Welcome to part two of my D&D 5th Edition ranger rework. In part one we covered what inspired me to attempt this, along with all of the new main class features. In this part, we examine each revised subclass and the features they receive. I also include my closing thoughts on the ranger class and some issues with 5E’s balance in general. Now, let’s dig into what each of the subclasses I’ve created brings to the table.
Beast Master 3 – Archetype Companions
Level Extra Form 3rd Tressym, Young Kruthik 5th Crag Cat, Giant Strider 7th Peryton, Carrion Crawler 10th Manticore, Winter Wolf 14th Guardian Wolf, Kamadan 18th Bulette, Gorgon
I knew I wanted some sort of expansion for the Woodland Companion feature early in this rework process. The difficulty was figuring out what form that expansion would take. An obvious parallel was the Moon druid’s Circle Forms feature. However, I found that allowing higher CR beast options for one subclass meant that I either had to reduce the CR options for others to keep them both balanced or give that one subclass almost no other useful features because their pet was too powerful.
My solution was to make additions to the Companion Forms table from outside the beast monster type that fit the flavor of the subclass and to ignore the normal restrictions like size and movement types. For Beast Master, I drew from the monstrosities monster type, selecting creatures with beast-like flavor.*
While I would have liked to include more than two additional options at each level bracket, if one subclass receives more options, the others should as well. Unfortunately, there simply weren’t enough viable choices to provide each subclass with more options. I’m hopeful that as more content is released I can expand the options available, but for now these will do.
Beast Master 3 – Fight as One
Starting at 3rd level, your companion gains a bonus to its AC and damage rolls equal to your proficiency bonus.
A small but powerful bonus that cements this subclass’s focus on their companion. At early levels, the increased damage will most likely be the more important feature, as most creatures have too low an AC for a +2 to have much of an impact, but at higher levels this can grant a +6 to the gorgon’s 19 base AC, resulting in a companion with higher AC than most tank characters.
Beast Master 7 – Tag Team
Beginning at 7th level, when you or your companion make your first attack on your turn, you can choose to Tag Team your enemies. Doing so grants you and your companion advantage on attack rolls against a creature if at least one of you is within 5 feet of the creature and is not incapacitated until the start of your next turn.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once), unless you expend a spell slot of 2nd level or higher to use it again. You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
Ranger and companion fighting together to the benefit of both was something I wanted this subclass to sell, and a Pack Tactics-like ability was the perfect way to do that. Originally, I had this ability provide a constant Pack Tactics bonus but decided that was too powerful an ability to have at all times, because it basically provided constant advantage at no cost. Thus we have this version, with a limited number of activations that last a full round so both the ranger and their companion can benefit.
Beast Master 11 – Spirit Bond
Starting at 11th level, when you or your companion take damage, they can choose to gain resistance to that damage. Doing so causes the other to take the same amount of damage.
The Warding Bond spell is one of the coolest effects I never see used in 5E. This feature takes my favorite part of that spell, the damage sharing, and adds it as a passive bonus for the Beast Master. This allows the player to keep both their character and their companion functioning in combat for longer, making full use of the 100+ hit points some of the stronger companion options get.
Beast Master 15 – Beastial Wrath
Beginning at 15th level, your companion can use a bonus action to enter a frenzied state. Doing so grants them the following bonuses for 1 minute:
- 25 temporary hit points.
- Additional 1d12 damage dealt by melee damage rolls
- Can attack an additional time when taking the attack or multiattack action.
Once your companion uses this feature, they cannot do so again until you finish a long rest.
Named in honor of the first WoW class I played in 2004,* we have the Beast Master’s capstone. This effect is heavily inspired by the wizard spell Tenser’s Transformation. While the spell is meant to turn the scrawny wizard into a temporary martial badass, this feature is a toned-down version meant to enhance the ranger’s already powerful companion.
Aside from toning down the hit point and damage increases, I also removed the constant advantage, as Tag Team already provides that type of bonus. I did expand the final bullet to include the multiattack action, as without that the feature doesn’t play well with many companion options.
Deadeye 3 – Additional Fighting Style: Archery
At 3rd level, you gain the Archery fighting style. If you already have that style, you may select another from the level 2 ranger feature.
You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged weapons.
As I mentioned when covering the ranger’s level 2 feature, I think fighting styles are a great way of focusing your character’s combat style. However, I don’t want to create a situation where players feel like they only have one real option. Without a feature like this, anyone wanting to play a Deadeye would have no real choice but to select the Archery Fighting Style at level 2, eliminating what should be an interesting choice. Now players still get to make that choice without risking serious damage to their character’s mechanical viability.
Deadeye 3 – Trick Shot
When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you learn trick shots that grant your ranged attacks additional effects at the cost of reducing your chance to hit.
Before you make an attack with a ranged weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose one Trick Shot to apply to that attack.
This is the main feature of the Deadeye subclass. It’s similar in many ways to the Battle Master fighter’s Maneuver feature, but there are some key differences. The first is how Trick Shots are expanded as the Deadeye levels up. Where Maneuvers options are all available at level 3, I made it so the Deadeye receives the weakest Trick Shots at level 3 and gains more powerful additions as they go. This ensures that an expansion to Trick Shot actually makes the character more powerful. Battle Masters have already taken the strongest Maneuver options at level 3, so when they gain the ability to take more, they have to take weaker and weaker options. This is bad design and something I definitely wanted to avoid.
Another important difference is the cost of activation. Battle Masters have a limited number of Superiority Dice that they use to fuel their abilities. The Deadeye has no such restriction on its Trick Shots, allowing them to make every attack a Trick Shot if they wish. Instead the cost to Trick Shots is a decrease in accuracy. I want players to weigh their choices when they attack, rather than defaulting to whatever preserves the most resources.
I’ve also avoided including any Trick Shots that directly increase single-target damage output. This is partially because that type of ability is covered by the ever-popular Sharpshooter feat.* However, the more important reason in my mind is to avoid the binary math that players knowledgeable about Sharpshooter do whenever looking at a target: if a creature has 17 AC or below, Sharpshooter is worth activating; 18 and higher means you should attack normally. By having less straightforward bonuses, I hope to avoid players looking at Trick Shot as a simple equation.
Take a -2 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, the target suffers regular damage and has disadvantage on its next attack roll.
A minor effect for a small hit to accuracy that the free Archery Fighting Style cancels out. This gives the Deadeye some support potential, as forcing the most dangerous enemy to attack with repeated disadvantage takes some of the pressure off the party’s frontline characters. This ability does fall off as enemies gain multiple attacks, but for a level 3 ability, it is quite effective.
Take a -3 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, the target suffers regular damage and if it is size large or smaller is knocked prone.
This Trick Shot imposes a higher penalty for a proportionately stronger effect. A well-executed knockdown can generate easy advantage for the rest of your party and makes the target weak to any dexterity-based saves. It also means that the ranger has to consider which attack they add this effect to, since future ranged attacks made that round would have disadvantage against the prone enemy. This ability can be sabotaged by bad initiative order, such as the target taking its turn immediately after the ranger to stand up so no one benefits from the knockdown, but that’s an unfortunate result of rules that cannot be addressed in this rework.
Deadeye 7 – Expanded Trick Shot
Starting at 7th level, you learn an additional trick shot.
Take a -3 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, the target suffers regular damage and is blinded till the start of your next turn.
In most cases this is a more powerful version of Distracting shot, with a larger loss to accuracy to match. However, there will be cases where blinding an enemy does literally nothing due to abilities like Tremor Sense or Blindsight.* This is another in the series of hopefully interesting choices I’ve created with this subclass.
Deadeye 7 – Hunter’s Focus
Beginning at 7th level, when you make a ranged attack roll and miss, you can use your reaction to add your wisdom modifier to the attack roll, possibly causing it to hit.
Part of playing a badass archer character is having almost supernatural aim. Unfortunately, outside of the fighting style, there aren’t many features that bring this fantasy to life. I wanted to fix that. Like Trick Shot, there is no limit on the number of times a Deadeye can use this ability. However, reactions can be very valuable, as they allow you to cast spells like Absorb Elements and Shield. A character that always uses Hunter’s Focus without thinking might find themselves missing an important defensive tool when they need it most.
Deadeye 11 – Defensive Roll
Starting at 11th level, you gain the following benefits:
- You can use your bonus action to take the disengage action.
- When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.
Despite what us archer players may wish, sometimes a rude multi-headed beast manages to make it past all our friends and actually get close enough to express its displeasure at the five arrows we put in it. This feature is intended to give the Deadeye a powerful avoidance tool in such a situation. This is especially important since once one enemy makes it to melee range with an archer, all ranged attacks the archer makes are made at disadvantage until they escape the threat. The ability to use this feature an unlimited number of times makes it a great defensive tool; however, many ranged builds want to convert their bonus actions into extra attacks, meaning anytime the Deadeye has to use theirs to escape, its damage output takes a serious hit.
The second half of this ability touches on the ranger’s sometimes close relationship to rogues. As this type of avoidance isn’t a core part of the ranger, I felt giving them a weaker Cunning Action and Evasion significantly* later was a fair trade for bundling them together into one feature.
Deadeye 11 – Expanded Trick Shot
Beginning at 11th level, you learn an additional trick shot.
Before making a ranged attack roll, you can choose to target an additional creature within range. You make both attacks with -5 penalty to the attack roll.
We’ve arrived at the first Trick Shot that actually increases the ranger’s damage output, albeit through spreading out that damage, which is generally something you want to avoid in D&D.* Theoretically the Deadeye could use this ability to double the number of attacks they make, but the serious hit to accuracy makes that a risky proposition. This type of ability is at its best when dealing with a large number of low HP/AC opponents, and while it is quite good at that, so are any number of abilities other classes have access to.
Deadeye 15 – Volley
Starting at 15th level, you can use your action to make a ranged attack against any number of creatures within 20 feet of a point you can see within your weapon’s range. You must have ammunition for each target, as normal, and you make a separate attack roll with a -5 penalty for each target.
Each attack deals an additional 1d8 weapon damage.
Another area of effect option, and this time it even deals extra damage! Whereas Rapid Shot works great against multiple spread-out opponents, Volley is meant to deal with clumped-up enemies, similar to what a wizard wants to do with Fireball or Cone of Cold. As with all Deadeye abilities, there is no limit to the number of times this action can be taken. However, its ineffectiveness against singular, powerful enemies and relative weakness compared to limited-use abilities that other classes* are picking up at this point are good balancing factors for this feature.
Gloom Stalker 3 – Archetype Companions
Your archetype’s connection with the dark parts of the world grants additional forms to your Woodland Companion. Starting at 3rd level, your Woodland Companion has access to additional forms as found on the Expanded Companion Forms Table. (You ignore the limitations column of the Companion Forms Table.)
Level Extra Form 3rd Infant Basilisk, Blood-Toll Harpy 5th Death Dog, Young Basilisk 7th Ettercap, Shadow Mastiff 10th Basilisk, Displacer Beast 14th Girallon, Kamadan 18th Banderhobb, Umber Hulk
The second of the expanded pet subclasses, I wanted the Gloom Stalker to embrace the rogue-ish nature of the ranger. To fit this theme, I once again looked to the monstrosity creature type. Instead of pulling from beast-like monstrosities as I did for Beast Master, I went for a creepier brand of creatures. These critters bring with them some darker flavor, and while the Woodland Companion can be any alignment the ranger wants, I wanted to include an option for players to fight darkness with darkness.
Gloom Stalker 3 – From the Shadows
Beginning at 3rd level, you gain proficiency in the stealth skill. If you are already proficient, you gain proficiency in a skill of your choice. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any stealth ability checks.
While your companion is within 100 feet of you, they may substitute your stealth skill for their own. If a stealth check would allow you both to roll stealth, they may use your roll.
Attacks made by you and your companion while hidden deal an additional 1d8 weapon damage.
Where would a rogue-ish ranger be without a powerful stealth feature and a watered-down sneak attack? Between bards and rogues, many parties have a sneaky character that makes stealth checks with double proficiency; if rangers want to operate in that role, they need expertise as well.
The second part of this feature is to address the common problem in 5E of multiple characters attempting to sneak. This raises the question of what happens if the super stealthy characters rolls a 25 and the bumbling tag-along rolls a 2. While I can’t solve this issue for the game as a whole, I can at least make it so the Gloom Stalker can always bring their pet along without making stealth more difficult.
Finally, we have the subclass’s version of Sneak Attack. Since this isn’t a central feature like Sneak Attack is for rogues, From the Shadows only grants a maximum of 2d8 damage per round if both the ranger and their companion make one attack while hidden. This is a hefty chunk of damage at early levels, but it becomes much less relevant as characters increase in power.
Some of you might be asking why I would create a feature like this with no scaling when I criticized that type of design in this very post. The difference here is that I have provided other abilities that scale, making the damage bonus of From the Shadows a bridge to get the Gloom Stalker to its more powerful scaling abilities without feeling weak in the early levels. Wizards’ ranger design never replaces the early damage boost with a more impactful feature later, and that’s the problem.
Gloom Stalker 7 – Umbral Sight
Starting at 7th level, you gain the following benefits:
- You learn Darkness as an additional spell. It counts as a ranger spell for you, but it doesn’t count against the number of ranger spells you know.
- You and your companion can see through the darkness created by your own Darkness spell.
For Gloom Stalkers that need to bring the gloom wherever they are, Umbral Sight is here to help. This feature shares a lot of similarities to the Shadow sorcerer’s Eyes in the Dark ability, as unlike the warlock’s Devil Sight, both the sorcerer and ranger abilities only let them see through magical darkness they have created. This is obviously a powerful feature, as Darkness is a great way to generate advantage for yourself and disadvantage for anyone trying to hurt you, but the spell does vie for the ranger’s concentration with things like Hunter’s Mark, so there is a give and take.
Gloom Stalker 11 – Into the Shadows
Beginning at 11th level, when an enemy damages you with an attack, you can use your reaction to immediately take the hide action and move up to half your speed.
This is the Gloom Stalker’s main defensive feature, allowing them to escape from dangerous situations. I was originally wondering if this feature would be too powerful, because against many enemies the ranger’s stealth bonus is so high it’s almost impossible for the monsters to see them. However, optimized rogue builds have been doing this since 5E first launched, making their sneak attack then hiding using their bonus action. No one seems to have major issues with rogues using this play pattern, so I think it’s a good fit for a rogue-ish ranger’s high-level ability.
Gloom Stalker 15 – Umbral Terror
Starting at 15th level, you can channel your connection to the shadows to instill fear in your enemies.
As an action, you can cause a dark aura to radiate from you. It has a 60ft radius. Creatures of your choice that meet any of the following criteria must make a wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC:
- In the aura when you activated it
- Enter the aura for the first time on a turn
- Start their turn within the aura
Any creature that fails this saving throw is frightened of you for the duration of this ability. A creature may attempt to save again at the end of each of their turns. Once they succeed, they are immune to this ability for the rest of its duration.
Any attacks made against creatures frightened by this ability by you or your companion are made with advantage and all hits become critical hits.
Once you use this feature you cannot do so again until you finish a long rest.
I like the idea of the Gloom Stalker using fear as a weapon and wanted at least one of their features to use the frightened condition for both its base defensive purposes and some special offensive buff. This capstone satisfies both those wants. Umbral Terror grants the Gloom Stalker a powerful battlefield control effect that increases the ranger’s damage output with its auto-criticals and helps their party out by making enemies frightened of the ranger have to attack with disadvantage.
Horizon Walker 3 – Archetype Companions
Your archetype’s exploration of other planes grants additional forms to your Woodland Companion. Starting at 3rd level, your Woodland Companion has access to additional forms as found on the Expanded Companion Forms Table. (You ignore the limitations column of the Companion Forms Table.)
Level Extra Form 3rd Boggle, Valenar Hawk 5th Dragon Wyrmling (Brass or Copper), Quickling 7th Guard Drake (any color), Meenlock 10th Dragon Wyrmling (Blue or Gold), Redcap 14th Dragon Wyrmling (Red), Yeth Hound 18th Elemental (Air, Earth, Fire, or Water), Xorn
The Horizon Walker is the final expanded companion subclass. As I mentioned in the subclass overview, I threw almost every piece of the original subclass out, reimagining the Horizon Walker as an avoidance-based tank type ranger. This expanded companion list uses the best part of the original Horizon Walker, its lore, to pull from a variety of monster types not usually associated with a ranger pet.* As a designer this was the most difficult list to populate, as there simply aren’t that many dragon, elemental, or fey creatures. Hopefully more will be added soon so I can expand these subclass lists.
Horizon Walker 3 – Distant Strike
Beginning at 3rd level, you gain the ability to pass between the planes in the blink of an eye. When you take the Attack action, you can teleport up to 10 feet before each attack to an unoccupied space you can see.
If you attack at least two different creatures with the action, you can make one additional attack against a third creature.
This is the only subclass feature I made no mechanical changes to besides moving it from level 11 to level 3. Like the Deadeye’s Rapid Shot feature, this ability balances the overall increase in damage by forcing the Horizon Walker to spread it out. It does make this subclass very good at dealing with a large number of weak opponents, with a max of four attacks at level 5.
Horizon Walker 7 – Planar Resistance
Starting at 7th level, when you finish a short or long rest, choose one of the following damage types: you and your companion have resistance to that damage type until your next short or long rest.
A straightforward defensive feature, Planar Resistance allows the Horizon Walker to adapt to the enemy types they expect to face. I originally designed this ability to only trigger on long rests, but it was pointed out that the way many adventures are structured, the ranger would often have no idea which damage resistance to pick during long rests. Expanding the ability to short rests allows the player to think about what they’ve already encountered and make an educated guess on what’ll come next.
Horizon Walker 11 – Flickering Defense
Beginning at 11th level, you and your companion may cast the Blink spell as a bonus action without expending a spell slot.
Each of you can use this feature once. You cannot do so again until you finish a long rest, unless you expend a spell slot of 3rd level or higher.
Continuing my design strategy of turning cool underused effects into class features, we have Flickering Defense. Blink is one of those spells that is rarely used due to its activation cost of one action. By reducing that cost to a bonus action, it’s now a powerful non-concentration avoidance tool that both the Horizon Walker and their companion can benefit from.
Horizon Walker15 – Planar Breach
Starting at 15th level, you can use an action to open a series of portals to different planes. These disturbances have a 20-foot radius and follow you, protecting you from harm and damaging your enemies.
Choose two of the following damage types. You gain resistance to one damage type and any creature of your choice that enters the aura for the first time on a turn or begins its turn in the aura suffers 5d8 of the other chosen damage type.
Once you use this feature you cannot do so again until you finish a long rest.
Another capstone that mixes offense and defense, Planar Breach bumps the number of resistances the Horizon Walker can have to two. On top of this, they gain an unavoidable damage aura. I had originally intended to add a spell save for half damage, but after looking at what full casters with Spirit Guardians are doing at this level,* I think this capstone feature is balanced.
Steel Dancer 3 – Additional Fighting Style: Two-Weapon Fighting
At 3rd level, you gain the Two-Weapon fighting style. If you already have that style, you may select another from level 2 ranger feature.
When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.
The design thought behind this is the same as the Deadeye’s additional Fighting Style feature. I don’t want to lock players into one obvious right choice, and this was the best way to do that. Two-Weapon Fighting is less important to a dual-wielding build than the Archery Fighting Style is, but it’s still important enough that a subclass focused on that type of combat should supply it.
Steel Dancer 3 – Weaving Parry
At 3rd level, you gain the ability to adopt a defensive stance. If you are wielding a one-handed weapon in each hand, you can use a reaction do the following when you are hit by an attack:
Your twin weapons flash before you, creating a barrier of steel. Until the start of your next turn, you have a bonus to AC equal to your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice), including against the triggering attack.
You can use this reaction a number of times equal to your proficiency score, unless you expend a spell slot to use it again. You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
As any martial build that dips for a level of Hexblade can tell you, the Shield spell is amazing. Increasing my paladin’s AC20 to 25 for the low cost of one spell slot is part of what makes that character so hard to kill. I’d like to provide that lovely AC bonus to the Steel Dancer, albeit a bit weaker. However, a weakened Shield is still very good, and as a Steel Dancer, I could see myself saving spell slots I might have used for Hunter’s Mark to protect myself with Weaving Parry instead.
Steel Dancer 7 – Paired Weapons
The Steel Dancer’s body acts as a conduit between their weapons, channeling the magical properties as they choose.
Starting 7th level, when dual wielding at least one weapon with magical properties, you may choose which weapon’s properties you wish to apply when you make an attack.
This and the next two features exist to fix the various problems that have made dual wielding the worst of the martial options for almost any character. Paired Weapons helps by removing the magic item tax that dual-wielding characters must pay to be effective. Now I only need one +1 rapier to be on equal footing with the +1 greatsword-wielding fighter.
Steel Dancer 7 – Swift Strike
Beginning at 7th level, if you use your bonus action to make an attack using Two-Weapon Fighting, you can make one additional weapon attack as part of that bonus action. Your two-weapon fighting style applies to this attack as well.
Swift Strike addresses the issue that dual wielding’s draw is supposed to be that it gets more attacks. But, thanks to the Polearm Master and Crossbow Expert feats, both two-handed and archery builds make the exact same number of attacks as dual wielding while being stronger as well. This iteration grants an extra attack free of charge, but if it proves too strong, some conditional activation might have to be added.
Steel Dancer 11 – Masterful Stroke
Starting at 11th level, before you make an attack with a one-handed melee weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a penalty equal to your proficiency to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add twice your proficiency to the attack’s damage.
The final piece of this trilogy, Masterful Stroke grants dual-wielding characters an equivalent power to what the -5/+10 Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter allow other damage builds. While I’d like to take credit for basing this feature on the character’s proficiency, I must admit it was a mechanic I stole from some excellent homebrew classes I’ve read. I’m hoping that its existence in homebrew that has received heavy play testing means that it’s balanced, but I want to see how it performs in-game to see if it needs tweaks.
Steel Dancer15 – Blade Dance
Beginning at 15th level, you can move through the enemy lines, striking nearby targets as you go.
As an action, you move up to your full movement. This movement does not trigger attacks of opportunity.
You can make one melee attack against any creature you were adjacent to during this movement. These attacks deal an additional 1d8 weapon damage.
Now that I’ve fixed dual wielding, it’s time to provide the subclass with an option against larger groups of enemies. I’m a big fan of abilities that include movement, as too often 5E combat devolves into everyone standing perfectly still, bopping each other until one side falls over. That’s not always a bad thing, but it can get stale very quickly. Even simple movement abilities can do a lot to alleviate this problem. They make players think about terrain and how best to use it to their advantage. Blade Dance in particular also pairs well with the level 1 Strider feature, as the ranger has 40 feet of movement to play with instead of the standard 30.
Whew, congratulations to all of you that made it to the end of my largest 5E homebrew project. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I’d love to hear about your experiences using it or simply any thoughts you have about its design or 5E’s design in general. By this point, I’m sure many of you have noticed this character is on average stronger than other pure martial classes like barbarian, fighter, or rogue. This is intentional on my part.
Dungeons and Dragons has a long history of spellcasting being superior to martial options, and to me it seems like, outside of the paladin, martial classes are no longer even designed to compete with their spellcasting counterparts. I want the ranger not to just keep up with what other weak classes can do, but to compete with the likes of wizards and bards. In order to do that, I had to make something better than those subpar classes.
So instead of asking why did I make this new ranger overpowered, I think the question should be flipped and ask why I had to push so far past most martial options to keep up with the stronger classes. Rangers have been the laughingstock of 5E since its release in 2014, and I hope my changes make the class fun to play instead of feeling like a punishment.
You can find a copy of the new ranger formatted to match the official Wizards’ style here.