Unearthed Arcana Review: The Ranger, Revised

Yeah, it’s a new blog post after 3 months of silence. Deal with it.

So Mike Mearls and the D&D Crew have officially released another version of the Ranger in this month’s Unearthed Arcana, attempting once again to create the perfect version of the class. Or at least the version that satisfies the majority of people. And I mean that, by the way. This is very obviously an attempt to satisfy as many people as possible. I’ll get to why that is in a bit.

Did they succeed in that? I don’t know. Only time, playtesting, and surveys will tell if it satisfied the majority of people. I can’t answer for them. I can only answer for myself. So, did the new ranger satisfy me?

In a word: no. But I’m rarely complacent with just writing a single word. So, what’s going on with this Ranger? Why can’t I just be happy with what I’m given?

Read the ranger for yourself HERE!

Instead of going line-by-line with this version, let me just talk about the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Natural Explorer is great. It’s probably a little too overpowered, but I always say that it’s better to trim a class back than have to build it up. The fact that it’s just based on “wilderness” now, rather than specific terrains, is exactly what I like to see.
  • Primeval Awareness is pretty awesome as well. The wild empathy effect is a nice throw-back to previous versions of the class. And despite the fact that the extrasensory feature is tied directly to your favored enemy (I’ll get to that), I actually like the way they designed it for this version. Overall, detaching the ability from spellcasting is just a smart idea.
  • Ranger Conclave sounds really cool, despite not making much sense (a conclave is a secret meeting, not a society or group).
  • The Beast Conclave is the best version of the beast master that I’ve seen so far. And that includes the various homebrew attempts, as well as my own attempt. It’s definitely the most complicated of the three subclasses, but I think that’s appropriate. And I think the various rules really help to support the animal companion as an actual member—if a bit lesser than the rest—of the party.
  • Feral Senses is still cool and good and stuff.

Cons

  • Foe Slayer is still dumb and boring. And I don’t care if it technically helps the ranger come into line with comparable classes in terms of damage (and it doesn’t, really), it’s just BORING! Still the most weak-sauce capstone in 5th
  • Hunters bug me for the reason they always have. The “multiple features, pick one” idea is still neat, and I want to see it work elsewhere. But I just don’t care for it in this version of the class.
  • Stalkers, or Deep Stalkers, or whatever they’re called, really bother me. I know that it’s just the previous deep stalker subclass migrated over to this version of the ranger, but I don’t recall caring for it then, either. Mechanically, it’s fine. But thematically, it’s all over the place, and I can’t tell what it’s supposed to be. And, you know what? It’s not exactly mechanically sound, either. Underdark scout’s wording is weird and confusing (what does it mean for a creature to “gain no benefit from its darkvision” when trying to find you?)

Meh

  • I still don’t like standardized spellcasting on a ranger. But I’m fully willing to admit that the majority of people do like it, and I’m the odd man out here.
  • Fleet of Foot and Vanish are technically good abilities on paper, but are just the rogue’s Cunning Action split up into two features and spread across the class’s progression. Why are they split? Why don’t you get Fleet of Foot until 8th level? Why isn’t Fleet of Foot named Strider? These are things we shall never know.
  • Hide in Plain Sight should still be re-named camouflage. Other than that, it’s the same as it always has been. It’s fine, I guess, though I don’t understand why you need to rebuild your camouflage every time someone spots you. Why do you need different sticks and leaves to hide in the same terrain you were already able to hide in before? Always felt like a weirdly-specific ability.

The Favored Elephant in the Room

So, other than the Beast Conclave, the biggest change to this version of the ranger is what they decided to do with Favored Enemy. I’ve previously voiced my distaste for the standard Favored Enemy design, so I was intrigued when this design went up on Mike Mearls’ Twitter before the revised ranger dropped.

In short, I don’t like it. But if you’re still reading, then you aren’t here for the short answer.

My problem with Favored Enemy as a feature is the way it’s been designed from the very beginning. I don’t like features that explicitly limit a class’s potential based on the GM’s whim.

A quick review on why Favored Enemy does this: At level 1, a ranger selects a favored enemy from a short list of broad options: beasts, fey, humanoids, monstrosities, or undead. They then gain bonus damage and other benefits based on this choice. The problem lies in that these bonuses hinge entirely on the GM deciding to allow the party to fight the appropriate enemies.

Now, any thinking reader will likely state that the a good GM would try to include appropriate enemies in order to let the ranger shine in combat or during exploration/tracking scenes. However, that doesn’t preclude a douchebag GM, who doesn’t like how much damage the ranger is putting out each combat, from just electing to deny the ranger its benefit by refusing to pit the party against the appropriate foes. And I don’t like giving those GMs that option.

HOWEVER, this is not to say that I don’t understand the point of Favored Enemy in this form. Far from it. The point of this “pick one” system is to add to a character’s narrative development. And in that way, it totally succeeds. A ranger who was raised in the wilderness would very likely choose beasts, fey, or monstrosities. And once they reach 6th level, they’ve likely encountered new, interesting enemies that don’t fit into the basic level 1 categories, so Greater Favored Enemy is a perfect representation of how the ranger LEARNS to face off against new foes.

My problem is that there is a dissonance between the narrative potential and the mechanical execution of the feature. One suggests a character that has learned from their experiences, and continues to learn as they advance. The other kind of suggests a character that has figured it all out by 6th level, and can’t really adapt past that point.

So, yeah. This version of Favored Enemy is “better” than the core version in that it has more mechanical value and each choice tends to cover a more broad range of enemies (I’d be hard-pressed to NOT choose humanoid, considering everything it covers). However, it still suffers from the same issues as the original version, in that it’s a rigid feature that cannot adapt to an ever-changing landscape.

A Solution

As always, I’m not one to rant about a problem without at least attempting a solution. In this case, I think it’s simple. Add the following sentence to both the Favored Enemy and Greater Favored Enemy class features.

“Every time you gain a ranger level, you can choose to change your (greater) favored enemy. You lose all benefits with your previous (greater) favored enemy, but gain these benefits with the new one. You do not gain or lose any bonus languages in this way.”

Does it fit into the narrative of Favored Enemy perfectly? No. But I think it works well enough that you, as a player, can get a lot more use out of the feature.

Conclusion

I don’t hate this version of the ranger. With the modification above to Favored Enemy, I would be totally fine with my players choosing this version for themselves. I think it’s basically the perfect middle-of-the-road ranger, and I genuinely do think that this path is going to see the greatest level of approval from fans.

However, I still don’t think that I would personally play this ranger. And the reason that I wouldn’t play it is the same reason that I think most other people would:

This is basically just an updated version of the 3.5e ranger. I’m sure you noticed it. I mean, it was already very much like the 3.5e version before this update, gaining things like Hide in Plain Sight/Camouflage, a fighting style, swift tracking, woodland stride, and of course a favored enemy. However, with these updates, it’s becoming even more apparent that what people want is essentially a direct translation of that particular ranger.

Does this mean that the 3.5e ranger is the perfect version, and that it will save this game with its amazing awesomeness? No. But it does mean that people loved it. The fact is that the ranger in 3.5 was cool. It could hide, it could track its enemies, it could move through difficult terrain without hampered movement. It had evasion and camouflage and it was the only class that didn’t need dexterity to gain two-weapon fighting. And, on top of that, it had favored enemy. And, as a concept, favored enemy is REALLY COOL. Being able to say “I’ve been trained since I was a child to hunt this monster” is like the COOLEST THING YOU CAN SAY IN D&D! So yeah, of course a “ranger re-write” from Wizards of the Coast would skew toward this most popular edition of the class.

You know what my favorite 5e ranger variant is? It’s the Wanderer, from the Adventures in Middle Earth Player’s Guide. It’s not the most powerful version of the class, or the most effective, and a lot of its abilities are useless outside of its own setting. But it is definitely the most unique version I’ve seen. It’s the class that gets closest to how I envision a ranger: a skilled and knowledgeable hunter with abilities that seem like they could be magical, but might just be talents gained from spending a lifetime in the wild places of the world. They are the first line of defense against the chaos that threatens civilization.

Of course, this doesn’t make the wanderer that perfect ranger I’ve been looking for. After all, like I said, half of its class features need to be heavily re-written to function in a standard D&D setting. My point is simply that I value uniqueness and flavor over paths that have previously been tread.

And that’s what this new ranger is. It’s a path that’s already been tread; a fifteen year-old piece of design that’s being dusted off and given another chance at life. And for many people, that’s going to be great. I’m sure my players will really take to this version of the ranger, and I will be more than happy to allow it in my games.

But it’s not for me.


Well, folks, I’m back. And believe me, I’ve got a lot to talk about. If you’d like to talk to me, whether it’s hate-mail, fan-mail, or just a question, don’t forget that you can go to my contact page, OR you can e-mail me at

LootTheBodyBlog@Gmail.com

Thanks for all the support during my hiatus. Here’s hoping for a strong finish to this year, and many strong years to follow.

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2 thoughts on “Unearthed Arcana Review: The Ranger, Revised

Add yours

  1. I also think of the wanderer class from AME as the best 5E ranger variant we have seen so far. it’s fitting since Strider in LOTR is arguably the ur-ranger.

    Hey, how about you do a review of the “Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide?” I would love to see your take on the classes, archetypes, and fellowship-journey system.

    Like

  2. This blog isn’t really the place for full book reviews, due to the time investment required (I have a day job). However, at some point, I would like to talk about the classes in the AMEPG, as well as the various systems they introduce. It’ll just come piecemeal, rather than as a full review. Besides, with how much I write, my review would probably qualify as a book on its own.

    Thanks for the support!

    Like

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