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DnD 5e - The Ranger Handbook

Last Updated: March 29th, 2021

Disclaimer

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.

  • 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.

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.

Introduction

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.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read my Ranger Subclasses Breakdown and my Ranger Spells Breakdown.

Ranger Class Features

Optional Class Features are detailed below under Optional 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 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.

  • 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.

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.

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.

If your group is using Optional Class Features, consider trading Natural Explorer for Deft Explorer. See below, under "Optional Class Features", for more information.

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.
  • Blind FightingTCoE (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.

  • 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.
  • Druidic WarriorTCoE: 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.

  • 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). 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.
  • Thrown Weapon FightingTCoE (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.

  • 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 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 damage boost.

    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.

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.

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.

  • Beastmaster: Fight alongside a powerful beast companion, training them as a living weapon to aid you in battle.
  • 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.

Primeval Awareness: 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.

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.

Optional Class Features

Introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everyting, 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.

Deft Explorer (Replacement): Deft Explorer replaces each of the three favored terrains which the Ranger gains as they gains levels.

  1. Canny: 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.
  2. Roving: 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.
  3. Tireless: 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.

Favored Foe (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.

Additional Ranger Spells (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.

Fighting Style Options (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.

Spellcasting Focus (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.

Primal Awareness (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.

Martial Versatility (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.

Nature’s Veil (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 rated green or 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.

Ability Scores

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.

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. Even for builds that aren't Dexterity-based, you need at least 14 to fill out the Dexterity cap on Half Plate.

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.

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

Races

Dexterity bonuses are crucial, and bonuses to Constitution and Wisdom are helpful. The Ranger is somewhat MAD, especially if you're going for a Strength-based build, so it's crucial that your ability score increases support your build choices. If you're going for a melee build, look for things that improve your durability like Constitution increases and damage resistances. If you're going for a ranged build, you've got more space to explore things like flight and innate spellcasting. If you're in a small party or if you're playing your party's Rogue-equivalent, look for additional skill proficiencies.

Note that setting-specific races like the Changeling and the Satyr are addressed in setting-specific sections, below.

AarakocraEEPC

Customized Origin: The Aarakocra was already a great option for the Ranger. However, the ability to customize the Winged Tiefling means that the Aarakocra is less effective in every way except their 50 ft. speed.

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

AasimarVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two damage resistances, and Darkvision. Transformation is still the big reason to play the Aasimar. The damage bonus applies once per round, but it's wasted if you don't hit, so you want to make as many attacks as possible. Normally I would recommend an AOE damage spell, but that's a really hard choice for the Ranger, so your best bet is to look for Advantage while you're transformed and/or make numerous attacks against low-AC targets.

  • Fallen: The range is short so this is only viable in melee, and the DC of the fear effect is Charisma-based so it will never be reliable.
  • Protector: Flight when you need it. Ideal for archery or thrown weapon builds.
  • Scourge: Viable in melee, and a great way to handle crowds of enemies, but be sure that you have a good source of healing ready to go because it eats your hit points.

Default Rules: The Aasimar's traits are really fun, but without a Dexterity increase your options are extremely limited.

  • Fallen: A Strength increase looks like it will be enough for a Strength-based build, but the secondary effect of Transformation is Charisma-based and the Ranger is already too MAD to survive a Charisma dependency.
  • Protector: A Wisdom increase could work with a Druidic Warrior build, but that's the only way to make this viable.
  • Scourge: Bad ability spread.

Aasimar (DMG Variant)DMG

Customized Origin: The Ranger already gets access to Lesser Restoration and Daylight, so you're not gaining anything new here except Darkvision and the damage resistances.

Default Rules: A Wisdom increase could work with a Druidic Warrior build, but that's the only way to make this viable.

BugbearVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Long-limbed is great for rangers focusing on damage output durability, and Surprise Attack provides a great damage boost if you can go early in combat. I recommend building around Dexterity and Constitution, and plan to rely primarily on two-weapon fighting from just outside of your enemies reach.

Default Rules: For a martial class limited to medium armor, the +1 Dexterity increase is easily 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. The Bugbear may be one of the best options for a Strength-based ranger build. Weirdly, Surprise Attack relies on your going early in combat, which depends on you having high Dexterity. Frustrating, but not insurmountable.

Custom LineageTCoE

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Custom Lineage.

Default Rules: The only ability score that the Ranger absolutely needs is Dexterity, so +2 to Dexterity, a feat, and Darkvision is a fantastic starting point for the Ranger. Of course, Rangers can cast Darkvision, so you might prefer the skill proficiency instead.

DragonbornPHB

The Draconblood and Ravenite subraces are addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increase and damage resistance. The Dragonborn's signature trait is their breath weapon, but the damage won't significantly exceed your weapon attacks unless you manage to hit three or more targets.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread, and even for a Strength-based build the Dragonborn isn't good enough to get by.

DwarfPHB

Customized Origin: One +2 increase and a second increase from your subrace, poison resistance, plus a bunch of proficiencies which you'll trade for tool proficiencies.

  • DuergarSCAG: Invisibility as an innate spell is nice, but that's the only big appeal here. Sunlight Sensitivitiy is a pain, and Enlarge/Reduce isn't especially useful for the Ranger.
  • HillPHB: Bonus hit points are always nice, especially since the Ranger's AC tends to be slightly lower than the Fighter's and the Paladins so you're likely to be hit more frequently.
  • MountainPHB: On a MAD class like the Ranger, two +2 increases is a really big deal. That means that you've got room to easily fit a feat into your build beyond level 1. Start with 17 in two scores (probably Dexterity and Constitution), raise them both to 18 at level 4, and you're off to a fantastic start.

Default Rules: Nice and durable, but without a Dexterity increase your options are limited.

  • DuergarSCAG: Nothing useful for the Ranger.
  • HillPHB: A bit of Wisdom works for Druidic Warrior builds, and the extra hit points reduce your reliance on Constitution which will help reduce some of the Ranger's MAD issues.
  • MountainPHB: With no Dexterity increase, you'll need to rely on Strength and medium armor. Get your Dexterity to 14 at first level and grab a pair of hand axes. You won't be as sneaky as Dexterity-based rangers, but otherwise this is a solid choice for a Strength-based ranger due to the Dwarf's natural durability and the mathematical effectiveness of two +2 increases.

ElfPHB

The Palid Elf subrace is addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, one skill (which you should leave as Perception).

  • DrowPHB: Decent in a subterranean campaign, but nothing good enough to offset Sunlight Sensitivity.
  • EladrinMToF: The teleportation is neat, but the rider effects are all Charisma-based, so avoid everything except Spring.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Trade the standard Eladrin's rider effect for four weapon proficiencies which you'll trade for tools. They're roughly equivalent, so choose whichever you like better.
  • High ElfPHB: Access to Booming Blade is tempting, but using it will result in a significant reduction in damage output compared to using Hunter's Mark with more frequent attacks.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: Only in an aquatic campaign.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Great for melee builds, teleporting into melee with resistance to damage makes it easy to dive into melee and focus on high-priority who might be protected by their allies or otherwise difficult to reach.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Thematically excellent, but mechanically the Wood Elf has fallen far behind other racial options. Without the advantage of having perfect ability score increases, the Woof Elf's signature traits are a tiny speed increase and Mask of the Wild, neither of which are going to make a significant difference.

Default Rules: Dexterity and free Perception proficiency.

  • DrowPHB: 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.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: The Shadar-Kai's ability score increases work better for the Ranger.
  • High Elf: Access to Booming Blade is tempting, but using it will result in a significant reduction in damage output compared to using Hunter's Mark with more frequent attacks.
  • 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 ElfPHB: Bonus Wisdom and Mask of the Wild is fantastic for Rangers. The Wood Elf is perhaps the most iconic race choice for the Ranger.

FirbolgVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases. The innate spellcasting is somewhat situational, but thematically the Firbolg is a nice fit. Speech of Beast and Leaf can be helpful if you're doing a lot of natury ranger stuff, and Hidden Step mimics the benefits of the Nature's Veil feature a long time before you get access to it.

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

GenasiEEPC

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), but the vast majority of the Genasi's traits come from the subraces.

  • Air: Play a race that can fly.
  • Earth: Nothing new for the Ranger. You can already cast Pass Without Trace.
  • Fire: The Constitution-based innate spellcasting is interesting, but it won't ge good enough to outdo weapons. Burning Hands might be helpful at low levels, but don't expect to get much use out of Produce Flame.
  • Water: Only in an aquatic campaign.

Default Rules: Bonus Constitution is always nice.

  • Air: A bit of Dexterity, and Levitate is nice for archers provided that you don't need to move horizontally. But at that point, why not just play a race that can fly?
  • Earth: Nothing new for the Ranger. You can already cast Pass Without Trace.
  • Fire: Bad ability spread.
  • Water: Wisdom works for Druidic Warrior builds, but I would probably only try this in an aquatic campaign.

GithMToF

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +2), but the bulk of your notable racial traits come from your subrace.

  • Githyanki: After you trade away the redundant proficiencies, you're left with one skill, five tools, and the innate spellcasting. Mage Hand is neat, but Jump is borderline useless. You're here for Misty Step. Compare the Githyanki to the Variant Eladrin: The Variant Eladrin gets to use Misty Step on a Short Rest, and the Githyank gets to cast Mage Hand and Jump and gets one more tool proficiency. It's not a great trade.
  • Githzerai: Resistance to common charm and fear conditions, and interesting innate spellcasting. Keep in mind that you need a free hand to cast Shield, so the Githzerai loses effectiveness unless you're using a two-handed weapon like a polearm or a bow.

Default Rules: The Intelligence bonus is wasted on the Ranger, and

  • Githyanki: The Strength bonus, one skill, and Misty Step once per day are nice, but compare that to the Shadar-Kai: the Githyanki provides similar benefits, but adds the challenges of a Strength-based build.
  • Githzerai: Tempting for a Druidic Warrior build at a glance, but you can't cast Shield without a hand free and going without a mundane shield isn't worth the risk, so there's minimal benefit here.

GnomePHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace offers a +1 increase), Darkvision, and Gnome Cunning.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: You're not saddled with Sunlight Sensitivity, but the Svirfneblin still doesn't offer enough that it's useful outside of a subterranean campaign.
  • ForestPHB: Minor Illusion is great. It's easy to compare the Forest Gnome to the High Elf: you give up the ability to pick your cantrip and a skill in exchange for Gnome Cunning.
  • RockPHB: Tinker is not useful enough to make this appealing.

Default Rules: Gnome Cunning is always nice, but the Intelligence is wasted.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: A bit of Dexterity and Stone Camouflage are tempting, but not enough to make this viable unless you're in a subterranean campaign.
  • ForestPHB: A bit of Dexterity is nice, and Minor Illusion can do a lot before you care about your terrible Intelligence. Speak With Small Beasts is amusing, and if anyone's going to make it useful it's the Ranger.
  • RockPHB: Bad ability spread.

GoblinVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and Darkvision. Nimble Escape helps you get out of melee when you need to, enabling hit-and-run tactics and protecting ranged builds from getting dragged into melee. Fury of the Small is a nice damage boost.

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

GoliathEEPC

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and damage resistance. Stone's Endurance will help make up the durability gap between the Ranger and the Fighter caused by the Ranger's slightly lower AC.

Default Rules: A viable option for a Strength-based build. Stone's Endurance will help make up the durability gap between the Ranger and the Fighter caused by the Ranger's slightly lower AC.

Half-ElfPHB

Customized Origin: For a MAD class like the Ranger, three ability increases is a huge benefit. You also get Darkvision and Fey Ancestry.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only in an aquatic campaign.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: The innate spellcasting is Charisma-based so it's minimally useful. Darkness is the only part that you'll benefit from consistently, and you can get that from several varieties of Tiefling which may be a better fit.
  • High Half-ElfSCAG: Booming Blade is your best bet, but rangers typically rely on the damage boost from Hunter's Mark, so reducing your number of attacks by relying on Booming Blade will reduce your damage output.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: The combination of three increases, two skills, and Darkvision makes the Half-elf an excellent go-to race option for the Ranger. The ability increases allow you to be effective in the Ranger's full breadth of capabilities without making huge sacrifices, and the two skills close the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue, allowing you to thrive in non-combat roles, too.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: The Wood Elf is a decent package for the Ranger, but breaking up their traits and making you pick one of them is a terrible trade. The Wood Elf is a much better option than a Wood Half-Elf.

Default Rules: The Charisma is totally wasted on the Ranger, but the other abilities are great.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign, and even then the Aquatic Elf is a better choice for the Ranger.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: The innate spellcasting is nice, but it's Charisma-based so you'll find that Faerie Fire is unreliable.
  • High Half-ElfSCAG: Booming Blade is your best bet, but rangers typically rely on the damage boost from Hunter's Mark, so reducing your number of attacks by relying on Booming Blade will reduce your damage output.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: The skills are great on a highly-skilled class like a Ranger.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: The Wood Elf is a decent package for the Ranger, but breaking up their traits and making you pick one of them is a terrible trade. The Wood Elf is a much better option than a Wood Half-Elf.

Half-OrcPHB

Customized Origin: It's nice to not be locked into a Strength-based build, but rearranging ability scores doesn't address the big problem that the Half-orc's most distinguishing trait is only impressive with a greataxe so half-orc players will likely keep their ability increases right where they started.

Default Rules: Passable for a Strength-based build, but Savage Attacks won't be noteworthy since you're likely using two-weapon fighting with weapons that use d6 damage dice. Consider the full Orc instead.

HalflingPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Brave, and Lucky. A great starting point.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Silent Speech is great for stealth, but unfortunately won't work with a Beast Companion because none of the available companion choices can learn languages. You'll need to use it to communicate with the humanoids in your party instead.
  • LightfootPHB: Naturally Stealthy is only situationally useful without Cunning Action to enable you to hide in combat without sacrificing your Action.
  • StoutPHB: Poison resistance is really nice. Poison damage is common.

Default Rules: A Dexterity increase, Brave, and Lucky. Basically any rubrace will work with those traits as a basis.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: A wisdom bonus is fantastic for your spellcasting. Silent Speech is cool, too, but unfortunately won't work with a Beast Companion because none of the available companion choices can learn languages, so you'll need to use it to communicate with the humanoids in your party instead.
  • LightfootPHB: The Charisma is wasted, and Naturally Stealthy isn't as useful for the Ranger as it is for the Rogue.
  • StoutPHB: Bonus Constitution and resistance to poison.

HobgoblinVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and three proficiencies which you'll trade for tool proficiencies. The Hobgoblin's noteworthy feature is Saving Face. It provides a great way to turn near-miss failed rolls into successes, especially if you have numerous allies nearby. This provides great insurance against problematic saving throws, but you generally shouldn't waste it on an attack roll.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Human

Customized Origin:

  • Standard: With perfect ability scores on the table for every race, there is no reason to play the Standard Human.
  • Variant: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Variant Human.

Default Rules: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Vanilla: Half of the bonuses are totally wasted, but the Ranger is fairly MAD so the vanilla human's numerous increases may somehow work out. A Strength-based build could more easily afford to hit 16 Strength, and 14 in Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom than most characters.
  • Variant: You can get crucial bonuses to your Dexterity and either Constitution or Wisdom, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1.

KenkuVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Expert Forgery and Mockery aren't particularly impactful.

Default Rules: 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

Customized Origin: +2 increase and Darkvision. The Customizing Your Origin optional rule does little to change the Kobold unless you're dead set on a Strength-based build for some reason. Pack Tactics is still geat, and Sunlight Sensitivity is still a pain, but Pack Tactics conveniently provides a way to negate it.

Default Rules: A Dexterity increase and Darkvision are a grat start. Pack Tactics is absolutely unfair. Make as many attacks as you possibly can, and your damage output will be reliably high. If you need an easy way to keep an ally in melee, play a Beast Master and keep your companion in melee with your target.

LizardfolkVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills, and natural armor. If you're fine with Hungry Jaws being unreliable, you can build around Dexterity and hit 20 AC with a shield and 20 Dexterity.

Default Rules: Extremely durable, though the lack of a Strength or Dexterity you'll likely want to pursue a Druidic Warrior build. The Lizardfolk's natural armor will allow you to exceed the AC offered by light or medium armor once you reach 20 Dexterity, though that will likely take a long time to achieve.

LocathahLR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills, and Leviathan Will. Among the better aquatic options, Leviathan Will provides a robust defensive option against a long list of harmful status conditions which any adventurer is sure to face.

Default Rules: Increases to both Strength and Dexterity make it easier to build a Strength-based build because you can more easily afford 16 Strength and 14 Dexterity without making sacrifices elsewhere, though sticking to Dexterity still works fine. Two additional skills help close the skill gap with Rogue, and Leviathan Will protects you from several annoying status conditions. Taken as a whole, the Locathah is a versatile and capable race which can work in a variety of builds.

OrcVGtM

Note that errata has corrected the multiple versions of the Orc to all provide the same traits. The Intelligence decrease has been removed, and the Primal Intuition now allows selecting two skills from a list. The Orc of Exandria entry from Explorer's Guide to Wildemount omits the Powerful Build trait, but it's not clear if that was an intentional change.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two skills. A great option for any melee build, Aggressive allows you to quickly close to melee without sacrificing your Action to Dash, but keep in mind that it will conflict with crucial Bonus Action options like two-weapon fighting, Hunter's Mark, and many subclass features, so your first round will necessarily result in less damage output than you might expect if you spend your Bonus Action to get into melee. Compare that to the Tabaxi, which provides similar benefits but is less dependent on your Bonus Action.

Default Rules: A good option for an aggressive Strength-based melee build, the Orc's Aggressive helps close to melee quickly, and the two skills help to close the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue. Where the Goliath is sturdy and safe, the Orc is comparably high risk but also high reward.

TabaxiVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two skills. Feline Agility is the Tabaxi's signature trait. It's roughly equivalent to the Orc's Aggressive, but it also allows you to run away (rather than only toward an enemy) and doesn't eat your Bonus Action so it's arguably a litle better.

Default Rules: Kenku is a better option, but the two provide similar benefits.

TieflingPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and damage resistance. Most subraces/variants offer innate spellcasting of some kind. The innate spellcasting is Charisma-based, so anything which requires an attack or a save is difficult for the Ranger to use.

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: Hellish Rebuke will be unreliable, so just expect it to always deal half damage. Darkness is the biggest benefit here, but remember that you don't have a way to see in magical darkness.
  • BaalzebulMToF: The spells are too offensive to be useful.
  • DispaterMToF: Situational utility options.
  • FiernaMToF: The spells are too offensive to be useful.
  • GlasyaMToF: The Innate Spellcasting provides some useful stealth options which feel at home on the Arcane Trickster, but which are not typically available to rangers.
  • LevistusMToF: Ray of Frost and Armor of Agathys will be useless, so this is strictly worse than the Asdmodeus Tiefling.
  • MammonMToF: Situational utility options.
  • MephistophelesMToF: The spells are too offensive to be useful.
  • ZarielMToF: The spells are too offensive to be useful.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: The Customizing Your Origin optional rules make the Feral variant obsolete. All it does is rearrange your ability score increases.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: The spells are too offensive to be useful.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Burning Hands is a harder choice because it takes your Action and the save DC wiull be too low for it to be reliable.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Flight in up to medium armor. You trade some of the Aarakocra's speed for Darkvision and damage resistance. It's a good trade.

Default Rules: The standard Tiefling's ability scores are terrible for a Ranger, but the other traits are fun, and the Feral variant subrace does a bit better. The biggest issue is that Charisma does very little for the Ranger, the Charisma increase is one of the Tiefling's biggest benefits, and all of the Tiefling's innate spellcasting options are Charisma-based. Your best bet is to combine the Feral variant with a subrace which provides usable spellcasting or with the Winged variant.

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: Bad ability spread, but workable if you combine it with the Feral variant.
  • BaalzebulMToF: Bad ability spread, and the spells are too offensive to be salvageable.
  • DispaterMToF: Bad ability spread, but workable if you combine it with the Feral variant.
  • FiernaMToF: Bad ability spread, and the spells are too offensive to be salvageable.
  • GlasyaMToF: When combined with the Feral variant, this works very well for the Ranger. The Innate Spellcasting provides some useful stealth options which feel at home on the Arcane Trickster, but which are not typically available to rangers.
  • LevistusMToF: Ray of Frost and Armor of Agathys will be useless, so this is strictly worse than the Asdmodeus Tiefling.
  • MammonMToF: Bad ability spread, and the spells are too situational to justify.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Bad ability spread, and the spells are too situational to justify.
  • ZarielMToF: Bad ability spread, and the spells are too offensive to be salvageable.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: Dexterity is enough to get a viable ranger.

    According to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, the Feral Variant is compatible with other variants.

  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Bad ability spread, and the spells are too offensive to be salvageable.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Burning Hands is a harder choice because it takes your Action and the save DC wiull be too low for it to be reliable.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: The Ranger is one of few classes where the Winged Tiefling is a worse choice than the Aarakocra. It's still a good choice, but the Aarakocra's ability increases are sligthly better for the Ranger.

TortleTP

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and natural armor. Having your AC fixed at 17 means that Strength-based and Wisdom-based builds are both considerably easier because you don't need to raise Dexterity to 14 to max out medium armor.

Default Rules: 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 and without suffering Disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks, allowing you to easily focus one increasing other ability scores instead. The tortle's ability scores are perfect for a Strength-based ranger, and you even get Survival for free.

TritonVGtM

Customized Origin: Three +1 increases, Darkvision, amphibious, and some innate spellcasting. Like the half-elf, having three increases is great for a MAD class like the Ranger. Unfortunately, the innate spellcasting is situational and Charisma-based so the Triton isn't quite as effective as the standard Half-Elf.

Default Rules: Not awful, but the triton doesn't complement the ranger's spellcasting or skills.

VerdanAcInc

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Telepathic Insight protects you from the most common mental saves. Black Blood Healing will help pad your hit dice a little bit, but it's not going to work reliably due to the Ranger's d10 hit die so it's not a lot of extra healing. Limited Telepathy is great for sneaky rangers.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, poison immunity, and Magic Resistance. A good package for a durable ranger. The innate spellcasting is garbage, but spamming Animal Friendship on snakes feels like a thing that rangers would do, so maybe you can make it useful somehow.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

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 Eberron

BugbearERLW: See above under the general Races section.

ChangelingERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Shapechanger is neat, but very situational and won't be consistently useful in most games. Instead, consider a race that can cast Disguise Self as an innate spell.

Default Rules: Shapechanger is neat, but the Charisma increase doesn't cater well to the Ranger's typical skillset, and the Changeling's skill options are mostly Charisma-based so it's not as effective as choices like the Orc or the Tabaxi.

GoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

HobgoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcERLW: See above under the general Races section.

KalashtarERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases. Resistance to psychic damage is nice, though psychic damage isn't common. Dual Mind provides an important defense, but other options like the Yuan-Ti Pureblood and the Verdan are more appealing and may be more broadly effective at protecting you from stuff that hurts your brains.

Default Rules: An exciting choice for a Druidic Warrior build, the Kalasthar's Wisdom increase and mental defenses are exciting, but they have nothing that makes them more physically durable and they don't get additional skills so their capabilities as a ranger are very limited.

ShifterERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +2), Darkvision, and one skill. The Shifter's signature trait is Shifting, which is a Bonus Action combat buff which works great but can compete with the Ranger's numerous other uses for their Bonus Action (Hunter's Mark, Two-Weapon Fighting, subclass features like Planar Warrior, etc.). It's a decent buff on its own, and your subrace will offer additional effects.

  • Beasthide: A bigger pool of temporary hit points and a modest AC bonus can help melee rangers stand on the front lines unassisted for short periods.
  • Longtooth: An interesting way to get an extra attack from your Bonus Action. The attack is Strength-based, so this works best on Strength-based melee builds which aren't using two-weapon fighting.
  • Swiftstride: A good option for archery builds. Use the Shifting Feature to safely escape enemies who attempt to engage you in melee. On your turn, shoot them from 10 ft. away, then move to safety. Of course, the Goblin can do this without limit, so while this is a good benefit it's not unique.
  • Wildhunt: The shifting feature is borderline useless.

Default Rules: Many subraces of the Shifter are good options for the Ranger, though Shifting may compete with your Bonus Action if you rely heavily on Hunter's Mark.

  • Beasthide: Strength is a hard choice for the Ranger, but not impossible, and the additional durability from Beasthide's Shifting can let the Ranger stand as a front-line Defender for brief periods.
  • Longtooth: If you're fighting in melee and not using two-weapon fighting, you're not using your Bonus Action to get extra damage out of Hunter's Mark. This offers a way to do that while still using either a shield or a two-handed weapon, though remember that the attack is Strength-based so you'll either need to build around Strength or you'll need to suffer having an unreliable bite attacj.
  • Swiftstride: A good option for archery builds. Use the Shifting Feature to safely escape enemies who attempt to engage you in melee. On your turn, shoot them from 10 ft. away, then move to safety. Of course, the Goblin can do this without limit, so while this is a good benefit it's not unique.
  • Wildhunt: The best ability spread of the Shifter's subraces, but the Shifting Feature is nearly unusable for the Ranger.

WarforgedERLW

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Warforged. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: The ability increases work fine thanks to the flexibility ability increase, and the bonus resistances and bonus AC make you abnormally durable for a ranger.

Dragonmarks

While the design intent for Dragonmarks was that they would offer some innate spellcasting for everyone, every dragonmark includes an expanded spell list which is arguably a more significant benefit than most of the provided racial traits. Because the expanded spell options are such an important part of the dragonmarks, if you're not playing a spellcaster you're giving up a huge part of your racial traits, which makes it exceptionally difficult to justify playing a dragonmark character who can't cast spells.

Dragonmarked DwarfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Warding: While most of the benefits are situational, Mark of Warding has some interesting benefits for a Dexterity-based ranger. The bonus with Thieves' Tools isn't quite as good as Expertise, but it's helpful. Mage Armor is +1 AC compared to the best light armor and lasts 8 hours, providing a consistent increas in durability. Armor of Agathys is new to the Ranger's spell list, and provides both an easy source of temporary hit points and a way to punish enemies for hitting you. Taken as a whole, Mark of Warding easily makes up for the AC gap between the Fighter and the Ranger.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Warding: Bad ability spread.
Dragonmarked ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Shadow: You almost certainly won't benefit from the Persuasion bonus, but the remainder of the subrace's traits give the Ranger a lot of capabilities similar to the Arcane Tricksters. Combined with the Elf's base traits, this is an excellent way to split the difference between the Ranger and the Rogue.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Shadow: The base Dexterity increase from the Elf is a great start, and Mark of Shadow's new spellcasting adds numerous interesting options which typically aren't available to the Ranger.
Dragonmarked GnomeERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Scribing: The skills and innate spellcasting don't help the Ranger, and the spells which are new to the Ranger's spell list are very situational.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Scribing: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked Half-ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace some of your normal racial traits, as described in the entry for each Dragonmark.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Detection: See Invisibility is a great addition to the Ranger, and the expanded divination options help improve your capabilities as a Scout.
  • Mark of Storm: Everything here is situational, so you may have trouble making the racial traits and new spells consistently useful.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Detection: The flexible ability increase can go into Strength or Dexterity (probably Dexterity), and the added divination options allow the Ranger to expand their already excellent scouting capabilities.
  • Mark of Storm: The ability increases are good enough, and the spells add some interesting options, but most of them are very situational so you may not get a lot out of the new spell options.

Dragonmarked Half-OrcERLW

Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: This is a great fit for a high-Wisdom ranger, even if you're not primarily built around Wisdom. The skill bonuses are both on Wisdom-based skills, and while many of the dragonmark spells are already on the Ranger's spell list, you get some great new additions like Faerie Fire.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Finding: Workable for a Druidic Warrior build, but the spells aren't good enough to make you viable unless you're using Wisdom in combat.
Dragonmarked HalflingERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Healing: The added healing options allow you to cover many of the core healing options which typically require a dedicated divine spellcaster. Granted, Cure Wounds and Lesser Restoration are already on the Ranger's spell list, but this adds the ever-crucial Healing Word, and reduces the strain on your limited number of spell slots and spells known.
  • Mark of Hospitality: The most interesting addition to your spell list is Aid, which is already available if you're using the Additional Ranger Spells Optional Class Feature.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Healing: Great ability score increases, and the added healing options allow you to cover many of the core healing options which typically require a dedicated divine spellcaster. Granted, Cure Wounds and Lesser Restoration are already on the Ranger's spell list, but this adds the ever-crucial Healing Word, and reduces the strain on your limited number of spell slots and spells known.
  • Mark of Hospitality: The ability score increases include a crucial Dexterity increase, but the spellcasting isn't as good as what you get from Mark of Healing, and the skills aren't helpful either.
Dragonmarked HumanERLW

Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your normal racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: If there is anyone who can use Mark of Handling well, it's the Ranger, but even that it is a stretch. The ability score increases are good, the skill bonuses are good, and you get several spells from the Druid spell list which expand your ability to work with animals. But that doesn't solve the issue that Beasts and low-Intelligence Monstrosities are a small portion of the monster manual, so the whole spell list is situational at best.
  • Mark of Making: Magic Weapon for free is an interesting choice, and the innate version that you get doesn't require Concentration so you can combine it with things like Hunter's Mark. A ranger with Fighting Style (Archery) would be exceptionally accurate. The added spells also offer some great options like Elemental Weapon and Stone Shape.
  • Mark of Passage: Access to spells like Misty Step and Dimension Door offer some very exciting transportation options for the Ranger.
  • Mark of Sentinel: The skill bonuses are both excellent for the Ranger, and the spellcasting adds numerous excellent options to protect your and your allies. Wisdom-based builds may find Compelled Duel and Counterspell appealing, but if you're built around Strength or Dexterity you can still benefit greatly from spells like Shield and Shield of Faith.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: If there is anyone who can use Mark of Handling well, it's the Ranger, but even that it is a stretch. The ability score increases are good, the skill bonuses are good, and you get several spells from the Druid spell list which expand your ability to work with animals. But that doesn't solve the issue that Beasts and low-Intelligence Monstrosities are a small portion of the monster manual, so the whole spell list is situational at best.
  • Mark of Making: The ability score increases are workable, and there are some interesting spellcasting options.
  • Mark of Passage: Perfect ability score increases, and the spellcasting adds capabilities normally limited to the Planeswalker. In fact, a mark of passage planeswalker ranger would be an incredible master of teleportation and quick movement.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Without a Strength or Dexterity increase you're limited to Wisdom-based Druidic Warrior builds, but that may actually be the best choice anyway. Compelled Duel requires saving throws from the target, and having a reliably high spell DC will allow you to use it to reliably draw attention away from your allies. But be cautious if you go that route: you're not as durable as a paladin.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and Fey creature type. Rearrange the Wisdom increase into Constitution, and you're set up for a very effective Strength-based melee build. Grab Mobile and consider casting Longstrider, and you can do hit-and-run tactics with as many attacks as two-weapon fighting while still using a shield or a two-handed weapon.

Default Rules: An interesting choice for a Strength-based melee build. Charge provides similar benefits to two-weapon fighting while allowing you to use a shield, allowing you to achieve a unique blend of durability and speed. Throw Mobile into the mix and you can easily achieve very effective hit-and-run tactics.

GoblinGGTR: See above under the general Races section.

LoxodonGGTR

Customized Origin: The Loxodon's natural armor works equally well for Strength-based and Wisdom-based builds, allowing you to dump Dexterity without sacrificing crucial AC. In fact, a Strength-based build would allow you to use Trunk in combat (though it's mostly a novelty since the rules for where your hands are during a Grapple/Shove are ambiguous), so a high-Strength loxodon ranger could do very well without the normal MAD issues typicaly of Strength-based builds.

Default Rules: An excellent option for a Druidic Warrior build, though not a good choice for other builds. The Loxodon's natural armor is Constitution-based, and with the Loxodon's Constitution increase you can easily match the AC progress of rangers in light armor while splitting your increases between just two ability scores instead of three or four as is typical for the Ranger. Beyond that, the Loxodon's other traits provide defenses against common charm and fear conditions and some situational bonuses to Wisdom-based skills which you'll be very well-suited to use.

MinotaurGGTR

Customized Origin: Hammering Horns is of limited usefulness to the Ranger, and without their signature trait there is little reason to play a minotaur.

Default Rules: While the Minotaur is typically a great choice for Strength-based characters, it's a hard choice for the Ranger. Hammering Horns eats your Bonus Action, which is hard for rangers since you typically rely on two-weapon fighting or some other Bonus Action damage boost (Planar Warrior, etc.). You also never get more than two attacks, so unlike the Fighter you won't get much benefit out of knocking a foe prone since you'll get at most one attack against them before they can stand back up.

Simic HybridGGTR

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Simic Hybrid. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: Fantastic and versatile, but the Ranger can replicate most of the Animal Enhancement options using either spells or class features so the Simic Hybrid's usefulness is diminished compared to many other classes.

VedalkenGGTR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, one tool. Vedalken Dispassion is a powerful defense, and Tireless Precision can provide useful bonuses with skills and tools, not quite matching the Rogue's Expertise, but still making up part of the gap.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread. You can go for a Wisdom-based build, but those are already hard and trying to limp along with nothing but a +1 Wisdom increase is extremely difficult.

Races of Theros

CentaurMOoT: See above under the Races of Ravnica section.

HumanMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

LeoninMOoT

Customized Origin: 2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Daunting Roar provides a great crowd control effect, and since the DC is Constitution-based it should be reasonably reliable, assuming you go for a Dexterity-based build so you're not extremely MAD.

Default Rules: A possibility for Strength-based builds, but you may struggle to keep your Constitution high enough to keep Daunting Roar effective.

MinotaurMOoT: See above under the Ravnica Races section.

SatyrMOoT

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills, Fey creature type, and Magic Resistance. Not quite as durable as the Yuan-Ti Pureblood, but you give up that durability for extra skills which are important on a class like the Ranger which is generally serving as the party's rogue-equivalent.

Default Rules: Basically just a +1 Dexterity increase and Magic Resistance. Everything else is hard for the Ranger to use.

TritonMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

AasimarEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

BugbearEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

DragonbornPHB

Wildemount presents two new Dragonborn variants, each replacing the standard Dragonborn's ability score increases and damage resistance.

Customized Origin:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Forceful Presence is not useful for the Ranger.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Vengeful Assault is great on a class which frequently relies on making multiple attacks to repeatedly apply Hunter's Mark.

Default Rules:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Probably the best option if you want a dragonborn ranger, but you'll still need to stick to a Strength-based build.

Elf

Wildemount elves share the core traits of PHB elves, but Wildemount adds two new subraces. See above for more information on other elf subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • Pallid ElfEGtW: With the ability to rearrange your ability scores, the Pallid Elf loses much of its appeal. Consider the Glasya Tiefling instead.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

Default Rules:

  • Pallid ElfEGtW: The same ability increases as the Wood Elf, but arguably better traits for the Ranger. The skill bonuses are good, and while the innate spellcasting isn't great, casting Invisibility once per day is much more broadly useful than Mask of the Wild.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GenasiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

HalflingPHB

Wildemount halflings share the core traits of PHB halflings, but Wildemount adds a new subrace. See above for information on other halfling subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • LotusdenEGtW: Great for any ranger, but the innate spellcasting is especially effective for Druidic Warrior builds. You may choose to rearrange the ability score increases, but Dexterity/Wisdom still works great so you may not need to do so.

Default Rules:

  • LotusdenEGtW: Great for any ranger, but the Wisdom increase and innate spellcasting are especially effective for Druidic Warrior builds.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoliathEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

KenkuEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcEGtW: See above, under "Races of Eberron". Wildemount uses the updated Orc racial traits rather than the original traits published in Volo's Guide to Monsters.

TabaxiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

TortleEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

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 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:

  • 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 feats which I think work especially well for the class or which might be tempting but poor choices.

  • AlertPHB: Going first isn't terribly important for the Ranger.
  • 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.
  • ChefTCoE: 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.
  • Crossbow ExpertPHB: All the action economy of TWF with the range of Archery, and you can do it in melee combat.
  • CrusherTCoE: Without a way to improve your chance of scoring a critical hit, there's little reason to take this.
  • 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 can cast Healing Spirit, which solves the issue of healing out of combat.
  • Eldritch AdeptTCoE: 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.
  • Elemental AdeptPHB: Rangers don't get enough elemental damage spells to justify this.
  • Fey TouchedTCoE: 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.

  • Fighting InitiateTCoE: 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.
  • GrapplerPHB: Just a terrible feat in general. You don't need it to grapple successfully.
  • Great Weapon MasterPHB: 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.
  • GunnerTCoE: 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.
  • HealerPHB: Learn Cure Wounds.
  • Heavily ArmoredPHB: 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.
  • 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. If you want to use cantrips, consider Fighting Style (Druidic Warrior)

    For more advice on Magic Initiate, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
  • Medium Armor MasterPHB: A feat for a net of +1 to AC over light armor and 20 Dexterity. Spend the feat on Defensive Duelist instead.
  • Metamagic AdeptTCoE: 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.
  • MobilePHB: 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.
  • 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 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.
  • PiercerTCoE: 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.
  • ResilientPHB: 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.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: Leave this for the full casters if you can.
  • 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.
  • Shadow TouchedTCoE: 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.

  • 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.
  • Skill ExpertTCoE: Helpful to close the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue.
  • 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.
  • SlasherTCoE: 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.
  • ToughPHB: 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.
  • War CasterPHB: 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.

Weapons

  • Longbow: The Archery Ranger's go-to weapon.
  • Quarterstaff: 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.
  • 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 Breaker build, a whip is a good choice so that you can reach multiple foes without running back and forth between them.

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.

Multiclassing

This section briefly details so 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.

  • 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. 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.
  • Druid: 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.
  • Fighter: 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.
  • 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 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.

Magic Items

Common Magic Items

  • Horn of Silent AlarmXGtE: 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.
  • Moon-Touched SwordXGtE: 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.
  • Unbreakable ArrowDMG: 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.
  • Walloping ArrowDMG: 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

  • Ammunition, +1DMG: Single-use and expensive. Get a +X weapon instead, if you can.
  • Amulet of Proof against Detection and LocationDMG: Permanent Nondetection, similar to the spell. Combine this with Invisibility, and you can't be detected by common countermeasures like See Invisibility.
  • Boomerang, +1DMG: 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.
  • Boots of ElvenkindDMG: Helpful on any stealthy character, though not effective as a Cloak of Elvenkind. Combine with a Cloak of Elvenkind for maximum effect.
  • Bracers of ArcheryDMG: An easy choice for archer builds. Unfortunately, they don't work with crossbows so Crossbow Expert builds won't benefit.
  • Broom of FlyingDMG: 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.
  • Cloak of ElvenkindDMG: 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.
  • Cloak of ProtectionDMG: Good on any character, but it requires Attunement and it's not very interesting.
  • Eyes of the EagleDMG: 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.
  • Gauntlets of Ogre powerDMG: 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.
  • Gloves of ThieveryDMG: Easily replaced by the Enhance Ability spell, but still helpful for stealthy characters.
  • Goggles of NightDMG: Crucial for races which don't get Darkvision, especially if your party can't cast the Darkvision spell for you.
  • Moon SickleTCoE: +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.
  • Nature's MantleTCoE: 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.
  • Sentinel ShieldDMG: Most rangers go for either archery or two-weapon fighting, but for the handful of rangers using shields this is a spectacular option.
  • Shield, +1DMG: +1 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Slippers of Spider ClimbingDMG: 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.
  • Stone of Good LuckDMG: 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.
  • Weapon, +1DMG: 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.
  • Winged BootsDMG: Excellent on its own, but Winged Boots are more limited in use than a broom of flying, and they require Attunement.

Rare Magic Items

  • Ammunition, +2DMG: Single-use and expensive. Get a +X weapon instead, if you can.
  • Amulet of HealthDMG: 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.
  • Armor of ResistanceDMG: 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.
  • Armor, +1DMG: +1 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Barrier Tattoo (Rare)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.
  • Belt of Giant Strength (Hill)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.
  • Cloak of DisplacementDMG: 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.
  • Cloak of the BatDMG: 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.
  • FlametongueDMG: 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.
  • Mantle of Spell ResistanceDMG: 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.
  • Moon SickleTCoE: +2 to spell attacks, save DC's, attack rolls, and damage rolls. See Moon Sickle under Uncommon Magic Items for more.
  • Periapt of Proof Against PoisonDMG: Poison damage is very common across the full level range, so immunity to it is a significant improvement in your durability.
  • Ring of EvasionDMG: 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.
  • Ring of ProtectionDMG: Cloak of Protection is lower rarity and has the same effect.
  • Ring of ResistanceDMG: A fine item in a vaccuum, but a Ring of Spell Storing full of Absorb Elements will be much more effective.
  • Ring of Spell StoringDMG: Fill it with Absorb Elements and Shield, and recharge it whenever possible and this is a spectacular defensive asset.
  • Shadowfell Brand TattooDMG: 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.
  • Shield, +2DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Sword of WoundingDMG: 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.
  • Weapon, +2DMG: Mathematically spectacular. It's difficult to beat the math here.
  • Wings of FlyingDMG: Broom of Flying is much better, lower rarity, and doesn't require attunement.

Very Rare Magic Items

  • Absorbing TattooTCoE: Good, but too high rarity to devote to a single damage type. Get a Ring of Spell Storing and fill it with Absorb Elements.
  • Ammunition, +3DMG: Single-use and expensive. Get a +X weapon instead, if you can.
  • Animated ShieldDMG: 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.
  • Armor, +2DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Belt of Giant Strength (Frost, Stone, Fire)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.
  • Frost BrandDMG: 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.
  • Manual of Bodily HealthDMG: 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.
  • Manual of Quickness of ActionDMG: Spectacular for Dexterity-based builds.
  • Moon SickleTCoE: +2 to spell attacks, save DC's, attack rolls, and damage rolls. See Moon Sickle under Uncommon Magic Items for more.
  • OathbowDMG: 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.
  • Scimitar of SpeedDMG: Among the best weapons to use with the Dueling style, you get two-weapon fighting action economy on a single weapon.
  • Shield, +3DMG: +3 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Spellguard ShieldDMG: A minor upgrade from the Mantle of Spell Resistance, the Spellguard Shield protects you not just from spells, but from all magical effects.
  • Sun BladeDMG: 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.
  • Weapon, +3DMG: Mathematically spectacular. It's difficult to beat the math here.

Legendary Magic Items

  • Armor, +3DMG: +3 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective. It feels underwhelming at this rarity, but the math if good.
  • Belt of Giant Strength (Cloud, Storm)DMG: As good as a +4 weapon for Strength-based character, and that doesn't even consider Athletics checks or saves.
  • Blood Fury TattooTCoE: 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.
  • Cloak of InvisibilityDMG: 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.
  • Ioun Stone (Mastery)DMG: Proficiency Bonuses apply to a lot of things and a +1 bonus goes a long way. Attacks, saves, skills, etc. all benefit.
  • Luck BladeDMG: Bonuses to attacks and saves, a once per day reroll, and it can cast Wish a few times (maybe. 1d4-1 could be zero). Green if it can't cast Wish.
  • Ring of InvisibilityDMG: 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.
  • Ring of Spell TurningDMG: 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 blue.
  • Ring of Three WishesDMG: 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.

  • Scarab of ProtectionDMG: 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 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.

-- Boxed text provided by dScryb (affiliate link)

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.

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.