A woman with bow and arrow.

Halana, Kessig Ranger by Zoltan Boros

Last time, I wrapped up my paladin subclass rankings. Now, it’s time for the ranger. As a reminder, there are three main categories I’m looking at as I judge the power level of each subclass: combat strength, allowance for a range of powerful builds, and how it interacts with multiclassing. Since the ranger has seven subclasses, this is a two-part post, starting with the bottom four.

7. Monster Slayer

A muscular man with a bunch of broken monster eggs.
Chevill, Bane of Monsters by Yongjae Choi

For most of 5E’s existence, the ranger has been maligned as one of the weakest classes the game had to offer. Thanks to optional class features released in Tasha’s, the class as a whole is in a better place. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Monster Slayer subclass.

Level 3 – Monster Slayer Magic

Against the right enemy types, Protection from Evil and Good works as a solid defensive spell. Outside of that situational buff, this spell list is incredibly lackluster. Banishment and Hold Monster are okay control spells, but they use the ranger’s wisdom for their saves, a stat that will be lower than on full casters.

Level 3 – Hunter’s Sense

As an action, choose one creature you can see within 60 feet of you. You immediately learn whether the creature has any damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities and what they are. If the creature is hidden from divination magic, you sense that it has no damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.

This ability is better than the similar Battle Master feature Know your Enemy, but that’s not saying much. The first major issue this feature has is that the info it gains is only useful in combat, but using the ability is only worthwhile outside of combat. Once initiative has been rolled, there are better things to do with your action. There’s also the problem that many monsters lack any immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities, so the ability is wasted on them. Finally, Hunter’s Sense has limited uses, so if you find yourself scouting a large group of enemies, you can pick up to five and hope you’ll get some useful info. The ability can be situationally useful, but the subclass needs a more robust 3rd-level feature to pair with it.

Level 3 – Slayer’s Prey

As a bonus action, you designate one creature you can see within 60 feet of you as the target of this feature. The first time each turn that you hit that target with a weapon attack, it takes an extra 1d6 damage from the weapon.

This benefit lasts until you finish a short or long rest. It ends early if you designate a different creature.

This sadly does not quite cut it. An extra 1d6 damage per turn is nice; spending a bonus action to activate it is not. Between this feature and Hunter’s Mark, Monster Slayers will be spending most of their bonus actions trying to set up damage before their target dies. This puts powerful martial options like Polearm Master and Sharpshooter at odds with the subclass’s features. This can be okay if said features are strong enough to stand on their own, but Slayer’s Prey is not.

Level 7 – Supernatural Defense

Whenever the target of your Slayer’s Prey forces you to make a saving throw and whenever you make an ability check to escape that target’s grapple, add 1d6 to your roll.

An okay boost to saving throws against one enemy at a time is fine, but it’s not enough for a 7th-level feature. The boost to escaping grapples is even worse, given how few enemies use grapple and the fact that the ranger would still need to spend their action to make the attempt. Often, it’s just better to stay in the grapple and keep hitting.

Level 11 – Magic-User’s Nemesis

When you see a creature casting a spell or teleporting within 60 feet of you, you can use your reaction to try to magically foil it. The creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC, or its spell or teleport fails and is wasted.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

This is a worse Counter Spell gained six levels after full casters would have access to the spell and two levels after half casters would. Any feature based on a ranger’s spell save is already questionable because most rangers are too attribute hungry to get their wisdom higher than sixteen. On top of that, many enemies that cast spells come equipped with high wisdom saves to beat that low ranger DC. At least you get the feature back on a short rest, so you can fail to counter spell more times per day.

Level 15 – Slayer’s Counter

If the target of your Slayer’s Prey forces you to make a saving throw, you can use your reaction to make one weapon attack against the quarry. You make this attack immediately before making the saving throw. If your attack hits, your save automatically succeeds, in addition to the attack’s normal effects.

While still situational, this is at least a strong effect that plays into the ranger’s strengths. Instead of relying on the ranger’s weak saves, this feature uses a weapon attack, something most ranger builds look to improve. At the level this is gained, failing a save can take a character out of a fight for at least a round, so having a way to automatically pass them is highly valuable. I still wish this was paired with a generically useful feature, but it’s better than the last two.

Prior to making this list, the Monster Slayer was the ranger subclass that always slipped my mind, and now I see why. Even when it’s getting value from all of its features, the subclass is only okay, and there will be many times when none of its features work. The real monster was the seventh place it took along the way.

6. Horizon Walker

A mysterious figure emerging from a portal.
Portal of Sanctuary by Randy Vargas

Moving on to the subclass I had originally pegged for last place, we have the Horizon Walker. This subclass feels like a joke to me, as if one of the designers was playing a multi-planar campaign and wanted a subclass specifically designed for that setting. The result is a mix of bad and highly situational abilities that barely manages to outrank the Monster Slayer.

Level 3 – Horizon Walker Magic

The highlights of this subclass are both in this expanded spell list. Misty Step is an excellent movement option not normally available to rangers, and Haste functions as both an offensive and defensive buff. Protection from Evil and Good is also decent, but it’s these two spells that earned this subclass its place on the list.

Level 3 – Detect Portal

As an action, you detect the distance and direction to the closest planar portal within 1 mile of you.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

See the “Planar Travel” section in chapter 2 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for examples of planar portals.

I don’t know who approved this feature, but they should look upon that decision as a learning moment. This ability is so niche I consider it weaker than a tool proficiency. Not only are portals relatively rare in 5E, but if there is a portal featured in a campaign, the players will almost always be pointed in its direction by the GM. You don’t add portals you don’t want players to find. This ability doesn’t even have the good graces to be unlimited in its usage.

Level 3 – Planar Warrior

As a bonus action, choose one creature you can see within 30 feet of you. The next time you hit that creature on this turn with a weapon attack, all damage dealt by the attack becomes force damage, and the creature takes an extra 1d8 force damage from the attack. When you reach 11th level in this class, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

This feature is similar to the weak Slayer’s Prey we just covered, but even worse. The damage is slightly higher, especially once level 11 is reached, but instead of just requiring a bonus action to set up, it needs one every round. This ability can’t even be triggered twice per round via a reaction attack due to its restrictive wording.

Level 7 – Ethereal Step

As a bonus action, you can cast the etherealness spell with this feature, without expending a spell slot, but the spell ends at the end of the current turn.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest

Etherealness for a single round once per rest is incredibly weak for a 7th-level ability. The best use for this I can see is an emergency escape tool, albeit a redundant one given that the subclass already has Misty Step.

Level 11 – Distant Strike

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 with it against a third creature.

This is a decent movement enhancement that also allows for an extra attack as long as there are at least three targets and the ranger is okay splitting their damage. Spreading out damage is not a good idea in 5E as an enemy with one hit point deals as much damage as an enemy with all its hit points, so I’m not excited about this feature, but at least it’s better than Ethereal Step.

Level 15 – Spectral Defense

When you take damage from an attack, you can use your reaction to give yourself resistance to all of that attack’s damage on this turn.

Rogues have had a better version of this ability* since 5th level, so I’m not terribly excited to see it as a 15th-level feature. You will at least get use out of it most sessions, but it is a rather boring end to a weak subclass.

It’s weird to see not one but two subclasses printed in Xanthar’s at the bottom of this list, given the power of other offerings in that book such as the Hexblade. I’m not sure if the designers didn’t understand how to fix the problems rangers had been facing or they didn’t want to, but this subclass is plane bad. Sixth place.

5. Beast Master

Tigers leaping at their tamer's command.
Beastmaster Ascension by Alex Horley-Orlandelli

If Horizon Walker is the biggest joke I’ve seen, Beast Master is the biggest mess. The original Player’s Handbook printing of this subclass was so badly made that the designers attempted a do-over as part of Tasha’s, significantly reworking the titular beast companion. Unfortunately, they left the job half finished, and we’re left with a collection of stitched-together features that don’t interact properly.

Level 3 – Primal Companion

You magically summon a primal beast, which draws strength from your bond with nature. The beast is friendly to you and your companions and obeys your commands. Choose its stat block—Beast of the LandBeast of the Sea, or Beast of the Sky—which uses your proficiency bonus (PB) in several places. You also determine the kind of animal the beast is, choosing a kind appropriate for the stat block. Whatever kind you choose, the beast bears primal markings, indicating its mystical origin.

In combat, the beast acts during your turn. It can move and use its reaction on its own, but the only action it takes is the Dodge action, unless you take a bonus action on your turn to command it to take another action. That action can be one in its stat block or some other action. You can also sacrifice one of your attacks when you take the Attack action to command the beast to take the Attack action. If you are incapacitated, the beast can take any action of its choice, not just Dodge.

If the beast has died within the last hour, you can use your action to touch it and expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher. The beast returns to life after 1 minute with all its hit points restored.

When you finish a long rest, you can summon a different primal beast. The new beast appears in an unoccupied space within 5 feet of you, and you choose its stat block and appearance. If you already have a beast from this feature, it vanishes when the new beast appears. The beast also vanishes if you die.

For this ranking, I’m using Tasha’s version of the companion feature, because in general it is by far the stronger of the two. Be aware that there is a niche use of the original beast companion as a flying mount for small-sized rangers, but outside of that, it’s not worth talking about.

As for the Tasha’s version, it’s the best bonus-action sink we’ve seen so far. The damage isn’t terribly impressive, but it’s attached to a pile of hit points that can absorb damage for the party and is easily revived. I do take issue with how this feature scrubs away the flavor of using specific pets in favor of generalized “Beast of the X”, but that’s not a mechanical problem. It’s also weird that the beast gets more effective when the ranger is unconscious, no longer needing to be told to bite the bad guys.

Level 7 – Exceptional Training

On any of your turns when your beast companion doesn’t attack, you can use a bonus action to command the beast to take the Dash, Disengage, or Help action on its turn. In addition, the beast’s attacks now count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage.

Remember what I said about features not really working together? This is what I was talking about. The new Tasha’s companion can already be commanded via the ranger’s bonus action, so most of the feature is entirely redundant. Making the pet’s attacks magical is still helpful, but it’s not enough to carry a 7th-level feature on its own.

Level 11 – Bestial Fury

When you command your beast companion to take the Attack action, the beast can make two attacks, or it can take the Multiattack action if it has that action.

Thankfully, this feature still works with Tasha’s companion, although some players might be confused by the mention of multiattack when none of the new beasts have that feature. As for its value, doubling the number of attacks the pet can make is very helpful.

Level 15 – Share Spells

When you cast a spell targeting yourself, you can also affect your beast companion with the spell if the beast is within 30 feet of you.

Paladins have been sharing spells with their mounts since level 5, but it’s nice to finally have that option as a 15th-level ranger. Buff spells like Guardian of Nature make for a solid damage boost that the ranger pet can also take advantage of.

I wish the designers had opted to redo the entire Beast Master subclass, rather than stapling on a single reworked feature that doesn’t fully line up with the rest of the subclass. The Beast Master is one of those subclasses I see new players gravitate towards, and while it’s certainly better than it was, I still don’t feel fully comfortable recommending it due to its below-average mechanical power and design inconsistencies. Fifth place.

4. Swarmkeeper

A white haired man commanding a swarm of insects.
Feed the Swarm by Andrey Kuzinskiy

Finally, the subclass that allows me to bring my magical bee keeper to life. I wish this subclass had more to offer than its cool flavor, but mechanically speaking it is an average subclass in a below average class.

Level 3 – Gathered Swarm

Once on each of your turns, you can cause the swarm to assist you in one of the following ways, immediately after you hit a creature with an attack:

  • The attack’s target takes 1d6 piercing damage from the swarm.
  • The attack’s target must succeed on a Strength saving throw against your spell save DC or be moved by the swarm up to 15 feet horizontally in a direction of your choice.
  • You are moved by the swarm 5 feet horizontally in a direction of your choice.

Finally, a ranger damage boost that can be triggered without the use of a bonus action. Now the Swarmkeeper can benefit from the bonus-action attack feats and still use its subclass damage bonus. The other options are much more situational, and I wouldn’t recommend using them unless you have a specific strategy in mind.

Level 3 – Swarmkeeper Magic

You learn the mage hand cantrip if you don’t already know it. When you cast it, the hand takes the form of your swarming nature spirits.

You also learn an additional spell of 1st level or higher when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown in the Swarmkeeper Spells table. Each spell counts as a ranger spell for you, but it doesn’t count against the number of ranger spells you know.

Swarmkeeper Spells
Ranger Level Spells
3rd faerie fire
5th web
9th gaseous form
13th arcane eye
17th insect plague

Mage Hand is a decent cantrip, and this list offers some good low-level spells. Faerie Fire is a solid party damage buff, and web is a good battlefield control option. The rest of these options aren’t great, but the good stuff here is enough.

Level 7 – Writhing Tide

You can condense part of your swarm into a focused mass that lifts you up. As a bonus action, you gain a flying speed of 10 feet and can hover. This effect lasts for 1 minute or until you are incapacitated.

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.

As good as flight speeds are, this is about as weak as they come. With a speed this low, the feature might not even last long enough to overcome non-combat obstacles like a large pit or tall wall. In combat it’s still a flight speed with all the bonuses such a thing conveys, but the Swarmkeeper will be hard pressed to out maneuver anything that can reach them.

Level 11 – Mighty Swarm

Your Gathered Swarm grows mightier in the following ways:

  • The damage of Gathered Swarm increases to 1d8.
  • If a creature fails its saving throw against being moved by Gathered Swarm, you can also cause the swarm to knock the creature prone.
  • When you are moved by Gathered Swarm, it gives you half cover until the start of your next turn.

With this improvement to the Gathered Swarm feature, I’d personally swap from the damage boost to giving myself +2 to AC and dexterity saving throws from half cover. Whatever you choose, this is a nice bump.

Level 15 – Swarming Dispersal

When you take damage, you can use your reaction to give yourself resistance to that damage. You vanish into your swarm and then teleport to an unoccupied space that you can see within 30 feet of you, where you reappear with the swarm.

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.

Poor Horizon Walker; Swarmkeepers get their 15th-level ability and combine it with a Misty Step. This is a nice avoidance option with enough uses that it should be available when it’s needed.

While I wish this subclass did more with the swarm motif, it is a solid option that does all the various ranger-y things it needs to to secure its 4th-place spot.

That covers the first four ranger subclasses. Check in next time for part two, when I cover the better half of our woodsy friend.

I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.

Treat your friends to an evening of ritual murder – in a fictional RPG scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and escape a supernatural menace in our one-shot adventure, The Voyage.

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