The DnD 5e Ranger Guide

Published on June 18, 2020

, Last modified on June 25th, 2020

In this guide, we will be examining the 5e Ranger’s Class Features and how you can optimize your Ranger through choosing your Race, Ability Score, Spells, and Feats. This article will focus primarily on content from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook, but will also delve into some of the content in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

What is this guide?

This guide is meant as a deep dive into the DnD 5e Ranger. For a quick overview of the Ranger Class, see our breakdown of the DnD 5e Classes. You can see the Ranger Class Features here.

In this post, we will be examining the Ranger’s Class Features and how you can optimize your Ranger through choosing your Race, Ability Score, Spells, Feats, etc.

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your Ranger. This color-coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.

  • Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
  • Orange is an OK option
  • 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

So if you’re ready, grab your granola, grab some animal friends, and let’s get into it.

The 5e Ranger

The 5e Ranger is a master of survival who uses their knowledge of the outdoors to track foes and provide advantages in combat. The common motif around the Ranger in DnD 5e is a skilled hunter, tracker, and woodsman, most at home on the fringes of civilization and the first line of defense against threats from the wilds.

Most Rangers are played as loners in social settings and will be more than happy to scout out ahead for the party.

The 5e Ranger is a controversial class because they are typically deemed as being underpowered. Their early level’s class features provide zero benefits if you are not in the proper environment or fighting the correct monster. This can make your Ranger feel limited in their abilities, compared to other versatile classes.

There has been so much talk about this that Unearthed Arcana actually released a Revised Ranger to address some of the concerns with the class. This new version of the Ranger hasn’t been published in any materials but it is commonly included at tables despite the fact that is it still in “playtest” mode. We will address the Revised Ranger in a later article.

Did you know?

D&D Beyond can help create your characters by making choices using a step-by-step approach. Full customization and control of your character, none of the flipping through hundreds of pages to reference obscure rules.

Before You Start

Races

Rangers are a semi-caster class that uses WIS as it’s spellcasting modifier. Their play style is similar to that of a Rogue. Rangers are great at stealthiness and getting the drop on their opponent. The are also played optimally with a maxed DEX score. Your next priority will be WIS or CON based on how you plan to use your Ranger.

If you are going to get up close and personal, casting minimal save-based spells, CON is where you will want to focus.

If you are going to stay back and utilize the full Ranger spell list, stack your WIS.

Dragonborn: +2 STR is nice for a melee Ranger, the +1 CHA is wasted.

Dwarf: +2 CON and Darkvision are nice.

  • Hill: +1 to WIS makes this an alright pick.
  • Mountain: Doesn’t help a Ranger.

Elf: +2 DEX is exactly what you are looking for with a Ranger. Advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to sleep is icing on the cake.

  • Drow ElfCHA won’t do a Ranger much good and sunlight sensitivity is annoying.
  • High Elf: INT is useless for Rangers.
  • Wood Elf: Small WIS bonus, increased walking speed, and Mask of the Wild. This is the optimal Ranger choice.

Gnome: INT is useless for Rangers.

  • Forest: Small DEX bonus, Minor Illusion, and Speak with Small Beasts somewhat makes up for the Gnome’s useless bonus to INT.
  • Rock: Not good for Rangers.

Half-Elf: The CHA bonus is largely unproductive for Rangers, but increasing two ability scores by 1 allows you to boost WIS and STR/DEX to create a rather well-rounded character. Advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to being put to sleep is nice.

Half-Orc: Relentless Endurance and Savage Attack are good for those that want to get in close. The STR and CON bonuses will certainly help with that.

Halfling: +2 DEX is exactly what we are looking for and Lucky is always nice to have.

  • Lightfoot: CHA is mostly wasted on a Ranger but Naturall Stealthy is certainly a nice benefit.
  • Stout: More CON never hurts, the poison resistance will help at some point.

Human: Humans are always decent.

  • Vanilla: A middle of the road pick because they increase all their ability scores by 1.
  • Variant: Boosts to WIS and DEX and a nice feat at first level? This is among the best choices you can make for your Ranger. Check out our Feats section for more info.

TieflingTieflings don’t have any features that make them appealing for a Ranger.

Backgrounds

Sticking with the fact that we are going for DEX and WIS for a Ranger doesn’t leave us with a ton of options for backgrounds:

  • Folk Hero: Animal Handling and Survival are two skills that a Ranger SHOULD really be good at. Animal Handling as written is definitely a subpar skill though.
  • Urchin: Sleight of Hand isn’t a DEX based skill Rangers typically have access to. Stealth is an awesome free proficiency.
  • Criminal: Deception proficiency will help offset a dumped CHA stat and can help you face a bit more for your party. Free Stealth proficiency is awesome.
  • Outlander: This is another “flavor pick”, similar to Folk Hero. The skill proficiencies aren’t great but the backstory and Wanderer feature certainly make sense for a Ranger.

Ability Scores

Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.

Prioritize WIS over the other Ability Scores. Once WIS is maxed, the decision is between CON and DEX based on the Ranger Circle you choose.

STR: This is a definite dump stat for Rangers as they can get by with finesse weapons if you want to go melee.

DEX: Seeing as the only armor Rangers have access to is light or medium, DEX is your primary means of defense (it’s better to be missed than hit with some extra HP). DEX also plays into your weapon attacks, damage, Initiative, the all-too-common DEX saving throw, and the very important Stealth skill.

CON: If you plan to go for a melee Ranger, it is best to forgo WIS in place of CON. This will allow you to maintain concentration on your awesome Hunter’s Mark spell. If you’re going for a ranged Ranger you can save this for after you stack your WIS.

INT: Don’t bother with INT.

WIS: If you plan to go for a ranged Ranger, it is best to forgo CON in place of WIS. This will allow you to get your spell save DC and spell attack modifier to a relevant level. If you’re going for a  melee Ranger you can save this for after you stack your CON.

CHA: Rangers shouldn’t try to focus on social skills outside of WIS based ones. If you must, the overall effectiveness of the character will suffer.

Ranger Class Progression

1st Level

Hit Points: Rangers have a nice of the road d10 hitdice.

Saves: Proficiency with STR and DEX saves is great. DEX saves are extremely common, STR saves are less so but helpful against being knocked prone and restrained.

Weapon/Armour Proficiencies: Light armor, medium armor, shields, simple weapons, and martial weapons is exactly what the Ranger wants to work with.

Skills: Rangers aren’t known for their diverse skillset. They can only choose two of the following eight skills.

  • Animal Handling (WIS): Animal Handling as written is a trash skill. If your DM is lenient with the rulings it is definitely a worthwhile skill for Rangers to pick up but otherwise avoid this.
  • Athletics (STR): Atheltics isn’t a super common ask for someone in the Ranger’s position. It also doesn’t mesh well with the dumped STR score.
  • Insight (WIS): Insight is great for social interactions since it can give you a ton of information on the person you are trying to convince or manipulate.
  • Investigation (INT): Investigation can sometimes mesh with Survival, it is best to choose Survival to play to the Ranger’s strengths and go with the WIS based skill.
  • Nature (INT): Nature is an important INT skill. If nobody else in your party has it, it makes sense for the Ranger to know what’s up when you’re out in the woods.
  • Perception (WIS): We’ve said it before, Perception is the best skill in D&D. Getting proficiency and expertise in this can help make up for your low WIS score. 
  • Stealth (DEX): If perception is the best skill, stealth is a close second.
  • Survival (WIS): Similar to Nature. If you don’t have another savvy woodsman in your party, it is your duty as a Ranger to pick this up.

Favored Enemy: You can select your favorite (or least favorite, I guess) creature type and gain some minor bonuses, such as: advantage on tracking them and recalling information about them. This feature is certainly a weak class feature and is where the Ranger class begins to go off the rails a little bit.

The creatures to choose for your Favored Enemy vary wildly by campaign, but looking at the Monster Manual shows us that Beasts, Fiends and Undead are very likely to show up. Beasts are likely to show up at lower levels, but you get to choose more favored enemies at 6th and 14th level.

Natural Explorer: Natural Explorer is a stronger passive ability than Favored Enemy but is still extremely situational. You can choose one of eight possible terrains to gain a myriad of bonuses in, but if you’re not in the chosen terrain you are SoL.

2nd Level

Fighting Style:

  • Archery: +2 to attack rolls with ranged weapons is exactly what you’re looking for as a Ranger and helps offset the penalty from taking Sharpshooter shots.
  • Defense: +1 to AC isn’t overly exciting but seeing as AC is hard to scale it can make a difference in the early and long game.
  • Dueling: Being able to wield a shield while dealing close to two-handed weapon damage is a very, very tempting option.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: WhileTwo-Weapon Fightingcan make you hit a lot easier with your offhand weapon, there are some disadvantages to being a dual-wielding fighter. Mainly, the fact that attacking with your offhand takes your bonus action. This doesn’t cause your offhand attacks to scale with your extra attacks. This will cause the damage you output to quickly become overshadowed by something like using a Greatsword or taking the Dueling Martial Archetype.

Spellcasting: Rangers are a semi-caster, this means they only get spell slots up to 5th level and no Cantrips. Their spell list focuses mainly on passive, utility/survival abilities, with the exception of Hunter’s Mark. Hunter’s Mark is to Rangers as Hex is to Warlock. It is their bread and butter extra damage spell that keeps their attacks on a similar level to Fighters and their extra attacks.

3rd Level

Primeval Awareness: This is…not a great ability. You can tell when certain creature types are within 1 mile, but not their location or number. Definitely not worth a spell slot 90% of the time.

Ranger Archetype

At 3rd Level, Rangers get to choose their Ranger Archetype. A Ranger’s Circle completely defines how the build plays, so choose the one based on a playstyle you might enjoy the most.

Beast Master
  • 3rd Level
    • Ranger’s Companion: This one is a bit of a bummer. The Ranger Companion is strictly worse than a Wizard’s Familiar (and much worse than a Pact of the Chain’s Familiar) at lower levels. The main reason for this is because a Familiar takes actions independently of you, so you don’t have to waste an action to command it around. If you want your companion to do anything, you have to have willing to give up your action own in order to do so. You also can’t use your Compaion’s senses or have it deliver touch spells like you can a Familiar. The Companion does get better at later levels, but until the 7th Level, it is pretty much useless.
      • Flying Snake: Flyby can keep the Flying Snake out of trouble and it has blindsight. Damage is alright.
      • Giant Badger: Unfortunately, you cannot use multiattack until you unlock Bestial Fury at 11th Level, where each other Companion gets the ability to make two attacks. This makes the badger strictly worse than the Wolf in every way.
      • Giant Crab: Good AC and HP, can breathe air and water and can grapple a target. Damage isn’t great.
      • Giant Poisonous Snake: Good AC, HP is on par with a Wolf, and the damage from the failed CON save makes this the potential heaviest hitter out of all the Companions.
      • Owl: Flyby, so it doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks, but the low AC, pitiful damage and HP, make this a hard choice. It really comes online at the 7th level when it has the ability to give the help action on each turn.
      • Pteranodon: Great HP and good AC. Flyby and solid damage. This is your best option in the air.
      • Vulture: If you don’t have a Pteranodon handy to make your familiar, the Vulture will do just fine. Worse damage, AC, and HP than the Pteranodon but has Pack Tactics.
      • Wolf: Ahh, the tried and true Ranger Companion. Good damage, HP, AC, Pack Tactics. and a chance to knock an enemy prone makes this a top tier choice.
  • 7th Level
    • Exceptional Training: This makes your Companion a lot more useful, you can use it to give you advantage to one shot each turn.
  • 11th Level
    • Bestial Fury: This pairs nicely with giving the Companion feature that allows you to give your Companion one of your attacks. To put this in perspective, if you are using a longbow, have Hunter’s Mark on, and have stacked your DEX, you will be doing 1d8+5 + 1d6 (average of 12). For the sake of it, if you hit twice with your Wolf you are doing on average 2d4 + 6 x 2 (average of 20). This is, of course, assuming you don’t have any upgraded weapons.
  • 15th Level
    • Share Spells: Rangers have some nice buff spells to increase the lasting power and effectiveness of your Companion. Stone Skin is an obvious choice for this.
Gloom Stalker
  • 3rd Level
    • Gloom Stalker Magic
      • 3rd – Disguise Self: A decent infiltration spell, usually Pass Without Trace is a better option though.
      • 5th – Rope Trick: A great spell to provide respite or an ambushing opportunity.
      • 9th- Fear: Great crowd control
      • 13th – Greater Invisibility: Unlimited attacks with advantage and enemies swing with disadvantage during 10 rounds of combat.
      • 17th – Seeming: This is one of those spells that is only as good as the player who is coming up with a janky, crazy idea.
    • Dread Ambusher: Comparable, but much worse than the Rogue’s Assassinate feature. The Initiative bonus is very nice.
    • Umbral Sight: This is a great ability, but it quite situational.
  • 7th Level
    • Iron Mind: Wisdom saving throws are very frequent and failure produces nasty effects.
  • 11th Level
    • Stalker’s Flurry: This is just a straight-up great ability to land extra hits
  • 15th Level
    • Shadowy Dodge: You can impose disadvantage to attacks once per turn, essentially a free Shield spell every turn.
Horizon Walker
  • 3rd Level
    • Horizon Walker Magic
      • 3rd – Protection from Evil and Good: A potent buff against common creature types.
      • 5th – Misty Step: A bonus action, get out of jail free card is always welcome.
      • 9th- Haste: Another great buff, careful about breaking concentration.
      • 13th – Banishment: A failed save on a Banishment can mean taking a creature out of the fight for good, or just long enough to help control the battlefield and action economy.
      • 17th -Teleportation Circle: Situational spell that needs to prepare to be effective. Still, useful in high-level campaigns if you have no method of fast traveling.
    • Detect Portal: This likely will not come up a whole lot.
    • Planar Warrior: Changing all of your damage to force damage once per turn is a good ability, adding a d8 (2d8s after 11th level) makes this a great ability.
  • 7th Level
    • Ethereal Step: This is kind of just a worse Misty Step because it would require your Bonus Action and movement to get out of harms way. It also costs double movement to move upwards. The one exception would be entering places where you don’t have line of sight.
  • 11th Level
    • Distant Strike: Not only is this a super-cool ability, but it is also highly effective. Allowing you to move throw the battlefield without taking opportunity attacks, and can give you an extra attack each round.
  • 15th Level
    • Spectral Defense: Uncanny Dodge is great on Rogues and Spectral Defense is great on Rangers.
Hunter
  • 3rd Level
    • Hunter’s Prey
      • Colossus Slayer: Deal an extra 1d8 of damage per turn reliably.
      • Giant Killer: Good use for a reaction, but is somewhat limiting due to the caveat that it has to be a Large or larger creature.
      • Horde Breaker: Extra attack that can be taken reliably, multiple times each combat. Very good.
  • 7th Level
    • Defensive Tactics
      • Escape the Horde: Decent ability to get out of danger. Good for moving around in combat or if you are a ranged fighter than constantly finds themselves in melee range.
      • Multiattack Defense: Lots of creatures have multiattack. This is essentially a free Shield spell against them when they hit you.
      • Steel Will: Advantage on saving throws against being frightened is a fairly limited ability.
  • 11th Level
    • Multiattack
      • Volley: Good pick up for ranged builds. If you have already picked up Horde Breaker, this will only net you an additional attack if 4 creatures are jammed into the 20ft square.
      • Whirlwind Attack: Again, a good pick for melee builds but likely won’t net you more attacks than your two attacks + Horde Breaker.
  • 15th Level
    • Superior Hunter’s Defense
      • Evasion: Great ability because DEX saves are so common. Your high DEX score and proficiency in DEX saving throws will likely cause you to not take damage from these effects unless you roll very poorly.
      • Stand Against the Tide: This is a fun one and can cause some major damage in the right situations. The fact of the matter is that these situations are far and few between.
      • Uncanny Dodge: One of the best defensive abilities in the game.
Monster Slayer
  • 3rd Level
    • Monster Slayer Magic
      • 3rd – Protection from Evil and Good: A potent buff against common creature types.
      • 5th – Zone of Truth: Good for RP, but seems really out of place in the Monster Slayer’s spells list.
      • 9th- Magic Circle: This is situational, but will be a good effect if you can land it in the right circumstances.
      • 13th – Banishment: A failed save on a Banishment can mean taking a creature out of the fight for good, or just long enough to help control the battlefield and action economy.
      • 17th – Hold Monster: Even one round of being incapacitated is bad news for any creature.
    • Hunter’s Sense: This is a cool ability. Unfortunately, not many creatures have vulnerabilities and most creatures with resistances are fairly obvious.
    • Slayer’s Prey: A strictly worse Hexblade’s Curse. It’s even worse than Colossus Slayer for the Hunter and Planar Warrior for the Horizon Walker. Just underpowered in general
  • 7th Level
    • Supernatural Defense: This is where Slayer’s Prey starts to get good. Adding a d6 to any saving throw and checks against grapples is pretty darn good.
  • 11th Level
    • Magic-User’s Nemesis: A free Counterspell per short or long rest. If you have a good WIS modifier this is a great ability to improve your Ranger’s versatility.
  • 15th Level
    • Slayer’s Counter: This is an awesome capstone for the Monster Slayer.

5th Level

Extra Attack: Extra attacks are the bread and butter of all the martial classes. Like the other semi-caster, the Paladin, Rangers only get 1 extra attack. Luckily, they have Hunter’s Mark to make up for lost damage.

8th Level

Land’s Stride: Being immune to nonmagical difficult terrain will come in handy a couple of times per campaign, but it isn’t a huge game-changer.

10th Level

Hide in Plain Sight: This is great for ambushing creatures, something that Rangers really like to do. It is extremely nerfed by the fact that you have to camouflage after each time you move, making this useless for infiltrations.

14th Level

Vanish: Being able to Hide as a bonus action will be very beneficial for the Rangers, who like to stay at a distance among cover. Being untrackable by nonmagical means can be beneficial as well.

18th Level

Feral Senses: This is great if you have to fight an invisible creature, something that may or may not happen when you are this late into the campaign.

20th Level

Foe Slayer: A great ability, massively limited due to the fact it can only be applied to your favored enemies.

Feats

Rangers have a lot of options when it comes to feats. The important thing to note here is that Rangers are a predominately DEX based class. This means their AC, attack, damage, DEX saves, stealth, etc are all affected by one ability modifier. Unless expressly stated, you will likely want to max your DEX before taking any feats. If you are a variant human, well done.

  • Alert: Rangers, especially Gloom Stalkers, like to go first in Initiative.
  • Crossbow Expert: This can provide a ton of damage for any DEX based class. The Ranger’s Hunter’s Mark makes this even more effective. This is a great pick up even before you max your DEX.
  • Defensive Duelist: If you are going for a melee build, this can help reduce damage.
  • Dual Wielder: Taking two-weapon fighting with this makes the build somewhat viable.
  • Heavily Armored: Decent option to boost your AC if you find some mithril plate lying around. You definitely don’t want to sacrifice your stealth for this though.
  • Lucky: Lucky is a feat that is useful to any character.
  • Magic Initiate: This feat is a good choice if you pick Wizard as the class that you can draw spells from. The tried and tested Find Familiar as your 1st level spell lets you deliver touch spells and give Help actions to players.
  • Mounted Combatant: If you are a small creature (halfling or gnome) and take the Beast Master archetype, you can make your Companion a bit more defensively inclined. You likely won’t get to use the advantage on melee attacks a whole lot because your Companion is limited to a Medium creature.
  • Resilient (CON): If you are going to be in combat, you need to make sure your Hunter’s Mark stays active when you get hit. Advantage on CON checks helps your Concentration checks immensely.
  • Sharpshooter: Ranged attacking is already a very powerful mechanic. This ability provides a ton of extra versatility to ranged attacks and can net some huge damage, especially combined with the number of attacks Hunter Rangers can get. Take this as soon as you max you DEX.
  • Skulker: Being able to hide when lightly obscured is nice as is remaining hidden after you miss an attack. This feat REALLY comes online for 14th Level Horizon Walkers where they can take attacks, teleport 10ft then hide as a bonus action. Pure nasty.
  • War Caster: Advantage on CON saves are nice, but you don’t have access to Cantrips for opportunity attacks. Stick with Resilient if you need it.

Ranger Spells

Rangers have access to a lot of spells. Therefore, we think it would be the most beneficial to only talk about our favorite spells at each level, and which ones to avoid. Just remember that this doesn’t mean the ones we don’t mention are necessarily bad or don’t have a purpose.

For a full list of Ranger spells click here.

1st Level Spells

  • Animal Friendship: This will likely get you out of at least one low-level beast encounter.
  • Cure Wounds: Healing is important so pick it up if you think you’ll need it. 
  • Detect Magic: Every party should roll with at least one character who has access to Detect Magic.
  • Goodberry: Not particularly useful in combat but if you make Goodberries at the end of each day you will have a solid pool of healing to pull from.
  • Hunter’s Mark: THE Ranger spell. It gives you extra damage and some nice tracking abilities.
  • Speak with Animals: Its effectiveness is limited but do you really want to be a Ranger that can’t talk with animals

2nd Level Spells

  • Animal Messenger: This has a lot of caveats. If you have someone in your party with Sending you will never need this.
  • Barkskin: The go-to spell before Wild Shaping.
  • Find Traps: Reveals the presence of traps but not their exact location. Rangers can find much better uses for their spell slots.
  • Lesser Restoration: Diseases and conditions do come up from time to time, so you’ll be happy to have this when they do.
  • Pass without Trace: If you are infiltrating an area you are not supposed to be with your party, the +10 bonus to Stealth is massive.
  • Silence:
  • Spike Growth: Moderately good crowd control or can be used to stage an ambush because it is camouflaged.

3rd Level Spells

  • Conjure Animals: Great boost to your party’s HP and action economy. Keep in mind that the DM gets the final say on what animals get summoned, you just get to choose the CR.
  • Daylight: The Light cantrip on steroids. Dispelling darkness could be situationally useful.
  • Plant Growth: Slows down pesky enemies moving around a lot or trying to escape, but not particularly good at either. Also cool for story beats to restore nature that has been devastated by war.
  • Protection From Energy: This is typically outshined by Absorb Elements except in the specific circumstances when you are constantly being subjected to a type of damage.
  • Speak with Plants: The flavor is spot on with this spell, it just doesn’t have that many uses.
  • Water Breathing: Pretty useless because at this point you have a swimming Wild Shape. The only useful scenario would be if you wanted the rest of your party to follow you down underwater.
  • Water Walk: This is likely not to see use in an entire campaign.
  • Wind Wall: Useful against lots of archers, swarms of flying enemies, or against deadly fog. Other than that the damage is pretty bad.

4th Level Spells

  • Conjure Woodland Beings: Pretty much the same as Conjure Minor Elementals, but fey have some distinguishing effects from elementals.
  • Freedom of Movement: Extremely good when your DM throws crowd control effects your way, or if you decide to take a trip underwater.
  • Locate Creature: This will be a lifesaver at least once in a campaign.
  • Stone Skin: Effectively double the HP of a melee fighter (or your Wild Shape) against creatures without magical weapons or spells for an hour.

5th Level Spells

  • Commune with Nature: Great for roleplay and story progression, not so great for combat.
  • Tree Stride: A fun spell with a multitude of uses if you can get a bit creative. Without trees nearby you won’t be striding anywhere though.

Hope you liked the guide! If you have any questions or feel like we missed something for the 5e Ranger, go ahead and post a comment below. If you like our content subscribe to Arcane Eye!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.