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The Evolution of Hunting and Rangers in D&D

r/DnD - [OC][Art] Half-Elven Ranger Commission

Via: Ranger by Sam Kim (@shkimart)

The ranger might be one of the oldest classes in D&D that has been a part of every significant edition of the game. Yet, for some reason, most players will remain clear of the class. Today we will look at the history of this class, what it is and how it stands out from other classes and answer why it is often regarded as the worst D&D class and how we can change that. 

As people passionate about hunting, we at Stag Knives feel akin to the often-discarded ranger, so we want to make rangers great again and breathe life into the hunting and tracking class!

What is the Ranger Class in D&D?

elf ranger woman with bow

Via: Half-Elf Moon Ranger - D&D by Aaron Miller

Rangers are one of the classic player classes you can play in each edition of Dungeons & Dragons based on the classic fantasy tropes of hermit artisans, hunters, and woodmen living in the woods in a shack.  A ranger is the group's best monster hunter and tracker; they are also great survivalists who know how to keep the party safe in the wilderness. It was one of the first player classes you could play in the original player's handbook and one of five playable fighter subclasses. 

The biggest inspiration for this class is the character Aragorn and the Rangers of the North from Tolkien’s Middle-earth, where we have reclusive types with mysterious pasts who are great warriors and excellent trackers. 

You can also make connections to Robin Hood, the outlaw that steals from the rich and gives to the poor. A former lord who has been turned into a thief as a result of the terrible Sheriff of Nottingham, leading to his fall from grace. 

The Evolution of Hunting and Rangers in D&D

Via: Poison Tip Archer art By Dmitry Burmak.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition

When D&D was first released in 1974, the ranger was a subclass of the fighter class that allowed the use of any weapon and armour type but was restricted, unlike other fighter subclasses, by gaining extra attacks at a much slower rate. 

Rangers were not the strongest fighters and were better selected for their tracking abilities using percentage scores using a d6 and only being surprised by something if they rolled a 1. However, they used a d8 hit dice instead of d10s, and their second hit dice were d11 instead of d9. And when fighting giants and humanoids, the rangers gained a +1 damage per level against these enemies.

Rangers could cast limited spells at level 8, acquiring level 1-3 level druid and 1-2 level spell-caster spells. However, these are not generally used for combat as they opt for spells that aid with tracking or learning more about the weakness of creatures they hunt.

High-level rangers get followers, which is the major draw for many to take the ranger as a subclass. In this edition, you could get pegasus mounts, pseudodragons, werebears, copper dragons and storm giants. However, to be a ranger, you needed good alignment, be human or half-elf, and could only multiclass with clerics. 

Of course, we haven’t pointed out the most popular weapons rangers use, the trusty bow at long distances and swords in hand-to-hand combat. These choice weapons are present in all renditions of the ranger from the first edition to the current One D&D, predicted to come out in 2013 - 2024. 

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

Although excluded from the basic D&D edition, the class appeared in the 2nd Edition with a few changes. Firstly, their hit dice were changed to match fighters and paladins, and rangers could still wear any armour, but some of their abilities required light armour instead.  For the first time, you could also be an evil-aligned ranger when choosing to be the Paka race from Ravenloft. 

To move slowly, hide in the shadows, and be stealthy, you needed to wear lighter armour, or it would make it possible to fulfil your role of the tracking ranger. Tracking is still its prime attraction, but the roll was changed from a percentage chance to a skill check. 

The new addition to this class was the introduction of an animal's empathy ability to allow them to calm frightened or hostile animals. Also, instead of having a bonus to fight against giants or humanoids, the ranger could pick a creature to gain a +1 damage bonus. Spells were even more limited as they were exclusive to nature-based spells of level 1-3rd level priest.  This helped them recruit followers, including woodland animals, mythical creatures, and other classed characters. 

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition 

The third edition of the ranger again saw changes to the standard class, with the first sign being that they got their own spell list, although somewhat limited. Moreover, the number of followers they could recruit was reduced to a single animal, seeing as NPCs often joined the party regardless of whether there was a ranger present or not. 

In earlier additions, only humans and half-elves could become rangers, but like with all classes in this edition, race and alignment restrictions were dropped. The species that a ranger had bonus attack damage over became known as the favoured enemy, and you could add more with each level advancement. 

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

The ranger in the fourth edition kept their abilities to specialise in archery or two-weapon fighting. However, they gained the striker role, specialising in single-target damage and mobility. Like all martial classes, they had powers called exploits, making them better suited for hit-and-running tactics against single targets. This ability that made them quick and light on their feet was also suitable for tracking, aiding others with skill checks and avoiding ambushes. 

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

The fifth edition of the ranger is perhaps the most complex version of the class yet, but even with all the rules and options, many still feel this class is lacking compared to others in the core Player’s Handbook.  Rangers are half spell-casters and the other martial fighters who specialise in exploration, survival, and tracking of foes. 

At third level, they can choose to be either the Hunter or the Beast Master archetype, which gives them different abilities and strengths as the player progresses through the game. The hunter specialises in combat, whilst the beast masters gain an animal. What animals can they pick? It depends on the DM, but the ‘legal’ list refers to beasts which include a vast selection of creatures from baboons, badgers, and cats to deers, flying snakes and wolves. Later books have released more archetypes, including the Gloom Stalker, Horizon Walker, Monster Slayer, Fey Wanderer, and Swarmkeeper. 

One surprising fact is that the ranger can’t use its beast in combat and attack with his weapon simultaneously as the rules are written. Many DMs have ignored these rules to make the ranger class more viable, but no plans have been made to add this as an official ranger rule. 

Unearthed Arcana: Revised Ranger

In 2016, a revised ranger rulebook was released by Unearthed Arcana, an unofficial homebrew for the 5th edition. It contained changes based on what players disliked about the ranger class's official rules, including the rangers' ability to use their creatures in combat and their open weapons. 

Check it out here: UA_RevisedRanger.pdf.

One D&D

Although not out at the time of writing this post, One D&D is the new edition of D&D expected to come out sometime in 2023 or 2024, but right now, is releasing playtesting material for feedback. The ranger class has been released as part of this small playtesting material and has a few improvements over the 5th edition subclass.

  1. Rangers will now have expertise at the base game (although Rangers did get a feat Canny later on).
  2. Now, characters will get a feat at level one regardless of race or class; rangers can benefit from feats like Crossbow Expert, Two-Weapon Fighting or Magic Initiate.
  3. The way light weapons work has also changed because before, you only had one single attack, even if you held two light weapons. Now you can attack twice, making rangers powerful for level one. 
  4. Rangers get spellcasting at level one and have a much more extensive spell list. An even better change is all classes can pick their spells daily, compared to a limited range before who had this ability. So all that choose terrible spells during level-ups, you can change them out after a long rest! 
  5. Rangers can now also use Hunter’s Mark and Hex both at once, as the former doesn’t require concentration and no longer has a time limit. So you can dish extra damage with spells and two attacks from your doubled-up light weapons.
  6. At level 7, rangers gain an extra ten walking speeds and a swim and climbing speed.
  7. At level 11, the ranger can remove one level of exhaustion at a short rest and temporarily boost up their hit points on a long rest.
  8. At level 13, they can spend a spell slot to turn invisible for one turn.
  9. At level 15, they gain 30 ft of blindsight.
  10. At level 18, they gain an improved hunter's mark, Foe Slayer, which increases the damage from d6 to d10.
  11. At level 20, rangers, like all classes, choose an epic boon. A range could pick one such as Peerless Aim, Dimensional Travel, or Undetectability. You’ll be hard-pressed to narrow it down with many to choose from!

Why are Rangers the Least Popular D&D Class?


Rangers is a great class to play at first if you think about it superficially without considering optimisation. However, the base 5e ranger class is vastly inferior to other classes at level one, so many will pass in favor of a fighter.

The first reason is that the beast master archetype for the ranger is weak, as even if you have a little beast friend to help fight in combat, you can’t attack and use your beast simultaneously. If you want to stab an enemy with a sword, your flying snake has to float there and do nothing. By contrast, a wizard could conjure a familiar, and when they attack with this, they can still use their actions to cast more spells or use melee weapons; the simple limiting rule severely underpowers it. 

Another reason the ranger is underpowered is the lack of skill proficiencies, whilst other classes like the rogue or bard can gain bonuses to their stealth skills, making them outclass rangers when it comes to scouting and stealthy tracking. Why use a ranger when you can use a rogue that does more damage and will be better overall? Not only that, the only bonus rangers get over others with scouting is the choice of specific terrain types, and it is very situational, so it will rarely be helpful.

How can Rangers Be Made Fun?

Ranger dragonborn with sword.

Via: Drakewarden 5E Guide.

I recommend that if you don’t use the improved ranger subclass by Unearthed Arcana, you use ranger that multiclass with wizard or warlock to get access to minor spells that give you many followers choices. Not only that, you can still be stealthy and do extra sneak attack damage with minions to attack as well. You can say you’re a forest hermit and, by all basic role-playing, a ranger, except mechanically, you’re a rogue that dips their fingers into magic. 

Another combination is multiclassing rogue with the druid to be both a stealthy beast that does damage and one that is close to nature and has access to a wide range of spells that allow you to track and converse with the wild. Druids can also talk to little creatures, so you could quickly have an army of squirrels following you into battle (if your DM allows).

But if you want to commit to the ranger class, a few homebrew stat sheets overhaul the current fifth edition playing field to ensure the ranger can stand with the best of them. My favorite is the Dragon Knight by Unearthed Arcana, overpowered, but what is better than a dragon? Your dragon gets bigger at higher levels, allowing you to ride it and do more crazy things in battle. 

Tell us your favorite ranger combination in D&D 5e and how you make playing a ranger more fun and balanced. 

Hunting in D&D

homebrew hunting items in dungeons and dragons

Via: A Small Renaissance by Michael Fitzhywel

Rangers and hunting go hand-in-hand in D&D, and almost no other classes do it better. Druids are close to nature, but they are about maintaining the balance, and killing is virtually off the table unless it is for necessities. So rangers and other classes will be keener to join local town hunting guilds or try to hunt some game if they are in the woods on an extended wilderness quest. 

There is no hunting skill, but players can make perception or survival checks to track targets. Then they can rely on their stealth to remain undetected as they get closer to the game before they load a bow and try to take it down with their dexterity. Barbarians or spellcasters may opt to throw weapons or spells in place of a ranger's bow, but all play a role in hunting.

We will dedicate a more extensive post soon to the in-depth topic of hunting in D&D, so sub to our blog to catch it when it drops!

Final Remarks: The Evolution of Hunting and Rangers in D&D

Beast master ranger with black panther

Via: Drizzt and his animal companion Guenhwyvar. Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (2015).

Rangers are part of the primary blood and bones experience of D&D. Even if it is currently going through a rough patch of popularity amongst the community. However, there is hope for a change with the new changes proposed by One D&D.  There is a love for the ranger seen in the homebrew material to bring the poor hermit of nature in the woods up to the same level as other classes, so here's to a bright future in the content coming up this year! 

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