D&D 5e: Hunter Ranger Guide
D&D 5e: Hunter Ranger Guide
Role in the Party
The key thing to know when building a Hunter Ranger -and rangers in general-, is that they Are not swiss-army knives. They are one-use tools whose job is to specialize in the thing they’re best at. So, let’s make some highly-specialized hunters, and make something Fun, Flavorful, and Viable. Especially if you use the “optional” Tasha’s Cauldron rules (which may well become “standard” rules when 5.5e is released).
All the same, while you’re going through this list, think about what exactly your ranger is going to do. Do they fight lots of small creatures? Colossal giants? Do they focus on humanoids? Do they prefer ranged or two-weapon fighting? This will determine your best choices. So let’s get right in.
The Hunter Ranger subclass is found in the Player’s Handbook. Click here to pick up your own copy of the Player’s Handbook!
At 3rd level, you get to choose between three offensive skills: Colossus Slayer, Giant Killer, and Horde Breaker.
Colossus Slayer allows you to inflict extra damage as long as your enemy has taken at least 1 hp of damage, once per turn. It’s by far the least situational of the three options, and as long as you can hold your attack until after someone else in your party attacks the enemy, you can inflict that extra damage on a predictable, routine basis. This one is the top pick of the three for frequency of use.
Giant killer lets you use your reaction after the enemy attacks to attack back, but this only works if the enemy is size large or bigger. Bright side: It works as long as you can see the enemy, so you can use ranged attacks, unlike in an opportunity attack. Still, given how situational it is, unless your campaign suggests a lot of big kills, give this one a miss.
Horde Breaker is more situational than Colossus Slayer but much less situational than Giant Killer; it lets you attack two creatures once per turn as long as they’re both within 5 feet of each other and within range of your weapon. Especially good if you’re ranged, or being flanked; it’s best for groups of small enemies. If you can’t count on that being a regular issue, give it a miss and go for Colossus Slayer instead.
At 7th level, you get another choice of three defense tactics:
Escape the Horde: Opportunity attacks against you are made with disadvantage. Not epic, but useful. Take this if you want to focus wholly on ranged attacks and being a dextrous hider. Still, certain racial options are often better than opting for this.
Multiattack Defense: When a creature hits you with an attack, you gain a +4 bonus to AC for all subsequent attacks made by that creature during a turn.
If you aren’t the most dextrous guy on the field, or you prefer to get into melee range, take Multiattack Defense instead of Escape the Horde because damn near everything gets multiattack, and you don’t want to get hit more than once. Probably a better choice over ‘Escape the Horde’.
Steel Will: You have advantage against being frightened.
Unless your DM uses frighten effects frequently and you really don’t want to play a Kobold, being frightened may not happen frequently enough to get this.
At level 11, you get one of two multiattack options, so you had better decide if you’re melee or range-focused:
Volley: Effectively, you’re attacking a 10-foot radius of enemies in one turn, as long as you have the ammo for it (and, does your DM care about ammunition rules?). You still have to make an attack roll against each one, though, and it’s only one attack per creature. Good for hordes of enemies and range-focused rangers.
Whirlwind Attack: Make a melee attack against any number of creatures within 5 feet of you, separate attack rolls for each target.
Nobody said you had to be dual-wielding shortswords or whipping around daggers. Pick up a glaive and attack a whole horde, who’s stopping you? Personally, I like this one, especially with certain race choices.
The thing is, you already had multi attack at 5th level, so this is more useful if there’s a bigger horde of enemies. But sometimes, there is.
At 15th level, you get one more choice:
Evasion: Any time you make a dex saving throw to halve damage, you automatically halve it and take no damage if you pass the save. Great for the dragon slayer or dungeoneer! Situational, but the kind of situation you really want to be prepared for.
Stand Against The Tide: When a hostile creature misses you in melee, you can force them to attack another creature of your choice. Not so great if you’re only fighting one creature, but given how rare it is to fight only one creature at a time, this can be useful. Also great for turning a scuffle between two people into a bar fight. Still, like Evasion, it’s situational– and not nearly as life-saving.
Uncanny Dodge: Literally just the rogue’s uncanny dodge. It’s good because it’s Uncanny Dodge, but why would you get 15 levels into Hunter Ranger just to take this?
With Horde Breaker, Multiattack Defense, whirlwind attack, and Stand Against the Tide, you can be Talion in Shadow of Mordor, attacking swarms of Orcs and getting out in a hurry.
With Colossus Slayer, Escape the Horde, Volley, and Evasion, you can be a sharpshooter picking off the lower-tier threats of the world from the shadows.
The Hunter Ranger is the fighter of the two PHB ranger subclasses and by far the more useful. Not that that’s saying much.
Okay, okay, we all know the truth: Rangers as a whole are incredibly situational (Hunter Rangers perhaps slightly less so than Beastmasters). If you focus on melee and get stuck in ranged combat, it sucks. If you focus on ranged and get stuck in melee, it sucks. You have to know your DM’s style and your party makeup to get the most bang for your buck with this.
Best Race Options
–Bugbear: Weird choice, but hear me out: with the extra 5ft reach, you get more range on Whirlwind Attack. If you multiclass into something that gains access to Enlarge/Reduce, you can get an even longer range all at once.
–Eladrin: Keeping up the trend of weird choices, one of these fun fey creatures nets you a sweet teleport. Eladrin come with different possible effects, for the ranged who want to get out of the melee and keep the enemy away with a Winter fey step, or the melee Hunter Rangers that want to pop into the fray with a little extra Summer fey damage.
–Variant Human: For something a little more typical, Get a jump ahead and grab your Crossbow Expert or Martial Adept feat immediately, to start your dedication to a style at level 1.
Choosing the Right Skills
As a hunter Ranger, your options at level 1 are to pick three from Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.
Which options you choose should be about your build. If you’re melee focused, get Athletics, Perception, and Insight, to know the most about your enemies when you’re in the thick of it.
If you’re ranged focus, Perception, Stealth, and investigation are solid choices. Swap out alternatives as necessary when your background grants you these things.
Now, let’s talk about what’s best for your Hunter Ranger, and about Tasha’s Cauldron.
PHB rangers are kind of miserable all-around, so ask your DM if you can use Tasha’s Cauldron’s “Optional” class features for rangers, and then just use all of them, as vast improvements on the PHB. The only reason not to is if your DM is a big fan of intense survival-simulation games, where the PHB Natural Explorer option saves you a lot of grief. For everything else, TCE.
There are also some cool fighting style options in Tasha’s, to expand on the ranger fighting types. Blind Fighting is pretty damn cool, especially if you choose a melee build that doesn’t have darkvision (or there’s a lot of magical darkness). Dueling or Archery are probably still your best bets, but you can try out Druidic Warrior to get more casting options (Sheleighleigh, most likely), or Thrown Weapon fighting if you can’t decide between ranged and melee builds.
For a Melee build Hunter Ranger: Grab Martial Adept to give your melee build some tactics, choosing whatever your two favorite battle master tactics are (Let’s say Maneuvering Attack and Disarming Attack). This gives you more flavor, and some bang for your buck beyond just swinging a sharp stick around.
Mage Slayer, while situational, is fantastic if you expect to go up against a BBEG caster, or lots of mages in hordes. Only take once you’re reasonably sure you’ll be going up against a few more mages in your campaign.
Heavily Armored is boring but surprisingly useful. Give into the temptation of being a half-caster fighter, get some heavy armor, and wade into battle.
For a Ranged build Hunter Ranger: Crossbow Expert as soon as possible, Sharpshooter for the added disadvantage negation, then pick up Skulker, to keep yourself hidden while sniping.
–Athlete: If Mythic Odyssey of Theros is on the table, Athlete isn’t bad, and gives you a 50% chance of finding a fan that can give you aid in any settlement within 100 miles of where you grew up. Ironically, this limits the range of your ranger, but for a melee build it’s fitting.
–Outlander: Pretty self-explanatory, you’ve been to lots of places and hunted far and wide. In a way, it’s ‘Classic Ranger Lite’, giving you the ability to forage for yourself and your party and remember where you are on a map.
–Folk Hero: Regardless of your build, Folk Hero is a good background. It gives you some good flavor, some useful tools, and proficiencies, and gives you Rustic Hospitality, which lets you find some help among the common folk, as long as you and your party aren’t actively putting them in danger.
Multiclassing with the Hunter Ranger is a delicate balance, as it often feels like abandoning the already thinly-spread concept of a ranger, in favor of more fighting or more casting. That said, there are a few options for you, with more fighting, more flavor, or more casting, depending on how you want to go.
–Fighter: Take up Great Weapon fighting, get second wind, and if you want to take a second level of Fighter, grab Action Surge on the way. It may feel like you’re abandoning the Ranger flavor for Fighter if you take this, though.
–Druid: If you didn’t feel like taking the Druidic Warrior fighting style, taking a level of druid can still get you Sheleighleigh and other spells, and taking two can get you some wild shapes and a druidic circle, which can bring back some of that Ranger flavor, especially if you take Circle of the Land. This feels like the most “Hunter-Ranger” of the multiclass options in terms of flavor.
–Cleric: For a slightly different but still rustic flavor of Hunter Ranger, try a Cleric of a god of the hunt, or a god of nature. Gain supportive Cleric spells, and immediately pick up a domain to focus on (most likely the Nature domain). Note: You should get into your ranger flavor before you pick this up. Once you pick up Cleric, you’re ‘the healer’, and nobody will remember that you have ranger skills.
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Would I recommend playing a Hunter Ranger?
If your DM doesn’t use Tasha’s Cauldron’s optional class rules: No, but I’d still choose it over Beastmaster.
If your DM does use Tasha’s Cauldron: No, but I’d argue it’s at least viable.
To make a Hunter Ranger work, you sort of want to minmax into one of two fighting styles, and in a way that really can feel like a loss of flavor and a gain of paperwork. That said, for a one shot or a very specific campaign where you know what you’re getting into? Give a Hunter Ranger a shot, dedicate it to one fighting style, and see if it surprises you.