Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Daring monster hunters, horde breakers, peerless trackers, and guardians of the border between civilization and the untamed wilderness that lies beyond. From desolate mountain peaks and deep forests to the ephemeral hinterland between the mortal world and the realm of the fey, rangers keep an ever-vigilant watch.
Whether they’re scouting ahead for danger, ambushing unsuspecting enemies, sinking arrows into their target with unerring accuracy, or channeling the magic of the natural world, a ranger is an indispensable addition to any adventuring party.
Rangers are one of Dungeons & Dragons 5e’s most popular, interesting, and (as of the last few years) powerful classes to play. They combine the martial abilities of the fighter with the stealth, exploration, and skill proficiencies of the rogue, and throw in a dash of druidic spellcasting for good measure. While they can sometimes struggle with being one of the most situationally effective classes in the game, a ranger in their element is a force to be reckoned with — especially when using the new optional rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
So, if you want to hunt monsters through the wild places of the world, track your foes across vast expanses of open terrain, and strike with fury and precision, the ranger may be the class for you.
In this deep-dive guide, we’re going to start by exploring some of the characteristics that make rangers really shine, where this class fits within the context of an adventuring party, and some of the different ways you can roleplay a ranger that go beyond being yet another dark brooding dude in the corner of the Prancing Pony.
Then, we’ll take you through the features, abilities, subclasses, skills, feats, and more — basically, everything you need to understand how rangers work and how to go about building your own from first level. Lastly, we’ve taken a closer look at multiclassing rangers (dipping into other classes to complement this class’s abilities) and put together some suggested quick-start builds to help you get a character up and running in no time.
You can jump to any of this guide’s sections using the contents table, or keep scrolling to get right into it.
Why Play a Ranger?
As a class, rangers carry a lot of appeal, both thematically and mechanically.
This class not only has a highly iconic look and core concept, but diverse and evocative subclasses let you branch out from the platonic ideal of a ranger (aka Aragorn) with ease. Also largely thanks to the class’s excellent Ranger Archetypes and variant rules, you’re going to feel mechanically powerful — able to turn your hand to any situation.
Rangers Are Iconic
Unless you’re especially au fait with D&D or RPGs in general, the difference between a sorcerer, warlock, and wizard probably isn’t all that obvious. If you’re a new player, those words probably all conjure the phrase “bearded men in robes waving wands around” without really hinting at the minutiae of how they differ.
However, when I say “ranger” to a new player, there’s never a moment of misunderstanding what the class does or a hesitant question about how exactly they’re different from Artificers, for example. You hear “ranger,” and you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Thematically, they immediately conjure up the fantasy of tracking your enemies across leagues of hostile terrain, stalking monsters through the night, and harnessing both your attunement to the natural world and martial prowess to bring down your quarry.
Rangers Are Versatile
If the idea of striking from the shadows with a perfectly placed shot from your longbow, or clambering up an ogre’s back to administer the killing blow, or leaping from the treetops to land amid a horde of unsuspecting enemies cutting them down two or three at a time with twin blades, then the ranger is going to be the class for you. You deal more damage than a fighter, but you’re sturdier than a rogue — and you get a smattering of magical abilities themed around your connection to the natural world.
And still, all the different hats the ranger wears don’t muddy the class or make it feel like it’s stretched too thin — primarily because the core concept is rock solid.
In case you were wondering whether there are options out there for non-Aragorn wannabes, I can happily report that you’re in luck. There’s actually a lot of variety to be found within the ranger subclasses — from the fantastically evocative swarmkeeper to the classic beastmaster (who on earth wouldn’t want to do all of the above stuff with their best friend who’s a freaking bear?!) and the decidedly spooky gloom stalker.
Also, there’s no other subclass in the game that gives you a freaking rideable dragon, which should honestly be enough to convince anyone to give the Drakewarden ranger a try.
The world — especially the parts of it where people tend to go adventuring — is full of borderlands (and keeps thereon), frontiers, and liminal places, and therefore rangers can be as diverse and exotic as the borders that they protect. A warforged swarmkeeper ranger (who’s the nesting place for a flock of bird spirits) patrolling an abandoned battlefield and staving off the unquiet ghosts of fallen soldiers who cannot find rest is a very different type of ranger than the classic monster hunter in a hooded cloak wielding a pair of silver-tipped pistol bows.
Rangers Are the Best They’ve Ever Been
Honestly, if you want to play a ranger, play a ranger. D&D 5e is a balanced enough game that just about any option is going to be at least somewhat viable, so if you want to play an OG beast master, go for it.
However, I do argue that characters tend to be more fun to play when they’re competent, and if the process of messing around with character “builds” isn’t exciting to you, I have a bunch of other games you should play that you’ll enjoy more.
We’ll get into it more in a second, but essentially, there were a lot of problems with the exploration mechanics associated with the ranger when 5e first came out, and the beast master subclass — arguably the mascot for the class as a whole — had serious structural issues. While problems with the class in general tend to be greatly overexaggerated by people on the internet who talk a lot about things like damage per round, having any abilities that are essentially useless attached to the core of what a class is supposed to be good at is, well, bad design.
Thankfully, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced a whole slew of optional rules that, in many ways, make the ranger feel like they’re capable of executing on the fantasy that’s so clearly marked on the can, so to speak.
The Ranger’s Defining Features
Rangers are an interesting blend of roguish versatility (they get access to some interesting class features tied to exploring and scouting their chosen terrain, not to mention their own version of Expertise at 1st level), martial prowess (a fighting style, a d10 hit die, and great burst damage), and druidic spellcasting that lets them both control their surroundings using spells like entangle and summon allies to help them scout and fight for the party.
Also, rangers have a few unique spells of their own, including recognizable options like hunter’s mark and zephyr strike, which tend to help compensate for the ranger’s small spell slot pool by being quite powerful compared to their level because as 1/3 casters, rangers gain access to higher-level spells more slowly and only ever get 5th-level spells around level 17.
Limited spell slots aside, spellcasting adds some solid utility and flavor to the ranger and does a great job of supporting the class’s other two strengths: exploration and combat.
A ranger’s exploration-focused abilities mix together information gathering, animal communication, mobility, stealth, and survivability. Spells like pass without trace, beast sense, and goodberry allow them not just to survive comfortably while traversing the wilderness but gain the kind of information about potential enemies that might allow a party to ambush their foes undetected or escape notice themselves.
In terms of combat, ranger magic has some damage options but is best used to control the battlefield, conjuring clouds of fog or swarms of woodland creatures to tie up groups of enemies, allowing the ranger to focus on what it does best: dishing out obscene amounts of damage with its weapons (another thing that the iconic ranger spell hunter’s mark is great at increasing).
Rangers are all about dealing ridiculous amounts of damage, and while they lack the survivability of a fighter, their ability to grind their foes to dust in a matter of a few short rounds is truly devastating — especially if you’re playing a high-damage subclass like the Gloom Stalker, Horizon Walker, or Hunter. Extra attacks, a damage-focused fighting style, subclass features, spells, and abilities like Favored Foe allow you to really pile on the punishment.
The Ranger’s Limitations
No class is without its issues, however, and the ranger is no exception. Although, as I said above, most of the less-effective features that were part of the original version of the class (not to mention the beast master subclass) have been greatly improved by the optional rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, this kind of means that the biggest drawback to playing a ranger is a financial one.
If you just have the basic SRD or player’s handbook, your ranger will struggle. Primeval Awareness is a next to useless waste of a spell slot, the Beast Master is dramatically underpowered thanks to the way it interacts with the action economy, and favored enemy (among other things) not only leaves the class’s exploration features feeling undervalued but is far too situational to actually help you fight your enemies all that often.
In fact, it’s this issue of being situationally effective that remains the biggest issue with the ranger — even with the new optional rules and powerful subclasses. Circumstances beyond your control mean this class can go from feeling absolutely devastating to just meh, depending on the direction your campaign takes.
For example, I ran a campaign last year that included a Gloom Stalker ranger. The first 10 sessions or so were spent trekking across the kingdom, searching for the location of the lost city of the dead with an evil empire hot on their heels. Fighting in towns and open fields during the daytime definitely made the Gloom Stalker feel kind of weak — not a great frontliner, not an especially sneaky substitute for a rogue, and certainly less of a spellcaster than the bard and artificer they were adventuring alongside.
Then, they found the ancient city of the dead. Despite only jumping from level 5 to 6, the Gloom Stalker immediately began to feel devastating. Their subclass abilities — almost exclusively geared toward being stealthy and fighting in low light — all came online at once and there was basically nothing their enemies could do to avoid being picked apart one by one. The player had a great time (they were in it for the roleplaying anyway), but it was genuinely eye-opening to see how the right environment can take a ranger subclass from “underwhelming fighter with a pocketful of berries” to “pure nightmare fuel” thanks almost solely to a change of setting.
Admittedly, the optional rules from Tasha’s fix this a bit, but my advice to ranger players is still: talk to your dungeon master about the kind of campaign they want to run and make absolutely sure that your choices align with it. Otherwise, you might find yourself wondering why you didn’t just play a rogue.
The Ranger’s Role Within the Party
Rangers fulfill an interesting mixture of roles within an adventuring party and depending on your choice of subclass, equipment, and fighting style can do a number of things in combat. Some rangers like to be, well, ranged. They take things like the sharpshooter or crossbow expert feat and rain down death from afar. This is obviously great if your party has someone who can tank incoming damage for it, but otherwise, you might want to consider a more melee-focused build.
Melee rangers tend to like two-weapon fighting and blisteringly high Dexterity that lets them get right up their enemies’ faces, whittling them down one at a time with a flurry of blows. They’re “burst damage” fighters, however, and they definitely do best at blowing up enemies one at a time, hopefully before that enemy has a chance to hit them back. This is where spells like entangle or the ranger’s various summoning spells are so good as they let you occupy and disable any pesky, low-CR minions that may be lurking around while you go after the big boss.
Outside of combat, rangers have an acceptable selection of skills, made better by their optional expertise-like feature Canny, although a general need for good Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom ability scores definitely pushes the MAD (multi-ability-dependent) ranger towards skill like Perception, Survival, and Stealth.
Their main role within the party, however, is as a way to trivialize the perils of wilderness travel. Spells like goodberry and pass without trace guarantee that you’ll be able to move your allies (even the clumsiest, most loudly spoken barbarian or the clankiest platemail-wearing city slicker paladins) through the woods and mountains without too much difficulty.
At higher levels, rangers even trivialize the nastiest thing about getting in over your head in the great outdoors: exhaustion. So, even if the rest of the party is reduced to a whimpering pile of ineffectiveness, at least someone is going to be conscious enough to drag them out of the desert.
For a more in-depth analysis of the concept of party composition (what you need to know about it and what you can ignore) check out our guide.
Roleplaying a Ranger
There are plenty of ways to portray a ranger beyond the obvious mysterious banished noble in a hooded cloak who does a lot of somber staring into the middle distance and has a +7 in Brooding.
The ranger’s broad mandate of “protect the border between two things” is arguably one of the more interesting and versatile that any class has access to.
Whether you want to play less of a wilderness explorer and more of an urban investigator who protects the “decent” parts of their city from incursions by its criminal underbelly, an indimentional watchdog (who dresses in black, obviously) dedicated to stopping extraplanar incursions, a Witcher-style monster hunter for hire, or a member of a reclusive cult dedicated to guarding a particular place (or even just ensuring that the dead stay dead), there’s a lot of scope for taking your ranger in new and exciting directions. Also, the various Ranger Archetypes that you gain access to at 3rd level can do a lot of help back up one character concept or another.
I would still make sure to work with your DM more closely than when building other classes, however. The ranger can still be a bit of a situational beast, so it’s better to head into a campaign with a rough idea for the core concept, which can definitely be a great jumping-off point for deciding on your character concept, which “border” (it can be pretty abstract and metaphorical, or it can be a great big bloody wall) you’re protecting, and from whom you are protecting it.
Of course, if you like the mechanical stuff but don’t fancy guarding anything, rangers can serve as an excellent basis for any mercenary, assassin, hermit, or other rough-and-ready type of person from the fringes of society.
The Ranger’s Class Features
Now, let’s dive into the class features that define the ranger in more detail. In this section, we’ll present the defining elements of the ranger as well as some of our own thoughts (in italics) on their effectiveness.
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 they 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 characters.
The Ranger Table
The very basics of any class are the hit dice, proficiencies, and equipment that they start off with. Before we jump into the actual features of the class, let’s take a brief look at what we’re working with here.
- Hit Dice: 1d10 per ranger level
- Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier
- Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per ranger level after 1st
1d10 Hit Dice puts you on par with fighters and paladins as a solidly survivable martial class. Throw a decent Constitution score into the mix, and you’ll be well on your way to serving as a tanky frontline, even at earlier levels.
- Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields
- Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
- Tools: None
- Saving Throws: Strength, Dexterity
- Skills: Choose three from Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival
The biggest drawback with the ranger is that your inability to wear heavy armor is going to keep your AC firmly in the 14-16 range and out of the sweet upper echelons of the unkillable 18+ characters like fighters and paladins. Still, you’re not necessarily meant to be tanky, and if you need to be, you can always snag a shield and the Defense fighting style (see below).
Dexterity is easily the strongest damage-reducing and trap-avoiding saving throw in the game, but Strength doesn’t come up very often, so it’s kind of a wash.
It’s a shame that a class that prioritizes ranged attacks, wears light or medium armor, and prizes mobility so highly doesn’t get a chance to grab a skill like Acrobatics — and you may want to consider picking it up from your background.
You start with the following equipment in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (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
You get some solid options as a ranger if you choose not to go down the starting gold route. You can grab hand axes if you want a Strength-based build, but the Finesse property on the Shortswords means they’re probably going to be the choice here.
If you want more information on different starting packs and specifically on the dungeoneer’s pack vs. the explorer’s pack, check out our full guide here.
Ranger Class Features
Rangers get pretty frequent class advancements with very few “dead levels” throughout their adventuring careers, mixing martial advancements with mobility and exploration-centric bonuses. Most of their upgrades, however, aren’t “new” features but additions to their core class features like Favored Enemy and Natural Explorer.
This is why I feel pretty confident in saying that the variant ranger rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are more or less required if you want to get the most out of playing a ranger as they dramatically reduce how situational the class feels, bringing some real consistency to the fundamentals of the ranger — not to mention the fix to the beast master.
Favored Enemy (1st Level)
You are especially adept at studying, tracking, hunting, and even talking to a certain type of enemy, thanks either to your training or experience.
At 1st level, choose a type of favored enemy from the following list: aberrations, beasts, celestials, constructs, dragons, elementals, fey, fiends, giants, monstrosities, oozes, plants, or undead. Alternatively, you can select two races of humanoid (such as gnolls and orcs) as favored enemies.
- When you track your favored enemies using a Wisdom (Survival) check or make Intelligence checks to recall important information about your favored enemy, you roll with advantage.
- You learn an additional language that is spoken by one of your favored enemies when you gain this feature.
At levels 6 and 14, you choose an additional favored enemy based on the types of monsters you have faced on your adventures so far.
There’s no denying that this ability absolutely nails the fantasy of what I want it to feel like to be a ranger. Tracking your chosen prey through the wilderness, recalling their weaknesses and behaviors, and even speaking their language is all fantastic stuff.
The issue, however, is that what can be a useful thematic and mechanical bonus often ends up being almost totally irrelevant if the campaign you play doesn’t end up featuring very many of your chosen enemy types. If there was some way to spend time studying an enemy to swap out one of your favored enemies, I’d absolutely love this ability. Better yet, if you gained greater bonuses depending on how many times you had fought and defeated types of enemies, that would really be fun. But as it stands, it’s fine at best and a total waste at worst.
I would advise skipping this and going with Favored Foe (detailed below) instead.
Natural Explorer (1st Level)
You are an experienced traveler in a particular kind of environment and are more at home than most there. Choose one type of favored terrain from the following list: arctic, coast, desert, forest, grassland, mountain, swamp, or the Underdark.
- When you make an Intelligence or Wisdom check related to your favored terrain, your proficiency bonus is doubled if you are using a skill that you’re proficient in.
While traveling for an hour or more in your favored terrain, you gain the following benefits:
- Difficult terrain doesn’t slow your group’s travel.
- Your group can’t 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 area.
You choose additional favored terrain types at 6th and 10th level.
Honestly, much like Favored Enemy, this is a genuinely good ability… as long as you never leave your favored terrain. Again, if you had the ability to spend time exploring an area and then swap out one of your favored terrains, this would be great, but you can’t, so it’s not.
Fighting Style (2nd Level)
At 2nd level, you adopt a particular style of fighting as your specialty. Choose one of the following options below. You can’t take a Fighting Style option more than once, even if you later get to choose again.
There are four fighting styles in the Player’s Handbook and another three in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Archery. You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged weapons.
Defense. While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.
Dueling. When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with that weapon.
Two-Weapon Fighting. When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.
If you want to prioritize damage output, choose either Archery (for ranged) or Two-Weapon Fighting (for melee). If you think you’ll need to weather a lot of incoming damage for your party, Defense is great for a survivability boost, but if being tanky is this big a concern for you, you should probably go with a fighter instead; dealing damage is more important to a ranger than AC.
Lastly, if you want to fight in melee with a shield but make sure your damage is equivalent to a two-handed weapon, grab Dueling.
Blind Fighting. You gain blindsight with a range of 10 feet. Within that range, you can effectively see anything that isn’t behind total cover, even if you’re blinded or in darkness. Moreover, you can see an invisible creature within that range, unless the creature successfully hides from you.
The ability to counter invisible creatures from 1st level is huge, and even though the range is small, being able to fight in smoke, fog, magical darkness, or other forms of obscured vision is basically a constant source of ways to get one over on your opponents.
Druidic Warrior. You learn two cantrips of your choice from the druid spell list. They count as ranger spells for you, and Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for them. Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of these cantrips with another cantrip from the druid spell list.
For a class that doesn’t get cantrips, grabbing this fighting style (and maybe Magic Initiate for good measure) gets you well on the way toward bridging the gap between 1/3 and 1/2 caster. Grab something like Shillelagh for melee or Magic Stone for ranged attacks and then a utility spell like Guidance or Shape Water, and you’re going to be able to fill the role of a support or utility spellcaster in your party much more easily.
Thrown Weapon Fighting. You can draw a weapon that has the thrown property as part of the attack you make with the weapon. When you hit with a ranged attack using a thrown weapon, you gain a +2 bonus to the damage roll.
Basically, if you really like the idea of throwing a never-ending stream of knives at your enemies (you can pair this with multiattack and use two-weapon fighting to throw another with your bonus action), this fighting style makes it a totally viable option.
Spellcasting (2nd Level)
When you reach 2nd level, you learn to cast spells largely drawn from the same primal, natural magic that druids use to cast spells. For our full guide to spellcasting, click here.
Rangers know a number of spells determined by their ranger level and can cast them using a spell slot of the spell’s level or higher, regaining all expended spell slots when they finish a short rest.
When a ranger learns a new spell, the spell can be of any level they have the spell slots to cast.
Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for your ranger spells, and you use your Wisdom modifier when setting the attack modifier or Saving throw DC for a ranger spell you cast.
- Spell save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier
- Spell attack modifier = Your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier
There are some really useful ranger spells that synergize well with your exploration and combat abilities, but a small spell list (and an even smaller pool of spell slots) leaves a lot of rangers feeling like they don’t even have the room to explore an already very limited pool of magical resources. There’s almost always an obvious “best” option overall rather than a selection of equally useful options that you choose from based on preference, interest, or the specific circumstances of the campaign.
Because spells like Hunters Mark are so intrinsically linked to the ranger, it’s hard to cultivate any broader utility options, and it’s unfortunately why a lot of rangers never get to some of the more situational (but very cool) options on their list like Cordon of Arrows.
Ranger Archetype (3rd Level)
At 3rd level, you choose a ranger archetype that grants you unique abilities at levels 3, 7, 11, and 15.
Whether you want to emphasize a ranger’s stealthiness, grab a fearsome pet to fight by your side, or really lean into your combat abilities, the various ranger subclasses lend a great deal of depth and flavor to the class.
Primeval Awareness (3rd Level)
You learn to use your action and expend one ranger spell slot to focus your awareness on the region around you. The effect lasts for one minute per level of the spell slot you expend and allows you to sense whether the following types of creatures are present within 1 mile of you (or within up to 6 miles if you are in your favored terrain): aberrations, celestials, dragons, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead. This feature doesn’t reveal the creatures’ location or number.
The huge opportunity cost of expending one of the ranger’s precious spell slots only adds insult to the injury that is this basically useless ability. I suppose you could occasionally use this as a shapeshifter detector, but the long range without number or direction means that this feature is next to worthless, and using it too often can actually hurt your character’s effectiveness rather than enhance it.
The only other scenario where I’ve seen this be useful is when a party is about to walk into a huge, mile-deep dungeon filled with all sorts of strange creatures and wanted to check which kinds of enemies they were about to face. However, while knowing that “undead” and “fiends” are up ahead is helpful so that you know to leave the poison at home and bring a cleric, for example, a lot of monster categories have such a broad array of creatures inside them that there’s little useful knowledge to be gained.
In almost all circumstances, I would recommend choosing the optional and similarly named Primal Awareness (see below) from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Extra Attack (5th Level)
At 5th level, when you take the attack action on your turn, you can make one additional attack as part of that action.
This is the ranger’s only extra attack and represents a huge power spike for the class’s martial abilities.
Land’s Stride (8th Level)
Moving through nonmagical difficult terrain no longer costs you movement, and if moving through nonmagical plants (like thorns or poisonous vines) would damage you, you instead take no damage. Also, when you make saving throws against plants that are magically created or manipulated to impede movement, such those created by the entangle spell, you roll with advantage.
Being able to ignore difficult terrain is nice, and advantage on any saving throw (especially one that will probably result in the restrained condition) is also good to have, but yet again, the ranger runs the risk of being way too situational.
Hide in Plain Sight (10th Level)
If you spend one minute creating camouflage for yourself, you gain a +10 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) checks, as long as you remain motionless and take no actions. You must have access to fresh mud, dirt, plants, soot, and other naturally occurring materials with which to create your camouflage, and you can only hide by pressing yourself up against a solid surface, such as a tree or wall, that is at least as tall and wide as you are.
This is a whole lot of rules for a bonus that’s not that much better than advantage — and if a ranger said they were going to cover themselves in leaves and stand really still (at any level), I’d give them advantage on that stealth check, so why on Oerth is this a 10th-level class ability?!
This is why people think the ranger sucks.
I suppose you could use it to more or less guarantee you successfully get the jump on someone as long as you know where they’re coming from. Or for eavesdropping. But it’s so limited to pull off, you could just cast pass without trace and get the same bonus but also be able to move.
Vanish (14th Level)
You gain the ability to take the Hide action as a bonus action on your turn. Also, you can’t be tracked by nonmagical means unless you choose to leave a trail.
An unambiguously good ability that improves both of the class’s core competencies (exploration and combat) and feels appropriate for the level? What is this, the paladin?
Feral Senses (18th Level)
When you attack a creature you can’t see, your inability to see it doesn’t impose disadvantage on your attack rolls against it. You also become aware of the location of any invisible creature within 30 feet of you, provided that the creature isn’t hidden from you and you aren’t blinded or deafened.
Basically this is an extension of the Blindfighting fighting style, but being able to essentially negate all invisibility is still pretty huge.
Foe Slayer (20th)
Once on each of your turns, you can add your Wisdom modifier to the attack roll or the damage roll of an attack you make against one of your favored enemies. You can choose to use this feature before or after the roll but before any effects of the roll are applied.
Now, there are certainly flashier capstone abilities in 5e, like the Samurai fighter’s whole extra round or the druid’s epic transformation. However, in terms of sustained impact, Foe Slayer might be the ultimate ultra-high-tier ability — especially when used in tandem with the Favored Foe optional rule rather than Favored Enemy. Being able to give a +4 or +5 bonus to every attack roll and then, if you don’t need to, instead make sure you dish out even more damage is a constant (if incremental) source of damage.
Optional Ranger Rules
In addition to the features above, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything have introduced some additional, optional features to the ranger class. Normally, these options are very much small quality-of-life improvements (like the fighter’s martial versatility) or just incorporate a few extra spells into a list where it makes sense.
The ranger’s optional features do all that and more. Frankly, they’re absolutely transformative. They take this class from being highly situational with abilities you genuinely would never want to use at all to feeling consistently useful and well rounded in both combat and exploration settings.
I genuinely feel like all ranger players should strongly consider using the optional rules from TCoE rather than the player’s handbook. You’ll be a better ranger for it.
Deft Explorer (1st Level)
Replaces the Natural Explorer feature
This ability represents your connection to the wilderness and skill when traversing uncharted terrain. In addition to the Canny skill below, you gain a new ability tied to this feature at 6th and 10th levels.
Canny (1st Level). Choose one of your skill proficiencies. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses the chosen skill. You can also speak, read, and write two additional languages of your choice.
Roving (6th Level). Your walking speed increases by 5, and you gain a climbing speed and a swimming speed equal to your walking speed.
Tireless (10th Level). As an action, you can give yourself a number of temporary hit points equal to 1d8 + your Wisdom modifier (minimum of 1 temporary hit point). You can use this action a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. In addition, whenever you finish a short rest, your exhaustion level, if any, is decreased by 1.
As a replacement for Natural Explorer, Deft Explorer makes you good at surviving and moving through any hostile terrain, not just the one or two you pick at character creation and later on. More mobility, a lite version of the rogue’s Expertise, and a huge boost to your survivability at 10th level (not to mention being able to trivialize exhaustion, which is lovely) are all fantastic.
The only reason I’d say stick with the original rules over these is if you know with 100% certainty that you’ll be spending the whole campaign in a specific terrain and won’t leave, at which point it basically becomes a coin toss.
Favored Foe (1st Level)
Replaces the Favored Enemy feature and works with the Foe Slayer feature
When you hit a creature with an attack roll, you can mark the target as your favored enemy for 1 minute or until you lose your concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell). The first time on each of your turns that you hit the favored enemy and deal damage to it, including when you mark it, you can increase that damage by 1d4.
You can use this feature to mark a favored enemy a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. This feature’s extra damage increases when you reach certain levels in this class: to 1d6 at 6th level and to 1d8 at 14th level.
Not only does this actually make your trait about being specially equipped to fight your favored enemy better at actually, you know, fighting them, but it’s also the exact opposite of situational. I love how this ability speaks less to prior experience and more to your ability to read a foe’s movements and behavior in the moment.
The actual benefits aren’t amazing, but they don’t have to be. It’s more damage to add to the pile and something you can consistently do as you focus on the biggest baddest enemy on the map and take them to 0 hit points in a very short space of time.
Additional Ranger Spells (2nd Level)
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything adds the following spells to the ranger list.
A great mixture of summoning, control, damage, and support spells. Honestly, it’s strange to me that spells like Entangle weren’t already a part of the overall ranger spell list.
Also, you gain the option of using a druidic focus to cast your ranger spells.
Primal Awareness (3rd Level)
Replaces the Primeval Awareness feature
You learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class if you don’t already know them, as shown below. These spells don’t count against the number of ranger spells you know.
Primal Awareness Spells
You can cast each of these spells once without expending a spell slot. Once you cast a spell in this way, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.
I go into a more detailed analysis of the difference between Primal and Primeval Awareness as well as why Primal Awareness is better here. The gist is that Primal Awareness manages to actually be useful, provides more thematic and interesting options for gathering the same information from the environment that Primeval Awareness wants to give you, and becomes more powerful as you level up — not just less situational.
Martial Versatility (4th Level)
Whenever you reach a level in this class that grants the Ability Score Improvement feature, you can replace a fighting style you know with another fighting style available to rangers.
Considering you only ever get one fighting style as a ranger, this is a great way to mess around with your class’s playstyle, accommodate for a multiclass option, and generally not feel like a decision you made at 1st level is ruining your game at level 10 and beyond.
Nature’s Veil (10th Level)
Replaces the Hide in Plain Sight feature
You learn to use a bonus action to magically become invisible along with any equipment you are wearing or carrying until the start of your next turn. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
A fantastic, more combat-oriented option that actually feels appropriately powerful for a 10th-level ability. Considering what an absolute waste of space Hide in Plain Sight is, there’s zero reasons not to pick this up instead.
Creating a Ranger Step by Step
In this section, we’re going to break down some of the decisions you’ll need to make when building a new ranger from level one. We’ll be looking at how to distribute your ability scores, which race to choose, and how backgrounds, skill proficiencies, and feats can factor into your build.
As always, when we offer advice on how to build a character here at Black Citadel, anything we’re suggesting is going to focus on giving your character the most mechanical advantages possible. This may be a build guide, but your own character is going to be affected by so much more than these concerns: your backstory and personal preferences can (and should) also inform your decisions when building a new PC.
Our advice is just here to help (and hopefully inspire) you understand the ranger class and to get the most out of the build you think is interesting and gets you excited for the next campaign, not to prescribe the “best” or “only” way to do things.
For a list of the Ranger Archetypes, Multiclass advice, and quick-start builds that work off of the information in this section, scroll down.
Regardless of how you generate your ability scores, most rangers wondering how to assign their stats end up in a slightly sticky situation known as MAD (or multi-ability dependent). You will want to prioritize Strength to deal damage and/or Dexterity if you’re going for a ranged or Finesse weapon-based build. You’re also going to want a high enough Constitution to stay alive, and a decent Wisdom score is going to help power your spellcasting.
See what I mean? A ranger who uses Strength weapons in melee (or throws them) needs a good score in four out of six ability scores to be effective, and even if you go full-Dexterity with an emphasis on using bows and shortswords, you still need three scores with modifiers of at least +2 (ideally much higher) to make this class really sing.
Luckily, any investment in Charisma or Intelligence is going to be a decidedly optional choice as there will certainly be more socially adept and learned people in the party than yourself.
Typically, this is how I like to prioritize the ranger’s ability scores.
- Primary: Dexterity
- Tier II: Constitution, Wisdom
- Somewhat Useful: Strength
- Essentially Pointless: Charisma, Intelligence
Rangers are found on the borderlands of every kingdom, empire, or plane throughout the multiverse. There’s no one race of people who are drawn to a life in the wilderness more than others (although firbolgs probably start out closer than most), and people can take up the ranger life for any number of reasons.
Picking your character race can be a great way to flesh out a ranger’s backstory as well as gain some useful mechanical abilities and traits that help you be even more effective.
Thanks to the announcements concerning One D&D and Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, it very much looks like innate ability-score bonuses are on the way out for playable races. They still exist as “legacy” content and are still official for the core races, but they’re going to be gone soon.
The new method as put forward in the custom lineage rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and the new exotic races (also known as lineages) in Monsters of the Multiverse is thus when determining your character’s ability scores:
- Increase one score by 2 and increase a different score by 1, or increase three different scores by 1.
- You can’t raise any of your scores above 20.
As such, we’re going to be looking less at ability scores as a reason to pick a particular race as the new method for generating ability scores is the same for everyone. Instead, we’re going to be focusing on races for reasons other than their Ability Score bonuses, and assuming that whichever one you pick for your ranger, you put your +2 into Dexterity and a +1 into Wisdom or Constitution (or put +1 into all three).
If you are using the legacy rules or playing one of the “classic fantasy” races that haven’t had the updated ability-score-generation treatment yet, just pick anything with a good Dexterity and Wisdom bonus — or Constitution/Strength if you want a beefier melee-focused ranger.
Some great playable race options for the ranger include…
Custom Lineage (TCoE). Tasha’s really was the give that rangers never knew they needed. In addition to all the cool class-specific stuff, TCoE introduced rules for making your own playable character races by picking from a few different options, not least including a Feat at level one. Grab something like sharpshooter, piercer, magic initiate, or even just Lucky, and enjoy.
Harengon. The fey rabbitfolk originally introduced in The Wild Beyond the Witchlight got a minor tweak in Monsters of the Multiverse. Notably, Haregons can add their proficiency bonus to initiative rolls, get proficiency in the Perception skill (great all round and amazing for rangers, especially if you choose it as your option for Canny), and get a neat d4 bonus to their saving throws.
Kenku. Black-feathered crow-folk with a talent for mimicry, Kenkus do an excellent job of closing the distance between rangers and rogues. A kenku gloom stalker is an excellent choice, and the extra skill proficiencies are hugely important, especially in a smaller party.
Shadar-Kai. Doomed, gloomy elves whose souls are potentially trapped forever in service to the death goddess known as the Raven Queen, the Shadar-Kai are probably the toughest elves in 5e, and if you want to make a more melee-focused ranger build, their temporary damage resistance can do an awful lot to keep you alive and kicking in the heart of a melee. Definitely one of the best candidates for the hunter subclass.
Wood Elf. A +2 Dexterity bonus, +1 Wisdom, and great features like Mask of the Wild (which helps you hide in plants) and perception proficiency all conspire to ensure that the overused trope of broody wood elf rangers is well justified.
Skills and Languages
Any race you choose is going to be able to speak Common and usually one additional language of your choice. Talk to your DM to figure out what makes sense in the campaign world, and look at your backstory to see what makes sense for your character specifically.
In terms of skills, you’re going to want to prioritize not just options that enhance your own abilities, but finding ways to compensate for other shortcomings in your party (not to mention not doubling up on things the group can already do, like picking Arcana in a party with a bard and a wizard) is usually a good way to go.
Acrobatics: A much better choice than Athletics and a good way to handle getting out of trouble in a tough situation. It’s a shame you don’t get this from your class, and finding a background that gives you acrobatics proficiency is going to do wonders for your tree-climbing and general mobility.
Animal Handling: Never as useful as people think it’s going to be as (officially) it has no bear-ing (gettit?!) on your ability to tame or interact with wild animals. This is strictly horse whisperer and not Chris Pratt’s character from the stupid new Jurassic World movies. The ranger is still probably the class that can make the best case for using it like that, though, so why not? Maybe your DM will say yes. Works especially well with your Primal Awareness spells.
Athletics: Unless you’re playing a Strength-based ranger, this is something you can definitely stand to neglect. If you want to mix it up in melee a lot, however, you definitely don’t want to dump it lest you find yourself in a grapple you can’t escape.
Arcana: It’s always great to have someone in the party who can look at a glowing orb and be, like, pretty sure if it’s cursed or not… but you are not that someone. Please refer all glowing, possibly cursed artifacts to the wizard.
Deception: Honestly, none of the four Charisma-based skills are really going to be for you. You chose to live in the woods for a reason, and if the party is relying on you to be their face in tricky social situations, you might as well all go turn yourselves in to the town guard now and save everyone a lot of bother.
History: Not worth thinking about unless your party is composed of barbarians, fighters, and other folk even less at home in a library than you.
Insight: A great way to read people, animals, situations — anything where your intuition and Wisdom comes into play.
Intimidation: Probably the Charisma skill that most thematically fits a grizzled wilderness explorer.
Investigation: A more intentional way to pick up new information than Perception, but you probably won’t be the best candidate for this. Besides, Survival is basically “investigation but for outdoors,” so you’ll be fine.
Medicine: Hands down the most useless skill in the game. You have healing spells. Unless you’re literally the only person with healing spells, you’ll be fine.
Nature: Despite being very much in your thematic wheelhouse, this isn’t as valuable as survival, which will do a lot of the same heavy lifting but uses a stat you actually have good bonuses in.
Performance: Unless people are really into competitive whittling, this isn’t the skill for you.
Perception: Hands down the best skill in the game and a must for just about every character. Perception is your way of getting new information from the DM, spotting enemies coming, finding secret doors, and generally gathering the clues you need to succeed.
Persuasion: Another possible option if you need to talk to people, but again, it’s probably best to let the bard handle it.
Religion: The least useful of the four “knowing stuff” skills (the other three being History, Nature, and Arcana). It’s going to come up less frequently, and most DMs just allow for a history roll in its place. Unless it’s really crucial to your backstory, you can skip it.
Sleight of Hand: If there’s a rogue in the party, don’t bother. Otherwise, it can’t hurt having lighter fingers than the average bear.
Stealth: This is how you evade detection, get the drop on enemies, and lose your pursuers if you get caught. Rangers can very easily become almost as stealthy as the party rogue, and for a class that’s so focused on ambushing its enemies, stealth proficiency is a must.
Survival: The skill you should be using and abusing as much as possible to bend the wilderness to your will. Pick up tracks, forage for food and water, and do rangery stuff like crouch down and lick bits of wood before sagely announcing that a bear peed on them.
Rangers get a decent spread of skills to choose from at character creation, picking three from: Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.
Personally, I would grab Perception, Stealth, and Survival before finding a way to get hold of Acrobatics from my background.
Backgrounds help answer the question of what your character was (and maybe still is) before they took up a life of adventuring. Thematically, they’re a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history and serve as your primary source connection with the world of the campaign. Mechanically, outside your class and race, they’re pretty much your only reliable source of extra skills, tool proficiencies, and languages.
Each background also has its own special feature – something that I maintain is a highly underused aspect of D&D. Take 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 competent within the world in which they live as well as help the DM flesh out that world and draw players deeper into its lore.
Rangers are naturally drawn to backgrounds with a more rustic tone, like the Outlander or Folk Hero. However, I like to mix things up a bit with something like the Far Traveler, the Astral Drifter, or even the Spy.
Feats are one of the best and easiest ways to buff, tweak, and generally make a character feel like your own. Whether you want to make them feel more like the character you envisioned in your head or just think the mechanical implications are neat, there are plenty of reasons to grab a feat — either at 1st level or whenever you get an Ability Score Increase and feel like you’re happy with your choices.
There are a bunch of great feats out there for rangers, many of which are better (or worse) depending on your choice of subclass. You can read our full guide to ranger feats (organized by subclass) here, but for now, I’ve grabbed a few of the strongest options.
Alert. A consistently strong option for characters who want to get the drop on their opponents. The Alert feat grants a +5 bonus to your initiative rolls, prevents you from being surprised while you’re conscious, and enemies you cannot see don’t get advantage on attacks against you.
Lucky. An incredible feat on any character that lets you reroll three d20s (yours or an enemy’s) per day.
Sharpshooter. More damage (+10) in exchange for a -5 penalty to hit means that against lower AC foes you have the chance to dish out some serious hurt.
Resilient (Constitution/Wisdom). The ranger’s saving throws are a mixed bag, so using the resilient feat to gain proficiency in one of your other key abilities goes a long way toward fixing that issue.
Multiclassing can add a whole load of versatility to a character, accentuating their strengths or compensating for their weaknesses. The process also gives you a lot more to work with in terms of extra decision points, extra interactions between abilities, and fun thematic choices.
It’s also another useful tool if taking a particular class from 1st to 20th level doesn’t line up with a character concept you have in mind.
You can check out our guide to multiclassing rangers here, but we’ve also rounded up a few of our favorite options below that keep two key points in mind:
- Ability Score Synergy: Rangers already have at least three very important ability scores, so picking a multiclass option that adds another is going to feel pretty lackluster. Pick multiclass pairings that emphasize Dexterity, Wisdom, and Constitution.
- Complement and Compensate: The golden rule of multiclassing is to make sure that you’re either branching out into something that makes your main class even better at what it does best or (preferably and) helps make up for any glaring issues your class may have.
Here are some strong options for multiclassing a ranger based on the class’s two most important ability scores:
- Rogue. Rangers already bring a lot of sneakiness, burst damage, and skill proficiency to the table; a few levels in rogue will not only amplify that with sneak attack damage and expertise, but stick around for a few levels, and Uncanny Dodge will solve a lot of your survivability issues.
- Cleric. Want a ranger who has a bit more to do in the spellcasting department? Well, other than picking up the Druidic Warrior fighting style or the magic initiate feat, you can divert into cleric (nature domain seems appropriate and has some good mechanical synergy) for a more mystical approach to a guardian of nature.
At 3rd level, all rangers get to pick their Ranger Archetype, which pushes them down a path toward a specific narrative background and style of play.
This is the reason why “the ranger is a bad class” narrative has grown so prevalent in forums. I agree that there are some issues with the class as a whole, but this is where the myth originates — largely because of what an appealing concept this subclass presents.
The beast master ranger tames an animal companion to fight by their side, scout for them, and generally be the party’s murderous mascot. As you level up, your companion gains new abilities, like magical attacks, multiattack, and even being able to serve as a conduit for when you cast ranger spells. The catch? Your pet is an idiot, and unless you tell it what to do every single turn using your whole action, it’s just going to sit there grooming itself and looking at you blankly.
As a cat owner, I appreciate the commitment to authenticity, but as a D&D player, I balk at the thought.
Beast Master (With Primal Companion)
While not technically a “beast master 2.0,” the addition of the optional Primal Companion rule in Tasha’s is a huge step up for the subclass — one that actually makes playing a Beast Master feel like you’re keeping up with the other ranger subclasses, not to mention other members of your party.
Instead of bonding with an animal, you summon a nature spirit to be your companion, which can take the form of a Beast of the Land, Sea, or Sky. In combat, you can use a bonus action (or sacrifice one of your attacks) to command the beast to do something, which redresses the action economy issues previously suffered by the Beast Master. Easy summoning and revival using spell slots as well as beast damage and hit points linked to your ranger level and proficiency bonus make the ranger feel versatile — like you’re working in tandem with your beast companion rather than being replaced by it.
Introduced in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, the Drakewarden is an interesting class that — at first glance — looks a lot like the Beast Master. You form a mystical bond with a powerful draconic spirit that grows in strength and size as you level up, eventually turning into a rideable, flying mount.
Out of the two subclasses, the Drakewarden is probably a little simpler but has a lower skill ceiling seeing as your drake takes its action directly after you rather than interweaving its actions throughout your turn.
Gifted powers by a powerful archfey, the Fey Wanderer guards the borders between the Feywild and the Material Plane. This subclass not only lets the ranger be a highly mobile damage-dealer but also lets the subclass apply its Wisdom bonus to Charisma checks, making this decidedly antisocial class into a very powerful face.
A mixture of enchantment magic, illusions, and summoning spells makes the Fey Wanderer an interesting replacement for the bard in a party, especially if you want a tankier, higher-damage version of that class.
Stealthy death dealers from the Underdark or anywhere shadows cloak the land, Gloom Stalkers are capable of dealing out devastating damage every round before melting back into the shadows unseen. This subclass gets powerful abilities like being invisible in darkness, even to monsters with darkvision, and an extra attack on the first round of combat.
A guardian against extraplanar threats, Horizon Walkers seek out planar portals and incursions from other realms and stop them. They’re another devastating damage-dealer — although they’re less stealthy than the Gloom Stalker — who specializes in teleporting around the battlefield and dishing out serious pain.
The most martially inclined ranger and, interestingly enough, one of the subclasses that offers the most decision points as you level up. You can choose where to focus on fighting single target enemies, large groups, or giant monsters. This subclass basically eschews spellcasting entirely in favor of new ways to deal a ton of weapon damage.
The only reason the Hunter doesn’t get a purple tag is because of just how dang good the Gloom Stalker and Horizon Walker are.
A ranger who dedicates themselves to hunting down monsters and wielders of dark magic. Mechanically, this subclass is a much-simplified version of the Hunter that sadly strips away a fair amount of what makes the other subclass good without adding anything else. Still, the Monster Slayer manages to be one of the stronger defensive ranger subclasses thanks to features like Supernatural Defense and Magic User’s Nemesis.
One of the most thematically evocative ranger subclasses, the Swarm Keeper plays host to a swarm of nature spirits. Interestingly these can take on any form of the character’s choice, from wriggling bugs to crows, chickens, raccoons, pixies, and fish. Your magic — which is where this subclass focuses most of its attention — is all expressed through your swarm, which enhances your damage, and eventually even lets you levitate.
Ranger Quickstart Guides
Now that we’ve broken down the ranger’s defining features, abilities, and subclasses, we’re going to give you some quick-start builds that you can use to get different ranger builds up and running.
Devastating damage at range or up close, sacrificing survivability for the chance to destroy your enemies before they’ve even taken a turn.
- Subclass: Gloom Stalker
- Race: Custom Lineage (+2 DEX, +1 WIS)
- Skills: Survival, Stealth
- Background: Far Traveler (Perception, Survival)
- Feats: Sharpshooter, Skulker
- Fighting Style: Archery
The Gloom Stalker’s Umbral Sight and Dread Ambusher abilities will give you the chance to get the drop on your enemies whenever possible, dealing tons of punishment on the first round of combat. Consider a rogue multiclass if you want to get even more damage out of this build.
A frontline fighter who nevertheless managed to remain versatile and doesn’t sacrifice damage.
- Subclass: Drakewarden
- Race: Shadar-Kai
- Skills: Athletics, Perception
- Background: Folk Hero (Animal Handling, Survival)
- Feats: Sentinel, Polearm Master
- Fighting Style: Defense
Use your drake as well as your racial abilities to soak up additional damage that gets past your lower armor class. If you want to even more effectively control the frontline, grab a polearm and the sentinel and polearm master feats to even more effectively stop your enemies from reaching your party’s back line. Warning: this build and style require a decent Strength score. If you want a simpler time being a frontline ranger, consider a Dexterity-focused Hunter with two-weapon fighting and shortswords.
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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.