How To Build A Hunter Ranger In DnD

When you think of a ranger in Dungeons & Dragons, this is probably the subclass you’re thinking of. The Hunter is the consummate survivalist, living off the land with a bow and sword (or ax, or whatever other weapons you prefer). The Hunter has multiple paths for improvement that specialize in a particular type of foe, but the Hunter is never out of its element, able to engage effectively up close or at range.


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Although Hunter is one of the original ranger subclasses, it has withstood the test of time and remains one of the most effective subclasses in the game. Read on to discover how you too can join the storied ranks of the Hunters.


Hunter Ranger Features

3-Boundary Lands Ranger by Pascal Quidault
Boundary Lands Ranger by Pascal Quidault

Unlike most rangers, Hunters have choices to make at various levels. Starting at level three, Hunter’s Prey provides three options: Colossus Slayer, Giant Killer, and Horde Breaker.

Colossus Slayer adds an extra 1d8 damage whenever you hit a creature with a weapon attack if that creature is below its hit point maximum once per turn. Giant Killer lets you use your reaction to attack a Large or larger creature within five feet of you after it attacks. Horde Breaker allows you to make a second attack against another creature within five feet of the first once per turn.

In general, Colossus Slayer is the most consistently useful of these three options. So long as you’re not the first to act in combat, you’ll deal an extra 1d8 damage almost every time.

Defensive Tactics at level seven provide you with another three options. Escape the Horde imposes disadvantage on opportunity attacks made against you. Multiattack Defense gives you +4 to your armor class against every attack after the first made by any creature per turn. And Steel Will provides you with advantage on saving throws against becoming frightened.

As you reach higher levels, most enemies will have more than one attack, making Multiattack Defense extremely valuable.

Multiattack at level 11 offers two options that favor different styles of Hunter. Volley lets you use your action to make a ranged attack against any number of creatures within 10 feet of a single point you can see. Whirlwind Attack lets you make a melee attack against all creatures within five feet of you.

If you’re a ranged-focused Hunter, pick Volley. If you’re a melee-focused Hunter, pick Whirlwind Attack.

Superior Hunter’s Defense at level 15 provides another three options to choose from. Much like rogues, Evasion lets you take zero damage instead of half damage if you successfully make a Dexterity saving throw. Stand Against The Tide lets you use your reaction to force a hostile creature to attack another creature if it misses you on its initial attack. Uncanny Dodge also arrives from the rogue class and lets you use your reaction to half the damage taken from an enemy attack.

Uncanny Dodge is the most consistently useful of the three options here.

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Best Species For A Hunter Ranger

Cadira, Caller of the Small by Alexandr Leskinen
Cadira, Caller of the Small by Alexandr Leskinen

Any of D&D’s species can become a Hunter ranger, but there are a few species that possess abilities that pair well with the features of the Hunter. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Autognome

Armored Casing provides you with all the benefits of Studded Leather armor without actually needing to find it. Build For Success is a fantastic ability that can help with any of your rolls. Mechanical Nature provides a great resistance and advantage against being paralyzed or poisoned, and Healing Machine can be a good reason for your wizard to take the mending Cantrip.

Bugbear

Surprise Attack augments Colossus Slayer if you happen to go first in the turn order. An extra five feet of reach be very helpful for melee-focused rangers, and charm resistance and Darkvision are both great to have.

Duergar

Enlarge/Reduce is a useful buff or debuff, but Invisibility is the real reason to be a Duergar. Poison resistance, advantage against being charmed or stunned, and Darkvision to 120 feet are also great perks.

Eladrin

Horizon Walkers will rarely have a free bonus action, but Fey Step provides very useful effects for a more melee-focused build. Darkvision, charm resistance, and perception are also good to have.

Half-Elf

Rangers want a lot of ability score increases, and half-elves provide just that. Darkvision, charm resistance, and a pair of skills are also good to have.

Human

Want ability score increases? Humans have lots of those. Or you could go variant human to start with a free feat.

Kenku

Rangers are often the rogue replacement for parties without them. Kenku Recall goes a long way to providing useful skill proficiencies to keep your party rolling. Low Charisma means Mimicry won’t be as useful, and Expert Duplication is situational at best.

Owlin

Flying speed, stealth proficiency, and Darkvision. What more do you need?

Thri-Kreen

Secondary Arms can allow for interesting dual-wielding builds that also still have a bow available. Chameleon Carapace is the real prize here, providing an incredible AC boost advantage on hide checks. Telepathy and Darkvision are also nice perks.

Warforged

Extra armor class, a skill proficiency, advantage against and resistance to poison, and immunity to disease and sleep effects makes warforged an excellent choice for a tough-as-nails ranger.

Yuan-Ti

Poison Spray is garbage, but Animal Friendship and Suggestion can be useful. What makes Yuan-Ti desirable is Magic Resistance and Poison Resilience, giving you protection from the most common threats in D&D. Darkvision is also great.

Best Ability Scores For A Hunter Ranger

2-Daybreak Ranger by Steve Prescott
Daybreak Ranger by Steve Prescott

Rangers can often feel like they’re being pulled in multiple directions. If you’re a melee-focused ranger, you’ll likely want to have a high Strength score to use the highest-damaging melee weapons. If you’re a range-focused ranger, you’ll want to maximize your Dexterity to improve your abilities with a bow. You’ll also want Constitution for hit points and Wisdom to empower your spells.

Unless you really want to lean into melee combat at, it’s generally best to focus on Dexterity as your primary attribute. Dexterity improves your armor class, boosts your bow damage, and can still help with melee combat so long as you wield a finesse weapon like a rapier.

Intelligence and Charisma can both be ignored. They might help with some skill checks, but you can rely on your party mates to roll these skills instead.

If you’re using the points buy system for D&D, a good starting ability score spread might look something like this:

Strength

Dexterity

Constitution

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

10(+0)

16(+3)

14(+2)

10(+0)

16(+3)

8(-1)

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Best Starting Equipment For A Hunter Ranger

1-Ranger's Longbow by Marcela Medeiros
Ranger’s Longbow by Marcela Medeiros

The longbow is the ranger’s bread-and-butter ranged attack. Expect to keep this weapon for a long time. You can pair that with two shortswords or two simple melee weapons, but the shortswords are likely to be your best option to start.

Scale mail will provide you with 16 AC with a 16 Dexterity score, but disadvantage on stealth checks. Leather armor will provide you with 14 AC, but no disadvantage on stealth. The armor you pick will depend largely on whether you expect the party to opt for stealth rather than frontal assaults.

Try to find Studded Leather armor as soon as possible. This will give you the highest possible armor class when you max your Dexterity at 20.

A dungeoneer’s pack provides more useful goodies than the explorer’s pack, so pick that to start your adventure.

Best Spells For A Hunter Ranger

Plummet by Alix Branwyn
Plummet by Alix Branwyn

As a half-caster class, rangers get limited spell slots to augment their physical abilities. As such, you’ll want to get the most out of these spell slots by choosing the most potent spells. Here are a few suggestions at each ranger level.

First Level

  • Absorb Elements
  • Ensnaring Strike
  • Entangle
  • Hunter’s Mark

Second Level

  • Aid
  • Healing Spirit
  • Pass Without Trace
  • Spike Growth

Third Level

  • Nondetection
  • Protection From Energy
  • Revivify

Fourth Level

  • Guardian of Nature
  • Stoneskin

Fifth Level

  • Greater Restoration
  • Swift Quiver

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