I've been pondering different methods of approaching the concept of "wilderness fighter guy" that most rangers tend to be compared to, and while you can't seem to make a single class that compares favorably to all of the popular fictional analogues, I think I can at least take a pass at making it a bit less thorny.
I originally took a stab at doing ranger as a fighter archetype, and it didn't sit right. It ended up feeling more like a Witcher than a ranger, and while that's probably quite alright for some campaign settings, it didn't really work for broad D&D appeal. So I'm backing off of that idea for now and trying something a bit more typical to what D&D has tried before.
There's a really great article over at Loot the Body that articulates my issues with the class a lot better than I did last time. It feels too limited and it impacts its effectiveness in situations you'd prefer a little more flexibility, along with delayed access to abilities that the ranger should really be getting earlier on (that's a really condensed and somewhat unfair summation of the article, forgive me). I've taken a good deal of inspiration from the suggestions in this article, and you'll probably note some similarities with concepts expressed there.
First and foremost, the ranger needs to be a capable and competent warrior, able to stand alongside the fighter and paladin in the front ranks in a pinch. However, they are also a skirmisher, and need to be able to adapt to situations and provide support to allies. To preserve some desired classical ranger flavor, I'm also opting to include a variation on the ranger's spellcasting powers in an archetype (which is going to be a second article lest this become a big ol' TL;DR).
The core ranger as I see it has the following features:
Hit Dice: 1d10 per ranger level.
Armor Proficiencies: Light, Medium, and Shields.
Weapon Proficiencies: Simple and Martial weapons.
Tool Proficiencies: None.
Saving Throws: Strength and Dexterity.
Skills: Choose three from among Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.
Most of this is the same. In regards to the Hit Dice, it's a fighter-type, this seems like a no-brainer. I'm not a fan of the 2d6 hit dice from Ye Auld Ranger or the recent UA reimagining, but it doesn't need to be as fragile as the rogue or as tough as the barbarian. I have a concept for a heavy armor ranger archetype that I'll go into later.
The ranger is an expert at surveying the surroundings, adapting to unsavory conditions, and creating contingencies. After concluding a long rest, the ranger gains traits in accordance with the surroundings. The Dungeon Master has final say in the primary component of the terrain in question, but it will always belong to one of the following categories: Arctic, Coast, Desert, Forest, Grasslands, Mountain, Swamp, Underdark, or Urban.
While attuned to a particular type of terrain, the ranger gains the following benefits while navigating in it:
- Difficult terrain does not slow your group's travel while not in combat.
- Your group cannot become lost except by magical means.
- Even when you are engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking) you remain alert to danger.
- If you are traveling alone, you can move stealthily at a normal pace.
- When you forage, you find twice as much food as you normally would.
- While tracking other creatures, you also learn their exact number, their sizes, and how long ago they passed through the site.
In addition, you gain a secondary benefit in accordance with the terrain type:
- Unimpeded (Arctic, Coast, Desert, Grasslands): Your speed increases by 10 feet.
- Impeded (Forest, Mountain, Swamp): You ignore the effects of difficult terrain in combat situations and can climb at full speed.
- Close-Quarters (Underdark, Urban): You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws while standing within 5 feet of any solid objects of Medium size or greater, such as a wall, pillar, or large obstruction that would otherwise provide any degree of cover from any angle.
I made some language clarifications here as it pertains to the difficult terrain movement while not in combat. The ranger is no longer limited to just a small handful of terrains; with a bit of preparation, they can study the territory and become truly flexible masters of the wilderness.
Additionally, the ranger gets a minor benefit catering to the terrain, most of which are immediately useful in combat situations.
Peerless HunterThe ranger is especially skilled at hunting and dispatching prey. At 1st level, the ranger chooses a group from the list below. You have advantage when making Wisdom (Survival) checks to track these foes, or when making Intelligence checks to recall facts about them. Additionally, you know how to hit them where it hurts; you gain a bonus to damage rolls equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of +1) against any foe belonging to that category.
- Border Warden: Humanoids (all nonhuman monstrous races, from goblins to giants)
- Bounty Hunter: Humanoids (all player character races presented in the Player's Handbook)
- Destroyer of the Lifeless: Constructs, Oozes, and Undead
- Foe of the Monstrous: Aberrations, Dragons, and Monstrosities
- Nature's Culling: Beasts, Fey, and Plants
- Slayer of Outsiders: Celestials, Elementals, and Fiends
At 6th level, and again at 14th level, the ranger chooses another category of enemies to add to their favored opponents.
I was hesitant to eviscerate Favored Enemy too much, but it's just too weak of a class trait due to it being contingent on the Dungeon Master including the thing the ranger is good against. Instead, I gave them categories that work well at particular level bands; early level rangers are apt to pick Border Warden, Bounty Hunter, Destroyer of the Lifeless, or Nature's Culling due to the many low to mid-level opponents that belong to that group.
I also took out the bonus language, but that can easily be thrown back in. I'm on the fence; most player characters are already polyglots to some degree.
Fighting StyleRather than reprint them all here and bloat the article, consider this part unchanged from the Player's Handbook; at 2nd level, the ranger gets a fighting style from among Archery, Defense, Dueling, or Two-Weapon Fighting. Their election of archetype may also give them other options (see below).
Ranger ArchetypeAt 2nd level, the ranger chooses an archetype that they strive to emulate: Beast Master, Seeker, Sentinel.
Yup, I'm saying they pick archetype at 2nd level instead. This may create some other problems I'm not foreseeing yet, but I have a good reason for it; I don't want the ranger to be forced to pick up spellcasting and I think it unwise to mess with the otherwise-recommended spell progression. Further, I wanted to give one of the archetypes a broader fighting style choice without saying, "Hey, you can totally respec here, it's cool."
My idea for Beast Master is different than the one presented in the PHB. Seeker becomes your spellcasting ranger, but my initial feeling is that I don't change their spell list too much. Sentinel is your heavily-armored wilderness badass, who also gains Great Weapon Fighter and Protection fighting styles as options as well as a third attack later on.
Preternatural AwarenessAt 2nd level, the ranger becomes instinctively aware of imminent threats. You have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks made to detect opponents in stealth; typically, this will manifest as a +5 bonus to passive Perception to detect hidden enemies.
Upon reaching 14th level, this ability also allows the ranger to better fight opponents capable of turning invisible or otherwise magically mask their presence. The ranger does not suffer disadvantage on attack rolls against creatures they cannot see. Additionally, the ranger is aware of the location of any invisible creature within 30 feet, provided the creature is not hidden (as with stealth) and you are not blinded or deafened.
I merged the Feral Senses ability with this one and made it available earlier.
Ability Score Improvement
This functions identically to how it is explained in the Player's Handbook.
Extra AttackSame deal here, no change (extra attack at 5th level whenever making the Attack action).
CamouflageThis ability functions identically to the Hide in Plain Sight ability of the PHB ranger, but is instead accessible at 8th level. Totally nicking Mr. Delvo's suggestion (in the above linked Loot the Body blog article) for the proper name of the skill.
Pack TacticsOnce the ranger achieves 10th level, they may elect to use their reaction any time an ally makes an attack against an opponent the ranger attacked during the previous round. This attack gains advantage, and if it hits, the ranger may immediately move up to half their speed without suffering opportunity attacks.
Yield GroundUpon reaching 13th level, the ranger becomes an expert at avoiding harm. Whenever you are subjected to a melee or ranged attack, you may use your reaction to impose disadvantage upon the attack. Regardless of whether or not the attack hits, you may immediately move up to half of your movement speed without provoking opportunity attacks.
This is probably overpowered as is. However, I like the idea of the ranger-as-skirmisher in general, and think this ability exemplifies that concept. They're really hard to pin down. It's basically a 5E-ification and beef-up of the 4E ranger power of the same name.
Master of the WildA ranger that achieves 17th level gains superior observation skills in any environment. After spending one minute studying the terrain, they can perform any of the following activities:
- Accurately predict the weather over the next two days.
- Determine the classification of the most dangerous predator within ten square miles (beast, dragon, monstrosity, etc.).
- Give their allies the ranger's secondary benefit of Natural Explorer (as it relates to Unimpeded, Impeded, or Close-Quarters terrain) until they take a short or long rest.
- Set up an ambush site, giving the ranger and their allies advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks while lying in wait for enemies. This bonus is lost if the group leaves the immediate area.
Next time, I'll go into the archetype ideas I had, but this provides the baseline. The ranger gets fewer random abilities of mediocre strength in exchange for boosted power on some of them. As with all of my stuff, it's not been playtested yet, and is a first draft of the concept. I'd love some constructive feedback on it!