Last Updated: August 29, 2023
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 Beast Master. 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.
Table of Contents
- Ranger Subclasses – Ranger Archetypes
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we 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 the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
Ranger Subclasses – Ranger Archetypes
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 should strongly consider Fighting Style (Druidic Warrior) and pursue cantrips as your go-to combat option since your companion uses your Spellcasting Attack Modifier for its attack bonus.
Since you’re not attacking using your Bonus Action (TWF and Crossbow Expert builds are staple ranger options), Hunter’s Mark and Favored Foe become less of a crucial part of your tactics so you can explore other combat options.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : Your beast gets two attacks and it still only costs you a Bonus Action (or half of an Attack action) to command them.
- : 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 komodo 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, so no one should hold rangers to the same standard.
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.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : 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 and Favored Foe are largely worthless for the Beast Master, 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.
Companion options are discussed below.
: 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
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.
: 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.
- : 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.
- : 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 Master FAQ, below. Be sure to check the FAQ before selecting a companion.
- MM: CR 0. Baboons notably have human-like hands, and could in theory use tools and possibly even magic items. However, with 4 Intelligence and no ability to understand language, it may be difficult to convince your baboon to do so. Even if you use magic, your DM likely won’t allow your baboon to do anything which is beyond its limited intellectual capacity.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: 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.
- MM: Passable at low levels, especially thanks to Charge, but won’t scale well.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: CR 0.
- VGtM: CR 0.
- MM: CR 0.
- VGtM: Great bite damage and a swim speed, but that’s all.
- MM: Blood Hawk and Pteranodon are strictly better.
- MM: 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.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: 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.
- MM: 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.
- MM: 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 ability scores 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 at least until they escape. 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. The Crab’s AC is also impressively high, starting at a base of 15 before you add your Proficiency Bonus, so if you leave your crab to Dodge while it has a creature grappled, the grappled creature may find itself flailing against the Giant Crab’s frustratingly high AC with little effect.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: 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.
- MM: 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.
- MM: Darkvision, Keen Smell, and Pack Tactics. Unfortunately the Giant Rat has no special movement types and its damage is bad.
- MM: Fast, Darkvision, and Keen Hearing and Smell. No special movement types and bad damage.
- MM: 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.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: Blood Hawk and Pteranodon are strictly better.
- MM: CR 0, but pretty good for its CR thanks to Pack Tactics.
- MM: CR 0. Very similar to the Hyena, but it trades damage for Keen Hearing and Smell.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: 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.
- MM: The Pony is better unless you want your companion to pull a wagon.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: 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.
- MM: Perception, Stealth, a Climb speed, and Keen Smell. The Panther’s damage is decent, but Pounce’s knockdown DC won’t scale.
- MM: The giant version is strictly better.
- MM: The best option for a mount, but at medium size it only works for Halflings.
- MM: 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.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: CR 0. Ravens have the ability to repeat sounds that they’ve heard, but your beast companion is no more intelligent than a normal animal, so unless you can give it specific instructions using magic of some sort it’s difficult to bring this ability to bear. It’s also hard to justify comitting your signature subclass feature to amounts to a poorly-designed flying audio recorder.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: 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.
- VGtM: Tiny with decent damage and Pack Tactics. Unless you need a companion which will fit into small spaces, Wolf is considerably better.
- MM: 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.
- MM: CR 0.
- MM: 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.
The Drakewarden pairs the Ranger with a draconic spirit which they can summon into physical form as a Drake Companion. This companion is a durable fighting companion with some minor supportive abilities, and over time the drake grows in size and gains the ability to fly and serve as a mount. With the ability to serve as an essentially disposable front-line martial character, the drake is a powerful and effective pet welcome in practically any party.
The Drakewarden and the Beast Master share many similarities, so see “Beast Master vs. Drakewarden”, below.
- : Fun flavor, but rarely useful.
- : Not especially useful for the Ranger since they’re not a good Face, but your drake speaks draconic so it’s nice to be able to talk to it.
The drake is a decent tank with a starting AC of 16 and a decent pool of hit points, and since you can replace with for the cost a spell slot of any spell level, you can afford to throw your drake in front of you to defend you while you do things like archery.
While the drake is already a decent combat pet, it also improves as you gain levels, adding additional damage, the ability to fly, and the ability to be used as a mount.
Infused Stikes notably uses the phrase “extra damage”, which means that the additional die is multiplied on a critical hit.
: The central feature of
the Drakewarden. Drake Companion is modeled very similarly to the Primal
Companions introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, and follows very
similar rules for commanding it, summoning it, what happens if it “dies”
(it’s a spirit that you summon back into physical form).
While this is obviously an amazing benefit, it has some serious challenges if you’re eyeing a mounted combat build. The drake is intelligent, which means that it’s an uncontrolled mount. That means that it acts on its own turn, which the Drake Companion feature specifies is immediately after yours. Taking your full turn (or taking the Ready action) then waiting for your drake to move somewhere convenient for you isn’t helpful for melee builds, and even for ranged builds it’s often frustating because you can’t reposition to deal with cover or enemies who are slightly out of range. If you can make it work it’s great, but expect to spend many turns in a bad location to attack.
Because your can ride your drake, try to find a Saddle of the Cavalier. It will dramatically improve your drake’s durability. Mounted Combatant is also an option, but I wouldn’t bother getting both since it’s so easy to re-summon your drake.
: This is the first class
feature we’ve gotten which provides a mount with scaling hit points. 5th
edition has been out for 6+ years.
- : Confusingly, this doesn’t make your drake’s attacks magical. Instead, you add a d6 damage of the type chosen when you summon the drake. That d6 will get around resistance and immunity to non-magical weapon damage types, but the flat damage bonus is still piercing damage so anything with resistance/immunity is a huge problem for your drake.
- : Persistent damage resistance for you, and since you can resummon your drake for the cost of a spell slot you can change the damage type whenever necessary.
- : This is the first class feature we’ve gotten which provides a mount with scaling hit points. 5th edition has been out for 6+ years.
- : The damage matches Fireball. It’s a good AOE damage option, but it doesn’t magically make you a blaster. Still, the Ranger is generally ill-equipped to handle crowds, so this is a welcome addition.
- : Another d6 damage, bringing the total to 3d6+5 at this level (3d6+6 very soon). That’s not a ton on a single attack, but it’s much more than most characters can do with a Bonus Action.
- : Aside from making it hard to fit your drake through doors, this is excellent. The ability to ride your drake while flying makes flight easily accessible and puts archery builds safely out of enemy reach.
- : This is great if you or your dragon take a big hit from a single source of damage like a spell or a critical hit. Don’t burn your limited uses on every random attack; you’ll only get 5 or 6 per long rest.
Beast Master vs. Drakewarden
Because the Drake Companion feature and the Primal Companion features are so similar, it’s natural to compare the Beast Master (with the Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything updates, of course) to the Drakewarden. There is a lot of overlap, but Drakewarden isn’t just “Beast Master but better”; there are actually some interesting trades to consider.
The first notable difference is when they take their turns: primal companions take their turn at the same time as the player, so you can interweave actions so that you and your companion can very precisely coordinate your attacks. The Drake Companion is simpler, but less flexible: it takes its turn immediately after yours and acts on whatever orders you gave it.
The Beast of the Land is the closest to the Drake Companion when you first reach level 3, so we’ll start by comparing the two. The base stats between the Drake Companion and the Beast of the Land are fairly similar, but there are some noteworthy differences. The drake has +1 better AC than the beast and has d10 hit dice (which only matters when you spend hit dice to heal). Both share a 40 ft. land speed, but the beast also has a 40 ft. climb speed. The drake is stronger, but the beast has better Dexterity and Charisma. The drake adds your Proficiency Bonus in Dexterity and Wisdom saves, while the beast adds it to all saves. The Drake can speak Draconic, but the beast can only understand languages. The beast and the drake get additional features (Draconic Essence and Infused Strikes vs. Charge), but it’s hard to make a direct comparison between the two. They’re both good, but they’re obviously very different.
The attacks for Primal Companions and the Drake Companion are notably different in several ways. Primal Companions use your Spellcasting attack bonus for their attack bonus, compelling you to build your ranger around Wisdom and potentially to look for magic items which improve your spell attack modifier (and spell DC if you want to use Beast of the Land’s Charge ability). The Drake Companion uses its own Strength bonus for attack rolls, but adds your Proficiency Bonus. This allows more flexibility in your choice of Fighting Style, but also means that your drake’s attack bonus is likely lower than that of a comparable Primal Companion.
The damage progression on attacks is also different. The drake’s bite damage is 1d6 + Proficiency Bonus, while the beast’s is 1d8 + 2 Proficiency bonus, giving the Beast of the Land +3 damage on average (other Primal Companions are only +2 ahead on average). Both companions get magical attacks at level 7, but the drake also improves their damage by 1d6, closing the gap in their attack damage. At level 11, Primal Companions get to make two attacks, effectively doubling their damage and putting them well ahead of the Drake Companion. The drake adds another d6 at 17th level, but that won’t match the 1d8+8 dealt by the Beast of the Land at that level by their second attack.
But the Drake Companion isn’t just a scaly bite attack, so a one-to-one comparison isn’t a perfect comparison. If you’re just comparing the two for damage output on their attacks, Beast Master comes out ahead. But the Drakewarden still has some important selling points.
The Drake Companion advances beyond just damage, which is perhaps both the most fun and most impactful part of the companion. You can explicitly use it as a mount, an option which is frustratingly omitted from the rules for Primal Companions. The Drake Companion gains the ability to fly, and you can eventually ride it while flying, a capability not matched by the Beast of the Air.
Drakewarden also allows you to build your character differently since your companion’s attacks aren’t dependent on your spellcasting ability. You also get Drake’s Breath, rather than just adding more features to your companion like the Beast Master does. The Beast Master is still good, but there is one clearly optimal way to build them, so diverging from a Druidic Warrior build trades raw mechanical effectiveness for what might be a more interesting and diverse build.
To summarize all of the above quickly: The Drakewarden is a ranger who has a drake companion who fights alongside them in combat, but the companion is a complement to their own capabilities. The Beast Master is a ranger whose fighting style revolves around their companion. In many ways, the companion is their fighting style.
Tricky and challenging, yet very 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. Instead, it’s built to lean into a Wisdom-based ranger with more emphasis on spellcasting and Face skills than your typical bow-wielding damage monster.
Because this applies once per target per turn, you’re motivated to attack multiple targets if that’s an option. Ranged weapons work best for this, though they may be difficult for the high-Wisdom build expected of the Fey Wanderer. More likely you’ll want to use spells like Zephyr Strike to quickly move between and attack multiple targets.
: 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 all take the bonus damage. It also applies on
Opportunity Attacks (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, so Hunter’s Mark may still be worth the
: The vast majority of
the options are only situationally useful, but you do get Misty Step, which
is good on exactly 100% of characters.
- : A strange choice mechanically, but the theme makes sense. Your save DC won’t match a full spellcaster unless you’re using Druidic Warrior to build around Wisdom, and Charm Person doesn’t give you any indication that it worked, so you need to be extremely cautious when using it. You don’t get enough spell slots to cast it repeatedly just to be absolutely sure that it worked.
- : The best teleportation option in combat.
- : Essential in any party. A typical ranger should not be the one casting this, but the Fey Wanderer is an exception. You don’t get the high-level spell slots to make this automatically dispel stuff, and most rangers don’t have the Wisdom to back up the ability check, but the Fey Wanderer is all about Wisdom, so you have a passable chance to succeed on the abilty check. Still, look for buffs like Enhance Ability if you can get them to maximize your odds of success.
- : 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 outside of combat or if you need to completely escape an encounter. You’ll still get more frequent use out of Misty Step thanks to its Bonus Action casting time and lower-level spell slot requirement, but Dimension Door can get you through walls and locked doors.
- : 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 if mundane stealth won’t do the trick for some reason.
- : 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 an effective Face without high Charisma, but a little bit is still a great idea. You don’t want 8 Charisma dragging you down.
The obvious use case is to take charm/fear effects from your enemies and essentially redirect 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 Brave and class features which help like Aura of Protection.
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 and force another creature to save against Beguiling Twist.
: Hilarious and very
effective, but likely difficult to use to its greatest potential.
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.
: 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 a full
spellcaster, it’s still an effective pet for up to an hour per casting.
- : 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 Stalker is considerably more powerful than many 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.
: 4 of these spells are pretty good and one of those is a wiz/artificer exclusive. Now you too can decide that you need an extra-dimensional pocket to short rest in. This only isn’t rated higher because Disguise Self and Fear care about your spell save DC which won’t be as good as a dedicated caster.
- : Situational.
- : A fantastic way to rest safely, and normally exclusive to artificers and wizards. But rangers get very few spell slots, and spending one to take a Short Rest safely is a high cost for the Ranger. Do your best to avoid needing this.
- : 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.
- : Amazing on any stealthy character. Ideally you’ll never need this because you can rely on Umbral Sight, but if your enemies pull out a torch you can cast Greater Invisibility and remain unseen.
- : Situational, but very helpful when your party needs to go somewhere where the locals are unfriendly.
- combat is only expected to last 3 rounds on average. This means that, roughly 1/3rd of the time, you get extra extra attack and an additional d8 damage on top. That’s already very good, but you also get a substantial bonus to initiative to try and take that bonus damage and remove something from the fight before it gets to act.
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 initiative is rolled, you absolutely should so that your first turn can be a big pile of damage.
: The first round of combat
is the most important. As a reminder,
Invisibility at this level normally comes at great cost: a highest-level spell slot, Concentration, and a prohibition against doing nearly anything aggressive with it. This has none of those costs, it just only applies when something is only able to see you because of its Darkvision. This means that we should be trying to be in darkness in combat as much as is physically possible. Work to make sure that everyone else in your party can function without light as well so that enemies are relying on Darkvision wherever possible.
While it is incredible, it does have its limitations. The feature specifies that it only works in darkness. That means that it doesn’t work if there’s dim light (candles, etc.). It must be actual darkness. It also doesn’t work on things that can perceive you because of truesight, tremorsense, blindsight, etc. Only Darkvision. With that said, in the right conditions, this is one of the best class features in the game.
: 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.
- : Additional saving throw proficiencies are always welcome, especially when they’re for a commonly targeted save.
Unfortunately, the wording on Dread Ambusher means that, if the extra attack from the feature misses you do miss out on the d8 damage bump even if the attack Flurry grants you off of it connects, but even so we’re not going to sneeze at free attacks.
: Not quite as powerful as
an additional attack, but still extremely helpful. The fundamental math of
5e assumes that a player following the attack vs. AC progression will hit
with attacks roughly 65% of the time against CR-appropriate foes. If you’re
making two attacks per turn, you have a roughly 58% chance to miss with at
least one attack, so you’ll benefit from Stalker’s Flurry consistently.
- : It only works once per round because it consumes your Reaction, but that’s often plenty. The Gloom Stalker thrives on being unseen, so this is powerful insurance if your enemies manage to attack while you’re not in total darkness and also not running Improved Invisibility.
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.
: Almost all excellent
- : An absolutely fantastic buff.
- : Fantastic, especially if you’re built for melee.
- : 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. You might look at Haste’s additional action alongside Distant Strike and think that you can trigger Distant Strike’s additional attack twice. You do get the teleportation, but since you only make one attack there’s no way to attack two creatures to get the extra attack. It’s often more efficient to cast Elemental Weapon if all you care about is damage output, but Haste also provides movement and defensive buffs which you might want.
- : A wonderful spell, but you likely don’t have the Wisdom to back it up with a decent spell DC unless you’re built around Druidic Warrior, which is a poor choice for the Horizon Walker.
- : One of the safest and easiest ways to transport your entire party long distances, but full casters have been casting this since level 9.
- : Situational. In most games this won’t matter much, but in a plane-hopping campaign it could be extremely useful.
- : Since this consumes your Bonus Action, two-weapon fighting and other sources of bonus action attacks like Crossbow Expert generally won’t work well for you, and the damage boost from Hunter’s Mark is rarely worth the spell slot and action cost to cast or re-target it. Despite shaking up much of the typical ranger build strategy, the benefits are excellent. Bonus damage, and weapon damage on the affected attack all becomes force damage (which is resisted by almost nothing). It only works once per turn, so you may be able to do more total damage by investing heavily in two-weapon fighting or taking Crossbow Expert, but this is free, it scales on its own at level 11, and without the need for two-weapon fighting, melee rangers can easily justify using a shield.
- : 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). Etherealness even lets you move upward or downward, allowing you to move through floors and ceilings (albeit at half the rate as moving horizontally).
Consider casting Haste before you jump into combat. The additional attack provided by Haste is an Attack action, so it qualifies for triggering Distant Strike’s teleportation (though not another free attack since the Haste action only gets you one attack), allowing you to teleport and attack four times (2 from Extra Attack, one from Haste, one from Distant Strike) in a turn without using your bonus action. You can still use your Bonus Action to engage in two-weapon fighting, but it won’t trigger the teleportation because it’s not part of the Attack action.
: The teleportation is on
top of your normal movement. If you have two enemies to attack in a small
enough area, you could teleport back and forth between the two while
attacking in order to trigger the additional attack from Distant Strike. You
don’t need to hit both targets, so think of the additional attack from Distant
Strike as a free attack against a different nearby enemy while you’re busy
focusing on your primary target.
- : 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. Spectral Defense works against all forms of attacks, including spell attacks, but since it gives you resistance to the damage it won’t stack with any other resistances. This isn’t quite as good as Uncanny Dodge (which halves the damage rather than granting Resistance to it), but it’s close.
Simple, unpretentious, and lacking any of the fancy magic nonsense common to many ranger subclasses, the Hunter is a simple yet effective martial option. The Hunter also notably has the most decision points of any ranger subclass, allowing you to tailor your build to your play style and your role in the party.
Despite mostly focusing on offensive options, the Hunter is arguably the most durable ranger archetype, as it has the most options to directly prevent the Ranger from taking damage.
While still perfectly viable, Hunters can’t compete with the capabilities of the new subclasses presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Unfortunately it can’t compete with the Gloom Stalker’s capacity for stealth, or with the Horizon Walker’s damage output.
: Much like your choice of
Fighting Style, this is a definitive part of how your Ranger fights.
Targeting foes which optimize your choice of Hunter’s Prey will is a central
part of the Hunter’s tactics, so choose targets carefully rather than
rushing the closest enemy.
Generally this is the best Hunter’s Prey option for melee builds because melee builds are usually forced to focus on a single enemy at a time since switching targets typically involves getting hit with an Opportunity Attack.
: Always reliable and
always effective, 1d8 damage for free each round is a nice boost that
roughly matches similar damage from other ranger subclasses. Most
creatures will take some amount of damage early in a fight, so it’s easy
to trigger this damage bonus and you don’t need to spend a Bonus Action
to activate it like some other subclass damage boosts, so options like
Two-Weapon Fighting and Crossbow Expert are still viable.
- : A lot of enemies are Large or larger, especially big martial enemies like beasts, dragons, fiends, etc. 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 source of damage output. Unfortunately, since this doesn’t apply to every enemy, you may find that numerous encounters don’t benefit from Giant Killer. If you know that your campaign will involve numerous oversized enemies (Storm King’s Thunder is a great example if you’re looking at published campaigns), this is a good choice. Otherwise, you might just decide to be happy only using this some of the time.
Melee builds will have trouble using this unless you have reach, especially if enemies are attacking your allies rather than swarming you. Ranged builds will have less trouble because you can easily switch targets to any enemies who happen to be close enough together.
: In encounters with
numerous foes, this is a significant damage boost, but the extra attack
has strict requirements and doesn’t cooperate with staple ranger options
like Hunter’s Mark/Favored Foe which encourage you to focus on bringing
down one target at a time rather than spreading damage to multiple foes.
Consider instead buffs that boost your weapon on all attacks like Elemental Weapon or Guardian of Nature.
- : Always reliable and always effective, 1d8 damage for free each round is a nice boost that roughly matches similar damage from other ranger subclasses. Most creatures will take some amount of damage early in a fight, so it’s easy to trigger this damage bonus and you don’t need to spend a Bonus Action to activate it like some other subclass damage boosts, so options like Two-Weapon Fighting and Crossbow Expert are still viable.
: All of the options
are technically situational, but I would pick Multiattack Defense nine times
out of ten.
- : Rangers are more durable than Rogues, so running away from enemies isn’t something you typically need to do. If you do need to run away, consider taking the Disengage action. If you need to run away a lot, consider the Mobile feat.
- : 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.
- : Fear effects are common, but generally won’t get you killed. You can also get this resistance from numerous sources, such as the Halfling’s Brave trait.
: Both options are fantastic. To get the most out of this feature, look for effects that add damage to every attack, such as Magic Weapon or Great Weapon Master.
- : The obvious choice for ranged builds. This won’t benefit much from Hunter’s Mark/Favored Foe, but hitting three or more foes will typically deal more damage than focusing on a single marked target.
However, even TWF builds may find this ability helpful since they may still get the same number of attacks without consuming their Bonus Action, allowing you to use it for something like casting a spell.
: Melee builds not
built around two-weapon fighting will get the most out of this ability
since their normal attacks deal higher damage than TWF builds, and since
you’re not taking the Attack action you can’t spend your Bonus Action to
make an additional attack. Unfortunately, it’s limited to creatures
within 5 feet of you, so you can’t abuse reach to get additional
: Uncanny Dodge
is clearly the best option here, but Evasion is good, too.
- : With high Dexterity and proficiency in Dexterity saves, this makes you practically immune to AOE damage effects like Fireball and breath weapons.
- : The positioning to make this work is very difficult in most situations, and as soon as enemies see you do this they’re reasonably going to space themselves out to prevent you from doing it again.
- : 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.
In many ways the Monster Slayer is a simplified version of the Hunter. It functions very similarly, though it lacks the customization options, and due to the subclass features there’s much less build flexibility. That said, it’s still a very functional and effective subclass, striking a good balance between damage output and durability without the stress of additional decision points. If you’re looking for a relatively simple ranger, the Monster Slayer is a great choice.
The Monster Slayer works best with a high-Dexterity build with Fighting Style (Archery), and generally it doesn’t even require feats like Crossbow Expert or Sharpshooter, which are normally common go-to options for archery builds. Slayer’s Prey, Hunter’s Mark, and Favored Foe all provide plenty of damage output, and since Slayer’s Prey and Hunter’s Mark monopolize your Bonus Action it’s hard to make room for Crossbow Expert. The damage boosts from Slayer’s Prey, etc., only work if you hit, so Sharpshooter is usually a bad gamble. If you max out Dexterity and want to explore feats, consider options like Skill Expert.
Technically the only thing that locks the Monster Slayer into ranged weapons is Slayer’s Counter, so if you know for certain that your campaign will end by level 14 you may be perfectly happy with a melee build.
: Most of the
options are situational or difficult for you to use.
- : An excellent defensive buff.
- : Situational, and your save DC likely won’t be good enough to make this work well.
- : Situational.
- : A wonderful spell, but you likely don’t have the Wisdom to back it up with a decent spell DC.
- : Great, but your spell DC is probably still mediocre.
- : Great if you have time to observe the creature from hiding, but I would rarely spend an Action to do this during combat.
While Slayer’s Prey provides a damage bonus as large as Hunter’s Mark, it only works once per turn. This means that tactics like Two-Weapon Fighting and Crossbow Expert are less important, and the Bonus Action cost to activate Slayer’s Prey and cast or re-target Hunter’s Mark means that your Bonus Action on most turns is already committed, so Two-Weapon Fighting and Crossbow Expert are hard choices.
: As far as I can tell this
stacks with Hunter’s Mark/Favored Foe. Both Hunter’s Mark and Slayer’s Prey
require Bonus Actions, so use this first since it’s free, but against tough
foes definitely consider using both.
- : A bit unreliable since multiple foes might force you to make saving throws in quick succession, but this is still fantastic. Be sure to keep Slayer’s Prey running and keep it focused on the foe most likely to force you to make a saving throw. Remember that you can use Slayer’s Prey an unlimited number of times, so you can easily change targets whenever you need.
- : 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.
You can repeatedly trigger this by running a Concentration spell like Hunter’s Mark. The save to maintain Concentration qualifies, and if you have good enough Constitution saves (consider the Resilient feat) you can reliably maintain Concentration while fishing for free attacks with Slayer’s Counter.
: This is absurdly good.
There’s no limitation on its usage, so if you’re fighting a spellcaster
(most spells force saving throws) 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 stick to ranged weapons.
The Swarmkeeper 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 imaginative of swarmkeeper rangers with swarms of opossums 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 Swarmkeeper 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 capitalize upon area control effects like Wall of Fire provided by allies, but even without those options the Swarmkeeper still works well.
While each of the options below are rated asto 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.
: 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/Favored Foe 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. One more subtle note: The trigger is any attack, so it’s not restricted to weapon attacks and can include spell attacks.
- : 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 this is from a separate source rather than “extra damage” added to your attack, the damage isn’t multiplied on a critical hit. Creatures which resist piercing damage typically have resistance to piercing damage from non-magical attacks. This isn’t an attack, so those resistances don’t apply.
- : 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.
- : 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.
: Some really good
utility options, but the offensive options will be hard to rely upon.
- : 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 likely 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.
- : Web is one of the best area shutdown spells in the game.a hard choice. It’s like a persistent version of Entangle, where creatures can be subjected to the spell over and over just for being in the area. Thrown over a group of foes, statistically some of them will fail their saves and even if they all make the strength check, not save, to escape, we’ve made them all lose an action. And we have a great forced movement ability so we can just shove people back inside when they escape. Now, they might burn their way out of the webs if they happen to have a way to do fire damage but then just don’t web the Red Dragon and you can avoid that one issue.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : Constitution saves tend to be high and ranger’s save DCs tend to be low, which is a hard combination. But with a 10-minute duration and half damage on a successful save, with a particularly good damage type, if you can trap enemies in an enclosed space or repeatedly knock them into the area with Gathered Swarm, you can still deal huge amounts of damage even if enemies consistently pass the saving throw. If nothing else, you can plug a choke point while the full casters concentrate on other impressive effects.
- : 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 expect 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.
: Huge improvements to the
movement options. The damage option improves so little I’m confused why they
bother to improve it at all.
- : 1d6 to 1d8 is not a meaningful difference.
- : 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.
- : +2 AC for one round. If you’re fighting in melee that’s a huge benefit and you should consider using this every turn.
- : 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 it’s probably not a significant abuse case because the uses per day are limited and the range is so short. Still, if you need to get out of somewhere nasty (a grapple, a pool of acid, an ongoing spell effect, etc.) you can always slap yourself for 1+Str damage to trigger the teleportation.