This week, Wizards of the Coast released the much-awaited The Ranger, Revised Unearthed Arcana, in which they took the first pass at a truly redesigned Ranger class. In previous Unearthed Arcana editions, they proposed new archetypes to mixed reception, but this one is actually a rebuild from level 1 to 20, with three subclasses: the Hunter Conclave, the Beast Conclave, and the Deep Stalker Conclave.
Full disclosure: I’m a Ranger critic. As we discussed on Total Party Thrill #18, I love the concept of the Ranger class in Dungeons & Dragons, but I’ve been disappointed with its implementation in 5th Edition. As printed in the Player’s Handbook, the Ranger is a total mess; it’s the weakest of the martial classes in combat, it lacks a niche, and its class-defining abilities are either useless, overshadowed by other classes, or simply less fun in practice than they should be. The Fighter has both trickiness and brute force in combat, the Paladin has better burst damage and party buffs, the Barbarian tanks, the Rogue dominates the Exploration pillar with its Expertise, and the Druid has identical-or-better wilderness and animal handling capabilities. The last hope for the Ranger, his last One Cool Thing, is the animal companion. It’s only available to one subclass, and it happens to be the single worst class in the game by a longshot.
In short, this revision is overdue. Let’s break it down, ability by ability.
A Note on Martial Class Design
In order to understand the design changes of the Revised Ranger, it’s important to understand how 5th Edition balances martial classes (Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, and Rogue) in combat. These classes are defined by their use of a weapon as their main source of damage, and they are all balanced around their damage output per round, either through more attacks in a round or additional sources of damage. The Fighter gets a third (and fourth) Extra Attack with any weapon she chooses. The Monk can get up to four attacks in a round, with weapon damage that scales as she levels. The Paladin spends spell slots to amp up her damage. The Rogue’s Sneak Attack requires finesse weapons, but adds extra dice as she gains levels. The PHB Ranger’s combat output is either through tacked-on damage to each attack (Hunter’s Mark/Hunter’s Colossus Slayer) or in getting a third attack via companion (Beast Master).
The Ranger’s Fatal Flaw
The PHB version of the Ranger sits in an odd place as the middle ground of the Druid, Rogue, and Fighter flavors. The Hunter Ranger is one of the weaker martials because of its lackluster non-combat abilities, but holds its own in combat with damage boosts from Hunter’s Mark and Colossus Slayer. The Beast Master, however, relies upon the animal companion, and suffers from an action economy nightmare. At 1st level, it costs the Ranger’s action for the companion to attack; at 5th level, the companion’s attack also grants the Ranger an attack; at 11th level, the companion makes an additional attack with the Ranger’s action. Because of the way offhand attacks function, commanding the companion to attack prevents the bonus action attack of Two Weapon Fighting.
Effectively, this yields three attacks in a round for the Beast Master, but two of them are performed by the companion. Doing so precludes Two Weapon Fighting, though the PHB Ranger has limited use for his bonus action until he gains Vanish at level 14. Compounding the issue, the companion doesn’t share in the benefits of Hunter’s Mark, and its baked-in attack scaling doesn’t match the effects of magic items, so even after multiple class abilities are dedicated to the companion’s combat prowess, the Beast Master Ranger is just better off dual wielding.
Adding to the animal companion’s mounting list of flaws is its lousy survivability. Beasts are universally vulnerable to mental saving throws, its maximum hit points cap out at 80 at 20th level, and because the companion doesn’t gain hit dice, there’s no mechanic for healing companions other than magic or a long rest. And, most egregiously, an animal companion’s attacks never become magical, despite the fact that monsters start gaining resistance (and even immunity) to nonmagical damage as early as CR3 (Bearded Devil, Wight). If you were hoping to defeat the Tarrasque as the crowning achievement of your campaign, don’t play a Beast Master Ranger!
What’s New for the Base Ranger?
OK, enough complaining about the past. Let’s look forward to the future. As mentioned before, the Revised Ranger has been redesigned from the base class on down to the subclasses. Most notably missing? The base Revised Ranger no longer gains Extra Attack at 5th level, as that has been pushed out to each subclass, now called Conclaves. The base Revised Ranger retains similar abilities to the PHB Ranger, but most of them have been reworked to improve their effectiveness.
Favored Enemy (1) and Greater Favored Enemy (6)
Favored Enemy offers everything it did previously, but now grants a flat +2 damage bonus to favored enemies and treats all humanoids as a single favored enemy (rather than the PHB’s “choose two humanoid races”). The list of available enemies is contracted to the lower-level enemies, but rather than choosing additional enemies at level 6 and level 14, the level 6 Greater Favored Enemy introduces more advanced enemies, as well as increasing the damage bonus to +4. While the Revised Ranger has lost one choice of favored enemy, he now gets a direct combat benefit against them. Also, while humanoids have been condensed into a single enemy, oozes and plants were removed from the list, though I doubt anyone will notice.
Overall, this is a significant (and welcome) bump to both the effectiveness and flavor of the Favored Enemy ability. The decision to consolidate humanoids into a single choice streamlines the ability, but with such a broad list of enemies falling into the category, it becomes an obvious choice.
Natural Explorer (1)
This got a major, much-needed rework. Gone is the double proficiency bonus of Intelligence and Wisdom checks related to the favored terrain, because the benefits of Natural Explorer now apply to all wilderness, not just the chosen favored terrain. It also rolls in a reimagined, combat-focused version of Land’s Stride, which allows the Ranger to ignore difficult terrain, grants advantage on initiative rolls, and grants advantage to attacks against creatures that have not acted yet in the first round of combat.
This eliminates the need to metagame the most effective terrain choice for a given campaign, boosts combat capabilities directly, and helps set the tone for a recurring theme of the Revisited Ranger: improved mobility and scout/ambush capabilities.
Fighting Style (2)
Unchanged from the PHB Ranger, though I would argue this small list of options needs to be expanded to include Great Weapon Fighting. Fortunately, it wasn’t expanded to include other Unearthed Arcana options, which had some dangerously powerful abilities.
This is identical to the PHB Ranger, and the spell list for Ranger has not changed. If there was concern of the spell-less Ranger becoming a class, the inclusion of Spellcasting in the base Ranger should allay those fears.
Primeval Awareness (3)
Man, this used to suck. The PHB Ranger spends a spell slot to know if creatures of a few types are within a mile (further in favored terrain) for a minute per level, but doesn’t know where they are or how many. I get the sense that designers thought this would be a useful general ability, but in practice, it was pointlessly imprecise. The Revised Ranger’s Primeval Awareness no longer requires spending a spell slot; instead, the Ranger can concentrate for a minute and know which favored enemies are within 5 miles, their number, and their distance/direction. In addition to a more precise reading of enemies in the area, Primeval Awareness grants the ability to communicate with beasts.
This is another straightforward improvement for the Revised Ranger. The communication with beasts is nice and flavorful, and while the enemy sense now applies to more limited selection of creatures, it makes more sense and is much more useful, continuing to reinforce the theme of scout/ambush capabilities.
Fleet of Foot (8)
Rather than gaining the hand-me-down Land’s Stride ability of the Druid, the Revised Ranger borrows from the Rogue’s Cunning Action and can take a Dash action as a bonus action. Have I mentioned mobility? Since the best part of Land’s Stride, ignoring difficult terrain, has already been rolled into Natural Explorer, this is a nice boost that continues enhancing the Ranger’s ability to maneuver.
Hide in Plain Sight (10)
Categorically one of the worst abilities in the game, this has gotten a total rework. The PHB Ranger’s HIPS is super flavorful–cover yourself in mud like Schwarzenegger hiding from the Predator–but was totally useless in practice because of its long prep time, inability to do anything, and utter lack of combat application. The Revised Ranger’s HIPS is situational–if you don’t move while hidden, enemies have a -10 penalty to detect you–but much more flavorful.
When combined with Ranger’s Vanish ability, it will lead to some extra tricky maneuvers for crafty players. Because Vanish is a 14th level ability (or a 12th level option via Rogue’s Cunning Action), this seems like an appropriate synergy for its level.
Vanish (14), Feral Senses (18), and Foe Slayer (20)
These are all identical to the PHB Ranger, and that’s fine. I find it a bit strange that it takes Ranger so long to get Vanish when the Rogue’s Cunning Action is available at level 2, but given how frontloaded the Ranger is with downright powerful abilities, I can’t complain too much.
This Conclave is functionally identical to the PHB Ranger’s Hunter archetype, though because Extra Attack is no longer as a base feature of the Revised Ranger, it has been added to the Hunter Conclave. In terms of power level, the Hunter has always been mostly fine. My main complaint is that, for every choice you make within its abilities, one option is always more useful than the other. Colossus Slayer/Multiattack Defense/Volley/Uncanny Dodge is just simply more powerful than any other combination of Hunter choices, simply because the abilities are going to trigger more often.
None of the bumps to other Revised Ranger abilities really enhance the Hunter, and that’s just fine.
This is another total redesign from the PHB version, and it’s a doozy. This is different enough to require an ability-by-ability breakdown.
Animal Companion (3)
The selection of animal companions is now limited to 8 specific options (all medium-sized land mammals, ranging from the CR ⅛ Giant Weasel to the CR ½ Ape), rather than any beast of CR ¼. It still takes 8 hours to summon your companion, but now has a nominal material component cost. If the companion dies, you can essentially resurrect it, which seems like a really powerful bit of magic for a 3rd level character from a flavor perspective, but is perfectly reasonable mechanically.
Companion’s Bond (3)
The animal companion’s game statistics are completely reworked. It now explicitly loses Multiattack; if you ever participated in this increasingly stupid Internet rules argument, I’m sure you’re happy to see this (though I’m of the opinion that this is no change over the PHB Ranger). It now gets its own turn in initiative order rather than sharing with the Ranger, and also benefits from Ranger features like Natural Explorer and Favored Enemy, though still doesn’t benefit from spells like Hunter’s Mark. The result of this is that the Ranger now gets two attacks per round starting at 3rd level, one from his weapon and one from his companion. He can still use a bonus action for an offhand attack, allowing the Beast Master to be an effective dual wielder.
Statistically, the animal companion uses your proficiency bonus in place of its own, and adds your proficiency bonus to its AC and damage rolls. It also gains proficiency in two skills, proficiency in all saves, and increases its hit points each level based on its normal hit dice, rather than the wonky calculated HP of the PHB Ranger’s animal companion. It also gains Ability Score Improvements alongside the Ranger (up to five at level 20), though its stats are capped at 20 (there is no mention of choosing a feat instead). It also gets a personality trait and flaw, which are nice, flavorful touches missing from the underdeveloped PHB animal companions.
Coordinated Attack (5)
Coordinated Attack allows your animal companion to spend its reaction to make an attack when the Ranger uses the Attack action. Because the Beast Conclave doesn’t get Extra Attack, this means a 5th level Ranger will make one attack per round while his companion makes two, and that the companion will not be allowed to make opportunity attacks with its reaction. This is a pretty clever way to provide an extra attack without totally ruining action economy, and still permits dual wielding.
Beast’s Defense (7)
The companion has advantage on all saving throws when it can see you. On the whole, this means the animal companion has proficiency in all saves, and advantage in all saving throws. If the knock on the PHB Beast Master Ranger was how squishy his companion is, the Revised Beast Master Ranger is certainly determined to fix that.
Storm of Claws and Fangs (11)
Effectively, the animal companion can use the Hunter’s Whirlwind Attack ability with its action. This is a lot more powerful than Whirlwind Attack, however, because it doesn’t prevent the use of Coordinated Attack or the Ranger’s own attack or offhand attack. Essentially, the Hunter should only use Whirlwind Attack if he can hit three (or four, for a dual wielder) targets; the animal companion should use Storm of Claws and Fangs whenever it can attack two targets. The result is that the Ranger player will make 3 attacks plus a Whirlwind Attack: one with his main hand with an Attack action, one with his animal companion for the companion’s reaction, one with his offhand with a bonus action, and a Whirlwind Attack for the companion’s action.
Does this seem strong? It feels strong.
Super Beast’s Defense (15)
The animal companion gains Uncanny Dodge. This requires a reaction, so it competes with Coordinated Attack in action economy, but killing an animal companion is going to be a pain in the ass for DMs.
The Deep Stalker is a revision of the previously released version from the Light, Dark, Underdark! Unearthed Arcana, adapted for the buffed base class of the Revised Ranger. The abilities are similar, but it’s worth discussing them individually. The Deep Stalker is the scout-ambush archetype, something like a more martial-leaning version of the Assassin Rogue.
Underdark Scout (3)
This is a neat combination ability. It provides a direct combat benefit to the first round, granting a +10 bonus to speed and granting the Deep Stalker an additional attack if he takes the Attack action. Combined with Natural Explorer, this makes it very likely the Deep Stalker will be acting early in the round and making lots of first round attacks with advantage.
Underdark Scout also gives a very flavorful ability to hide in the dark even from creatures with darkvision, modeling Drizzt’s ability to hide from Drow in the Underdark, despite their adaptations. This is going to be a tricky ability for DMs to handle, because Deep Stalker players will be obsessive about staying in dark areas, scouting ahead of the main group beyond torchlight, but this gives the Ranger a cool variant on the Rogue’s traditional scouting role in the party.
Deep Stalker Magic (3)
The Deep Stalker gains darkvision of 90 feet, or increases his current darkvision by 30 feet. This means he will see creatures with darkvision before they see him, which is pretty neat and flavorful, enabling him to prepare ambushes with abilities like Underdark Scout, or Hide in Plain Site at higher levels. He also gains additional spells, similar to Paladin Oaths or Cleric Domains, and it’s not a shabby spell list: disguise self, rope trick, glyph of warding, greater invisibility, and seeming. These all enhance his infiltration and ambush capabilities, while rope trick also provides a handy escape method.
Extra Attack (5)
Unsurprisingly, the Deep Stalker gets two attacks per round.
Iron Mind (7)
The Deep Stalker has proficiency in Wisdom saves, which is a lot stronger than all of the Hunter’s Defensive Tactics options.
Stalker’s Flurry (11)
The intent of Stalker’s Flurry is that, once per turn, the Deep Stalker can repeat a missed attack, making him a very consistent damage dealer. The way it’s worded, though, allows the Deep Stalker to make another attack when he misses. This means a Deep Stalker could potentially turn a miss with a low damage offhand attack (like the butt of a polearm via the Polearm Master feat, or Battlerager Barbarian’s spiked armor) into a higher damage main attack (like the polearm itself), which is a little wonky.
I’m not worried that this will upset class balance or lead to broken powergamer builds, but it would be nice if the designers would clarify if the ability is intended to incentivize throwing away offhand attacks in order to get more main hand attacks, or is simply intended as a reroll of the same attack.
Stalker’s Dodge (15)
This gives the Deep Stalker a defensive use for his reaction, using it to impose disadvantage on an attack roll against him that doesn’t have advantage. It’s not as strong as Uncanny Dodge, but it’s still a handy ability that will get a lot of mileage.
I’ve played with the Revised Deep Stalker at 12th level for a one shot, and with the PHB Hunter from 5th level through 8th, and I can say that the updates to the base class are welcomed revisions. The main difference between is that the Revised Ranger feels like it has a niche outside of combat, and while it steps on the Rogue’s toes a bit (the Deep Stalker especially), it leaves enough room to divide and conquer. All Rangers are competent stealthers and excellent trackers, but the Deep Stalker really comes alive in the dark. Most importantly, the Revised Ranger doesn’t feel like a just-worse Druid/Fighter/Rogue any longer.
In combat, the Ranger can hang in melee with the Fighter and Barbarian, and his punchy opening round is definitely satisfying before settling into a steady damage dealer. He still doesn’t have the burst damage of the Fighter or Paladin, nor the staying power of the Barbarian, but he now has an expanded, satisfying non-combat role to compensate.
Beast Master Theorycraft
The Revised Beast Master certainly solves some of the issues with its PHB cousin, most obviously the animal companion’s lack of survivability and ill-considered action economy. Those are major improvements, but there’s still more tweaking required. The most obvious issue is that the animal companion’s attacks aren’t magical; this seems like a simple fix, and yet Wizards of the Coast continues to overlook it. This makes the animal companion simply unviable against mid- and high-level monsters, many of whom have resistance or immunity to nonmagical attacks.
In addition, the animal companion defenses have probably swung too far in the opposite direction; in my modeling of the Ape, the animal companion has AC in line with a Sorcerer and hit points comparable to the Ranger himself. In addition, the Ape specifically has a save spread better than most PCs, and at level 7 gets advantage on those saves, as well. I would say the companion boasts a little more survivability than it needs, but if the Beast Master is to become the “tank” Ranger, this seems viable. From a damage perspective, the Ape has slightly better average output than a rapier on a per-attack basis, even accounting for magic weapons, but also makes a lot of attacks in concert with the Ranger (matching even the Fighter’s five in a round, with at least two targets.)
Of course, the Ape is a much stronger animal companion than the other options, and the list of companion options obviously requires tweaking. It ranges from the Ape and Panther at CR ½ to the Giant Weasel at CR ⅛. I understand the thinking that the Giant Weasel has non-combat utility, but with the Beast Master no longer having Extra Attack, too many abilities are devoted to making the animal companion into a viable combatant to suggest that trade-off is valid.
I worry that this subclass requires too much system mastery, and the impact of choices isn’t very clearly spelled out. There are multiple viable choices for companions at early levels, but as the party levels, an animal companion’s specialized attacks lose value because the save DCs don’t scale. As it stands, every Ranger should adopt an Ape animal companion by level 11, and probably even sooner; if this is the intended outcome, I would prefer D&D’s designers simply provide standardized stat blocks for animal companions in a table, rather than adding fiddly bits to Monster Manual entries with proficiency bonus increases and ASIs.
The Revised Ranger is a strong first draft. The class mechanics and flavor are nicely intertwined, it has variety in its subclasses, is satisfying to play, and won’t upset the class balance at existing tables as a single class. The Beast Master requires a little tweaking to fit in (namely, magical attacks), but that’s an easy fix. Because I value having strong non-combat tricks up my sleeve, the Deep Stalker is the gem of the class. The Beast Master is a viable alternative, and while the Hunter is the weakest of the Conclaves, it is still both playable and flavorful.
From a presentation perspective, the three Conclaves boast marked differences in their approach to adventuring, and the mechanical interactions between abilities are not as plainly obvious, especially to newer players. In the final published version, I think the Ranger Conclaves would benefit from a sidebar explainer of their design and playstyle, similar to the Swashbuckler’s class entry in Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.
I would also like to see Favored Enemy as a less DM fiat-powered ability. Rather than Greater Favored Enemy giving a one-time choice from an expanded list, perhaps it would allow the Ranger to choose his Favored Enemy after a long rest, assuming he spends the rest studying his prior experience, knowledge, and dealings with that race of creature. In exchange for increasing the likelihood of triggering the benefits, I would leave Favored Enemy’s damage bonus at +2.
The major concern with the Revised Ranger is its influence on multiclassing. A single level dip into Ranger provides significant utility to a number of classes (guaranteed advantage for a first-round Fighter Action Surge, anyone?), perhaps surpassing Rogue 1 as the most powerful dip. There’s also a lot of synergy between Rogue and Ranger; the Beast Master’s animal companion scales off character level, not Ranger level, so levels invested into Rogue contribute to its advancement. While the Beast Master only makes a single weapon attack on his turn, he’s got an animal companion to help him trigger Sneak Attack, so he can juice his damage output with Rogue levels (potentially up to Ranger 7/Rogue 13.) I think the final version of the class will spread these benefits over at least three levels.
A few people have asked me if I would allow the Revised Ranger in my game. As a DM, I would encourage anyone interested in the Ranger to instead play the Revised Ranger without a second thought. Rather than dismiss the class entirely, I would monitor anyone interested in a multiclass dip to make sure the opening rounds of combat aren’t disproportionately favoring Ranger-multiclassed characters.