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D&D 5e Guide – How to Play a Ranger

7 Minute Read
Jul 3 2024

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, and Ranger.

Ranger 5E

The best part about a ranger is how versatile they can be; their spells can be a boon to a party, and 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 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 toward exploring in the wilderness:

  • 1st level: you gain a double proficiency bonus with one skill, as well as learning two additional languages
  • 6th level: your walking speed increases by 5, and you gain a climbing and swimming speed equal to your walking speed
  • 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). However, 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.

Ranger 5E

And we’re just getting started. That’s before looking at the new fighting style options for rangers, like Blind Fighting, Druidic Warrior, 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.



Ranger 5E

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. Something 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 you can 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 it on the battlefield. At higher levels, you’ll be able to buff and make multiple attacks alongside them. This gives you loads of attacks on your turn.

Gloom Stalkers are one of the most popular Ranger subclasses, especially if you want to play the Stealth Archer from Elder Scrolls. 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. Plus, their ambush ability makes them deadly on the first turn, potentially doing 47 damage with a longbow and THEN getting their standard attacks.


You might also play a Fey Wanderer and gain several charm abilities related to the Feywild. 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 you can 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.

Horizon Walker Rangers, on the other hand, are much more about having the right tool for the job. You get a bonus spell list that focuses on mobility. It includes one of the better mobility features out there. Nothing keeps Horizon Walkers from getting where they want to. They can teleport and hasten themselves. Plus, one of their signature moves is the ability to teleport from spot to spot while attacking. It’s a really cool mechanic, both flavorful and useful. These are the “defender” Rangers, the ones keeping the world safe from extraplanar threats, and are a lot of fun narratively.

Ranger 5E

Hunter Rangers are probably tied with Gloom Stalker for most common, just for ease of use. They are the classic ranger, re-imagined in 5th Edition. Their abilities are basically an extension of the 3.x Ranger ideal. You can choose between fighting one big guy, or lots of little ones, or defending yourself at all odds. Then you just 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*. This means you’ll be shutting down enemy abilities. You’ll also be interfering with spellcasting, 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. That way, you can give yourself a spell that you can cast and fight with.

Looking Ahead to 5.5E


Recently, Wizards of the Coast gave a preview of an updated Ranger. And boy howdy do they look different. A lot of the changes to the Ranger were first explored in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which includes the Deft Explorer feature, only spread out into separate features instead of slowly leveling up. But that’s just a presentational difference.

And it really shows off just how exciting a feature change it is, that it’s included almost whole cloth, and in come cases with minor improvements.

Another big thing Rangers have to look forward to in the future is a more integrated use of the Hunter’s Mark spell. It’s going to be a part of every Ranger’s repertoire, for better or worse. Hunter’s Mark will give you more damage, but will also help you overcome defenses and give you advantage at higher levels.

Plus every subclass gets pretty significantly overhauled. The Beastmaster works the way you want it to, now, and the Gloom Stalker has been made a little less one-sidedly powerful and is more consistent but less spiky as a result. So, if you’re ready to play a 5.5E Ranger, you’ve got a lot of upgrades to look forward to!

Happy adventuring!

Author: J.R. Zambrano
Author: Clint Lienau
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