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Pathfinder - Ranger Archetypes Breakdown

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. 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.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Archetypes

The Ranger is a very versatile class. Based on your combat style and skill selection, the ranger can serve as a tank, a scout, a striker, and a librarian to some degree. How you function in combat is defined largely by your combat style, but how you function as a character is more broadly defined by your archetype.

See also: Ranger Combat Style Breakdown.

Battle Scout

Remember how boring Favored Terrain is? This is a whole archetype specifically focus on Favored Terrain. Basically, pick the worst parts of vanilla Range and just use those.

Hunter's Bond (Ex): Off to a fantastic start, you are forced to take the worse option from Hunter's Bond.

Advantageous Terrain (Ex): If you have 3 rounds to burn before every combat (you probably don't), this can provide some small situational benefits to your party. Unless you spend a lot of time ambushing enemies, this won't see a lot of use.

Infiltration (Ex): Finally you can do something interesting in something that isn't your favored terrain.

Superior Tactics (Ex): Why would you ever need to rearrange your allie's initiatives? They can just delay until they're in the right spot in the initiative order.

Perfect Advantage (Ex): No you only have to waste a standard action to use Advantageous Terrain. The bonuses don't get any better.

Replaced Features: Favored Enemy (2nd, 3rd, 4th), Hunter's Bond, Master Hunter

Compatible Archetypes: Deep Walker, Infiltrator, Urban Ranger

Beastmaster

The Beastmaster trades in some of the normal Ranger coolness for a very slightly better animal companion and a slightly different skill list. Unless you have a very specific concept in mind which requires you to have more than one animal companion, you may not even notice that you took this archetype until you realize you missed a bonus feat slot at 6th level. If you really like animal companions, play a druid.

Class Skills: The Beastmaster adds Acrobatics and Escape Artist, but loses Knowledge (Dungeoneering), Knowledge (Geography), Profession, and Spellcraft. The added skills don't contribute much to your character concept, and the loss of the Knowledge (Dungeoneering) hurts because it covers a fairly large number of monsters.

Animal Companion (Ex): This opens up the full animal companion list for rangers, which is nice since they get a fairly limited list by default. However, despite being the core component of the archetype, you still start with your animal companion 3 levels behind a druid. The handicap doesn't go away until level 12. You can also split your effective druid levels to have multiple animal companions. Of course, this will mean that you have several progressively worse animal companions.

Improved Empathic Link (Su): Seeing through your animal companion's eyes is nice, or you could just have someone cast Clairvoyance. You also give up your 6th level combat feat.

Strong Bond (Ex): And finally at level 12, your animal companions catch up to the druid. Of course, at level 12 the druid has 6th level spells and can do all sorts of exciting things, like animating a Trant for days per caster level which could likely slaughter your animal companion(s).

Replaced Features: Class Skills, Combat Style (6th), Hunter's Bond, Camouflage

Compatible Archetypes: Infiltrator

Firearms for rangers get to be an archetype instead of a combat style. You give up some useful abilities for some very boring ones in exchange for the raw power of firearms, but if you really want to use a gun as a ranger, this is definitely the way to do it.

Improved Tracking (Ex): I would let a player do this as a Survival check without an ability.

Firearm Style: Basically combat style feats for firearms. Firearms can be very powerful, especially if the DM allows better than early firearms.

Hunter's Aim (Ex): Very few combats take place at long enough range for this to matter. If you need this ability often, the Long Shot feat would be just as effective.

Replaced Features: Wild Empathy, Combat Style, Hunter's Bond

Compatible Archetypes: Deep Walker, Infiltrator, Urban Ranger

Deep Walker

If your game is underground, or involves a lot of dungeons, this archetype is pretty great. You sacrifice the Favored Terrain nonsense for a superior version which only works when underground, but otherwise you're just a basement-themed ranger.

Deep Knowledge (Ex): If you're underground a lot, or if you are playing a subterranean or dungeon-centric campaign, this ability shoots right up to blue.

Rock Hopper (Ex): This won't come up much, but it's nice to have once in a while.

Deep Walker Camouflage (Ex): Camouflage underground.

One with the Stone (Ex): I don't know why they felt the need to give you a slightly weaker version of Hide in Plain Sight, but I gues they needed to compensate for Deep Knowledge somewhere.

Replaced Features: Favored Terrain, Woodland Stride, Camouflage, Hide in Plain Sight

Compatible Archetypes: Battle Scout, Falconer, Guide, Trophy Hunter, Warden, Wild Stalker

Divine Tracker

The Divine Tracker trades Hunter's Bond for two Warpriest Blessings. Warpriest Blessings include a lot of really fantastic options which can work very well for a Ranger.

Alignment: This shouldn't be a problem.

Favored Weapon: Deities' favored weapons are almost exclusively martial weapons, and Rangers are already proficient with martial weapons.

Blessings (Su): Many Warpriest blessings can be used as swift actions so they won't cut into your full attacks, and many of them provide excellent buffs. For help selecting Warpriest Blessings, see my Warpriest Blessings Breakdown.

Replaced Features: Hunter's Bond

Compatible Archetypes: Deep Walker, Infiltrator, Shapeshifter, Skirmisher, Trapper, Urban Ranger

Falconer

The bird option isn't a great animal companion, and this archetype centers around it. You get some new tricks which let your bird inflict some nice status conditions, but the archetype costs a combat style feat, which is a very high price to pay for a couple of animal tricks.

Feathered Companion (Ex): You get your animal companion three levels early, but at half hit points. You also get to pick one of two free tricks.

Hunter's Bond (Ex): You pick the bird animal companion. The bird is acceptable, but not particularly powerful.

Swoop for the Kill (Ex): You have to give up your 6th level style feat, which hurts, but inflicting the staggered condition with no save is a pretty good trick..

Replaced Features: Wild Empathy, Combat Style (6th), Hunter's Bond

Compatible Archetypes: Deep Walker, Infiltrator, Shapeshifter, Urban Ranger

Guide

Picking this archetype is simple: If you don't want another specific archetype, choose between Favored Enemy and Ranger's Focus. If you can reliably use Favored Enemy in your campaign, stick with vanilla Ranger. Otherwise, take the Guide archetype. Guide does give up a bit of Ranger's stealthiness, but you should be able to get by just fine with decent dexterity and ranks in Stealth. Since you don't get Sneak Attack, Hide in Plain Sight is far less important.

Ranger's Focus (Ex): Ranger's Focus is more versatile than Favored Enemy, and you can apply it to anything you fight. The bonus scales less quickly than Favored Enemy, but the simple utility of using it on anything is really fantastic. In any game where you are fighting a wide variety of enemies, this is a realyly great option. You lose the ability to share it with your allies via Hunter's Bond, but honestly I don't think any ever did that anyway. The uses per day are fairly limited, so use it for major enemies until you have extra daily uses to spare.

Terrain Bond (Ex): Favored Terrain isn't one of the better ranger abilities, and sharing the +2 bonuses with your allies probably isn't going to have a huge impact.

Ranger's Luck (Ex): Rerolls are always nice, and you get to use this multiple times per day as you level. Forcing enemies to reroll is also nice, as it effectively makes you resistant to critical hits..

Inspired Moment (Ex): Sometimes you need some extra movement in a turn. Maybe you need to move into range to full attack with your falcatas. Then maybe you want to auto-confirm those critical hits.

Improved Ranger's Luck (Ex): Luck bonuses are very rare, and a stunning +4 bonus on your rerolls is going to have a huge impact.

Replaced Features: Favored Enemy, Hunter's Bond, Evasion, Quarry, Improved Evasion, Improved Quarry

Compatible Archetypes: Deep Walker, Infiltrator, Shapeshifter, Urban Ranger

Hooded Champion

The Hooded Champion meshes the Swashbuckler's Panache ability with the Ranger's Archery Combat Style to create a lackluster class with a dependency on every ability score.

Panache (Ex): The Panache Pool fuels your Deeds. While Deeds are fun, the Panache pool introduces a dependency on Charisma to a class which is already very MAD.

Deeds: You don't get a lot of deeds, and both Derring-Do and Kip Up are poor. You get a few more deeds as you gain levels, but you don't get any offensive options except Dead Aim.

Combat Style: Archery is one of the best Ranger Combat Styles.

Replaced Features: Favored Enemy (1st), Wild Empathy, Endurance, Evasion, Improved Evasion

Compatible Archetypes: Battle Scout, Beastmaster, Deep Walker, Divine Tracker, Horse Lord, Infiltrator, Shapeshifter, Skirmisher, Spirit Ranger, Trapper

Horse Lord

Mounted Combat Style: The Archetype. If you want to be a mounted ranger, this archetype is basically a given. You give up some stealth abilities at higher levels in exchange for a slightly better horse. Granted, you won't do any sneaking while on horseback so you're getting more from this archetype than you would from vanilla Ranger.

Combat Style Feat (Ex): You have to pick the Mounter Combat style, which makes sense for a horse lord.

Mounted Bond (Ex): Animal Companion, but you have to pick something you can ride. Again, makes sense for a horse lord.

Strong Bond (Ex): You lose camouflage to get a sligthly better mount. I can't imagine you were doing a lot of sneaking on a horse, so it's no great loss.

Spiritual Bond (Su): Grant your mount temporary hit points and take damage for them. If you're fighting mounted, having a living mount is very important, so this can be very useful.

Replaced Features: Combat Style, Hunter's Bond, Camouflage, Hide in Plain Sight

Compatible Archetypes: Infiltrator

Infiltrator

Rangers are stealth characters, and some of the biggest problems for stealth characters are vision and movement limitations. Sneaking around in the dark is very hard without low-light vision or darkvision, and climbing walls and swimming can be done much better with a swim speed. Normally you can cast spells to overcome these hurdles, but the Ranger's spell slots are very limited, and there are many more exciting options on the Ranger's spell list. The Infiltrator handles these issues by duplicating characteristics of his favored enemies. Depending on your favored enemy selections, you can have a fantastic array of potential adaptations available.

Adaptation (Ex): Infiltrators give up favored terrain, which is situational and not very exciting, to get Adaptation, which is adaptable, versatile, and very exciting. The effectiveness of this ability depends heavily on which favored enemies you select, but keep in mind that your adaptation selections do not need to reflect how much you increase your favored enemy bonus for a given enemy. Many creature types can only justify taking the favored enemy once (+2 bonus), then taking the adaptations repeatedly. Keep in mind that you can only select a total of 7 apatations over the course of your career, so choose wisely.

Replaced Features: Favored Terrain

Compatible Archetypes: Battle Scout, Beast Master, Falconer, Guide, Horse Lord, Spirit Ranger, Trophy Hunter, Warden, Wild Stalker

Shapeshifter

I really wanted this to be a good archetype for the Natural Weapon combat style, but it falls horribly short of even that modest goal. You trade in some of the Ranger's less interesting abilities for the ability to partially shapeshift a very small number of times per day for very short durations. The shapeshifting provides very modest bonuses to your stats, but the uses are so limited that you can't rely on shapeshifting as a major part of your character's tactics.

Combat Style Feat (Ex): You must select the Natural Weapon style, which is only good if you already have natural weapons.

Shifter's Blessing (Su): The duration is horrible short, and the number of uses is pathetic. At 18th level, you get the maximum of 4 uses of Shifter's Blessing. Despite such limited uses, the bonuses are incredibly small.

Dual Form Shifter (Ex): Merge Bear and Dragon, be a dragon-bear, and get +4 strength and +2 natural armor. Proceed to wave your claws about.

Master Shifter (Su): A little late to the game, your shifer's blessing forms become considerably better. Be a better dragon-bear, and fly around with +4 natural armor and +8 strength.

Replaced Features: Combat Style, Favored Terrain, Camouflage, Master Hunter

Compatible Archetypes: Falconer, Guide

Skirmisher

Skirmishers give up their spells for "Ranger Tricks". With no dependency on spells, this drastically reduces your reliance on Wisdom, removing the need to hunt for that 14 wisdom to get 4th-level ranger spells. However, you do give up the ability to use spell trigger and spell completion items, so you can't use wands of cure light wounds when your cleric falls over.

Hunter's Tricks: Many of the tricks are actually very useful. You need to be careful with how you use them, as your uses are fairly limited, and you only get to learn a few tricks.

Replaced Features: Spells

Compatible Archetypes: All but Trapper

Spirit Ranger

Instead of forming a bond with your companions or an animal, you form a bond with the DM by casting Augury and eventually Divination. Basically, you give up a super cool pet for the ability to cast two spells which the Cleric has had for several levels before you.

Spirit Bond (Ex): You give up Animal Companion, which is pretty great, for the ability to cast one second level cleric spell while in your favored terrain.

Wisdom of the Spirits (Sp): Ooh, now you can cast on fourth level cleric spell instead. Aren't you special. Of course, the cleric has been doing this for 5 levels now.

Replaced Features: Hunter's Bond, Camouflage

Compatible Archetypes: Infiltrator

Trapper

The Trapper features some overlap with the Urban Ranger, but only in the area of Trapfinding. The rest of the archetype involves replacing the Ranger's spells with Traps. The traps are flashy and have some cool effects, but very little can compete with a real spell list. As more supplements come out, the Ranger's spell options continue to grow and improve, but the Traps list stays static and fairly boring.

Class Skills: Disable Device is a great skill, expecially if you choose a combat type which requires high dexterity.

Trapfinding: Situational, but very good in games which involve traps.

Trap: Ranger Traps are a cool mechanic, and have some excellent options, but will never be able to keep up with the gradually expanding Ranger spell list.

Launch Trap: This adds a lot of versatility to Ranger Traps, and turns you into a Hawkeye/Green Arrow-esque archer.

Replaced Features: Spells

Compatible Archetypes: All but Skirmisher

Trophy Hunter

Urban Ranger

Sometimes you can't choose between playing a ranger and playing a rogue. In those times, the Urban Ranger is a somewhat mediocre compromise. Aside from the trapfinding ability, you don't really get anything exciting. You could very easily get the parts of this archetype that you want by taking traits to get you Disable Device and Knowledge (Local).

Urban Ranger: You get Disable Device and Knowledge (Local) in exchange for Handle Animal and Knowledge (Nature).

Favored Community (Ex): Favored community is somehow worse than Favored Terrain. You could just choose "Urban" as your favorite terrain for the same effect in every ocmmunity.

Trapfinding (Ex): Suddenly you can keep up with the Rogue on finding and disabling traps.

Push Through (Ex): When have you ever been in a fight where the crowd of peasants didn't immediately flee in terror?.

Blend In (Ex): Hide among the peasantry.

Invisibility Trick (Sp): Technically better than Hide in Plain Sight, but you can only use it a few times per day.

Replaced Features: Class Skills, Favored Terrain, Endurance, Woodland Stride, Camouflage, Hide in Plain Sight

Compatible Archetypes: Battle Scout, Falconer, Guide, Trophy Hunter, Warden, Wild Stalker

Warden

Not content to let Battle Scout hob all of the Favored Terrain love, the Warden drops basically all of the best Ranger abilities to focus on your favored terrain. This archetype wins the award for "Worst Ranger Archetype".

Master of Terrain (Ex): You get slightly more favored terrains thans a normal ranger, which is nice because you will actually be able to travel with the rest of your party.

Live in Comfort (Ex): You give up Combat Style for this, and all you get is to take 20 on Survival, which typically has very low DCs.

Terrain Bond (Ex): Share the favored terrain bonuses with your allies. Without wasting three turns like a Battle Scout.

Able Explorer (Ex): Guranteed rerolls are really nice, but the listed skills are going to see very infrequent use.

Wilderness Whispers (Su): Go first every time. This would be really nice if you had favored enemy or a combat style so that you could do some damage in the first round.

Replaced Features: Favored Enemy, Combat Style, Hunter's Bond

Compatible Archetypes: Deep Walker, Infiltrator, Urban Ranger

Wild Hunter

The Wild Hunter gives up Favored Enemy (which is terrible) for Animal Focus (which is fantastic). Animal Focus is versatile, effective, and easy to use.

Animal Focus (Su): Animal Focus is a fantastic buff ability with a lot of very versatile options, all of which scale very well as you level. Because you can use this as a swift action, it's easy to activate during combat without cutting into your full attack. Unfortunately, you never gain the ability to use multiple Animal Aspects at the same time.

Shared Focus (Su): Buffing your animal companion is fantastic. The option to buff one of your allies if you selected the Hunting Companions option for Hunter's Bond is a trap. Not only is the Hunting Companions option bad on a normal Ranger, you no longer have Favored Enemy with which to specify a target.

Replaced Features: Favored Enemy, Swift Tracker, Woodland Stride

Compatible Archetypes: Beastmaster, Deep Walker, Divine Tracker, Falconer, Horse Lord, Infiltrator, Shapeshifter, Skirmisher, Spirit Ranger, Trapper, Trophy Hunter

Wild Stalker

Sometimes you can't decide whether you want to play a Barbarian or a Ranger. In those cases, play the Wild Stalker. You trade in the best of the Ranger's class abilities for some Barbarian abilities, including Rage. If you want to play a two-handed weapon Ranger, this is a fairly good option. You lose the combat style feats, but two-handed weapons generally don't require a lot of feats. Also keep in mind that you lack the Barbarian's d12 hit points, which can make rage a very dangerous option for you.

Strong Senses (Ex): Low-light vision can be very nice if you don't get it as a racial feature. The scaling Perception bonus is also helpful.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Since your perception is likely fantastic, you probably won't be surprised very often, which reduces the utility of Uncanny Dodge.

Rage of the Wild (Ex): Rage as a barbarian. Keep in mind that you still take the rage penalty to AC, and you don't have d12 hit points to back up your lousy defenses.

Rage Powers: If you're going to rage, you're going to want rage powers. You get them considerably slower than a real barbarian, but this is still pretty nice.

Wild Talents (Ex): The text appears to have an error here. You should get a "Wild Talent" at level 6, 11, and 16, but the text says that you max out at 4 wild talents at level 20. Basically, you can choose a permanent +2 bonus to some skills, or you can pick a rage power. Pick the rage power.

Replaced Features: Favored Enemy, Combat Style Feat, Hunter's Bond

Compatible Archetypes: Deep Walker, Infiltrator, Urban Ranger