Perhaps the most important element of the Player's Handbook revision was addressing inequalities between the various classes. Though opinions on the topic varied wildly, there was a general agreement that some of the classes needed significant help to bring them up to par with the other classes. The class that generated the greatest call for revision was the ranger.
Thanks in large part to its strong association with popular heroes such as Aragorn, Robin Hood, and Drizzt Do'Urden, the ranger occupies a special place in the hearts of many D&D players. The image of a hardy, self-sufficient wilderness warrior is a strong one, and the class has a long history in D&D. But despite having some cool abilities in 3rd edition, the latest incarnation of the class failed to capture fully the imaginations and hearts of the players. Worse yet, it felt to many like the barbarian's weak cousin, as that class had much more potently captured the image described above. Something had to be done about this.
I started by examining the class's characteristics to determine what role the ranger was trying to fulfill in a typical group of adventurers. With his d10 Hit Die, good base attack bonus, and good Fortitude saves, he looked a lot like the fighter, suggesting that he was intended to serve primarily as a combatant. Though proficient with both light and medium armor as well as shields, the ranger's default protection was light armor, as anything heavier denied access to his two-weapon fighting ability. This tactic also precluded common use of a shield. In effect, the typical ranger was trying to stand next to the fighter, but with an AC anywhere from 4 to 6 points lower. Worse yet, the ranger's default combat style carried with it a -2 penalty to attacks and a reliance on lighter weapons, meaning the ranger dealt out less damage on average than a typical fighter unless fighting a favored enemy. In effect, the role of "tough warrior of the wilderness" was filled not by the ranger, but by the barbarian, who had better hit points, AC, and damage-dealing capability.
The ranger also had a decent skill selection, with 4 skill points to spend at each level and a lengthy list of class skills. However, one of these skill points was "taken" every level to enable another class feature (since the Track feat required a good Wilderness Lore skill modifier to function well), meaning the character had only 3 discretionary points to spend. With useful and/or symbolic skills such as Animal Empathy, Climb, Handle Animal, Hide, Intuit Direction, Knowledge (nature), Listen, Move Silently, Search, and Spot all vying for the character's attention, most rangers simply didn't have the skill points to properly fill the role of "skilled hunter and stalker" as described in the Player's Handbook. Even with the addition of the ranger's minor spellcasting ability, the class just couldn't keep up with the other classes in terms of overall contribution to the party's success.
In the end, I decided that the class had to move away from being a front-line fighter -- a role already competently filled by the fighter, paladin, and barbarian -- and toward being a skilled skirmisher -- a role currently occupied by only the rogue and monk.
I started with the Hit Die. For most players, the d10 Hit Die sends a clear signal that "this class is about melee combat." While the ranger is a competent warrior, I think many players overestimate his abilities in front-line combat due to that Hit Die. In dropping it to d8, we aimed to change the default view of the ranger from front-line fighter to skirmisher (much like the monk). That said, the loss of hit points isn't as severe as it would appear -- it's really a perception shift more than a reality shift. Over the course of 20 levels, an average ranger will have only a mere 21 fewer hit points than a fighter or paladin with the same Constitution. At any given level, that's only about 12 to 18 percent deficit (and the higher the Constitution score, the lower the percentage difference). In part to make up for that loss, we gave the ranger a good Reflex save. This not only meant the ranger would be losing fewer hit points to most magical attacks than the fighter (thanks to more successful Reflex saves), but it also established the ranger's saves as different from any other class.
In conjunction with that change, we wanted to give the ranger who chose to avoid melee combat another option. To accomplish this, we added a second "fighting style" track -- archery -- to parallel the ranger's two-weapon fighting style. This also achieved a goal of making the "bow-hunting ranger" a more common (and viable) character archetype. The fighting style also shifted to 2nd level, to reduce the front-loaded nature of the class.
Another significant shift came with skills. At 4 points per level, the ranger competed on even terms with the barbarian, but couldn't hope to compare to the rogue. Increasing this number to 6 per level, while simultaneously reducing the number of skills the ranger wanted to spend points on (by folding Intuit Direction into the Wilderness Lore skill, later renamed Survival, and by making Animal Empathy a class feature), meant that rangers could cover the skills necessary to be a true hunter. It also reduced the ranger's incentive to multiclass with rogue for extra skill points.
After the major changes were done, I rounded out the class with a few other details. He lost medium armor proficiency, since most rangers weren't interested in wearing medium armor anyway. With a high Reflex save, many rangers would be interested in picking up a couple levels of rogue for evasion. To reduce the frequency of this "no-brainer" decision, the ranger picked up evasion as a 9th-level class feature. His favored enemy bonus increased, making it a more significant part of his abilities, and also became more flexible, allowing a ranger to select and improve on his ability to fight tough opponents at higher levels. Finally, the ranger spell list picked up a few more spells, making that ability more attractive for use.
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