Welcome to another installment of the Play with Class series where we will give you solid steps to run each class for the world’s greatest roleplaying game! This week we’re going wild to chat about the ranger.
Rangers have had a special place in the heart of fantasy from the moment Lord of the Rings introduced resident hero Aragorn, son of Arathorn. While no one can deny the idea of a ranger is very cool, this class has had a rocky mechanical road through the different generations of the game. With lots of different options to dip into, the ranger has the potential to be played in a wide variety of ways. I don’t recommend new players start with the ranger because in 5th Edition it is challenging to build a ranger that scales well through your adventures. However, if you are willing to do a little homework, you can still create the lone-wolf tracker of your dreams.
Role of the Ranger
Rangers, as written in the rules, are pretty unfocused. There are a lot of different paths to follow when building your character. Rangers get a little attention on their fighting capabilities, they get a little attention on their pure utility capabilities, and they get a little attention on spellcasting. Ultimately, you have to commit to a firm choice about how your ranger will play, or you will find yourself lackluster at everything. Your ranger has a lot of potential to be a great DPS source in combat if you focus on ranged weapons or sneaky two-weapon fighting. If your party has absolutely no other option for a tank, rangers can be squeezed into that role as well with their solid hit dice and dexterous capabilities. With a little help from feats and multiclass levels, your ranger can even be a viable nature-themed spellcaster if you really want to push outside the box.
Reasons to Play a Ranger
- Rangers easily lend themselves to having strong personalities and wicked cool backstories to roleplay. Rangers are a great class to play if you’re a little shy and prefer to roleplay a strong/silent type.
- You get access to cool nature magic but don’t have to worry about looking through a gigantic spell list like druids do.
- If you enjoy thinking about tactical advantages, you will have a field day utilizing your passive ranger abilities.
Combat Crash Course
The big choice to make as a ranger is what kind of weapons you wield. While there are several different options available to enhance fighting styles, the clear winners are fighting primarily with ranged weapons (like bows) or two-weapon fighting. With either option, your job in combat is to get yourself into the best position to deal consistent damage without pulling the attention of heavy-hitting creatures.
Dexterity is arguably the best ability score in the game, and for you, that is even more true. Rangers have many abilities that affect mobility, and it makes sense to back those up by investing as much as you can in your Dexterity score. With this philosophy in mind, it is best to resist the temptation to use Strength-based weapons as a ranger. You do technically have the option to make Strength-based weapons viable, but most of the time, you’ll regret it if you do. While finesse weapons like scimitars and short swords might have slightly smaller damage die, your average damage will be far better in the long run by utilizing your precious Dexterity score. So grab yourself an arsenal of finesse martial weapons and ranged weapons and prepare for a good time. Trust me on this one.
Know the Terrain
Rangers pick up several abilities that give them advantages while in certain types of terrain. These interactions between your abilities and the game setting are unique to rangers and therefore a little difficult to get a handle on. New GMs in particular may not always be clear about whether or not there is mud available to use your Hide in Plain Sight feature or if the jungle floor is considered difficult terrain. The onus to ask questions about what the battlefield looks like is on you. Many of your class benefits are conditional, so don’t feel bad about asking questions when you need to.
Unless you have worked to build your ranger very uniquely, you should never be the first person in the party to cast spells. Rangers get very few spell slots and don’t have access to an extensive list of spells, so you must use them wisely. And while Wisdom-based skills like Perception are important, you should be putting more into your Dexterity score instead of Wisdom whenever you get the chance. Favoring your Dexterity score is much better in the long run but means that you are not going to be wielding your Wisdom-based spells as well as clerics or druids (nor should you). With this in mind, it’s rarely worth it for you to cast any spells that require a saving throw. Saving your precious few slots to cast spells that enhance your abilities is the best way to go.
As mentioned above, you have to be pretty picky when leveling your ranger to make sure they are the best they can be. Just make sure to stay informed on your options, and you’ll be good to go! Here are a couple of other thoughts to consider while leveling your nature pal.
Right off the bat, rangers have to make a couple of big choices about what kind of terrain they excel in and what kind of monsters they are best at fighting. Before you commit to this decision, it is extremely important that you consult your GM. There is nothing more disappointing than choosing to play a forest ranger and finding out in session one you will be playing a campaign set exclusively in a sprawling city. Let your GM know what kind of ranger you would like to play, and ask if your ideas would be a good fit for the campaign. It might seem weird to have this conversation, but I promise both you and your GM will have a better time playing a game where your ranger is useful.
- Ramp up your ranger’s backstory with a new archetype like the Griffon Scout or the Vampire Slayer (see Deep Magic).
- Ask your GM to consider 3rd-party content for your ranger. A lot of brilliant people have invented new class options, subclasses, and spells to make rangers awesome. Get into the forest of the internet and hunt around!