Rangers have had a rough time in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. In the original player’s handbook they were underpowered and underappreciated, a jack of all trades but master of none. However, new subclasses have made the ranger much more viable. That just means that you have to choose your subclass wisely. Here are the 5 ranger subclasses, ranked from worst to best.
The Hunter Archetype is pretty much the vanilla ranger. It lets you fight things good. It is highly customizable, multiple options are available at each level. Unfortunately the customizability means that often options are situational, or only decent if you built your ranger a certain way. Possibly the most underpowered abilites are the ones at level 17, where the better options are Evasion, which rogues and monks get at a lower level, or Uncanny Dodge, which rogues get at a much lower level.
4. Beast Master
The gimmick for the Beast Master is that you have a pet. You get to choose from any animal of challenge rating ¼ or lower and size medium or smaller, which means you have a lot of options. Unfortunately, only a few of them are good. If your favorite animal is a flying snake, giant badger, giant frog, giant poisonous snake, giant wolf spider, Pteranodon, or wolf, you’re in luck. Blood hawks are also useful if you want the utility of a good aerial scout, and ponies can serve as mounts if you are a small creature like a halfling or goblin.
Most of your abilities are centered around making your pet stronger, so unlike a wizard’s familiar, it becomes an extra mini party member. Also unlike a wizard’s familiar, it can die for real. You can get a new one with enough time, but it cannot be stressed enough that this subclass gives you a very special animal companion that you have a supernatural link to and also is 100% killable.
3. Monster Slayer
Monster Slayer takes the vanilla ranger theme of the Hunter and makes it better. It’s less customizable, but you get some extra spells, the ability to take an action to analyze your enemies’ strengths and weaknesses, and many abilities centered around a feature called Slayer’s Prey. Slayer’s Prey grants extra damage (that stacks with Hunter’s Mark), bonuses to saving throws and escaping grapples, and counterattacks that can result in automatic saves. You also get an ability that is basically a worse counterspell, which is still useful for a mostly martial character.
The downside of this subclass is that your extra spell options are situational or dependent on saving throws that you probably don’t have the Wisdom score to back up. In addition, most of your abilities are only able to be used once every short rest, which means you might be joining your party’s warlock in begging the DM to let you take a break.
2. Gloom Stalker
There are a number of subclasses that try to make classes into rogue-equivalents, each more terrible than the last. Gloom Stalker breaks the trend by turning the ranger class into an actually pretty good option for sneaky players.
Bonus saving throw proficiencies, free or improved darkvision, and imposing disadvantage on enemies are all solid features of this subclass. The Dread Ambusher feature makes sure that you can actually utilize your stealth to start a fight, something that a lot of other rogue-equivalents lack. The fact that creatures with darkvision cannot see you in the dark ties it all together. It makes you an absolute monster in caves and dungeons, especially with an all-darkvision party that doesn’t need light sources.
1. Horizon Walker
From a purely strategic standpoint, Horizon Walker is similar to Gloom Stalker in terms of effectiveness. However, Horizon Walker is a better subclass because teleporting is cool, and characters that can teleport a lot are really cool.
The Horizon Walker subclass gives you cool spells, lets you jump into the Ethereal Plane for a turn, and lets you blink around the battlefield while making attack after attack against your enemies. If you have a decent AC, you can even reduce most of the damage you might take in a turn by using your reaction to give yourself resistance to an attack that gets through your armor. This subclass works best in a planar campaign, but it will still be plenty of fun anywhere.
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