October 6, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] The Ranger, Revised, Part 1: The Base Ranger

This is the first series for a new column to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

So Wizards of the Coast have recently put out a revision of the Ranger class which has made some major mechanical changes to the class. While it is still an Unearthed Arcana; meaning that it may or may not become official in the foreseeable future, but it is probably one of the most major revisions since the start of 5th Edition.

Do take note that this revised Ranger is currently not planned to be a replacement of the Ranger in the Player's Handbook, but could appear as an option in a future sourcebook, as mentioned in the article:
If this iteration of the ranger, or a future revision of it, grades high enough, our plan is to present it as a revised ranger in a future D&D sourcebook. Player can select the original ranger or the revised version, though DMs will always be free to use only one or the other. Both will be legal for D&D Adventurers League play, and players of existing ranger characters will have the options to swap to the revised version.
So for this inaugural series to this new column, I think it would be worth spending some time to study the new changes in the revised Ranger class, and compare it to the Ranger class in the Player's Handbook. However, before we get into the mechanical specifics...

Why revise the Ranger?

I think it's important to first understand when reading the Unearthed Arcana article for the revised Ranger as to why the designers have decided to go ahead to do this. Bear in mind, this isn't the first time that a revised Ranger has been presented in Unearthed Arcana, so there must be an important reason why the designers are bringing this up (again).

From what I could gleam from the Unearthed Arcana article, the designers explain their reasons for revising the Ranger here:
Over the past year, you've seen us try a number of new approaches to the ranger, all aimed at addressing the class's high levels of player dissatisfaction and its ranking as D&D's weakest class by a significant margin.
What this is generally saying to me is that the designers want to address two things. It's under-powered compared with the other classes, and it is not fun to play at higher levels. These I would assume would be the guiding principles for the design of the revised Ranger;

  • to increase player satisfaction at higher level 
  • increasing its power ranking among the classes.

When reading the rest of the article, the basic class features such as Hit Points and Proficiencies (Armor, Weapons, Saving Throws, and Skills) have not changed. So the bulk of the revision is mainly in not only the base Ranger features, but also to the Ranger Archetype features (now called Ranger Conclaves).

While I would get to each Ranger Archetype/Conclave feature eventually, for this first post I thought it would be best to start off with the base Ranger class features, because there are also changes in there as well.

In case you're not sure which of the base Ranger class features I'm talking about, here are the ones that all Rangers (from the Player's Handbook) get, regardless of their Ranger Archetype/Conclave.
  1. Favored Enemy (at 1st, 6th, and 14th level)
  2. Natural Explorer (at 1st, 6th and 10th level)
  3. Fighting Style (at 2nd level)
  4. Spellcasting (at 2nd level)
  5. Primeval Awareness (at 3rd level)
  6. Land's Stride (at 8th level)
  7. Hide in Plain Sight (at 10th level)
  8. Vanish (at 14th level)
  9. Feral Senses (at 18th level)
  10. Foe Slayer (at 20th level)
There's lots of ground to cover to last a whole series. So now let's take a look at what has been changed for each of these features in the revised Ranger

Favored Enemy

One of the main highlights of the Ranger that differentiates it from the other classes, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the designers make changes to this to make it more 'powerful'. In the Player's Handbook, choosing a Favored Enemy grants the following benefits against the favored enemy:
  1. Advantage to certain Wisdom (Survival) and Intelligence checks
  2. Learn a language spoken by the favored enemy
  3. Can select a favored enemy at 1st, 6th and 14th level out of 13 creature types at each level.
In the revised Ranger, the Ranger retains the first benefit, with some slight changes to the second, and quite a major one to the last.

Instead of learning a free language spoken by the favored enemy. The ranger can now learn any new language. Period. Although the wording encourages the Ranger to learn a language spoken by the Favored Enemy, but they are not stopped to pick any other language.

For the third benefit, the Ranger can only pick 2 favored enemies (instead of 3) on the 1st and 6th level, and only certain types at each level. The new list of Favored Enemy for the revised Ranger are:

At 1st Level
  1. Beasts
  2. Fey
  3. Humanoids
  4. Monstrosities
At 6th Level
  1. Aberrations
  2. Celestials
  3. Constructs
  4. Dragons
  5. Elementals
  6. Fiends
  7. Giants
Out of this list, there are 2 missing types (Plant, Ooze), which I'm not sure if its intentional, but for now let's say it is (because they both don't speak a language?).

There is also a major improvement when picking a favored enemy that is applicable in combat. At 1st level, they gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with weapon attacks against the favored enemy, which increases to +4 at 6th level (but doesn't designate if it's for weapon attacks).

Also at 6th level, the Ranger gains advantage to saving throws against spells and abilities of the favored enemy.

Overall, I would say the changes have made Favored Enemy a plus, even though they have one less favored enemy. The benefits they get against a favored enemy is quite substantial both during and outside of combat. Also notice that if a Ranger picks Humanoid as a favored enemy, the wording doesn't add that they have to pick two subtypes. This can be read that its Favored Enemy benefits applies to all Humanoid subtypes, which can be quite a significant boost to the feature.

My only observation to the number of Favored Enemy is if the intention of the design is to increase its value in high level play, I think players would prefer to have more favored enemies at higher levels, with less bonuses against them, instead of vice versa.

The damage increase may have been a throwback to the Favored Enemy feature from earlier editions, but I'm more concerned on where the bonus applies (for weapon attacks only or spell attacks too?). However, let's not forget that Rangers can dish out some rather high damage rolls, depending on the Ranger archetype/conclave it takes, so this bonus might need to be watched over more carefully.

Natural Explorer 

Another significant class feature unique to the Ranger, and thus also given a major overhaul.

In the Player's Handbook version, the Natural Explorer works similarly with Favored Enemy, allowing the Ranger to gain certain benefits by selecting a favored terrain at 1st, 6th and 10th level. These benefits are mostly for out-of-combat usage, but it greatly increases the mobility and survivability of a party when traveling overland in the Ranger's favored terrain.

For the revised Ranger, these benefits are kept but now it applies to all terrain as the Ranger no longer has to choose a favored terrain at any of the levels. The benefits can be applied to all terrain at 1st level.

In addition to that, the Ranger also gains some combat benefits at 1st level with the Natural Explorer.
  1. Ignore difficult terrain.
  2. Advantage on Initiative rolls.
  3. Advantage on attack rolls against creatures that have not yet acted on the Ranger's first turn in combat. 
While it's pretty obvious that the Natural Explorer has been improved, I have my concerns about the combat benefits it grants. Granting advantage on Initiative rolls at 1st level can be quite devastating and it's not something that other classes can emulate at such low levels. For comparison, Barbarians gain Advantage on Initiative at 7th level (Feral Instinct), and it cost an Ability Score Improvement to take an Alert feat only gives a +5 bonus.

This is further compounded by the advantage it gains on creatures that haven't acted before. This re-opens another layer for those who remember the combat rules of 3.x (flat-footed), which can be overpowered in 5th edition and can significantly change the dynamics of combat. Imagine a multiclass Ranger and Rogue at 2nd level and you'll probably see what I mean.

My suggestion would be to keep the tiered structure of the Natural Explorer from the Player's Handbook, that grants each of the 3 combat benefits separately, instead of all at once to be more balanced.

I think its fair to have the traveling benefits applying to all terrains because it reduces book keeping, and it enhances the utility of the Ranger in a party to make it an attractive choice in an wilderness-based campaign.

Fighting Style

No differences between the Player's Handbook Ranger and the revised Ranger.


No differences between the Player's Handbook Ranger and the revised Ranger.

Primeval Awareness

An often underused feature in my experience and maybe for good reason. So it was encouraging to see it going through some changes for the revised Ranger. This one is a little harder to spell out the differences without comparing the original and the revised word for word, so I would try to summarize the differences here:
  • Doesn't require to expend a spell slot, just Concentrate for 1 uninterrupted minute.
  • A fixed 5 miles radius rather than 1 mile or 6 miles (depending on the favored terrain).
  • Detects only favored enemies instead of the 7 types in the Player's Handbook.
  • Reveals number, location, general direction, and distance of groups of the favored enemy.
  • Additional benefit: Can communicate simple ideas with Beasts and understand its mood, current state of magical compulsion, needs and how to avoid being attacked. 
Overall, a positive change to the feature with the removal of requiring a spell slot, and the design is clearly affected by the design of Natural Explorer for the duration. The reduction of its scope to be tied with the Favored Enemy choices of the character is an interesting one, but I would say it's an acceptable exchange.

The last additional benefit of communicating with animals may verge on the territories of the Speak with Animal spell, but I personally like it for adding flavor and bypasses the Animal Handling check that would normally be needed to tell for such things.  

Land's Stride

This feature has been replaced with a new feature called Fleet of Foot, which is not to be confused by the Wood Elf racial trait that gives a base speed of 35 ft. The revised Ranger's Fleet of Foot allows it to use the Dash action as a Bonus Action , like a minor version of the Rogue's Cunning Action.

This may look like a powered down feature, compared with the Player's Handbook Land's Stride, but its ability to negate Difficult Terrain has already been rolled into the revised Natural Explorer.

The only thing lost here is that the revised Ranger can now be slowed by nonmagical plants without taking damage and do not have Advantage on saving throws against Entangle or other magically manipulated plants.

I'm seeing some would complain about the loss of overcoming botanic obstacles, but the only real loss for me is the flavor, because that could be the domain of Druids.

Hide in Plain Sight

While the names of the feature for the Player's Handbook and the revised version both look the same, but the designers have actually changed some of the mechanics. Again, this one is another where the difference is in the details, they have changed from granting a bonus to the Ranger's Dexterity (Stealth) for hiding, to a penalty for creatures making their Wisdom (Perception) to detect a hiding Ranger.

This revision is the most interesting for me in terms of the base Ranger class, and it can have some significant changes to how well a Ranger can hide (or not) from a creature. To really access how beneficial it is to have a bonus for Dexterity (Stealth) or a penalty to a creature's Wisdom (Perception), you might want to read up on my [D&D Raw Series] on Hiding. My gut feeling tells me a penalty to Wisdom (Perception) is more beneficial because it practically reduces a Passive Perception to 0 without any modifiers, making even a barely average Dexterity (Stealth) check harder to spot. 


No differences between the Player's Handbook Ranger and the revised Ranger.

Feral Senses

No differences between the Player's Handbook Ranger and the revised Ranger.

Foe Slayer

No differences between the Player's Handbook Ranger and the revised Ranger.

Overall, it is quite evident there is generally a positive push to the upside for the revised Ranger when only comparing the base class features, which pretty much increases the power level of the class significantly as the design was intended. How that compares to the other classes would require a deeper study, which I don't think I would be able to cover in this post or the rest of the series. So I would let the feedback survey decide on that.

Although I have to say that for the design intent to improve high level play for the Ranger, there doesn't seem to be much improvement on the base class features at later levels. Furthermore, the designers have opted to put a cap on the more prominent base features like Favored Enemy and Natural Explorer, by not giving out any extra abilities beyond 10th level, which the Player's Handbook version did, albeit with less powerful benefits than the revised Ranger.

That may be different until I read into the new Ranger Conclave features, which extends into the higher levels and so I would be looking into the new Ranger Conclave features for my next few posts in the series.

To start off, I would go for the Beast Conclave.

[Unearthing the Arcana: The Ranger, Revised, Part 2: The Beast Conclave]

Last updated: 7/10/2016

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