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DnD 5e - Ranger Spell List Breakdown

Last Updated: March 31st, 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.

Introduction

Ranger spells are an interesting mix of buffs and utility options with a handful of direct damage spells and healing options. Most of the spells are taken from the Druid's spell list, though the Ranger gets several unique options like Hunter's Mark, and in many cases spells shared with the druid are the Ranger's worst options while spells unique to the Ranger are their best options.

The Ranger's spell selection is also limited heavily by WotC's concepts about what a ranger is and where they go on adventures. Spells will heavily favor fighting in forests (or in forest-like environments like orchards. Basically anywhere with trees and other abundant foliage)), which means that if you're fighting anywhere else your spell options are more limited. There's also distinct favoritisim toward ranged combat; ranged rangers look forward to Swift Quiver at 5th spell level, while melee rangers get Steel Wind Strike which absolutely doesn't care about how good you are at melee combat because it's a spell attack that has its own damage and ranged rangers can use it just as well. Hopefully we'll see some new options added in the future, but considering that the ranger got just 6 new spells in Xanathar's Guide to Everything I'm not optimistic.

Ranger Spells

Optional spells are marked below with (Optional) following the spell's name. These spells are considered optional rules, as described in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Consult your DM before deciding to use these spells.

1st-Level Spells

  • Absorb ElementsXGtE: You get spellcasting later and slower than anyone else, so you have very few options for protecting yourself from non-weapon damage. This will handle that issue, but it will eat your spell slots quickly so be sure to eliminate the source of the elemental damage as quickly as possible so that you don't run through your spell slots too quickly.
  • AlarmPHB: Not worth one of your limited spells known. Leave this to someone who can cast ritual spells.
  • Animal FriendshipPHB: Arguably easier than proficiency in Animal Handling, but it will become obsolete once beasts disappear around CR 10.
  • Beast BondEEPC: If your companion already has Pack Tactics, this is redundant. If it doesn't way to guarantee advantage for your companion. However, it requires Concentration so you can't use Hunter's mark at the same time.
  • Cure WoundsPHB: Rangers don't have as many spell slots as a full caster, so using your precious few slots on healing can be difficult. However, someone in the party needs to be able to heal the primary healer if they fall unconcious. But the second you can get Healing Spirit you should consider replacing this.
  • Detect MagicPHB: Ideally someone in the party who can cast more spells than you will handle this, but somtimes you don't really have a choice.
  • Detect Poison and DiseasePHB: Very situational, and unless you can also cast Protection From Poison there's little you can do about it anyway. Fortunately, this can be cast as a ritual, but you can't do that so leave it to someone who can.
  • Ensnaring StrikePHB: Almost exclusive to Rangers, Ensnaring Strike is a great way to handle single targets that are causing you problems, especially if the target is a melee monster. Note that you can use this at range, so archery builds can ensnare a target, then either wear them down or shift their attention to other foes. It's a Strength save, which means that most spellcasters and many agile enemies will have trouble with it, but big melee brutes will probably resist it. It's also an excellent counter to flying enemies because being restrained causes creatures which fly nonmagically to fall, which means that if you shoot a griffon or something it's going to take a pile of falling damage.
  • EntanglePHB (Optional): A great are control spell at any level. Strength saving throws tend to be low for any creature that isn't a gigantic Strength-based brute, so it's easy to restrain even high-level enemies. However, it requires Concentration so you can't easily combine it with things like Hunter's Mark.
  • Fog CloudPHB: An excellent way to cover your escape, but you can't see through the fog any better than anyone else, so don't expect to fight in this without some other advantage most of the time. Fog Cloud can be a way to negate Advantage if your enemies have the upper hand, so if you're facing enemies who are invisible, hidden, or have some other source of Advantage, Fog Cloud can take that away, effectively leveling the playing field so that no one can see each other. Such situations are rare, but it's nice to know that there's a countermeasure when those situations do arise.
  • GoodberryPHB: An excellent resource, both in terms of healing and utility. A Druid can usually spare a prepared spell so that they can dump spells into Goodberry at the end of the day, but that may be harder for a Ranger since you get such a small number of spells known. Still, dumping your spell slots into a pile of goodberries the day before you leave on an adventure will give you a helpful pad of hit points that you can quickly use to heal after combat without resortin to a short rest.
  • Hail of ThornsPHB: This shouldn't be a go-to option, but it's a nice way to handle tightly-packed groups of weak foes. Just don't rely on it too heavily, as it will eat your spell slots quickly without a big payoff.
  • Hunter's MarkPHB: The Ranger's bread and butter. Many rangers will spend the bulk of their time using Concentration on Hunter's Mark while they focus fire upon single foes before switching to the next foe. The 1-hour duration (more if you upcast the spell) means that you can get a ton of mileage out of one spell slot, but unless you're fighting at Range you'll need to constantly worry about making saves to maintain Concentration.

    Rules supplements beyond the Player's Handbook have introduced a number of alternatives to Hunter's Mark. The Favored Foe Optional Class Feature is basically a weakened version of Hunter's Mark with its own usage pool that won't eat your spell slots, and spells like Elemental Weapon can provide a similar damage boost. Hunter's Mark remains a staple combat option for the Ranger, but it's no longer the single defining means for the Ranger to be a meaningful threat in combat.

  • JumpPHB: Too situational.
  • LongstriderPHB: An extra 10 ft. of movement is always nice, and the 1-hour duration means that you can enjoy it for a long time on one spell slot. If you're playing a slow race or if you just want some extra manevuerability this is a great addition.
  • Searing SmitePHB (Optional): A decent way to deal ongoing damage to an enemy with poor Constitution saves which you're having trouble hitting (like a spellcaster with defensive buffs), but it only works with melee weapon attacks, it requires Concentration, and your save DC is likely too low to make this reliable in the vast majority of fights.
  • SnareXGtE: Good for setting a trap, or if you're resting somewhere dangerous with a convenient choke point like a narrow halway. Targets are restrained for at least one round, which is hopefully enough for you to fight your way out of your bedroll and grab a weapon.
  • Speak with AnimalsPHB: Situational, but sometimes the only witnesses are wild animals and you just need a clue from your local family of squirrels.
  • Zephyr StrikeXGtE: Cast it as a bonus action, and you get the benefits of Disengage. If you attack, you get Advantage on the attack, some bonus damage, and the benefits of Dash. You only get to do it once, but if you're built to fight at range and something gets uncomfortably close to you, turn this on, step back 5 ft., shoot it to express your distaste, then run away.

2nd-Level Spells

  • AidPHB (Optional): With an 8-hour duration and three targets, this is a staple buff that's worth casting literally every day. Ideally you want someone else to cast it, but if no one else can this is a good spell to be locked into because it's literally always useful.

    Aid's casting time allows it to be used in combat, which is unusual but offers an interesting option. With three targets and a 30-foot range, you can cast it to both buff and heal your allies during combat. Targets current hit points and hit point maximum both increase, so allies at 0 hit points are healed in addition to having their hit point maximum raised, thereby allowing Aid to serve a similar function to Mass Healing Word. However, since spells don't stack with themselves, it's hard to repeat this trick. You'll need to cast Aid again using higher-level spell slots, which can get expensive quickly, so Mass Healing Word is probably better if Aid is already running and if Mass Healing Word is an option for your party.

  • Animal MessengerPHB: Situational and less reliable than similar spells like Sending, but it's also a spell level lower than Sending. If you know that your recipient is going to be wherever you send your message, this works fine. Unfortunately, the recipient doesn't get to respond. On top of those complexities, this is simply too situational for the Ranger to justify.
  • BarkskinPHB: By the time you can cast this, your should have more AC than it can give you.
  • Beast SensePHB: The intent is that you will use this to scout an area using an animal. Maybe you cast Speak With Animals on it, then send it to explore somewhere and use Beast Sense to get a first-hand account. If you're desperate, you might also use this on an animal and carry it around to help address issues like blindness, deafness, or your own lack of darkvision. Your DM might reasonably impose Disadvantage on things like attack rolls when doing this due to the uncomfortable shift in perspective, but if you're truly desperate it might be enough.
  • Cordon of ArrowsPHB: With a 1-action casting time you might actually be able to use this in combat, but the damage is really low (compare 1d6+Dex twice to a total of 4d6) so the intent is clearly to use this to lay ambushes or to protect an area where you're resting. Unlike similar options like Alarm and Snare, this doesn't make a significant amount of noise when it goes into effect, so consider tying a bell to each piece of ammunition after you cast the spell.
  • DarkvisionPHB: Darkvision is a significant tactical advantage, and with an 8-hour duration this is a fantastic way to get it.
  • Enhance AbilityPGB (Optional): This can easily make up the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue. Advantage isn't quite as effective as Expertise once your Proficiency Bonus hits +4, but it's close. It's also an easy go-to buff in a variety of situations where your own character might not be effective, such as castign Enhance Ability (Charisma) on your party's Face.
  • Gust of WindPHB (Optional): Too situational to learn permanently.
  • Find Traps: Too expensive and too imprecise. Invest in Investigation.
  • Healing SpiritXGtE: This spell was massively weakened by errata issued in 2020. The cap of 1+mod uses means that most rangers can expect something like 3 to 4 uses of the spell, which totals just 3d6/4d6 healing when cast at 2nd level. That's still better than Cure Wounds, but it's not good enough to replace healing from a short rest when your party is in rough shape. The healing goes up by 1d6 per spell slot past 2nd, so you can double the healing by using a 3rd-level slot. Generally you don't want to use this during a fight because the healing isn't fast enough and it requires Concentration which you might be dedicating to Hunter's Mark, but it may be worth that trade so that you don't need to spend another spell known on Cure Wounds.
  • Lesser RestorationPHB: Helpful, but by the time you get it hopefully you have a cleric or something that has had this for a long time.
  • Locate Animals or PlantsPHB: Very situational. Situations where you need to find some specific type of plant are usually a major story point rather than some routine task, and unless your DM really likes that story device this isn't worth a spell known.
  • Locate ObjectPHB: Too situational, and too easy to counter. Anyone with any knowledge of magic that's trying to hide something will wrap it in lead.
  • Magic WeaponPHB (Optional): If your game uses magic items, skip this. If it doesn't, someone in your party needs to have this available. I hope that it's not you, but it needs to be someone. Consider upgrading to Elemental Weapon when you get 3rd-level spells.
  • Pass Without TracePHB: +10 is a massive bonus, easily enough to offset a terrible Dexterity bonus and Disadvantage from armor so your whole party can be sneaky. The 1-hour duration is great, too, but remember that it requires Concentration.
  • Protection From PoisonPHB: Situational, but poison is common across the full CR range, so this is a fantastic defensive option at any level. The 1-hour duration means that you can get a lot of mileage out of a single spell slot even if you cast it ahead of time.
  • SilencePHB: Great both for stealth and for debilitating enemy spellcasters who can often escape danger using spells like Misty Step which only have Verbal components.
  • Spike GrowthPHB: Excellent area control for such a low-level spell, and it doesn't allow a save. This is especially good in encounters with large numbers of melee enemies.
  • Summon BeastTCoE (Optional): Too dependent on both spell level and spellcasting ability modifier. Most rangers won't have the Wisdom to back this up, and the rangers who do invest heavily in Wisdom still don't get spell levels fast enough to keep the beast viable in combat.

3rd-Level Spells

  • Conjure AnimalsPHB: Normally a fine spell, but the Ranger gets it so late that it's absolutely obsolete.
  • Conjure BarragePHB: The only selling point of this spell is the massive 60-foot cone. The 3d8 damage, coupled with your relatively poor spell save DC, means that you should expect most enemies to pass the save and take an average of ust 6.75 damage. You need to hit at minimum 4 targets just to match the damage you would deal with two regular longbow attacks with Hunter's Mark, and Hunter's Mark keeps being useful after the first round you cast it. If you use this, you need to be able to hit an impressively large number of targers, and even then it's rarely worth the spell slot.
  • DaylightPHB: A Continual Flame is typically sufficient, but sometimes you need to light up larger areas like dark battlefiends or massive caverns. This also dispels magical darkness of 3rd level or lower, which is great if you're fighting enemies like drow which can produce magical darkness. Tragically, you can't cast Daylight at a higher level to dispel magical darkness of higher levels.
  • Elemental WeaponPHB (Optional): This gets you a magic weapon similar to the spell Magic Weapon with the added benefit of a damage boost. This plays very well to the Ranger's normal tactics, so if Hunter's Mark was working well for you, you already know how to make Elemental Weapon work. However, Hunter's Mark provides a slightly higher damage bonus and will last longer when cast with the same slot, but it doesn't provide a bonus to attack rolls so there's nuance to the math there. Ranged rangers may prefer Hunter's Mark because it's easier to maintain Concentration all day and you have Fighting Style (Archery), while single-weapon melee rangers may prefer Elemental Weapon because losing Concentration means that you're losing one hour of duration rather than eight hours.
  • Flame ArrowsEEPC: For the same spell slot you can cast Hunter's Mark with an 8-hour duration. Hunter's Mark will provide the same amount of damage, plus the spell's other benefits. The only advantage that Flame Arrows has over Hunter's Mark is that you don't need to spend a Bonus Action to change targets, but even then you're limited to such a small pool of ammunition that the 1-hour duration feels pointless. Of course, Flame Arrows costs an Action to cast (compared to a Bonus Action for Hunter's Mark), so the 1-hour duration makes a bit easier to set up before you go into combat if you still insist on wasting a spell slot on it.
  • Lightning ArrowPHB: Basically a better version of Hail of Thorns, but the damage is rarely good enough to justify the spell slot so save this for when you have a big group of enemies in a small area. 5 or more seems like a good number.
  • Meld into StonePHB (Optional): Very situational.
  • NondetectionPHB: Good, but not totally essential. Divination spells include things like See Invisibility, so if you or your party relies on invisibility of any kind this protects from several maigcal countermeasures to both stealth and invisibility. However, most enemies aren't spellcasters and won't have access to those divination options, so you can't justify casting this every day. The spell also has an expensive material component specifically to deter you from casting this all the time. Still, with an 8-hour duration, if you need this spell it's going to do exactly what you need it to do.
  • Plant GrowthPHB: Situational. Outside of normal adventuring activities, the ability to enrich land to double crop yields is very useful. But DnD is a game primarily about adventuring, and the option to make an area of plants overgrown is the more important option for most adventurers. In most cases, Entangle will work fine if you just need to slow your enemies down, but Plant Growth doesn't expire, so those plants remain difficult to walk through until someone clears the plants (which may requires hours of chopping and/or burning). The spell also doesn't specify that the plants grow along the ground or sufaces, so RAW it can create a sphere of plants, creating super-difficult terrain extending 100 feet into the air, potentially engulfing flying enemies.

    The math on Plant Growth's speed reduction is impressive. Since most creatures have a speed of around 30 feet, moving at 1/4 speed means that they can move one 5-foot square and be left with 10 feet of movement that won't get them anywhere (unless they dash or something). Jeremy Crawford has clarified that Plant Growth doesn't create difficult terrain, so it's possible that difficult terrain would stack with Plant Growth, but I personally think that's not how it's intended to work. Plant Growth specifies that "a creature moving through the area must spend 4 feet of movement for every 1 foot" while the difficult terrain rule specifies that "moving 1 foot in difficult terrain costs 2 feet of speed", and since those two statements conflict I think you're intended to use whichever effect is greater rather than stacking them or multiplying them or something.

    While it's not discussed in the text of the spell, it seems likely that Plant Growth would also impede vision. If you turn a nicely-tended hedge into a 100-foot-radius hemisphere of super-difficult terrain, there's clearly enough stuff in the way that seeing through it is difficult. This would necessarily mean that creatures inside the area would likely be concealed to some degree, so don't expect to drop Plant Growth on and enemy and then spend the next several turns spraying them with cantrips until they fall down.

    Plant Growth's problematic limitation is that it requires plants to be in the area. However, there doesn't seem to be any restriction on how many or how large these plants must be (just that they must be "normal", whatever that means), and where there's lack of clarity there's room for shenanigans. For example: you might carry around a potted plant and throw it into the area to provide the necessary plant life to support the spell. Plants like mint or clover can fit into a small pot, and when you make them grow you get a pretty and pleasant-smelling field of super-difficult terrain. If your DM scoffs at the idea of 100-foot-tall clover patches, consider carrying a bonsai tree or some other plant which would normally be very tall (though a bonsai might not qualify as "normal" since we don't know what that word means here).

  • Protection from EnergyPHB: An absolutely crucial defensive option, but hopefully by this level your party has some full spellcasters who can provide it.
  • RevivifyPHB (Optional): Too good to forgo. Everyone who can get this should take it.
  • Speak with PlantsPHB: Situational. If you need information, Speak With Animals can often get you the same information since there are typically animals wherever there are plants. If you want difficult terrain, Plant Growth is better and works in the same scenarios. If you encounter plant creatures, Speak With Plants is basically your only option, but I've never seen a ranger with enough charisma to make that matter.
  • Summon FeyTCoE (Optional): The summon options do little to improve upon Summon Beast, and they're still not a good choice for the Ranger.

    For more help, see my Practical Guide to Summoning Spells.

  • Water BreathingPHB: Situational, but crucial when you need it.
  • Water WalkPHB: Usually flight is a better option than walking across a liquid. The spell notably doesn't allow a saving throw, so you can use this on hostile creatures underwater to force them to surface.
  • Wind WallPHB: Too situational. Usually you use this to keep ranged enemies from shooting you with ranged weapons, but since you don't have enough spellcasting to rely on as your primary offensive option you're probably only hurting yourself unless you're totally incapable of using a ranged weapon.

4th-Level Spells

  • Conjure Woodland BeingsPHB: Normally a fine spell, but the Ranger gets it so late that it's absolutely obsolete.
  • Dominate BeastPHB: By the time you can cast this, beasts have stopped being a threat.
  • Freedom of MovementPHB: Nice, but situational.
  • Grasping VinePHB: Not a good spell, your save DC will be relatively poor, and you need your bonus action for other things.
  • Guardian of Nature: Perhaps the only option available to rangers where Strength is tempting. Guardian of Nature makes you really strong for 1 minute. The Primal Beast option makes you very good on offense, but advantage on Strength-based attacks idnicates that it's intended for Strength-based builds which are generally terrible for the Ranger. The Great Tree option offers Advantage on Dexterity attacks rolls (probably the part that you care about the most), but it also offers Advantage on Constitution saving throws so you're less likely to lose Concentration, and difficult terrain in an area so enemies will have trouble getting into and out of melee with you.
  • Locate CreaturePHB: More effective than mundane tracking, but the 1,000-foot range can be a problem if the target is actively fleeing from you. If you're going to use this, be sure that you're moving faster than your target.
  • StoneskinPHB: A decent buff, but at this level magic attacks are common.
  • Summon ElementalTCoE (Optional): You get this far too late for it to be viable in combat, and there's not much utility here.

    For more help, see my Practical Guide to Summoning Spells.

5th-Level Spells

  • Commune With NaturePHB: This would be much better if you could cast rituals.
  • Conjure VolleyPHB: This makes the Hunter Ranger's Volley ability somewhat redundant, but that doesn't make this a good option. It has all the same problems as Conjure Barrage. Your save DC will be relatively low unless you went all-in on Wisdom after getting 20 Dexterity, so most rangers can expect enemies to pass the save frequently.
  • Greater RestorationPHB (Optional): A crucial healing option, but if your party has survived long enough to reach this level you almost certainly have access to this already, and you shouldn't need to learn it permanently.
  • Steel Wind StrikeXGtE: If this were a melee weapon attack instead of a melee spell attack it would be great, but your spell attacks are probably a bit behind your weapon attacks so you're more likely to miss unless you have something else adding to your attacks like Guardian of Nature or Bless.
  • Swift QuiverPHB: Hugely improves your action economy, but since it requires Concentration you can't combine it with Hunter's Mark or Guardian of Nature, and it requires a ranged weapon with ammunition so Strength-based rangers don't have a good way to use this. It also makes Crossbow Expert somewhat redundant, and depending on a few variables (magic weapons, possibly other buffs, etc.) you may do more damage with Hunter's Mark than and Crossbow Expert than you would with one extra shot from a ranged weapon without the extra d6 of damage.

    Consider a high-level ranger with Crossbow Expert, a nonmagical hand crossbow, and 20 Dexterity. 4 attacks will deal a total of 4d6+20 (avg. 36), while three attacks with Hunter's Mark running will deadly 6d6+15 (avg. 36). There is some nuance to the math because the extra attack means another chance to score a critical hit, but the difference isn't big enough to make Swift Quiver worth being a 5th-level spell when you can cast Hunter's Mark as a 1st-level spell. Magic weapons, feats, or class features which add additional damage will make the math favor Swift Quiver more heavily, but I'm not sure how much you would need to justify the difference in spell level between Hunter's Mark and Swift Quiver.

    Now consider that same ranger with a longbow and without Crossbow Expert. For that ranger, two extra attacks doubles their number of attacks for the turn, taking their damage output from 2d8+2d6+10 with Hunter's Mark (avg. 26) to 4d8+20 (avg. 38), a nearly 50% increase in damage output. We're again ignoring the possibility of critical hits, fighting style, magic items, etc. but any of those things tip the math further in favor of Swift Quiver. Even if you're built for melee, Swift Quiver is a great way to switch to ranged combat and deal a bunch of damage.

  • Tree StridePHB: Situational. In combat the intent is that you'll use this to outmaneuver enemies by moving between trees, but that requires an abundance of available trees to support that. As much as DnD tends to love forests, they're a tiny portion of the overall landscape of adventuring so you can't guarantee that this will every be useful in most campaigns.
  • Wrath of NatureXGtE: Exciting, but the usefulness of the spell depends on the abundance of plant life in the area. It would be better if you could replace parts of the spell to suit the environment, but if you're in a desert or a frozen tundra, you may get nothing. As a fix, let structurally similar plant life replace the plants specified in the spell description: Let seaward work as vines, let large cacti or giant mushrooms work as trees, etc..