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I'm hosting a Dungeons and Dragons session for some of my colleagues in a few weeks. None of them have ever played before, so I'm also making their characters based on the tropes they vaguely described their characters as. To keep things simple, I'm going to run the game at level 2, which to me gives each class at least a few interesting features to work with, but keeps things manageable for beginners.

One of the players would like to play a ranger. She's especially very excited about having a beast companion. Since rangers normally only receive a companion at level 3, I thought I would drop the ranger's spellcasting ability and add the companion at level 2. This also has the added benefit that she would not have to think about spells at all. Would this make the ranger stronger/weaker/approximately equally balanced?

I'm using the original ranger as given in the PHB, not one of the updated versions published later on.

The group both insists on playing D&D and not having to read the rules themselves. I understand that a different game system would fit better for this group, but it's a no go. As such answers that only suggest a different system will not be accepted.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify: are you permanently dropping spellcasting, or just trading the levels at which the ranger receives their spellcasting/animal companion archetype? \$\endgroup\$ – Conduit Nov 2 '17 at 16:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ This would be a oneshot in which no levelling happens at all, so for now, this would not apply. \$\endgroup\$ – DonFusili Nov 2 '17 at 16:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ But I guess, in order to make this question a bit more general: I would swap the levels in extended campaigns, but the ranger would obviously be locked into the beast master archetype. \$\endgroup\$ – DonFusili Nov 2 '17 at 17:01
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Since this is a one shot with a group of new players, I'd say go for it. There won't be any long term implications.

But first tell them out straight that you are modifying the Ranger from the book to better fit this particular game, and explain the changes. This will help them by not letting the image of the ranger played in the oneshot overwrite the one in the book.

Remove the spellcasting, and give the animal companion at level 2. But also allow the animal companion to attack without eating up actions from the ranger.

The "Action Economy" of the beastmaster ranger is one most players struggle with to accept.

"Why can't my wolf attack with me? Why do I have to command it to attack every turn, can't it keep fighting on its own like every single other(1) wolf out there?

(1) Every single wild wolf that does not belong to a Ranger.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you then advise to have it have a complete turn, like a familiar? \$\endgroup\$ – DonFusili Nov 2 '17 at 17:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd suggest having it work like in the book, but make it a BONUS action to command the companion to attack instead of replacing the ranger's normal attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Nov 2 '17 at 17:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, I'd suggest having it work like it does in the Ranger, Revised, where the companion just has its own actions. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Nov 2 '17 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym This is exactly what I rule for my group's ranger and it seems to work great; it's still costing their action economy, but not as harsh as taking a whole action. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 3 '17 at 10:09
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If it's a one-shot, maybe just give them the companion and spellcasting. It's a class that's often accused of being underpowered anyway, and removing all spellcasting seems like it would remove a lot of options. Nobody's going to be playing the game for long enough that they'll resent the Ranger for hogging all the glory.

I assume, since you're writing their character sheets and they don't want to read the rules, that you're picking spell lists for spellcasting characters? So if you just give the Ranger a few nice situational spells (exploration and roleplaying only, nothing direct-damage) it's not going to break game balance. Animal Friendship and Goodberry just make a Ranger a Ranger.

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