Pathfinder - The Ranger Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The Ranger is a nature-powered, highly skilled martial character. The Ranger's combat tactics are primarily defined by their choice of Combat Style, and Rangers can work with a wide variety of combat styles. In addition to Defender/Striker roles common to martial characters, Rangers can serve as extremely effective Scouts.
Ranger Class Features
Hit Points: d10 hit points is standard for martial classes.
Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.
Saves: Good Fortitude and Reflex saves, and with enough Wisdom to fuel the Ranger's spells, .
Proficiencies: Medium armor, shields, and martial weapons.
Skills: 6+ skill ranks and several good skill options.
Favored Enemy (Ex): Situational. The bonuses are nice, but it's difficult to predict what you will be fighting in most campaigns. My best guess is to take Humanoid (Human), Monstrous humanoid, Undead, then some combination of Outsiders based on your alignment.
Track (Ex): Very situational.
Wild Empathy (Ex): Very situational, and it's the only thing that Druids have which needs Charisma. It's situational, the bonuses are mediocre, and encourages stupid things like the Ranger who refuses to leave the forest while the rest of the party is adventuring.
Combat Style Feat (Ex): Ranger Combat Styles are one of the Ranger's two best abilities, and your choice of Combat Style has a huge effect on your effectiveness in combat. For help with Combat Styles, see my Ranger Combat Style Breakdown.
Endurance: Worthless on its own, but it can open up some more interesting feats.
Favored Terrain (Ex): This is easily one of my least favorite abilities in Pathfinder. Fortunately, there are tons of wonderful Ranger archetypes that trade it in for something better. Honestly if my GM said he would give me 10gp for this ability, I would take it, get my character drunk, and consider it a good trade. Every time I see an archetype that adds this ability to some other class I have to stop myself from punching my monitor.
Hunter's Bond (Ex): The hunting companion version is garbage. Ignore it. Get an animal companion. Even with the limited options available to the Ranger, the Animal Companion version is still miles better. For help with Animal Companions, see my Practical Guide to Animal Companions.
Spells: Rangers are 1/2 casters, and get very few spells per day from a limited spell list. However, they get a lot of exclusive spells including great options like Longstrider and Spirit Bow.
Woodland Stride (Ex): Very situational.
Swift Tracker (Ex): Very situational.
Evasion (Ex): Fantastic at any level.
Quarry (Ex): This would be great if it didn't require you to target a favored enemy.
Camouflage (Ex): A limited version of Hide in Plain Sight. I still hate Favored Terrain, and this doesn't fix it.
Improved Evasion (Ex): A great improvement on Evasion.
Hide in Plain Sight (Ex): Fantastic for a Scout.
Improved Quarry (Ex): Dramatic improvement to Quarry, but you still need to use it on a Favored Enemy.
Master Hunter (Ex): Suddenly you get a save or die effect. The DC won't be fantastic, but 20+wisdom is still decent.
In only medium armor, the Ranger's abilities often resemble the Barbarian more closely than the Fighter. Despite needing Wisdom for their spells, the Ranger barely needs more Wisdom than other martial characters do to offset their bad Will saves. Keep in mind that your abilities depend heavily on your build decisions, and this guide will only make a rough estimate of what should work.
Str: Essential for any ranger build, including archery Rangers, though archer builds will need less than melee builds.
Dex: Essential for any ranger build, though archery Rangers will need considerably more. Even if you plan to use Two-Weapon Fighting, the Ranger gets to take bonus feats without meeting their pre-requisites, so you can easily drop Dexterity to 12 and take Heavy Armor Proficiency.
Con: Essential for hit points and Fortitude saves.
Int: Only needed for skill ranks, but more skill ranks are always welcome on a highly skilled class like the Ranger.
Wis: 14 Wisdom is enough to get access to all of the Ranger's spells, and if you need additional spells slots you can buy pearls of power.
Cha: Dump to 7.
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The Ranger works for a variety of builds, so it woriks for a variety of races.
Dwarf: Bonuses to Wisdom and Constitution both help to rearrange the Ranger's abilities to focus on offense, and the Dwarf's racial abilities make the Ranger very durable. Darkvision is particularly nice on a Scout because you can sneak around without a light source. Slow and Steady is especially nice if you want to pick up Heavy Armor Proficiency. The Dwarf favored class bonus is garbage.
Elf: Bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence are nice for archery Rangers and highly skilled Rangers, and the Elf's bonus to perception is helpful for Scouts. The Elf favored class bonus is bad.
Gnome: The Gnome offers nothing useful to the Ranger. The Gnome's favored class bonus is tempting, but by the time the DR builds up to anything significant most enemies will be able to overcome DR/magic.
Half-Elf: The Half-Elf offers a lot of great options, and works for a variety of builds, especially if you look at alternate racial traits. Unfortunately the Half-Elf favored class bonus is bad, and the Elf and Human bonuses aren't much better.
Half-Orc: Viable, but not quite as useful as the Half-Elf. The Half-Orc favored class bonus adds hit points to your animal companion, which can be nice if your companion is Defender.
Halfling: Your best bet for small Rangers, the bonus to Dexterity is great for archery Rangers, and the Halfling is naturally good at stealth. Don't be tempted by the Halfling's favored class bonus; favored enemy is terrible and anything related to it is terrible by association.
Human: Always fantastic, the Human's bonus feat helps get your build off the ground, and the bonus skill rank supplements the Ranger's already good skills. The Human favored class bonus allows you to grant skill ranks or hit points to your Animal Companion, but Animal Companions are rarely good at skills.
- Magical Knack (Magic): +2 caster level adds hours to your buffs. Nearly every ranger should take this.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Helpful for training and handling your animal companion, but you likely won't need to maximize it.
- Heal (Wis): An excellent supplement to magical healing, but someone with more Wisdom, like a Cleric or Druid, will have more effect.
- Intimidate (Cha): The Ranger is not a Face.
- Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Knowledge (geography) (Int): Situational, and depends heavily on your campaign.
- Knowledge (nature) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
- Ride (Dex): Only useful for mounted combat Rangers.
- Spellcraft (Int): Situational, and Paladins aren't particularly suited to do anything with the information which they could gain.
- Stealth (Dex): Essential for Scouts.
- Survival (Wis): Situational, and you get a class bonus to track things.
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
This section does not cover feats related to Animal Companions. For help with those feats, see my Practical Guide to Animal Companions. Other feats depend heavily on the Ranger's choice of combat style, so it's difficult to predict what sort of feats will work for all Rangers.
Your choice of weapon depends entirely on your combat style.
Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order. Magic armor is covered below in the Magic Items section.
- Studded Leather: Starting armor for archery Rangers
- Hide: Starting armor for melee Rangers.
- Buckler: Essential for archery Rangers.
- Mithral Shirt: Mithral Shirt will be your best bet for AC until your Dexterity bonus hits +10, which will be extremely high level. Likely permanent armor for archery Rangers.
- Breastplate: Permanent armor for melee Rangers.
This section won't address every spell on your spell list, but it will point out some especially notable options. For a complete list of spells, see the SRD Spell Index.
- Bowstaff: If you're built for archery but haven't picked up Point Blank Master, this is a passable fallback. You'll be able to make attacks of opportunity and you should be able to easily switch between ranged and melee attacks with your bowstaff, which might be a useful gimmick.
- Deadeye's Lore: I've been in many games which required tracking once in a while, and in many of those cases my party has needed to track enemies for days at a time. In those cases, break out Deadeye's Lore. The bonus is Sacred, so it will stack with basically anything else you can get, and at hours/level duration you'll get plenty of mileage out of casting the spell once or twice.
- Longstrider: Useful at any level, 10 feet of extra movement can be immensely useful. With hours/level duration you can easily use it while traveling long distances, but it's also great for melee rangers to get into melee quickly. If you have allies in armor which is slowing them down, longstrider can easily bring them back up to normal movement speed.
- Magic Fang: Hours/level duration. Put it on your animal companion.
- Resist Energy: Rangers get Resist Energy a spell level lower than any other spellcaster. Even if you don't cast it yourself, it makes wands and scrolls of Resist Energy considerably less expensive.
- Allfood: This is a really strange spell, and it's exclusive to the Ranger spell list for some reason. The obvious use it to create food where you otherwise can't find any, but that overlooks the spells true utility: turning an impassible obstacle into and edible. Locked door? Food. Pile of rocks? Food. Evidence of a crime? Food! The only remaining issue becomes consuming several pounds of food, but conveniently you have an animal companion who can probably consume a great deal more food at a time than you can, not to mention the combined efforts of your entire party's stomachs.
- Arrow Eruption: If you're fighting a group of enemies, this may get you more attacks than you could make with a full attack. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if the attack uses reduced BAB from iterative attacks, and in encounters where you're fighting a horde of foes they may not conveniently linger in the 30-foot radius burst of the spell's area.
- Barkskin: One of the most useful AC buffs in the game because it's stacks with nearly every other player-accessible AC buff except an amulet of natural armor.
- Protection from Energy: Like Resist Energy, rangers get Protection from Energy a spell level lower than other casters. However, the difference in caster level negates the cost savings for scrolls and wands.
- Spike Growth: An excellent area control effect, which isn't easy to find on the Ranger spell list. With hours/level duration it's easy to use this to lock down a large area for an extended period of time.
- Burrow: Burrow speeds are amazing for a variety of reasons. You're nearly indetectible while burrowing, and you can easily bypass all manner of natural and manufactured obstacles in a wide variety of environments.
- Burst of Speed: Not always useful, but this can get you into or out of melee in a hurry in an otherwise problematic situation.
- Darkvision: A fantastic spell, especially at hours/level duration, but you get it a spell level later than other spellcasters. If you think you're going to need this ask other spellcasters to handle it.
- Instant Enemy: Swift action, no saving throw. Favored Enemy provides a hefty bonus, but it's extremely situational. With this spell you can comfortably invest in a single type of favored enemy and turn the bonus upon any foe which is threatening enough to justify the spell slot.
- Strong Jaw: Depending on your choice of animal companion this may be a huge damage increase. Animals which depend on large single attacks like the Tyranosaurus can get a lot of mileage out of this, especially if you combine the effect with Vital Strike.
- Thorny Entanglement: One of my favorite area control spells. Enemies in the area take automatic damage with no save. Throw it into a room and close the door.
4th-level ranger spells are really disappointing. You have a tiny pool of options, and almost none of them are notably better than your 3rd-level spell options.
- Animal Growth: Combine this with Strong Jaw and your animal companion is attacking as though it were three sizes larger. Add Improved Natural Weapon, and it's four, totaling 8d6 damage per attack. Unfortunately the duration is only minutes per level so you may want to reserve this for major fights where you have time to buff yourself beforehand.
- Blessing of the Salamander: Fast healing and fire resistance. Great if you're about to fight creatures that deal fire damage like dragons and such.
- Bow Spirit: Tempting, but remember that it doesn't use your actual bow, but it does use your ammunition. It benefits from any feats you have, but it's not clear if it can use Deadly Aim. Personally I think spending that standard action to attack will be more useful than casting this spell in nearly every case.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
- Metamagic (Any): Metamagic rods in Pathfinder are cheap, and since your spellcasting only goes up to 4th-level you can cover nearly all of your spells with less rods. If your party has dedicated spellcasters that used lesser metamagic rods at low levels, you may be able to buy them off of your allies at a significant discount. For help with metamagic options, check my Practical Guide to Metamagic.
- Boots of Friendly Terrain: At just 1200gp, this is a wonderful solution to the Favored Terrain issue. The bonus is fixed at +2, but that's fine. If you depend heavily on being in your favored terrain, pick up several pairs and change shoes every time you enter new terrain.
- Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial to forgo.
- Pearl of Power: Rangers have some excellent spells but terribly few spell slots. By the time you can cast spells of a given level you can easily afford pearls of power to expand your spellcasting.