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Xanathar's ranger subclasses are the only subclasses in the game that give free spells to a learned-spell caster (besides Divine Soul Sorcerer's Affinity spell). As rangers can replace a spell that they know when they level up, can they use this to replace the free spell they are given, essentially turning it into an extra known-spell from the full ranger list?

As an example, can a Gloom Stalker replace Rope Trick (the 5th level free spell) with Lesser Resoration when he levels up?

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I'd say no

My reading of this is as follows. Consider the text in the Gloom Stalker Magic feature from Xanathar's Guide (page 42):

The spell counts as a ranger spell for you, but it doesn't count against the number of ranger spells you know.

Compared to a Ranger's Spellcasting feature of the PHB (page 92):

Additionally, when you gain a level in this class, you can choose one of the ranger spells you know and replace it with another spell...

This might seem like a pedantic reading and interpretation of "spells you know", though. However, I'd say that the intent is that these are specific to your archetype, and therefore they aren't meant to be swapped out for just any old spell (from the ranger's spell list).

But I admit that the reasoning of using the wording of "spells you know" is weak, since the extra spells you learn via Gloom Stalker Magic, etc., are spells you know insofar as you can cast them.

However, unless there's been any clarification from the designers on this kind of issue, simply going by the books, it seems as though the answer would be no.

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An alternate interpretation: Yes

The opposite reading of this to my other answer. Consider the text in the Gloom Stalker Magic feature from Xanathar's Guide (page 42):

The spell counts as a ranger spell for you, but it doesn't count against the number of ranger spells you know.

Compared to a Ranger's Spellcasting feature of the PHB (page 92):

Additionally, when you gain a level in this class, you can choose one of the ranger spells you know and replace it with another spell...

So, we could instead focus on the fact that the spell is a ranger spell "for you", meaning that it can be replaced. As per the PHB, to replace something, it has to be a ranger spell you know, and according to the XGtE quote, it is a ranger spell for you, so therefore it can be replaced.

As I mention in my other answer, though, you lose the flavour that this gives to the archetype, given that the spells are chosen to fit that flavouring. However, if it's effectively just giving you extra ranger spells, then there's nothing stopping you (except my other answer, of course, or rather, a DM who prefers my other answer) from swapping them out as per the PHB quote above.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A DM may also rule that you are no longer of that subclass if you swap out the class feature spell. \$\endgroup\$ – ravery May 22 '18 at 8:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ You say that you couldn't get the spell back at a later level, but since "<spell> counts as a ranger spell for you", I would actually argue that you could get that specific spell back again! But I agree that it would remove the flavour of the subclass if the DM just allowed it to be swapped out. RAW, but maybe not RAI. \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ May 22 '18 at 8:52

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