Rangers are a middle ground between Fighters and Druids. They have martial prowess few other classes can match, but also possess an intimate relationship with their environment, using the land as a tool to stalk their quarry, ensnare their prey, and gain an advantage over their foes. The classic ranger is a camouflaged archer hiding in the woodlands, but this class offers much more than the classic outlander hunter. Rangers can be stalkers in the dark places of a crowded city, guides in brutal mountain passes, and expert monster slayers who know how to exploit the weakness of the most terrible of foes. Rangers wield a small amount of divine magic that draws on their bond with nature to enhance their abilities.

Follow this guide to discover how to best optimize the skills, weapons, features, and abilities for a D&D 5e Ranger class character build. While the options presented here may be the optimal build for a ranger (in my opinion), the beauty of D&D character creation is that the only limit is your imagination so feel free to build your character whichever way you want to.

The guide that follows uses a color-coding system to rank the abilities granted.
Blue = An essential, class-defining ability you would be remiss to overlook.
Green = A strong choice for your class.
Orange = Average option, useful in specific circumstances
Red = Below average, extremely situational, or otherwise just bad.

All features and abilities are from the core rulebook set (Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide) unless otherwise attributed.

Party Role

Rangers can fill several roles depending on the specialization taken as they level up. Their large hit die and combat style affords them the ability to function as either a primary melee combatant or a ranged attacker. They have limited magic afforded to them, but the options available allow them a small measure of battlefield control and support. They also have a good skill selection and limited healing capabilities, making them quite versatile, and rather self-sufficient characters.

Strengths:

  • Hit dice and armor. Rangers tend to have decent hit points and can hang with most other front-liners. The choice of light or medium armor gives them decent armor class whether they have high Dexterity for a ranged build, or low dexterity for a melee strength build.
  • Weapon proficiencies. Rangers have access to all martial weapons and a combat style that allows them to specialize in combat, granting them additional effectiveness.
  • Support Magic. Hunter’s Mark is a Ranger’s bread and butter, offering an augmentation to their combat abilities. They are also equipped with healing and several other useful, though situational spells.

Weaknesses:

  • Rangers lack the singular focus of most other classes, such as Warlocks or Barbarians. They also aren’t as stocked with extra proficiencies and bonus skills as Rogues and Bards are. Overall, the power level of a Ranger is lower than that of most other classes, though their usefulness is not diminished as first glance.
  • Situational Abilities. Most of the abilities Rangers gain at early levels are highly situational, and rely on the adventure occurring in certain terrain, containing animals and plants the Ranger can directly interact with. These abilities are most useful in immersive storytelling, which heavily relies on the DM providing situations in which the ranger can choose to perform their specific tasks.

Ability Scores

Strength: Depending on the build, a Ranger wants to maximize either Strength or Dexterity. For a Dueling fighting style user, a Strength build would allow you to use a Longsword and shield with high strength.

Dexterity: A two-weapon fighting or archery build would be best served to have a high Dexterity. Also, Proficiency and a Dexterity main stat will give you the best chance at saving against spells that require a Dex save. Additionally, your best skills are based either in this or Wisdom.

Constitution: As a front-liner, you’ll want this to be as high as possible to augment your high hit die and armor proficiencies.

Intelligence: Less important than Wisdom, as most of your skills will come from that. If you do pick skills rooted in this stat, don’t ignore it.

Wisdom: Most of your skills are Wisdom-based

Charisma: Not necessary for Rangers.

Races

Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms Races

AarakocraEEPC: With the added Dexterity, Wisdom, and flight, Aarakocra make extroadinarily powerful archery-build rangers.

AasimarVGtM: In general, Aasimar aren’t very good for rangers. Their ability bonuses and skills don’t interact with Ranger class abilities.

Fallen: Not useful.

Protector: Not useful.

Scourge: Not useful.

BugbearVGtM: Gaining Stealth proficiency for free is nice. The Dexterity bonus also helps maximize your AC and stealth for an archery build. Alternatively, a medium armor strength-build benefits from the reach and uses the Dex bonus to maximize the allotted +2 to AC the armor can afford you. An all-around good race for a Ranger.

Dragonborn: Strength and Charisma are the two least important ability scores for Rangers.

Dwarf: Dwarves are a solid race, but they don’t give a boost to Dexterity, so they suffer as Rangers.

Hill Dwarf: Wisdom increases your spell effectiveness.

Mountain Dwarf: A Melee Ranger benefits from the Strength and Constitution increases.

DuergarSCAG: Grey Dwarf abilities aside, the ability score increase are not good for you.

Elf: Between the Dexterity bonus and free proficiency in Perception, Elves are great for Ranger.

Drow: Nothing useful beyond the base elf abilities.

EladrinMToF: Fey step is always handy, but this subrace is not otherwise useful.

High Elf: Nothing useful beyond the base elf abilities.

Sea ElfMToF: A great option in an aquatic campaign.

Shadar-KaiMToF: Dexterity and Constitution make you a tough ranged build. Add in the other Shadar-Kai abilities, and you are the most durable elf option available.

Wood Elf: The quintessential Elf build. Bonus Wisdom and Mask of the Wild make your Archery build complete.

FirbolgVGtM: Both ability score increases, and your innate spellcasting lend themselves well to a Ranger’s host of other nature-centered abilities.

GenasiEEPC: The bonus constitution helps with your resilience.

Air: Dexterity and Levitate make you a good archery build.

Earth: Not useful for Rangers.

Fire: Not useful for Rangers.

Water: If you want to focus on spellcasting, the Wisdom bonus granted by this race will help fill out your stat.

GithMToF: The Gith have very little to offer Rangers.

Githyanki: Only moderately useful for a Strength-based build.

Githzerai: Rangers aren’t particularly useful when built for primary spellcasting, so the wisdom bonus is only secondarily useful.

Gnome: Gnomes don’t make very good Rangers.

Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC/SCAG: The small Dexterity increase and Stone Camouflage make this the best choice of the gnome subraces, though it is still outclassed by many other races.

Forest: The small Dexterity increase isn’t enough to save this subrace from uselessness.

Rock: Nothing for Rangers.

GoblinVGtM: Nothing useful for Rangers.

GoliathVGtM/EEPC: A Strength-build Ranger would make use of the Goliath’s resilience in Stone’s Endurance, but otherwise useless.

Half-Elf: Charisma is wasted on Ranger, but some of the sub-race abilities can be made to work for you.

Standard: Access to so many skills is a great boon to the ranger, who is so heavily dependent on skills.

AquaticSACG: Only useful in an aquatic campaign.

DrowSCAG: The magic options available redeem this subclass.

Moon/SunSCAG:You’re going to use weapons over cantrips any day, especially for a ranged build.

WoodSCAG:The best sub-race for Rangers, Wood Elves and even Half Wood-Elves offer a great selection of abilities for you.

Half-Orc: Not useful for Ranger

Halfling: The Dexterity increase and Halfling Luck abilities are a huge boon to your multiple attacks per round.

Lightfoot: The Charisma increase isn’t useful, but the Naturally Stealthy ability might come in handy, though it is better suited to Rogues.

GhostwiseSCAG: The Wisdom increase will benefit your spellcasting.

Stout: The Constitution increase and poison resistance make for a solid melee combatant.

HobgoblinVGtM: The bonus to Constitution will aid in your combat resilience, but otherwise this race doesn’t offer abilities that synergize well with Rangers.

Human: The most versatile race, humans are a good fit for any class.

Standard: Half of the ability score increases are wasted. Go with the Variant.

Variant: Stick your bonuses into Dexterity and Wisdom and grab a feat!

KenkuVGtM: A great combination of ability score increases, and a couple of free skills. If you can get proficiency with thieves’ tools, you can become a budget Rogue as well.

KoboldVGtM: Pack Tactics is absolutely huge if you are a Beast Master Ranger, and fight with an animal companion by your side! The Sunlight Sensitivity is hard to get over though.

LizardfolkVGtM: Awesome abilities. You’re durable, have decent if not perfect ability score increases, and no need to wear armor.

OrcVGtM: Half-orc is better in all cases, though neither are an ideal fit for a Ranger.

TabaxiVGtM: Solid ability score increases, and a couple of interesting abilities to help you become the party’s Rogue as well as the Ranger.

Tiefling: Most Tieflings are a hard sell for a Ranger given their poor ability spread.

Standard: Not very useful for Rangers.

Devil’s TongueSCAG:Not very useful for Rangers.

FeralSCAG: The intelligence bonus is wasted, but if used in conjunction with another variant it might be viable.

HellfireSCAG:Not very useful for Rangers.

WingedSCAG:Not very useful for Rangers.

AsmodeusMToF: Not very useful for Rangers.

BaalzebulMToF: Not very useful for Rangers.

DispaterMToF:Not very useful for Rangers.

FiernaMToF:Not very useful for Rangers.

GlasyaMToF: The stealth options are somewhat useful, but otherwise not ideal.

LevistusMToF:Not very useful for Rangers.

MammonMToF:Not very useful for Rangers.

MephistophlesMToF:Not very useful for Rangers.

ZarielMToF:Not very useful for Rangers.

TortleXGE/TP: Tortle Natural Armor seamlessly replaces Medium armor, so a Strength-based Ranger can get away with having +0 to Dexterity and not lose a step there. Survival as a bonus proficiency.

TritonVGtM: Only partially useful, as it doesn’t do anything to augment the spellcasting.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGtM: Not useful for Rangers.

Eberron Races

ChangelingERLW:Shapechanger is a neat ability, but not very useful for a Ranger.

KalashtarERLW: Not useful for Ranger.

OrcERLW: Not useful for Ranger.

ShifterERLW: Shifter offers some depth to a Ranger’s abilities, though shifting in conjunction with your Hunter’s Mark as a bonus action may offer some tough choices.

Beasthide: Only for a Strength-based build.

Longtooth: A solid option if you’re a melee build not using two-weapon fighting. It will give you something to do with your bonus action.

Swiftstride: A great option for archer builds. Shift to gain a mobility advantage over your foes.

Wildhunt: The shifting ability isn’t useful for Rangers, though the ability spread is ideal.

WarforgedERLW: A flexible ability score increase, bonus resistances, and bonus AC make this a particularly stout melee build.

Ravnica Races

CentaurGGTR: Charge works well with the dueling combat style.

LoxodonGGTR: The natural armor replaces light armor, but loses to medium armor. No favorable ability score increases.

MinotaurGGTR: All your attack options don’t play well with two-weapon fighting, and no favorable ability score increases.

Simic HybridGGTR: The most versatile race available, good for any class.

VedalkenGGTR: Not useful for Ranger.

Class Features

Hit Dice: d10 puts you ahead of every class except Barbarian.

Weapon Proficiencies: Martial weapons ensure you’ve got options for any combat situation, regardless of your chosen fighting style.

Armor Proficiencies: The choice of light or medium armor means you can have multiple sets of gear for different situations. Light armor for stealth and ranged combat, Medium armor for melee brawling.

Tool Proficiencies: None. Which means you’re limited to your race or background choices.

Saving Throws: Strength saves rarely come into play, but Dexterity saves are quite common. Consider picking up a feat to get proficiency in either Constitution or Wisdom saves to round out your defenses.

Favored Enemy: This basic Ranger ability is very situational. Ask your DM if any one type of foe is going to be featured more often than normal in your campaign to gain the most use out of it. The options are wide ranging, but the most generally useful ones tend to be fiends or undead if your party is mostly of good alignment, and you’re playing a classic heroic campaign. Humanoids is always a good choice, as you get two subrace choices, covering more ground.

Natural Explorer: The bonuses granted are fairly inconsequential if your DM glosses over travel. If you spend a lot of time exploring the wilderness with milieu rolls for survival and random encounters, your party will be glad to have you along. Choose your terrain carefully based on the setting of your campaign.

Fighting Style: You don’t have access to all the fighting styles that Fighters do, but the ones available to you are very useful. This will be the main ability that dictates your build, so make sure to synergize your gear and ability scores with your choice here.

Archery: The obvious and arguably best choice.  This synergizes best with your skills and a high-AC, light armor, Dexterity build.

Defense: The AC boost is great for a melee character, but since Rangers don’t get Great Weapon Fighting as a combat style, they suffer from their lack of powerful melee damage output.

Dueling: Don’t forget that this style allows you to hold a shield in your off hand. the 2 bonus damage closes the gap between a single longsword attack and two short sword attacks. This also keeps your bonus action free for spellcasting or other abilties you may have picked up from your ace or other classes.

Two-Weapon Fighting: This fighting style gives you a powerful option in a bonus action. Adding your ability modifier to the damage of your off-hand attack makes your damage output that much higher and makes you a more consistent combat asset. Combine this with the bonus damage from Hunter’s Mark and you become a beast in melee, dishing out massive damage to your opponents.

Spellcasting:  Rangers have a very interesting spell list, providing them with a mix of support, enhancement, and battlefield control spells.

Primeval Awareness: A very situational ability that can be mimicked with a very high survival or investigation check.

Extra Attack: As discussed above, Hunter’s Mark and your Combat Style give you solid damage output. Adding another attack to the mix gives you even more usefulness in a fight.

Land’s Stride: If you’re a melee build, getting over the speed bump of difficult terrain is a godsend.

Hide in Plain Sight: Very effective for hiding in place.

Vanish: While not compatible with Hide in Plain Sight, it still gives you a great advantage you can use to snipe targets.

Feral Sense: Invisibility is dangerously overpowered in 5e. Overcoming this is great, especially since you rely completely on weapon attacks and lack and area effect spells.

Foe Slayer: The bonus to attack can be as much as +5 if you’ve taken care to increase your Wisdom along the way. This gives you great consistency in combat.

Ranger Archetypes

Beastmaster

The Beast Master Ranger brings the flavor and functionality of the classic 3rd edition ranger into 5e. You gain an animal companion who augments your skills with its own, aiding in tracking and combat. The usefulness of this class depends entirely on your selection of companion, as there are myriad options, most of which are entirely useless. Choosing a small creature like a rat or a bat that does very small damage and isn’t a very threatening presence in combat is a waste of this ability. Choosing a large predatory creature gives you a great advantage in combat. A flying companion aids in scouting and reconnaissance.

The Beastmaster is a great, flavorful, and fun Ranger archetype to play, but it focuses almost entirely on spending valuable combat resources on the companion and takes away many of the Ranger’s other class options such as spellcasting and attacking with Hunter’s Mark. Without this one glaring flaw, this archetype becomes much more powerful. Players in higher-skill level games might want to explore some house rules for the companion to make it a more easily manageable feature to keep up with the power level of other classes.

Ranger’s Companion: Your primary ability as a Beastmaster is to tame an animal to keep as your companion. It is generally advisable to stay away from a CR 0 creature, as these have very few hit points, limited combat abilities, and are very small. Choosing either a flying creature such as a flying snake or blood hawk give you a distinct combat advantage as it is more mobile than other options, can scout from the air, and isn’t going to fall victim to many common traps that would literally befall a walking creature.

Choosing a powerful melee creature, specifically a wolf, will allow you to gain advantage from flanking in combat, provide the party with an additional pile of hit points to draw enemy attacks, and a threatening companion that can intimidate, bite, and trip opponents. Wolves are also fast and have keen senses.

If you’re a Small creature, you can use a medium-sized creature as a mount, which comes with it’s own set of advantages: increased movement, and the ability to take advantage of mounted combat rules and weapon bonuses.

There is one major drawback to the rules as written for the animal companion. Directing them costs part of your action, which means it invalidates your own weapon attacks, and causes you to not benefit from Hunter’s Mark when attacking with the mount.

Exceptional Training: Generally, you’ll do more damage than your companion per attack, so it’s not going to make sense to lose your own action economy to an animal unless you’re really relying on them to act for you. Allowing your companion to dash or dodge means they can better position themselves to help you or another ally and draw attacks away from you.

Bestial Fury: This ability doesn’t preclude you from making a single weapon attack, so if you’re well positioned, your companion can attack twice and you once. If your companion has multiattack, it’s even more useful.

Share Spells: Finally, buff spells (even those which require concentration) can be shared among you and your companion with a single cast. Once you reach this stage, your companion stops being a burden on your group buffs.

Fey WandererTCoE

This class is a very thematic and very powerful Ranger variant. You’ll find the spell list a little underwhelming but considering you don’t need to waste spells preparing them, it’s nice to have most of them around. The mobility and extra damage this class offers is massive, giving you access to cheap and fast short-range teleportation and a damage buff that when combined with hunter’s mark will really amp up your attacks.

Dreadful Strikes: Extra damage once per round with no action or concentration cost.

Spellcasting: Your spells are not your strong suit, but then again, for Ranger they rarely are.

3rd-level: Unless you have a really good Wisdom, charm person isn’t worth your action.

5th-level: Teleportation via misty step as a bonus action on a ranged class is too good.

9th-level: You’re going to want dispel magic to come from a caster, but this helps if you’re the trap-finder and come across something you can’t disable with mundane tools.

13th-level: Misty step is usually enough, but dimension door is a strict upgrade on power.

17th-level: A situational spell you won’t be running to often.

Otherworldly Glamour: A free proficiency, and the ability to add one of your main stats to checks with it!

Beguiling Twist: This ability is kitschy, and les useful than you’d think, but it’s a good laugh if you get it to work properly.

Fey Reinforcements: A free (otherwise very costly) summon, though it’s very limited if you don’t have the spellcasting chops to back it up.

Misty Wanderer: This is an amazing ability. Teleportation is so powerful in combat, and you can do it for free several times per day.

Gloom StalkerXGtE

This and the other Ranger Archetypes from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything are considerably more powerful than those included in the Player’s Handbook. This variant is the best for campaigns in the Underdark, or any adventures that take place primarily in shadowy caves, tunnels, or other dungeons. Gloom Stalkers specialize in stealth and invisibility. Making a Ranger that’s the party’s “Rogue” should strongly consider this path, as it plays very well into the Ranger’s secondary specialties, making them shine.

Spellcasting: mostly situational spells, but two standout spells will set you apart from the pack.

3rd level: Disguise self is best used in urban intrigue settings.

5th level: One of the best ways to rest safely, rope trick becomes available to you at a relatively low character level.

9th level: unless you’ve got the Wisdom to back it up, fear isn’t a great spell for Rangers.

13th level: Greater invisibility is one of the game’s most dangerous spells. Being able to launch your ranged attacks undetected grants you a distinct advantage given your mobility.

17th level: Seeming is situational, but when you get the chance to use it, it will make all the difference.

Dread Ambusher: You gain the ability to act quickly and decisively. Ambush attacks against weaker opponents can be ended before they are aware of your presence.

Umbral Sight: There’s a chance you already have Darkvision, but being invisible to it is a trick unique to this class. This is basically invisibility.

Iron Mind: Additional save proficiencies are always welcome.

Stalker’s Fury: insurance on your attacks, especially that extra attack in the first round of combat, is very nice indeed.

Shadowy Dodge: Having a reliable reaction ability you can use every round greatly improves your action economy. This ability will save your life more often than not, adding you your already impressive bulk.

Horizon WalkerXGtE

Horizon Walker trades stealth for improved mobility. They specialize in traveling the planes hunting dangerous game with hit-and-run tactics and superior mobility and positioning. They gain a few buffs to their spell list, and several options to teleport or travel between planes that will help advance the plot of a far-reaching campaign.

Spellcasting: The Horizon Walker spell list consists of all amazing options that will increase your threat level and mobility

3rd level: Protection from evil and good is a multi-purpose spell that can be used to protect you ahead of time or in response to a curse being cast. It requires concentration, but it’s use is usually against a single effect.

5th level: One of the best short-range teleportation options available.

9th level: Arguably the best buff in the game at low spell levels, especially for a half-caster like Rangers.

13th level: Anencounter-ending spell.

17th level: Situational, but if you spend a lot of time traveling long distances, this will be abig time saving in-game.

Detect Portal: A situational ability that won’t come into play often. If your campaign is centered around your abilities and finds your group scouting other planes often, this may be a major plot advancement device.

Planar Warrior: While a strong ability on its own, it requires the use of your bonus action. This means you can’t gain the benefit of this and two-weapon fighting in the same turn. Also, your Hunter’s Mark needs to already be in place.

Ethereal Warrior: A single round is enough to move 30+ feet, so this is a great infiltration ability. You can bypass locked doors, a squad of troops, or even a thick rampart wall.

Distant Strike: The mobility granted by this class is second to none. You can double back using this extra teleportation to attack multiple non-adjacent enemies in an unstoppable hit-and-run action, ending out of line of sight. Combining this with the bonuses granted by Haste allow you to become a whirlwind of steel.

Spectral Defense: Given your evasiveness and mobility, you likely won’t be taking a lot of attacks. When you do, you can use your reaction to mitigate some of that damage.

Hunter

This archetype focuses on combat abilities, providing a selection of offensive and defensive options that will see the Ranger through most encounters. It’s strictly worse than any of the Xanathar’s Guide archetypes; less stealthy than Gloom Stalker, less mobile than Horizon Walker, and less damage output than Monster Slayer. The class revolves around choosing options at each tier to augment your combat abilities, some of which are more useful than others depending on your style of play and the type of enemies you are going to encounter in your campaign.

Hunter’s Prey: You gain a mock fighting style.

Colossus Slayer: Once you get a second attack, this becomes very reliable. In conjunction with Hunter’s Mark it adds up to quite a bit of extra damage. You actually benefit from going lower in initiative and your allies have had a chance to soften a larger foe.

Giant Killer: many higher-level enemies are Large or larger. Unlike Colossus Slayer, you can’t activate this against any opponent.

Horde Breaker: This is mandatory for Archery builds. Melee builds can’t really capitalize on this unless they have a reach weapon.

Defensive Tactics: All these abilities are very situational.

Escape the Horde: You aren’t terribly fragile, so this isn’t mandatory.

Multiattack Defense: The only real viable option of the bunch. At higher levels, most things have multiple attacks.

Steel Will: Fear is infrequent, and if you’ve got a Cleric or Paladin around this isn’t necessary at all.

Multiattack: Two fantastic options.

Volley: the obvious choice if you’re an archer.

Whirlwind Attack: Duelist fighting style builds will want this to replace two-weapon-fighting’s volume of attacks.

Superior Hunter’s Defense: A capstone defense ability isn’t as flashy as an attack or mobility option, but at higher levels it will keep you alive against literal hordes of foes.

Evasion: You’re already very focused on Dexterity, so adding this isn’t a huge bonus, though it is still a strong option.

Stand Against the Tide: the worst option of the bunch, if you’re a melee build and took horde Breaker this might be the one for you for synergy alone.

Uncanny Dodge: Between this an multiattack defense you’re going to take a heck of a lot less damage when confronted with hordes of minions or staring down a many-armed foe.

Monster SlayerXGtE

This archetype is a slightly better Hunter, in that it gains more spells and an equal number of combat options, though it is less customizable. This archetype excels at taking down tougher spellcasters, such as Vampires and Liches given their higher-level tactics allowing them to exploit opportunities to retaliate to spells and other non-physical attacks. Weigh this class as is against all combinations of Hunter before choosing, if you’re looking for a Ranger in that vein.

Spellcasting: Most of the spells provided are situational or difficult to use effectively, but hey will come in handy when you need them since you always have them on your list.

3rd Level: A very strong defensive buff. Useful as prevention or in response to a curse.

5th Level: Situational, but powerful when used correctly.

9th Level: You’re not the ideal person to be casting this.

13th Level: A potentially encounter-ending spell.

17th Level: The most useful of the spells you get, though your low DC might hurt you.

Hunter’s Sense: Rarely useful in combat, as it takes you out of the fight for around, but if you are observing your prey from stealth this is very useful.

Slayer’s Prey: This stacks with Hunter’s Mark, so once a creature is tagged with one, the following round you can tag it with the other to stack damage buffs against it.

Supernatural Defense: Once you gain this ability, you’ll want to start marking opponents with your Slayer’s Prey before Hunter’s Mark to gain the additional benefit. This makes you particularly dangerous against enemy spellcasters, or creatures whose attacks have secondary effects.

Magic User’s Nemesis: Even more potent of a mage-slayer, you’ll want to focus on enemy casters in battle to remove them quickly and safely.

Slayer’s Counter: this makes you an absolute nightmare for enemy casters.

SwarmkeeperTCoE

A gross, but very well-designed subclass. This is one of the grosser ways to play the game. Pairing well with a Circle of Spores druid, it’s another good class to play as an evil character. Swarmkeepers have a lot of great damage, control, and mobility options, really amping up the rest of the Ranger’s class abilities.

Gathered Swarm: This power is worth taking the class for by itself. You have the option to deal extra damage on a successful attack, move the target after the hit, or move yourself. The movement provokes attacks of opportunity, but you can use this to your advantage if you’re savvy.

Spellcasting: You get mage hand for free, the only time a Ranger gets a cantrip.

3rd-level: Faerie fire is the best way to deal with invisibility and is great as a damage stacking ability.

5th-level: Web is great, but your save DC is going to be lower than a full-caster using this.

9th-level: A great infiltration and escape spell.

13th-level: Another good infiltration tool.

17th-level: Thematic, but too little too late.

Writhing Tide: Flight, no matter the speed, is a great way to bypass obstacles. Granted, flying on a swarm of beetles is probably the grossest way to get this ability.

Mighty Swarm: Your swarm abilities increase with dramatic effect. Being able to knock the enemy prone is amazing, considering you’ll have more than one attack by this point.

Swarming Dispersal: When you get this ability, you’ll be able to use it a whopping five times per day.

Skills

Acrobatics: This skill got nerfed in this edition. Your high natural Dexterity should cover it.

Animal Handling: Less useful than your spells when dealing with animals. only useful if you’re mounted.

Arcana: Useless for a Ranger.

Athletics: You’re going to be Dexterity based, so this isn’t your forte.

Deception: Charisma is one of your dump stats.

History: Another skill you will miss out on for a poor ability score.

Insight: If you have decent Wisdom and have the mandatory skills covered, this will be useful in dealing with humanoids.

Intimidation: Not useful for Rangers.

Investigation: Very useful in general, especially if you’re traveling without a Rogue or Bard. You suffer from low intelligence, however.

Medicine: You can act as a secondary healer but leave this for the Cleric or Druid.

Nature: Your only required knowledge skill.

Perception: If you’ve got good Wisdom, you should be proficient in this.

Performance: Not useful for Rangers.

Persuasion: Not useful for Rangers.

Religion: Not useful for Rangers.

Sleight of Hand: If you can pick it up through your choice of background, you need this and Stealth to be the party’s “Rogue”

Stealth: A valuable skill for Rangers, especially archers who want to get a good sniper shot off before combat.

Survival: Situational, but if anyone in the party should have it, it’s going to be the Ranger.

Backgrounds

Acolyte: Not useful for Rangers.

Charlatan: An interesting choice for a rogue-like Ranger, but it lacks the thieves’ tools proficiency you so desperately need.

City WatchSCAG: The skills aren’t crucial, and the languages aren’t useful.

Clan CrafterSCAG: Not useful for Rangers.

Cloistered ScholarSCAG: Not useful for Rangers.

CourtierSCAG: Not useful for Rangers.

Criminal: A great choice for a Rogue/Ranger build.

Entertainer: Not useful for Rangers.

Faction AgentSCAG: Insight isn’t really useful for Rangers, but he other choice of skill provides a flexible option.

Far TravelerSCAG: Two Wisdom skills that are moderately useful if you don’t pick them from your class list.

FisherGoS: Survival is a useful Ranger skill, but History isn’t. No tools, so skip it.

Folk Hero: Nothing special, but not terrible.

Guild Artisan: Not useful for Ranger.

Hermit: Not useful for Ranger.

InheritorSCAG: Survival is the only worthwhile skill here.

Knight of the OrderSCAG: Not useful for Ranger

MarineGoS: For an aquatic campaign, this is a strong choice. Athletics and Survival are skills that will see use, and proficiency with vehicles is a good skill for the party navigator or guide to have.

Mercenary VeteranSCAG: A solid choice for ranger in the skills and proficiencies.

Noble: Not useful for Ranger.

Outlander: Another middle-of-the-road choice. Take this over an optimal background for flavor reasons.

Sage: Not useful for Ranger.

Sailor: For a campaign with a lot of travel, particularly overseas, this is a solid choice. Good skills and proficiency with navigation and vehicles.

ShipwrightGoS: Best to leave this to a character with higher intelligence.

SmugglerGoS: A less ideal choice for a Rogue-like Ranger.

Soldier: You don’t have the Charisma to back up the Intimidation.

Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: Your best choice if you’re trying to function as the party’s Rogue.

Urchin: An equally good choice to make you the party’s Rogue-equivalent.

Uthgardt Tribe MemberSCAG: Two skills that will see use and a few other perks.

Waterdhavian NobleSCAG: Not useful for Ranger.

Feats

Alert: Going first isn’t crucial for a Ranger. you’ll likely be relying on Stealth to get the jump on your enemies, and daon’t have as many buffs as other classes that need priority in combat.

Athlete: This feat serves to even out an odd Dexterity score, but the other bonuses aren’t very useful unless you find yourself doing a lot of parkour.

Actor: Not useful for Ranger.

Charger: This feat could function for a melee build, but it is best used in conjunction with a great weapon, the fighting style for which you unfortunately do not have access to.

Crossbow Expert: Two weapon fighting at range, and you can use it in melee. This is a must for a two-weapon fighting or archery build.

Defensive Duelist: A nice defensive addition, but your other Ranger abilities from either Hunter or Beast Master make this kind of redundant. Rangers are tough enough, so you’d be better served increasing your offensive power.

Dual Wielder: Good for a melee build, but slightly redundant with your existing options.

Dungeon Delver: If you’re doing a lot of dungeon exploration, this rounds out your pseudo-Rogue suite of skills.

Durable: You have access to Healing Spirit and other curative magic, so this isn’t necessary.

Elemental Adept: Not useful for Ranger.

Grappler: Not useful for Ranger.

Great Weapon Master: Not useful for Ranger.

Healer: You know Cure Wounds, which is better.

Heavily Armored: An option for a Strength/Melee build who doesn’t care for Stealth.

Heavy Armor Master: If you’re going this route, you should just play Fighter and save a feat to get here.

Inspiring Leader: Not useful for Ranger.

Keen Mind: Not useful for Ranger.

Lightly Armored: Not useful for Ranger.

Linguist: Not useful for Ranger.

Lucky: A great all-around feat.

Mage Slayer: Very situational. You’re likely a ranged build, so you don’t need this.

Magic Initiate: There really isn’t anything outside your spell list you need to add.

Martial Adept: Not useful.

Medium Armor Master: Strictly worse than Defensive Duelist for Rangers.

Mobile: Not useful for Ranger. You already have ways to avoid the penalty from difficult terrain.

Moderately Armored: Not useful for Ranger.

Mounted Combat: Beast Masters might want this if they are Small size, but it’s not as effective as riding a standard horse, and not really fitting with a Ranger’s weapon selection.

Observant: If you’re the party’s scout this is useful.

Polearm Master: Rangers don’t have a lot of support for great weapon fighting.

Resilient: Use it for Constitution or Wisdom only.

Ritual Caster: Not useful for Ranger.

Savage Attacker: Not useful for Ranger.

Sentinel: This is a strong battlefield control option for Beast Master Rangers, using your animal companion to draw attacks.

Sharpshooter: Archery builds will love this when fighting low AC minions that can be easily picked off by a solid hit from a long bow. When you get the Volley ability, this will allow you to rain down hell on groups of enemies far away with reliably high damage.

Shield Master: Only useful for Strength builds.

Skilled: You already have a lot of skill proficiencies, but if you find you’re lacking something at later levels this can make up for it.

Skulker: Not useful for Ranger.

Spell Sniper: Not useful for Ranger.

Tavern Brawler: Not useful for Ranger.

Tough: You’ve already got good hit dice.

War Caster: Not useful for Ranger.

Weapon Master: Not useful for Ranger.

Weapons and Armor

Rangers have a gift in that they are proficient with martial weapons and have a few combat style options available to them. It’s a good idea to carry two different gear sets, so if you find yourself out of your main combat element you can still function well. The default package should be light armor and a longbow to make the most of your high Dexterity. Use your mobility and stealth options to stay out of the fray and pick off opponents at a distance.

For melee combat, medium armor, a longsword, and a shield gives you the best defense and highest damage output. If you take the two-weapon fighting style, you’ll want to make the most of this by using twin blades or twin hand crossbows if you can. It’s more important to focus all your feats and combat abilities on one fighting style than spread them out and maximize the opportunity to use that one combat style to deal the most damage possible.

Magic

1st Level Spells

Absorb ElementsXGtE: This is one of the best protection spells in the game. Use it early and often to mitigate damage from casters as you pick them off at a distance.

Alarm: Hopefully someone else in the party knows this and can cast it as a ritual.

Animal Friendship: Only useful at low character levels, and if you have Animal Handling this is the same thing.

Beast BondEEPC: Great for a Beast Master who uses a creature that doesn’t have Pack Tactics. Just note that it requires concentration, so youcan’t use it in conjunction with Hunter’s Mark.

Cure Wounds: Useful at low levels, but the second you can get Healing Spirit you should consider replacing this.

Detect Magic: Hopefully there’s a full caster in the party who can cast his as a ritual.

Ensnaring Strike: This is best used on a flying enemy to try to force them into melee range so the party’s main beaters can get ahold of the creature.

Fog Cloud: Ninja Vanish! A great way to either sneak up to or away from enemies.

Goodberry: A great way to make use of unused spell slots at the end of a day.

Hail of Thorns: Your only AoE until you get Volley. Not very powerful for a spell slot, however.

Hunter’s Mark: The single best part about being a Ranger with an Archery build. Try to stay at maximum range so you don’t have to make concentration saves to maintain this.

Jump: Too situational.

Longstrider: An extra 10 ft. of movement and it doesn’t require concentration.

SnareXGtE: A trademark Ranger ability. If you have a creative or liberal DM try to replace this with homebrew rules for trapmaking, which should be a default part of the Ranger class.

Speak with Animals: Situational, but if you want to force the DM to roleplay a squirrel, here’s your chance.

Zephyr’s StrikeXGtE: As a bonus action cast, it gives you a ton of options. It’s limited to a single use and costs one of your precious few spell slots.

2nd Level Spells

Barkskin: You should be well-armored enough to not need this.

Beast Sense: This can be replaced with a good enough Investigation or Survival roll.

Cordon of Arrows: A great defense against invisible creatures, or trap to set before combat.

Darkvision: If you don’t already have it from your race, this is the best way to get it. Long duration and no concentration makes it a powerful tactical spell.

Find Traps: If you’re proficient in Investigation, this is useless.

Healing SpiritXGtE: Replace Cure Wounds with this spell when you gain second level spells to save on healing spell economy.

Lesser Restoration: This is a very important spell, but you shouldn’t be the one in the party who knows it. Rely on a Cleric for this one.

Pass Without Trace: +10 can offset even a penalty or disadvantage on stealth for the party. This spell can be the backbone of a successful infiltration mission.

Protection From Poison: As a preventative measure, the long duration of this spell ensures you won’t get downed by a creature immediately.

Silence: This serves two purposes, stealth and also shutting down enemy spellcasters.

Spike Growth: A fantastic battlefield control option. Use it to protect your archers from melee creatures while picking them off as they approach.

Summon BeastTCoE: Unless you’re focusing on spellcasting and have your Wisdom pumped up, this isn’t a very good spell for you. It provides action economy, but it isn’t very strong unless you’ve got high stats.

3rd Level Spells

Conjure Animals: As a half caster. Rangers get his too late to be relevant.

Conjure Barrage: A huge Area of effect for low damage. Only really useful to take out creatures already weakened by your Spike Growth. As a third level spell, there are better options for you, however.

Daylight: Situationally, this will make your life easier. It’s not stealthy, so dispelling minimum level darkness is the only great use for this.

Flame ArrowsEEPC: This is equal to or worse than a heightened Hunter’s Mark.

Lightning Arrow: A Hallway buster, not as impressive as other options you have available to you.

Plant Growth: Really good area control. The only downside is plants need to already exist in the area.

Protection from Energy: A crucial defensive option for fighting elemental enemies, dragons, and casters.

Speak with Plants: Severely underwhelming compared to other spells at his level. Speak with Animals is probably more useful.

Summon FeyTCoE: Same as Summon Beast, you’re going to need a good spell modifier to make this worth it.

Wind Wall: This is highly situational. It’s very useful when you do need it, but here is likely going to be another caster who can prepare it or a better option.

4th Level Spells

Conjure Woodland Beings: Similar to Conjure Animals, it’s too little too late.

Freedom of Movement: Useful, but situational.

Grasping Vine: Not a good spell to begin with, and your relatively low DC it’s even worse.

Guardian of Nature: The Ranger’s best buff, it gives you advantage on your attacks for the duration.

Stoneskin: A very good buff, but by the time you get it, you’re likely going to be facing a lot of magic foes, so its effectiveness might be diminished.

Summon ElementalTCoE: Guardian of Nature is better at the same level for you.

5th Level Spells

Commune With Nature: Too little, too late. Also, a weak spell for your highest slot. If you could ritual cast it, this would be very useful.

Conjure Volley: This spell has all the same problems as Conjure Barrage. Your save DC will be relatively low unless and it only does mediocre damage.

Steel Wind StrikeXGtE: This is a spell attack, which means unless you’ve gone all-in on Wisdom you’re going to have problems.

Swift Quiver: This spell rocks for an archer. It requires concentration, so you can’t use it with Hunter’s Mark, but that’s ok. It’s your best choice for a 5th level spell.

Tree Stride: Situational, but in a forest encounter it makes you an absolute nightmare. Mess with sightlines by moving through the trees to continually ambush your foes.

Wrath of NatureXGtE: As written, this requires plants to be present. It would be more spectacular if you could use it in different environments.

Multiclassing

Barbarian: Not a lot gained for the archery build. A melee Ranger who wants to be a “Rager” can dip for a level to get rage.

Bard: too many conflicting ability score requirements.

Cleric: A single level dip for Nature Cleric gives you a huge amount of value in armor proficiency, spells, and a skill.

Druid: It takes two levels to get Wild Shape. You’ve got plenty of good combat options, and there’s enough overlap that the spellcasting isn’t worth it.

Fighter: If you want to go Strength-build Ranger, it’s best to start with a level or two of Fighter to maximize your proficiencies and get he extra fighting style.

Monk: Unarmored Defense is nice if you’re going for a Dex/Wis build.

Paladin: Too many conflicting ability score requirements, and two half-casting classes don’t mesh well. Fighter is strictly better for a Melee Strength build.

Rogue: Take two levels to get cunning action and some extra skills and you’re golden. This is a great combo if you’re not going to have a primary Rogue or Bard in the party. You’ll be a reliable scout and ranged attacker.

Sorcerer: Not a good fit for Ranger.

Warlock: Not a good fit for Ranger.

Wizard: Not a good fit for Ranger.

References

DMG     Dungeon Master’s Guide
EGtW    Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
ERLW     Eberron: Rising from the Last War
EEPC      Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
GGtR     Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica
MM       Monster Manual
MToF    Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
PHB        Players Handbook
SCAG     Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
TP           Tortle Package
VGtM    Volo’s Guide to Monsters
XGtE      Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

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