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Pathfinder - Ranger Combat Styles Breakdown

Disclaimer

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  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
  • Green: Good options.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.

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Combat Styles

The Ranger is a very versatile class. Based on your combat style and skill selection, the ranger can serve as a tank, a scout, a striker, and a librarian to some degree. How you function in combat is defined largely by your combat style, but how you function as a character is more broadly defined by your archetype.

See also: Ranger Archetypes Breakdown.

The most important part of the Ranger's Combat Style feature is that you can select bonus feats without meeting the pre-requisites. Many combat styles grant the Ranger feats several levels before a normal character could take them.

Archery

Rangers were one of the better options for archery characters in 3.5, and the style had improved dramatically in Pathfinder. Combat Style helps greatly with the long list of essential archery feats, and the ability to take the bonus feats without pre-requisites really cuts down on the feat cost.

Note that the feats on the Archery combat style listed in the core rulebook were expanded in later supplements. This list reflects the updated version.

  • Base
    • Far Shot: With a longbow, your range is likely good enough.
    • Focused Shot: You will do considerably more damage with Rapid Shot.
    • Point Blank Shot: This is only good as a pre-requisite for other feats. Rogues get a lot more benefit from this since they already need to be within 30 feet, but you should really be taking advantage of your long range.
    • Precise Shot: Shoot into melee without taking that awful -4 penalty.
    • Rapid Shot: An extra attack means extra damage. The -2 penalty isn't going to break you.
  • 6th Level
    • Crossbow Mastery: Waste a feat to switch to crossbows. Slightly bigger damage die, and you don't need to worry about strength. This feat makes the Archery combat style better at crossbows than the Crossbow combat style.
    • Improved Precise Shot: Shoot past and around your allies.
    • Parting Shot: Situational.
    • Point Blank Master: Get into melee and go nuts.
    • Manyshot: Get a free extra arrow worth of damage on your best attack every round. Basically free damage.
  • 10th Level
    • Pinpoint Targeting: You have full BAB, you should have good dex, and you're going to have a good weapon. You shouldn't have any problems hitting things reliably. By the time you reach this level, few enemies will be getting their AC from armor or shields.
    • Shot on the Run: Just get a horse.

Crossbow

Entirely worse than Archery, the only benefit to using a crossbow is that you don't need strength to deal damage. You may notice that there is a lot of overlap in the feat choices for the Archery and Crossbow combat styles, but some of the Archery options have been replaced with feats that make you better at reloading. The base set of feats is slightly better than Archery, but crossbows are still a considerably worse choics than bows.

  • Base
    • Deadly Aim: Basically power attack for ranged weapons. Crucial if you plan on doing damage.
    • Focused Shot: Rapid Shot will basically always be a better option, and your intelligence isn't going to be huge.
    • Precise Shot: Shoot into melee without taking that awful -4 penalty.
    • Rapid Shot: An extra attack means extra damage. The -2 penalty isn't going to break you.
  • 6th Level
    • Crossbow Mastery: You don't have to spend a feat on rapid reload unless you wanted to use Rapid Shot at low levels, which is nice. This also makes Heavy Crossbows a viable option.
    • Improved Precise Shot: Shoot past and around your allies.
  • 10th Level
    • Pinpoint Targeting: You have full BAB, you should have good dex, and you're going to have a good weapon. You shouldn't have any problems hitting things reliably. By the time you reach this level, few enemies will be getting their AC from armor or shields.
    • Shot on the Run: Just get a horse.

Mounted Combat

You won't be as good a horseman as a Cavalier, but your animal companion makes a pretty great mount. With power attack and a decent lance, you can make an excellent striker.

  • Base
    • Mounted Combat: Your mount is very important, and your mount's AC is probably going to be bad.
    • Mounted Archery: If you wanted to be an archer, you should have taken the Archery combat style.
    • Ride-By Attack: Very important for Spirited Charge and lances.
    • Trick Riding: Reliability on your basic ride checks is nice.
  • 6th Level
    • Mounted Shield: Your mount's AC is still going to be terrible, but this helps a bit.
    • Spirited Charge: Basically the whole reason you want to be a mounted character. Triple damage with your lance charges, and you should be lance charging every round.
  • 10th Level
    • Mounted Skirmisher: Basically pounce while mounted. Keep in mind that Spirited Charge and the lance damage multiplier only apply to your first attack on a charge. Even so, this feat is incredible.
    • Unseat: This is ridiculously situational. If you want to unseat someone, just run them over with Spirited Charge and hope they fail their ride check to stay mounted.

Natural Weapon

If you want to use this for natural weapons and don't already have some, this archetype is completely worthless. If you do already have natural weapons, you may still find this archetype to be extremely mediocre and disappointing. But if you're as much of a fan of Vital Strike as I am, this archetype is surprisingly amazing find. If you want to play a ranger and use Vital Strike, there literally isn't a better wau to do it.

  • Base
    • Aspect of the Beast: If you don't have natural claws already, choose the Claws of the Beast aspect. Otherwise, take Night Senses. Without this feat, this archetype basically won't function unless you already have natural weapons.
    • Improved Natural Weapon: Bumping your claws from d4 to d6 is really only useful because d6's are more fun to roll.
    • Rending Claws: An extra d6 damage per round is certainly not worth a feat.
    • Weapon Focus: Well, there aren't any better options. Take Weapon Focus (Claws).
  • 6th Level
    • Eldritch Claws: Essential for bypassing DR.
    • Vital Strike: This feat is a terrible option for a natural weapon-based build. If you only get you make one attack, you should be charging so that you can get in position to make a full attack. Damage dice are a very small portion of your total damage as you level, and adding an extra d4 or d6 is hardly going to make a difference. If you somehow have exactly one big natural weapon (maybe you're an awakened animal or something), Vital Strike could be a great option, and you should read my Practical Guide to Vital Strike. However, most natural weapon builds get by on having numerous natural weapons, so hypothetical Vital Strike builds are vastly in the minority.
  • 10th Level
    • Multiattack: If you have secondary natural attacks, this is essential.
    • Improved Vital Strike: Still the same issue that Vital Strike faces for most rangers.

Thrown Weapon

Thrown Weapon builds require two sets of feats: archery feats, and two-weapon fighting feats. The Thrown Weapon combat style provides the basics of both, but doesn't help you get any of the difficult feats. You could get any worthwhile feat in this combat style by level 5 with little effort. You would be much better served by either the Archery or Two-Weapon Fighting combat styles, depending on how you want to distribute your ability scores.

  • Base
    • Distance Thrower: Far Shot is much better.
    • Precise Shot: Required for any ranged character.
    • Quick Draw: Unless you're using Shurikens (a bad idea), you will need Quick Draw to draw more weapons faster than a move action.
    • Two-Weapon Fighting: If you're throwing weapons, you probably want to use your off-hand to throw some more.
  • 6th Level
    • Close-Quarters Thrower: Very helpful for getting in close, but you can always take a 5-foot step away.
    • False Opening: This is great if you have Sneak Attack. Useless for a Ranger, but great for a Slayer.
  • 10th Level
    • Pinpoint Targeting: You have full BAB, you should have good dex, and you're going to have a good weapon. You shouldn't have any problems hitting things reliably, and you need to be making multiple attacks to deal a decent amount of damage.
    • Shot on the Run: You will do much better if you stand still and make a full attack. If you need to move, there are very few cases where you can't do just as well my moving and attacking separately.

Two-Handed Weapon

Two-Handed weapons require a fairly small number of feats to be effective, and this combat style doesn't offer a lot of good feats. Rangers get medium armor and d10 hit points, which makes it hard to be in melee without a shield. If you really want to use a two-handed weapon as a ranger, consider the Wild Stalker archetype instead of this combat style.

  • Base
    • Cleave: Cleave is a decent option at low levels if you tend to fight mobs of enemys. It can be hard to set up since the targets need to be adjacent, but it gets you two attacks very early in the game.
    • Power Attack: Basically required.
    • Pushing Assault: Like a lousy version of bull rush, and you sacrifice your power attack damage.
    • Shield of Swings: If you wanted better AC you should have just picked a combat style that involved shields.
  • 6th Level
    • Furious Focus: Fantastic. Makes your most reliable attack even better, especially on a charge.
    • Great Cleave: Like cleave, but even harder to set up.
  • 10th Level
    • Dreadful Carnage: You get Intimidate as a class skill, but your charisma is probably terrible unless you were planning to use Fear.
    • Improved Sunder: Sundering is rarely a good option.

Two-Weapon Fighting

Two-Weapon Fighting can be a great options for rangers, and they are the only class that can get away with two-weapon fighting without a ton of Dexterity. If you want a Strength-based two-weapon fighting build, invest in dual-wielding shields. If you want to go the Dexterity route, stick to light armor and pick up Slashing Grace and Sawtooth Sabres. You might not be able to keep up with rogues in terms of damage, but your full BAB lets you get considerably more attacks than a Rogue, and you can actually hit things.

  • Base
    • Double Slice: You need a huge amount of strength to make this feat worthwhile. Depending on your math, you need as much as 22 strength before this starts looking like a good idea.
    • Improved Shield Bash: Sword-and-board Two-Weapon Fighting is a really great option in Pathfinder, but you don't get any other shield feats as part of the combat style. If you don't mind spending your regular feats on Shield Slam and Shield Master, it's a great option.
    • Quick Draw: Unless you're throwing things, this won't be hugely important.
    • Two-Weapon Fighting: You don't need the high dexterity to get the Two-Weapon Fighting feats, which reall makes a big difference for Two-Weapon Rangers. Of course, you're going to have high dexterity since you only get light armor.
  • 6th Level
    • Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: More attacks!
    • Two-Weapon Defense: A +1 shield bonus to AC is terrible. Dodge is considerably better.
  • 10th Level
    • Greater Two-Weapon Fighting: Still more attacks!
    • Two-Weapon Rend: A little extra damage never hurts, especially since you don't have to take Double Slice to get this.

Weapon and Shield

Weapon and Shield is a Two-Weapon Fighting archetype. Because Rangers get to ignore prerequisites for feats, the Two-Weapon Fighting combat style is strictly better. Two-Weapon Fighting allows you to bypass the steep dexterity requirements of the Two-Weapon Fighting feats. The only thing that Weapon and Shield really has going for it is that you can get Shield Master 5 levels early.

  • Base
    • Improved Shield Bash: Now your shield is a weapon. Make sure to get Two-Weapon Fighting, too.
    • Shield Focus: If you run out of feats to take with Combat Style, the extra AC certainly doesn't hurt.
    • Shield Slam: Pushing people away from you prevents them from full attacking you, but it also prevents you from full attacking them unless they move back into your reach.
    • Two-Weapon Fighting: A key component of the shield and shield combat style.
  • 6th Level
    • Saving Shield: An amusing way to protect your squishy characters, but if they're close enough to require this, they probably should be flanking something with you.
    • Shield Master: You get this feat faster than anyone else in the game, and you would be a fool not to take it. Immediately drop whatever pointy stick you were using as a weapon and get a second shield.
  • 10th Level
    • Bashing Finish: You probably won't be dealing a lot of critical hits since your shields are 20/x2.
    • Greater Shield Focus: A +1 shield bonus to AC is terrible. Dodge is considerably better.