I think they should, but I also think none should work with each other; Defensive, I'm looking at you), there's less point to them not getting them at 1st level.

What the Fighter really needs is a ribbon ability at 1st level. I've always thought that the Fighter should get some kind of social pillar ability representing how they're the "normal" people, and people tend to trust the "normal" person more than others. Rogues are thieves, Barbarians are barbarians, Wizards are mysterious, Clerics have agendas ... but you can relate to fighters. Warriors are often well respected in many cultures. But it would have to be something that would apply to all fighters. Still, I think they need some fluff, especially when you compare level 2 Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers.

I'll check out your Ranger alt!
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