Let's Play...A Low Wisdom Ranger
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today we're looking at the ranger class, and while we could do a low Dexterity Ranger, the truth is that there are lots of ways to play high-Strength rangers, so instead we're looking at a ranger that may not have the best perception or spellcasting.
As always we'll start by looking at the high concept of the character, and then take a look at how to make this character effective for a party of adventurers. It is also worth noting that there were pretty substantial changes to the ranger class with the release of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, so we will be making notes about variant ranger options as necessary below.
I. Character Concept
Rangers represent martial warriors that are in-tune with nature, using the strength of the world around them in conjunction with their martial skills. Whether they have a pet companion or go it alone, rangers act in conjunction with nature.
But that doesn't mean they are the best trackers in the world: they might just enjoy communing with it, much like we saw with the druids a few months back. So the ranger we are building is not a savvy woodsman: he feels comfortable in nature and makes his way in it, but doesn't master it.
On a related note, the ranger class is experienced in a specific environment, but with how different these environments are (and how few you gain your benefits in even by 20th level), it's not unreasonable for the ranger to be in a place they don't know well. So even if they are masters of a specific area of nature, that does not indicate that our ranger is well versed in the area where our story takes place.
II. Character Build
So to start off, since we don't have a high Wisdom score, we could choose proficiency (and possibly even expertise if you use the variant rules for rangers from Tasha's) in Perception or Survival, but we're not going to for this build. Again, that's not the ranger we are building. Instead, I recommend putting it into your Nature skill, so that if you need to recognize a plant or animal you can.
We will still take a high fighting stat (either Strength or Dexterity), but we'll go with Dexterity just to help our Armor Class. We will also take a good Constitution score to insure that we can survive more than a few hits, and then we can go for a good Intelligence score to insure that we properly identify things along the way. And this is far better than your average ranger can do, as we have proficiencies and such free to accompany our higher score.
From a martial perspective we will not be changing anything, though our spell choices will vary. First, I actually don't recommend taking Hunter's Mark. It's not a bad choice here as it doesn't improve or weaken based on our Wisdom score, but I'm personally just not a fan of the spell. I don't think you get enough out of it for what you expend.
Instead, for 1st level spells I'd take Absorb Elements for damage mitigation, Goodberry to heal yourself or party members between combats, and Fog Cloud for battlefield control. If you feel like spicing it up, consider taking Zephyr Strike so that you can keep shooting with your longbow or crossbow forever regardless of who engages you.
As you advance to 2nd level slots normally we would prepare spells like Healing Spirit because they are great value, but in our case we don't get a lot of value out of it, so good news: we're just going to stick with Goodberry. Be the field medic outside of combat, but don't invest too heavily. Instead we want spells like Spike Growth and Pass without Trace, with Lesser Restoration as a backup option in case you need it, but it's okay if you don't find space to prepare it.
For 3rd level spells you can take a spell like Flame Arrows or Lightning Arrow if you'd like, but personally I think you're best off by sticking with a summoning spell like Conjure Animals. It doesn't require your spellcasting stat to be very high, we don't want to waste our concentration, and we are passing up using spells like Spike Growth to use the spell, so it should be helpful. And what's not to love about summoning a handful of useful minions that can deal damage and absorb impact for us?
For 4th level spells we have a pretty limited set of options, mostly because the spells are either underpowered for their level (Grasping Vine should be better - more on that in a future post as we fix 4th level spells) or they only get good if you have a good spellcasting stat. For us we have an obvious first choice: Conjure Woodland Beings. Because why wouldn't we want dryads or faeries to guard us as we make our way through the forest? It's by far the best choice for our theme, and by far the best option at this level anyway.
And then finally for 5th level spells we have a good list of options and you can basically choose whatever meets your fancy, because all of them are at least decent. Personally I would stay away from Steel Wind Strike since your spell hit chance is not great, so it's probably a poor option for this character. But all of them have their uses; I personally like Tree Stride for use in and out of combat.
The big thing to remember about this style of ranger is that your magic is going to be more commonly used for utility instead of damage, thanks to our lower modifier. But in reality ranger magic has always been best at support magic anyway (I'm less than impressed with most of the arrow-based spells which is most of the damage spells for rangers), so just lean into that with this character.
And that's it - no other major changes. The irony of building a ranger is that as long as you have a good attack stat you pretty much have everything you need for a good ranger; the spells just add onto what you do.
It's strange: Wisdom is supposed to be a critical stat for rangers, but in reality you don't need a good Wisdom stat to make a ranger work, as most of your spells don't actually add your Wisdom modifier. Sure, it means you will need a party member to cover Perception checks for you and you probably don't want to prep Cure Wounds, but that's easily taken care of by the party. And seriously: how many rangers prepare Cure Wounds anyway?
So consider going for a lower Wisdom score, and instead placing those points in a stat you'll use more often, like Intelligence for skill checks or Strength for athletic rolls and potentially your melee weapon attacks.
Until next time,