Introduction

Gloom Stalker is a very popular subclass as it provides several incredible features without leaving you feeling like anything is just taking up space in your arsenal of tricks. It takes the existing skill set of the ranger and expands it into a terrifying damage monster while also improving on some of the core components such as stealth and utility. 

While it can be easy to assume that the subclass is only good for playing in its intended home underground, most of the features work well in broad daylight, meaning that if you actually do get to do your thing in the absence of light, the subclass is very powerful indeed.

Table of Contents

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. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: 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 this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Gloom Stalker Features

  1. Gloom Stalker Magic: 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.
    • 3rd-Level: Situational.
    • 5th-Level: 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.
    • 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. 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.
    • 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. As a reminder, 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.

  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.

    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.

  4. Iron Mind: Additional saving throw proficiencies are always welcome, especially when they’re for a commonly targeted save.
  5. Stalker’s Flurry: 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 42% chance to miss with at least one attack, so you’ll benefit from Stalker’s Fury consistently.

    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.

  6. Shadowy Dodge: 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.

Gloom Stalker Ability Scores

Gloom Stalkers similar ability score needs to other rangers.

Str: Unless you’re trying to dual wield and unwilling to use finesse weapons, dump.

Dex: This is the primary stat for the class as it powers our attacks and main skills.

Con: More hit points are good on everything, but this build works well at range so don’t feel the need to pump it too high.

Int: Dump.

Wis: This not only powers our spells but a class feature or two and other good Scout skills. It should be raised second, but isn’t as much of a requirement to cap as Dex is.

Cha: I’m going to mention an edge case where you could choose to apply the expertise gained from the Canny section of the optional class feature Deft Explorer to a Face skill if no one else in your party can take the role. If you’re not doing that though, dump.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str810
Dex1515
Con1313
Int1011
Wis1514
Cha1012

Gloom Stalker Races

Races which work for a typical ranger work well for the Gloom Stalker. I’ve included a few favorites here, but for more, see our Ranger Handbook.

  • MotM Bugbear: The change to the way Surprise Attack works in this edition of the Bugbear is phenomenally good with this subclass. You also get racial Darkvision for Umbral Sight to expand and proficiency in Stealth so you can spend yours elsewhere. Everything about this is mouthwatering.
  • Variant Human/Custom Lineage: Getting to walk out with Crossbow Expert or Sharpshooter to take advantage of the invisibility granted by Umbral Sight are incredible options.

Gloom Stalker Feats

Gloom Stalkers don’t really want different feats than any other Ranger. With that said, you’re going to see the interaction of a couple feats in the example build, below.

Gloom Stalker Weapons

  • Hand Crossbow: If you follow this example build, you’re going to see how Agent 47 has nothing on you.
  • Longbow: If you don’t want to worry about picking up the feats and want a build with less buttons, this is the weapon of choice.
  • Short Sword: If you really don’t want to attack at range for some reason (maybe your party has no primary defender and you’re the only thing with hit points) you can take this into melee, perhaps even dual wielding them.

Gloom Stalker Armor

No differences here, but it is worth noting that, since you do have shield proficiency, if you’re trying to fill in the bizarre melee position I described above when talking about short swords, you can technically sword and board as a Ranger.

Multiclassing

This build originally started as a thought experiment to see how hard I could break the new bugbear. It turns out the answer is “really hard.” If you dip into rogue, fighter, and monk, you can end up with a character that deals over 400 expected damage in the first turn, accounting for accuracy. If you can get someone to Haste you, that number goes up to over 450. This costs you just 1 ki point and your Action Surge. I have been informed that this is enough to kill a monster of a CR appropriate to the character before it gets a chance to act.

A two-level dip in Fighter gets us Action Surge. The wording on Dread Ambusher means that it will trigger again if you happen to take the attack action again on your first turn. This means that you should always use Action Surge on the first turn. If you choose to keep going in Fighter, many flavors will add nice benefits. Battle Master’s Precise Strike can help you land shots you take the Sharpshooter penalty on, while Ambush can potentially turn a disastrous initiative roll into something that beats out your target.

Unsurprisingly, if your build is centered around doing a bunch of damage in the first round of combat, it synergizes very well with Assassin rogues. Taking all of those many dice and turning them into guaranteed crits is pretty great.

If you want to do this in melee rather than with a crossbow, adding in Monk (and specifically Way of Shadow monk) is also a really good synergy. Spending 2 ki for the Darkness spell is an awesome way to make it so things can’t see you.

Now… if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that the Darkness I just talked about is magical and doesn’t let your darkvision shine. So what if we also increased our Charisma to 13 and multiclass into Warlock too for Devil’s Sight?

I’m not going to do a whole separate build guide for this theoretical monstrosity of a character, but I sure will post a link to it.

Example Build – Hitman with Fur

Abilities

One noteworthy part of being a Ranger is that we get early access to Fighting Style (Archery). This lets us ignore some of the fundamental math progression to pick up neat abilities without falling behind on our capacity to hit things as expected.

BaseIncreased
Str88
Dex1517
Con1313
Int1010
Wis1516
Cha1010

Race

The MotM Bugbear is amazing as described above. We take that and put it to good use.

Background

Since most of a background is freely exchangeable, we want to pick something with a good unique ability that’s flavorful. Haunted One is a fantastic choice as it gets us access to Undercommon, Survival, and a free Monster Hunter’s Pack by default, which all feel thematically very appropriate. As this character is intended to be a Scout and rogue replacement, trade in the other language for Thieves tools proficiency and the second skill for Sleight of Hand.

Skills and Tools

Take Perception, Insight, and Investigation with your three class skills. Haunted One also gets us Survival and Sleight of Hand.

Feats

We want to get Crossbow Expert and Sharpshooter as quickly as possible, in that order. As referenced above, we’re going to get a +2 to hit with our ranged attacks at level 2, which gives us 8 levels to play with until we have to increase our Dexterity to keep up with the fundamental math. Conveniently, that’s what we need for those feats. At 12 we take Piercer since the sheer volume of attacks combined with our penchant for attacking with advantage means that we’re going to crit pretty frequently. Also, all our damage is piercing so getting to reroll low numbers is nice. 16 caps Dexterity which leaves 19 free to take Resilient (Constitution) and become probably the only thing in the game with proficiency on all 3 common saves.

Levels

LevelFeat(s) and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1Deft Explorer (Canny)
Favored Foe
Natural Explorer is outright terrible, and Favored Enemy needed work. Conveniently, Tasha’s gave us replacements for both of them and we very much want that.

Use Canny for Expertise in really anything. Stealth is an obvious choice, but Perception is another good one. 

For starting equipment, take the scale mail, two short swords, a dungeoneer’s pack, and the longbow. Sell the scale mail and short swords and buy studded leather instead. Save up 50gp over the next 3 levels to buy a hand crossbow.
2Fighting Style (Archery)
New Spells known (Hunter’s Mark, Goodberry)
Fighting Style (Archery) gives us an immediate large boost to damage (because hitting things on a 6 or higher instead of an 8 or higher is 15% more damage).

Hunter’s Mark is already good, and it’s going to get better next level when we start having extra attacks. Then it’s going to get even better at level 4 when we get more attacks. Then it’s going to get even better at level 5 when we get more attacks. Since Favored Foe also takes concentration, we’ll be using Hunter’s Mark instead unless we run out of spell slots.

Goodberry is present in case your actual healer drops because someone needs to be able to stand them back up. Feel free to replace this with Fog Cloud if you already have two characters capable of healing.
3Prim(ev)al Awareness
Dread Ambusher
New Spell Known (Absorb Elements)
Neither Awareness option is great, but Primal is bonus spells which is always more helpful than spending a spell slot on something which will rarely matter.

Dread Ambusher, though, is where we start coming online. We immediately take our initiative mod up to +6 which is higher than most characters can ever go. We also start getting an additional attack in the first round of combat. For the last level remaining before we get Crossbow Expert, continuing to use the longbow makes a turn where everything hits 3d8+6d6+6 for a Damage Per Round of 34, assuming advantage. Please note that you are expected to have 25 hit points right now.

Absorb Elements is one of the best defensive spells in the game. It’s slightly disappointing that we don’t get to use the damage rider for it, but really we’re just here for the resistance. Use it sparingly though since you don’t get many slots and that’s precious Hunter’s Mark you’re not using.
Crossbow ExpertGive the longbow to a random passerby and start using your silenced pistol hand crossbow. Cast Hunter’s Mark on one of the rats you keep in your sack of rats and immediately crush it to death in your fist. Stealth up to something you want to ambush and use a bonus action to mark it as your next quarry (note that this bonus action has no components and is therefore not something that can be noticed). Open fire.
Hand crossbow with bugbear surprise and Hunter’s Mark.
Hand crossbow with bugbear surprise, Hunter’s Mark, and Dread Ambusher bonus.
Bonus action hand crossbow with bugbear surprise and Hunter’s Mark.12d6+1d8+9 for a total average of 55 expected DPR on the first round of combat.
5Extra Attack
New Spell Known (Lesser Restoration)
Let’s add another 4d6+3 to that total I mentioned at last level for a whopping 72 DPR. A Bulette, which is a CR 5 bruiser monster, has 94 health for comparison.

Lesser Restoration is there in case your healer gets paralyzed. If you already have two sources of this, take Pass Without Trace early instead.
6Deft Explorer (Roving)
Favored Foe (damage increase)
Roving is a neat ability but, since it’s not spider climb, we would be removing our ability to load our hand crossbow if we tried to use it in combat. Still, it means you’re rarely going to be stopped by terrain and can clamber up to places and drop a rope down, having tied it in place with that Sleight of Hand you’re proficient in.

Favored Foe’s damage goes up to matching Hunter’s Mark, so now we use that and free up our spell slots. It doesn’t transfer between targets though, so if you’re in a fight with many small enemies consider using a Mark instead and saving Favored Foe for things you expect to be attacking for a while.
7Iron Mind
New Spell Known (Pass Without Trace)
A very uninteresting class feature gets mitigated by picking up one of the most busted spells in the game. Since Favored Foe doesn’t start until in combat as opposed to the cheese I mentioned for carrying Hunter’s Mark around, you can now safely afford to spend your time between fights concentrating on being a paragon of stealth (not the paragon of stealth, that’s still an Infiltrator Armorer Artificer). If you already had it from level 5, take Darkvision in case someone in your party hasn’t figured out how to deal with you needing darkness all the time yet.
8Land’s Stride
Sharpshooter
Land’s Stride is almost a ribbon with how few things are going to try to stop you with damaging natural terrain.

Sharpshooter, on the other hand, is wonderful. The first bullet point means that you can now safely ambush people from three times the distance with no reduction in efficacy. This means your attack range is basically just your darkvision range, which, as a reminder, is 90 feet. Longer than most things if they have it at all. Also, since you’ll be presumably hidden when you make these attacks, you’ll have advantage to offset taking the penalty to hit for the 3rd bullet point.

DPR taking the penalty on every attack is 78. Compare that to just increasing Dex to +4 having a DPR of 72.
9New Spell known (Water Breathing)Why not put that swim speed to some use by also being able to breathe water for a whole day?

At this level we can also upcast Hunter’s Mark to be Concentration for a whole 8 hours, which goes back to being the better play compared to Favored Foe.
10Deft Explorer (Tireless)
Hide in Plain Sight
Tireless’s ability to grant yourself temp hp is one of the rare ones that doesn’t list a duration which means it lasts until you take a long rest. What this means is that you should do it once when you wake up in the morning and again at the end of every fight for as long as you have uses left. Other than that, it’s not really worth using. The other half of the ability though is amazing if you’re not being allowed to sleep normally.

Not nearly as good as the ability of the same name from 3.5, this is still yet another +10 to stealth we can stack on top of Pass Without Trace if we want to be a trapdoor-spider-ambusher instead of a wandering silenced pistoleer.
11Stalker’s Flurry
New Spell Known (Speak with Plants)
Well, even with advantage you’re probably going to miss with one of those 4 attacks you take every round. Go ahead and take another free one. This doesn’t increase your theoretical maximum damage for a round, but it absolutely raises your average and that’s perfectly fine. Remember that, as I called out above, 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 missing that attack connects. I can’t actually figure out how to use the DPR calculator to account for this, but my napkin math on it means it’s probably another 9 DPR or so.

Now your Land’s Stride ability is even less useful as you can use a spell slot to simply ask the plants to move out of your whole party’s way.
12Piercer (Dexterity)Four attacks on the opening turn with advantage gives us a ~34% chance to crit at least once, and we roll a lot of dice per attack. Don’t use the reroll on the first attack because the d8 off Dread Ambusher is the most important one to reroll if it rolls low. If that rolls fine, any d6 you roll a 1 on during the second attack or later is good.
13New Spell Known (Freedom of Movement)Finally, a way to get rid of those penalties for attacking underwater! Now you’re exactly as functional in the ocean as you are on land. Or… something. It is literally our only 4th level spell option though that doesn’t conflict with concentrating on Hunter’s Mark.

If you don’t want to concentrate on 3-4d6 of damage per round though, this is also the level that Greater Invisibility becomes an option from the Gloom Stalker added spells which will make sure you have advantage unless your target can see invisible creatures. That can absolutely help ensure your Sharpshooter attacks land if you’re worried about that.
14Favored Foe (Damage Increase)
Vanish
Favored Foe goes back to being better single-target damage than Hunter’s Mark, but only by one per attack. However, those d8s are eligible for the reroll from Piercer so it’s actually slightly more than one but I’m going to do that math. It does still run into the problem of arguing for Concentration and not being swappable so mostly just keep using full-day Hunter’s Mark.

Vanish is a neat trick, but we use our bonus action every turn for damage. We don’t really need to hide for any reason except to get advantage, which can certainly be valid, but just putting another shot down range is also very valid.
15Shadowy Dodge
New Spell Known (Guardian of Nature)
Or, don’t bother hiding or concentrating on Hunter’s Mark and instead just turn into a tree. Now you have advantage just because and can safely keep taking the penalty to attack from Sharpshooter even after you’ve already burned your Flurry for the turn.
16ASI (+2 Dex)Nothing exciting here, but we cap our dexterity which once again puts us ~15% ahead of fundamental math on damage, nicely offsetting the penalties we take for Sharpshooter.
17New Spell Known (Conjure Volley)Your DC isn’t great but it’s also not terrible and many things don’t have great Dex saves. Here’s your answer to Area of Effect damage.
18Feral SensesSafely attack that Medusa without looking at it.
19Resilient (Con)
New Spell Known (Tree Stride)
At this point, your three common saves are on par or better than a paladin which is an incredible thing to be able to say. If anything does manage to find you, it’s probably going to have to take you out the old-fashioned way: hit point attrition. Which we’ve just spent an entire build getting really good at winning.

Also, you can now walk yourself through trees. Not like we were doing 8 levels ago, but like actually into the trees and then out of different trees.
20Foe SlayerBecause Favored Foe uses the wording of marking the target as your “favored enemy,” Foe Slayer works on anything you target it with. Given that, we’ll want to make sure we’re putting it on high-value large targets again so we can (almost always) use it for that +3 to hit to make sure a Sharpshooter shot connects for +10 damage.