Pathfinder Class Analysis 8: Ranger

Paizo's Iconic Ranger
Paizo’s Iconic Ranger

Core Concept: Who, honestly, doesn’t love rangers? They’re the loner badasses that we all role played as back when we were more interested in power fantasies than we were with a challenging game. But unlike our characters who never left the shadowy corner of the bar (save when they were killing people with an impossibly fast, double-bladed sword slice to the throat), rangers are at least a little grounded.

You know, much as I love magic users, I think the classes I find the most personally appealing are the grittier ones. The ones with dirt under their fingernails and callouses on their hands. The fighters, the rangers, the rogues.

Which is funny because I’m a pudgy guy who avoids sunlight, dislikes manual labor, and has frequently been accused of having ‘lady hands.’

Favored Enemy: More than anything else, the favored enemy mechanic defines the ranger class for me. It’s perfectly suited to a fantasy world’s exaggeration of a hunter, and it provides each ranger with an interesting motivation.

It’s also totally xenophobic, but in an awesome way.

Track: Like favored enemy, the ability to track an inherent part of the ranger class. Unfortunately, Pathfinder ties it into the broken skills system, which in turn breaks this ability. And while I think it’s valuable for track to have a failure chance, there’s no need to make it as complicated as the skills system.

I’d prefer something on order of using scaling dice for difficulty. 1d12 for easy, 1d10 for moderately difficult, 1d8 for very difficult, and 1d6 for hard. The GM picks a number within the die’s range, and the player rolls that die. If they land on the number the GM was thinking of, the GM gives them the wrong direction. If they land on any other number, the ranger succeeds. No checking the character sheet for bonuses, or trying to figure out what bonuses apply to which action. Just a single, quick, die roll.

Wild Empathy: Wild Empathy suffers from the same issue that Track does. It’s good that a ranger is able to soothe wild beasts and become friendly with them, it’s a bad thing that this ability must be tied to the broken skills system.

As an idea, assume that reaction is being handled with an oldschool 2d6 reaction roll. If the creature is a wild animal, a ranger may attempt to empathize with the animal, which would call for a second reaction roll, and the better of the two would be used. Starting at 3rd level, the ranger could add 1/3 of their level to the second reaction roll. (+1 at 3rd level, +2 at 6, so on until reaching +6 at level 18).

Combat Style Feat: This one makes me feel conflicted. On the one hand, I’ve reached a point where I honestly don’t like having the player make choices about their build. I’ve found that basically no player I’ve ever played with actually likes it. Most view it as a chore, while only an obsessive few (like me) ever claim to have fun ‘working on their build.’

On the other hand, this is a very simple, very cool choice which must only be made once, and has a dramatic effect on the character’s progress: do you want to be a two-handed fighter, or an archer? It’s also relevant to note that (unlike most character build choices) this decision is not about comparing specific abilities, it’s about defining the type of character you want to play.

With a gun to my head*, I’d say this is a pretty good ability.

*It sounds more interesting than “With a self-imposed deadline to my head.”

Endurance: The feat is well suited to rangers, though it’s stupidly complicated. It gives so many minor and circumstantial bonuses that I doubt anyone ever remembers to use anything other than the ability to sleep in armor without becoming fatigued. Which, to be fair, makes good sense for the ranger.

Favored Terrain: Hands down, one of the best changes made in the switch to Pathfinder. Holy fuck on a fucka-fuck, do I love favored terrain. This is on par with the fighter’s ability to become more proficient in the use of armor.

Hunter’s Bond: There’s not a lot to say about this ability which I haven’t already said before. It’s another ability which asks the player to choose between a pet, or something easier to track than a pet. My response is the same as it was for the Druid and the Paladin: make pets simpler.

To make matters worse, the ranger’s alternative to a pet is essentially the same as the Paladin ability “Aura of Justice,” which I also didn’t like. So that’s just stacking bad on top of bad.

Spells: As I mentioned in the Paladin analysis yesterday, there’s no reason for rangers to have spells. Rangers are men and women of great skill, not of magic. I would even argue that ranger spells diminishes the class, because it implies that all ranger abilities might be somehow bolstered by magic.

Even the most popular modern representation of a ranger, the much-maligned Drizzt Do’Urden, has no magical abilities. And he’s explicitly a ranger within a Dungeons and Dragons game world.

Woodland Stride: Rangers ignore underbrush. This is a good mechanic, no change needed.

Swift Tracker: This ability fails to impress me, but only because it builds on the parts of the tracking ability which I didn’t like. The parts which intersect with the broken skills system. It’s easy to implement into my own system. “If the player moves at their normal speed when tracking, the GM selects two adjacent numbers which would cause failure if rolled. Once a ranger gains the swift tracking ability, this penalty is removed.”

Evasion / Improved Evasion: Holy crap, how many frickin’ classes have this ability? I seriously have nothing to say about it at all. Cut me a break here, Paizo.

Quarry /Improved Quarry: I actually like these abilities. They connect well with other elements of the ranger class, and strengthen the theme of the hunter. But I have one very important question: how do they work? Because they they’re explicitly not magical [they’re marked with (Ex), which means extraordinary ability, which means not magical]

It’s understood how favored enemy works. The character has studied that type of creature, and knows its strengths and weaknesses. But what happens in the space of a standard action (or free action!) which allows the ranger to gain further bonuses against their officially designated Quarry?

Are they noticing a fighting pattern, and a specific way the quarry walks? Is that where they get attack and tracking bonuses from?

Camouflage / Hide in Plain Sight: While these two abilities aren’t really all that similar, I have pretty much the same thing to say about them. They both work sufficiently well, though would be improved by not being tied to the skills system.

Master Hunter: When I first read Pathfinder, I came away with the impression that at level 20, every class gains some manner of ‘instant death’ attack. In re-reading each class for these analyses, I’ve found that impression was more than a little off base. Certainly many classes have a death attack, but many (even most) do not. In fact most capstone abilities are pretty flavorful, and the ranger’s is no different. It’s essentially an instant “knockout” attack, useful if the player wishes to capture rather than kill. I like it!

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4 thoughts on “Pathfinder Class Analysis 8: Ranger”

  1. I’ve never been a big fan of rangers having the ability to cast spells either. When I envision a ranger, I get the picture or a dedicated/slightly obsessed hunter who is just as comfortable in the wilderness as he is in a tavern. I don’t envision a forester walking around, slinging druidic spells at things.

    If you’re interested, the New Paths line of PDFs from Kobold Press has one about a spell-less ranger that is pretty good:

  2. Not counting 3rd party things, only 3 of the 20 archetypes by Paizo change anything with the spells. And one of those adds more spells! I agree that I prefer rangers to not be spell casters but I think that the spell list is thematically appropriate most of the time and I can certainly see how the idea of a supernatural hunter can be popular.
    I’ll add that I like rangers having combat style as it makes me think of rangers as really focused on what they do. This goes for I’d personally like some rogue-like abilities added instead of spells, but that’s just my 2cp.

  3. Rangers are probably my favourite class flavour-wise… but the D&D implementation is a bit off. Spellcasting makes no sense, as you say, but there’s more.

    First, favoured enemy. Yes, it’s appropriate for a specialised hunter, but you get this choice at first level. You have to pick a creature type. As a new player itching to hunt down evil monsters, you probably don’t have a clue what these categories refer to – you need to know a bit yourself about D&D monsters. Things like Animal, Undead and Humanoid (elf) are clear enough but what the hell is an Outsider (elemental)? (Answer: something from “outside” the natural world, namely one of the Elemental Planes. Many people who’ve been playing for years won’t have the cosmological knowledge to know that.) What counts as a Humanoid (goblinoid) other than a goblin? And what’s the difference between a goblin and an orc? (They’re the same thing in Tolkien.) Most importantly, will the GM actually send the party anything fitting that description? Just how often do you fight dragons in Dungeons and Dragons? (Answer: actually not that often.) The only way to make a sensible choice is to ask the GM for suggestions, at which point you’re asking for spoilers. This kind of specialisation should be saved for when the player has got a feel for the campaign.

    (Regarding changes from 3.x to PF, I approve of the fact that you no longer need to be evil to choose your own race as a favoured enemy. They’re one of the easiest creatures to get to know intimately, after all, and besides, there are likely going to be *many* human adversaries coming your way.)

    Second, two-weapon fighting style. What has this got to do with rangers? A bow is the quintessential hunter’s weapon; when did they start imitating Gurney Halleck? Letting them wield a torch in their off hand (think Aragorn on Weathertop) is about all I can think of. Sarcastic rumour has it that it was done that way to make Drizz’t a mechanically viable character. Pathfinder actually improves this by making some of the choices relate to shields, which feel far more appropriate to the ranger concept.

    (By the way, there is a non-magical ranger archetype in the Advanced Player’s Guide that replaces spells with “hunter’s tricks”, similar to rogue talents.)

  4. Drizzt Do’Urden does have some magical powers granted not from ranger but faerie fire and darkness and levitaition are still magical in nature though from race

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