Last Updated: June 22, 2022
The Ranger is an interesting mix of Druid-style spellcasting, Fighter-style combat capabilities, and Rogue-style skills. Themed around nature and exploration, the Ranger is a welcome asset in parties exploring untamed lands above or below ground.
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 trades the Fighter’s durability for better skills and improved damage output. While they do have the ability to cast spells, and can therefore provide healing and utility options, the Ranger doesn’t have nearly enough magic to serve as a Healer or a Utility caster.
Rangers are a cool concept that has long captured players’ imaginations, but they’ve been plagued by mechanical issues since they were first introduced, literally decades before the original release of 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. The features which make them unique and interesting often go unused because they force rangers to specialize in solving problems and fighting enemies which players can’t guarantee that they’ll face. The Ranger’s Favored Enemy and Natural Explorer features ask players to choose creatures and places which the Ranger specializes in fighting, and if those things don’t appear in the game the features are essentially wasted.
To further torment ranger players, the Beast Master subclass as it was published in the Player’s Handbook was so frustratingly bad that it poisoned the communities opinion of rangers to the point that years later the Ranger is still the character optimization community’s favorite punching bag.
But 5+ years into 5e’s life span, the Ranger has come into its own. The introduction of numerous exciting subclasses like the Gloom Stalker and the Swarm Keeper, rules fixes like new ways to handle the Beast Master’s companion, and Optional Class Features which replace the Ranger’s least-useful features have all made great strides to make the Ranger both fun and effective.
Table of Contents
- Ranger Class Features
- Ability Scores
- Ranger Races
- Ranger Skills
- Ranger Backgrounds
- Ranger Feats
- Ranger Weapons
- Ranger Armor
- Ranger Magic Items
- Example Ranger Build – Human Ranger (Hunter)
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
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.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.
Ranger Class Features
Optional Class Features are detailed below under Optional Class Features.
: Standard for martial characters, d10 hit points gives you plenty of hp to get through the day.
: Dexterity saves almost exclusively prevent partial damage from AOE effects, and Strength saves are relatively rare.
: 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.
: Situational by nature, and the bonuses you gain against the subject are somewhat small.
Favored Enemy is perhaps more indicative of the problems with the Ranger than any other part of the class: it requires the player to make a decision which is unchangeable and which is often made with little or no information guiding that decision, and if the player makes the wrong decision they may never benefit from the feature even if they’re fortunate enough to play that character all the way to level 20. And even in those cases where the player has the right Favored Enemy, the effects are so minor and fleeting that it feels like there’s no benefit.
- : One of the more numerous creature types, but very few have a CR above 10.
- : 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.
- : Like Fiends, but only select this in an evil campaign.
- : 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 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.
- : There are very few elemental creatures which frequent appearances as enemies.
- : There are almost no Fey in the Monster Manual, and their CRs are all very low.
- : A great option, especially in an all-good campaign. Fiends are numerous, and run the whole CR range.
- : There aren’t a ton of giants, and their highest CR is 13.
- : There are a lot great mosnters which qualify as “Monstrosities”, but very vew of them have a CR above 11.
- : There are almost no oozes in the Monster Manual.
- : There are very few plant monsters in the game.
- : 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.
- : 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.
If your group is using Optional Class Features, consider trading Favored Enemy for Favored Foe (yes, I know those are synonyms). See below, under “Optional Class Features”, for more information.
: 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.
If your group is using Optional Class Features, consider trading Natural Explorer for Deft Explorer. See below, under “Optional Class Features”, for more information.
: 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.
- PHB: 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.
- TCoE (Optional): This one is
hard. Blindsight, even at just 10-foot range, is extremely useful. It solves
issues of invisible enemies, it helps make up for lack of magical options
for Darkvision, and it addresses effects which block line of sight like fog,
magical darkness, or other stuff. But those effects don’t appear in most
encounters, so this is only situationally useful. When it works it’s great,
but the rest of the time it’s useless. Unless you have allies in the party
who plan to frequently use magical darkness or other options to obscure
vision I would skip this.
Races which suffer from Sunlight Sensitivity might consider this as a solution to their sunlight issues. If you don a blindfold (or close your eyes), your DM may allow you to overcome the effects of Sunlight Sensitivity by willingly blinding yourself. The text of Sunlight Sensitivity isn’t perfectly clear if it only applies to attacks which rely on sight, so this may not work RAW, but the idea makes sense.
- PHB: 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.
- TCoE: Access to cantrips allows the Ranger to build around spellcasting as
their primary combat option. Shillelagh is your go-to choice for melee
combat, and Produce Flame is your go-to ranged option. If you can do without
one or both of those options, Guidance is a great utility, and Thunderclap
can help handle crowds.
While Druidic Warrior allows the Ranger to be built around Wisdom instead of Strength or Dexterity, it comes with its own complications. Wisdom-based builds will need medium armor, which means that you need 14 Dexterity and you’ll suffer Disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks just like Strength-based builds. Rangers also have very little spellcasting and few directly offensive spells, so your Wisdom score doesn’t do as much for the Ranger as it does for the Druid.
If you look at the pros and cons of Druidic Warrior and you still want to use it on a ranger, the last question you need to ask yourself is “what will this character do that a druid couldn’t do better?” If you have an answer to that question which satisfies you (and there are some good answers), Druidic Warrior will work fine. Beast Master is a great go-to example; since you can rely on your beast in combat, focusing on Wisdom and spellcasting is often much easier. But for many other subclasses, sticking to weapons is often a better choice.
- PHB: 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). For many subclasses, this is the go-to melee option because your Bonus Action may be monopolized by other things like commanding a beast companion or using features like Planar Warrior.
- TCoE (Optional) Finally a way
to make thrown weapons workable in 5e! Unlike a bow or crossbow, you can use
thrown weapons one-handed and some even work effectively with two-weapon
fighting since thrown weapons are usually melee weapons with the Thrown
property. If you’re using magic weapons you may have some trouble since
you’re repeatedly throwing your weapons away, but you’ll be able to recover
them after combat.
Thrown Weapon Fighting has some unique interactions with other fighting styles. If you use a melee weapon with the light and thrown property like handaxes, you can benefit from the Two-Weapon Fighter style. If you take the Dual Wielder feat, you can upgrade to Javelins. If you instead use ranged weapons with the thrown property like darts, you can benefit from the Archery style, adding +2 to both attacks and damage. That allows you to match the average damage of a longbow while still holding a shield.
To summarize: This is probably the most complex Fighting Style because you need to combine it other options (feats and/or another Fighting Style) to make it as truly effective, but those complex interactions also allow some really fun combinations. I don’t recommend this for new players, but an experience player could build a very interesting character around this.
- PHB: 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 many 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 since
the extra attack offers an additional opportunity to deliver Hunter’s Mark’s
However, two-weapon fighting struggles with the action economy. Hunter’s Mark requires a Bonus Action to cast or re-assign, so in the heat of combat you often need to decide between using Hunter’s Mark or making your additional attack. Many subclasses also have features like Planar Warrior or Slayer’s Prey which also consume your Bonus Action, as do many other ranger spells so for many subclasses you’ll find that your Bonus Action is in use too often to make use of two-weapon fighting. TWF can still work very well for the Hunter, but many other subclasses should avoid it. Before you commit to this, take a good look at your subclass and see if you’ll need your Bonus Action to activate subclass features.
: 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.
For help selecting spells, see my Ranger Spell List Breakdown.
Ranger Archetype: Ranger subclasses are briefly summarized below. See my Ranger Subclasses Breakdown for help selecting your subclass.
- Beast Master: Fight alongside a powerful beast companion, training them as a living weapon to aid you in battle.
- Drakewarden: Similar to the Beast Master, except that your companion is a draconic spirit.
- Fey Wanderer: Gain fey power and use it to beguile, charm, and outwit other creatures.
- Gloom Stalker: Hunt your foes in the dark, gaining the ability to see and fight in the dark, and to ambush your foes.
- Horizon Walker: Walk the planes, gaining the ability to teleport in battle and to travel between planes without relying on spells like Plane Shift.
- Hunter: A capable warrior, the Hunter is most customizable ranger subclass, capable of succeeding in a variety of fighting styles.
- Monster Slayer: Focus on slaying single foes, gaining the ability to discern their strengths and weaknesses, to deal extra damage to your studied prey, and to resist and foil their spells and abilities.
- Swarm Keeper: Use a swarm of fey spirits to empower your attacks, to defend you in combat, and even to carry you through the air.
: Too expensive, too limited, too situational. The fact that this costs spell slots to activate is frankly insulting. Primeval Awareness is so laughably useless that if you simply removed it from the Ranger no one would notice. I once had a ranger in my party use it while we were trying to search for some undead enemies. They read the effect, the DM told us “Yes”, and the entire group paused in stunned silence to reflect on how truly worthless Primeval Awareness is even in a situational perfectly suited for Primeval Awareness to succeed.
If your DM allows it, trade Primeval Awareness for the Primal Awareness Optional Class Feature. See below, under “Optional Class Features”, for more information.
: You’re no Fighter, but two attacks is still a considerable boost to your damage output.
: Difficult terrain is very frustrating for melee characters, so this will give you a big advantage in some fights.
: You don’t get to move while using this, but it’s very effective.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
Optional Class Features
Introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, Optional Class Features offer ways to add additional features or replace existing ones. These rules are optional, and you should not assume that your DM will allow these features without consulting them first.
Assessments and suggestions for specific Optional Class Features are presented here, but for more information on handling Optional Class Features in general, see my Practical Guide to Optional Class Features.
Rangers have recieved more Optional Class Features than any other class. Of every “replacement” feature published, only one of them isn’t a Ranger feature. Wizards of the Coast saw the problems and they gave us a ton of tools to fix them. Because there are so many Optional Class Features for the ranger, you may need to be more cautious when consider the new features than you would with other classes.
(Replacement): Deft Explorer replaces each of the three favored terrains which the Ranger gains as they gains levels.
- : Expertise in one skill and two free languages. Expertise in a skill helps close the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue. The languages seem like a weird choice since rangers make terrible Faces (the Fey Wanderer is an exception). Personally I’d like the ability to trade the languages for tool or vehicle proficiencies, but you can always get those from your background if you need to. Normally if you want Expertise I recommend a level in rogue, but this makes that class dip less important.
- : Climb speeds are the next best things to fly speeds. Swim speeds are only occasionally useful, and if you want the swim speed for an aquatic campaign it won’t solve the issue of breathing.
- : Activate the temporary hit points after every fight. It’s a free hit die worth of hit points. The Exhaustion removal is only situationally useful, but it has the hilarious benefit of allowing you to negate the effects of starvation and dehydration by taking a nap.
I hate the Natural Explorer feature to a degree that I can’t adequately justify, and which I definitely can’t justify explaining twice in one article (see the assessment above, under Ranger Class Features). Replacing Natural Explorer with Deft Explorer is a dramatic improvement on the Ranger in every sense: more effective mechanically, simpler and more satisfying to play, and more interesting.
I recommend allowing Deft Explorer on all single-class rangers. It allows them to more easily fill a role as the party’s Rogue-equivalent, and it fits the theme of the Ranger as a capable and hardy explorer very well. It’s a linear buff to the class and the Ranger gives up basically nothing to get Deft Explorer, but in the case of the Ranger I really don’t think that’s a problem.
(Replacement): A small damage boost once per turn. This has two interesting benefits to the function of the Ranger which go far beyond “deal extra” damage. First, builds which don’t attack as a Bonus Action feel less weak compared to two-weapon fighting and crossbow expert builds, and subclasses like the Horizon Walker which have reliable Bonus Action features don’t need to choose between ignoring subclass features and getting more damage out of Hunter’s Mark.
Second, Hunter’s Mark becomes less of a crucial damage option and therefore less of a tax on the Ranger’s limited pools of spell slots and spells known. Hunters Mark is still good, and it’s is still better for rangers who can make numerous attacks than Favored Foe is, but Favored Foe can frequently cover situations where you can’t manage Hunter’s Mark, and it’s close enough in effectiveness that you could use your spell slots (and your Bonus Action) for something more exciting.
I recommend allowing Favored Foe on all single-class rangers. Favored Foe isn’t a fantastic ability, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s always useful, and though the damage bonus is small it’s reliable and doesn’t require guesswork for the player to make it effective. It also reduces the need to take Hunter’s Mark, removing a frustrating tax on the Ranger’s extremely limited pool of spells known.
(Addition): The Ranger’s spell list is small, weird, and limited. It’s best known for signature spells like Hunter’s Mark and Zephyr Strike, but since the Ranger draws most of its spells from the Druid’s spell list while being so much worse as spell casting, most of the Ranger’s spell list isn’t worth exploring. The new spells add a lot of a really interesting options which give the Ranger something worthy of their Concentration that’s not Hunter’s Mark or Guardian of Nature.
There are some odd options here. Searing Smite is a weird choice, and Aid, Revivify, and Greater Restoration feel somewhat out of place. But considering that Revivify was added to the Druid, and that the Ranger gets those spells considerably later than other spellcasters, I think they’re interesting additions that introduce some very important new capabilies to the Ranger without making them outshine other classes like the Druid.
I recommend allowing the additional spells on all rangers. The Ranger’s spell list has long been a pain point, and expanding those options means that we may finally see some diversity in spells known since there are more than a handful of worthwhile spells on the spell list.
(Addition): Exciting new options. Druidic Warrior is notably exclusive to the ranger, allowing players to explore a more casting-focused ranger and potentially build around Wisdom rather Strength or Dexterity. The new options are all interesting new build concepts, though they’re no more powerful than those which are already available.
I recommend allowing the new Fighting Style options on all rangers. I don’t expect the new options to supplant Archery or Two-Weapon Fighting as the best options for the Ranger, but the new options introduce exciting new build possibilities. Plus, rangers still only get one unless they spend a feat or multiclass.
(Addition): The flavor makes sense, but for the vast majority of character using a spellcasting focus instead of a spell component pouch is a purely cosmetic change. The one exception is using a staff, which can also double as a quarterstaff, making the staff an effective choice if you want to combine Shillelagh, a quarterstaff, a shield, and potentially the Polearm Master feat.
I recommend allowing Spellcasting Focus on all rangers. The impact is extremely minor, but the flavor is fun.
(Replacement): Five free spells known isn’t a huge benefit, and all of the spells are situational, but getting them for free means that rangers (who must permanently learn spells rather than preparing them) actually have a chance of casting these spells from time to time. Giving up Primeval Awareness for even something as modest as Primal Awareness is a good trade.
I recommend allowing Primal Awareness on all rangers. It allows some very situational spells to see some use without a druid needing to take a Long Rest, and rangers get so few spell slots that it’s not going to upset your game.
(Addition): Being locked into your choice of Fighting Style at level 2 gives you very little time to decide on how your ranger is going to fight. The ability to change styles occasionally makes that decision less permanent, and allows you to change styles if something happens like you find a cool weapon or you need to switch roles within the party.
I recommend allowing Martial Versatility on all rangers. Like with other retraining mechanics, players still can’t have more options at the same time than they could get if they didn’t retrain, so players will be more satisfied with their character but won’t actually be any stronger than they could be.
(Replacement): The uses for this are impressively numeorus, and getting as many as 6 uses per day means that you can make this a go-to tactical option. Turn invisibile to run out of melee or to quickly sneak between cover. Turn invisible to dart into melee unnoticed before ambushing someone. Turn invisible to get Advantage on your next attack. Get creative.
I recommend allowing Nature’s Veil on all rangers using subclasses which I’ve ratedor lower. This is a powerful feature that can allow the ranger to do a lot of stuff which normally requires magic, and the more powerful subclasses don’t need the additional tactical option to be competitive with other classes.
For the vast majority of rangers, Dexterity dominates the Ranger’s abilities because rangers are most effective in light armor using finesse weapons or ranged weapons. Constitution is always helpful, and rangers should invest a little bit in Wisdom to support their spellcasting and crucial skills like Perception.
Strength-based builds are possible, but face additional difficulties not faced by Dexterity-based builds. Half plate (the best medium armor) imposes Disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks, and thrown weapons have much shorter range than bows. Rangers are most likely to stick to one-handed melee weapons, and the rapier is just as good as any one-handed weapon which you would use with Strength. You’ll be able to use two-handed melee weapons, but there’s very little reason to do so when so much of the Ranger’s damage can come from Favored Foe and Hunter’s Mark. To summarize: Strength-based builds suffer immediate setbacks, and gain essentially no benefit.
Finally, Fighting Style (Druidic Warrior) allows for Wisdom-based builds. Take the Shillelagh cantrip and a ranged attack cantrip like Produce Flame, and you can fight both in melee and at range using Wisdom instead of Strength or Dexterity. Furthermore, your spellcasting will be more effective. However, you’ll likely resort to medium armor and suffer the same challenges Dexterity (Stealth) checks faced by Strength-based builds. The improved spellcasting and Wisdom-based skills may be worth the trade, but this is an unusual build.
: 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.
: Dexterity fuels the majority of what the Ranger does. Even for builds that aren’t Dexterity-based, you need at least 14 to fill out the Dexterity cap on Half Plate.
: As a martial character rangers should expect to draw a lot of fire, so you need the hit points to handle it.
: A bit for Investigation and Nature might be nice, but you don’t really need it.
: Adds to spells and eventually to Foe Slayer.
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Rangers are a MAD class, but not so much as the Paladin or the Monk. They still desperately need ability score increases, but rangers can be built around Strength, Dexterity, or Wisdom, allowing for a great deal of build versatility even if you’re not using the custom origin rules. Beyond those needs, rangers can also benefit from things that benefit front-line characters like the Fighter (damage resistances, etc.) and things that benefit Scout characters like the Rogue (Darkvision, skills, etc.).
For help selecting a race, see our Ranger Races Breakdown.
For a classic ranger feel, consider the Variant Human or the Wood Elf. For a highly-skilled ranger, consider the custom origin Half-Elf or the Tabaxi. For a Strength-based build, consider the Tortle. For a Wisdom-based build, consider the Lizardfolk, the Loxodon, or the Tortle. For a ranged build, consider the owlin for flight or the variant human for a feat.
- (Wis): Even for a Beastmaster Ranger this is still worthless.
- (Str): Rangers are Dexterity-based and don’t have a good way to make use of Shove or Grapple.
- (Wis): Rangers need a bit of Wisdom, so pick this up to back up your party’s Face.
- (Int): Very useful, especially if you’re serving as your party’s Rogue-equivalent, but Intelligence isn’t a great ability for Rangers.
- (Int): Your only knowledge skill. It’s a good skill, but Intelligence is hard for Rangers.
- (Wis): With high Wisdom there is no reason not to take this.
- (Dex): Rangers don’t strictly need to be stealthy, but with hight Dexterity it certainly doesn’t hurt.
- (Wis): Situational, but if anyone was going to take this it should be a Ranger.
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 that they 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.
If you’re having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:
- PHB: Interesting for a Rogue-like build, but without Thieves’ Tools you can’t fully replace a Rogue.
- SCAG: Athletics and Insight are both passable options, but the languages are totally wasted.
- PHB: Deception won’t get much use, but the rest will allow you play your party’s Rogue-equivalent.
- SCAG: Insight is passable and Perception is fantastic. The instrument/gaming set proficiency might actually be more useful for you than the language.
- PHB: Several passable options, but nothing that you absolutely need to have.
- SCAG: Persuasion is wasted on the Ranger, but the rest is usable.
- PHB: Several passable options, but nothing that you absolutely need to have.
- PHB: Good skills, but nautical stuff isn’t useful in most campaigns.
- PHB: Everything is good except Intimidation.
- SCAG: A good list of options which allow you to take the place of a Rogue-equivalent.
- PHB: Allows you to easily play your party’s Rogue-equivalent.
- SCAG: A few passable options, but on the whole nothing excisting.
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 feats which I think work especially well for the class or which might be tempting but poor choices.
- PHB: Going first isn’t terribly important for the Ranger.
- PHB: 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.
- TCoE: With the choice of a Constitution or Wisdom increase, it’s easy for many rangers to fit this into their build. The difficulty is fitting this into your action economy. Rangers who use two-weapon fighting are already relying on their Bonus Action, as are subclasses with Bonus Action damage boosts like the Horizon Walker. Rangers who fight at range without using their Bonus Action seem like the best Chef users, but they also need it the least. If you plan to share the treats, Inspiring Leader will be more efficient even if you dump Charisma.
- PHB: All the action economy of TWF with the range of Archery, and you can do it in melee combat.
- TCoE: Without a way to improve your chance of scoring a critical hit, there’s little reason to take this.
- PHB: 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.
- PHB: Not necessary by any means, but if anyone were to take this feat it should be a melee Ranger.
- PHB: In a dungeon-heavy campaign, this can be a great option for you.
- PHB: Rangers can cast Healing Spirit, which solves the issue of healing out of combat.
- TCoE: If you don’t have Darkvision from your racial traits, the Devil’s Sight invocation is a great way to get it. If you want to consider other invocations, see my Warlock Eldritch Invocation Breakdown.
- PHB: Rangers don’t get enough elemental damage spells to justify this.
- TCoE: Misty Step is great and isn’t available to most rangers, but the leveled
spells may be difficult. The best options available all require
Concentration, and most rangers are already heavily reliant on Concentration
for staple options like Hunter’s Mark.
For more advice on Fey Touched, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.
- TCoE: There’s little for the Ranger to gain from additional fighting styles, but the additional options bring you a bit closer to the Fighter if you’re trying to stand in as your party’s primary Defender.
- FToD: The damage buff is decent, especially once you have Extra Attack. Melee rangers will draw a lot of fire, and Reactive Resistance will provide a helpful defense.
- FToD: Telekinetic Reprisal is good for melee ranger builds, but it may be hard to make the ability score increase helpful. Druidic Warrior builds using Shillelagh are your best bet.
- FToD: Rangers know a very limited number of spells, so getting Cure Wounds is decent. Protective Wings can make up the difference in durability between the Ranger and other front-line martial classes like the Fighter.
- PHB: Just a terrible feat in general. You don’t need it to grapple successfully.
- PHB: Rangers are all about Dexterity, and two-handed weapons require Strength. Even if you build around Strength-based weapons, Hunter’s Mark will provide a more reliable boost to damage output than gambling with your attacks.
- TCoE: If your game uses firearms and you’re desperate to grab a gun, this is fine, but in most cases you’ll do better sticking to bows.
- PHB: Learn Cure Wounds.
- PHB: If you’re going for a Strength build, you probably want this but you could also get it from a level dip into cleric or fighter. If you take proficiency in Stealth and cast Pass Without Trace, you might even mamage to be stealthy despite Disadvantage imposed by your armor.
- PHB: Good on anyone.
- PHB: Too situational.
- PHB: There really isn’t anything that the Ranger needs from other spellcasting
classes to be functional. If you want to use cantrips, consider Fighting
Style (Druidic Warrior)
For more advice on Magic Initiate, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.
- PHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
- PHB: A feat for a net of +1 to AC over light armor and 20 Dexterity. Spend the feat on Defensive Duelist instead.
- TCoE: Powerful, but the Ranger doesn’t get enough spellcasting to make this an easy choice. For advice on Metamagic Adept, see my Sorcerer Metamagic Breakdown.
- PHB: Rangers already get a ways to handle a lot of difficult terrain, and if you want to avoid opportunity attacks pick up Escape the Horde or Zephyr Strike.
- PHB: 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.
- PHB: If you are the only character in the party with decent observation skills, this might be a good idea.
- PHB: Rangers are built on Dexterity, so they typically don’t have the Strength to back up a polearm. If you’re going for a Strength-based build anyway, Polearm Master can work very well with Hunter’s Mark, effectively allowing you to attack as effectively as a two-weapon fighting build but still use a shield.
- TCoE: Easy to fit into your build, and the ability to reroll a damage die works very well since rangers depend on multiple dice for damage (Hunter’s Mark, subclass features like the Horizon Walker’s Planar Warrior, etc.). Piercing damage is also an unusually common damage for rangers since daggers and short swords are go-to melee options and bows are the go-to ranged options.
- PHB: Resilient (Constitution) will help you maintain Concentration on crucial spells like Hunter’s Mark, but you don’t get a lot of spells so unless you also want proficiency in Constitution saves more generally this feat may feel disappointing.
- PHB: Leave this for the full casters if you can.
- PHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
- PHB: 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.
- TCoE: Invisibility is great for a class which is often stealthy, but few of the
1st-level spell options appeal to the Ranger.
For more advice on Shadow Touched, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.
- PHB: 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.
- PHB: 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.
- TCoE: Helpful to close the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue.
- PHB: Rangers already get more skills than average, but unless you got Thieves’ Tools proficiency from your background you may want to pick it up.
- PHB: Sniping is for Rogues.
- TCoE: The speed reduction is a great way to keep enemies from escaping you, but rangers aren’t built to be Defenders like the Fighter or the Paladin so this may be a hard choice.
- PHB: You shouldn’t need hit points this badly. Rangers are not build to be a front-line Defender. If you still want this, reconsider your tactics.
- PHB: Rangers don’t have cantrips which work with the Reaction mechanic. You can get them from Druidic Warrior or another source like your race (High Elf, etc.), but that’s a lot of investment for a gimick. Advantage on Concentration checks is probably the reason you’re here, but mathematically Resislient (Constitution) yields better results.
- : The Archery Ranger’s go-to weapon.
- : If you use the Spellcasting Focus Optional Class Feature, a staff can serve as both your focus and your weapon, and it works with Shillelagh (available via Fighting Style (Druidic Warrior)) and Polearm Master.
- : Defensive and Dueling Rangers will want the biggest Finesse weapon they can get.
- : The TWF Ranger’s go-to weapon.
- : The only finesse weapon with reach. If you go for a melee Horde Breaker build, a whip is a good choice so that you can reach multiple foes without running back and forth between them.
- : Scale Mail will give better AC, but will also impose disadvantage on Stealth.
- : Better AC than Leather, but imposes Disadvantage on Stealth.
- : Your best bet long-term.
This section briefly details some obvious and enticing multiclass options, but doesn’t fully explore the broad range of multiclassing combinations. For more on multiclassing, see my Practical Guide to Multiclassing.
- : 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. Plus, you can do this at any level rather than being forced to do it at 1st level to get heavy armor like you must with martial classes. This is a great replacement for Druidic Warrior. Other cleric options can offer other helpful things, like Wisdom-based wizard cantrips from Arcana. Life Domain’s Disciple of Life works with Goodberry, offering inexpensive and powerful healing out of combat.
- : Two levels to pick up some cantrips and a subclass offers a lot of interesting options, but delaying Extra Attack can be hard at low levels and there are few Druid+Ranger combination builds that work well long-term.
- : Another Fighting Style is tempting, though you can get it from the Fighting Initiate feat if that’s all that you want. 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-based build instead of depending on Dexterity like every other Ranger in the game.
- : 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.
- : Cunning Action, Expertise, and more skill proficiencies. If you’re going to grab a level of Rogue it should be your first level because you get more skills and the differences in armor and weapon proficiencies are’t impactful unless you’re building around Strength instead of Dexterity. If you just need Expertise in one skill, ask your DM if you can use the Deft Explorer alternate class feature.
Ranger Magic Items
Common Magic Items
- XGtE: A helpful tool for any Scout, the effect allows you to communicate with your allies (albeit in very simple fashion) at a distance without giving away your position and without relying on more complicated and expensive options like telepathy. Use one blare to alert your party that you’re in danger, and establish a meaning for two or more blares before you go off scouting. Example: Two blares means come to me, but be cautious. Three blares means come get me, but the way is safe.
- XGtE: This solves two problems for martial characters. First, the sword glows almost as brightly as a torch, allowing you to see in dark places without devoting a hand to a torch and without asking your allies to cast light or something. Second, and more important, it allows you to overcome damage resistance to non-magic attacks. Resistances like this are common as you gain levels, and the Moon-Touched Sword is an inexpensive way to overcome them until a better weapon comes along.
- DMG: Great for archers to overcome resistance to damage from non-magical attacks, but it’s only one arrow so you really want to get a magic bow. Since the arrow can’t be broken, it’s weirdly useful for wedging doors and windows closed or open.
- DMG: Great for archers to overcome resistance to damage from non-magical attacks, but the DC of 10 won’t be reliable and knocking foes prone makes it hard to hit them with ranged attacks which may hamper you and your allies.
Uncommon Magic Items
- DMG: Single-use and expensive. Get a +X weapon instead, if you can.
- DMG: Permanent Nondetection, similar to the spell. Combine this with Invisibility, and you can’t be detected by common countermeasures like See Invisibility.
- DMG: Helpful for thrown weapon builds or for Strength-based builds that need an occasional ranged option, but if you hit you’re still out a weapon so it doesn’t perfectly address your need for magic weapons to overcome damage resistances.
- DMG: Helpful on any stealthy character, though not effective as a Cloak of Elvenkind. Combine with a Cloak of Elvenkind for maximum effect.
- DMG: An easy choice for archer builds. Unfortunately, they don’t work with crossbows so Crossbow Expert builds won’t benefit.
- DMG: Easily overlooked, but one of the best ways to get flight for any character. It doesn’t require attunement, and has a fly speed of 50 feet, though many medium characters will exceed the 200 pound limit to reduce the speed to 30 feet, but even then 30 feet fly speed with no duration cap and requiring no action after speaking the command word is absolutely incredible. The only drawback is that you’re using the item’s speed rather than giving yourself a fly speed, so things that improve your speed won’t make the broom move faster, and you can’t Dash with the broom. Even so, I honestly can’t justify why this is only Uncommon considering how exceptionally good it is.
- DMG: Essential on any stealthy character. Creatures attempting to detect you suffer Disadvantage, and you gain Advantage on Stealth checks to avoid being seen, so you get two layers of protection against creatures detecting you. For maximum effect, combine with Boots of Elvenkind.
- DMG: Good on any character, but it requires Attunement and it’s not very interesting.
- DMG: Perception is the most frequently rolled skill in the game, and you are likely the person in the party who is best at it. Advantage provides a great deal of insurance and protection against ambushes and other surprises.
- DMG: Maybe helpful for Dexterity-based builds. If you dumped Strength to 8, going straight to 19 can be helpful. But at that point you’re mostly using it for saves and for Athletics checks.
- DMG: Easily replaced by the Enhance Ability spell, but still helpful for stealthy characters.
- DMG: Crucial for races which don’t get Darkvision, especially if your party can’t cast the Darkvision spell for you.
- TCoE: +1 to spell attacks, save DC’s, attack rolls, and damage rolls, and you can use the sickle as a spellcasting focus which reduces the need to juggle your weapon when casting spells. The ranger will benefit little from the improvements to spellcasting, so in the vast majority of cases this is just a +1 sickle.
- TCoE: This isn’t quite Cunning Action, but it’s still good. Lightly Obscured includes things like areas of dim light, smoke, and potentially thick foliage, so there are numerous ways to make yourself lightly obscured in order to hide.
- DMG: Most rangers go for either archery or two-weapon fighting, but for the handful of rangers using shields this is a spectacular option.
- DMG: +1 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
- DMG: The next-best thing to flight. Walking up a wall has all the benefits of flying out of reach, making this an excellent option for ranged builds.
- DMG: Excellent on literally any character, but if you just want better defense a Cloak of Protection may be more effective. Stone of Good Luck shines if you’re heavily reliant on skills and ability checks.
- DMG: A numeric bonus to attack and damage is hard to beat. As you gain levels weapons more interesting than a +X bonus to attack/damage may be more interesting and more effective, but at the Uncommon rarity nothing can compete with a +1 Weapon for your offensive needs. Perhaps the biggest problem for the ranger is that melee builds often rely on two-weapon fighting, so you likely need two of them.
- DMG: Excellent on its own, but Winged Boots are more limited in use than a broom of flying, and they require Attunement.
Rare Magic Items
- DMG: Single-use and expensive. Get a +X weapon instead, if you can.
- DMG: Setting your Constitution to 19 means that you don’t need to put Ability Score Increases into it unless you’re really certain that you want 20 Constitution. Less ASI’s into Constitution means more room for feats.
- DMG: Excellent, but unpredictable in most games since you can’t perfectly predict what sort of damage you’ll face. Fire and poison are safe choices.
- DMG: +1 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
- TCoE: +1 breastplate will provide the same without requiring attunement and still doesn’t impose Disadvantage on Stealth checks, so +X armor is a better choice.
- DMG: Strength-based builds are typically very hard for the Ranger, but a magic item raising your Strength above 20 certainly makes that much simpler.
- DMG: Among the best defensive items in the game. Taking damage from any source (spells, etc.) suppresses the effect temporarily, so make a point to kill anything that can damage you without an attack roll.
- DMG: A Cloak of Elvenkind may be more effective for Stealth because it also imposes Disadvantage on Perception checks to detect you, but Cloak of the Bat isn’t limited to vision-based checks so it may be more broadly effective if your enemies can also hear or smell you (yes, that’s a thing). You can also use it to fly in dim light and darkness, though your hands are occupied (you need to hold the edges of the cloak) so flying in combat may be difficult.
- DMG: Mathematically the +2 bonus to attack rolls from a +2 weapon will be a more consistent improvement to your damage output,especially with the damage bonuses from Hunter’s Mark and other on-hit damage boosts.
- DMG: Many martial characters struggle when targeted by spells, and the Ranger is no exception. A Cloak of Protection is probably easier to find and provides more general defense, but Mantle of Spell Resistance focuses on protecting you from your biggest weakness.
- TCoE: +2 to spell attacks, save DC’s, attack rolls, and damage rolls. See Moon Sickle under Uncommon Magic Items for more.
- DMG: Poison damage is very common across the full level range, so immunity to it is a significant improvement in your durability.
- DMG: A great way to mitigate damage from AOE spells and things like breath weapons which can often be problems from front-line martial characters, especially if you’re not build around Dexterity.
- DMG: Cloak of Protection is lower rarity and has the same effect.
- DMG: A fine item in a vaccuum, but a Ring of Spell Storing full of Absorb Elements will be much more effective.
- DMG: Fill it with Absorb Elements and Shield, and recharge it whenever possible and this is a spectacular defensive asset.
- DMG: A Cloak of Elvenkind will technically be better at keeping you hidden because it also imposes Disadvantage on Perception checks to notice you, but this is still great. Shadowy Defense provides an effect similar to the Rogue’s Uncanny Dodge, allowing you mitigate a big pile of damage (a spell, a critical hit, etc.) once per day.
- DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
- DMG: Persistent damage that stacks with itself. It’s only 1d4 and only once per turn, but it stacks with itself and “once per turn” means that if you can attack again outside of your own turn (Opportunity Attacks, etc.) you can get additional dice very quickly.
- DMG: Mathematically spectacular. It’s difficult to beat the math here.
- DMG: Broom of Flying is much better, lower rarity, and doesn’t require attunement.
Very Rare Magic Items
- TCoE: Good, but too high rarity to devote to a single damage type. Get a Ring of Spell Storing and fill it with Absorb Elements.
- DMG: Single-use and expensive. Get a +X weapon instead, if you can.
- DMG: Tempting for anyone not fighting with a one-handed weapon, but a Cloak of Protection is two rarities lower, works persistently, and arguably provides a better numeric bonus.
- DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
- DMG: Much like a +X weapon, it’s hard to beat the math here. For a Strength-based character, raising your Strength above 20 is a massive benefit, and going up as high as 25 is spectacular. Add a +X weapon on top of that, and you hit so reliably that you almost can’t miss with your attacks.
- DMG: Less damage than the Flame Tongue, but higher rarity and it requires attunement. Yes, you get resistance to fore damage, but you can get that from dozens of other sources by this level.
- DMG: Permanent Constitution bonus and raises your cap by 2. Unless you’re using a magic item that fixes your Constitution as a specific score, this is excellent.
- DMG: Spectacular for Dexterity-based builds.
- TCoE: +2 to spell attacks, save DC’s, attack rolls, and damage rolls. See Moon Sickle under Uncommon Magic Items for more.
- DMG: So cool, but so weak. Unless you’re attacking your sworn enemy, it’s just a magic bow with no benefit other than being chatty. Imagine using Action Surge and Haste and making 9 attacks in one turn and having the bow struggle to whisper “Swift defeat to my enemies” 9 times in six seconds.
- DMG: Among the best weapons to use with the Dueling style, you get two-weapon fighting action economy on a single weapon.
- DMG: +3 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
- DMG: A minor upgrade from the Mantle of Spell Resistance, the Spellguard Shield protects you not just from spells, but from all magical effects.
- DMG: Basically a +2 rapier that deals radiant damage and does a bit more damage to undead. It’s not significantly better than a +2 rapier in the majority of cases. Radiant damage is great, but most creatures with resistance to weapon damage types are affected normally by magic weapons so the benefits of radiant damage compared to piercing or slashing damage from a magical wapon are minor. It works, but I’m not certain that it’s worth Attunement compared to a +2 weapon unless you can expect to face fiends and undead with some regularity.
- DMG: Mathematically spectacular. It’s difficult to beat the math here.
Legendary Magic Items
- DMG: +3 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective. It feels underwhelming at this rarity, but the math if good.
- DMG: As good as a +4 weapon for Strength-based character, and that doesn’t even consider Athletics checks or saves.
- TCoE: The first ability provides a great damage boost which also heals you, and since it’s “extra damage” the damage is multiplied on a critical hit. The second ability provides a way to counterattack using your Reaction, and with Advantage on that attack it’s an easy and reliable boost to your damage output.
- DMG: Invisibility is extremely powerful in 5e. Note that this is just the invisible condition, not the spell spell Invisibility, so you can still attack or whatever while invisible. Unless you’re playing a Defender and actively trying to draw attacks away from your allies, this is absolutely amazing.
- DMG: Proficiency Bonuses apply to a lot of things and a +1 bonus goes a long way. Attacks, saves, skills, etc. all benefit.
- DMG: Bonuses to attacks and saves, a once per day reroll, and it can cast Wish a few times (maybe. 1d4-1 could be zero). if it can’t cast Wish.
- DMG: Cloak of Invisibility and Ring of Invisibility are very similar, but there is some important nuance to understand. Ring of Invisibility can make you indefinitely invisible, allowing you to do anything except attack and cast spells without breaking your invisibility. Use a breath weapon, activate items (as long as doing so doesn’t make you cast a spell), steal things, use the Help action, pick locks, disarm traps, take long rests, etc. can all be done while totally invisible without limit. However, the second you roll initiative the Cloak of Invisibility becomes more powerful because its invisibility isn’t broken by you attacking or casting spells.
- DMG: Given the choice, I would much rather haqve a Mantle of Spell Resistance simply because the Ring of Spell Turning doesn’t provide any protection against area effect spells. Otherwise, this is a really fun item, and if it provided Advantage on saves against area of effect spells it would shoot straight up to .
- DMG: Use this to do one of the things that risks permanently removing the
ability to cast Wish, such as granting 10 creatures permanent resistance to
once damage type. If you lose the ability to cast Wish, pass this off to
another ally who will never be able to cast Wish by any other means. Repeat
until the last charge is used.
For more help with Wish, see my Practical Guide to Wish.
- DMG: An upgrade from the Mantle of Spell Resistance, the Scarab of Protection adds a limited benefit against necromancy and undead creatures, and doesn’t take up your cloak slot, leaving you free to take items like a Cloak of Protection or Cloak of Invisibility instead.
Example Ranger Build – Human Ranger (Hunter)
Sinclair Fleet-Foot the Human Hunter
Scarcely a sound betrays the approach of the dusky-hued man standing before you. Indeed, not a single broken twig or trampled leaf marks his passage. Though he stands in a relaxed position, his copper eyes are in a permanent half-squint, keenly looking for signs of danger, senses sharpened by countless seasons spent hunting in his favorite terrain. His thumbs are tucked into his wide leather belt, of a piece with the leather armor worn surreptitiously under his earth-toned cloak, hands placed for a fast draw of his well-worn but carefully maintained fighting daggers. The longbow on his back has seen some use, certainly, but a practiced eye reveals that this ranger prefers to get into the thick of things when trouble starts.
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 Archetypes 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 Expert 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
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.
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.
If you took Fighting Style: Two-Weapon Fighting, take Hunter’s Prey: Colossus Slayer. If you took Fighting Style: Archery, take Hordebreaker.
More AC, better attacks, and better damage.
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.
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.
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.
Your AC now hits its maximum at 17 in studded leather, and your attacks and damage improve.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More constitution gets us a nice pile of extra hit points at this level.
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.
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.
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.
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.