No, stop, don't leave! Hear me out. On its own, the ranger is actually a really good class when all options are in play. This answer used to make this argument in a slightly different (and technically-incorrect) way, but I've come back to this seven years later to update it. I've also wrote an extremely in-depth handbook on the matter (rangers in 3.5) if you want a more comprehensive read.
Anyway, ranger is really strong. When all options are available, I would go as far as calling it "the platonic ideal of tier 3," as it brings a number of very powerful and versatile options to the table.
In an "all sources open" context (important since most of the best ranger options are from Dragon Magazine), the ranger's main ingredients are the following:
- The base chassis. Ranger sports 6+Int mod skills, a d8 Hit Die, full BAB, two good saves, and martial weapon proficiencies. As classes go, it's hard to get better on a raw stat level.
- The solitary hunting ACF (Dr347 p. 91), which trades your animal companion for the ability to add your favored enemy bonus on attack rolls. Alternatively, the Tactical Advantage feat (Dr335 p. 91) does the same thing, but for only one of your favored enemies (they don't stack). This is huge, catapulting your attack bonus beyond what normal martials can get (useful for TWF and Power Attack especially).
- Enemy spirit pouches (MIC p. 97). These 2,100gp items from the Magic Item Compendium either give you a new favored enemy (keyed to the item) or up your current Favored Enemy bonus by +2 (if you already have that item). Wearing one of your own type hurts, so don't do that. Do get as many of these as you can though, and swap them out as needed before fights. If you can use the item combining rules to duct tape multiples together, do that as well.
- Favored Power Attack (CWar p. 98). This is a feat that requires BAB +4 and Power Attack, and boosts your Power Attack multiplier to ×3 for two-handing or ×2 for one-handing. This has an odd side effect of making rangers want to fight with a pair of one-handed weapons (or a two-hander and unarmed strikes) instead of light weapons like most TWFers.
Of course, that isn't going to be super useful if your favored enemy isn't in front of you, so let's talk about favored enemies:
Broad Favored Enemies
In addition to Favored Power Attack and enemy spirit pouches, some notable options for this are the following. Note that you only use the highest applicable bonus against a favored enemy; you don't stack the buff against creatures that fit multiple categories.
- Favored enemy (evil creatures) via the Uthgardt Barbarian origin (FRCS p.168), allowing you to apply your favored enemy bonus against
any evil creature you fight.
- Favored enemy (arcanists) via the arcane hunter ACF (CMag p. 32), allowing you to apply your favored enemy bonus against arcane
spellcasters and invocation users, the first of which is an extremely
common "powerful enemy" to face.
- Various urban ranger ACFs (Dr310
p. p. 59, MotW p. 15, SRD will let you choose an organization
(with incredibly broad examples, like "that nation's army") as a
favored enemy, getting your bonuses against anyone from that
Note that, with Favored Power Attack, you only need a lowest-bonus favored enemy to get the massive triple damage boost, so even just stacking enemy spirit pouches will let you excel in damage.
There are three more things to recommend that I think deserve their own sections:
The ranger has a plethora of combat styles to choose from, but in your case, there are two important ones to decide between:
- (a) Two-Weapon Fighting: the one from the Player's Handbook. Two-Weapon Fighting, Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Greater Two-Weapon Fighting. This is, ironically, the one you take if you're not building like a normal TWFer. If you don't expect to have the Dexterity score to meet the prerequisites normally, go for this.
- (b) Strong Arm Style (Dr326, p. 97): Power Attack, Improved Sunder, Great Cleave. We only care about the first one. You really want Favored Power Attack. If you don't expect to ever have Str 13+, then this is a good choice of combat styles.
Ranger spells are actually really good. There are too many to go over here, but notable examples include entangle and impeding stones, plant growth, various weapon boosts, and lion's charge to give you pounce at later levels. Rangers make excellent use of wands as well. For a summary of how ranger spellcasting works and what's especially amazing on the list, follow this link.
In addition, you have access to the Sword of the Arcane Order feat, which can get you access to wizard spells! I've got a full writeup of how that works at this link. The feat is very good, but also requires a lot more bookkeeping (heh, literally even), so keep that in mind.
Being a Good Guy and Exalted Feats
Exalted-good rangers have access to the incredible Nemesis feat from the Book of Exalted Deeds. This feat gives you the best sensory ability in the game: the ability to unconditionally pinpoint any creature of the chosen favored enemy type within 60 feet. Walls and other barriers explicitly do not block this sense, and it means you're never going to be snuck up on by one of your Favored Enemy selections. You also deal +1d6 damage on any attack against evil examples of the favored enemy you choose, but that's less important. You can take this feat multiple times, and might want to, it's just that good.
In addition, if your DM doesn't let you have the Uthgardt Barbarian origin enemy from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, there are two prestige classes that give a variant favored enemy (evil), the Stalker of Kharash (BoED p. 75) and the Harper Paragon (PGtF p. 181). These have rough prerequisites but can give you access to that kind of wide-ranging favored enemy if you can't get it baseline. Harper Paragon is the better of the two, but is a little more annoying to enter.
A dip into either Spirit Lion Totem Barbarian (pounce) or Cloistered Cleric (Knowledge Devotion, Travel Devotion) is a very good choice. As a TWFer, you'll be full attacking in an ideal situation, and if you're full attacking, you need the ability to engage in combat.
My overall recommendation is a Strength-based Barbarian 1/Ranger X. Initiator dips after capping out your spells can also be quite good. Still, ranger 20 is perfectly valid and fairly strong.
If you want some longer and more detailed builds, I've made seven complete, 1-to-20 "plug and play" builds that have every choice needed already listed, including skills, feats, and gear. You can find them at this link; some of them are ranger 20, some are ranger/scout Swift Hunter multiclasses, and some use prestige classes.