Last Updated on January 22, 2023
There are older and fouler things than orcs in the deep places of the world.
From mind flayers and liches to many-limbed, many-mouthed nightmares lurking beyond the firelight, there are plenty of reasons to stay out of the dark.
And then there’s the Gloom Stalker Ranger: the reason that monsters keep a candle burning and sleep in shifts.
If you want your next Dungeons & Dragons character to be able to climb down into the darkest depths of the vile midnight pit of bleak despair and take down every single unnamed and unimaginable horror that dwells there single-handedly, the Gloom Stalker Ranger might be the subclass for you.
All Rangers have a specific environment they thrive in more than others or a particular type of foe they excel at killing. The Gloom Stalker thrives in darkness — whether that means the shadowy back alleys of Waterdeep, the dimly lit floor of a primeval forest, the lowest levels of crypts and dungeons, or in the twisting labyrinth of the underdark itself.
Today, we’re going to be taking a closer look at what might be the most powerful Ranger subclass in D&D 5e — a highly versatile problem solver that’s stealthy enough to give a Rogue a run for their money but can also dish out terrifying amounts of damage.
We’re going to break down this class’s strengths (and weaknesses) as well as take a look at its abilities and how to use them to maximum effect. Then, we’re going to go into detail concerning how to build a Gloom Stalker from 1st level, breaking down which Ability Scores to prioritize as well as the best races, backgrounds, and skills to help round out this build, including some suggestions for Feats that can help bring out the best in this powerful subclass.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color-rating scheme:
Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice but are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green – B Tier. A solid choice but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your character.
Our goal here is to provide scannable but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.
What Is a Gloom Stalker Ranger?
Gloom Stalker is one of the subclasses (known as Ranger Archetypes) that is available to Rangers when they reach 3rd level and grants several special abilities as they level up with new elements of the subclass being unlocked at 7th, 11th, and 15th levels.
The Gloom Stalker was officially added to D&D 5e as part of the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything sourcebook.
The Gloom Stalker’s Strengths
More than any other Ranger subclass, the Gloom Stalker takes just about every single thing the Ranger is naturally good at and makes it better, while also lending new levels of depth and dimension to the class. You still get a bit of the Druid’s spellcasting, the Fighter’s combat prowess, and the Rogue’s skills, all wrapped up in a nice nature-themed bow — no pun intended.
The Gloom Stalker’s abilities (like Dread Ambusher) do a great job of empowering some key standard Ranger abilities like the Hunter’s Mark spell and Primal Awareness (not Primeval Awareness — talk to your DMs today about the optional rules from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, folks). However, it’s the subclass’s emphasis on tracking, maneuvering, and fighting in the dark that makes the Gloom Stalker one of the most formidable solo combatants in the game.
Abilities like Umbral Sight and Stalker’s Fury make for a perfect blend of damage output and stealth. All Rangers thrive in their chosen environment, but the Gloom Stalker makes better use of the shadows than any other class or subclass in D&D 5e. Not only does Umbral Sight give you some top-tier darkvision, but it negates other creatures’ darkvision, which makes you functionally invisible in darkness — all the time. For free! AT THIRD LEVEL!
This subclass’s abilities make it perfectly suited to dishing out massive amounts of damage and melting away into the shadows in a series of hit-and-run attacks.
Also, because the Gloom Stalker’s abilities are so focused on giving you extra opportunities to hit and preventing your enemies from hitting you (not to mention better at avoiding magical effects with an extra saving throw proficiency from Iron Mind), this subclass also ends up being quite forgiving to play.
This means it’s probably the best Ranger subclass for new players, but it still has enough depth to keep veterans engaged.
The Gloom Stalker’s Weaknesses
The biggest issue with the Gloom Stalker isn’t actually as big a deal as you might think. A lot of people assume this class is more or less useless if you’re not fighting in the dark, but that’s not true.
A Gloom Stalker can be highly effective in a brightly lit setting. The issue is just how much more powerful you feel in the dark. You’re not going to feel underpowered if the campaign you’re playing has little to no darkness, but you’re definitely going to feel like you’re wasting your potential.
Also, the Gloom Stalker — like most Rangers — comes with the usual issue of not enough butter on too much bread. For a class that can heal, cast spells, fight, explore, solve problems, and control the battlefield, you can only do a few of those things really well. Just because you can cast Healing Word and Plant Growth doesn’t mean you’re a healer or a spellcasting battlefield controller. In fact, a lot of the extra bells and whistles of this class can serve as a distraction from what you do best: pick a target and remove it from the map.
Lastly, I think that unless you’re playing a Gloom Stalker in a party in which all have darkvision (not an unreasonable expectation), your preference for fighting in total darkness might cause problems for the rest of your party — or at the very least means that you end up doing your own thing over there.
It’s not the end of the world, but the mechanical push toward being something of a lone wolf can further undermine this subclass’s ability to do things like heal, support allies, and generally anything that isn’t stabbing monsters in the dark.
Gloom Stalker Progression: Subclass Features
Let’s take a look at the unique features that the Gloom Stalker receives at 3rd, 7th, 11th, and 15th levels. Note that we’re not going to be getting into the basic abilities and features that all Rangers get access to, like Spellcasting and Hide in Plain Sight.
Gloom Stalker Magic (3rd Level)
The Gloom Stalker gains an additional spell at certain levels in the Ranger class. The spell counts as a Ranger spell, but it doesn’t count against the number of Ranger spells known.
While a few options are situational, the Gloom Stalker’s unique spell list is undeniably strong and signs well with the kind of stuff this class is good at: ambushes, disruption, and stealth.
Especially for a class that runs the risk of being all about the combat, having something like Disguise Self (and later, Seeming, which is just mass Disguise Self) up your sleeve is great for the kinds of stealth and infiltration missions where just melting into the shadows isn’t an option. Options like Rope Trick further compound this by giving you some extra tricks to add to your already formidable pile of options for stealth.
Greater Invisibility comes in handy both as a useful offensive tool (unlike regular Invisibility, you don’t end the spell by attacking) and as the ultimate rage-inducing countermeasure to a group of enemies who try to trap you in bright light.
Easily the best option, however, is Fear. As a cone-shaped spell with a relatively short range, this isn’t the sort of effect you can usually hit more than one or two people with. However, pair this spell with your ability to be more or less invisible in darkness, and you can make sure that you catch as many enemies as possible with your horrifying entrance.
You’re basically a slasher villain at this point. Speaking of slashing…
Dread Ambusher (3rd Level)
At 3rd level, you gain a bonus to initiative rolls equal to your Wisdom modifier.
At the start of your first turn of each combat, your walking speed increases by 10 feet, which lasts until the end of that turn. If you take the Attack action on that turn, you can make one additional weapon attack as part of that action. If that attack hits, the target takes an extra 1d8 damage of the weapon’s damage type.
Given the fact most fights in D&D 5e only last about three turns, that first turn of combat is absolutely critical.
Therefore, having some extra movement to close the distance between you and your enemies, a bonus to your initiative score to ensure you get a chance to take your target out before they get a chance to hit you, and a whole extra attack and 1d8 damage is just fantastic.
At 3rd level, you also gain 60 feet of darkvision, or if your character already has darkvision, your darkvision increases by 30 feet. You also become invisible to creatures that rely on darkvision to see you while in darkness.
This is the absolute heart and soul of this subclass. Being able to sneak around better than a Rogue, catch monsters unawares, and escape into the darkness by snuffing out a light is insanely powerful.
At 7th level, you gain proficiency in Wisdom saving throws. If you already have this proficiency, you can choose between proficiency in either Intelligence or Charisma saving throws instead.
Admittedly it’s not as sexy or versatile as turning invisible in darkness or extra attacks, but proficiency in saving throws is never a bad thing and helps you scale into higher-level play effectively. Seriously, being more able to resist a high-level mind control or save-or-die spell can be the difference between victory and rage quitting to join the French Foreign Legion.
At 11th level, when you miss with a weapon attack roll, you can choose to make another weapon attack as part of the same action. You can only do this once per turn.
Mechanically, you’re basically giving yourself advantage on an attack roll. It’s a great way to make sure you hit as often and as hard as possible and syncs up really well with feats like Sharpshooter.
Starting at 15th level, whenever a creature makes an attack roll against you and doesn’t have advantage on the roll, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the roll. You must use this feature before you know the outcome of the attack roll.
The defensive flipside of Stalker’s Flurry. Rangers don’t have a whole load to do with their reaction, and being able to impose disadvantage on an incoming attack is a great way to make sure the biggest, nastiest thing in sight is less likely to land a big hit on you.
As well as giving you new, diverse ways to create interesting character concepts, multiclassing can be a great way to either emphasize a particular class’s strengths or compensate for its weaknesses. In the case of the Gloom Stalker, we’re going to want to consider options that emphasize or take advantage of the subclass’s added stealth, initiative bonus, and extra attacks.
We also don’t want to pick anything that’s going to require too much investment in more stats than the Ranger normally prioritizes. Rangers ideally like Dexterity (or Strength), Wisdom, and Constitution. This means that a class that requires us to dive too heavily into a fourth important ability score is going to be a no-go.
Also, from a less-mechanical perspective, you’re going to want to think about the narrative implications of multiclassing. Maybe talk to your DM about how your character undergoes the necessary training to branch out of their chosen path.
There are plenty of great options out there for a Gloom Stalker multiclass character (although it’s honestly hard to top the base class itself in terms of raw power; seriously, it’s really good), but here are our top three.
Rogues and Rangers are a great fit, and the Gloom Stalker is arguably the Rogue-iest Ranger out there. Being able to Hide as a bonus action pairs amazingly well with Umbral Sight, and being able to add Sneak Attack damage to your already impressive round-one damage is no bad thing.
There are plenty of Roguish archetypes that make a decent fit for the Gloom Stalker, but it’s definitely the Assassin that creates the most deadly, satisfying synergies. The subclass’s Assassinate ability can effectively double damage against a surprised target that the Assassin acts on before the first round of combat. The Gloom Stalker’s initiative bonus, extra round-one attack, and almost permanent invisibility from Umbral Sight make landing those eye-watering big double-damage crits way easier.
I’m always the first to extol the virtues of the Fighter as a class. It’s simple, it’s powerful, and it’s honestly some of the most underrated fun you can have at a D&D table. Also, for those of you who like some more tactical depth in your sword-and-board sandwich, the Battle Master Fighter’s maneuvers add a ton of interesting crunch.
Rangers are already more or less fighters with a little magic and some tracking abilities, so combining a Dexterity-based Battle Master Fighter with a Gloom Stalker Ranger is a very easy thing to make work.
This is a slightly more left-of-field pick, but if you want to accentuate the spellcasting abilities of the Ranger in a way that lines up with your existing stat block, not to mention the general theme of your character, then multiclassing into Druid is a great way to do it.
You’re probably not going to want to pick up a Druid subclass that invests too heavily into Wild Shape as it’s a waste of your Ranger abilities. However, something that buffs survival, spellcasting, and damage output like the Circle of Spores can be a strong combination that feels unique and versatile without giving the impression that you’re stretching yourself too thin.
Character Creation: Building a Gloom Stalker Ranger
Let’s take a look at the decisions you’ll be making at 1st level that can help you build an effective Gloom Stalker Ranger.
- Primary: Dexterity, Wisdom
- Tier II: Constitution
- Tier III: Charisma
- Absolute Dump Tier: Intelligence, Strength
Regardless of whether you use Standard Array, Point Buy, Roll 4-drop-1, or some other method to generate your ability scores, Rangers like to invest heavily into three main stats.
First, you’re going to want a stat that fuels your physical abilities. That means Athletics/Acrobatics skill checks, jumping, grappling, and making saves. As a Ranger of any kind, this should almost always be Dexterity. It also powers your AC, lets you make ranged attacks and finesse weapon attacks, and is a much more common saving throw than Strength.
The exception is if you’re going with a melee-focused build and don’t want to use a shortsword, rapier, or scimitar, in which case you pick Strength. I don’t think it’s in any way “optimal,” but who cares about optimal when you have a Zweihander? You have my respect, you absolute lunatic.
In addition to Dexterity, Rangers are going to need a good Wisdom score (mostly for their spellcasting and Perception checks — not to mention GLoom Stalkers get to add it to their initiative rolls as well), and Constitution for more hit points is (one more time for the people in the cheap seats) never a bad thing.
Then, you can kind of do whatever you want with the other three scores. I’ve seen point-buy builds that put a 15 in Dexterity, Wisdom, and Constitution and then left everything else at 8. This is fine. There’s nothing morally bankrupt about min-maxing, no matter what people on Reddit tell you. If that’s how you get joy out of the game, that’s great for you. Also, there’s nothing to say that having a super-optimized character means you’re not also having a rich, rewarding roleplaying experience.
However, if the super-optimal decision happens to clash with the idea of the character you have in your head, just grab something that makes sense for your character. It’s fine.
(The Battle Master Fghter I run in my weekly game doesn’t need an 18 Intelligence score at 4th level, but she’s a puzzle-obsessed fantasy FBI agent, so I thought she’d better be smart. Her Strength score is still high enough that she beats major ass, but it’s nice being able to also solve crimes when I’ve beaten all the asses and chewed all the bubblegum, or whatever.)
Basically, out of the three remaining Ability Scores, Charisma is probably the most useful as it’ll come in handy in social situations, and the Gloom Stalker’s various disguise and infiltration spells and skills mean you may have to fast-talk your way past a guard at some point. After that, Intelligence is only useful if there are literally no other intelligent characters in the party.
Strength — unless you’re playing the absolute chad Gloom Stalker I mentioned above — is almost always going to be a dump stat.
Seeing as we exist in a post-Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse world where a huge swathe of the more exotic races no longer have inherent ability scores attached, picking a race-class combination has become a much more fluid, fun prospect.
No longer do we need to hunt through all the playable races in D&D 5e for an option with the right combination of ability score bonuses to suit our class (of course, you can still do that with the races in the Player’s Handbook), but rather, we can look at more fun stuff like innate spellcasting and natural abilities — not to mention just what we think is cool.
Now, all characters using this method of generation get to either increase one ability score by +2 and another by +1 or increase three different scores by +1. You still can’t increase a starting ability score above 20. It’s assumed that if you’re playing something using the new generation method, you’re either putting +2 into Dexterity and +1 into Wisdom, or +1 into Dexterity, Wisdom, and Constitution. Your stat generation method can also play a role in how you prioritize your bonuses.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of our favorite playable races (some from Monsters of the Multiverse and some from the “classic” fantasy races) that make a great foundation for a Gloom Stalker Ranger.
Bugbear: The newly revamped bugbear (basically a big, hairy boogieman-looking thing more traditionally found on the monsters’ side and usually lording it over a pack of terrified goblins) from Monsters of the Multiverse is an amazingly powerful basis for any martial class. Combined with the Gloom Stalker Ranger, it becomes pure nightmare fuel.
Bugbears get an additional 2d6 damage against targets that haven’t acted yet (something your initiative bonus will guarantee) and an extra 5 feet of reach and can squeeze through especially small spaces — further making you feel like the villain in a schlocky horror film.
Drow: A classic fantasy race that is worth a mention here purely because of how good all its innate spellcasting is, specifically being able to cast Darkness. It’s also thematically a great pick for a Gloom Stalker, given how much this subclass is conflated with the Drow’s natural home in the underdark. It’s just a shame about the +1 to Charisma, though.
Variant Human: A legitimately great choice for any character, the ultra-versatile Variant Human gets a +1 to two ability scores and a feat at 1st level. Considering how good something like Sharpshooter or Crossbow Expert can be on a Gloom Stalker, this is definitely worth considering.
Shadar-Kai: Mysterious, possibly cursed, immortal elves from the Shadowfell, the Shadar-Kai get access to some useful innate teleportation magic that makes them momentarily resistant to damage, like you’re a respawning Nintendo character. Great for getting in and out of sticky situations. They’re also contenders for the moodiest, most gothic sadboi elves, so the Gloom Stalker is a natural thematic fit.
Backgrounds are a great way to help both flesh out your character’s personal history and your primary source of skills. Each background also has its own special feature – something that I maintain remains a woefully underused aspect of D&D.
For example, the Criminal’s natural ability to draw upon a network of contacts for information, leads, and jobs or the fact that the Sage’s Researcher feature means that, even if they can’t recall a piece of lore, they know exactly where to go to get it.
Background features are a fantastic way to make your character feel like a part of the world in which they live as well as gain access to useful things in that world — whether that means lore, quests, assistance from factions, or even some free retainers.
As a Ranger, your starting skill selection isn’t amazing, although you do get three to pick from. Therefore, grabbing the right background can be a useful opportunity to round out any narrative or mechanical shortcomings you see in terms of your skills.
Rangers get no social skills, so backgrounds like the Charlatan or Noble are a great way to get access to Deception and Persuasion. Also, you would really rather have Acrobatics than Athletics, so something like an Entertainer could also be useful.
Something like the Far Traveler (Insight and Perception) is a great thematic choice that also gives you access to skills that a Ranger can regularly use.
That being said, there’s no reason you shouldn’t just pick something you think is interesting. I would definitely recommend paying attention to more than the attached skill proficiencies; languages, tools, instruments, and the special feature are all a key part of your background and can do a lot of work when it comes to fleshing out your character.
Skills and Languages
Any race you choose is going to be able to speak Common, and beyond that, you should choose languages that fit with your background and the campaign you’re playing in.
As far as picking skills for your Gloom Stalker goes, you get to pick three at character creation from the following list:
- Animal Handling: Arguably the worst skill in the game and only works on domesticated animals. Still, if you think it’s going to be a horse-heavy campaign, have at it.
- Athletics: Unless you’re doing a Strength build, this is kinda useless.
- Insight: Great for reading people and basically the only social skill you’re going to have access to (unless you count animal handling).
- Investigation: Great for digging deeper into your surroundings, but Intelligence isn’t necessarily a skill you’re going to want to be putting points into.
- Nature: Thematically in your wheelhouse but dependent on Intelligence, which you probably aren’t going to be prioritizing.
- Perception: Honestly the best skill in the game for any character (especially a Ranger who has a high wisdom score anyway) because it’s how you unlock new information about the world. Spot enemies coming, find hidden doors, and generally be the best Aragron rip-off you can be.
- Stealth: The other truly top-tier skill, especially on a Gloom Stalker.
- Survival: A classic Ranger skill that uses one of your key ability scores. Survival is key to traveling safely through the wilderness and keeping the rest of your pampered city-slicking companions from eating anything poisonous by accident before you even get to the dungeon.
Basically, you should pretty much always grab Perception and Stealth. The third option can more or less be anything you think is cool, weird, or going to be useful for your campaign — although Survival is definitely the most “Rangery” choice.
All Rangers get access to a fighting style at 2nd level, which helps emphasize and improve some aspects of your combat abilities. If you’re playing a ranged Gloom Stalker, Archery (+2 damage to ranged attack rolls) is a great choice — as is Defense (+1 AC), seeing as you’ll be wearing medium armor at most.
Feats are an optional rule that allows you to forgo an ability-score increase in favor of a special ability or bonus that can (in some cases radically) alter the way your character works.
Crossbow Expert: An amazing way to overcome the loading limitations of crossbows, use them in melee range, and fire with a hand crossbow as part of your two-weapon fighting. A great damage-boosting feat for the Gloom Stalker.
Sharpshooter: The second big source of extra damage, the sharpshooter feat lets you take a penalty to your attack roll in exchange for a juicy flat damage boost. Although this falls off a cliff at higher levels, grabbing this feat early on (preferably at 1st level if you have that option) is a great way to insta-kill low-CR monsters left and right.
Magic Initiate: One of my favorite feats you can pick up on just about any character, but especially on a somewhat limited spellcaster like the Ranger. Magic initiate lets you learn two cantrips and a 1st-level spell of your choice from the Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, or Wizard spell lists.
Grab some useful defensive or utility cantrips and an extra 1st-level spell (preferably something that can be upcast) for a more well-rounded, slightly more magical Gloom Stalker.
Final Thoughts on the Gloom Stalker
From its unbelievably effective stealth to overwhelming damage output, the Gloom Stalker Ranger might be one of the most effective subclasses in the whole of D&D 5e when it comes to deleting enemies from the battlefield. However, unlike remarkably fragile burst-damage characters like Rogues or Monks (don’t even get me started on Sorcerers), your larger hit dice (d10 is nothing to sniff at) and litany of stealth-related bonuses make you a much more survivable character than you might otherwise expect.
If you’re a first-time Ranger player looking for something that’s going to feel powerful without being too mentally taxing to play (like the Drakewarden or Beast Master, who have two characters to manage),the Gloom Stalker is a great choice. It’s strong, it’s easy to play to those strengths, and it’s very forgiving if you make a mistake.
If you’re a veteran player looking for a great foundation for a blindingly powerful multiclass build, the Gloom Stalker is a fantastic place to start, no matter what unholy combination of builds you want to use to create a 400+ DPR nightmare with 7 attacks and a crit that can kill God.
If your DM is running Curse of Strahd and you want to make it perfectly clear that you’re not locked in Barovia with the vampire, he’s locked in here with you, the Gloom Stalker is an impeccable choice. So much of D&D (maybe more so in older editions, but still at lower levels in 5e) is less about heroic fantasy than it is survival horror. The dark places in the corners of the worlds — the crypts, the castles, the dungeons — are scary. Unless you’re a Gloom Stalker, of course.
Down here, you’re the scary one.
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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.