D&D: Ranger 5E class guide – adding strings to your bow

Dextrous, tough survivalists, Rangers are an indispensable D&D 5E class - here are the best Ranger races, subclasses, and spells

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing a human archer with her bow slung low

Heavily inspired by J.R.R Tolkien’s Aragorn and the Rangers of the North, Dungeons & Dragons’ Ranger class was introduced in one of the very earliest D&D books. Known for their variety of fighting styles, Rangers tend to be as skilled with a bow as they are full of deadly finesse in close combat. Our D&D Ranger 5E class guide gives you everything you need to roll up a little Aragorn (or Drizzt Do’Urden) of your own.

Admittedly, D&D 5E’s Rangers aren’t as well regarded as some other classes, but, if optimised correctly, they are a formidable aide. From a roleplaying perspective, too, the Ranger offers plenty of character progression – especially with Favoured Enemy. You can lean into this ability to create a story for your character, fleshing out the dark origins of your searing hate for Goblins, and so forth.

Here, then, is our in-depth guide for the Ranger, trawling through character creation, races, Ranger subclasses, and providing a good strong beginner build to give you a solid start into your next adventure. If you’d prefer a complete scope of all the D&D 5E classes on offer, you might try our beginner’s D&D 5E classes guide for more of a surface-level tour, before you make a choice and begin your journey.

If, however, you’re more than prepared to strike out and learn the ways of the wild – read on.

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing the famous Ranger / Fighter Drizzt Do'Urden

Ranger stats 5E

Hit Dice 1d10 per Ranger level
HP at Lvl Up 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier
Primary ability scores Dexterity, Wisdom, Constitution
Armour proficiency Light Armour, Medium Armour, Shields
Weapon proficiency Simple Weapons, Martial Weapons
Tool proficiency None
Saving throws Strength and Dexterity

Regardless of whether you’re looking to focus on ranged or close combat, concentrate on Dexterity (Dex) as your primary attribute. Even in melee, you can use Dex as a primary statistic on any weapon that comes with the “finesse” quality.

Crucially, Dex is the primary statistic for ranged combat, naturally one of the biggest draws to playing as a Ranger. Maintaining a high Dex statistic also supports Acrobatics, Armour Class, and even Stealth – which is another speciality for the class. Basically, you want Dex to be your main focus if you intend to play the class to its fullest potential.

Drizzt’s other half: Read our D&D Fighter 5E class guide

Starting at level two, Rangers can cast spells with their casting attribute in Wisdom (Wis), so this should be your secondary focus, with Strength (Str) and Intelligence (Int) being your dump statistics. At level one, you have significant experience in studying, tracking, hunting, and even talking to a certain type of enemy.

You also get to choose a type of Favoured Enemy, which grants you an advantage on Wis (Survival) to track them, as well as Intelligence (Int) to recall information about them. It’s safe to choose Orcs, Giants, or Goblins as your Favoured Enemy, since you will likely encounter these early on in the lion’s share of beginner D&D campaigns, in the Forgotten Realms setting at least.

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing a ranger running through woods with twin blades

Ranger fighting styles 5E

Once you hit level two, you’ll adopt a Fighting Style as part of your Ranger’s growing repertoire. However, you can’t take a Fighting Style option more than once, even if you get the opportunity to choose again later on. Whether you prefer picking off enemies from afar, or getting up close and personal, taking the time to figure this out will improve your overall experience of playing D&D.

Archery: +2 to attack rolls with ranged weapons is precisely what you are looking for as a Ranger. Not only are you looking to be Dex-based, but this will also help you offset the penalty from using shots with the Sharpshooter feat.

Defence: While wearing armour, gaining +1 to AC is far from impressive, but, seeing as AC is tricky to scale, it can make all the difference – especially with a high Dex statistic.

Druidic Warrior: You can learn two cantrips of your choice from the Druid spell list. But, importantly, these count as Ranger spells when you use them, so Wis is your spellcasting ability for these cantrips. Each time you gain a level as the Ranger, you can swap out one of these cantrips for another one from the Druid spell list.

Shadow broker: Read our D&D Rogue 5E class guide

Duelling: When you’re holding a melee weapon in one hand, and no other Weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with that weapon. This is ideal if you want to carry a shield to provide additional defence for close combat.

Two-Weapon Fighting: When it comes to fighting with two weapons, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack. The second attack remains a bonus action, which allows you to pile on a bunch of damage in combat.

Thrown Weapon Fighting: You can draw a weapon that has the thrown property as part of the attack you make with that weapon. Also, when you hit with a ranged attack using a thrown weapon, you gain a +2 bonus to the damage roll.

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing an elf archer in a wood

Best race for Ranger 5E

When selecting one of the D&D 5E races for your Ranger, you want to look for races that will give you bonuses to your key ability scores. Anything that will boost Dex or Wis is sure to be your main focus here. If you are new to D&D, choosing Elf as your race is a decent starting point. You get +2 Dexterity, Darkvision, and you are proficient in Perception. You can expand into a subrace, such as Wood or High Elf, for additional bonuses.

Wood Elf: If you are picking your race with an optimal build in mind, Wood Elf is the way to go. You have +1 Wis and +2 Dex bonuses to boost your primary and secondary statistics. Combine that with Fleet of Foot and the Mask of the Wild ability, you have a very effective Ranger build. Admittedly far from exciting, but, if you want to go heavy into Dex for traditional Ranger build, this is your first port of call.

Variant Human: Playing as a variant Human can work, for the simple reason that this race is designed to work with any class. With a variant human, you’ll receive +1 in two different stats, and get to choose one feat and proficiency in one skill.

Sacred duty: Check out our D&D Paladin 5E class guide

Halfling: Halflings get the all-important +2 Dex, as Wood Elves do. However, combining with their natural Lucky and Brave abilities, you have a build that can explore every crevice of a dungeon without fear. Halflings are naturally stealthy, which compliments your speciality well.

Half-Orc: If you prefer to be a melee-fighting, strength-based Ranger, then playing as a Half-Orc is one to consider. You get +2 Str and +1 Constitution (Con), which are both respectable stats for this type of Ranger. You also get Darkvision, Savage Attacks, and Relentless Endurance, combining to make the Half-Orc a top-tier option for melee-first Ranger.

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing a human ranger in armour with a hawk

Ranger subclasses 5E – Conclaves

At level three, you’ll build upon your Fighting Style by picking a subclass to develop your character further. While there are only two subclass options in the Player’s Handbook, there’s a variety of alternative subclasses available in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Each grants you access to its own set of subclass-specific Ranger spells, as well as its own unique subclass abilities, unlocked at levels three, seven, 11, and 15.

Here are the seven D&D 5E Ranger subclasses:

Hunter

Found in: Player’s Handbook

Level Subclass ability
3rd Hunter’s Prey (Colossus Slayer, Giant Killer, or Horde Breaker)
7th Defensive Tactics (Escape the Horde, Multiattack Defence, or Steel Will)
11th Multiattack (Volley or Whirlwind Attack)
15th Superior Hunter’s Defence (Evasion, Stand against the Tide, or Uncanny Dodge)

The Hunter is the vanilla Ranger subclass, representing one of the earliest, archetypal iterations of D&D’s Ranger. The Hunter is the vanilla subclass, representing one of the earliest, archetypal iterations of D&D’s Ranger. It’s basic, but you still have a wealth of options, while providing defensive and offensive bonuses. You can build the Hunter as a ranged specialist or a melee threat, depending on your combat preferences.

Beast Master

Found in: Player’s Handbook

Level Subclass ability
3rd Ranger’s Companion / Primal Companion
7th Exceptional Training
11th Bestial Fury
15th Share Spells

Take this subclass if you want to have a Ranger’s Companion (i.e. a pet). Beast Masters can choose any animal that is Challenge Rating 1/4 or lower, and size Medium or smaller. You can take anything from flying snakes to giant badgers, or even a Pteranodon, if you really want to make a splash at all the cool Ranger parties. Alternatively, you can opt for a magically summoned Primal Companion, which works slightly differently, but does fundamentally the same job.

Thank you for the music: Our D&D Bard 5E class guide

Your class abilities naturally centre on your beasty pal. At seventh level, its attacks become magical, and you get slightly more options for commanding it; at 11th level, it can make two attacks (or a multiattack if it has one); and, at 15th level, it can share the effects of spells you cast on yourself, so long as it stays within 30 feet of you.

Swarmkeeper

Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Level Subclass ability
3rd Gathered Swarm
7th Writhing Tide
11th Mighty Swarm
15th Swarming Dispersal

With Swarmkeeper, you can conjure swarms or spirits of nature, which can attack enemies, push them away from you, and more. You get decent spellcasting options that compliment the Druidic Warrior Fighting Style. Swarmkeeper is a popular choice as it’s flavourful, and offers plenty of aesthetic juice for D&D players.

As you level up, your Swarm becomes more powerful. At seventh level, Writhing Tide lets you have the swarm fly you around the battlefield in its winged embrace. At 11th level, the Swarm’s attacks do more damage, it knocks enemies prone when it carries them away from you, and it grants you half cover whenever you use Writhing Tide to fly. Finally, at 15th level, Swarming Dispersal lets you not only give yourself resistance to damage from an attack, but dissolve into your Swarm and teleport up to 30 feet away. Neat, huh?

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing the feywild

Fey Wanderer

Found in: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Level Subclass ability
3rd Dreadful Strikes, Otherworldly Glamour
7th Beguiling Twist
11th Fey Reinforcements
15th Misty Wanderer

If you want a wider range of spellcasting options, then the Fey Wanderer could be for you. Gifted with peculiar feywild traits like antlers, or flowers growing from their hair, these Rangers can tap into their fey home to deal extra psychic damage with their weapons, and like to Enchantment spells such as Charm Person to lock down their targets, or keep dangerous enemies at bay.

Right off the bat, your Otherworldly Glamour also grants you a bonus to Charisma checks equal to your Wisdom modifier, plus proficiency in your choice of Deception, Performance, or Persuasion – and it only gets fey-er from there.

Priestly pummelling: Read our D&D Cleric 5E class guide

At 7th level, you gain advantage on saving throws against being charmed or frightened, and, every time anyone within 120 feet passes a save versus being charmed or frightened, you can use your Reaction to try and charm or frighten another creature within the same range.

At 11th level, Fey Reinforcements teaches you the spell Summon Fey, and allows you to cast it without spending a spell slot, once per Long Rest – a handy summon in a pinch. And, at 15th level, Misty Wanderer lets you not only cast Misty Step for free, but bring one willing creature within five feet along with you to the target location – a fantastic way to spirit a wounded ally away from the front lines.

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing three Ranger subclasses

Monster Slayer

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Level Subclass ability
3rd Hunter’s Sense, Slayer’s Prey
7th Supernatural Defence
11th Magic User’s Nemesis
15th Slayer’s Counter

Monster Slayers care about analysing enemies, and expand on the Hunter subclass with more options. At third level, you’ll also get Slayer’s Prey, an ability that piles extra damage onto a single target, stacking with the damage from Hunter’s Mark. And at seventh, Supernatural Defence kicks in, giving you additional bonuses to saving throws and escaping grapples.

From there, your superlative shut-down skills keep getting better. At 11th level, Magic-User’s Nemesis allows you to cancel out your enemies’ spells (in the manner of Warhammer 40k’s Deny The Witch), and, at 15th level, Slayer’s Counter lets you make a free single weapon attack against your Slayer’s Prey any time that you would have to make a saving throw against it. If the attack hits, the save automatically passes, and you do damage with the attack; it’s pretty savage.

Gloom Stalker

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Level Subclass ability
3rd Dread Ambusher, Umbral Sight
7th Iron Mind
11th Stalker’s Flurry
15th Shadowy Dodge

Sometimes you see subclasses try and shift into Rogue-adjacent builds – and Gloom Stalker is a prime example. Gloom Stalkers offers a more stealthy approach to rangering, and thus offer an ideal way to marry Rogue and Ranger, if you simply can’t settle on which class to play.

Unstoppable force: Check out our D&D Barbarian 5E class guide

Gloom Stalkers’ Umbral Sight gives them 60m of Darkvision and makes them invisible to other creatures trying to see them using Darkvision – while Dread Ambusher gifts them a speed boost, an extra attack, and extra damage on their first turn of combat. You then collect a set of sneaky subclass abilities, culminating in the excellent Shadowy Dodge, which allows you to vanish into smoke when targeted, imposing Disadvantage on enemy attacks.

Horizon Walker

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Level Subclass ability
3rd Detect Portal, Planar Warrior
7th Ethereal Step
11th Distant Strike
15th Spectral Defence

In terms of strategy, Horizon Walkers play similarly to Gloom Stalkers when it comes to versatility – but, instead of skulking in shadows, these folks prefer to hop between dimensions.

Your subclass abilities start off strong, with Planar Warrior allowing you to use a Bonus Action to lump extra force damage onto your normal attacks. Ethereal Step, added at seventh level, grants you spell-slot-free access to the Etherealness spell, which is great for hijinx; jump to the Ethereal Plane for a turn, blink across the battlefield, and materialise right behind the enemy boss – why not, eh? You’ll top out, at 15th level, with Spectral Defence. When you’re about to take hits, you can use this ability to effectively phase in and out of the current plane of existence, granting resistance to any attacks for the rest of the turn.

Not the flashiest or most bombastic of Ranger subclasses, possibly – but there’s a lot to be said for its ultra-mobility and sense of mystique.

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing a human archer in profile with a bow

Ranger spells 5E

Unlike other spellcasters, Rangers learn their first spells at level two. You aren’t blessed with many spell slots, either, so it’s essential to make the most of the spells you can take. As such, here’s a breakdown of some of the best D&D 5E spells you can take as a beginner Ranger.

Hunter’s Mark (Level 1)

Hunter’s Mark is a must-have for any Ranger. Slap it on an enemy, and you’ll deal an extra 1d6 damage to that target whenever you make a weapon attack, with an advantage on any Perception (Wis) or Survival (Wis) check. Unsurprisingly, Hunter’s Mark comes in most useful when you’re fighting a single Strength-based foe, as opposed to when mobbed by multiple enemies.

Fog Cloud (Level 1)

Fog Cloud creates a 20-foot-radius sphere of fog on a point within range which can be plenty useful in a pinch. When you need to lose a chasing horde, or to disrupt ranged enemies taking shots at your party, Fog Cloud is an excellent spell to have in your back pocket.

Ensnaring Strike (Level 1)

Casting this as a bonus action (with Concentration), you can pin an enemy in thorny magical vines until the spell ends. While restrained, the enemy takes 1D6 piercing damage at the start of each new turn. Whether it’s pinning down a marauding foe before they can reach your lines, or trapping their back-line spellcaster in place so your Rogue can dart forward and finish them off, Ensnaring Strike can be a highly useful low-level crowd control.

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing a human ranger with a bow standing in profile

Silence (Level 2)

Inside and outside battle, Silence is an incredible spell. When casting Silence, you create a 20-foot-diameter bubble, anywhere up to a range of 120 feet, where no sound can pass through or be created.

Magical Me: Read our guide to the best D&D 5E spells

You can be creative with Silence – sure, its main use is to stop a spellcaster using verbal spells, but it could also stifle communication between two people. It’s worth noting, too, that this spell can prevent Thunder damage – relevant if you’re facing an enemy who uses this as their main damage output.

Pass Without Trace (Level 2)

Outside of combat, this spell can be key to your party’s survival. When cast, you and your companions are masked from detection: each creature you choose, within 30 feet of you, gets a +10 bonus to Dex (Stealth) checks. This spell is incredible when escaping from powerful enemies, or setting up a surprise attack.

D&D Ranger 5E class guide Wizards artwork showing an elf archer drawing back her bow

Beginner Ranger build 5E

Now you have an idea of what the Ranger can offer in a session of D&D, let’s look at an entry-level build to get you on your way.

Race: We suggest choosing Wood Elf; +2 Dex and +1 Wis is too good to pass up, since these are your primary statistics. Otherwise, Halfling offers a stealthier approach, while still giving you +2 to Dex before you begin. However, if you choose to play as a Human, you can take a Feat at level one, which could be helpful if you fancy specialising further into a particular skillset.

Level two: Fighting Style – this ultimately boils down to how you want to approach combat, but we recommend Archery, as it’ll have you picking off enemies from afar. It also ensures you can play conservatively, hanging back outside of the heat of battle – ideal for a new player learning the ropes.

Uncommon deeds: These are the best D&D 5E feats available

Level three: Pick the Beast Master subclass. It’s the best out of the two available in the Player’s Handbook – plus, having a pet can offer some incidental utility later on.

Level four: You can either increase your ability scores or take a feat of your choice. If you choose to take a feat, the Crossbow Expert feat pairs nicely with anything that takes advantage of your high Dex. Trading your bonus action for an extra attack is useful.

Level eight: Similarly to level four, you can up your ability scores, or take a feat. If you’ve taken Archery as your Fighting Style, Sharpshooter is an excellent feat to support your combat style and if you’ve already taken the Crossbow Expert feat. You take a -5 penalty to your attack roll, but if the attack hits, it deals +10 damage. It’s risky, but you can tailor your build to offset the negatives over time.

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