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DnD 5e - The Ranger Handbook

Last Updated: April 22nd, 2019

Disclaimer

I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • 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.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

Temporary Note: I am currently waiting to include content from the Wayfarer's Guide to Eberron. According to Dragontalk (the official D&D podcast), it's in a semi-finished state and is still subject to change, which could mean that character options in the book will see major changes before final publication. Once the book is complete, physical copies will be released and I will update to address the new content.

Introduction

The Ranger is an interesting mix of Druid-style spellcasting, Fighter-style combat capabilities, and Rogue-style skills. The Ranger can fill the role of either a Fighter-equivalent or a Rogue-equivalent (sometimes both), and works well as a Scout and Striker, but can't match the Fighter's capacity as a Defender.

Ranger Class Features

Hit Points: Standard for martial characters, d10 hit points gives you plenty of hp to get through the day..

Saves: Dexterity saves almost exclusively prevent partial damage from AOE effects, and Strength saves are relatively rare.

Proficiencies: Medium armor, shields, and martial weapons are great, but without heavy armor almost every Ranger will go for a Dexterity-based build. Rangers also get three skills, which is unusually high, but since Rangers fall somewhere between a Fighter-equivalent and Rogue-equivalent, it makes sense that they get an extra skill.

Favored Enemy: Situational by nature, and the bonuses you gain against the subject are really minor. The big bonuses come later from features like Foe Slayer.

  • Aberrations: One of the more numerous creature types, but very few have a CR above 10.
  • Beasts: Beasts are common at low levels, but very few beasts have a CR above 5 so you'll stop facing them early in your career.
  • Celestiais: Like Fiends, but only select this in an evil campaign.
  • Constructs: There aren't a lot of constructs in the Monster Manual, and they don't appear frequently because they're hard to shoe-horn into many adventures. Plus, how often do you need to track a golem which was created to guard a room?
  • Dragons: Dragons are a tempting option because they're so iconic and scary, but they're also a bad option because there are so few of them.
  • Elementals: There are very few elemental creatures which frequent appearances as enemies.
  • Fey: There are almost no Fey in the Monster Manual, and their CRs are all very low.
  • Fiends: A great option, especially in an all-good campaign. Fiends are numerous, and run the whole CR range.
  • Giants: There aren't a ton of giants, and their highest CR is 13.
  • Monstrosities: There are a lot great mosnters which qualify as "Monstrosities", but very vew of them have a CR above 11.
  • Oozes: There are almost no oozes in the Monster Manual.
  • Plants: There are very few plant monsters in the game.
  • Undead: Iconic, numerous, and consisting of a long list of enemies running the whole CR range. Undead pop up in many campaigns, even those where undead aren't a major them, so they're a good, reliable option.
  • Humanoid: Humanoids are hard to pin down. Depending on your campaign, you may face a huge number of humanoids or you may face absolutely none. Only select humanoids if you know that you're going to face them. Since you get to pick two types of humanoids, I recommend Humans and another race which is prominent in the campaign's setting.

Natural Explorer: You get three choices over the course of your career, so hopefully your campaign doesn't involve a huge amount of traveling. The bonuses are fairly small, but fit the flavor the class.

Fighting Style: Rangers get a subset of the Fighting Styles available to Fighters, but the ones they get offer plenty of options. Unlike Fighters, Rangers only get one Fighting Style so it's important to pick one that fits your build sincey you won't get to pick a supplemental style.

  • ArcheryPHB: The obvious choice for ranged builds. +2 to hit is a big deal in a game where a 20th-level character can expect a maximum of +11 to hit.
  • DefensePHB: AC boosts are great, but Rangers are a Strikers at heart and you need a Fighting Style which boosts your damage output. Of course, Beast Master Rangers may prefer to rely more heavily on their companion for offense, so a boost to AC can allow you to protect yourself while your companion does the work.
  • DuelingPHB: Note that this works while using a shield. 2 damage closes the damage gap between a longsword and a two-handed weapon (4.5->6.5 vs. 6.5/7). However, with no way to attack as a bonus action you'll lag behin Two-Weapon fighting rangers or rangers with Crossbow Mastery.
  • Two-Weapon FightingPHB: One of the biggest issues with two-weapon fighting is that you don't get to add your ability modifier to your off-hand attack without this fighting style, and taking this style makes it considerably more viable. Unlike a Fighter, TWF is a perfectly viable option for Rangers. Hunter's Mark adds a small but notable damage boost which closes the damage gap between greatswords and short swords, making TWF highly effective for Rangers.

Spellcasting: Rangers have a really interesting spell list with a lot of unique options exclusive to the Ranger. However, nearly every spell on the list uses Concentration, so it's really hard to use more than one spell at a time.

Ranger Archetype: See "Subclasses - Ranger Archetypes", below.

Primeval Awareness: Situational, and not terribly useful since you can't pinpoint the creatures' locations in the 6 mile radius.

Extra Attack: You're no Fighter, but two attacks is still a considerable boost to your damage output.

Land's Stride: Difficult terrain is very frustrating for melee characters, so this will give you a big advantage in some fights.

Hide in Plain Sight: You don't get to move while using this, but it's very effective.

Vanish: Very helpful for sniping, but not as important for Rangers as Cunning Action is for Rogues since you don't get Sneak Attack. Also note that it doesn't work with Hide in Plain Sight.

Feral Sense: Invisible creatures are hugely problematic, and even knowing what square they are in is a big advantage. Being able to locate and attack them without penalty is a massive bonus.

Foe Slayer: This is at most a +5, but a +5 to an attack roll can be a huge bonus in a game where +11 is the normal maximum.

Subclasses - Ranger Archetypes

  • BeastmasterPHB: More mechanically complex than the Hunter, the Beastmaster emphasizes having a cool pet. The archetype faces several mechanical issues, the largest of which is the lack of viable companion options. Assuming you're fine with one of the handful of truly effective options, your companion can be an effective addition to the party. However, remember that your companion gets just 4 hit points per ranger level and will have a fairly low AC compared to yours, so your companion will require frequent healing and protection.
    • Ranger's Companion: Your choice of companion is as defining as your choice of Fighting Style. When selecting your companion, consider what you want it to do: Do you want a Scout, a Striker, or a Mount? Different options work better for different roles. Mounts are somewhat difficult since you're limited to Medium size. Since your companion is a buffed version of the base creature, you may notice that the better options tend to be CR 1/4.

      It's also important to note that many options are outright wasted because the Ranger's proficiency bonus doesn't add to the DC of the companion's abilities. This considerably limits the number of viable options, and excludes iconic and popular choices like the Mastiff and the Wolf. If your DM is nice, you may be able to convince them to let you add your proficiency bonus to ability DC's in addition to the other stats.

      There are some rulings on how ranger companions work addressed in the FAQ at the bottom of this document. Be sure to check the FAQ before selecting a companion.

      • BaboonMM: CR 0.
      • BadgerMM: CR 0.
      • BatMM: CR 0.
      • Blood HawkMM: The damage isn't great, but good flight, Keen Sight, and Pack Tactics all make the Blood Hawk a viable option. Proficiency in Perception makes the Blood Hawk a fantastic aerial Scout.
      • BoarMM: Passable at low levels, especially thanks to Charge, but won't scale well.
      • CatMM: CR 0.
      • CrabMM: CR 0.
      • Cranium RatVGtM: CR 0.
      • DeerMM: CR 0.
      • DimetrodonVGtM: Great bite damage and a swim speed, but that's all.
      • EagleMM: Blood Hawk and Pteranodon are strictly better.
      • Flying SnakeMM: Multiple movement types including good flight, Flyby, Blindsight, and impressive poison damage which doesn't allow a save. Continue to be amazing once you get Bestial Fury at 11th level.
      • FrogMM: CR 0.
      • Giant BadgerMM: Burrow speed, Darkvision, Keen Smell. According to the errata, giant badgers don't get multiattack until you get Bestial Fury at 11th level, which unfortunately means that the giant badger is limited to a single attack. They're still a decent option and they'll probably do more damage one a single attack than you will.
      • Giant CentipedeMM: Blindsight, a Climb speed, and poison with very solid damage, but the poison allows a save and the DC won't scale so you'll be less effective against creatures with good Constitution saves.
      • Giant CrabMM: The Giant Crab's big scary mechanic is grappling with its claws, but since it doesn't have proficiency in Athletics and your companion's abilities never increase the DC to resist the grapple never scales. Still, grappling a target on a hit means that you can reliably restrict the targets movement. While this won't matter for a great many creatures who are fine standing still and murdering your pet crab, it can be problematic for highly mobile creatures or creatures who don't like to be in melee. It still costs the target their action to escape the grapple, so if they want to get away from your crab you're still getting some of the benefits of your crab grappling.
      • Giant Fire BeetleMM: CR 0.
      • Giant FrogMM: This is an easy option to overlook. Bite not only grapples but restrains the target. Grappled is a great way to restrict enemies' movements, but Restrained also provides advantage on melee attacks against the target. Swallow adds an additional way to inhibit (and often kill) small creatures, many of which are bad at escaping grapples. Despite the low DC to escape the frog's grapple, it still costs the target their action to do so, which means that the target is wasting the bulk of their turn just offsetting the effects of your pet. In many encounters, that could be a fight-winning advantage. Once you get Bestial Fury at 11th level, remember that Swallow is a specific action, not a type of attack, so your frog can't bite something and swallow it on the same turn.
      • Giant Poisonous SnakeMM: Blindsight (though the range is tiny), poison with very solid damage, and a swim speed, but the poison allows a save and the DC won't scale so you'll be less effective against creatures with good Constitution saves.
      • Giant RatMM: Darkvision, Keen Smell, and Pack Tactics. Unfortunately the Giant Rat has no special movement types and its damage is bad.
      • Giant WeaselMM: Fast, Darkvision, and Keen Hearing and Smell. No special movement types and bad damage.
      • Giant Wolf SpiderMM: Very similar to the giant poisonous snake, but the giant wolf spider gains better speed and Spider Climb in exchange for 1d6 poison damage. I think it's a good trade, but it further compounds the issue of unreliable poison damage due to the saving throw.
      • GoatMM: CR 0.
      • HawkMM: Blood Hawk and Pteranodon are strictly better.
      • HyenaMM: CR 0, but pretty good for its CR thanks to Pack Tactics.
      • JackalMM: CR 0. Very similar to the Hyena, but it trades damage for Keen Hearing and Smell.
      • LizardMM: CR 0.
      • MastiffMM: Perception, Keen Hearing and Smell, and decent damage with a knockdown effect. Unfortunately the DC of the knockdown effect won't scale. It's a decent option on its own, but Wolf gets all of the same things with better numbers. If you really want a dog instead of a wolf, use the wolf stat block and call it a "wolf hound" or something.
      • MuleMM: The Pony is better unless you want your companion to pull a wagon.
      • OctopusMM: CR 0.
      • OwlMM: Cr 0. The abilities are tempting, especially since it's one of few flying options with Stealth proficiency, but Blood Hawk and Pteranodon are both so much more effective in combat that it will be hard to justify the Owl.
      • PantherMM: Perception, Stealth, a Climb speed, and Keen Smell. The Panther's damage is decent, but Pounce's knockdown DC won't scale.
      • Poisonous SnakeMM: The giant version is strictly better.
      • PonyMM: The best option for a mount, but at medium size it only works for Halflings.
      • PteranodonMM: Flight with good flight speed, 2d4+1 damage, and flyby allows your pteranodon to hit and run, allowing it to stay at a safe distance while still dealing considerable damage.
      • QuipperMM: CR 0.
      • RavenMM: CR 0.
      • ScorpionMM: CR 0.
      • Sea HorseMM: CR 0.
      • SpiderMM: CR 0.
      • StirgeMM: Darkvision and flight, and surprisingly good AC. Blood Drain looks very tempting, but since the Stire detaches after dealing 10 damage it will become less and less effective as your proficiency bonus increases.
      • VelociraptorVGtM: Tiny with decent damage and Pack Tactics. Unless you need a companion which will fit into small spaces, Wolf is considerably better.
      • VultureMM: Surprisingly good for CR 0, the Vulture offers Perception, Keen Sight and Smell, and Pack Tactics. Its damage won't match that of the Blood Hawk of Pteranodon, but it's not completely awful.
      • WeaselMM: CR 0.
      • WolfMM: Perception, Stealth, Keen Hearing and Smell, Pack Tactics, and really decent damage. Even though the knockdown effect won't scale, the Wolf is still a decent Scout and Striker, and once you get Bestial Fury at 11th level it can bite twice and hope to get lucky with the knockdown effect.
    • Exceptional Training: Sometimes it will be better for you to attack twice than to have you companion attack. On those occasions, givine your companion some extra movement might set them up to attack on the following round, or you can always have them Dodge while they draw fire.
    • Bestial Fury: This doesn't invalidate your ability to make a single weapon attack, so your beast gets two and you get one. If your beast has multiattack, they can now use multiattack instead of making two attacks, effectively doubling their damage output.
    • Share Spells: This is a fantastic way to share buff spells, especially those which require Concentration.
  • Gloom StalkerXGtE: Gloom Stalker is considerably more powerful than other ranger archetypes if they're played in campaigns which frequently enter dungeons, caves, the Underdark, or other dark places. Umbral Sight alone makes the Gloom Stalker a terrifying threat in a game where most of the monster manual is utterly incapable of combating invisibility.
    • Gloom Stalker Magic: Mostly situational options, but a couple fantastic options.
      • 3rd-Level: Situational.
      • 5th-Level: A fantastic way to rest safely, and normally exclusive to wizards.
      • 9th-Level: It's unlikely that you have sufficient Wisdom to make any spell which allows a saving throw reliable, so you'll want to save this for encounters with numerous weak foes.
      • 13th-Level: Amazing on any stealthy character.
      • 17th-Level: Situational, but very helpful when your party needs to go somewhere where the locals are unfriendly.
    • Dread Ambusher: The first round of combat is the most important. The bonus speed will help you get into position, especially if you're built for melee, but the real bonus is the extra attack. If you can get Hunter's Mark running before you attack you absolutely should.
    • Umbral Sight: Getting free Darkvision is fantastic on its own, but invisibility to Darkvision is absolutely crazy. Most creatures that will ambush you using Darkvision won't have a light source in their possession, so you functionally have Improved Invisibility. Even if an enemy finds a light source, if you extinguish it you're right back to invisibly murdering them.
    • Iron Mind: Additional saving throw proficiencies are always welcome.
    • Stalker's Fury: Not quite as powerful as an extra attack, but still extremely helpful.
    • Shadowy Dodge: It only works once per round because it consumes your Reaction, but that's often plenty.
  • Horizon WalkerXGtE: Not quite so stealthy as the Gloom Stalker, but no less effective. The Horizon walker gets a handful of abilities which help them travel between planes, but their main gimmick is teleporting around in combat and hitting stuff.
    • Horizon Walker Magic: Almost all excellent options.
      • 3rd-Level: An absolutely fantastic buff.
      • 5th-Level: Fantastic, especially if you're built for melee.
      • 9th-Level: One of the best buffs in the game, and it gets better the more allies you have. The extra attack also gives you another chance to apply the bonus damage from Planar Warrior.
      • 13th-Level: A wonderful spell, but you likely don't have the Wisdom to back it up with a decent spell DC.
      • 17th-Level: One of the safest and easiest ways to transport your entire party long distances.
    • Detect Portal: Situational. In most games this won't matter much, but in a plane-hopping campaign it could be extremely useful.
    • Planar Warrior: Since this consumes your Bonus Action, two-weapon fighting and other sources of bonus action attacks like Crossbow Mastery won't work. However, the benefits are still amazing. Bonus damage, and weapon damage on the affected attack is force damage (which is resisted by almost nothing). It only works once per turn, so you may be able to do more damage by investing in two-weapon fighting or taking Crossbow Mastery, but this is free, and it scales on its own at level 11.
    • Ethereal Step: One round is frequently all you need. Walk through walls or doors or slip past enemies (including those which have Blindsight or can see invisibility).
    • Distant Strike: The teleportation is on top of your normal movement. If you have two enemies to attack in a small enough area, you can teleport back and forth between the two while attacking. Be sure to caste Haste before you jump into combat. You still get the teleportation effect on every attack you make for the turn, so you can teleport and attack four times in a turn without using your bonus action.
    • Spectral Defense: You don't need to use this until you get hit, so if your AC is decent and you manage to avoid drawing too many attacks, this can prevent a ton of damage.
  • HunterPHB: While still perfectly viable, Hunters can't compete with the capabilities of the new subclasses presented in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. Despite mostly focusing on offensive options, the Hunter is arguably the most defensive ranger archetype, as it has the most options to directly prevent the Ranger from taking damage. Unfortunately it can't compete with the Gloom Stalker's capacity for stealth, or with the Horizon Walker's damage output.
    • Hunter's Prey: Much like your choice of Fighting Style, this is a definitivie part of how your Ranger fights.
      • Colossus Slayer: Always reliable and always effective, 1d8 damage for free each round is a nice boost (most creatures will take some amount of damage early in a fight). Generally the best bet for melee builds.
      • Giant Killer: A lot of enemies are Large or larger. This requires that the subject attack you, but if your AC is decent and you can handle being attacked a few times this can be an excellent way to get some extra damage output.
      • Horde Breaker: An absolute must for Archery builds because your range frequently encompasses the entire encounter. Melee builds will have trouble using this unless you have reach.
    • Defensive Tactics: All of the options are technically situational, but I would pick Multiattack Defense nine times out of ten.
      • Escape the Horde: Rangers are more durable than Rogues, so running away from enemies isn't something you typically need to do on a regular basis.
      • Multiattack Defense: Large single enemies frequently have multiple attacks, especially as you gain levels, so this boost to AC will occur frequently and will prevent a lot of damage.
      • Steel Will: Fear effects are infrequent and generally won't get you killed.
    • Multiattack: Both options are fantastic.
      • Volley: The obvious choice for archer builds.
      • Whirlwind Attack: Fencing builds will get the most out of this ability since their normal attacks deal higher damage than TWF builds. However, even TWF may find this ability helpful since they may still get the same number of attacks without consuming their Bonus Action.
    • Superior Hunter's Defense: Uncanny Dodge is clearly the best option here, but Evasion isn't terrible.
      • Evasion: With high Dexterity and proficiency in Dexterity saves, this makes you practically imune to AOE damage spells.
      • Stang Against the Tide: This ability is intended for Horde Breaker melee builds, but that's generally not a good build so this won't see a lot of use.
      • Uncanny Dodge: The majority of damage you will take in the game will come from attacks. Combined with Multiattack Defense, you can reduce the damage of the first hit, then dramatically reduce the likelihood of suffering further hits.
  • Monster SlayerXGtE: In some ways the Monster Slayer is a slightly better hunter. It functions very similarly, though it lacks the customization options.
    • Monster Slayer Magic: Most of the options are situational or difficult for you to use.
      • 3rd-Level: An excellent defensive buff.
      • 5th-Level: Situational.
      • 9th-Level: Situational.
      • 13th-Level: A wonderful spell, but you likely don't have the Wisdom to back it up with a decent spell DC.
      • 17th-Level: Great, but your spell DC is probably still mediocre.
    • Hunter's Sense: Great if you have time to observe the creature from hiding, but I would rarely waste an Action to do this during combat.
    • Slayer's Prey: As far as I can tell this stacks with Hunter's Mark. Both require Bonus Actions, so use this first, but against tough foes definitely consider using both.
    • Supernatural Defense: A bit unreliable, but still fantastic. Be sure to keep your Slayer's Prey focused on the most threatening creature in the encounter to make sure that this protects you as much as possible.
    • Magic-User's Nemesis: Not quite as good as being able to cast Counterspell, but it still might prevent an enemy from escaping or prevent them from casting a spell which would really ruin your day.
    • Slayer's Counter: This is absurdly good. You need to be really good at making attacks to be functional, so you can usually count on this to work. There's no limitation on its usage, so if you're fighting a spellcaster you might be able to get free attacks against them every round. However, you'll need to be able to reach the creature that created the effect, so you may want to stick to ranged weapons.

Abilities

Dexterity dominates the Ranger's abilities, but be sure to put points into Wisdom to support your spells..

Str: With light/medium armor you need Dexterity for AC. Since you have Dexterity for AC, you may as well use it for weapons. Since you're using Dexterity for weapons, you can dump Strength. The only exception is if you decide to use a polearm for some reason.

Dex: Dexterity fuels the majority of what the Ranger does.

Con: As a martial character rangers should expect to draw a lot of fire, so you need the hit points to handle it.

Int: A bit for Investigation and Nature might be nice, but you don't really need it.

Wis: Adds to spells and eventually to Foe Slayer.

Cha: Dump.

Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 8
  • Str: 10
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 13
  • Cha: 8

Races

Dexterity bonuses are crucial, and bonuses to Constitution and Wisdom are helpful.

AarakocraEEPC: Bonus Dexterity, Wisdom, and flight. A perfect archery ranger.

AasimarVGTM: Nothing useful for the ranger.

  • Fallen: Nothing useful for the ranger.
  • Protector: Nothing useful for the ranger.
  • Scourge: Nothing useful for the ranger.

BugbearVGTM: For a martial class limited to medium armor, the +1 Dexterity increase is probably enough to fill out your +2 Dexterity bonus to AC so you can focus on your Strength. Reach is nice, and you get Stealth proficiency for free, making it easier to keep up with other sneaky, skilled classes like the Rogue.

Dwarf: Nice and durable.

  • DuergarSCAG: Nothing useful for the Ranger.
  • HillPHB: A bit of Wisdom helps with your spells.
  • MountainPHB: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

DragonbornPHB: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

ElfPHB: Dexterity and free Perception proficiency.

  • Drow: Nothing useful for the Ranger beyond what you get from the base elf racial traits.
  • EladrinMToF: Unless you want the rider effects on Fey Step, Shadar-Kai is strictly better.
  • High Elf: Nothing useful for the Ranger beyond what you get from the base elf racial traits.
  • Sea ElfMToF: A great option in a game that involves a lot of water.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Dexterity and Constitution, coupled with a damage resistance and the ability to teleport are a fantastic combination for the Ranger, especially if you prefer melee combat.
  • Wood Elf: Bonus Wisdom and Mask of the Wild is fantastic for Rangers.

FirbolgVGTM: Decent ability increases and several excellent innate spellcasting options which fit the theme of the ranger very well.

GenasiEEPC: Bonus Constitution is always nice.

  • Air: A bit of Dexterity, and Levitate is nice for archers.
  • Earth: Nothing useful for the Ranger.
  • Fire: Nothing useful for the Ranger.
  • Water: Wisdom isn't as useful as Dexterity, but the Water Genasi's other abilities are much more interesting than the Air Genasi's.

Gith: Nothing useful for the ranger.

  • GithyankiMToF: Rangers nearly always build around Dexterity, so the Githyanki offers little beyond their psionics.
  • GithzeraiMToF: Ranger spellcasting is secondary to their other functios, so +2 Wisdom isn't appealing in the face of a lack of Dexterity increase.

Gnome: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: A bit of Dexterity and Stone Camouflage are tempting, but not enough to make this viable.
  • ForestPHB: A bit of Dexterity is nice, but not enough to justify the choice.
  • RockPHB: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

GoblinVGTM: Great ability increases, and Nimble Escape gives you the important parts of Cunnin Action.

HobgoblinVGTM: Nothing useful for the ranger.

GoliathEEPC: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

Half-Elf: The Charisma is totally wasted on the Ranger, but the other abilities are great.

  • AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
  • DrowSCAG: Some decent magical options.
  • High/Moon/SunSCAG: Rangers rely too much on weapon attacks, and don't really need utility cantrips.
  • Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
  • WoodSCAG: The Wood Elf is a great option for Rangers, so taking some of its abilities is great for a Half-elf.
  • VanillaPHB: The skills are great on a highly-skilled class like a Ranger.

Half-OrcPHB: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

HalflingPHB: Bonus Dexterity, and Lucky is absolutely fantastic.

  • Ghostwise: A wisdom bonus is fantastic for your spellcasting. Silent Speech is cool, too, but unfortunately won't work with an animal companion because none of the available companion choices can learn languages.
  • Lightfoot: The Charisma is wasted, and Naturally Stealthy isn't as useful for the Ranger as it is for the Rogue.
  • Stout: Bonus Constitution and resistance to poison.

HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Vanilla: Half of the bonuses are totally wasted.
  • Variant: You still get crucial bonuses to your Dexterity and Wisdom, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1.

KenkuVGTM: Fantastic ability increases, and the free skills help close the skill gap between rangers and rogues. Be sure to pick up Thieve's Tools proficiency if you're playing your party's Rogue-equivalent.

KoboldVGTM: Pack Tactics is absolutely unfair when you combine it with beast master ranger.

LizardfolkVGTM: Extremely durable, though the lack of a Strength or Dexterity increase means that your damage output will lag a bit until you get some Ability Score increases. Wisdom is helpful for ranger spellcasting, and natural armor will allow you to exceed the AC offered by manufactured armor once you reach 20 Dexterity.

OrcVGTM: Half-orc is objectively better, but neither are great for rangers.

TabaxiVGTM: Kenku is a better option, but the two provide many of the same benefits.

Tiefling: The vanilla Tiefling's ability scores are terrible for a Ranger, but the other abilities are fun, and the Feral variant subrace does a bit better. The biggest issue is that Charisma does very little for the Ranger, and the Charisma increase is one of the Tiefling's biggest benefits.

  • AsmodeusMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • BaalzebulMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • DispaterMToF: Interesting and potentially viable, but Charisma does almost nothing for the Ranger.
  • FiernaMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • GlasyaMToF: Legacy of Malbolge provides some useful stealth options not typically available to rangers.
  • LevistusMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • MammonMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • ZarielMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: Much better than the Vanilla Tiefling, but the Intelligence bonus is till wasted.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Nothing useful for the Ranger.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Nothing useful for the Ranger.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

TortleTP: Tortle natural armor matches the AC cap for medium armor. That means that you get the same AC as other Strength-based rangers without needing to get 14 Dexterity to fill out your armor, allowing you to focus elsewhere. The tortle's ability scores are perfect for a Strength-based ranger, and you even get Survival for free.

TritonVGTM: Not awful, but the triton doesn't complement the ranger's spellcasting ro skills.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren't typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR: Charge conflicts with two-weapon fighting, and rangers do much better with Dexterity than with Strength because they're limited to medium armor.

GoblinGGTR: See above.

LoxodonGGTR: With the Loxodon's natural armor you can match the AC of the best light armor while totally naked. Unfortunately you'll lag offensively without a Strength or Dexterity increase until you pick up some Ability Score Increases.

MinotaurGGTR: Both Goring Rush and Hammering Horns conflict with two-weapon fighting, and rangers rely too heavily on Dexterity because they're limited to medium armor.

Simic HybridGGTR: Fantastic and versatile.

VedalkenGGTR: Nothing useful for the Ranger.

Skills

  • Animal Handling (Wis): Even for a Beastmaster Ranger this is still worthless.
  • Athletics (Str): Rangers are Dexterity-based and don't have a good way to make use of Shove or Grapple.
  • Insight (Wis): Rangers need a bit of Wisdom, so pick this up to back up your party's Face.
  • Investigation (Int): Very useful, especially if you're serving as your party's Rogue-equivalent, but Intelligence isn't a great ability for Rangers.
  • Nature (Int): Your only knowledge skill. It's a good skill, but Intelligence is hard for Rangers.
  • Perception (Wis): With high Wisdom there is no reason not to take this.
  • Stealth (Dex): Rangers don't strictly need to be stealthy, but with hight Dexterity it certainly doesn't hurt.
  • Survival (Wis): Situational, but if anyone was going to take this it should be a Ranger.

Background

This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.

Rangers can get every skill their need with their three class skill choices. If you're acting as your party's Rogue-equivalent, pick up Thieves' Tools proficiency. Otherwise, pick up whatever you want. Many backgrounds will give you bonus languages, but with no social skills the Ranger has no way to make use of them.

  • CharlatanPHB: Interesting for a Rogue-like build, but without Thieves' Tools you can't fully replace a Rogue.
  • City WatchSCAG: Athletics and Insight are both passable options, but the languages are totally wasted.
  • CriminalPHB: Deception won't get much use, but the rest will allow you play your party's Rogue-equivalent.
  • Far TravelerSCAG: Insight is passable and Perception is fantastic. The instument/gaming set proficiency might actually be more useful for you than the language.
  • Folk HeroPHB: Several passable options, but nothing that you absolutely need to have.
  • Mercenary VeteranSCAG: Persuasion is wasted on the Ranger, but the rest is usable.
  • OutlanderPHB: Several passable options, but nothing that you absolutely need to have.
  • SailorPHB: Good skills, but nautical stuff isn't useful in most campaigns.
  • SoldierPHB: Everything is good except Intimidation.
  • Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: A good list of options which allow you to take the place of a Rogue-equivalent.
  • UrchinPHB: Allows you to easily play your party's Rogue-equivalent.
  • Uthgardt Tribe MemberSCAG: A few passable options, but on the whole nothing excisting.

Feats

This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.

  • AlertPHB: Going first isn't terribly important for anyone but Rogues.
  • AthletePHB: Awful.
  • ActorPHB: Charisma.
  • ChargerPHB: Rangers have plenty of ways to use their bonus action, so this presents a considerable loss of action economy. Even if you're built for melee, you should use the space to buff yourself or soften your enemies at range before gradually closing to melee.
  • Crossbow ExpertPHB: All the action economy of TWF with the range of Archery, and you can do it in melee combat.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: A tempting way to boost your defenses, but the Hunter already gets options to protect themselves, and the Beastmaster should have enough health between themselves and their companion that they can survive a few hits.
  • Dual WielderPHB: Not necessary by any means, but if anyone were to take this feat it should be a melee Ranger.
  • Dungeon DelverPHB: In a dungeon-heavy campaign, this can be a great option for you.
  • DurablePHB: Rangers have a bit of magical healing.
  • Elemental AdeptPHB: Rangers don't get enough elemental damage spells to justify this.
  • GrapplerPHB: Grapple is all about Athletics, and Rangers don't have enough Strength to support Athletics.
  • Great Weapon MasterPHB: Rangers are all about Dexterity, and two-handed weapons require Strength.
  • HealerPHB: Prepare Cure Wounds.
  • Heavily ArmoredPHB: Just use Dexterity.
  • Keen MindPHB: Awful.
  • LinguistPHB: Use magic.
  • LuckyPHB: Good on anyone.
  • Mage SlayerPHB: Too situational.
  • Magic InitiatePHB: There really isn't anything that the Ranger needs from other spellcasting classes to be functional.
  • Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
  • Medium Armor MasterPHB: Possiby a workable option for Beastmaster rangers who rely almost exclusively on their companion for offense. Using medium armor allows you to focus on improving your Wisdom over your Dexterity.
  • MobilePHB: Rangers already get a way to handle a lot of difficult terrain, and if you want to avoid opportunity attacks pick up Escape the Horde
  • Mounted CombatPHB: Beast Master Rangers are one of the only characters in the game where I would consider this feat a decent option, and even then it has serious problems. If your character is small you have several excellent options for mounts, but since most monsters are medium or larger you'll give up the first benefit of the feat almost all of the time since your mount will never be bigger than they are. Still, the extra protection afforded to your animal companion may be enough to justify the feat.
  • ObservantPHB: If you are the only character in the party with decent observation skills, this might be a good idea.
  • Polearm MasterPHB: Rangers are built on Dexterity, so they don't have the Strength to back up a polearm.
  • ResilientPHB: If you were going to be good at a save, your class would have given it to you.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: Leave this for the full casters.
  • Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
  • SentinelPHB: The third part of the feat is tempting for Beastmaster Rangers. Since you have a pet that you can drag into melee with you who will likely have lower AC (and therefore will draw a lot of attacks), it's easy to capitalize on Sentinel to get free attacks.
  • SharpshooterPHB: Archery builds might enjoy this. Hunter Rangers who pick up Volley will particularly enjoy the ability to attack at long ranger without Disadvantage so that you can handle large groups of enemies at a comfortable distance.
  • Shield MasterPHB: The only thing making this hard for Rangers is that you need high Strength to make good use of Athletics, which you need to make good use of the ability to Shove foes as a Bonus Action.
  • SkilledPHB: Rangers already get more skills than average, but unless you got Thieves' Tools proficiency from your background you may want to pick it up.
  • SkulkerPHB: Sniping is for Rogues.
  • Spell SniperPHB: Rangers don't get spells that require attack rolls.
  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: Rangers tend toward Dexterity, which makes Athletics a difficult option, and therefore makes Grappling difficult.
  • ToughPHB: You shouldn't need hit points this badly.
  • War CasterPHB: Rangers don't have spells which work with the reaction mechanic.
  • Weapon MasterPHB: You get all of the weapon proficiencies that you need to function.

Weapons

  • Longbow: The Archery Ranger's go-to weapon.
  • Rapier: Defensive and Dueling Rangers will want the biggest Finesse weapon they can get.
  • Shortsword: The TWF Ranger's go-to weapon.
  • Whip: The only finesse weapon with reach. If you go for a melee Horde Braker build, a whip is a good choice.

Armor

  • Leather Armor: Scale Mail will give better AC, but will also impose disadvantage on Stealth.
  • Scale Mail: Better AC than Leather, but imposes Disadvantage on Stealth.
  • Studded Leather: Your best bet long-term.

Ranger Spells

This is not a comprehensive guide to every available spell, as that would be an exercise in madness. The following is a brief compilation of the most notable spells available to the class. Spells available via Magic Initiate are also excluded; for suggestions for Magic Initiate, see the "Feats" section, above.

1st-Level Spells

  • Beast BondEEPC: If your companion already has Pack Tactics, this is redundant. If it doesn't this is a great way to guarantee advantage for your companion.
  • Cure WoundsPHB: Rangers don't have as many spell slots as a full caster, so using your precious few slots on healing can be difficult. However, someone in the party needs to be able to heal the primary healer if they fall unconcious. It's also nice to be able to use your remaining spell slots at the end of the day to supplement natural healing if necessary.
  • Ensnaring StrikePHB: Almost exclusive to Rangers, Ensnaring Strike is a great way to handle single targets that are causing you problems, especially if the target is a melee monster. Note that you can use this at range, so archery builds can ensnare a target, then either wear them down or shift their attention to other foes.
  • Hail of ThornsPHB: This shouldn't be a go-to option, but it combines well with Volley and it's a nice way to handle tightly-packed groups of weak foes.
  • Hunters MarkPHB: The Ranger's bread and butter. Hunter Rangers will spend the bulk of their time using Concentration on Hunter's Mark while they focus down single foes before switching to the next foe.
  • Zephyr's StrikeXGtE: Cast it as a bonus action, and you get the benefits of Withdraw. If you attack, you get Advantage on the attack, some bonus damage, and the benefits of Dash.

2nd-Level Spells

  • Healing SpiritXGtE: 1d6 healing for a whole bunch of people every round for up to a minute. Use this out of combat and have everyone run through the spirit's area, and you can get 10d6 healing on a dizzying number of people. Even if you ignore vertical movement and the ability to move the spirit, you can heal everyone who can fit into a circle whose radius is up to their speed by having creatures move in then dash out to their original position. Creatures need only enter the spirit's space to get the healing. If you're not abusing this to restore hit points, you're honestly not trying hard enough. Better still, the healing goes up by 1d6 per spell slot past 2nd, so you can double the healing by using a 3rd-level slot. Obviously you don't want to use this during a fight because the healing isn't fast enough, but at high levels this is both cheap and effective enough that hit point damage almost stops being a limiting factor on how much you can do in a day.

3rd-Level Spells

  • Conjure BarragePHB: Especially useful for melee Rangers who lack ranged options or the ability to handle crowds. The damage isn't great, especially compared to lower-level spells like Burning Hands, but the size of the cone is excellent.
  • Flame ArrowsEEPC: Helpful if you need to spread damage around to multiple foes, but for single foes Hunter's Mark is considerably better.
  • Lightning ArrowPHB: Basically a better version of Hail of Thorns.

5th-Level Spells

  • Conjure VolleyPHB: This makes the Hunter Ranger's Volley ability somewhat redundant.
  • Swift QuiverPHB: Hugely improves your action economy, but since it requires Concentration you can't combine it with Hunter's Mark. It also makes Crossbow Expert somewhat redundant, but depending on what you're fighting Crossbow Expert's extra attack may do more damage with Hunter's Mark than you would with one extra unenhanced shot from a ranged weapon.

Multiclassing

  • Cleric: A single level of Nature Cleric gets you a skill proficiency, heavy armor proficiency, a Druid Cantrip, plus all of the spellcasting of a 1st-level Cleric.
  • Druid: Two levels to pick up Circle of the Moon and Wild Shape offers some interesting options, but you're likely better off using a weapon.
  • Fighter: Another Fighting Style is tempting, and if you start with Fighter you get access to a similar skill list plus heavy armor proficiency. With heavy armor, you can go for a Strength build instead of depending on Dexterity like every other Ranger in the game.
  • Monk: Unarmored Defense is a decent option, and Martial Arts removes the need for TWF, but you'll need to forgo armor, which means that you need much more Wisdom than a typical ranger.
  • Rogue: Cunning Action, Expertise, and more skill proficiencies. If you're going to grab a level of Rogue it should be your first level.

FAQ

Can the Beast Master Ranger's companion use Multiattack?

Only once they get Bestial Fury. That means that companions like the Giant Badger don't get multiattack until 11th level.

Does the Beast Master Ranger's companion add the ranger's proficiency bonus to poison damage?

Unclear. RAW, the poison damage is a separate damage roll, but I think that RAI the damage boost should only apply once per attack.

Example Build - Human Ranger (Hunter)

I will tolerate two scimitars, but I draw the line at having a pet panther.

This is a "Staple Build". This build is simple, and relies on options from the SRD and the Basic Rules wherever possible. If you need a functional build with nothing fancy or complicated, this is a great place to start.

Of the two Ranger Arcbetypes in the Player's Handbook, Hunter is clearly the better choice, and I'm glad that it was chosen for the SRD. The Hunter is an excellent scout and striker, and it has enough decision points that you can tailor it to your tastes.

Perhaps the most defining build choice we make is our choice of Fighting Style. Rangers get just two options, so it's really a choice between melee and ranged. Melee will have higher damage output, especially with Crossbow Mastery off limits due to our SRD-only limitations for staple builds, but melee is also much more risky. I'll present suggestions for both choices.

Abilities

We will make some adjustments to the point-buy abilities recommended above to capitalize on the human ability score increases. Depending on which skills and background you select, you might switch Intelligence and Charisma.

Base Increased
Str 9 10
Dex 15 16
Con 13 14
Int 11 12
Wis 15 16
Cha 8 9

Race

Human. In the SRD, the Human is the only way to get bonuses to both Dexterity and Wisdom. You could shuffle around the ability scores and select Halfling or even High Elf if you'd prefer, but we'll go with Human to keep things simple.

Skills and Tools

Ignore Animal Handling and Athletics, and we've got 6 skills that we care about. We get three from the Ranger's proficiencies and two from our background, so we'll need to skip one.

Background

Criminal is the best option available in the Basic Rules or the SRD. Deception isn't great, but we want Stealth and Thieves' Tools will let you stand in for a rogue. Folk Hero would also work, but I think Thieves' Tools are important enough that proficiency makes Criminal the better choice.

It's a little concerning how many of my "Staple Builds" use the criminal background. It's purely for character optimization reasons, but it still feels odd.

Feats

Rangers get far more ability increases than they can reasonably use, making feats an excellent option. Once you're comfortable with the game and you've hit 20 Dexterity, consider exploring feats. Skilled will expand your proficiencies, and there are a number of excellent options to boost your combat abilities like Dual Wielder and Sharpshooter.

Levels

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1
  • Favored Enemy
  • Natural explorer

For your starting equipment, choose leather armor (as much as we want the AC from scale mail, Disadvantage on Stealth is a problem), two short swords (or two daggers), either pack, and the longbow and arrows.

Favored Enemy is immediately a difficult choice. At level 1 you may have no idea what you'll face at level 2, let alone at level 20. You get to select additional favored enemeis later, but you get a total of just 3 over your entire career. Talk to your DM to see if they're willing you offer suggestions

Natural Explorer requires you to select a Favored Terrain, which presents all the same challenges as a Favored Enemey. At level 1 you might be exploring forests, but by level 10 you might be lost in the Underdark for the rest of your characters' life. You have no way to know, and no way to later change your decision. Talk to your DM to see if they're willing to offer suggestions.

At this level, do some experimenting. Try melee. Try archery. Try sneaking around. Get to know your character and get a sense of where you fit into the rest of your party before you're locked into a fighting style.

2
  • Fighting Style
  • Spellcasting

By now you've hopefully had enough time to decide between fighting at range or in melee. If you're fighting in melee, take Fighting Style: Two-Weapon Fighting, and if you're fighting at range, take Fighting Style: Archery.

Spellcasting introduces a lot of interesting options. You get just 2 spell slots, but fortunately you can get a lot of mileage out of your spells. Hunter's Mark is a particularly important part of the Ranger's repertoire. Cast it as soon as you go into a fight (or beforehand if that's an option) to maximize the extra damage you can get. With a 1-hour duration, you can easily stretch one spell slot through every encounter you'll face between short rests. unfortunately that may mean that one third of your day doesn't include Hunter's Mark (assuming the "Adventuring Day" rules in the DMG, which suggest two short rests in a full day of adventuring).

On days when you stop to take a long rest, cast Goodberry with all of your remaining spell slots. There's no cap on how many hit points you can heal from Goodberry, so each casting gives you and your party 10 hit points worth of healing that you can consume between fights to stretch other resources like hit dice and other healing magic.

3
  • Hunter
  • Hunter's Prey
  • Primeval Awareness

If you took Fighting Style: Two-Weapon Fighting, take Hunter's Prey: Colossus Slayer. If you took Fighting Style: Archery, take Hordebreaker.

4
  • Ability Score Improvement (Dexterity 16 -> 18)

More AC, better attacks, and better damage.

5
  • Extra Attack

Any martial class loves Extra Attack.

5th level also brings 2nd-level spells, including a few notably useful options. Lesser Restoration allows you to contribute your limited healing capabilities, and Spike Growth provides an excellent area control option. Pass Without Trace offers a significant bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) checks, allowing even clumsy, heavily-armored party members to accompany you with a decent chance of going unnoticed.

6
  • Favored Enemy improvements
  • Natural Explorer improvements

Choose another favored enemy and another favored terrain. All of the same issues apply, but hopefully by now you know where the bulk of the campaign will be taking place and who the primary antagonists are.

7
  • Defensive Tactics: Multiattack Defense

Multiattack Defense is the best option for Defensive Tactics. Escape the Horde is tempting for melee builds, but at that point just Disengage and make better use of your next turn.

8
  • Ability Score Improvement (Dexterity 18 -> 20)

Your AC now hits its maximum at 17 in studded leather, and your attacks and damage improve.

9

Nothing at this level except 3rd-level spells. You get some fun options like Conjure Animals, but remember that anything which requires Concentration will conflict with Hunter's Mark. You can also cast Hunter's Mark as a 3rd-level spell to make it last 8 hours, allowing you to stretch a single casting all day long provided that you can maintain Concentration.

10
  • Natural Explorer improvement
  • Hide in Plain Sight

Your last favored terrain. Hopefully you've covered enough bases that you'll never be outside of your favored terrain.

Hide in Plain Sight isn't what it was in previous editions. In previous editions you could simply hide where you stood. I guess WotC realized how problematic that was without using a spell, so now you need to spend some time camouflaging yourself. Since it takes a full minute and requires you to remain still, you'll need to use this for spying on or ambushing enemies. Combine it with Spike Growth and you can turn an area into a killing field with a few minutes of preparation.

11
  • Multiattack

Multiattack is split into a clearly melee-oriented option and a clearly ranged option. Volley is for archers, and Whirlwind Attack is for two-weapon fighters. However, note that neither of these actions is the "Attack" action, so you can't actually do two-weapon fighting, and if you took Crossbow expert you can't use the bonus action extra attack. Either way, Multiattack won't be your go-to option. Look for opportunities to use it, but in most cases enemies won't be neatly clustered enough for you to get more attacks from Multiattack than from a normal Attack.

12
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 14 -> 16)

With maximized Dexterity, it's time to start improving other ability scores. We started with 16 Wisdom, which is absolutely plenty for the ranger, so focus on increasing your Constitution instead to get the extra hit points. Your AC is going to be stuck at 17 for the rest of your character's career (excluding spells and magic items) so you need all the durability you can get.

The one counter-point which might convince you to increase Wisdom instead of Constitution is Foe Slayer. Foe Slayer is based on your Wisdom bonus, and it's pretty good. Unfortunately, it's 8 levels off, and if you don't live to level 20 it won't matter how high your Wisdom is.

13

Nothing at this level except 4th-level spells. This is very exciting, but with just 4 spells included in the SRD you have very few options.

14
  • Favored Enemy improvement
  • Vanish

Vanish is considerably more useful for archers than it is for melee rangers, but even a melee ranger is good with a bow. If you need to avoid attention, jump in a bush and snipe things.

15
  • Superior Hunter's Defense

Rogues get both Evasion and Uncanny Dodge, but you are forced to choose one or the other. I recommend Evasion for archery builds and Uncanny Dodge for melee builds.

16
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 16 -> 18)

More constitution gets us a nice pile of extra hit points at this level.

17

Nothing at this level except 5th-level spells, and the SRD contains just two 5th-level Ranger spells. Look at your lower-level spells for options that work well when cast with a higher-level spell slot.

18
  • Feral Senses

Invisible creatures were a problem long before this. Hopefully by this level you've found a solution to that challenge, but Feral Senses is likely a better solution.

19
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 18 -> 20)

You're now as durable as you can get, which is nice considering that your AC is still stuck at 17, while enemies' attack bonuses and damage have gradually climbed over time. If you're doing alright with 18 Constitution, you might increase Wisdom instead to get another point out of Foe Slayer now that it's only one level away.

20
  • Foe Slayer

This is the first time our 16 Wisdom has ever been a setback, but the difference between +3 and +4 typically won't be a problem.

Foe Slayer can turn a miss into a hit since you can use it after the roll is made, so the primary use case is as an attack bonus. Turning a miss into a his will deal more damage than applying the +3 damage. If you make it to your last attack for the turn and all of your attacks either hit or rolled too low to save, use Foe Slayer for the bonus damage. You can use it once every turn, and you should make every effort to do so.