Making Your Own Ranger Subclass
You may decide that you want to create your own ranger subclass that best fits your campaign. Before embarking on this task, you want to be sure that no existing ranger subclass can meet your design goals. One of the greatest flexibilities offered in 5e class design is how open it is to reflavor the features. If there is a subclass that can meet your mechanical needs and stylistic vision, it is best to simply use that and save a lot of time in designing, writing, and playtesting.
If, however, you find that no existing subclass achieves the fantasy or has the mechanics to match your visions, this section will guide you toward making a ranger subclass that fits the 5e D&D model. The guidelines will help you create the features for your subclass and detail how you should balance the class to fit within the official options and those offered by Therin Creative and similar content creators.
Please note that despite the guidance offered herein, your subclass may need further tuning. Be certain to spend the time to playtest your subclass.
The ranger is a half spellcaster with a number of features. It requires Wisdom for its spellcasting, and favors Dexterity over Strength and Constitution. Intelligence and Charisma aren’t needed for the class, and its features compensate for lower scores. Rangers are often dependent on multiple ability scores, and as such, you shouldn’t try to require another ability score for subclass features — stick to using Wisdom and either Strength or Dexterity.
The ranger has a d10 Hit Dice, and is one of the sturdiest classes in the game. While the ranger can excel at ranged combat, it has better consistent survivability than classes like the rogue and monk.
The ranger has access to all martial weapons, shields, and light and medium armors, and an above average number of skill proficiencies. This opens a lot of avenues to enhance the ranger’s specialties through weapons, armor, and skills. Generally, you won’t want to grant a ranger a new proficiency unless the proficiency is necessary to interact with a subclass feature.
Ability Score Improvement
The ranger uses standard progression for the Ability Score Improvement (ASI) feature (4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level). Rangers shouldn’t gain additional ASI features as that is the domain of the fighter and rogue classes and not something a subclass generally grants.
The ranger has the spellcasting feature, with several limitations. It uses spells known, requiring characters to choose spells each level from the ranger spell list. Due to the low number of spells a ranger is likely to know, most modern ranger subclasses grant the ranger a feature that gives it additional known spells that fit the theme of the subclass. The ranger also doesn’t have ritual casting or spellcasting focus features, meaning your subclass could introduce those if it makes sense, such as for a spellcasting-specialist ranger.
The ranger has a significant number of features that enhance the exploration and social pillar without offering significant impact on combat. Rangers get more combat enhancing features in its subclasses.
Ranger archetypes grant features at 3rd, 7th, 11th, and 15th level — explicitly at those levels between gaining a new level of spell.
Rangers Use Spells
It is worth reiterating that rangers are spellcasters. Spell slots are factored into the balance of the class for each pillar of the game. Rangers have combat spells for direct damage, control, and enhancement. They also have spells to circumnavigate the exploration pillar and in certain cases interact with the social pillar. A well-designed ranged subclass will utilize its spells in a meaningful way, and you need to balance it with its spells and spell slots taken into account.
If you want to build a subclass that doesn’t use spells, you should build a fighter and not a ranger. A noncaster ranger is a popular request, but to facilitate the concept, you will need an alternate class with a chassis that doesn’t contain the spellcasting feature. Replacing a class feature is complicated, hard to balance, and cumbersome for players to adopt.
Building a Ranger Archetype
Once you understand the class chassis, you’re one step closer to building a subclass. You’ll also want to review existing subclasses to get a feel for their design and balance. This section will aid you in understanding what your subclass features should accomplish.
Rangers have Archetypes
While the experimental ranger had the Ranger Conclave feature for its subclass, the published ranger uses the Ranger Archetype feature for its subclasses, consistent throughout publications. You should only use or refer to the Ranger Conclave if you are building a ranger based on the Revised Ranger from Unearthed Arcana offered by Wizards of the Coast that was abandoned. This guide doesn’t cover the Revised Ranger.
Before starting on the formal work to build your subclass, devise its theme and role. What is your subclass’s purpose? What roles does it fill in an adventuring party? How are its mechanics interesting and unique? Why would a player choose your subclass?
Let’s start by looking at some existing ranger subclasses.
Hunter. The Hunter ranger fills the theme of warden and champion against the monstrous horde, with flexibility in what kinds of foes it counters. They can be giant killers, or the stalwart heroes that rush into the hordes of foes. Players choose this archetype to excel in battle against select foes.
Beast Master. The Beast Master ranger gains an animal companion that aids the ranger in scouting and tracking. In combat it helps to corral and flank foes or dash behind enemy lines to reach high-value targets. The companion’s hit point pool helps its party by spreading out damage. Players choose this archetype to control a secondary character to open up more positional tactics.
Gloom Stalker. The Gloom Stalker ranger is the hunter of the Underdark and similar environments. It is an ambusher that is adept in the dark. Players choose this archetype because they want to ambush foes and delve in the darkest of places.
Swarmkeeper. The Swarmkeeper ranger taps the fantasy of controlling a swarm of insects or similar in a way that creates new tactics. Players choose this archetype for its versatility in what the swarm can accomplish and its descriptive flavor.
Sleuth. The Sleuth ranger is a detective that leverages skills and spells to root out the truth of a situation. It can lead investigations, interrogations, and uncover the most hidden of secrets. Players choose this archetype because they want to explore urban environments, uncover mysteries, and have that uncanny knack for observation.
Each ranger subclass does something unique, explores the ranger kit in a certain direction, but at its core, each is a ranger, tapping the full range of the class features and spells at its disposal.
Building the Subclass
This guide covers building a ranger archetype consistent with official published material. Each ranger archetypes is defining in the scope of the subclass. While it still relies on the core ranger package, the subclass will feel quite distinct.
Subclass features are granted at 3rd, 7th, 11th, and 15th level. Except for 3rd level, each Ranger Archetype feature should only grant one subclass feature. Consult the Ranger Subclass Features table for when you should grant features.
There are exceptions for the rule of only granting a single subclass feature:
- Ribbon features are frequently weak on their own, so in certain cases you may grant a second, minor feature, which could be another ribbon feature.
- The feature has some complex interactions that are much clearer when separated. Often this is indication that something should be cut, but in rare cases, it makes sense to split a feature for comprehension.
- You are expanding an existing feature in a minor way. Sometimes it’s better to include the enhancement in the core feature, and at other times it could be a note in another feature.
Ranger Subclass Features
|Ranger Magic, Offensive Feature, Minor Feature
|Combat Expansion Feature
3rd-level [Your Ranger Subclass] feature
Modern rangers have a list of extra spells they add to their known spells. If you are only using the Player’s Handbook or 5.1 SRD, this feature should be omitted.
Choose one spell each from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th level that fits the theme of your subclass. The spell can come from any list, including the ranger list.
If you include spells from sources other than the Player’s Handbook, you want to indicate those sources. If you are sharing the subclass, you can’t reprint content that is not provided by the publishing license you are using (i.e. don’t reprint a spell description from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything).
If you do include spells outside the Player’s Handbook, it is recommended that you offer alternative spells from it so groups without the referenced book can utilize your content without additional work on the DM’s part. If the spell is one you created for the subclass, include its description after the subclass (or an appropriate section for a compendium of content).
[Your Ranger Subclass] Spells
3rd-level [Your Ranger Subclass] feature
Each ranger archetype gets a damage boost of some sort at 3rd level. Typically you want an increase of 3 to 5 damage per round which may be increased at higher level (typically at 11th level). See the Ranger Damage table below for guidelines.
If the additional damage requires interaction with the action economy, such as requiring a bonus action (e.g. Ranger’s Companion feature), the feature can add more damage. In this case, weigh what the action requirement costs the core class and adjust accordingly.
You should increase the additional damage if the feature has limited uses per rest, provided it is expected that the ranger will run out before it can recharge. In addition, the damage can be increased if the source can be removed during play, such as with an animal companion that can be killed.
|Unlimited attack rider
|3 (4 at 11th level)
|Once per turn rider
|4 (5 at 11th level)
|Conditional and limited
|5 (9 at 11th level)
|Killable Companion: Bonus Action
|9 (21 at 11th level)
|Limited Resource: Efficient
|5 (10 at 11th level)
3rd-level [Your Ranger Subclass] feature
This is an optional feature that mainly serves to flavor the archetype. This feature should mostly affect the exploration or social pillars. This can include skills modifiers or bonus proficiencies. It should only affect the combat pillar if the subclass’s Offensive feature is very restrictive, such as the Gloom Stalker ranger’s Dread Ambusher feature.
You may prefer to grant additional utlity to the Offensive feature as the Swarmkeeper ranger’s Gathered Swarm feature does instead of including this feature. Some Offensive features intrinsically include the Minor feature’s utility effect, such as the Beast Master ranger’s Ranger’s Companion feature that grants a beast that can perform appropriate tasks, absorb damage, and supplement the ranger’s abilities.
7th-level [Your Ranger Subclass] feature
A utility feature grants new options to the ranger, often augmenting its movement or defenses. You can also make this a situational defense feature if that makes more sense for your concept. Depending on the power of the effect, you may choose to limited it, especially if the feature duplicates or grants a spell.
This is also the point where you want to grant any quality of life enhancements. You may also decide to expand the ranger’s social or exploration pillars if that better fits the subclass’s theme.
Rangers have a primary resource in spell slots. In general, you shouldn’t give the ranger a second resource and tap its spell slots to fuel features that aren’t self-contained in usage. The exception is when bulk of the subclass leverages this resource and managing it through a full adventuring day is vital for the ranger subclass to remain competitive.
It is common for a feature to offer restriction on how often it can be used to limit the scope of its power. Frequently this is one or two uses per short rest or even long rest. If the feature’s usage should scale, then it’s usually better to grant uses equal to an ability score modifier, such as Wisdom, or based on proficiency bonus.
Be careful about using proficiency bonus uses with low-level features. These can result in multiclassed characters being equally able at the feature as a single class character. Subclass features can be unpredictable when used in combination with other classes and subclasses, especially when factoring in third-party and homebrew content.
Combat Expansion Feature
11th-level [Your Ranger Subclass] feature
With this feature, the ranger expands its combat ability. This feature can expand the Offensive feature or add something new. It can also increase efficiency with the ranger’s offensive kit. Generally, you want to aim to increase the ranger’s damage equal to about half of one attack per round (around 5 extra damage per round).
If the combat ability has nondamage riders or options, such as the Mighty Swarm feature, the increase should be smaller. If the bonus attack or damage requires an action, such as a bonus action, it can deal more damage. For instance, the Ranger’s Companion feature functionally doubles the damage bonus of the Offensive feature by granting the beast one additional attack. For expanding the Offensive feature’s damage, consult the Ranger Damage table.
15th-level [Your Ranger Subclass] feature
Rangers finish with a decent defensive feature. This defense should come into play normally without stringent conditions, but it may have limited uses.
If the Utility feature is a defensive one, this feature can add utility instead. If the Combat Expansion feature doesn’t increase the ranger’s damage and the Offensive feature’s damage doesn’t scale, you should grant that missing damage here, such as with the Monster Slayer or Zephyr ranger archetypes.