“Far from the bustle of cities and towns, past the hedges that shelter the most distant farms from the terrors of the wild, amid the dense-packed trees of trackless forests and across wide and empty plains, rangers keep their unending watch.”
What Makes A Ranger?
“Warriors of the wilderness, rangers specialize in hunting the monsters that threaten the edges of civilization — humanoid raiders, rampaging beasts and monstrosities, terrible giants, and deadly dragons. They learn to track their quarry as a predator does, moving stealthily through the wilds and hiding themselves in brush and rubble. Rangers focus their combat training on techniques that are particularly useful against their specific favored foes.”
Rangers are nomads and hunters without equal, being far elevated above their mundane colleagues by virtue of supernatural talents, use of magic, or simply peerless expertise. But what makes your ranger special? This is the foundation upon which your ranger will be built and it’s worth taking some time to think it through. How they came to be a warden of the wilds is a great chance to seed your backstory with some nuggets of lore for your GM (Game Master) to pull into the game.
Something that defines many rangers of fiction, from Aragorn to Drizzt Do’Urden, is their favored foe.
Table of Contents
- What Makes A Ranger?
- Creating Your Ranger
Creating Your Ranger
Your Favored Foe and Terrain
“Favored Foe: When you hit a creature with an attack roll, you can call on your mystical bond with nature to mark the target as your favored enemy for 1 minute or until you lose your concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell).”
If your ability scores form the foundation of your ranger build, then this is the next level. Having a favored foe (preferably one tied to your backstory!) is one of the best aspects of the ranger class, and it defines much of their role play (RP). For example: Vex in Critical Role has a painful connection with Dragons and it is integral to the character’s RP and game mechanics.
When choosing a favored foe (and terrain) consider why your ranger has such knowledge of, and animosity toward, that enemy. Do they bear scars from an old battle with one of the beasts? Did their familial home get destroyed by this kind of rampaging monster? (A cliched trope, but still powerful!) or did they lose someone precious to one of these creatures? The story is only limited by your imagination, so get creative and give your GM something to latch on to.
In addition, consider verisimilitude when selecting your favored foe and terrain. If your ranger has never set foot in the Underdark, then they would have no plausible reason to have such extensive knowledge of it and the creatures within? Even common environments like forests can be spiced up with a little creativity.
For this example: let’s say our ranger’s favored terrain is forests, but their favored foe are Aberrations. Perhaps there is an area within our ranger’s wooded domain where the land has been touched by the Far Realm, and Aberrations roam around the site of a crashed meteor! The ranger could have expertise dealing with such creatures as they are the primary threat to their home.
Other Adventurers and You
“Faced with city-bred adventurers who grouse and whine about the hardships of the wild, rangers respond with some mixture of amusement, frustration, and compassion”
How do they feel about others who do not possess their capabilities? Are they compassionate to those who do not possess their talents, or do they view them scorn and contempt? As your ranger will be part of an adventuring party, this is a critical concept to consider when RPing your ranger. Do they enjoy teaching others the tricks they have learned during their time in the wilds, for example? Like a scout-master, they may lead the group when setting up camp, directing with an experienced hand whilst gently encouraging others to pitch in. Do they relish their role as a guide and survival expert or chafe under the burden of keeping the party on track? Your ranger can grumble to your heart’s content, but they should always find it within themselves to look out for the group.
If, however, you prefer a grittier approach, consider making your ranger a belligerent loner, forced into an adventuring party by unhappy circumstance. They may scoff at those they deem unworthy of life in the wilds, offering little to no help when they see their companions struggle to find food and water, or fail to avoid painful stinging plants. However, in the spirit of collaboration at the table, always ensure your ranger’s contempt for soft city-dwellers does not impede the party or get in the way of fun. They must soften/ warm to the party (at least a little) eventually.
Your Ranger Archetype
An Archetype defines how the ranger goes about their duty as a warden of the wilderness. It colors every aspect of their adventuring life, and is integral to their character. There are many officially published Archetypes, but we will focus on those in the Player’s Handbook for now.
“Emulating the Hunter archetype means accepting your place as a bulwark between the people you protect and the terrors of the wilderness. As you walk the Hunter’s path, you learn specialized techniques for fighting the threats you face, from rampaging ogres to towering giants and terrifying dragons.”
The Hunter embodies the martial essence of the ranger class, and is dedicated to laying low the beasts, monsters, and criminals that would threaten innocents if left unchecked. This ranger is adept at dispatching threats quickly and without mercy, relying on their weapons to protect the frontier settlements of the world from predation and crime. In the Player’s Handbook (PHB) Hunters have a few key decisions to make as they progress through the sub-class, but the most fertile ground for roleplaying comes from their selection of Hunter’s Prey, detailed below. At 3rd level a Hunter can choose from the following subclass features:
This ranger is a thorn in the side of the towering creatures which stalk the land, wearing them down with relentless attacks until they eventually fall, like a mountain eroded by a stream.
What makes your ranger adept at this type of combat? Was it their training, or do they naturally fight this way? This feature grants extra damage against foes below maximum hit points (HP) and with a bit of spicing up, we can turn this into a great aspect of RP! For example, perhaps our ranger was taught that accuracy over strength is the way forward, and they spent many hours chopping wood, in the manner instructed, to drill this lesson into them. As such they now have a keen understanding of the benefits of technique and tenacity in combat and life. How might that manifest? The choice is yours!
This ranger specializes in picking fights with larger than life foes, striking them when they miss attacks against the ranger.
Where might they have learned this skill? Did their order (if they have one) teach them that the best offense is a good defense? Perhaps this is why they wait to strike their foe on the counter rather than initiating the attack. Another way to look at it; the ranger is adept at striking in such a frenzy that even when their enemy strikes, they are ready to follow up their previous attack!
This ranger takes on hordes of foes without batting an eye, adept at facing numerous foes and coming out on top.
This ranger specializes in group combat, gaining extra attacks against foes adjacent to the one they just struck. If you ever wanted to live out the fantasy of being a hero slaying enemies by the score, this is the ranger for you! What makes your ranger so good at this type of engagement? Are their favored foes often found in groups together? Are they accustomed to fighting against overwhelming odds, and if so, why? Were they trained to fight this way, or is their natural predisposition?
Considering these factors will help you flesh out your Hunter into a richly detailed hero of the wilderness, ready to defend their lands from those who would threaten it!
“The Beast Master archetype embodies a friendship between the civilized races and the beasts of the wild. United in focus, beast and ranger fight the monsters that threaten civilization and the wilderness alike.”
For those truly in touch with the animalistic, primal nature of the wilderness, the Beast Master archetype is the way. This archetype grants you a bestial companion to take on your adventures, and offers a wealth of roleplying opportunities. Key to RPing this archetype is your bond with your wild buddy, so take some time to consider how you met, why they trust you, and why they chose to adventure with you. Perhaps you rescued an orphaned wolf pup from a predator, or you saved a family of foxes from hunters! This is a great area to get creative and form that bond with your companion. For GM’s this is an opportunity to work with your ranger players and collaborate on a cool backstory to forge that bond between PC and beast.
Your furry, scaled, feathered friend is at the forefront of your RP with this archetype, and it pays to flesh them out just as much as your ranger. Give them some quirks, consider their usual temperament and how they act in common adventuring situations such as exploring a dungeon; are they bold and fearless, or more timid? How do they act when you’re out and about in town looking for supplies you can’t find in the wilds? Think about how a pet might act in these situations, then apply a filter of primal instinct or diligent training to them to get a rough idea of your companion’s behavior. For example, if your dog is afraid of new places, think about how they act and transpose that onto your ranger’s wolf companion. Instead of hiding between your legs like the dog, the wolf may become more aggressive and protective of you!
Losing One Friend and Gaining Another
“If the beast dies, you can obtain a new companion by spending 8 hours magically bonding with a beast that isn’t hostile to you and that meets the requirements.”
Adventuring is a dangerous profession and there are casualties. If your game goes beyond Tier 1 (Low-level fantasy adventure), then it is highly likely your faithful companion will meet their end at the hands of a powerful enemy before long. This is a moment which carries potent emotional weight and should be treated as such.
However, all is not lost. Should your friend fall in the line of duty, it is possible to gain a new companion via sacred ritual/natural connection. This should be treated with gravitas and respect. Gaining a new companion should be a significant task, as the ranger lets go of their old friend, and sets out to form a new bond. This is not like catching a new pokemon! Ask your GM if you can have a sidequest dedicated entirely to recruiting a new companion if your table is up for it. This can be a great bonding experience for the party if played well!
Note: Losing an animal companion is something which should be discussed in session zero with the GM. Not everyone is comfortable with this content and no-one should be made to feel uncomfortable or upset by events in the game. If you want to play this archetype with no chance of companion death, it must be discussed beforehand.
Rangers offer a wealth of rich, deep roleplaying opportunities and can be wonderful fun to play! The real key to getting the most from roleplaying your wild-wandering ranger (as with any character), is to collaborate with your GM to craft a character who feels real.
The ranger is a superbly down to earth class with many options to explore, much like a wild, untamed frontier. The question is: Are you ready for the journey?