Warriors of the wilderness, Rangers can be a fun class to play. Here’s a handy guide to getting started with running a ranger in D&D.
Rangers can be an essential part of any D&D party. With their blend of martial prowess and druidic magic, they can hold the line on their own or provide much needed support for the party. Given the right focus, they can take down powerful foes, and when you’re out of combat, they’ve got the skills to keep your party fed and safe and make sure everyone gets where they’re going. Perhaps that’s why they’re part of the trilogy of classes that appears most often in parties of any size: Fighter, Cleric, Ranger.
The best part about a ranger is how versatile they can be; their spells can be a boon to a party, their skills can suit them to almost any role, but they’re also one of the more maligned classes in D&D–and a big part of this is because rangers have a lot of competition for their actions in combat and their spells altogether. Fortunately, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, released last year, has some major quality of life improvements for players. If you’re considering playing a ranger, ask your DM about the options for rangers included in the book–we’ll take you through them below.
Deft Explorer which replaces Natural Explorer–this takes rangers away from having a limited selection of “favored terrains” and instead gives you abilities at 1st, 6th, and 10th level that suit you towards exploring in the wilderness:
- At 1st level you gain double proficiency bonus with one skill, as well as learning two additional languages
- At 6th level, your walking speed increases by 5, and you gain a climbing and swimming speed equal to your walking speed
- At 10th level you can give yourself 1d8 + your Wisdom modifier extra temporary hit points a few times per day (and you lose exhaustion whenever you complete a short rest).
That’s one of the biggest features to replace, though you might also consider swapping out Favored Enemy for Favored Foe, which lets you mark a target to deal an extra 1d4 (increasing later to 1d6 and 1d8). Though this does inhibit your ability to concentrate on a spell–which is one of the eternal struggles for rangers.
You should absolutely ask your DM if you can use the Additional Ranger Spells feature, because there’s no reason those spells shouldn’t be on their list already.
And we’re just getting started. That’s before looking at the new fighting style options for rangers, like Blind Fighting, Druidic Warrior, or Thrown Weapon Fighting, or the new Primal Awareness which gives you additional spells:
…and you can cast each of those spells once per long rest without expending a spell slot. And then later you can replace Hide in Plain Sight with Nature’s Veil which lets you become invisible as a bonus action.
Nature or Nurture
That’s already a lot to take into account, but it highlights how flexible rangers can be. The best way to get started with them is to figure out what you want to be doing in the dungeon and in the world. You can make a ranger who’s more of a warrior by taking the Druidic Fighting Style and an archetype like Swarmkeeper, you can make a master archer, you can excel at fighting a single powerful opponent, you can use your magic to lock down foes; there’s no end of possibilities, but the important thing is to know what you’re going for and focus.
A lot of that comes down to knowing what you’re using your spells on. Like paladins, rangers have a limited number of spell slots, but they can use them to great effect. It’s just a matter of knowing what you can do. The other big part of figuring out your playstyle comes from your archetype, so let’s look at those.
Beast Master Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, gave these rangers a much needed overhaul. This is a class that’s all about having a special companion that you can call forth when you finish a long rest. They will act independently and you can direct them as a bonus action to fight on your behalf, or give up some of your own attacks to let the beast attack as well–so you can theoretically do most, if not all, of your fighting through your magic beast.
They’ll level up along with you and give you an extra presence wherever you need on the battlefield. At higher levels you’ll be able to buff them and make multiple attacks alongside them, giving you loads of attacks on your turn.
You might also play a Fey Wanderer and gain a number of abilities related to the feywild–lots of charm abilities. If you want to play a more magical ranger, this is the way to go. You can use your abilities to make people afraid or to summon fey creatures and deal extra psychic damage with your attacks. This class has a lot of ways to cast spells without expending a spell slot, so if you like that, give Fey Wanderer a try.
Gloom Stalkers are basically Batman. They focus heavily on fear and darkness, even disappearing entirely when in darkness and facing creatures with darkvision. Mixing a little Rogue in with your Ranger, these shadowed sentinels excel at stealthy skirmishing. If you want to be able to sneak anywhere, any time this is the subclass for you.
Horizon Walker Rangers, on the other hand, are much more about having the right tool for the job. With a bonus spell list that focuses on mobility–and one of the better mobility features out there, nothing keeps Horizon Walkers from getting where they want to. They can teleport, hasten themselves, and as one of their signature moves, they teleport from spot to spot, making attacks all the while. It’s a real cool mechanic, both flavorful and useful. This subclass mixes mobility and resilience into the Ranger.
Hunter Rangers are probably the most common ones. They are the classic ranger, re-imagined in 5th Edition. Their abilities are basically an extension of the 3.x Ranger ideal. Pick a fighting style (only on this case it’s pick between fighting one big guy, lots of little ones, or defend yourself at all odds) and then level up that ability as you go. Very straightforward, but still powerful. You’ll never be hurting for class feature choices with this one.
Monster Slayer Rangers are like the Hunter but to the extreme. Hunters might focus on taking out enemies, but Monster Slayers focus on killing *monsters* — which means you’ll be shutting down enemy abilities, and interfering with spellcasting and especially against monsters that try to escape. If you want to punch above your weight where the supernatural is concerned, this is the archetype for you.
Finally Swarmkeeper Rangers are a weird mix of magical damage (in the form of a swarm of intangible nature spirits that look like what you decide they do), and they let you do all sorts of extra things in combat. This is probably the best way to go if you want to make a gish ranger–that is, a ranger who primarily uses magic as well as melee attacks. Take the Druidic Warrior fighting style along with the Shillelagh cantrip to give yourself a spell that you can cast and fight with.