Gloom Stalker 5e Guide
Published on April 4, 2021, Last modified on June 8th, 2023
In this post, we will be examining the Gloom Stalker’s class features and how you can optimize your Gloom Stalker through choosing your race, background, ability scores, and feats.
David Rapoza - Wizards of the Coast - Rites of Reaping
What is a Gloom Stalker?
Gloom Stalkers are rangers that stick to the shadows, hunting in places that most would never dare enter. Whether it be caves, ominous forests, or even the Underdark, Gloom Stalkers hunt their prey under the cover of darkness, striking fear into the hearts of even the most evil of beasts.
Gloom Stalkers put a twist on what is usually expected of the fanger class. While most fangers are thought to be the explorers and trackers of the party, Gloom Stalkers are granted spells and abilities that are perfect for stealth, ambushes, and social encounters.
One of the best features of the Gloom Stalker is that they essentially counter enemies with darkvision, rendering them just as useless in dark environments as if they didn’t have darkvision. If your campaign often takes you to low light environments, Gloom Stalkers will excel more than any other class.
Gloom Stalkers suffer from the same thing most ranger builds do – the base ranger class features are quite underwhelming. While the Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything updates help the ranger, the class still struggles with its identity.
Gloom Stalkers are probably at their best fighting in very dark environments. If your party members lack darkvision, this could lead to them feeling useless while you carry the team, or your DM may just choose not to take you to dark environments very often. In addition, Gloom Stalkers are extremely powerful in the first round of combat, after which they can feel like any other vanilla ranger class with some stealthy spells mixed in. They are excellent at stealth and ambush tactics, but that’s as far as their specialties take them.
Gloom Stalker 5e Guide Rating Scheme
This guide is meant as a deep dive into the Gloom Stalker Ranger subclass. For a full overview of the Ranger class, check out our ranger 5e Guide.
For our full class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
- Orange Situationally good, but a below-average option otherwise
- Green is a good option
- Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
- Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
For our subclass guides, we focus mainly on the Blue and Sky Blue options, because the other options are discussed in the parent guide or other subclass guides. We also discuss options that normally would be good for a typical build, but underperform when used in a subclass.
Gloom Stalker Ranger Features
5e Gloom Stalkers thrive in dark and foreboding environments where others fear to tread and the features they gain throughout their levelling up reflect that.
Gloom Stalker Magic: The spells the Gloom Stalker receives are themed around stealth and deception.
- 3rd Level – Disguise Self: This is a spell rangers don’t usually have access to, but for the Gloom Stalker it slots in nicely. Disguise self can be really useful for infiltration or to extract information from inhospitable NPCs.
- 5th Level – Rope Trick: Rope trick is a mechanically hilarious way to get a short rest or to set up an ambush.
- 9th Level – Fear: Fear provides solid crowd control, especially if you choose to prioritize WIS over CON.
- 13th Level – Greater Invisibility: Greater invisibility is simply amazing. Unlike regular invisibility, attacking doesn’t break the invisibility, making this spell useful both in and out of combat for a stealth-based character.
- 17th Level – Seeming: Disguise self for the whole party. The use case is the same, but this time you will have your friends as backup in case something goes wrong.
Dread Ambusher: This subclass feature makes the Gloom Stalker extremely powerful in the first round of combat, often setting the pace for the rest of the battle. Rush in, take some shots with bonus damage, and slink back into the shadows.
Umbral Sight: Getting darkvision on any race is amazing, and those that already come with darkvision get an upgraded version. However, the best part of Umbral Sight is that it acts as a hard counter to the many creatures that come with darkvision. With Umbral Sight, you are essentially fighting with permanent Greater Invisibility against those creatures if you are in darkness.
Iron Mind: WIS saves may not come up a whole lot, but failing them usually sucks. Proficiency in WIS saving throws helps keep you in the fight, so Iron Mind is a great addition to your Gloom Stalker’s arsenal. This plus your classes’ inherent darkvision ability makes a lot of the benefits given by the Elf subclass less appealing if you are playing a high-level campaign.
Stalker’s Fury: Ideally this would be another Extra Attack, but Stalker’s Fury is about as close as you can get. Making your weapon attacks more reliable makes this subclass that much better.
Shadowy Dodge: Another huge boon for the Gloom Stalker. Shadowy Dodge is a fantastic use of your reaction and provides a reliable way to drive up your survivability.
The Basics of Playing an Gloom Stalker Ranger
Does a Gloom Stalker seem up your ally? Here are some things to focus on for your role as a stealthy scout and ambush specialist:
Embrace the Shadows
Your Gloom Stalker features grant you a unique advantage in darkness and dim light. Take advantage of this by seeking opportunities to initiate combat from the shadows. Your ideal battlegrounds for fighting are dense forests, caverns, or dimly lit dungeons, or during the night if you’re out in the open. Use Umbral Sight to grant you advantage on attacks against creatures by moving unseen through the darkness.
Play to Your Strengths
Surprising creatures and staying out of sight are your bread and butter. Invest in Dexterity and Wisdom to boost your Stealth and Perception checks. Stealth allows you to move silently and remain hidden from enemies, while Perception helps you detect hidden foes, traps, or important clues. A high Dexterity score not only enhances your Stealth, but it also improves your Armor Class and attack rolls.
Coordinate with Your Party
While you might be able to move through darkness undetected, your party may not. Planning and executing coordinated attacks can greatly enhance your party’s overall strategy and make them effective participants in your scouting and ambushing. You can also coordinate with spellcasters who can provide magical darkness or create illusions to further enhance your abilities.
Gloom Stalker Ranger Playstyles
Despite the flavor of the Gloom Stalker subclass, it’s not actually that focused on traversing dark regions. Only one feature (Umbral Sight) revolves around being in the dark. The rest of the Gloom Stalker’s features provide bonuses to saving throws, grant extra attacks, and make your ranger able to get the drop on their enemies more effectively.
With that in mind, here are some playstyles that the Gloom Stalker’s features provide:
The Silent Assassin playstyle focuses on maximizing your damage potential and dispatching enemies swiftly and silently. Gloom Stalkers following this playstyle will likely choose a ranged weapon, such as a longbow or crossbow, to engage enemies from a distance. This not only allows you to attack while sneaking more easily, it enables you to maintain a safe position while dealing damage after combat has broken out.
Gloom Stalkers who want to go down this route will almost always want to consider the Sharpshooter feat to further increase your ranged damage output. The -5 penalty you take to get +10 damage can be heavily mitigated by the Archery Fighting Style and attacking from an unseen position, which provide advantage.
These Gloom Stalkers will usually want to kick combat off with a surprise round by firing an arrow from stealth. That way, they’ll be able to pop hunter’s mark at their leisure, get advantage to offset Sharpshooter, and an extra attack that deal 1d8 more damage thanks to Dread Ambusher.
For a 5th-level ranger using a longbow with a Dexterity score of 18, your first round of attacks could look like this:
- 1st attack: 1d8 + 4 (Dexterity modifier) + 10 (Sharpshooter) + 1d6 (hunter’s mark) = Avg. 22 dmg
- 2nd attack: 1d8 + 4 (Dexterity modifier) + 10 (Sharpshooter) + 1d6 (hunter’s mark) = Avg. 22 dmg
- 3rd attack: 1d8 + 4 (Dexterity modifier) + 10 (Sharpshooter) + 1d6 (hunter’s mark) + 1d8 (Dread Ambusher) = Avg. 26.5 dmg
For a total of 69.5 damage if each of your attacks hit! And that’s before you take a dip into the Assassin rogue subclass (which we discuss below).
The Skirmisher Scout playstyle focuses on leveraging your stealth and ambushing abilities to gather information for your party, as well as throw down in melee when the fighting breaks out.
Gloom Stalkers following this playstyle will opt for melee weapons like a rapier or shortsword to engage enemies up close. This allows you to remain single-ability dependant (SAD) by capitalizing on using Dexterity for attacks, damage, Stealth, and AC.
Skirmisher Gloom Stalkers will also want to consider the Dual Wielder feat to wield two weapons simultaneously and increase your damage output. They could also make the use of Mobile to weave in and out of combat.
The leftover ASIs will be devoted to Wisdom to make sure your spellcasting is up to snuff.
Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.
Like most rangers, Gloom Stalkers should max out DEX first. They are happy to boost either WIS or CON after that depending on their survivability needs and playstyle. Because the Gloom Stalker is geared towards a more stealthy/deceptive playstyle than a traditional Ranger, putting some points into CHA isn’t a bad idea.
In summary, Gloom Stalkers should prioritize DEX > WIS/CON > CHA.
STR: Dump and focus on other stats.
DEX: Rangers only have access to light and medium armor, so DEX will be the main way they can increase their AC. Attacks will also rely on DEX, so pump this as high as you can.
CON: CON will keep you alive. If you want to play as a melee Gloom Stalker, consider taking more CON than WIS.
INT: Dump and focus on other stats.
WIS: WIS is used for the Gloom Stalker’s spellcasting. Early WIS is likely a better choice than CON for a Gloom Stalker because they do particularly well as ranged combatants.
CHA: Deceptive characters do well with some CHA to help out with social skill checks.
Best Races for Gloom Stalker 5e
Gloom Stalkers will do well with any race that gives a +2 DEX bonus. In addition, look for races that give secondary bonuses in WIS or CON. Darkvision is not necessary, as Gloom Stalkers get it for free, but choosing a race that already has darkvision will make it even better.
If you’re using the Player’s Handbook to create your Gloom Stalker ranger, consider the following options:
Elf: Elves get +2 to DEX, ideal for this subclass. As an elf, you also gain access to the Elven Accuracy feat, boosting WIS or DEX even further and making attack rolls more reliable.
- Wood: Wood Elves are the classic choice for rangers, and they hold up just as well for the Gloom Stalker variant. The racial feature Mask of the Wild makes Gloom Stalkers even better at hiding in natural environments.
Halfling: Halflings come with the +2 DEX bonus, which is great for Gloom Stalkers. Lightfoot Halflings offer some CHA, Stout Halflings offer some CON for survivability, and some of the non-standard subraces offer WIS to go with DEX.
- Variant: Variant Humans are powerful for pretty much any build. Boost WIS and DEX, take a feat at 1st-level like Sharpshooter or Crossbow Expert, and you’re pretty well set up from the jump. Because the Gloom Stalker gets access to darkvision by 3rd-level, and advantage on WIS saving throws at 7th-level, the opportunity cost of taking a Variant Human over an Elf subrace is greatly smoothed out. If you are planning on playing a high-level campaign, or are starting at 5th-level, the Variant Human is likely your best choice.
If you’re looking for more options for your Gloom Stalker ranger outside of the standard ones offered in the Player’s Handbook, or if you’re using the Customize Your Origins optional rule from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, here are some solid options:
Best Backgrounds for Gloom Stalkers
Gloom Stalkers are flexible in their background choices. Good choices are backgrounds that give DEX skills, WIS skills, or social skills. Ideally, choose one that works for your backstory and fills in some of the gaps in your skill proficiencies.
- Charlatan: If you want to deceive people, this background goes all in. Deception, Sleight of Hand, as well as proficiencies in the Disguise kit and Forgery kit.
- Criminal: Deception and Stealth are great, and the crowbar can come in handy.
- Folk Hero: Perfect if you’re lacking WIS skills, granting Animal Handling and Survival.
- Guild Artisan: An interesting choice for roleplay. Insight and Persuasion are both decent for Gloom Stalkers.
- Urchin: Sleight of Hand and Stealth are both pretty neat if you want to take on a Rogue-adjacent role. Proficiency in the Disguise Kit and Thieves’ Tools help achieve that goal.
- Urban Bounty Hunter: Many useful choices from Deception, Insight, Persuasion, and Stealth. If you also want proficiency in an instrument, game, or Thieves’ Tools, The Urban Bounty Hunter fills those gaps.
Best Feats for Gloom Stalker 5e
- Alert: Alert plus Dread Ambusher all but ensures that you will act first when combat starts. Not being able to be surprised and avoiding advantaged attacks from hidden creatures is also very on-brand for the Gloom Stalker.
- Crossbow Expert: Mandatory if you want to fight with a crossbow. Sadly crossbows are not as good as longbows with Sharpshooter, but they can still make for very fun builds that can make up to four attacks in the first round of combat with this feat.
- Elven Accuracy: If you are an elf, Elven Accuracy is very tempting. You can increase your DEX or WIS score by 1, as well as reroll one die if you have advantage on the attack. Getting advantage on attacks should be pretty easy for Gloom Stalkers when fighting in dark environments because of Umbral Sight.
- Sharpshooter: With Sharpshooter, you can shoot up to 600 feet with a longbow without disadvantage, as well as ignoring half and three-quarters cover. The most interesting part of this feat however is the option to take a -5 penalty to your attack rolls to deal +10 damage. This is partially mitigated with the Archery Fighting Style, Stalker’s Fury, or Elven Accuracy.
- Skulker: The improved hiding seems almost redundant at this point, but the fun with Skulker is that missing ranged weapon attacks while hidden doesn’t give away your location. Dim light also won’t affect your Perception checks, meaning that when in total Darkness (which acts as dim light with darkvision) you can make Perception checks as normal.
Best Spells for Gloom Stalker 5e
Gloom Stalkers want to be able to capitalize on surprising enemies, which means boosting damage per strike, laying down crowd control before initiative, and can even mean carrying party members around in a stealthy manner. Luckily, there are some great spells to help enable this playstyle.
- 1st level
- Hail of Thorns: A 1st-level spell slot for a 1d10 AoE can be worth it if you can catch another creature or two within the 5ft radius. As an added bonus, you’re still able to inflict the damage from your ranged attack. The worst-case scenario for this spell would be to cast it on your turn, miss your attacks, then get hit and lose concentration before you can get activate the effect. Make sure you don’t have any enemies barrelling toward you when casting this spell.
- Hunter’s Mark: Allows for an extra d6 of damage from weapon attacks, can be cast as a bonus action at a range of 90ft, and only requires a verbal component so it can be cast when you have your hands full. Overall stellar spell for martial classes that will be attacking with weapons. The biggest disadvantage this spell has compared to hex is that hex does force damage which can work around resistances better than bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing damage. The secondary effect that allows you to track creatures more easily while they are marked is comparable strength to hex‘s secondary effect.
- 2nd level
- Darkvision: Essential if you or party members don’t have natural Darkvision and want to navigate without a torch. At a 2nd-level spell slot, the cost for this effect is quite steep.
- Pass without Trace: If you are infiltrating an area with your party that you are unwelcome, the +10 bonus to Stealth is massive.
- Silence: Silence is a niche spell with a high ceiling. It can be used in stealth scenarios but it’s most powerful usage is if you can target a caster who won’t be able to cast spells requiring a verbal component. Of course, it’s only a 20ft radius so you will either need to be fighting in close quarters or will need to find a way to prevent the caster from moving.
- Spike Growth: Moderately good crowd control or can be used to stage an ambush because it is camouflaged.
- 3rd level
- Conjure Animals: Conjure animals can greatly improve your action economy in a fight by giving you more allies to attack with in a turn. It is also extremely useful as a way to divert damage from party members. If your DM is friendly they may even let you summon an animal that could help you achieve your goal (like a flying creature to get something from up high), although they won’t be obligated to give you the creature you want.
- Conjure Barrage: Does roughly half the damage of fireball for the same level spell slot. Can be good if you can catch twice as many enemies in the larger radius, but it won’t happen often. A slightly disappointing spell that can still make the cut if you don’t have other ways of doing big AoE damage.
- Lightning Arrow: 4d8 single target damage plus 2d8 AoE damage is alright but is vastly outshone by either the summons available at this spell slot level. This spell is quite equatable to conjure barrage and can be interchanged based on the battlefield’s layout.
- 5th level
- Swift Quiver: Being able to make two extra attacks a bonus action is quite strong for ranged rangers, especially if you have picked up the Sharpshooter feat. Unfortunately, this spell can be used in conjuncation with hunter’s mark but the huge bonus to your action economy makes it worth it.
Gloom Stalker 5e Build Example
This build is centered around the use of a bow for damage. While melee builds are possible, evading enemies with the Gloom Stalker’s Umbral Sight is much easier when attacking from a distance. The Archery Fighting Style is the obvious choice and will help make Sharpshooter more consistent when you pick it up at 4th level. After choosing Sharpshooter, max out DEX before moving on to CON for more survivability.
Choosing a Wood Elf is typical for a Ranger, as DEX and WIS are exactly what they like to see, and Mask of the Wild helps you hide more easily. We take a few extra points in CHA to lean into the Gloom Stalker’s social/deceptive abilities, forgoing STR and INT which are both useless to this character.
Gloom Stalker spells are marked by an asterisk (*).
Sources Used in This Guide
- BR: Basic Rules
- GotG: Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants
- SotDQ: Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen
- ERLW: Eberron: Rising from the Last War
- EEPC: Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
- EGtW: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
- FToD: Fizban's Treasury of Dragon
- GGtR: Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
- MotM: Monsters of the Multiverse
- MToF: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
- MOoT: Mythic Odyessys of Theros
- PAitM: Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse
- PHB: Player's Handbook
- SAiS: Spelljammer: Adventures in Space
- SCoC: Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
- SCAG: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
- TCoE: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- TTP: The Tortle Package
- WBtW: The Wild Beyond The Witchlight
- VRGtR: Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft
- VGtM: Volo's Guide to Monsters
- XGtE: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything