As we continue through our series discussing new subclasses for the ranger, we now come to a rather niche (but fun) subclass: the Herdsman. Based off of those heroic examples that slew giants and mighty beasts with skills practiced in the fields, the herdsman is definitely not an overpowered damage option, but what you get in return is a unique and useful gameplay experience that is flavorful and heroic.
Herdsman: Theme and Inspiration
Modeled after David the shepherd, Zipporah the shepherdess, and Shamgar the herdsman from the Holy Bible, as well as Eumaeus the goatherd and Philoetius the cattleherd from The Odyssey, the herdsman is a man or woman from humble beginnings who, through the necessity of protecting (often dumb) animals, has gained a unique set of skills to protect and preserve their friends from danger.
When modeling this subclass, we took a long read through Psalm 23 and noted the qualities of the good shepherd: driving out fear, leading the animals beside still waters, lying down in green pastures, guiding through good paths, comfort through martial prowess and discipline, etc. We also looked at the lifestyle of shepherds and cowpokes to see how this would affect the daily routine, skills, and mindset of a herdsman, and that led to a wide range of ideas that we had to pair down to create this subclass (which is the best problem to have).
It rapidly became apparent, though, that this subclass would have to be different from others (much like the Path of Peace monk that we discussed a few weeks ago), which thankfully opened up room to take some of what we liked and place it earlier at 1st level (albeit with some penalties and restrictions). I don't like placing undo restrictions on anything (which is part of why I built Zurn as a game system instead of just grabbing a D&D module), but in this case, for flavor purposes a few limits had to be placed to achieve what we wanted.
The result is a simple warrior who defends his flock, herd, and friends with a fierce and jealous love, dealing the damage we love from the ranger.
You can find the details of the subclass here, easily printable for your game master to consider if desired thanks to the team at Homebrewery. Like the Path of Peace monk you take this subclass at 1st level instead of at 3rd level, and it comes with a few big restrictions, but compensates for this with some bonuses. First, you are not allowed to take martial weapons, so no longbows, no rapiers, and really none of the common weapons you tend to see being used by rangers.
In exchange, you get proficiency with Constitution saving throws to keep you healthy in the elements, and the damage of your simple weapons increases by one step, so your d4 weapons (like clubs, daggers, and slings, all of which are very thematic) are increased to d6s, your d6s increase to d8s (so your shortbow is kept on-par with the longbow if you want to play a shooting character), and your d8s (which is basically just two-handed clubs, light crossbows, and versatile spears and staves, which are thematic for the herdsman) are increased to d10s (which is on-par with versatile martial weapons like battleaxes, longswords, and war hammers). So even though you don't get access to martial weapons, you are not at a disadvantage compared to other rangers.
And of course, if you wanted a shortsword, longsword, or longbow from a theme perspective, you can always take 1) a Wood Elf, or 2) the Weapon Master feat if you wanted. Similarly if you want proficiency with an axe, you can take a dwarf (or the Weapon Master feat). But since those are rarely used thematically by herdsmen, we've restricted it to simple weapons at its base to maintain the theme.
As you progress you gain the ability to ward away damage from allies, being able to cast the Sanctuary spell on allies up to your Wisdom modifier without spending spell slots (or at will, if casting on a beast), allowing you to protect fragile allies that are not attacking. This is pretty niche, though if the party is riding on mounts this is a great way to keep the mount from being slaughtered, let alone any hounds used to smell/hear for danger while you sleep. It also works on Beastmaster Ranger companions, other animals the party might have around, or sleeping companions if you are keeping watch at night. And since this is cast on a bonus action, you can ward damage from an ally while still attacking for the turn.
The subclass then doubles down on the wary nature and heightened perception of the herdsman who is looking for threats to the flock, allowing you to add or subtract 2 from your initiative rolls (allowing you to go before or after people in the group), and you are immune to the Surprised condition so long as you are conscious.
Your next ability starts with a niche/roleplay ability (you can long rest in 4 hours, not 8 hours), but this niche ability has great synergy within the subclass because it shrinks the timeframe in which you are not conscious during the day (enhancing your immunity to Surprised). You also increase your weapon damage by another step, so your d6 weapons are d8s, your d8s are d10s, and your d10s are d12s. So for those trying to be thematic in taking spears (as ox goads) or staves, you can deal high-end damage like a martial weapon, and for those that want to use shortbows or slings, you can still deal the damage that is expected of you without using a martial weapon.
And to cap off the subclass, your care over the flock has made you fearless, facing the foe with unwavering courage. You are immune to the Frightened condition, and you gain temporary hit points equal to your ranger level at the start of combat so long as you are not surprised (which means if you are conscious you gain the temporary hit points). While your Armor Class will never be particularly high, you do gain a bit of extra resilience to reflect your hardened and calloused nature, which should keep you in the fight in the event that your damage does not fell your foes.
The herdsman is not as good at damage as the hunter (the lack of advantage in this class is huge, reducing the number of times you hit a foe and get to roll damage), but even though it steps into the world with a severe limitation it gets over it while still being thematic and true to the source material. And with the ability to shield allies from attack, even if only for a little while, and the innate sensory bonuses of the ranger class, you have a very unique "party sentry" that can keep watch for dangers on your quest.
Next week we will be finishing the ranger subclasses by looking at a casting-centric subclass, which is currently not present in the game.
Until next time,