See, I told you it wasn’t going to be quite as long until I wrote the next one! If you round in my favor a bit! This time out, we’re doing rangers and rogues, and I don’t have anything witty to offer up-front, so let’s sneak past that and get to the stabbing.
No one goes big on new Optional Class Features in this book quite like the ranger does, though the fighter might edge them out on pure word count. In case you’ve been Hiding in Plain Sight under a rock somewhere for the last almost-seven years, let me just tell you: there are some internet fights about ranger feature design.
Deft Explorer can replace Natural Explorer. Natural Explorer is rife with problems, such as working in only one of eight terrain types at the start of play and improving to only three of eight. It’s good when it works, but that’s not often. Deft Explorer, like pre-Roman Gaul, is divided into three parts.
- Canny at 1st level gives you Expertise (well, doubles your proficiency bonus, they don’t call it Expertise) in one of your proficient skills. Perception, Survival, and Stealth are all strong picks here. You also learn two languages. Y’all know I kick against the proliferation of Expertise, but this is the use case that calls for it: someone who has to be as good as a rogue at skill-driven stuff.
- Roving at 6th increases your speed by 5 and gives you a climbing and swimming speed equal to your walking speed. This looks good on the surface, and becomes great once you dig into the underwater combat rules (which I’ve done only because of working on Under the Seas of Vodari, so I’ll assume you haven’t). Specifically, you no longer have disadvantage on melee attacks with weapons other than dagger, javelin, shortsword, spear, or trident. Admittedly, longbows (no help) and shortswords are two of the most common ranger weapons anyway… but a good solid feature all the same.
- Tireless at 10th level lets you keep yourself going with a surge of temporary hit points. 1d8 + Wisdom modifier, proficiency bonus times per long rest, as an action – it’s less than Second Wind, but you also have cure wounds, so it’s just extra durability when you have a spare action – especially an out-of-combat action. You also get to remove one level of exhaustion each time you finish a short rest, which is incredible. “I can forced-march forever” is absolutely on-theme for T2/T3 rangers.
Favored Foe can replace Favored Enemy, and it explicitly works with Foe Slayer. The issue with Favored Enemy is that it’s a type-limited buff to tracking and lore skills – fine if the adventure calls for it or the DM understands how to support it well, but building your way up to three out of thirteen types is rough. Favored Foe is a quasi-hunter’s mark that you “cast” as part of hitting with an attack. It does require concentration, and you can only cast it proficiency bonus times per long rest. Your first successful attack each turn (only on your turn) against creatures you use it on deals +1d4 damage. It’s interesting, all the ways this is decisively weaker than hunter’s mark, but it’s functionally free damage as long as you didn’t have something else going. Oh, and it improves to 1d6 at 6th level and 1d8 at 14th, so that’s pretty great.
It does help with the bonus action issue of two-weapon fighting – that is, casting hunter’s mark gets in the way of your off-hand attack. Like hunter’s mark, it isn’t useful for Beast Masters – your beast companion is a separate creature from you, and so can’t exploit the damage bonus of either one.
Additional Ranger Spells at 2nd level adds a mix of new spells to the ranger list. They all strike me as things that should have been in from the beginning, which I mean as a positive thematic note.
Fighting Style Options adds Blind Fighting (described in the Fighter article), Druidic Warrior, and Thrown Weapon Fighting (also described in the Fighter article). I absolutely think Interception and Unarmed Fighting are also good additions here, but that’s me, permissive as ever. Anyway, Druidic Warrior grants two druid cantrips, with Wisdom as your spellcasting ability, and lets you swap them out when you gain a ranger level. There are some neat things you can do with this, though they often require more system mastery to spot than 5e often pushes. It’s very opt-in, though, so I can’t get mad about it.
Spellcasting Focus at 2nd level lets you use a druidic focus for spellcasting, instead of non-expensive material components or a spell component pouch. Good inclusion – again feels like it was meant to be there from the beginning.
Primal Awareness can replace Primeval Awareness, the flaws of which Colin covered in greater detail than I will today. Primal Awareness gives you a new spell known at each spell level: speak with animals, beast sense, speak with plants, locate creature, and commune with nature, as you advance. You also get one free casting of each per long rest. It’s replacing one information-gathering feature with another, now in the container of spells. When it comes to information distribution, a larger number of individually smaller things should be more manageable than one big thing, particularly in running published adventures.
Martial Versatility (I said there were a lot of these, right?) is the now-standard option to swap fighting styles when you gain an ASI. Sure, no problem.
Nature’s Veil can replace Hide in Plain Sight. Now, as you’ll recall, Hide in Plain Sight is permission to do a lot of work (1-min cast time) to gain a Stealth buff that you could also gain with a 2nd-level spell (that would still let you move and would apply to the whole party). Sure, you could do it repeatedly, but ask yourself how often the need for that even comes up. With Nature’s Veil, you instead become invisible as a bonus action, proficiency bonus times per long rest. If you’re looking for a ranger that feels nonmagical, well, 10th-level D&D is not the right place.
Beast Master Companions
I’m handling this out of text order because, for the purposes of this breakdown, I think it makes a little more sense here. Let’s look back in comparison before we look forward in new subclasses.
Primal Companion can replace Ranger’s Companion. You’re basically trading your flesh-and-blood beast for a magically-summoned one, chosen from Beast of the Land, Sea, or Sky. It’s important to remember that this only replaces the Ranger’s Companion feature, so everything else in Beast Master stands. The key changes:
- As I said, only three creature types. No more hunting through monster books for a better beast. It’s a reduction of system-mastery burden.
- You can change out your beast when you finish a long rest.
- The beast vanishes when you die.
- If the beast dies, you can expend a 1st-level slot and an action to bring it back to 1 hit point.
- Its actions are still constrained. If you don’t give it a command, it just takes the Dodge action, moves, and can use its reaction. You can do a lot worse than positioning it in a place you want to block and having it make opportunity attacks and take up space. That’s probably not why you’re in this subclass, though.
- You command it to do whatever as a bonus action (overwriting the first part of Exceptional Training); each Beast has its own attack option. You can sacrifice one of your attacks to have the beast use the Attack action. Bestial Fury plugs into this at 11th level so that the beast attacks twice.
- For a second there I lost track of the fact that the beast still only gets one action per round, so you can’t command it to take the Attack action both as part of your Attack and as your bonus action. Thanks, mystery helper who straightened that out!
- So your attack routine: at 3rd, you attack once, your beast attacks once as a bonus action. At 5th, you attack once, beast attacks once, you take a bonus action, or you attack twice, beast attacks once. At 11th, you attack once, beast attacks twice, you take a bonus action, or you attack twice, beast attacks twice. (Side note, this functionally protects your ability to cast a spell without sacrificing your beast’s turn.)
- Just to keep hammering at this: the changes are that you can command it to Attack as a bonus action, and that none of beast options have Multiattack natively.
- It still does its own thing (commanded by you, the player) if you’re incapacitated.
- Beast stat blocks have their own hit point scaling, and each one has its own Thing: Charge, Amphibious, and Flyby. Beast of the Sky loses out a little on damage and toughness, but it’s vastly superior scouting, like you’d expect.
I spent a lot of text trying to explain the differences here, both because I think they’ll improve the ranger’s play experience, and because they do take some deep reading to understand.
Subclass time! We start with a ranger that is horny on main.
(Ahem. Horns or antlers sprouting from your head is one of six suggested outward manifestations of your inward fey.)
Anyway, I hope no one here is the least bit surprised that I am all about this fey content.
- Dreadful Strikes adds 1d4 psychic damage to your weapon strikes. The target can take this damage only once per turn, which seems to say that you can deal extra damage multiple times per turn if you spread your attacks out rather than focusing fire. Not sure I’ve seen a lot of damage adds that reward spreading attacks – I’m into it. The damage add scales up to d6 at 11th
- Fey Wanderer Magic adds new spells known, as we now expect from ranger subclasses. (This was a key design change between the PH and XGTE, for those joining the show already in progress.) The spells chosen here are all things D&D regards as sort of Classic Fey Bullshit (charms and teleportation effects), plus dispel magic. You also get a cool magical visual effect, to lean into the subclass’s sense of wonder or (for a couple of them) dread.
- Otherworldly Glamour (still 3rd level here) lets you add your Wisdom modifier to Charisma checks (because they know rangers never have a spare good score for Cha), and grants proficiency in Deception, Performance, or Persuasion (because they know rangers don’t get Cha skills).
- I hadn’t thought about it before now, but it’s kind of weird to me that Intimidation isn’t a ranger class skill. I think of it as the go-to Charisma skill for fighters and everything fighter-adjacent – and everyone needs at least one Charisma option for interaction scenes. I’m enough of a 2e kid at heart that classes are still sorted into the Warrior, Rogue, Mage, and Priest buckets in my head.
- Beguiling Twist at 7th level grants advantage on saves against charm and frightening effects, and when you or a creature within quite a large area succeeds a save vs charmed or frightened, you can choose another target. This might be redirecting an effect used against you or an ally, or it might be a charm/fear effect that an enemy resisted. If a creature fails this new save, you can choose between charmed and frightened – you don’t keep the original effect.
- I’d really like to use this in place of the Archfey warlock’s Beguiling Defenses, because… man, even an Archfey shouldn’t trust their most dedicated servants enough to make them immune to their primary form of influence and control. (Also, as you have no doubt heard, I hate passive immunities.)
- Fey Reinforcements at 11th level teaches you the summon fey spell, and it teaches you a variant of the spell that lasts for just 1 minute and doesn’t require concentration. Summon fey is one of the new spells found in this book, so I’ll be covering it later. At 11th level, its combat strength is probably a nice-to-have more than a huge tilt to a combat.
- Misty Wanderer at 15th level gives you a bunch of extra uses of misty step per long rest, and you can bring a friend with you. We’ve gotten so used to proficiency bonus as the main scaling function in TCOE that I was surprised to see this feature use Wisdom. It’s not wrong, of course –scaling off proficiency bonus is not particularly meaningful for a feature you don’t gain until 15th
This is a magic-focused ranger, aesthetically if not practically similar to the Horizon Walker. A damage add that doesn’t eat up your bonus action every round is great, and I expect that “listening for” successful saves against charm and fear for Beguiling Twist would be a fun sideline during play to mess with enemies. It’s also interesting to see a ranger, of all things, that is the perfect partner for an Enchanter wizard.
You might say something about this subclass really bugs me. Gives me hives. Flies in the face of good taste.
But really it just makes me imagine gnats in south Georgia, and jokes (that aren’t jokes) about how you wave “hello” there – swatting away the gnats from in front of your face.
- Gathered Swarm is the defining feature of the whole subclass. A swarm of nature spirits (with a d4 list of suggested appearances) is constantly on and around you. After you hit a target with an attack, you can do one of the following, once per turn (no extra action required, which is great for two-weapon rangers!):
- 1d6 piercing damage to the target.
- A 15-ft push to the target, on a failed save.
- A 5-ft push to you.
- It’s interesting that pushing yourself 5 ft is treated as equal in power to pushing an enemy 15 ft, but that’s probably got a lot to do with how reach and opportunity attacks create control.
- Swarmkeeper Magic is their extra spells known feature, as you surely expect. In addition to five spells that are… narratively great, actually, it also teaches the mage hand This feature is here to remind you to describe your spellcasting creatively and tie it into your theme… and there’s a sidebar to pound that drum a bit more. Characterization takes work, y’all!
- Writhing Tide at 7th level is, among other things, a viscerally distressing feature name. It grants low-speed flight for 1 minute, about like the bot swarm in Big Hero 6. Because of its low speed, it’s much more an exploration tool than a combat buff, and that’s cool all by itself – though you can also use it as an archery platform to evade melee-only enemies.
- Mighty Swarm at 11th level improves your damage bonus by one die step, adds a knockdown option when you move an enemy, and grants you half cover when you move yourself. All-around solid power boost to your gameplay loop.
- Swarming Dispersal at 15th level is the Imhotep move from The Mummy, where you discorporate into a swarm to reduce damage, and in this case also teleport 30 feet before reappearing. You can use this proficiency bonus times per long rest.
- Thinking for a moment about the rogue’s Uncanny Dodge feature, I’m surprised that Swarming Dispersal grants resistance rather than halving damage – the point of that decision being whether you want the reduction to stack with damage resistance you might already have. Maybe it’s because this is triggered by damage rather than something more specific (such as UD’s an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack), you might also be halving damage with a successful save. Maybe they’re specifically averting halving from a save, halving from resistance, and halving from this feature to leave a 64-point breath weapon dealing just 8 damage.
Overall, I know that the aesthetic of the Swarmkeeper means it’s something that other people will love love love and I probably won’t play. I am such a weirdo about aesthetics when it comes to characters I play. There’s nothing in the world wrong with this subclass on a mechanical or narrative level (that a can of Raid wouldn’t fix… I kid, I kid).
There’s only one new feature for rogues. Short of taking the Assassin back to Vlad Taltos’s School for Useful Murders or giving them a new way to ensure that they gain surprise, I don’t know that they needed much.
Steady Aim lets you burn your bonus action and your movement for the turn to gain advantage on your next attack. This is all about making absolutely sure that rogues can Sneak Attack every round if they want, particularly ranged rogues. (DMs, do yourself a favor and deeply accept that Sneak Attack is assumed, not extra.)
But wait! They completely did revamp the Assassin into something sexier. Somewhere in the Shadowfell, Vax’ildan just received his copy of Tasha’s and is staring at this with a giant “now you release this?” thought bubble. Anyway, it’s a creepy-magic death machine with some necromantic influence. Guaranteed to be popular, almost no matter what the mechanics have to say.
- Whispers of the Dead lets you call up the memories and skills of the dead – one skill or tool proficiency at a time, and you can change out as part of a short or long rest. I like this, not least of which is because I’m currently reading “Penric’s Demon” by Lois McMaster Bujold.
- You should be reading “Penric’s Demon” by Lois McMaster Bujold. It’s collected in the Penric’s Progress anthology, available now from your local bookseller, probably. It has some delightful new spins to offer your sorcerer or warlock roleplay.
- I solemnly promise to remind you about this as often as needed.
- Wails from the Grave lets you splash a portion of your Sneak Attack damage – half your SA dice, rounded up – as necrotic damage, to a second enemy within 30 feet of the first. You can do this proficiency bonus times per long rest.
- The most fascinating thing here is just… the rogue spreading damage around rather than being the absolutely king of focused fire. This feature looks like a lot of fun, in any case.
- Tokens of the Departed at 9th level lets you gather slivers of the souls of people who die near you. (You don’t have the be the one to kill them, and I’m always happy to see D&D avoid that type of on-kill effect.) You have to have a free hand to use this feature, but that’s not a problem for most You can have a number of soul trinkets up to your proficiency bonus (so 4 when you get the feature). They do one passive thing and two active things for you:
- Passive advantage on death saves and Con saves.
- Destroy a soul trinket for a free use of Wails from the Grave. Your murders are a positive feedback loop! (Also I love the heartbreak of using the death of one of your allies to get revenge.)
- Destroy a soul trinket to ask that spirit one question, as per speak with dead. There had to be some form of speak with dead in this subclass, right?
- Ghost Walk at 13th level makes you incorporeal and flying (10-ft speed) for 10 minutes. You don’t reduce damage that you take, but attacks against you have disadvantage. Being incorporeal is an incredible exploration benefit. You get one use per long rest, or you can destroy a soul trinket as part of activating the power to get another use. This sounds like a ton of fun to me.
- Death’s Friend at 17th level gives you two new things:
- First, your Wails from the Grave now deals additional necrotic damage equal to half your SA dice to both the initial target and your secondary target.
- You gain a free soul trinket if you end a long rest and have none.
Welp, I love every part of this. This is going on the list of characters I want to play as soon as possible. Probably the only bad thing about it just… stops working if there’s only one opponent in a combat. DMs, you should mostly not be doing that anyway, but put some extra energy into making sure it doesn’t happen if there’s a Phantom rogue in your game.
Another of Tasha’s psionic subclasses, and look, if you’ve read any of my UA breakdowns that touched on the Soulknife, you’ve already heard every Psylocke joke I’ve got. Sorry, I guess?
- Psionic Power gives you Psionic Energy dice, a number of d6s equal to twice your proficiency bonus. The d6 scales up in size at each of the Tier breaks. You regain expended dice on a long rest.
- Psi-Bolstered Knack adds your PE die to a failed ability check, and is only expended if you flip the failure to success.
- Psychic Whispers establishes a telepathic channel with a number of other creatures equal to your proficiency bonus, for a number of hours equal to your die roll. It has a maximum range of 1 mile, putting me in mind of Leverage earbuds. This telepathy requires some understanding of language, but you don’t have to share a language with the target. The first use of this each day is free, and later uses cost a PE die.
- Psychic Blades is the defining feature of the subclass. When you use the Attack action, you create a psychic blade, or two, out of nothing, and it does 1d6 + your attack stat psychic damage (1d4 + attack stat for offhand). After you attack with it, the weapon vanishes. The offhand attack is a bonus action. So a couple of things about this setup, one of which I utterly spaced on the first dozen times I read this:
- Unless you’re also holding a physical weapon, you’re unarmed when it isn’t your turn, so you can’t make opportunity attacks. This was, I believe, an error, and I hold out some hope that it might get errata’d someday.
- Okay, kinda obvious, but – getting cool magic items for this rogue means going outside what’s currently published, or not using your defining feature. Itemization (by class, prestige class, build, paragon path, subclass) has been messy in basically every edition of D&D, and this is no exception.
- The thing I missed: the Soulknife bonus action attack isn’t two-weapon fighting. It’s a whole separate thing that is Not Two-Weapon Fighting, but is part of the Psychic Blades feature. Which means you add your ability bonus to damage with that offhand attack automatically.
- That matters because without it, the Psychic Blades feature is a downgrade in power from a baseline rogue. As it is, the loss of opportunity attacks and the potential Sneak Attack OA is a big deal, but you “make back” that potential damage in guaranteed output from your offhand attack.
- Whoo, lotta bullet points here. Last thing – psychic blades leave no physical wounds. This means nothing for some games, while being terrifyingly powerful in others, just depending on the kinds of stories you’re telling.
- Soul Blades at 9th level grants you two new ways to spend PE dice:
- Homing Strikes is like Psi-Bolstered Knack, but for attack rolls. Here again, you use them to flip failed attacks to successes, and don’t expend them if you don’t change the result.
- Psionic Teleportation lets you roll a PE die and throw a knife up to 10 ft x the die result to an empty space, teleporting to where the knife lands as a bonus action. Very stylish!
- Psychic Veil at 13th level turns you invisible, as an action, for 1 hour or until you deal damage or force a saving throw. You can do this 1/long rest, or spend a PE die to use it again. This is obviously one of the best possible features for when you know you’re going into a fight, or you’re scouting ahead for the party (since you’ve already got your telepathy rolling anyway).
- Rend Mind at 17th level adds another effect on top of your Sneak Attack: you can force the target to make a Wis save, and they’re stunned for 1 minute (good googly moogly) on a failure. They do still get a save at the end of each turn to break out of the stun, of course. You can use this 1/long rest, or keep going for 3 PE dice per use.
The function of Psychic Blades is enough of a tradeoff that Psi-Bolstered Knack and Psychic Whispers need to be a big part of your fun before 9th level. You’re basically not going to fail ability checks, and that can be incredibly powerful for a rogue. You’re also probably not using Cunning Action much at all, because you want that tasty offhand damage (and almost never NOT landing your Sneak Attack damage in a turn). If you’re sure the campaign will make it to 9th level, this turns pretty amazing, since you’re very possibly only missing with attacks on natural 1s.
That brings us to the end of another breakdown article, with three classes (and the whole rest of the book) to go. I felt like I needed to dig down into the nitty-gritty of what the rules are saying a lot in this one, because some of the whys and wherefores are pretty arcane. In case there’s any doubt in your mind, though, I can still be wrong about this stuff.