Why are Rangers disliked so much as a class by the community? It has bits and pieces of other classes, not quite being casters and not quite being martial classes. It has a little bit of everything with a niche that others can’t quite copy. Let’s get right into it and try to find out what the problem may be.
Since the start of D&D 5e people have had issues with Rangers. When you think of Aragorn from Lord of the Rings you imagine a badass that can track orcs for days, wield a bow as well as a sword, and be able to trek through just about any terrain. A Ranger is supposed to have all the knowledge that it takes to survive in the wilderness. Yet when people play the Ranger class they tend not to feel that way. Why is that? In D&D Rangers can do all the same things that Aragorn can. So what gives? Why doesn’t it feel fun for so many players?
Let me just start by saying I am not here to rag on Rangers, I actually really like the class and have luckily been able to play as one successfully. I also realize there can be a multitude of reasons as to why players have issues with Rangers but I want to try to focus on just a couple of reasons why I think they are viewed as lacking.
What is a rogue good at doing? Picking locks, sneaking around, a bit of a silver tongue, and stabbing people when they least expect it. What are barbarians good at doing? Picking fights, finishing fights, tanking a lot of damage, and of course raging. So when you look at Rangers and see that they focus on tracking enemies and excel at traversing through difficult terrains; I don’t know about you but I’ve heard of few campaigns that have. If you have had said campaigns then that is amazing and kudos to your DM, but if not…then I think we can start to see the problem. And this is in no way blaming the creators of the game, on the contrary, I think they did a magnificent job with this game. But I think the reason the Ranger is lacking in the eyes of so many people is that you don’t often get to explore the main aspects that make them, well, Rangers.
D&D focuses on three main pillars in making the game what it is; exploration, social interaction/role-playing, and combat. Combat and RP tend to be the main stars of the show, this can be seen in many streamed games as well as in many home games. But exploration has always been lacking.
Wizards of the Coast (WotC) even put out an Unearthed Arcana (UA) to try to expand on the exploration aspects in D&D a while back. But exploration as a concept is hard to capture, how does one better show exploration in a game? Sure there are many little things that can be done but it is still hard to put down on paper and explain it to someone. Even Matt Colville said that after years of trying many different things he decided to just skip the exploration aspect in a game (and Colville is a genius so yeah). So if exploration is hard to really pin down and capture in a game then what class suffers the most because of it? Rangers.
Rangers can make checks to determine direction, they can stealth across land travel, and they can move quicker through difficult terrain; but all those things usually happen so quickly that it often feels inconsequential. So it is of my opinion that the pillar of exploration is heavily tied with Ranger and if there’s a lack of exploration in most games, then there is a lacking in the Ranger class. Therefore, giving the feeling that the Ranger class is “underwhelming” and “underpowered”. As long as exploration is treated like the middle child (no offense to middle children, much love) then the Ranger will continue to feel the same way. The Ranger without exploration is no different from having a fast talking and charming bard that is trapped out in the middle of the jungle with no people to talk to… for an entire campaign (although that could make for an interesting mission).
As a player all you need is the right DM and the right campaign but that in itself is also another reason why I think the Ranger feels lacking. And whereas if you are a rogue, wizard, or cleric you can pretty much always fit in any campaign setting. If you are a player who really wants to make a Ranger but you’re worried that it will feel underpowered then you and the DM should talk it out. Working together you can try to work something out that isn’t too much extra work for the DM alone and is also fun for you the player. If you can’t figure something out then that’s okay too, there can always be a different game. Not every DM wants elements of exploration in their campaign and the last thing you want to do is make a Ranger for a campaign that is a city based political drama. This doesn’t make a DM bad either, mind you, it just means they want something else. If you are a DM that needs some tips and ideas on what you can do to make exploration feel better than wait for an upcoming article on Exploration, dropping very soon.
In conclusion, I feel that there is a lack of depth in the pillar of exploration coupled with needing the right campaign and the right DM that makes the Ranger seem like it isn’t as fun to play as other classes. If you’re a player who wants to play a Ranger make sure to communicate your desires and fears about playing the class with your DM. If you’re a DM and you’re running a campaign that would allow some travel and exploration then do your best to try to give them the feeling of being that badass Ranger that tracks and treks like a pro.
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