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DnD 5e - Ranger Subclass Breakdown

Last Updated: Nobember 27th, 2020

TEMPORARY NOTE: RPGBOT is undergoing a massive update for DnD 5e content to accomodate rules changes and new content introduced by Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Please be patient while these changes are made. I maintain this site as a hobby, and I got access to the book on the same day as everyone else and I am rushing to catch up as quickly as I can. Please check "Last Updated" date below the title of each page. If it was updated before November 17th, it has not been updated to include the new content. To watch for ongoing updates, please follow me on Twitter.

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 or released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

Introduction

Few classes have benefited more from the evolution in subclass design than the Ranger. In the core rules, the Ranger was widely considered the weakest class, especially due to the eye-catching yet ineffective Beastmaster. Over time, new supplements have introduced new ranger subclasses which have made the Ranger an iconic, diverse, and interesting class that can hold is a lot of fun to play.

Ranger Subclasses - Ranger Archetypes

Beast MasterPHB

The Beast Master redefines the ranger by giving them a cool pet who fights alongside them in combat. The image of a rough-hewn explorer braving a dangerous world with a loyal beast at their side is a classic fantasy trope, and the Beast Master executes on that trope very well.

One word of caution: If you think a drow ranger who fights with two swords and has a panther as their beast companion, it has been done. By some bizzarre feat of group think, every new player at one point in their career will arrive at this character concept independently. The idea may have originated from Drizzt Do'Urden, literally the most iconic ranger in DnD's history, but I'm not confident in that assertion because I've met numerous new players experiencing this phenomena who have never heard of Drizzt, the Forgotten Realms, or any other established proper nouns, real or imagined. I'm starting to believe that R. A. Salvatore may have been an early victim of this phenomenon rather than the originator of the idea. But none of that will help you mechanically optimize your character, so let's move on.

The Player's Handbook presents the Ranger's Companion feature, and Tasha's Cauldron of Everything presents a replacement feature called Primal Companion. Primal Companion is both easier and more effective than Ranger's Companion, and I recommend using it instead of Ranger's Companion in every case, but I'm not you and I try to encourage people to make their own decisions, so advice for both version of the subclass is presented below.

Beast Master with Primal Companion

While not officially a "version 2" of the subclass, the Primal Companion replacement feature completely alters the way the the beast Master functions. The simple correction to the action economy around managing your beast frees the Ranger to do other things with their Action, and while that will typically mean attacking for most rangers don't feel the need to limit yourself to martial attacks.

Casting spells which take an Action feel like much less of a commitment than for most rangers, and you might even consider Fighting Style (Druidic Warrior) and pursue cantrips as your go-to combat option. Since you're not attacking using your Bonus Action (TWF and Crossbow Expert builds are staple ranger options), Hunter's Mark becomes less of a crucial part of your tactics so you can explore other Concentration spells as well as feats like Shaprshooter which trade attack bonus for a flat damage boost.

  1. Primal Companion: Your defining feature, your companion is equal parts pet and weapon. Unlike summoned pets which other classes might use (Dancing Item, Wildfire Spirit, etc.), your pet sticks around all the time. You don't need to summon it or whatever. However, like any other member of your party it needs food, healing, etc.
  2. Exceptional Training: Making your companion's attacks magical is the only thing you actually benefit from here, but it's crucial. Resistance to non-magic weapon attacks is common and becomes more common as you gain levels.
  3. Bestial Fury: Your beast gets two attacks and it still only costs you a Bonus Action to command them.
  4. Share Spells: This is a fantastic way to share buff spells, especially those which require Concentration.
Primal Companion Options

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything presents a replacement mechanic for the Beast Master's Companion feature. Rather than selecting an animal with a published stat block, you pick from one of three generic beasts and you can describe it however you like. If you want a sabretooth tiger, a dinosaur, a kimodo dragon, or just a dog, you're using the same stat block.

More important than simplifying the challenges of picking a companion, the new Companion feature also corrects the action economy issues which were the fundamental problem which made the Beast Master such a poor option. Commanding your companion is now done as a Bonus Action, allowing you to do interesting things on your turn like attacking or casting spells without leaving your pet to stand adjacent to your enemies and Dodge.

Raising your companion from the dead now takes a spell slot (so long as you do so within an hour of its death), allowing you throw your companion into combat with little regard for its safey confident in the knowledge that you can bring it right back to life good as new. Obviously that's a horrible way to treat an animal that you're supposed to be emotionally bonded with, but this is a game, your companion is a class feature, and as a DM I wouldn't make a fighter spend 8 hours feeding a wild longsword table scraps until they were friends.

Changing your companion is also much easier now. If you suddenly find yourself on a boat trip and want a suitable aquatic companion, you can change your companion after a Long Rest. This may be hard for players who want to bond with a single animal, but you might choose to think of your ranger as master of all beasts rather than a master of just one beast that you drag around everywhere.

The only shortcoming of the Primal Companion feature is the limited set of companion choices. None of them appear to work as mounts (though your DM might still allow it), and no matter how you dress up the stats any two beast masters are going to feel very similar to one another.

  • Beast of the Land: Simple and iconic. With 40 ft. land and climb speed, this thing can get around very quickly. The damage will match or exceed a weapon, and Charge allows your companion to knock foes prone if they can get a running start. Unfortunately, since your beast only gets one attack until you get Bestial Fury at level 11, it can't capitalize on knocking enemies prone on its own for half of the level range.
  • Beast of the Sea: Only viable in aquatic campaigns. 5-foot land speed is not enough for your sharktopus to hobble around on land and be effective in combat. If you can somehow get its speed up to reasonable amount (look for spells like Longstrider with long durations which don't require Concentration), you may be able to make this work on land. If you can do it, the Beast of the Sea's attacks grapple when they hit, which is a powerful option not normally available to players.
  • Beast of the Sky: 60-foot fly speed and Flyby. Less hit points than the other options, but with the ability to remain perpetually out of melee reach that's less of a problem. The damage is also slightly lower than Beast of the Land, but Beast of the Land deals 6.5+PB on average and the Beast of the Sky's 5.5+PB isn't noticably lower. Having a flying companion discourages you from using your companion as a Defender by interposing itself between you and your enemies, but Beast of the Sky's AC is just as good as the other options and if your companion's hit points are looking problematic it can use Flyby to withdraw to safety.
Beast Master with Ranger's Companion

The original version of the Beast Master faces several mechanical issues, the largest of which are the lack of viable companion options and the frankly awful action economy. Commanding your companion to attack consumes one of your attacks when you take the Attack action, so rather than pointing your companion at an enemy then doing your own thing you spend your Action every turn commanding your companion while you run around in the background largely useless except as a target for ranged attacks. Staple options like Hunter's Mark are largely worthless for the Beastmaster, so you give up staple class options and get back what amounts to a disappointing set of remote control teeth.

If you do choose to play the original Beast Master, the biggest decision to make is your type of companion, and while there is an abundance of options the vast majority of them are absolute garbage. Assuming you're fine with one of the handful of truly effective options, your companion can be an effective addition to the party. However, remember that your companion gets just 4 hit points per ranger level and will have a fairly low AC compared to yours, so your companion will require frequent healing and protection which can make it a frustrating tax on your party's limited resources.

  1. Ranger's Companion: Your choice of companion is as defining as your choice of Fighting Style. When selecting your companion, consider what you want it to do: Do you want a Scout, a Striker, or a Mount? Different options work better for different roles. Mounts are somewhat difficult since you're limited to Medium size beasts. Since your companion is a buffed version of the base creature, you may notice that the better options tend to be CR 1/4, and CR 0 creatures are rarely worth of consideration despite the conceptually small gap between 0 and 1/4.

    Companion options are discussed below.

  2. Exceptional Training: Sometimes it will be better for you to attack twice than to have you companion attack. On those occasions, giving your companion some extra movement might set them up to attack on the following round, or you can always have them Dodge while they draw fire.

    Also note that errata updated this ability to make your companion's attacks magical so that they can bypass resistances to non-magical weapon damage types.

  3. Bestial Fury: This doesn't invalidate your ability to make a single weapon attack, so your beast gets two and you get one. If your beast has multiattack, they can now use multiattack instead of making two attacks, effectively doubling their damage output.
  4. Share Spells: This is a fantastic way to share buff spells, especially those which require Concentration.
Ranger's Companion Options

Using the default companion ruleas means that you're typically shopping through the Monster Manual to find a decent companion, and while CR is used to limit your selections to companions which won't be too powerful, CR isn't a perfect indicator of how good a companion will be. However, creatures with CR 0 are so weak that they can typically be disregarded on that point alone.

Your choice of companion is as defining as your choice of Fighting Style. When selecting your companion, consider what you want it to do: Do you want a Scout, a Striker, or a Mount? Different options work better for different roles. Mounts are somewhat difficult since you're limited to Medium size. Since your companion is a buffed version of the base creature, you may notice that the better options tend to be CR 1/4.

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

There are some rulings on how ranger companions work addressed in the Beast Mastter FAQ, below. Be sure to check the FAQ before selecting a companion.

  • BaboonMM: CR 0.
  • BadgerMM: CR 0.
  • BatMM: CR 0.
  • Blood HawkMM: The damage isn't great, but good flight, Keen Sight, and Pack Tactics all make the Blood Hawk a viable option. Proficiency in Perception makes the Blood Hawk a fantastic aerial Scout.
  • BoarMM: Passable at low levels, especially thanks to Charge, but won't scale well.
  • CatMM: CR 0.
  • CrabMM: CR 0.
  • Cranium RatVGtM: CR 0.
  • DeerMM: CR 0.
  • DimetrodonVGtM: Great bite damage and a swim speed, but that's all.
  • EagleMM: Blood Hawk and Pteranodon are strictly better.
  • Flying SnakeMM: Multiple movement types including good flight, Flyby, Blindsight, and impressive poison damage which doesn't allow a save. Continues to be amazing once you get Bestial Fury at 11th level.
  • FrogMM: CR 0.
  • Giant BadgerMM: Burrow speed, Darkvision, Keen Smell. According to the errata, giant badgers don't get multiattack until you get Bestial Fury at 11th level, which unfortunately means that the giant badger is limited to a single attack. They're still a decent option and they'll probably do more damage one a single attack than you will.
  • Giant CentipedeMM: Blindsight, a Climb speed, and poison with very solid damage, but the poison allows a save and the DC won't scale so you'll be less effective against creatures with good Constitution saves.
  • Giant CrabMM: The Giant Crab's big scary mechanic is grappling with its claws, but since it doesn't have proficiency in Athletics and your companion's abilities never increase the DC to resist the grapple never scales. Still, grappling a target on a hit means that you can reliably restrict the targets movement. While this won't matter for a great many creatures who are fine standing still and murdering your pet crab, it can be problematic for highly mobile creatures or creatures who don't like to be in melee. It still costs the target their action to escape the grapple, so if they want to get away from your crab you're still getting some of the benefits of your crab grappling.
  • Giant Fire BeetleMM: CR 0.
  • Giant FrogMM: This is an easy option to overlook. Bite not only grapples but restrains the target. Grappled is a great way to restrict enemies' movements, but Restrained also provides advantage on melee attacks against the target. Swallow adds an additional way to inhibit (and often kill) small creatures, many of which are bad at escaping grapples. Despite the low DC to escape the frog's grapple, it still costs the target their action to do so, which means that the target is wasting the bulk of their turn just offsetting the effects of your pet. In many encounters, that could be a fight-winning advantage. Once you get Bestial Fury at 11th level, remember that Swallow is a specific action, not a type of attack, so your frog can't bite something and swallow it on the same turn.
  • Giant Poisonous SnakeMM: Blindsight (though the range is tiny), poison with very solid damage, and a swim speed, but the poison allows a save and the DC won't scale so you'll be less effective against creatures with good Constitution saves.
  • Giant RatMM: Darkvision, Keen Smell, and Pack Tactics. Unfortunately the Giant Rat has no special movement types and its damage is bad.
  • Giant WeaselMM: Fast, Darkvision, and Keen Hearing and Smell. No special movement types and bad damage.
  • Giant Wolf SpiderMM: Very similar to the giant poisonous snake, but the giant wolf spider gains better speed and Spider Climb in exchange for 1d6 poison damage. I think it's a good trade, but it further compounds the issue of unreliable poison damage due to the saving throw.
  • GoatMM: CR 0.
  • HawkMM: Blood Hawk and Pteranodon are strictly better.
  • HyenaMM: CR 0, but pretty good for its CR thanks to Pack Tactics.
  • JackalMM: CR 0. Very similar to the Hyena, but it trades damage for Keen Hearing and Smell.
  • LizardMM: CR 0.
  • MastiffMM: Perception, Keen Hearing and Smell, and decent damage with a knockdown effect. Unfortunately the DC of the knockdown effect won't scale. It's a decent option on its own, but Wolf gets all of the same things with better numbers. If you really want a dog instead of a wolf, use the wolf stat block and call it a "wolf hound" or something.
  • MuleMM: The Pony is better unless you want your companion to pull a wagon.
  • OctopusMM: CR 0.
  • OwlMM: Cr 0. The abilities are tempting, especially since it's one of few flying options with Stealth proficiency, but Blood Hawk and Pteranodon are both so much more effective in combat that it will be hard to justify the Owl.
  • PantherMM: Perception, Stealth, a Climb speed, and Keen Smell. The Panther's damage is decent, but Pounce's knockdown DC won't scale.
  • Poisonous SnakeMM: The giant version is strictly better.
  • PonyMM: The best option for a mount, but at medium size it only works for Halflings.
  • PteranodonMM: Flight with good flight speed, 2d4+1 damage, and flyby allows your pteranodon to hit and run, allowing it to stay at a safe distance while still dealing considerable damage.
  • QuipperMM: CR 0.
  • RavenMM: CR 0.
  • ScorpionMM: CR 0.
  • Sea HorseMM: CR 0.
  • SpiderMM: CR 0.
  • StirgeMM: Darkvision and flight, and surprisingly good AC. Blood Drain looks very tempting, but since the Stirge detaches after dealing 10 damage it will become less and less effective as your proficiency bonus increases.
  • VelociraptorVGtM: Tiny with decent damage and Pack Tactics. Unless you need a companion which will fit into small spaces, Wolf is considerably better.
  • VultureMM: Surprisingly good for CR 0, the Vulture offers Perception, Keen Sight and Smell, and Pack Tactics. Its damage won't match that of the Blood Hawk or Pteranodon, but it's not completely awful.
  • WeaselMM: CR 0.
  • WolfMM: Perception, Stealth, Keen Hearing and Smell, Pack Tactics, and really decent damage. Even though the knockdown effect won't scale, the Wolf is still a decent Scout and Striker, and once you get Bestial Fury at 11th level it can bite twice and hope to get lucky with the knockdown effect.
Beast Master FAQ
Can the Beast Master Ranger's Companion use Multiattack?

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

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

The damage bonus applies to the initial damage dealt by the attack and eals the same type of damage. If your companion deals poison damage which requires a saving throw, that's treated as a separate source of damage and doesn't gain the bonus. If the poison damage is dealt immediately upon the attack hitting, you could choose to make the damage bonus be poison damage since that's part of the attack's damage.

Fey WandererTCoE

Tricky and effective, the Fey Wanderer is an excellent subclass with a lot to offer to players who know how to use it to its fullest. You can play this subclass like a typical ranger like you would play a Hunter or a Monster Slayer, but you're going to miss out on a lot of what really makes the Fey Wanderer shine.

If you choose to explore the Fey Wanderer, pick up Face skills like Persuasion. That's normally a difficult prospect for the Ranger, but thanks to Otherworldly Glamour you can add both Wisdom and Charisma to Charisma checks, allowing you to be profoundly effective as a Face. You can also create a character who is highly skills in both Insight and Charisma-based Face skills at the same time, which is normally difficult to do.

The Fey Wanderer's spells and class features lean heavily on your spellcasting ability, which makes it tempting to use Fighting Style (Druidic Warrior), but be cautious if you go this route. Dreadful Strikes only works with weapons, so you shouldn't rely on things like Produce Flame as you go-to attack option. Shillelagh will work great, though.

  1. Dreadful Strikes: This roughly matches Hunter's Mark, but with a lot of advantages. The most obvious benefit is that it's free, but it doesn't stop there. There's no action costs. It stacks with Hunter's Mark's damage bonus. The damage is psychic, which is rarely resisted. It only applies once per target per turn, but if you can hit multiple targets they'll take damage too. It also applies on Opportunity Attacks (that's not better than Hunter's Mark since Hunter's Mark does, too, but it's still really nice). The one drawback is that it doesn't work quite as well as Hunter's Mark does when focusing on a single target.
  2. Fey Wanderer Magic: The vast majority of the options are only situationally useful, but you do get Misty Step which is good on exactly 100% of characters.
    • 3rd-Level: A strange choice mechanically, but the theme makes sense. Your save DC won't match a full spellcaster, and Charm Person doesn't give any indication that it worked, so you need to be extremely cautious when using it.
    • 5th-Level: The best teleportation option in combat.
    • 9th-Level: Essential in any party, but a ranger should not be the one casting this. You don't get the spell slots to make this automatically dispel stuff, and you likely don't have the Wisdom to back up the ability check. Look for Enhance Ability if you can get it from another spellcaster. Of course, at that point just have the other spellcaster cast Dispel Magic.
    • 13th-Level: Less of a go-to combat teleportation option than Misty Step, but it has better range and doesn't require line of sight so it's more powerful. You'll still get more use out of Misty Step thanks to its Bonus Action casting time, but Dimension Door can get you through walls and locked doors.
    • 17th-Level: Situational. Not a great option in combat, but out of combat this provides a passably safe way to scout an area or to trick other creatures.
  3. Otherworldly Glamour: One Face skill and you add your Wisdom modifier to all Charisma checks on top of any Charisma modifier. This is enough to make you a decent Face without high Charisma, but a little bit is still a great idea.
  4. Beguiling Twist: Hillarious and very effective, but likely difficult to use to its greatest potential.

    The obvious use case is to tale charm/fear effects from your enemies and direct them back at your enemies. That works great, and can lead to scenarios like dragons being frightened by their own Frightful Presence. To make this as effective as possible, you want allies in your party who can reliably pass saving throws against charm/fear effects. These are nearly always Wisdom or Charisma saves, so high scores in those ability scores and proficiency in the saves both help, but also look for racial traits like Brace or Cunning and class features which help.

    The less-obvious use case is using this offensively. If you have allies who can produce charm/fear effects (often spellcasters, but there are non-spell options too), you can capitalize on any creatures who pass saves against your allies' abilities.

  5. Fey Reinforcements: Summon Fey once per day for free without the 300gp material component. The spirit's attack bonus is based on your Spellcasting Modifier and the spell is heavily dependent on spell level, both of which are hard prospects for many rangers. But even if it's not quite as effective offensively as something summoned by by a full spellcaster, it's still an effective pet for up to an hour.

    The second benefit allows you to cast a shorter version of the spell without the Concentration requirement, but that's a really hard prospect with the Ranger's limited pool of spell slots.

  6. Misty Wanderer: Misty Step for free several times per day and you can even bring a friend along! This makes it easy to Rescue your friends from grapples or restraints, and you become very hard to keep in one place during combat.

Gloom StalkerXGtE

Gloom Stalker is considerably more powerful than other ranger archetypes if they're played in campaigns which frequently enter dungeons, caves, the Underdark, or other dark places. Umbral Sight alone makes the Gloom Stalker a terrifying threat in a game where most of the monster manual is utterly incapable of combating invisibility.

  1. Gloom Stalker Magic: Mostly situational options, but a couple fantastic options.
    • 3rd-Level: Situational.
    • 5th-Level: A fantastic way to rest safely, and normally exclusive to wizards.
    • 9th-Level: It's unlikely that you have sufficient Wisdom to make any spell which allows a saving throw reliable, so you'll want to save this for encounters with numerous weak foes.
    • 13th-Level: Amazing on any stealthy character.
    • 17th-Level: Situational, but very helpful when your party needs to go somewhere where the locals are unfriendly.
  2. Dread Ambusher: The first round of combat is the most important. The bonus speed will help you get into position, especially if you're built for melee, but the real bonus is the extra attack. If you can get Hunter's Mark running before you attack you absolutely should.
  3. Umbral Sight: Getting free Darkvision is fantastic on its own, but invisibility to Darkvision is absolutely crazy. Most creatures that will ambush you using Darkvision won't have a light source in their possession, so you functionally have Improved Invisibility. Even if an enemy finds a light source, if you extinguish it you're right back to invisibly murdering them.
  4. Iron Mind: Additional saving throw proficiencies are always welcome.
  5. Stalker's Fury: Not quite as powerful as an extra attack, but still extremely helpful.
  6. Shadowy Dodge: It only works once per round because it consumes your Reaction, but that's often plenty.

Horizon WalkerXGtE

Not quite so stealthy as the Gloom Stalker, but no less effective. The Horizon walker gets a handful of abilities which help them travel between planes, but their main gimmick is teleporting around in combat and hitting stuff.

  1. Horizon Walker Magic: Almost all excellent options.
    • 3rd-Level: An absolutely fantastic buff.
    • 5th-Level: Fantastic, especially if you're built for melee.
    • 9th-Level: One of the best buffs in the game, and it gets better the more allies you have. The extra attack also gives you another chance to apply the bonus damage from Planar Warrior.
    • 13th-Level: A wonderful spell, but you likely don't have the Wisdom to back it up with a decent spell DC.
    • 17th-Level: One of the safest and easiest ways to transport your entire party long distances.
  2. Detect Portal: Situational. In most games this won't matter much, but in a plane-hopping campaign it could be extremely useful.
  3. Planar Warrior: Since this consumes your Bonus Action, two-weapon fighting and other sources of bonus action attacks like Crossbow Expert won't work. However, the benefits are still amazing. Bonus damage, and weapon damage on the affected attack is force damage (which is resisted by almost nothing). It only works once per turn, so you may be able to do more damage by investing in two-weapon fighting or taking Crossbow Mastery, but this is free, and it scales on its own at level 11.
  4. Ethereal Step: One round is frequently all you need. Walk through walls or doors or slip past enemies (including those which have Blindsight or can see invisibility).
  5. Distant Strike: The teleportation is on top of your normal movement. If you have two enemies to attack in a small enough area, you can teleport back and forth between the two while attacking. Be sure to caste Haste before you jump into combat. You still get the teleportation effect on every attack you make for the turn, so you can teleport and attack four times in a turn without using your bonus action.
  6. Spectral Defense: You don't need to use this until you get hit, so if your AC is decent and you manage to avoid drawing too many attacks, this can prevent a ton of damage.

HunterPHB

While still perfectly viable, Hunters can't compete with the capabilities of the new subclasses presented in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. Despite mostly focusing on offensive options, the Hunter is arguably the most defensive ranger archetype, as it has the most options to directly prevent the Ranger from taking damage. Unfortunately it can't compete with the Gloom Stalker's capacity for stealth, or with the Horizon Walker's damage output.

  1. Hunter's Prey: Much like your choice of Fighting Style, this is a definitivie part of how your Ranger fights.
    • Colossus Slayer: Always reliable and always effective, 1d8 damage for free each round is a nice boost (most creatures will take some amount of damage early in a fight). Generally the best bet for melee builds.
    • Giant Killer: A lot of enemies are Large or larger. This requires that the subject attack you, but if your AC is decent and you can handle being attacked a few times this can be an excellent way to get some extra damage output.
    • Horde Breaker: An absolute must for Archery builds because your range frequently encompasses the entire encounter. Melee builds will have trouble using this unless you have reach.
  2. Defensive Tactics: All of the options are technically situational, but I would pick Multiattack Defense nine times out of ten.
    • Escape the Horde: Rangers are more durable than Rogues, so running away from enemies isn't something you typically need to do on a regular basis.
    • Multiattack Defense: Large single enemies frequently have multiple attacks, especially as you gain levels, so this boost to AC will occur frequently and will prevent a lot of damage.
    • Steel Will: Fear effects are infrequent and generally won't get you killed.
  3. Multiattack: Both options are fantastic.
    • Volley: The obvious choice for archer builds.
    • Whirlwind Attack: Fencing builds will get the most out of this ability since their normal attacks deal higher damage than TWF builds. However, even TWF may find this ability helpful since they may still get the same number of attacks without consuming their Bonus Action.
  4. Superior Hunter's Defense: Uncanny Dodge is clearly the best option here, but Evasion isn't terrible.
    • Evasion: With high Dexterity and proficiency in Dexterity saves, this makes you practically imune to AOE damage spells.
    • Stang Against the Tide: This ability is intended for Horde Breaker melee builds, but that's generally not a good build so this won't see a lot of use.
    • Uncanny Dodge: The majority of damage you will take in the game will come from attacks. Combined with Multiattack Defense, you can reduce the damage of the first hit, then dramatically reduce the likelihood of suffering further hits.

Monster SlayerXGtE

In some ways the Monster Slayer is a slightly better hunter. It functions very similarly, though it lacks the customization options.

  1. Monster Slayer Magic: Most of the options are situational or difficult for you to use.
    • 3rd-Level: An excellent defensive buff.
    • 5th-Level: Situational.
    • 9th-Level: Situational.
    • 13th-Level: A wonderful spell, but you likely don't have the Wisdom to back it up with a decent spell DC.
    • 17th-Level: Great, but your spell DC is probably still mediocre.
  2. Hunter's Sense: Great if you have time to observe the creature from hiding, but I would rarely waste an Action to do this during combat.
  3. Slayer's Prey: As far as I can tell this stacks with Hunter's Mark. Both require Bonus Actions, so use this first, but against tough foes definitely consider using both.
  4. Supernatural Defense: A bit unreliable, but still fantastic. Be sure to keep your Slayer's Prey focused on the most threatening creature in the encounter to make sure that this protects you as much as possible.
  5. Magic-User's Nemesis: Not quite as good as being able to cast Counterspell, but it still might prevent an enemy from escaping or prevent them from casting a spell which would really ruin your day.
  6. Slayer's Counter: This is absurdly good. You need to be really good at making attacks to be functional, so you can usually count on this to work. There's no limitation on its usage, so if you're fighting a spellcaster you might be able to get free attacks against them every round. However, you'll need to be able to reach the creature that created the effect, so you may want to stick to ranged weapons.

Swarm KeeperTCoE

The Swarm Keeper is most obviously associated with bugs, since those are what you generally think of when someone says "swarm". But don't let that limit your thinking. The subclass entry suggests a swarm of pixies as an example, and I've seen some very immaginative of swarm keeper rangers with swarms of oppossums and raccoons. You might have a swarm of birds, fish, lizards, or any number of other miniscule critters. Their appearance is purely cosmetic and has about as much mechanical impact as your character's hair color, but it's a fantastic character detail.

The Swarm Keeper is simple to play, but a lot of fun. Gathered Swarm adds a small but meaningful tactical consideration to every turn, encouraging the player to apply their attacks strategically rather than simply piling damage onto the first things in need of stabbing. The subclass has no decision points, so it's an easy option for new players but also has enough mechanical hooks that veterans will some room to push the subclass beyond its expected capabilities. It's a welcome addition in a party that can effectively employ area control effects like Wall of Fire, but even without those options the Swarm Keeper still works well.

  1. Gathered Swarm: Using this will add some tactical complexity to every one of your turns. Keep in mind that this only works once per turn so it's no replacement for something like Hunter's Mark in terms of sheer damage output, and you'll want to have a plan at the start of your turn before you start attacking. This will be more reliable if you're making multiple attacks, so consider two-weapon fighting until you get Extra Attack.

    While each of the options below are rated as orange to indicate that they are only situationally useful, their combined capabilities are excellent. It's like having a toolbox with three tools in it: any one tool can only do a couple things, but between the three of them you can do a lot.

    • Damage: Your go-to option in most cases, but also your option of last resort. Use the other options if they're going to have any significant impact. Otherwise, the 1d6 damage is a small but satisfying bonus. Unfortunately, since the is from a separate source, the damage isn't multiplied on a critical hit and resistance to non-magic piercing damage will apply and there's literally nothing you can do about it.
    • Move Target: Moving enemies can force them to break grapples with your allies, and can put them into bad places like ongoing area damage, open pits, etc.
    • Move Self: This is the option you are least likely to use, but it's still helpful. Moving yourself 5 feet can get you out of melee reach, out of grapples, out of area effects, and generally out of trouble.
  2. Swarmkeeper Magic: Some really good utility options, but the offensive options will be hard to rely upon.
    • 3rd-Level: Mage hand is a good cantrip, and rangers generally don't get cantrips. Even if you take Druidic Warrior, Mage Hand isn't an option. Faerie Fire is a great combat option, but your save DC will likley be low so save it for when you're facing a crowd (statistically some of your enemies will still fail their save) or when you're facing enemies which have poor Dexterity like ogres or the Tarrasque.
    • 5th-Level: Web is a hard choice. Since creatures can use Dexterity to avoid it or Strength to break out, you can't make it work by targeting creatures with low saves of that type. Plus, they can always burn their way out of the webs.
    • 9th-Level: A great way to infiltrate places, to escape, to scout, and generally to go somewhere without other creatures causing you trouble. The move speed is very limited, so combine this with buffs like Longstrider to boost your speed and get more done in the 1-hour duration.
    • 13th-Level: Even though you get it much later than dedicated spellcasters, Arcane Eye is still one of my absolute favorite divination options for scouting from a safe distance.
    • 17th-Level: Constitution saves tend to be high and ranger's saved DCs tend to be low, which is a hard combination. But with a 10-minute duration and half damage on a successful save, if you can trap enemies in an enclosed space with Insect Plague running it's a death sentence regardless.
  3. Writhing Tide: Flight of any kind is great, but 10 ft. speed definitely isn't much. You can get off the ground and over small obstacles, but don't except to travel like this. Remember that you can Dash if necessary, so if you have nothing else to do you can fly up to 200 feet on one usage. You can also boost your speed with buffs like Longstrider and Haste, which will go a long way to make this more useful both in and out of combat.
  4. Mighty Swarm: Huge improvements to the movement options. The damage option improves so little I'm confused why they bother to improve it at all.
    • Damage: 1d6 to 1d8 is not a meaningful difference. If they made the damage magical, that would be nice and it would solve the issue of resistance/immunity to non-magic piercing damage which has plagued you since level 3.
    • Move Target: Knocking the target prone is great if you have melee allies who will benefit from them being prone or if you need to cut the target's movement. However, if you're attacking at range you'll make your own life harder by knocking your target prone.
    • Move Self: +2 AC for one round. If you're fighting in melee that's a huge benefit and you should consider using this every turn.
  5. Swarming Dispersal: By this level you have plenty of daily uses for this. Use it to gain Resistance against high-damage attacks like critical hits or high-level spells, and also to get yourself out of melee combat if you don't want to be there. You can technically use this by willingly taking damage in order to trigger the teleportation, but that's not a significant abuse case because the uses per day are limited.