Level Up (A5E) Ranger V2: My Nitty Gritty Feedback


So a bit late to the party on this one, after COVID wrecked me for weeks. But better late than never!

The Ranger (like the sorceror) is generally ranked one of the weakest of the core classes, so it will be interesting to see what they do here. Though there are two versions of the Ranger posted, I immediately was drawn more to the second version, so that's the one I'll dig in to.

As usual, the Rating System:

A - Perfect, solid, I love it.
B - A bit more niche than I would like, but probably in the right campaign it will be fine.
C - Needs some work, its on the weak side.
O - Overpowered, just too strong, needs a tone down.

Further, I do want to dig in to Flavor at bit as well, as that is an important part of the analysis, so I will also include a Flavor rating for certain abilities. If I don’t mention anything, I assume a base “good” rating, aka I think it’s perfectly fine and serviceable flavor.

F+ I love this flavor, I immediately thought of playing a character with X.
F- Something is lacking here, this idea is not jiving with me.

Overall Balance (A): So with this ranger vs vanilla, its really more a question of spell-less vs magical ranger. Ultimately I like this ranger better than vanilla, I think it has more interesting things about it, but I also prefer spell-less rangers. Ultimately for players that like the more mystical, magical elements....they will probably stick to the core ranger, while others will prefer this new one. I think both rangers could work at the same table, and will mainly come down to player preference more than obvious mechanical superiority.

From a more mechanical perspective. This ranger is giving up spells, Primeval Awareness, and fighting style (there is the high level abilities but I tend not to count those as much since fewer people get to those levels). Primeval Awareness is a pretty mediocre ability so its not worth much. Fighting Style is a solid benefit, so you could argue its giving up and at-will bonus versus the more infrequent but cooler bonuses of maneuvers. And then spells are compared with all of the other knacks, and core bonuses. So a lot of it depends on the frequency of rests in your group as to which ranger would be stronger at a given table.

Familiar Terrain (A, F+): This is the same ability as the vanilla ranger. One thing I want to highlight, I really really appreciate this version that doesn't require you to pick a terrain. The ability is not strong enough to require that specificity. Rangers are just good at these things, period, no muss, no fuss.

I would say that since you don't pick a terrain "Favored Terrain" is probably not the best name. Something like "Terrain Mastery" might be better.

Studied Adversary (A, F-): Similar to favored enemy, the ability just provides a few nice abilities against a type of enemy. I do think this is a missed opportunity for the class, "favored enemy" has been core to the ranger for several editions now...this feels like an area level up could inject even more interesting flavor into the ability beyond what vanilla does.

I do think the long rest change has a weird flavor to it, especially with the notion of "studied". I feel like this is an area where it may pay to go more mystical, such as the ranger contacting nature spirits or something to give him this knowledge. That would make more sense to me why the knowledge "comes and goes".

Combat Maneuvers:
When looking over the maneuver list for rangers, there's nothing that sticks out as truly problematic, except the maneuvers I noted in my fighter review that I think are innately OP. There are some nice ones like Iron Will for the saves, Practiced Roll to add that skirmisher element, and of course parry remains stupidly good at reducing damage (too good!). Some TWF rangers may enjoy the 18-20 crit range maneuver, or the simple +1d4 damage to all attacks. Regardless, I'm not seeing any maneuvers that I think have "too good" a synergy with the ranger itself

Stride and Seek: Now what's interesting here compared to the classes we have seen in Level Up so far, this one is less of a choice and more a progression. You choose the one you want first, and then you get the other one at later levels. So our power comparison is a little different this time, as the abilities are not directly competing with each other.

Hunter's Target (A): This is effectively the replacement for the Hunter's Mark spell. It does have an extra +1 attack thrown in, but also its more short rest dependent, whereas the Spell Ranger could in theory keep it up a bit longer if short rests are less plentiful. Ultimately I think its about equivalent, and still is a core part of the Ranger's attack routine.

Swift Feet (A): So I think Hunter's Target is absolutely the stronger of the two, but again I ultimately get both of them. So its more in context of how do I think this stands as a 5th level ability? And the answer is...pretty good. It really throws a bone to your melee rangers who want to be skirmishers, and I could see rangers with extra speed really using this to stay just out of move range of their enemies to deny attacks. The speed burst/advantage at the end is a nice icing on the cake, a nice little heroic moment for the ranger to do something cool.

Trained Accuracy:

Accuracy Bonus: (A, F-) Ultimately I'm not quite sure how I feel about this ability. It does give rangers a little bit more to do with wisdom, which is nice. The damage bonuses are pretty sweet for that one big moment...but unlike smite you have to declare it before you hit, so there is also the chance you just blow it for nothing. Its a long rest recharge, where so many other ranger abilities are short rest. So yeah it just feels off to me (oh, and for a name like accuracy bonus why are you allowing damage bonuses too?). I think I would rather it be something where I just get more maneuver points....maneuvers cover a lot of this, so just let me enjoy that system a bit more instead of shoe horning me into these bonuses.

Accuracy Reserve (A, F-): The bonus is fine, not as sexy as Accuracy Bonus but probably will come up a lot more often. However, I think it has the exact opposite flavor of what you want. Rangers are supposed to be mobile...skirmisher type characters. And many other abilities already presented highlight ranger's mobility. So this ability should work the opposite way, instead of a bonus for standing still, give me a bonus for moving. Or if you do like this more "sniper flavor", than go ahead and throw in a 3rd option for the skirmisher bonus. That way every archetype is covered, your dead still sniper, or your mobile skirmisher.

Wilderness Mystique

Answering Silence (B): I think my main issue with this, is that the bonuses it gives....are the ones the ranger is going to be dominant in. So your not normally going to need your friend to be making those checks, so it feels like a waste.

Fearsome Mysticism (B): Its an alright bonus, again though does get you in a weird (or maybe cool) situation where the ranger effectively has "arcane radar" because of when he gets to apply his bonus or not. I'm still not quite sure why it can't just be a bonus to intimidate period.

Kindred Spirit (A, F+): This will in general be the most solid ability of the bonus. The ability to detect hidden or invisible creatures as a useful ability period, but can be lifesaving in combat. The ability to tell creatures studied in stealth can also be useful when your entering a social scene.

Adversarial Focus (A): An actual combat bonus for the studied foe gives it a bit more hutzpah. Some may argue that between this and some of the other class bonuses, the ranger does seem to be stacking on a lot of small bonuses, which 5e does try to avoid.

Game Hunting (F-): This ability is weird. First, game animals isn't really defined as its not a game term (seems like it should just be all beasts or something). The forced focus on nets is also quite weird, I've got no issue with that being one of the choice abilities.... so if I want a net ranger I can go for it. But forcing every ranger to be good at nets just doesn't feel right.

Versatile Exploration (C): So I am fine with the concept of dipping in to other classes' knacks. My main issue with this is that it will only apply to 2 knacks (as there is no clause at retraining knacks), and while there are some Fighter knacks that are nice (I don't think the druid ones are all that great for a ranger), the truth is there are already a lot of good ranger knacks. So considering this is the 8th level power of the ranger, when a lot of other classes get a solid boost at 8th....it feels weak and unappealing. If this was a lower level ability, sign me up, but it does not hold up as the only 8th level power the ranger gets. At minimum, if you want to keep this ability at 8th, then I should just gain a fighter or a druid knack for free (heck probably one of each for this level of power).

I will say I think this is also highlights that knacks as a concept seems a bit scattered at the moment. For some classes they feel like complete fluff...just a nice little add on. Other classes (ranger included), they seem to be a major part of their class arsenal, with some really meaty options. I think its strange to have a single concept that is so irregularly applied in power across the classes. Compare that to manuevers....though different classes get access to different subsets of maneuvers, fundamentally the maneuvers all work the same across classes. Knacks do not.

Flash of Steel (A, F+): I've mentioned before that the Whirlwind and Volley (note the packet says missile volley but the maneuver in the fighter packet is called just Volley) maneuvers are ok but their cost tends to dampen their usefulness. But with the ranger gaining the ability to do these at will, LOOK OUT! This is a really cool and really strong boost to the ranger.... while it is an ability classes like the fighter can use the ranger makes it distinctly their own, which is really cool. I like this ability a lot.

Hunter's Focus (A): Just covering the same ground as the spell, it takes the ability from a portion of the day to really being a constant mainstay ability. In fact, I could even argue "why not just make the ability permanent at this point?"

Trackless Hunting (C): The ability to avoid tracking can be cool for certain campaigns....but by 10th level magic is starting to become the mainstay, so this ability feels very niche and limited. As a lower level ability its a fine addition, but as the penultimate power of the ranger it feels very lack luster. Also the rogue knack option is just out of the blue, I have one knack left (unless there's something in level up we haven't seen yet that will give us a lot more knacks)....and again ranger knacks are still pretty darn good.

I feel like at bare minimum, I should just gain a rogue knack flat out. That's something at least, don't make me trade for it.

Exploration Knacks

Beast Friend (B, F+): Its a mainstay troupe of the ranger, so glad to see its hear. The main issue with the beast, like so many pet rangers before it, is the lack of scaling. At 1st-2nd level, the pet is actually really handy. It can provide you aid in combat, and its damage is actually helpful. By 5th level especially, this thing is mulch....it won't survive even standard combats, let alone challenging ones. I think the solution is, remove any options in combat in general, and maybe give it some scouting potential (aka some ability to communicate with the creature, even if its limited). Let the ranger enjoy a little friend that helps him scout, but avoids combat like the plague.

Calls of the Wild (B, F+): Again a good flavored ability, its certainly not the strongest ranger knack but some players really enjoy roleplaying with animals. You could make the argument to combine this ability and Beast Friend.

Ear to the Ground (C, F+): This is the "Aragorn tracking through the rock" concept, which is super cool. But with a range of 30 ft for 1 minute of concentration, this ability is a joke. You either have to make the ability work much quicker (probably an action), or make the range much larger. I prefer the latter myself.

Grub Hunter (A): Its an alright ability, effectively making goodberries. Because of 5e's healing system, where 1 point of healing can bring you up...being able to just drop a grub in someone's mouth to bring them back can be pretty solid, even if the healing is very minor.

Healing Salves (A): So my issue here is.... grub hunter and healing salves basically do the same thing. My guess is its a question of which one people prefer and then going with that for the final version. In that case, personally I like grub hunter better for the ranger, and healing salves for the druid. That feels more in line with each's perspective flavor.

Herbal Bitters (B): Likely in most games exhaustion doesn't come up all that often, but in a game that does this could be extremely useful.

Master Tracker (A, F+): Just a super slick and cool ability, this is the kind of stuff I want a 9th level ranger doing.

Monster Mimic (A, F+): So this ability is both a way to scare off creatures, but also to become a defacto disguise master, which is very interesting. I feel like this knack would get a ton of mileage in a clever players hands.

Poison and Antidotes (A): I think this will be another favorite knack. Antitoxins are always useful to have. While the poison doesn't scale, its also free....and with bounded accuracy even a strong creature can fail a DC 10 every once in a while. The poisoned condition can completely neuter a boss monster, so this can be a very useful ability.

Read the Room (O, F+): This one is heavily DM dependent, depending on how they rule the detect thought spell's "surface thoughts" clause. Some DMs might cry foul on this one, as a 1st level ranger effectively gains a weak version of detect thoughts "at-will".

Relentless Pursuit (C): I think most rangers are going to be good enough at tracking that this won't come up very often at all. There are much cooler Ranger knacks to take.

See the Unseen (A): You will be thanking your lucky stars you have this when that invisible creature fight breaks out. Depending on the DM, you may not get to use this one often...but you will feel like a million bucks in the times that you do get to use it.
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Glad you're back! I'm in overall agreement with your assessment. I think this version of the spell-less ranger has some cool stuff, but right now it's stacking a lot of fiddly bonuses in combat. (Same with exploration, to be honest.) We need to see those consolidated into one or two big class features.

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