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D&D 5E Which version of the Ranger?

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I've played an extensive amount of 5E since its release; but surprisingly enough, I never played nor had a player play the ranger. So I have almost no idea of the intricacies of the class. However, I'm introducing a friend of mine to tabletop RPGs and he's really excited by the class fantasy. I want to make sure he has a great time and I'm willing to shift to a different version of the Ranger or even homebrew some stuff.

I know there's been a revised version of the class released and I've often seen snippets of people saying it was not doing too bad but definitely had some issues.
  1. I'd like if you guys could shed some light on the issues that the class has. Which features are especially lacking? What are the core issues that people complain about?
  2. Which version would you recommend to use?
  3. If not a version, what homebrew ideas did you incorporate to better the experience of player Ranger?
I'll be doing a deep dive of this topic today and hopefully I should have a better idea on how to approach this!
 

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Here's how I run Ranger:
  1. Start with the base 5e Ranger in the PHB.
  2. Unless you're playing a campaign where the abilities would be extraordinary (hint: you aren't) replace Natural Explorer and Favored Enemy with the alternatives from the Variant Class Features Unearthed Arcana (and which, IMO, are likely to appear in November's Tasha's book).
  3. Do not use the Beast Master subclass. Not even with the variant class feature rules. WotC vastly, vastly, vastly overestimates how powerful an animal companion is.
The Variant Class Feature rules correct every issue I have with the base class. I'm fine with writing Beast Master off entirely because WotC's dev team has a wildly inflated perception of how good Animal Companions are.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Here's how I run Ranger:
  1. Start with the base 5e Ranger in the PHB.
  2. Unless you're playing a campaign where the abilities would be extraordinary (hint: you aren't) replace Natural Explorer and Favored Enemy with the alternatives from the Variant Class Features Unearthed Arcana (and which, IMO, are likely to appear in November's Tasha's book).
  3. Do not use the Beast Master subclass. Not even with the variant class feature rules. WotC vastly, vastly, vastly overestimates how powerful an animal companion is.
The Variant Class Feature rules correct every issue I have with the base class. I'm fine with writing Beast Master off entirely because WotC's dev team has a wildly inflated perception of how good Animal Companions are.

Thank you for the insight. I'll build that character and see what the numbers look like. One question; if my player is excited by the fantasy of the beast master? How would you go around fixing/including it?
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I'd like if you guys could shed some light on the issues that the class has. Which features are especially lacking? What are the core issues that people complain about?

There's 2 parts to this.
  1. What are the issues with the ranger as it is designed to be played?
  2. What are the issues with the ranger in the way some want to play it?
With 1, the issues with the ranger are its too few spells known, too few unique spells, and heavy use of ribbon class features

With 2, many people straight up don't want to pay the ranger as designed for D&D and instead wish to play variant fighters and rogues. With that in mind, all the class is lacking.

Which version would you recommend to use?
Depends.
The PHB one works best as the D&D ranger.
If not a version, what homebrew ideas did you incorporate to better the experience of player Ranger?

The best homebrew for the ranger is to increase the number of spells known and favored enemies. If your campaign skips exploration alot, use the alternate class features in the Variant CF UA.
 

Thank you for the insight. I'll build that character and see what the numbers look like. One question; if my player is excited by the fantasy of the beast master? How would you go around fixing/including it?

One alternative to the Beastmaster subclass is to just have an animal companion acquired through rangery exploits without special class features. The UA variant features also gives some free spells known in place of the primal awareness feature, including (with a free daily casting) Speak with Animals at level 3 and Beast Sense at level 5. Combine those with the UA Variant Feature Expertise option in Animal Handling and the Ranger can quickly feel like a Beastmaster without messing around with that subclass, and as an added bonus they can acquire their companion whenever story and luck determine rather than needing them to show up upon the beginning of level 3 to activate their subclass features.
 

GlassJaw

Hero
Thank you for the insight. I'll build that character and see what the numbers look like. One question; if my player is excited by the fantasy of the beast master? How would you go around fixing/including it?

The Artificer class has a much better companion mechanic than the PHB.

My best advice is to do a search. You'll find multitudes of discussions and homebrew rangers to sink your teeth into. Absolutely use the UA Alternate Class Features at a minimum. I also like combining that with the UA Revised Ranger and offering the player some choice of abilities (like Favored Enemy or Favored Foe).
 


Gadget

Adventurer
I think there was a UA that had an alternate Best Companion stats as well, it you want to go through the UAs and look for it. Otherwise, I second the alternate class features UA, with the caveat that this was written without taking multiclassing into account. If you use it and the mutli-classing optional feature, it would be very easy for someone to "cherr-pick" some good abilities for a one or two level dip into Ranger. You might want to put some sort of restriction on that. It sounds like the upcoming Tasha's Cauldron of Everything will include an updated version of these features.
 

Thank you for the insight. I'll build that character and see what the numbers look like. One question; if my player is excited by the fantasy of the beast master? How would you go around fixing/including it?

You could use the last Revised Ranger (not sure of the date but there were two or three of them). It's more powerful than other classes, but I don't think it's that bad. Or you could use the Battlesmith Artificer's Steel Defender rules instead of the animal companion rules, though you would need to reflavor things a bit (i.e., spend an action to heal 2d6 hit points, spend 1 minute to restore it to life, etc.). A new player might find that wonky. I'd probably encourage that player to just play an Artificer.

In general, I would try to steer the player away from the Beast Master subclass. The problems run pretty deep:
  1. The companion consumes the PC's actions to take actions, which let's you substitute dealing 1d8+5 damage to deal 1d8+5 damage. This is a bit silly because you could just buy a freaking dog and it doesn't have that drawback. Even at the lower attack and damage, it's better because it doesn't cost the player's action. That's to say nothing of comparing it to summoned creatures which don't require anything beyond concentration to control.
  2. The companion has no special protection from death. There's no easy way to heal or resurrect it. There's no way to get a new one except to go out into the wilderness and find a new one. It doesn't work like Find Familiar or Find Steed... even though there's no good reason for that. Many DMs will just kill an animal companion -- on accident or without reservation -- and then the PC has no benefit from their subclass until they can spend the time to find a new one. That might be several game sessions.
  3. You still have the problem that animals can't climb ladders. The world is much more traversable by humanoids than by animals. Rather, the adventure will only ever lead to where humanoids can go simply out of necessity. However, it can easily lead where an animal can't go.
There's nothing saying your players can't have fun with the Beast Master as written, but there are a lot of ways that Beast Master doesn't feel very fun.
 

I think there was a UA that had an alternate Best Companion stats as well, it you want to go through the UAs and look for it. Otherwise, I second the alternate class features UA, with the caveat that this was written without taking multiclassing into account. If you use it and the mutli-classing optional feature, it would be very easy for someone to "cherr-pick" some good abilities for a one or two level dip into Ranger. You might want to put some sort of restriction on that. It sounds like the upcoming Tasha's Cauldron of Everything will include an updated version of these features.

Exhaustion should never have been assumed to be impossible to heal. That was a deeply questionable mechanic to begin with. Exhaustion as a penalty or cost is a just a poor balancing mechanic.

Berzerker Barbarian should just be limited to one Frenzy a day or once a short rest if the ability is that good. The exhaustion component should just be dropped entirely.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
Here is our revised ranger, heavy from the UA versions, etc. We've had three players use it over the last 18 months and all like it.
 

Attachments

  • Revised Ranger.pdf
    3.3 MB · Views: 109

Gadget

Adventurer
Exhaustion should never have been assumed to be impossible to heal. That was a deeply questionable mechanic to begin with. Exhaustion as a penalty or cost is a just a poor balancing mechanic.

Berzerker Barbarian should just be limited to one Frenzy a day or once a short rest if the ability is that good. The exhaustion component should just be dropped entirely.

After years of hindsight, I agree. The exhaustion mechanic could have been used in so many more places in the game as a status effect but for two things:
  1. It tends to affect PCs more than Monsters/NPCs until multiple levels are applied (giving monsters a penalty to ability checks for the first level is not usually that great in many instances).
  2. It is such a hard penalty to get rid of, in contrast to most other status in the game.
The designers seem to have realized this and tried to side-stop it by making later spells like Sickening Radiance inflict exhaustion that 'goes away when the spell ends.' One way I have seen to help mitigate it is to have Lesser Restoration remove one level of exhaustion, rather than requiring the 5th level Greater Restoration. It doesn't really make sense that a third level spell can literally raise the (newly) dead (Revivify), but have to wait until 5th level spells to remove one level of exhaustion.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
I really like the class feature variants Ranger. I took it and ran with it and made this:


It makes the "primal" animal companion a baseline feature, and rewrites the beast master to boost the animal companion.

I think it is modestly overtuned at this point.
 


TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter

This is the version I use, but I'll certainly allow other versions that players might bring to my attention. There's tons of revised rangers out there, enough to match pretty much anyone's version of what the ranger should be.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
People complain about the Ranger due to comparing it to other combat classes. When you white-room sim all the classes, the Ranger comes out low because the two main class features they get at low level (Favored Enemy and Natural Explorer) do not help mechanically in combat, unlike almost all the other combat classes which get at least one.

But honestly... a player will usually only notice this discrepancy if they are really familiar with how all the classes play through personal experience, or the party consists of like 3 other major combat classes all of which are played by experienced, number-crunching players. But if you have your Ranger player, a Cleric, a Rogue, a Warlock, and a tanking Barbarian... I honestly doubt that the Ranger player will ever notice anything subpar about the class during combat. Especially come 2nd level and they start using Hunter's Mark to add an extra 1d6 damage on every attack they do. Even moreso when they hit 3rd and take the Hunter subclass. And if they are going Archery rather than melee... even moreso on top of that.

The complaints about the Beastmaster subclass? Yeah... the idea that from 1st to 4th level the Ranger itself doesn't ever attack because the Action is spent by the beast companion attacking is kinda lame. So I get it. But I have a Beastmaster Ranger in my current game and I just houseruled that provided the Ranger took a companion of CR 1/8 or lower (normally a BM gets CR 1/4)... then the Ranger and the companion would both be allowed to attack each round. Seeing as how the Beastmaster feature adds the Ranger's proficiency bonus to the companion's AC, attacks, damage, and proficient skills and saves... it ended up being a wonderful compromise and she's never had any complaints...

...especially considering that she as the Ranger pretty dominates all the scouting, travel, and outdoor parts of the game. With the number of people here on the boards that complain that Fighters get "nothing" for the Exploration and Social pillars of the game and it's only all about combat for them... we have here the absolute best class for continuous Exploration but yet people still think the class stinks.

If you want to use an alternate Ranger, sure, I wouldn't say anyone's wrong for suggesting it. But I also think the people who say that the Ranger as displayed in the Player's Handbook is untenable as an option are being rather hyperbolic.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Yes and No.

The core question you must ask yourself is "why do you want to play ranger?"

Depending on your answer you might be fine with the PHB ranger, you might want a variant or howebrew ranger, or you might be better served as a fighter or rogue.

Lots of people complain because the D&D ranger is a specific thing that barely translates out of D&D. So they end up looking for something that isn't and wasn't going to be there and are disappointed.
 

Lots of people complain because the D&D ranger is a specific thing that barely translates out of D&D. So they end up looking for something that isn't and wasn't going to be there and are disappointed.
That's really not why people are complaining about the Ranger at all.

People are complaining because it has a bunch of features that are either extremely situational or never useful at all, and are regardless extremely poorly designed. No other class fails in its design to such a degree, not even close.
 
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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
That's really not why people are complaining about the Ranger at all.

People are complaining because it has a bunch of features that are either extremely situational, never useful at all, and are regardless extremely poorly designed. No other class fails in its design to such a degree, not even close.

Nope. The problem is people expect ribbon features to power features.
Favored Enemy and Natural Explorer are supposed to be situational but powerful or general and weak. The class power was put into Spellcasting and Subclass. The only outright weak class feature is Primeval Awareness. The class is far from perfect but it isn't as bad as the complaints state.

People come at the class in the wrong angle by comparing it to rangers of other media or editions. And this feeds disappointment because they are looking for something that isn't going to be there.
 

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