Here are collected my proposals for ranger changes that would allow them access to a competitive, fighter/paladin-equivalent build with highly specific ranger flavor. There are likely flaws in this, and the body itself is far older than this preamble, so if LITERALLY ANYONE wants to critique it, feel free. If I've missed a source of +hit/dam for rangers, please let me know (as I have not played one in a long, long time). It works on the premise that melee characters scale and thrive by doing damage, and the recent rogue changes followed a very similar premise. If you'd like to discuss this privately, feel free to PM me, and of course if any administrators are uncomfortable with frank discussion of the numbers, feel free to redact as necessary. Here comes the meat:
1) Allow rangers' their combat styles for free.
Give dual wield feats or archery feats at X levels, without prerequisites as in the PHB. This frees up a very MAD class to do some things nicely, and shouldn't be crazy hard to implement. Bonus feats could work here, but I'd like to use those in my next suggestion. I believe someone, possibly Harroghty, said this might be done by area/soft code, making the easiest implementation to create quests that set the feats through qbits. For example: At level 10, a ranger is given access to a quest. He chooses a path (dual wield), and is given a +1 weapon fitting his selection. Every 10 levels after (20, 30, 40) the ranger would obtain access to a quest that rewards a dual wield feat (two weapon fighting, improved, and greater respectively). This would match them roughly to the equivalent stat progression levels required by other classes (namely rogue/fighter) to obtain these feats, while bypassing the stat requirement as in 3.5E's ruleset.
2)Change favored enemy from whatever it is now to a very slightly modified 3.5 design.
5 selections, each confers a +4 damage bonus against a race of your choice and you can't choose the same one twice. This is the heart of the proposal, and the following discusses balance concerns/implementation.
In 3.5, this works slightly different; you pick a favored enemy and get +2. Every 5 levels, you pick another AND grant +2 to an existing one of your choice (the one you just picked is a viable target). Not only is this very complicated, it could lead to potentially imbalancing situations (i.e., favored enemy human +10 could make for a very disruptive PC), so making it 5 +4s streamlines it and visually ties it to fighter progression damage. As such, it should be equally difficult to obtain masteries beyond the first--perhaps limiting how many times a trainer of favored enemy will teach a ranger would be fair balance.
This suggestion should be implemented through bonus feats. How the actual mechanics of this proposal would work, from a code standpoint, is beyond me--but I believe selecting a race file (or groupings of race-files as is appropriate, i.e. goblinoids being hobgoblins/goblins/bugbear) would be achievable and readable to players. Using the syntax of weapon focus might be viable here: train 'favored enemy' race. While I do believe this would be the most daunting change as far as code is concerned, it is arguably the most vital one in achieving damage parity between the martial/melee classes and cohesion of the core class mechanics.
3) Implement two feats that supplement the favored enemy mechanic.
These feats are Tactical Advantage and Favored Power Attack. Tactical Advantage gives you your favored enemy bonus (in FK's case, it would be +4) on attack rolls, and Favored Power Attack gives increased returns from Power Attack against favored enemies (so in FK, it would be +6 bonus to 1H and +9 bonus to 2H vs. Favored Enemies instead of the usual +3/+6). Tactical Advantage is a Dragon Magazine feat (Dragon #335) and Favored Power Attack is from Complete Warrior (p. 98). If the change immediately above can be made, then so can this one--and really rounds out the foundation laid by the other two proposals. The main reason other classes have historically lagged behind fighter is that they do not get their damage; these two give the ranger his damage and the ability to make it connect.
Implementing these 3 changes would result in accurate, close comparison to fighters offensively against their favored enemies. The following is a very technical write-up of attack mechanics. If anyone has any questions about the assumptions and premises espoused here, please feel free to PM me for a thorough breakdown. Also, if anything should be redacted, it's probably from here.
20 Str 14 Dex 18 Con 10 Int 15 Wis 10 Cha
Human Ranger - Dual Wield Style. His feats are Luck of Heroes / Weapon Focus: Single-edged Blades / Power Attack / Tactical Advantage / Favored Power Attack / Extend Spell / Imp Initiative / Imp Crit: SEB
For the purpose of this build, our ranger has found a +2 STR item and is using two +2 scimitars.
Against a favored enemy, this ranger would deal:
1d6(3.5)+6STR+6PA+2Weap+4FE x4 = 86
1d6(3.5)+3STR+6PA+2Weap+4FE x3 = 55.5
--------------------------------------------- 141.5 damage if all attacks hit.
His hit bonus would be 6STR+4FE+2Weap+1WF:SEB-4DWNoLight-3PA = +6.
His crit range would be 15-20, which would modify damage moderately on a reliable basis.
A similarly geared fighter against all targets, currently operating on live:
1d8(4.5)+6STR+3PA+2Weap+4GWS:LS x 5 = 97.5
1d8(4.5)+3STR+3PA+2Weap+4GWS:LS x 3 = 52.5
----------------------------------------------- 150 damage if all attacks hit.
His hit bonus would be 6STR+2GWF:LS+2Weap-3PA-4DWNoLight = +3.
His crit range would be 19-20 x3, which would modify damage considerably if lucky.
As you can see, against a favored enemy this build would pull well ahead of fighter by a decent bit based on similar damage and higher hit chance--but not so much that it would stretch the balance of the game. With only 5 races as favored enemies, and a hard lock into weapon damage (weapon focus feats would tax this versatility a bit), the ranger's supremacy is limited. This wide swing would be minorly complicated with the addition of a damage-capable animal companion/summon and solid buffing on it. I believe this would predicate the need for changes to the existing pet code--either as a buff before or nerf afterwards--as we would more likely see the floor on damage raise than the ceiling get crazy. It should be noted that damage against a non-favored enemy would be considerably less, much as rogues vs. constructs/oozes/plants/undead would be.
I believe that the above suggestions would truly and fundamentally erase the woes of the ranger class using reasonable, existing feats and mechanics from 3.5E material, and I hope the topic warrants real consideration. To those who stuck it out until the end, thanks for your time.
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