The Ranger Class, Part Five

The Ranger Class, Part Five

After a week off to write some creepy spells, I’m back to talking about rangers here in History of the Classes. This time around, I’m looking at the Scout class of 3.5’s Complete Adventurer and the ranger class of Pathfinder. The former is a related concept with very different mechanics and combat role, while the latter is a conscious effort to fix the problems of the 3.5 Ranger class, within the mechanically dense Pathfinder design environment.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


The Scout

This class threads the eye of the needle between the ranger and the rogue, borrowing heavily from each and being easily enough mistaken for a multiclassed Ranger/Rogue:

  • The d8 Hit Die splits the difference between the rogue’s d6 and the ranger’s d10. (Or it acknowledges that 3.x rogues were probably made more fragile than they should have been, if you have the benefit of 5e and hindsight.)
  • They have the skill points and range of class skills of a rogue, but with a few of the ranger skills replacing rogue skills. Not giving them Open Lock or Disable Device undermines their apparent intent to replace the party rogue and makes one wonder why they even have
    • I have never seen a class need the players to max out Tumble quite as strenuously as this one, up to and including thief-acrobats.
      • Thief-acrobats, by the way? Never getting their own History of the Classes series, until and unless the Tribality Patreon climbs to 50 patrons and, let’s say, $300 a month. Your move, internet.
    • Their weapon and armor proficiencies are quite restrictive, though a brief study of the class reveals that all weapon proficiencies that are not the shortbow are unnecessary, and non-light armor would be the opposite of useful.
    • They share a base attack bonus and saving throw progression with the rogue, except that they also get a midrange Fortitude progression as a class feature. That is to say, a total bonus of +3 to Fortitude and initiative checks while wearing light or no armor and not encumbered.
      • I get that they want scouts not to wear non-light armor, but does it really make any sense for them to be more susceptible to things that force Fortitude saves if they are wearing armor? Taking away an initiative boost, sure, whatever.
      • This is the kind of “just push the numerical progression” that Pathfinder and 4e double down on, and that 5e largely drops. From a 5e perspective, it looks a lot like filler for dead levels.
    • Skirmish is the heart of the Scout class in the same way that Sneak Attack is the heart of the 3.x Rogue class. It grants a damage kicker (starting at 1d6 and scaling up to 5d6) on attacks after the scout has moved 10 feet in the round; it also grants a scaling AC bonus.
      • I appreciate the desire to seriously push skirmishing combat. This suffers all of the problems of 3.x Sneak Attack (life is not super fun if the campaign involves lots of undead, constructs, et cetera), but deals less damage when it does It’s easier to work with than playing a straight-up bow rogue and trying to get Sneak Attack damage within 30 feet, except for all those opportunity attacks you’re avoiding or sucking up if it’s a close-quarters fight or someone does get to you in melee.
    • Trapfinding is here to taunt the scout for not having Disable Device as a class skill. You can find high-DC traps like a real rogue, and then do nothing about them. There’s not even a Trap Sense feature to help you avoid them.
    • Battle Fortitude I’ve already mentioned, but it’s a small, scaling bonus to Fortitude and initiative checks while lightly armored and not heavily encumbered. A heavily encumbered scout has almost no class features.
    • Uncanny Dodge does what Uncanny Dodge always does.
    • Fast Movement would be pretty good if it weren’t so trivial compared to the monk. It fits the theme and all – it should probably just be a little more impressive, if they want to define movement as essential to the scout.
    • Trackless Step is lifted from the druid.
      • This highlights the oddities of what they did and didn’t give the scout from other, related classes. Why aren’t they trackers by default? Why is the druid better at evading pursuit than the ranger is at picking it up? It’s not like there’s a robust tracking metagame here, but these seem like strange choices nonetheless.
    • Five bonus feats, spread out over 20 levels. The list of options for these feats are thematically pretty narrow, emphasizing that the scout is about one playstyle rather than a variety.
    • The rogue gets this at 2nd, the ranger at 9th… so giving it to the scout at 5th constitutes averaging and rounding down.
    • Flawless Stride is here because Woodland Stride leaves out some potential cases, such as non-natural terrain. A literal reading (which would not be my interpretation as DM) suggests that as long as it counts as difficult terrain, scouts can walk on lava. Because they didn’t exactly make rules on whether lava required a Swim check to navigate… and lava might be shallow enough that it doesn’t need a Swim check. Really, though, this is obnoxious only in its effort to one-up Woodland Stride.
    • Camouflage shows up here – five levels earlier than the ranger gets it. This reads like being better than the ranger at ranger-ing. Thumbs down.
    • Blindsense out to 30 feet. Saves some time on dice rolls to Spot and Listen… but if you’re not maxing out Spot and Listen anyway, you might be a bad scout.
    • Hide in Plain Sight – three levels earlier than the ranger gets it. You can guess how I feel about that.
    • Free Movement, a passive freedom of movement effect as long as the scout isn’t wearing the wrong armor or carrying too much baggage. To be fair, getting locked down is the worst thing that can happen to a scout.
    • Blindsight finishes it out. This is really good, but not egregious enough to be an objectionable 20th-level ability, really.

That is a lot of frickin’ class features, and bringing it all together, it’s one way to build a non-spellcasting ranger. It also sacrifices a lot of the ranger’s versatility, with less-impressive melee weapon and melee feat options, some loss of hit points, and so on, but it certainly covers the Skirmisher and Wanderer aspects that Mearls highlighted. Guardian, not so much. I think it would be hard to make two scouts all that different from one another, and I think that’s a shame.

The other thing I see here is a rework of the ranger, with the benefit of two more years of development and a greater willingness to step on other classes’ toes. On the other hand, Skirmish signals a design shift toward actively shaping play with the restrictions and requirements of an ability. Its emphasis on movement around the battlefield makes it a Missing Link between the 3.x Ranger and the 4e Ranger (and, arguably, the 4e Warlock’s Shadow Walk). I’m sorry to say it, but that’s the only new or important idea here.


Pathfinder’s Ranger

I mentioned the scout being a re-imagining of the ranger with the benefit of two more years of development. Pathfinder’s ranger is even more so, if still shackled to some of the thematic points and key class features of the original, and greatly bolstered by two little system changes called Perception and Stealth. That is to say, rangers take back two skill points per level that they no longer need to spend to be on par. In essence, it’s like giving them two new skills.

Before getting into special class features, there’s only one other change to the ranger: the spell progression is faintly more generous starting at 9th level. This isn’t a big deal; rather, it’s interesting how little of the most basic elements of the class Pathfinder changes. Likewise, the text for Favored Enemy is a copy-paste, if you allow for the aforementioned Perception and Stealth change.

Track is not a feat in Pathfinder, but a core Survival function, and rangers receive a sizable bonus to that one function. It’s still a table lookup of multiple modifiers, but that aspect of 3.x is not something Pathfinder was ever going to abandon.

  • Favored Terrain is new-ish. I mean, it’s an idea that has shown up elsewhere, to be sure, but in Pathfinder it’s a core part of the ranger, and grants some initiative and skill check bonuses, as well as Trackless Step for that terrain. Good support for the Exploration pillar of play, but not exciting beyond granting more pluses.
    • Much like the oft-mentioned issues with Favored Enemy, a lot of what’s happening is that, by process of elimination, you’re defining places where you aren’t a real ranger. Eventually you get four terrains out of eleven, so this “feature” erodes the ranger more than it improves them.
  • The Advanced Player’s Guide opens up more combat style supports for the ranger’s virtual feats, adding six more styles to the core archery and two-weapon fighting options. All I can say to this is, “About damn time.” D&D’s failure to do the same in a robust way continues to vex me.
  • Hunter’s Bond grants an animal companion or lets the ranger’s hatred flow through him and grant half his favored enemy bonus to nearby allies. Pathfinder’s animal companion scaling is (ranger level -3) rather than half your ranger level – this does a lot to make animal companions viable in combat at 7th level and above. Letting your allies deal more damage is good too, though.
  • Quarry lets the ranger really focus his hate on one individual of his favored enemies, gaining an attack bonus, automatic confirmation of critical threats, and more skill bonuses.
    • Hot tip: what the ranger did not need was to lose more class features if the DM didn’t use creatures from their favored enemy list.
  • Camouflage now works only in your favored terrains, rather than only in natural environments. This is a pretty serious reduction, since eight or nine of the terrain types are natural.
  • Improved Quarry is exactly what it says on the tin. Quarry, with bigger numbers and fewer restrictions.
  • Master Hunter replaces Swift Tracker completely and grants a save-or-die attack against favored enemies. I don’t know enough about Pathfinder’s metagame to guess whether a DC 23-ish Fortitude save is a serious threat to the monsters you’re likely to see as a 20th-level ranger; based on my experience of 3.x, I’m guessing it’s not.

The Pathfinder ranger has a lot more class features. That’s about all I can say for it; this class exemplifies the fundamental problems that I have with Pathfinder. Sorry, Pathfinder fans. It corrects for some of 3.x’s superficial problems, but doubles down on the ranger’s vulnerability to un-favored enemies and terrain. When everything is going the ranger’s way, they’re devastating. No other class is as dependent on going on the kinds of adventures they’re built to handle, or makes lasting choices with as little basis.

By doubling down on the favored enemy function, Pathfinder and 3.x emphasize rangers as a walking hate crime. I didn’t grasp, before I sat down to write this, just how tedious the favored enemy choices are, and how poorly they drive interesting gameplay decisions or reflect class theme. In OD&D and 1e, where they reflect the border warden theme, I can give Favored Enemy rules a pass even as I think they could be done better, but 2e broke that model, and no later edition has repaired it. Really fix it, or really deep-six it, but keeping it for legacy reasons is just bad.



Mearls has suggested that 3.x was an era in which ranger design floundered, as everyone else started borrowing the ranger’s tricks and no one came up with something new and distinctive to replace it. The scout has almost nothing outside of its core gameplay loop of mobile archery. It’s a fighting style, not a class with something to offer in varied situations. The Pathfinder ranger has Skirmisher and Wanderer more or less covered, but Guardian doesn’t see a lot of support in its mechanics. It’s interesting, at least, how much of the PF ranger’s function is outside of combat, or specifically for avoiding combat. Neither of them offer a vision of the ranger to clarify the murky question, “What is a ranger?”

Next up in History of the Classes, we move into 4e and Essentials, and later on down the line, I want to touch on the rangers of 13th Age and Dungeon World… oddly similar as they are.


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Brandes Stoddard enjoys games of many kinds: video, tabletop, board, card, and live-action games. He runs Dust to Dust, a fantasy LARP in Georgia, and works in freelance game design and writing. He blogs about games at