D&D 5e: Ranger Class Guide

D&D 5e: Ranger Class Guide

Intro

Rangers have a reputation as being clones of Aragorn (or Legolas, if you’re playing as an elf) but they have the potential to be much more than a Lord of the Rings cosplay. In D&D 5e, the only limit is your imagination (and how lenient the DM is on how the rules are applied!) with the sheer number of different options you have at your disposal. However, there are some options that are more “optimal” than others. Optimal doesn’t mean better, but it does usually mean that it will be more suited to the type of gameplay the developers of D&D assume you’ll be doing as a ranger: fighting monsters, tracking prey, and exploring the wilderness. Without further ado, let’s discuss building a ranger, starting with ability scores!

Key

Epic

Good

Meh

Bad

Ability Scores

STR Rangers can be melee fighters, and if you choose certain subclasses it will be preferable. You can also still use thrown weapons if you prioritise Strength, so you do still have ranged options!

DEX Rangers excel with ranged martial weapons, making them just as deadly far away as up close (with less risk of counterattack!).

CON All rangers need high Constitution, both for soaking up hits and concentrating on spells (you’re going to have a lot of concentration spells).

INT It makes sense for a ranger to be smart so they know a lot of useful info on nature and monsters, but it’s not fully necessary.

WIS Wisdom is the ability score you’ll use for spellcasting, but I would argue that it’s not strictly necessary since the ranger’s spellcasting is more of a backup tool than a main focus of the class.

CHA You can be charismatic if you want, but unless you’re playing as a fey wanderer it’s not going to be a big part of your class.

Races

Aarakocra +2 Dexterity and +1 Wisdom is perfect for a ranger, plus being able to fly as much as you want is great for nearly every class. Just make sure your DM is ok with flying PCs!

Aasimar An extra cantrip is nice, but it’s only light. Other than that, there’s not much here for you.

Protector +1 Wisdom is good, and the transformation can help you pile on the damage to your foes. Not bad!

Scourge +1 Constitution is great, but I’ve never been a fan of the Radiant Consumption feature due to how it damages you. Maybe if you play as a ranger with the Horde Breaker feature from the hunter subclass it will synergise nicely?

Fallen This one scales with Charisma, which you probably won’t have much of. 

Bugbear For a sneaky melee ranger, this is a great race. 

Centaur +2 Strength and +1 Wisdom is great for you, and the bonus skill proficiencies are exactly right for a ranger.

Changeling There’s nothing terribly useful for a ranger here.

Dragonborn +2 Strength is good and resistance to an elemental damage type is nice, but there’s not much that will help a ranger specifically here.

Dwarf +2 Constitution is helpful, but the rest of the features here are a little lackluster. The bonus weapon proficiencies are quite useless for example, since rangers get all martial weapons by default.

Hill Hill dwarves are very underrated. An extra hit point whenever you level up is almost like having an extra +2 Constitution! And for rangers, hill dwarves actually get +1 Wisdom which is handy.

Mountain +1 Strength and proficiency with armor that you already have. Woop.

Duergar This one’s a lot flashier than the other subraces, with superior darkvision (120 feet), spells, and resistance to charms and paralyzation. Perfect for a hunter of mind flayers or other Underdark monsters.

Elf Getting +2 Dexterity is good and proficiency in Perception is too. An elf’s Trance feature is pretty useful too for being a semi-nocturnal hunter, if that’s what you’re into.

Drow Like the duergar mentioned above, drow make for great Underdark rangers. They fall slightly behind duergar as rangers due to a reliance on Charisma.

Eladrin More Charisma reliance loses them a few points, but an eladrin’s ability to teleport is always welcome for a more risk-averse ranger.

High Reliance on Intelligence for your bonus cantrip from this subrace makes high elves a slightly unappealing choice for rangers.

Wood The bonus weapon proficiencies are useless, but the +1 Wisdom and Mask of the Wild feature is just made for rangers.

Firbolg One of the best things about this race for rangers is that you basically get the same ability the developers almost gave rangers when they attempted to revise the class: the ability to talk to animals whenever. Other than that, firbolgs’ bonus to Strength and Wisdom plus their spellcasting abilities make them ideal rangers.

Genasi This race is very bare-bones without its subrace, so it’s hard to say anything about it as a choice for rangers. +2 Constitution is good, but that’s a given, right?

Air Not bad at all. Being able to hold your breath forever is… fine, but +1 Dexterity and innate ability to cast levitate is pretty sweet.

Earth Meh. This subrace doesn’t give you much that rangers didn’t already have.

Fire Darkvision and the ability to use a cantrip to attack is mighty useful for a ranger.

Water More Wisdom is good, and the ability to swim and breath like a fish is quite useful in the right situation. Like most aquatic PC races, this one needs to be in the right campaign to see a lot of use.

Gith Without a subrace, this race is extremely underwhelming so let’s take a look at those…

Githyanki Intelligence spellcasting and not much else. Extra language and tool proficiency is nice, but it’s not much for a ranger.

Githzerai Wisdom spellcasting, with +2 Wisdom to use it? Excellent, looks like we won’t be throwing the gith in the trash after all!

Gnome The resistance to magic is good, but everything else here is a little lukewarm for rangers.

Deep A very simple subrace, but very good for a mountain or Underdark ranger. It’s also one of the few races with Superior Darkvision but not Sunlight Sensitivity!

Forest Like I said before in the firbolg section, being able to speak to animals innately is great. The need for them to be Tiny is less great.

Rock I’m really not sure if these gadgets will come in that handy, but you never know.

Goblin A very solid choice, for its Dexterity and ability to pile on damage with Fury of the Small. Being able to disengage or hide as a bonus action is pretty sweet too.

Goliath Useful for a mountainous campaign, but maybe not much else.

Half-Elf Rangers benefit from the extra skill proficiencies, but otherwise… meh.

Half-Orc An excellent choice for melee rangers, but half-orcs generally lack anything else to offer a ranger.

Halfling The visual of a miniature halfling sizing up to their ogre favoured enemy is brilliant, and the +2 Dexterity, Lucky, Brave, and Nimble features can help you make it a reality. 

Lightfoot Hiding behind others and having +1 Charisma isn’t really the ranger’s thing.

Stout +2 Constitution and resistance to poison is very much ideal for a ranger.

Hobgoblin The extra proficiencies are useless, but the Saving Face feature is useful for everyone.

Human It’s fine. I mean, it’s a human. What do you expect? It goes without saying that Variant Humans are easily epic tier, as usual

Kalashtar Thanks to the Dual Mind feature you’ll probably never fail a Wisdom save, but the other features are just ok for a ranger.

Kenku +2 Dexterity and +1 Wisdom are great, but the other features are only so-so.

Kobold Kobolds are a little hard to recommend with their Sunlight Sensitivity and -2 Strength.

Leonin Leonin are ok for rangers, but with their focus on Strength and Constitution you’d expect them to be barbarians.

Lizardfolk I would love to play a survivalist lizardfolk ranger, that would be great fun. Imagine making all your party’s weapons and armour for them from natural materials and stalking your prey in the swamps. Great choice for rangers.

Loxodon +2 Constitution and +1 Wisdom makes for a good ranger, and the other features that pertain to survival and information-gathering are pretty good too.

Minotaur This race focuses a lot on brute force, which doesn’t make it a perfect ranger. An ok one, maybe.

Satyr Magic resistance is always welcome, but the other features would synergise better with a Charisma caster than a ranger.

Shifter Even without a subrace, shifters are decent for rangers with +1 Dexterity and proficiency with Perception.

Beasthide +2 Constitution and a shifting ability that stacks on more temporary hit points and a +1 to AC make this an ideal choice for melee rangers.

-Longtooth It’s not terrible, but you’re more likely to use a martial weapon than your natural ones.

Swiftstride Extra movement is good, but rangers are front-line fighters not flighty glass cannons.

Wildhunt +2 Wisdom and a boost to tracking creatures is a great boon for rangers.

Simic Hybrid This race is very versatile so I’ll say it’s as good for rangers as any other race. +2 Constitution and +1 to any score of your choice is really nice.

Tabaxi This race is potentially good for a very mobile ranger, but it doesn’t offer a huge amount of features that synergise with them.

Triton This race will only be especially useful to you if you have to be playing in a semi-aquatic campaign. Otherwise, you might find its features a little difficult to make useful.

Tiefling Resistance to fire and darkvision are both useful, but for a ranger that’s nothing too exciting. +2 Charisma is also slightly useless. 

Asmodeus This legacy loses points for the slightly useless +1 Intelligence, but the spells on offer are neat for how they don’t appear on the ranger spell list. Too bad the spellcasting ability is Charisma!

Baalzebul Same deal as the Asmodeus bloodline. Meh ability score increase and spells that won’t see much use due to a lack of Charisma.

Dispater +1 Dexterity is finally a useful ability score increase for you and the spells on offer are somewhat useful even without good Charisma. 

Fierna +1 Wisdom is a useful boon, and the enchantment spells here are rather useful to make up for a lack of Charisma.

Glasya As with Fierna, the ability score increase is useful and the spells are too (this time they’re illusion rather than enchantment)

Levistus +1 Constitution is great, and the spells here don’t rely on your spellcasting ability to work well. 

Mammon +1 Intelligence is meh and the spells here are kind of niche. 

Mephistopheles Without decent Charisma, these spells aren’t going to be of much benefit to you.

Zariel This subrace must assume you’re going to be a melee character because its +1 Strength and selection of spells are very oriented that way. Not bad for a ranger!

Feral If you can take the Winged feature, I recommend it. It’s a major help to any class.

Tortle +2 Strength and +1 Wisdom is good for a ranger and the other features are… fine.

Warforged Being able to go without food or water is kind of at odds with the ranger’s focus on survival. At least with this race you’ll be able to ignore that stuff, just like the developers do!

Yuan-Ti Pureblood Magic resistance is really good! But for a ranger, this subrace doesn’t offer anything special. The spellcasting not being based on Wisdom kind of bites. 

Class Features

Hit dice: 1d10

Armor: Proficiencies in light and medium armor, as well as shields 

Weapons: all simple and martial weapons

Tools: None

Saving Throws: Strength and Dexterity 

Favored Enemy This feature is easily one of the most maligned in the game for how it squanders its potential. While it sounds cool, it only comes into play when your DM uses a certain type of enemy. Great for some campaigns but bitterly disappointing for others.

Favored Foe (Optional, replaces Favored Enemy) This is just more reliable damage to be done. Simple but effective.

Natural Explorer Like Favored Enemy, this feature only functions when your DM cooperates and doesn’t throw curveballs at you. 

Deft Explorer (Optional, replaces Natural Explorer) This feature is a little complicated and very ugly on the page, but it’s pretty decent for the breadth of little upgrades it gives you.

Fighting Style

Archery 

Very useful for a ranged ranger. More-or-less essential.

Blind Fighting

This one’s a little niche, but can be used in very creative ways by a smart melee player.

Defense 

No one can argue with +1 AC. It’s just universally good.

Dueling

This one somewhat limits your options with how you’ll be limited to one-handed weapons and the benefit isn’t that great.

Thrown Weapon Fighting

This is a decent option for melee rangers who want to have some ranged options easily to hand.

Two-Weapon Fighting

Two-Weapon Fighting sadly is a little underpowered in general, even with the dedicated fighting style.

Primeval Awareness It’s not really worth the spell slot just to learn some vague information about your surroundings.

Primal Awareness (Optional, replaces Primeval Awareness) This one’s fairly simple. Who can say no to some more spells to add to your personal list?

Subclasses 

Beastmaster This one breaks my heart for how cool it sounds in concept but how underpowered it is in practice. If you choose the special companions from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything you should be alright, but overall this is a pretty bad subclass. It’s still fun though!

Fey Wanderer This subclass is pretty strange for how it boosts your ability to persuade and trick others; you can make a charismatic MONSTER if you play your cards right which is super weird for a ranger. Also, I’m not a big fan of subclasses that have features that are just “you learn X spell” but this one is neat.

Gloom Stalker This subclass is the super car of ranger subclasses. It’s the ranger equivalent of the “be careful of who you make fun of in high school” meme. The gloom stalker is just all around really good, to the point that some features feel like the rules are being broken.

Horizon Walker This one’s a little odd but very intriguing. As the name suggests, it works best in a campaign that has a lot of planar shenanigans like portals and other realms to explore. Other than that, it’s a decent mobile combatant. 

Hunter This subclass is just a little bland. The features are ok, they’re just not very inspiring. I can imagine levelling up in this class feeling a little empty. 

Monster Slayer You can tell the developers weren’t satisfied with the hunter subclass because they basically did it again with this one. This time, the monster slayer’s features are a lot more exciting to use and will likely have a great effect on the direction of the battle.

Swarmkeeper Here’s another wacky one! This subclass gives you a lot of mobility to work with and some passive ways to deal damage. It’s good, but some aspects feel like they could be a bit stronger. 10 feet of flying speed from Writhing Tide feels like it’s not quite enough, for example. 

Skills

Acrobatics Dexterity will probably be one of your highest abilities, making this skill a decent choice. 

Animal Handling Interacting with animals is a big part of the ranger fantasy and pairs well with speak with animals or races that allow you to communicate with them.

Arcana This probably won’t be needed for you. Let the wizard handle it.

Athletics Climbing, swimming, and even sprinting is covered by this skill, which you’ll need to keep up as a front-line fighter.

Deception Unless you’re a Fey Wanderer, I don’t see a use for it. Aragorn couldn’t fool his human girlfriend into thinking he liked her cooking and you won’t be able to either!

History This could be useful if your Favored Enemy has a storied history. Otherwise, meh.

Insight This being Wisdom-based makes it a decent choice, but you might not get to use it.

Intimidation Some DMs allow you to use a weapon’s ability score (Strength or Dexterity) for this skill, but that is technically against the rules. You probably won’t make much use of this skill.

Investigation This is useful, but you might want to argue with your DM to let you use Perception where possible.

Medicine Essential for helping your friends survive almost dying when you’re out of spell slots to cast cure wounds with. You’ll be good at it too, with high Wisdom.

Nature A fine choice, if you have the Intelligence for it.

Perception Very useful if you hope to be a perceptive and savvy front-line fighter.

Performance I… can’t see this coming in useful. You can try, but you’ll be sacrificing other skills.

Persuasion Fey Wanderers can get use out of this, but other rangers not so much.

Religion Every church you’ve been to has taken offence at you tracking mud in, so no luck here.

Sleight of Hand This could be useful if you find yourself dealing with humanoids in urban environments a lot. 

Stealth I’d say this is essential. Why not have it when your Dexterity is high? It’s part of the fantasy of being a ranger to sneak around and take your enemies down from the shadows.

Survival Again, this skill will help you live the ranger fantasy. 

Top 3 Backgrounds

Outlander This background’s feature runs the risk of trivilising the activity of foraging for food and water, but it lends itself to the flavour of rangers so well it’s hard not to choose.

Soldier A decent pick for rangers with a more guerilla warfare flavour.

Sage This one’s a little less on-point, but it could be very fun to play as a ranger who has a wide breadth of knowledge on their enemies (or where to find such information)

Top 3 Weapons

A Strength-based ranger should probably use a longsword or warhammer with a javelin or shield in the other hand. I’m also partial to nets, but that’s just because I’m a freak.

A Dexterity-based ranger should probably use a longbow. It’s an obvious choice! 

Armor

Start with leather armour and save up for studded leather, then set your sights on a breastplate. You can go for scale mail and later half-plate, but you’ll be rolling for Stealth with disadvantage.

Top 5 Feats

Sharpshooter is one of the best feats in the game, easily. It makes every ranged attack significantly better and even makes nets viable!

Durable This could be useful to give yourself proficiency in Constitution saving throws.

Mounted Combatant One way to make Beastmasters less underwhelming is to play as a Small race and then ride a Medium animal companion. I’ve done it and it’s great fun 🙂

Tough Extra hit points are a benefit that can’t be understated for frontline fighters like rangers.

Dual Wielder If you’re truly dead set on making Two-Weapon Fighting work, you can take this feat. It will be… good. Not amazing, but good.

Multiclass options

Rangers pair well with druids (requires 13 Wisdom), rogues (requires 13 Dexterity), and fighters (requires 13 Strength or Dexterity). Choose druid for more spells, rogue for more damage, and fighter for more armour proficiency and better action economy.

Sage Gamers

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