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!

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It’s Time to Talk About Superiority Dice

I decided not to review the new Unearthed Arcana. It’s fine, and while it’s more beefy than a few prior versions (the tiefling document, in particular), it’s still a bit scant, and definitely skews toward player options, which is something I’d like to see them get away from with these documents. Especially since they’re only coming out with 6 each year, now.

One thing did strike me, though, while I was reading it (LINK so that you can follow along). The Monster Hunter archetype for the fighter, like the Scout and Cavalier that came out earlier this year in their Kits of Old document (LINK), uses superiority dice in a very unique way to help shape the flavor of the class and offering a variety of options linked through this one system.

I liked this idea back in the Kits of Old doc, and I like it here. However, there are some issues that I would like to discuss regarding the way these superiority dice are being used. What makes superiority dice great (and they really are great), and what parts could really be improved? Continue reading

[UPDATED!] Return of the Ranger: Alpha Version 2.2

UPDATE!: Due to feedback given by valuable readers (which can be viewed below, in the Comments section), I have made minor adjustments to the class, updating it to version 2.2. I added the Adrenaline Surge feature at 6th level, in order to grand added survivability, and replaced the Nature’s Ward feature of the Seeker path with the more expansive Spirit Guide.

So, finally, I have a Ranger Alpha which I am comfortable handing over to you. Because, let’s be real, guys. The last alpha was a bit of a mess. It was rushed and sloppy: a product of my own attempt at biting off WAY more than I could chew. The various features which were designed to make use of the Bonus Action mechanic in 5e actually just created a major limiting factor for the class: it had a lot of cool shit to do, but not enough actions to do it all. I’ve mitigated that by getting away from the original “bonus action playground” mentality of version 1.0. Instead, I’ve gone with more of a streamlined approach, primarily focusing around triggered abilities and passive benefits.

I’ve also distanced myself, thematically, from the “wandering mystic” version of version 1.0, and have focused instead on a more general survivalist idea. And I played with the concept of the ranger being more of a warrior than it was before, specifically focusing on skirmishing tactics.

The good news of is that this is a decidedly better version of the ranger than the last version I put out (and, if I’m being bold, I would say that it’s better than the core class).

The bad news is that what I’m presenting here is only a 6 level build. It’s small because I’m working my way up. I have a general layout for a full 20-level build, but I’m not sure how all of the pieces fit together (and my recent attempt at building and playing a level 11 version for playtesting resulted in kind of an overload of features, so things are still very much in flux).

I’m not going to go point-by-point with this version of the ranger. I have a few design notes, but nothing significant.

Why Six Levels?

I decided on six levels, rather than five or ten, because I wanted to give enough for a ranger that’s just starting out, but also allow you to play the low-level ranger to its fullest potential. In order to do that, it needs to have its Strider feature, which allows it to maneuver through difficult terrain. And that comes at level 6. And, besides that, if I only included 5 levels, then you’d really only be getting 3 levels of content, since levels 4 and 5 are taken up by an Ability Score Increase and Extra Attack respectively, and those features are a dime-a-dozen.

You can download a PDF copy of my new ranger playtest here: The Ranger: Alpha v2.2

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Why the Mystic is Bad at Eating Cake

So, round 2 of the Mystic finally came out. I never analyzed the mystic’s first appearance on this blog, which serves me just fine. It was five levels, so I didn’t really have much to analyze. And although I think it’s a really ambitious class, I don’t think I lost anything by NOT analyzing it. Especially when there are others who do it on a regular basis, and are, frankly, really good at it.

However, now the second round is out. It’s got ten levels, instead of five, and we now have a whole host of disciplines to look at, instead of just the few that were included in the five-level build.

But I’m still not examining it. Not in a traditional sense, anyway. If you want a point-by-point breakdown of the class, then go ahead and take a gander at Harbinger of Doom’s review. It’s really quite thorough and he has a better head for class balance than I. Instead, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about a topic that’s definitely related to the Mystic, but is definitively more broad in scope.

I want to talk about incentives. Specifically, mechanical incentives in game design. This isn’t going to be a topic about placing incentives in adventures to get players to do things. Rather, it’s going to be about the various different incentives that are placed in classes, races, and feats that encourage certain styles of play. Continue reading

Deconstructing the Witch Hunter

This is one that I wanted to write last month, but got distracted by writing 7,000 words on Class Design, oh, and let’s not forget I was busy designing a Full Class and writing a Free Adventure. Back then, it was relevant with the whole #DnDiesel thing going on. However, I’m kind of glad I waited, since I was actually able to go out and see The Last Witch Hunter in order to give myself context for the class.

What is said context? Basically nothing. The movie has very little to do with the actual class, as Kaulder (Diesel’s character in the film) is really more of a Fighter than anything else, and doesn’t exhibit…any of the powers the actual class possesses. Well, I guess he lights his sword on fire. But it is by no means through the same mechanic as the class. The class actually feels more heavily inspired by the Grey Wardens of Dragon Age fame, in that it’s more focused around the slayage of fey, fiends and undead rather than witches. It’s also similar to the Witchers of the series by the same name.

First, though, let’s talk about the movie. Because the movie does deserve to be talked about. Continue reading

The Ranger Class: Alpha Playtest

Well, here it is! It took me a month, but I finally built my ranger! After four weeks of teasing and taunting and over-long articles about class design, it’s finally here. And not only am I presenting it to you all, but I’m actually also going to talk about the design of the class. What abilities I chose, which ones I didn’t, and why.

Before any of that, though, I have a couple of notes.

Regarding Playtesting

When I said that it took me a month to build this class, I wasn’t lying. I went through several variations on class abilities and builds before I finally came to a configuration with which I was comfortable. And I’m still not 100% on the thing. You will see more versions arrive as I playtest and observe where the class exceeds and wanes.

In addition to my own playtesting, I would love to see the community participate. Share this document everywhere you can. Convince your DMs to let you try it out. DMs, let your players take it for a test drive. I know it might be imbalanced, but this is how the classes in the Player’s Handbook got to where they are: RIGOROUS PLAYTESTING. And please, if you do playtest it, send me your feedback. You can click the About/Contact Me tab at the top of this page to send me a message, and here, I’ll even Provide you with a link.

Regarding Legality

I want to make something entirely clear. I have no idea whether or not my version of the ranger is legal. This is free, which I figure counts in my favor, but I still wanted to cover my bases (unknowable as they are). I am using the 3rd edition OGL here, as I don’t think I’ve used any copyright terminology in this class. I did my level-best not to re-print any features word-for-word from the Player’s Handbook. I specifically used different names for similar features, and changed up the function of some of them. Most of this is due to the different direction of my ranger, but some of it is admittedly to prevent copyright infringement. I also made the conscious decision to NOT print features that saw no change from one version to the other. If you don’t own a Player’s Handbook and you’re looking for a free look at the ranger, then you have come to the wrong place.

With those out of the way, let’s get to it, shall we? Hold onto your butts, because this is gonna be a long one. Continue reading

A Memorandum on Class Design: Milestones, Thematics, and Details

Go read part 1 HERE.

All right, let’s review.

We now know the excitement curve—that’s what I’m calling it. A class builds in excitement, with a couple of dips, toward level 11, at which point there is a deep and immediate drop. Thereafter, there’s a slow, ten-level climb up to level 20. And this is intentional. The post-eleven levels are, in terms of experience points, designed to move by more quickly than the first 10. They’re about reveling in your skill and power, whereas the first 10 are about achieving mastery over your skillset. By level 11, you should have every core feature that a class offers. Any new features that come after that point should just be whipped cream and a cherry.

We also learned that 5e class design is very milestone-based, your primary milestones being level 3, 5, 11, and 20. Level 3 is the moment where you become a real member of your class, leaving that training period of levels 1 and 2 behind. Level 5 is where you really hit your stride. 3rd level spells, Extra Attack, and other important features arrive at this level. Level 11 is the climax of the whole class. It’s also where you prove your dedication to your class, as multiclassing to the same point in another class becomes impossible. Then, finally, we have level 20, where you gain your “capstone.” It’s not the be-all, end-all of the class, but it’s definitely a milestone in the class’s progression.

And now that we know the foundation of class design in 5e, it’s time to talk about the real meat of the issue. The brick-and-mortar stuff. How, in fact, does one design a class? Continue reading