New: D&D Vale Warden Ranger
As we continue in our D&D series, we are looking at the first of not one, not two, but three new ranger subclasses, which is surprising to those who know me because I don't like the ranger class on the whole. And while generally I don't like the idea of just creating subclasses for the sake of creating subclasses, I discovered that there were several concepts that were clearly "rangers" from history and fiction, and I could not find a way to build them with the current subclasses that exist.
So I doubled down and built them, and the first in this list is the vale warden: the wandering "combined arms" warrior that uses both a melee and a ranged weapon in combination to whittle down and finish a foe.
Vale Warden: Theme and Inspiration
The inspiration for this subclass is the Dunedain Ranger from Tolkien's Middle Earth, a wandering warrior that is skilled in the use of archery and in the use of swordsmanship. While yes, rangers are skilled in the use of both, the Dunedain (as evidenced by Aragorn during the fight at Balin's Tomb in Moria) use a unique combination of shooting missiles to whittle down their foes, and then finishing them off with melee strikes up close.
The ranger as-written is good at melee damage, good at ranged damage, but uses them in isolation: there's no real advantage to combining your types of attacks except inasmuch as you've cast Hunter's Mark and you're trying to maximize your use of that damage. So we wanted to build a character who specifically got better when using his/her ranged prowess and melee deftness in concert together.
In addition, though, I was not pleased with how the ranger class is weaker than the rogue when it comes to mobility (a lower level ability for the rogue gives you a 14th level ranger ability and more). If the ranger is what the description says it is, you should be a highly mobile character in combat, and for the Dunedain we definitely wanted to demonstrate this with the way we built the subclass.
And finally we wanted to improve the damage potential of your spell-based shooting attacks, as they don't scale particularly well at higher levels of play and if you are going to be a character living off of your melee and ranged damage we needed a way to improve your spell attacks to keep track with the damage from your longbow or crossbow or whatever you are using.
And the result is the vale warden, which is where we turn next.
Vale Warden: Mechanics
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. To lead off at 3rd level you get your signature ability: Weakening Strikes. The rule is very simple: if you shoot at a target you have already wounded with a melee attack, or if you strike with a melee attack at someone you have already wounded with a ranged attack, you add 1d8 of damage to the attack.
Now this sounds powerful for starters (especially as a 3rd level character), but the rule actually requires a decent bit of tactics and setup: there's a good chance at lower levels that you will kill a target with your ranged attack, so you will not trigger this ability, and if something survives long enough to attack you in melee, there's a good chance that the relatively fragile ranger will be overwhelmed by the aggressor before it gets a chance to attack in melee. So this is a finishing move designed to keep you safe: take down a foe when it charges you, or down someone who is fleeing to alert the rest of the clan of your arrival.
You also gain the ability to draw and stow a melee and ranged weapon as a single item interaction action, allowing you to better take advantage of your fighting prowess (and copying what Aragorn does in Balin's Tomb).
As you progress you add to your mobility, gaining the ability to take the Disengage action as a bonus action, and you gain 10 feet of movement on turns where you deal damage. So if you find that you are engaged against a foe that is too much for you, you can stow your ranged weapon, draw your melee weapon, take your attacks in melee (with the bonus damage if you hit the creature at range before they closed), deal damage, take the Disengage action as a bonus action to avoid opportunity attacks, and then move your movement + 10 feet if you dealt damage. It makes you a truly mobile striker, and well set up for your (hopefully) ranged attack next turn against a creature you have now dealt melee damage to.
At 11th level you gain three combat maneuvers from the Fighter Battle Master list, allowing you to gain useful ways to modify and customize your attacks. It is common in D&D for martial characters to feel a bit more boring compared to spellcasters, and this is one of the ways that we can make your attacks more interesting (not to mention more effective as you head into mid-level and upper-level play).
And to close out the subclass, we increase your missile spell attacks like Cordon of Arrows, Conjure Barrage, Lightning Arrow, and Conjure Volley by increasing their damage dice by one step (d6s to d8s, d8s to d10s). These also now count as ranged attacks for the purposes of your Weakened Strikes special ability, so you will get added melee damage against the targets if they close with you, or deal more damage to them if you have dealt melee damage to them.
The vale warden lacks the raw damage of the hunter, the built-in tank of the beast master, and the versatility of the gloom stalker, but I think it adds something that a lot of rangers don't really have which is tactics. There's a lot more thought that goes into choosing targets and taking out opponents than you typically see, and you get a substantial reward from it in free damage. The result is a mobile and tactical striker who can hold his own in melee or at range, frustrating the plans of your enemies. If you find that enjoyable, consider running this subclass.
In our next post we will be looking at our second ranger subclass, centered around characters from history like King David and various persons from the sagas and tales of old who protected livestock from wild beasts and mighty foes.
Until next time,