Last Updated on October 14, 2021
The elven ranger is one of those fantasy tropes that just feels right. The grace and poise of the elven warrior, able to wield bow and blade with deadly accuracy, able to track their quarry across vast expanses of wilderness, able to harness the subtle magic of the natural world – it’s an undeniably iconic archetype.
From Legolas in The Lord of the Rings to the drow ranger Drizzt in the R.A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy, fantasy literature and the roleplaying games it inspired are inextricably linked with the elf ranger.
In the fifth edition, the natural abilities and features of elves make them ideally suited for the ranger life.
So, if you want to play your very own Legolas, Drizzt, or put your own spin on this classic race-class combo, here’s our guide to building an elf ranger in D&D 5e.
Creating an Elf Ranger
Ability Scores: Prioritize your Dexterity followed by your Wisdom.
Armor and Weapons: A Longbow is virtually essential for ranged combat. For melee, pick two light melee weapons (Shortswords are a good bet here) with the finesse property and take the Two Weapon Fighting style.
Offensive Actions: Spells like Hunter’s Mark allow you to focus your damage output on one enemy at a time. Set traps and ambushes for your enemies, and always try to use your knowledge of the surrounding terrain to gain the upper hand.
Defensive Actions: Keep your friends close and your enemies far, far away. Your longbow has fantastic range, so use it to severely weaken your foes before they can get close. Once they do, however, you have some devastating melee capabilities and healing to keep you and your allies in the fight for longer.
Subclass Decisions: If you want to focus on being an ambush hunter, choose the Gloom Stalker. If you want to fight side by side with an animal companion, play the Beast Master. And if you want to dip your toes into some strange druidic magic, play the Swarmkeeper.
In D&D 5e, the ranger gives us an exciting blend of martial prowess and magical abilities tied to the natural world. They excel at exploration, tracking enemies, and keeping their allies safe in the wilderness.
Rangers sit at an intersection between druidic magic, the fighter’s skill in combat, and the rogue’s capacity for stealth.
When it comes to ability scores, the ranger needs to split their attention between two paths: Dexterity and Wisdom. Dexterity powers your ranged weapon attacks (and your melee ones if you choose to favor finesse weapons), bumps up your AC, and initiative rolls.
Most of the ranger’s class-based abilities are highly Wisdom-dependent, as this ability forms both the basis for the Skills most aligned to their abilities (Survival, Perception, and Animal Handling), and powers their spellcasting.
When you cast spells as a ranger, your Wisdom defines both your spell save DC (8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier) and your spell attack modifier (Wisdom modifier + proficiency bonus).
Beyond your two primary ability scores, your best bet is probably going to be Constitution, as it both boosts your hit points and makes you more likely to pass concentration saving throws – on which a weirdly high number of ranger spells depend.
However you generate your character’s ability scores, put your highest result into Dexterity. Then, if you want to focus on the spellcasting and explorative elements of the ranger, make Wisdom your second-highest.
If you just want to focus on killing as many monsters and enemies as possible, make Constitution your second-highest score.
Elf Racial Traits
Whichever element of the ranger you want to lean into the hardest, the elf race is a perfect fit. All elves get a +2 bonus to their Dexterity, which will pay immediate dividends to your AC, ranged and finesse weapon damage, and ability to make Stealth checks.
Different elven subraces give different bonuses and abilities on top of that.
In addition to their +2 Dexterity bonus, all elves gain the following traits:
Age: Elves may mature at around the same rate as humans, but their lives are much longer, and an elf usually doesn’t consider themself an adult until they’re about 100. Elves can live to be around 750 years old. This prolonged lifespan can make elves seem detached from or disinterested in the things that other species find incredibly important.
Size: Medium. Elves range in size comparably to humans, but have slender builds and tend towards being lighter.
Darkvision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Keen Senses: You get proficiency in the Perception skill – great for a ranger.
Fey Ancestry: Your distant ties to the faerie folk mean that you have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.
Trance: You lack the need for sleep in the traditional sense. Instead, you sink into a deep trance through which you remain semiconscious for four hours in order to gain the benefits of eight hours of sleep.
Then, the three elven subraces that fit best with the ranger lifestyle – the Drow, the Eladrin, and the Wood Elf – all get a little extra sprinkling of useful abilities and narrative flavor.
The most famous elven ranger in all of D&D, Drizzt, was a drow. If you want to follow in the footsteps of a legend, picking a drow can also come with some useful mechanical advantages.
As a Drow, you get a +1 bonus to your Charisma score, which can be useful in social situations, even if it doesn’t directly feed into your ranger abilities. You also get improved darkvision up to 120 ft, and access to some innate drow spellcasting.
As a trade-off, drow have sunlight sensitivity and many “civilized” cultures regard these notoriously sadistic slavers as barely removed from the demonic spiders they sometimes worship, so probably only pick a drow if you’re either really in love with the concept or plan to be spending a lot of time in the underdark.
While all elves carry a little of the feywild with them, the Eladrin never left it. Untamable, changeable, and fiercely free, the Eladrin are ruled by their emotions and innate connection, both to the changing seasons of the natural world, and to the roiling fey magic that lives within each of them.
Each Eladrin can change their appearance and magical abilities depending on their shifting emotional state, passing from Spring to Autumn, and from Summer to Winter as their mood suits them.
Eladrin also get a +1 Charisma boost, but these otherworldly elves are defined by their Fey Step ability, which lets them teleport over short distances and create magical effects as they do it.
The ability to disappear from one place and reappear directly behind an enemy with your sword pressed to their throat is an undeniably awesome thing for a ranger to be able to do.
The quintessential subrace to pair with the ranger. The Wood Elf gets a nice +1 Wisdom bonus, as well as a 5ft bonus to their speed, and the Mask of the Wild feature, which lets you attempt the hide action, even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena.
If you like the idea of an elven ranger melting out of sight, disappearing among the trees, only to reappear somewhere totally unexpected, then this is definitely the subrace for you.
Luckily, the majority of the skills that help rangers do what they do are closely tied to their primary abilities. As an elf, you’ll also get proficiency in the Perception skill for free, which is a great place to start.
When you create a ranger, you get to choose three skills from the following: Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.
So many skills to choose from…
Perception is already taken care of so, if you want to focus on…
Exploration: choose Investigation, Nature, and Survival
Ambushing Enemies: choose Athletics, Stealth, and Survival
Combat: Athletics, Insight, and Survival
Magic: Animal Handling, Investigation, and Nature
If there are more Skills you want to pick up than you have room for, your background can be a great way to compensate.
In addition to a wealth of useful skills, languages, proficiencies, and equipment, each Background gives you a little extra narrative ability, not to mention helps flesh out your backstory.
If you’re playing an elf ranger, try picking one of these backgrounds:
Animal Handling and Survival proficiency are both great fits for the ranger, and the idea of a legendary wandering elf is a great thematic choice for an elven ranger.
Honestly my favorite background in the whole game. Rangers excel at tracking, hunting, and killing the dark, evil things that dwell at the fringes of civilization, and the Haunted One fits this profile to a tee.
You get to pick two skills from Arcana, Investigation, Religion, or Survival, and two extra languages from among Abyssal, Celestial, Deep Speech, Draconic, Infernal, Primordial, Sylvan, or Undercommon.
Another excellent narrative choice with strong mechanical components backing it up. Your Strength is likely going to be pretty low, so Athletics proficiency will give you a much needed boost when possible, and Survival is a core ranger skill.
Your Wanderer ability also ensures you can always find food and fresh water for yourself and up to five other people each day, provided that the land offers berries, small game, water, and so forth.
Rangers get access to a fighting style, which helps them emphasize their effectiveness in a particular area of combat. Rangers can choose between Archery, Defense, Dueling, and Two Weapon Fighting.
Easily the best if you want to take down foes from afar. Archery lets you add +2 damage to all damage rolls made with a ranged weapon. This can really add up, especially as you start making more attacks per round at higher levels.
Useful since you’re unlikely to wear particularly heavy armor, Defense gives you a +1 bonus to your AC when you wear any armor. A good choice if you have low Constitution.
A strong option akin to Archery that gives you a +2 damage bonus to weapon attacks if you’re only carrying one weapon, but not as good as Two Weapon Fighting.
This ability lets you add your ability modifier to the damage you deal with your second attack when fighting with two weapons. This is almost a requirement for the ranger, as two weapon fighting is one of the best melee options for this class.
The ranger’s starting gear is perfectly suited to their playstyle, whether you decide to choose the two-weapon fighting style or archery. All rangers start with:
(a) scale mail or (b) leather armor
(a) two shortswords or (b) two simple melee weapons
(a) a dungeoneer’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
A longbow and a quiver of 20 arrows
If you want to play the classic Legolas elf ranger, start with the leather armor, two shortworks (they’re a finesse weapon, which lets you use your Dexterity modifier instead of Strength when making melee attacks), an explorer’s pack, and the longbow.
Subclasses and Feats, and Ranger Magic
However you want to play your elf ranger, your choices are solidified at 3rd level when you choose your Ranger Archetype. This section lays out three choices for ranger archetypes that work best with elves, and each leans on a different style of play: the roguish ambusher, the combat-focused monster hunter, and the spellcaster.
The Gloom Stalker
When it comes to stealth, ambushing enemies, and becoming one with the darkness, the Gloom Stalker ranger is peerless. You gain some sneaky and spooky spells, like disguise self, fear, and greater invisibility, and your Umbral Sight lets you boost your darkvision – as well as letting you become adept at evading creatures that rely on darkvision to try and follow your movements.
When a fight breaks out, your Dread Ambusher ability lets you make an extra attack and dish out even more damage on the first round of combat.
Tip: Combine this subclass with a drow and clast the darkness spell for some instant invisibility.
The Beast Master
One of the absolute classic ranger subclasses, the Beast Master fights alongside an animal companion, making them an even more potent force to be reckoned with in combat.
At 3rd level, you gain an animal companion with a size no larger than medium and a CR no higher than 1/4.
Some great options include: the Giant Badger, the Boar, the Wolf, and the Brown Bear.
Your beast becomes more powerful as your ranger levels up, constantly providing you with extra attacks and hit points in combat.
Tip: Use your animal companion to take the help action to give you advantage on your attacks.
If the weird grossness of the natural world appeals to you, and you want to infuse that into some powerful magic, then play a Swarmkeeper. At 3rd level, the Swarmkeeper gathers a swarm of “intangible nature spirits” around them – I’ve seen this expressed as everything from fluttering fairies to a flock of small birds, and even a gang of angry raccoons, so go nuts.
The swarm inflicts additional damage on your enemies, as well as becoming the focal point for your ranger magic. You gain some great new spells, including faerie fire, mage hand, web, gaseous form, and insect plague – all expressed through your swarm. At 7th level, you can even use your swarm to fly.
Tip: Use your mage hand to disrupt enemies, create distractions, and otherwise draw attention away from yourself.
Here are some great feats that synergize well with the elf ranger.
With Alert, gain a +5 bonus to initiative rolls for that extra Legolas awareness.
Gain a +1 bonus to your AC when you dual wield melee weapons, and the ability to use weapons without the light property for two weapon fighting.
Can’t decide between the Archery and Two Weapon Fighting styles? You don’t have to if you pick up this feat.
Tips and Tricks: Using Hunter’s Mark, Favored Enemy, and other classic ranger abilities
Whichever subclass you choose for your elf ranger, there are a few universal tips that should help you make the most of your elf ranger.
You’re not going to be able to throw out big magical nukes or substantial heals like more focused casters.
However, your spell list is going to make you very good at either harassing and hindering your enemies (with spells like Entangle and Spike Growth) or making your party better equipped to explore the wilderness (spells like Pass Without Trace and Silence are amazing for this).
Just remember that a lot of your spells are concentration-based, so make sure your Constitution is high enough and try not to get hit if you need to maintain an effect.
Hunter’s Mark is Everything
The exception to the support magic point is Hunter’s Mark. This 1st level spell lets you mark a creature with a bonus action. You gain advantage on all Perception and Survival checks to track and locate the marked creature.
When you are in combat with the creature, you can add an extra 1d6 damage to the target whenever you hit it with a weapon attack. If you drop the target to 0hp before the spell ends, you can shift the mark to someone else.
This is a seriously great source of damage that continues over time and lets you steadily whittle down one enemy after another. Just don’t break concentration.
Knowledge if Power
I think people underestimate how powerful the ranger’s knowledge-based abilities can be. Choosing a favored enemy that you’re likely to come up against, as well as your natural explorer ability, means that you should basically ask the DM about creature weaknesses and behaviors whenever you get the chance. If you roll well on a Nature check, you might get some useful insights.
That’s it, folks.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.