Last time, we covered four of the seven ranger subclasses. This week wraps up that list with the top three. As a reminder, there are three main categories I look 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. So let’s finish up the final three ranger entries.
3. Fey Wanderer
The newest ranger on the block, the Fey Wanderer was one of the harder entries to rank. In many ways, this subclass is similar to the Conquest paladin, relying on the charmed and frightened conditions for one of its main features. This means the subclass’s power heavily depends on whether enemies are vulnerable to those conditions and the ranger’s ability to generate them.
Level 3 – Dreadful Strikes
When you hit a creature with a weapon, you can deal an extra 1d4 psychic damage to the target, which can take this extra damage only once per turn.
The extra damage increases to 1d6 when you reach 11th level in this class.
But before we get to all that tricksy fey magic, let’s take a look at the bread-and-butter ranger features. This damage increase is on the lower end at 1d4, but the lack of restriction or activation cost allows the Fey Wanderer to freely use their bonus action for other powerful options. Once the ranger reaches level 11, this feature equalizes most of its damage deficiencies, leaving us with a decent, if unexciting, ability. It can even be used more than once a turn, if you don’t mind splitting your attacks between multiple targets.
Level 3 – Fey Wanderer Magic
Ranger Level Spells 3rd charm person 5th misty step 9th dispel magic 13th dimension door 17th mislead
This list adds Misty Step and Dimension Door for some great movement tools rangers normally lack, and it grants Dispel Magic to the only casting class not already able to cast it. Sadly, there are no direct damage improvements here, but the movement and utility options are nice to have.
Level 3 – Otherworldly Glamour
Whenever you make a Charisma check, you gain a bonus to the check equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of +1).
In addition, you gain proficiency in one of the following skills of your choice: Deception, Performance, or Persuasion.
Now the Fey Wanderer can act as the party’s negotiator if there aren’t any charisma characters around. Theoretically, this could be combined with a high charisma for an Expertise-like effect. Unfortunately, the ranger relies on so many attributes* that adding a high charisma to the pile is extremely difficult.
Level 7 – Beguiling Twist
You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed or frightened.
In addition, whenever you or a creature you can see within 120 feet of you succeeds on a saving throw against being charmed or frightened, you can use your reaction to force a different creature you can see within 120 feet of you to make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC. If the save fails, the target is charmed or frightened by you (your choice) for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a successful save.
This is the feature that sets the Fey Wanderer apart from the competition in my mind. A best-case scenario sees the Fey Wanderer spending their reaction every round to hand out one of these two conditions.* However, this subclass lacks an inherent way to start the chain of conditions this feature really wants.
This can be remedied with multiclass inclusions such as the Conquest paladin or Undead warlock, but these put further strain on attribute requirements and can decrease a build’s effectiveness in other areas. This feature also suffers from the fact that as enemies increase in challenge rating, they are more likely to be immune to charmed and/or frightened.
Thankfully, even for builds that don’t use the reaction portion of this ability, there is a decent defensive boost against two common conditions.
Level 11 – Fey Reinforcements
You know summon fey. It doesn’t count against the number of ranger spells you know, and you can cast it without a material component. You can also cast it once without a spell slot, and you regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest.
Whenever you start casting the spell, you can modify it so that it doesn’t require concentration. If you do so, the spell’s duration becomes 1 minute for that casting.
Summon Fey is a solid concentration option for rangers, so getting the spell for free alongside an extra casting is always welcome. On top of this, the Fey Wanderer can turn it into a non-concentration option at the cost of duration. The biggest issue I see with this option is that the new duration is so short that you’ll rarely be able to set it up prior to combat. Martial classes, even a subpar one like the ranger, do enough damage that giving up an entire turn to summon a friend is very expensive.
Level 15 – Misty Wanderer
You can cast misty step without expending a spell slot. You can do so a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
In addition, whenever you cast misty step, you can bring along one willing creature you can see within 5 feet of you. That creature teleports to an unoccupied space of your choice within 5 feet of your destination space.
Now the Fey Wanderer can Misty Step without even spending a spell slot, and they can bring a friend along. This isn’t quite as good as Dimension Door, due to a shorter range and requiring vision, but a weaker Dimension Door up to five times per day is nothing to sneeze at.
I’m fairly sure there is a very effective build that makes use of Beguiling Twist to distribute the frightened condition to multiple enemies every turn, but nothing I’ve come up with or seen from other content creators has impressed me. I’ll be keeping an eye on this subclass as new content comes out, as it’s the most likely to gain significant ground, but for now it wanders into third place.
2. Gloom Stalker
Time for my hot take of the week: denying the Gloom Stalker its community-ordained first place. With people warming up to the Echo and Rune Knights, this subclass supplants the Battlemaster as the most overrated subclass in 5E.
Level 3 – Gloom Stalker Magic
Ranger Level Spells 3rd disguise self 5th rope trick 9th fear 13th greater invisibility 17th seeming
While this list doesn’t offer much at lower levels, Fear and Greater Invisibility are strong battlefield control and combat buff spells respectively. Fear does suffer from the ranger’s generally lower spell save DC, and Greater Invisibility overlaps with Guardian of Nature and the Nature’s Veil ability, but I won’t say no to more good spells on the otherwise lackluster ranger list.
Level 3 – Dread Ambusher
You can give yourself a bonus to your initiative rolls equal to your Wisdom modifier.
At the start of your first turn of each combat, your walking speed increases by 10 feet, which lasts until the end of that turn. If you take the Attack action on that turn, you can make one additional weapon attack as part of that action. If that attack hits, the target takes an extra 1d8 damage of the weapon’s damage type.
This is one of the main reasons this subclass is so highly rated, and I can see why. A bonus to initiative and an extra attack is certainly strong, especially when combined with action surge for an additional Dread Ambusher attacker. The problem is that unless fights are incredibly short,* consistent damage boosts out scale the flashier burst damage of this feature. That is not to say this damage boost is bad, just that it’s not the best available to rangers.
Level 3 – Umbral Sight
You gain darkvision out to a range of 60 feet. If you already have darkvision from your race, its range increases by 30 feet.
You are also adept at evading creatures that rely on darkvision. While in darkness, you are invisible to any creature that relies on darkvision to see you in that darkness.
This is the other feature I see heavily advertised when extolling the Gloom Stalker’s virtues. I’ve seen descriptions range from a decent if situational combat boost to almost-always-on invisibility. I find this ability so situational that it’s nearly useless in many fights. The problem is that any source of light turns off the invisibility portion of this feature. This could be light produced by enemies, the environment, or your own party.
Have a variant human that uses the light cantrip, or a fighter wielding a flame tongue? This ability is now slightly improved darkvision. I think many people forget just how much light is present in most adventuring settings because it’s usually not worth tracking. If you do manage to find a campaign where darkvision is the only way to see through darkness, then this ability is amazing, but outside of that it is bad.
Level 7 – Iron Mind
You gain proficiency in Wisdom saving throws. If you already have this proficiency, you instead gain proficiency in Intelligence or Charisma saving throws (your choice).
I’m glad to see at least one ranger subclass fill in the lack of wisdom proficiency rangers suffer from. It’s not terribly exciting, but as characters increase in levels, a failed wisdom save is more and more likely to completely remove you from a fight. I personally think rangers should have wisdom save proficiency from the start, but no one asked me.
Level 11 – Stalker’s Flurry
Once on each of your turns when you miss with a weapon attack, you can make another weapon attack as part of the same action.
A sad version of the fighter’s level 11 feature. Instead of getting to make a third attack every round, the Gloom Stalker needs to miss with one of their initial two attacks. Thankfully, even a conditional extra attack is good, and this should be a noticeable damage bump.
Level 15 – Shadowy Dodge
Whenever a creature makes an attack roll against you and doesn’t have advantage on the roll, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on it. You must use this feature before you know the outcome of the attack roll.
A worse version of the rogue’s 5th-level Uncanny Dodge feature is not the highest note for a subclass to go out on. This feature imposes disadvantage rather than halving damage taken, but the mitigation is similar. What makes this worse is that it doesn’t work on attacks made with advantage, and you have to use it before knowing the result of a roll, so some of those attacks would have missed anyway.
The Gloom Stalker is certainly the flashiest of the ranger subclasses, and it makes for an enticing dip option for builds looking to front load as much of their damage as possible into the first round of combat. It also has some decent mid-level features that shore up the ranger’s offensive and defensive options. However, for me its lack of sustainability and situational advantages only take it as far as second place.
Finally, we reach the pinnacle of the ranger subclasses, and at its peak we find the Champion of rangers, the Hunter. This subclass was overlooked in every ranger subclass ranking I’ve seen, and I think the problem is that people are conflating boring with weak. Nothing in this subclass is flashy; there are no additional spells or limited-use abilities. Instead we have a collection of decent passive features that amount to a consistent subclass that outdoes the others through sheer endurance.
Level 3 – Hunter’s Prey
You gain one of the following features of your choice.
Colossus Slayer. Your tenacity can wear down the most potent foes. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, the creature takes an extra 1d8 damage if it’s below its hit point maximum. You can deal this extra damage only once per turn.
Giant Killer. When a Large or larger creature within 5 feet of you hits or misses you with an attack, you can use your reaction to attack that creature immediately after its attack, provided that you can see the creature.
Horde Breaker. Once on each of your turns when you make a weapon attack, you can make another attack with the same weapon against a different creature that is within 5 feet of the original target and within range of your weapon.
There might be three options here, but the only one that matters for most builds is Colossus Slayer. This is the best 3rd-level damage boost available to rangers, requiring no actions and coming as close to no prerequisites as you can get while still having one. There will almost always be a damaged enemy in a fight, and if there isn’t, you can hurt them with your first attack and get this damage boost on the next hit.
Horde Breaker is a decent alternative if you don’t pick Colossus Slayer, but its tiny range and the opportunity cost of losing a consistent damage boost is too high. Giant Killer is by far the weakest of these three options, as it requires creatures to be a certain size and they must be making attacks against you.
Level 7 – Defensive Tactics
You gain one of the following features of your choice.
Escape the Horde. Opportunity attacks against you are made with disadvantage.
Multiattack Defense. When a creature hits you with an attack, you gain a +4 bonus to AC against all subsequent attacks made by that creature for the rest of the turn.
Steel Will. You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened.
Much like the Hunter’s Prey there is one choice here that stands out: Multiattack Defense. Most monsters in 5E increase their damage through the number of attacks they make, rather than how much damage each of those attacks does. Massively reducing the accuracy of follow-up attacks is a decent defensive boost that the ranger is happy to have. It’s no Shield spell, but it can be stacked with Shield as it doesn’t require a reaction.
The other options here are much worse. Escape the Horde requires you to seek out opportunity attacks, which is generally a bad idea. Meanwhile, Steel Will spends its entire feature making the ranger better at one type of save, which is very inefficient.
Level 11 – Multiattack
You gain one of the following features of your choice.
Volley. You can use your action to make a ranged attack against any number of creatures within 10 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 for each target.
Whirlwind Attack. You can use your action to make a melee attack against any number of creatures within 5 feet of you, with a separate attack roll for each target.
The choice at this level depends entirely on what type of ranger you build. As archery is the best martial option, I will be focusing primarily on that. Volley offers a conditional-area ranged attack that can fill the weakness many martials have: dealing with large numbers of enemies.
When placed properly, Volley can target up to 16 squares in a 20-foot cube. Obviously no real battle will involve that many enemies that tightly packed, but if you can find at least four targets, then Volley will deal more damage than a regular attack action. Whirlwind Attack works in a very similar way except its range is much worse and it uses melee weapons, which are worse than ranged weapons.
Level 15 – Superior Hunter’s Defense
You gain one of the following features of your choice.
Evasion. You can nimbly dodge out of the way of certain area effects, such as a red dragon’s fiery breath or a lightning bolt spell. 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.
Stand Against the Tide. When a hostile creature misses you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to force that creature to repeat the same attack against another creature (other than itself) of your choice.
Uncanny Dodge. When an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage against you.
It was sad when Gloom Stalker finished with a bad version of a low-level rogue ability, and it’s sad when the Hunter does the same.* Though it’s a bummer to get it so late, Evasion is a strong defensive feature that is good at any level. Stand Against the Tide is too situational in its requirements, and Uncanny Dodge will generally be worse than Evasion’s damage reduction, especially if you took Multiattack Defense at level 7.
The fact that Hunter topped my list shows that there are still some issues with the ranger class even after the new Tasha’s content. The class lacks fundamental power, especially at high levels. This lack is so bad that a bunch of passive bonuses are the best option available, as they shore up the base ranger’s many weaknesses. First place to the Hunter.
That wraps up the ranger. The class has certainly improved some over 5E’s lifetime, but not enough to be a competitive option outside of very low levels. I actually took it upon myself to rework the ranger and all its subclasses to bring it more in-line with the paladin, and if you’re interested you can check it out.
Next time, we’ll tackle the rogue…if I can find them.
I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.
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