Now, "Ranger Variant" is almost a punchline in the 5e homebrew world, because there are so many of the darn things floating around. But the reason for that is exactly what you might think: the 5e Ranger is just an unsatisfying class. Chris Delvo goes into detail as to why in a very worthwhile read, but there are basically two reasons: it has way to many situational powers, and it doesn't quite seem to know what it's supposed to be. The former means powers like Favored Enemy, where you get benefits related to attacking certain enemy types; it's utility is obviously contingent on whether your DM sends that sort of monster at you, and useless if he doesn't. As for the latter: the ranger is obviously nature-guy, but what does that mean for the class' design? Does he fight like a Fighter, sneak like a Rogue, cast nature spells like the Druid? The 5e designers, in their well-intentioned desire to please everyone, seem to have decided on a little bit of all of the above, and the result is a bit of a mess.
Of course, the 3e ranger, which 5e harkens back to, had a lot of the same problems, but it's a little disappointing that they weren't fully addressed in the new edition. Hence the spate of homebrew designs. So what was my approach? I didn't want to redesign the class from the ground up; Chris' post shows that the 5e folks got a lot about the ranger right but missed in just a few areas. At the same time, the class' identity crisis really needs to be addressed.
That means getting rid of spellcasting—a polarizing choice, but I simply don't see the core ranger concept as having anything to do with magic, and it means we can focus the ranger's identity more easily. That identity, it seems, should focus strongly on exploration and survival. That lets us reconcile the more Fighter-like and Roguish aspects of the Ranger by giving them a common area of focus. Getting rid of spells means we can beef up power in other areas, allowing us to address the other problem of situational powers a little more flexibly. It also leaves us with room for new powers, which should focus on and enhance the Ranger's explorer theme.
That's the general approach. What follows below the fold is what I'm sure will be a too-long design diary, going over the new or enhanced features in detail. If you don't read it, I understand! I'll still appreciate any thoughts or questions you want to share.
So core features like hit dice and proficiencies are unchanged. Other variants futz with these, but I think they're fine. The first level class features get a pretty big overhaul, though.
I actually like the idea of Favored Enemy and think it fits the tracker/bounty hunter aspects of the Ranger very well. It just needs a way to make it more flexible. Superficially this is like the core ability, but the big difference is that you can pick a new favored enemy after a long rest (later a short rest). Instead of a one-off choice that the player must hope is the right one, there's a bit of strategic guesswork in prepping the right enemy with the opportunity to fix your choice if it proves disadvantageous. I think this keeps the flavor of the ability while fixing its mechanical limitations.
The other change is the defensive benefits one gets when fighting a favored enemy. Now the designers were very clear that they didn't want this ability to offer combat benefits because of how situational it was. But the Quarry Ranger doesn't have that problem, and the ability feels like it ought to offer some sort of combat benefit. I didn't want to make it an offensive ability since my Quarry mechanic was going to offer a big offensive boost, so I came up with the defensive boons. I'm thinking how Animal Planet personalities always seem to know how to avoid getting bit or stung by whatever critter they're trying to pursue.
This is basically Natural Explorer; more on the rename in a bit. Like Favored Enemy, Natural Explorer is a really neat, flavorful idea that suffers from being too situational. So the fix is similar. This time, instead of basing it on a rest, it's based on time exploring. Other variants use this basic idea, usually making the switch take a long rest. I made it a mere hour; lots of "exploring" activities described in the core rulebooks take an hour, so that seemed like long enough to acclimate while again tying tightly to the explorer theme
Hey, there's that word "acclimate" again. Later abilities depended on being in an environment where Natural Explorer was in use, and the fact that that sounds super-clunky is why I decided to call it Terrain Acclimation. I can now say "when you are acclimated," which is a lot cleaner.
A minor change one might overlook; the Quarry Ranger can get lost! The default ranger can't while in favored terrain, which I feel simply bypasses a potential source of challenge for the players. The fact that any terrain can be favored terrain for the Quarry Ranger, the problem is even worse, so I tweaked it.
Three first level powers?! OMG Broken! It's okay. The first level iteration is just a ribbon. Letting you use Survival instead of Medicine is nice and flavorful but isn't going to break the game. It's at 2nd level that the ability comes into its own.
This was an idea introduced in the Unearthed Arcana Spell-less Ranger, and it's seen it's way into a lot of Ranger variants. It seems like a good, thematic way to make up for lost spells, so I included it in my version. I tied it to Foraging, a use of the Survival skill, again tightening the focus of the class around exploration and surviving in the wilds. Also, there's no daily limit! But you can only make so many poultices, and they can only be used at certain times, a good example of using time as a non-Vancian balancing tool.
Yes, this is the spell Hunter's Mark reskinned. The spell-less Quarry Ranger needed a damage boost to combat, and this was an already available and wonderfully thematic tool to do so. Xeviat at ENWorld kindly ran the numbers for me and found that the damage matches that of the rogue. Like the rogue, this damage is situational, in this case by encouraging the Ranger to single out one enemy and sticking with it. Again, I like to think that the mechanic matches the theme; as a hunter-outdoorsman, of course the ranger would fight like he was stalking prey.
I toyed with the idea of using the Ranger's Quarry dice as a resource that could be spent in exchange for specialized attacks, but I didn't see any need for it in the end.
Basically the same, except that the Ranger can now adopt any fighter style the Fighter can. Someone pointed out that limiting the Ranger (and Paladin) to certain combat styles was rather arbitrary; I was persuaded!
Not to be confused with the Natural Explorer/Terrain Acclimation. These abilities were a matter of necessity to fill in remaining gaps left behind by removing spellcasting. That said, I'm rather proud of them. The powers, I think, tie nicely to their corresponding terrains without making them rely on that terrain. The basic idea for many of the powers come from some terrain-themed druid powers in Pathfinder. The broader idea comes from Green Ronin's "Monster Hunter" class from their Freeport setting. It did a similar thing I'm doing here, but with monsters instead of terrain. They had powers that were thematically tied to certain monsters without being dependent on fighting said monsters.
My one concern about this is that some Favored Terrains are just better than others. Something like Grassland's speed boost sure seems more useful than Desert's fire resistance and situational environmental benefits. I tried to pile on extra features to what I perceived were less generally useful Favored Terrains, but I'm not certain that makes them balanced.
I moved Land's Stride to the same level as Favored Terrain. The two seem to go together.
Camouflage is just Hide in Plain Sight renamed; again I was persuaded by someone on the internet, making the case that Camouflage is a better description of what the ability does. Part of the core Vanish ability—Hiding as a bonus action—I moved to the Forest Favored Terrain, so I bolstered it to protect again magical tracking/scrying as well.
A new capstone ability. You're always acclimated provided you are in one of the available Favored Terrains; nice, but not game changing. Being able to switch quarries as bonus action is, I suspect, a bigger deal than you might think. What it lacks in punch it makes up for in flexibility.
Quarry Ranger archetypes get an extra power over the core Ranger at 18th level as another way to make up for lost spells. The 18th level Hunter power is a bit of a cop-out, but I think it works.
Other powers aren't much different from the core rules. Giant Killer was weirdly situational, so I based it off of Quarry/Favored Enemy and renamed it Retaliation. Steel Will seemed weak, so I added saving throws against being charmed to the mix (Rangers can probably resist fey charms as well as scary beasts). Multiattack got a little less power in exchange for a little more flexibility and reliability.
Homebrewers have a lot of complaints about the core Beastmaster. I concede two of them: The restriction against Large beasts is odd. A Ranger can't have a horse for a companion? Also, while I think Wizards was right to be concerned with how companions mess with the game's action economy, the way they put those concerns into practice is pretty goofy. As written, the Ranger's companion won't even attack to defend itself unless the Ranger tells it to. The tweaks I made reflect these concerns.
Some people think the companion is fragile in combat, but it does get some advancement, and I'd rather not mess with it unless I have a clearer idea of the problem. Similarly, some people think the ranger should be able to get higher-level companions. I disagree. The idea of dumping one's companion when a higher-level one becomes available is both odd and antithetical to the theme of building a lifelong bond with one's faithful animal friend. "Sorry, Silver old pal, but it's time to trade up for a griffon." If you really want a beast that's higher that CR 1/4, the DMG has guidelines for leveling a beast down.
Higher level Beastmaster powers instead focus on strengthening this bond through semi-mystical means. Basically, friendship is magic.
Why on earth didn't Wizards do something like this with the Ranger and spellcasting in the first place? They knew that Rangers and magic were a controversial proposition, but they also had the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster as models for how to resolve the controversy.
Anyway, I'm really darned pleased with this. I didn't just want an Eldritch Knight with nature spells, so I was trying to think of what a magic Quarry Ranger would be like. Well obviously, it pursues its quarry magically! I incorporated Primeval Awareness into the archetype, basing it off a skill check so it could be used without spell slots (I hope I made the section explaining DCs simple enough, but it remains a concern for me), and tying it to the Quarry and Favored Enemy features. Hills Have Eyes is a favorite that really hammers home the idea of a magical tracker for me. Being able to cast Conjure Animals sort-of at-will is an idea taken from the UA Spell-less Ranger, plus it's meant to be the rough equivalent of the Hunter's multiattack. At 15th level the Watcher gets both magical poultices and the ability to scry using Hills Have Eyes. I think the former is a bit weak and the latter a bit strong, so I hope it's not too much in combination.
Casting rituals instead of spells is one of the ideas I got from Chris Delvo. The ritual list is basically all the ritual spells the ranger has, plus Find Familiar so the Watcher gets a quasi-companion. The Watcher also gets a few druid cantrips. And look! We've got a half-caster that doesn't require spell slots, or points, or any Vancian trappings, just as it was foretold!
Thank you for enduring this lengthy design diary. Again, if you have any thoughts, or just like what you see, please leave a comment! I would definitely appreciate it.