This is the second in the ranger analysis and rework series. Part one can be found here.
Last time around, I just covered the weirdness of the class features and lamented the lack of theme present in the design and existing archetypes. The big takeaway was my belief the ranger’s archetypes should largely be based on organizations, and many other features need an overhaul in both efficacy and theme.
To start off, I wanted to clearly state what I believe the theme of rangers should be outside of their archetypes. Ranger is a three pillar class, right? You have the skirmisher, the wanderer, and the guardian. The skirmisher is meant to represent the non-front line fighter, the wanderer represents the ranger being a master of traveling and coexisting with nature, and the guardian is…well, the guardian aspect is supposed to represent the ranger being “the paladin of the forest.” I am certain the Oath of the Ancients paladin is weeping at this indignity. Really, it means control through the aspects of nature. If you take it together, the theme is actually very clear. The ranger should carry a strong theme of versatility in combat, mastery of movement, and utilization of nature. I strongly believe magic is a key part of this, and I do not believe the non-magical ranger has adequate non-redundant design space. I am happy to discuss it, but I will not be covering this further.
Very quickly, I wanted to discuss the rough breakdown of nature and the ranger. The ranger approaches nature from two angles, the natural and supernatural. The ranger abilities are separated between the natural and supernatural, but not in a way making them egalitarian or reasonable. For example, there is Natural Explorer, and then Primeval Awareness slightly later, Hide in Plain Sight is a natural ability, while Vanish is supernatural or bordering on it, at any rate. The abilities oscillate, with Land’s Stride actually providing options for both. This back and forth takes up just about the entirety of the ranger’s class feature space. There isn’t room for much else, even though the class desperately needs it. My plan for this is to separate the ranger a bit more cleanly into natural and supernatural sections, combining some abilities and reworking others.
Natural Explorer always strikes me as strange, because I live on the East Coast of the United States. I have forests, swamps, coast, and mountains all within reasonable distance of me. A ranger in these parts would have probably covered most of the terrain. Believe it or not, even a state like Kansas has plains, forest, and desert. What I am saying is, I think it’s reasonable to sort of package the initial selection of this ability with something like choose three, and then pick up more terrain types as they travel. It bothers me that a ranger has to spend an hour traveling around to gain the advantages of the feature associated with her preferred terrain. Likewise, it sort of stinks if the ranger doesn’t have some nature exploration benefit in non-preferred terrain. Sure, the argument here is Survival/Nature skill checks, but that’s not quite enough of a differentiation for thematic definition. Instead, the ranger should have the provided abilities of Natural Explorer immediately for favored terrains, and I would suggest one of the benefits, but not the skill expertise, after taking a short rest, and all of the benefits, but not the skill expertise, after taking a long rest. Additionally, I’d roll in the non-magical side of Land’s Stride with this ability for the favored terrains, and allow it to apply to all terrains on a long rest in the area.
As mentioned previously, Primeval Awareness is a pile of stinky butts. I believe it to be the worst ability in the game. Do you know what they were going for with this ability’s design? I sure don’t. I like the idea of it, but it’s terrible in implementation. It’s also at a place that should be a signature ability. One of the things I believe is key in ranger definition is versatility in combat. If you look at depictions of rangers in cinema, they typically flow between ranged and melee, and this is echoed in literature, as well. So why are rangers really expected to be either melee or ranged? Instead, the ranger should be rewarded for moving between range and melee, with an emphasis on movement. The first step would be allowing the sheathing and drawing of weapons when swapping from ranged to melee. The second would to reward the transition, with either a damage or accuracy increase, or possibly both depending on the swap. The key is to still remain pretty simple with it.
One of the other things I am interested in doing is bringing back the Aragorn ranger. Part of that would be to introduce a new fighting style to support versatile tagged weaponry. I think this would be great, anyway, as I think there is a lot of space there to make someone feel cool for going the hand and a half route. There isn’t much in the way of that in this edition. It’d open up the quarterstaff, spear, battleaxe, longsword, trident, and warhammer to seeing use as the flexible weapons they were designed to be. Of course, what would you do if you wanted to use a bow and the longsword, like say, Aragorn? I think that can be fixed, as well. It shouldn’t be as good, if you are getting more melee damage, I think it’s fine to be slightly behind on melee. I’m not opposed to giving Strength a bit of a boost, as I think it needs a tiny one. Dexterity is just a flat out better stat.
This brings us to Land’s Stride. As mentioned before, I like this ability a lot, but I wanted to break out the mundane from the fantastic. The mundane portion rolls into Natural Explorer, as I believe it should, and I wanted to make Primeval Awareness functionality cooler and move it into the magical part of Land’s Stride. I like the magical plant and plant spell saving throws, it’s a great thematic element. Instead of costing a spell slot for the useless detection of unnatural creatures, allowing the ranger to attempt to detect the presence of them within one mile, and up to six in favored terrain, as an action, and limiting it to something like 1+Wisdom Modifier is neat. It’s a different, yet similar, version of Divine Sense. I would also consider giving them advantage on perception checks when attempting to detect the presence of the creatures, and survival checks attempting to track them.
Let’s just all agree Hide in Plain Sight is really Camouflage. Some of the name hold-overs that are now slightly different bother me. That’s on me. I also think Feral Senses should be rolled into both this ability, and the Vanish ability. I’d probably rename both abilities anyway, as Vanish isn’t really the Hide in Plain Sight of old. It just lets you hide as a bonus action, and you don’t leave tracks. Anyway, I’d rename HiPS something like Patient Hunter, and roll in the the attacking an unseen creature portion of Feral Senses. Vanish would be a similar change. I’d keep the existing functionality, but add in the other portion of Feral Senses. You’d gain awareness of other invisible creatures that are not hiding, as long as you are not blinded or deafened. I might also allow the range on the detection to be doubled in your favored terrain. I’d probably name the feature something like Stalking Predator. I don’t know. It’s not final or anything.
At 18th, Feral Senses would be gone, and the spot freed up. I’m interest in rangers remaining experts in exploration, even in the harshest of environments. Rangers would either gain advantage or ignore disadvantage in extreme environments, including the optional rules for the planes. This might be a bit late, but it extends into the mythic range of play, and provides great value for planar hijinks, or dastardly lair exploration.
Foe Slayer is sort of a poopy capstone ability. You get your Wisdom modifier to attack or damage rolls against your favored enemies. At 20th level. Woo? It’s mighty late for that sort of kicker, frankly. Instead, what I might consider at this level is something like whenever you roll initiative, you may cast Hunter’s Mark on a creature you see, as long as you are not surprised. This does not cost a spell slot, and does not require concentration. While this is objectively less average damage than the Foe Slayer skill, it applies to all creatures, and favored enemy is being reworked anyway.
Speaking of favored enemy, I once again left it for last. Selecting three of twenty-ish feels awful. It’s just poopy. I was thinking it could be more of a path, and less of a single selection. You’d select something like Natural, Unnatural, or Supernatural. Natural would include humanoids, pc race humanoids, plants, beasts, and giants. Unnatural would include constructs, oozes, undead, aberrations, and monstrosities. Supernatural would be celestials, fey, fiends, elementals, and dragons. Instead of getting all three paths, you’d select a path when you get the feature, and you’d select one of your path every other level. You’d pick up another path at 10th. You’d end up with 2/3 of the options. I’d let you select two languages from any known path when you pick up a path. I’d also add a damage kicker back in, probably just your Wisdom modifier, but maybe your proficiency bonus, since that scales. Still thinking on it.
There is still some work to be done here, but solidifying these ideas is the next step.