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This question was inspired by the first answer of this question which notes that in 5e the ranger is acknowledged as (one of) the weakest class(es). I don't play 5e but I used to play 3/3.5e and remember the ranger also having some significant issues there and being generally thought of as a very weak option. There are some questions about the 3e ranger on this site that touch on its weakness, too, including What’s the difference between a Ranger and a Scout? and A Ranger build that is close to Tier 3 classes (Tier 3 classes were often the desired “middle of the road” balance point for 3.5e classes).

I was wondering if there were some specific issues of the archetype that tended to result in this. I would be interested if anyone has done analysis of both versions of the class and maybe seen what the issues were?

What I'm looking for is whether there is some pattern from 3e (or possibly earlier) that propagates to 5e making the ranger weak or if it's just random bad luck on part of the designers. I would expect the archetype to define the character quite a bit and as such if there were pitfalls in design of 3e ranger I would expect them avoided in 5e. I want comparisons of rangers from 3e (or earlier) to 5e to figure out the history of the issue.

If this is too broad maybe it can be restricted to a question of the differences in mechanics of the class between 3e and 5e.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In fact, I’m reopening because I fail to see any remaining significant shortcomings in the question. As usual, don’t answer if you don’t know enough about both systems to compare. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 2 '18 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 2 '18 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Are 5e Rangers competitive with other core classes? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Aug 2 '18 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PinkSweetener Don’t try to help answer the question using comments. See this FAQ. A whole pile of comments were just deleted for that. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 2 '18 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a warning - even "constructive" comments may go when we have to purge 30+ comments off a question. Further commenting should go in the linked chat, period, or be deleted regardless of usefulness or not. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 2 '18 at 17:42
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D&D 3e designer Monte Cook gave this feedback on the ranger:

I was always worried about the ranger. The fact that his abilities kick in when the DM wants them to (when the adventure contains his favored enemies) rather than when the player wants them to, like the barbarian, always seemed to me to be a drawback.

Following the D&D 3.5 revision, Monte admitted that the ranger as he originally designed it for third edition had been underpowered:

Rangers and barbarians have more interesting abilities at higher levels. It comes as no surprise to regulars at montecook.com that I regret that we didn't spend more time in particular on the ranger. I've created two variant rangers myself. ... Much like with rangers, I have felt in the past that the bard is somewhat underpowered. I don't think the bard was as bad off as the ranger, but he needed a bit of a boost.

One reason the third edition ranger may have been underpowered is as a reponse to the AD&D ranger, which, as a magic-using two-weapon fighting specialist in an era of the game where multiple attacks per round were hard to come by, had been famously overpowered. The third edition designers may have over-compensated by making the ranger weaker.

That WotC felt the need to revise the ranger in playtest form suggests that some feel the 5th edition ranger is underpowered. A commenter on this answer suggests that this is, again, a reaction to a perceived overpowered ranger in D&D 4th edition. I also suspect that 5th edition's return to 3rd edition-like design ethos has led to a more 3e-like ranger.

There's also a general perception that, at least in terms of combat effectiveness, melee classes are outpaced by spellcasters at high level, something that dates back to the earliest editions of the game and forms a core part of the game that 5th edition, more traditionalist than 4th edition, somewhat tries to evoke. The result is that the ranger can end up with the same problem as the Linear Fighter.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interestingly enough, your last line is very relevant as a similar thing happened in 4th (although not as dramatic) and the result was a (now) underpowered Ranger in the following edition (5th). \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Aug 2 '18 at 16:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ The democratisation of two-weapon fighting is a good point. That common feature of 3e and 5e takes a big bite out of the classic AD&D power of rangers. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 2 '18 at 16:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose The Hunter archetype isn't as bad off as the Beastsmaster in 5e, but the point made about "shines only when the DM provides favored terrain/enemy" has carried over a little bit. The original ranger wasn't as constrained, except that "outdoors" ranger tended to shine better than "in a dungeon/indoors" \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 2 '18 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie In 2e maybe (that edition's not really my forte), but in AD&D anybody could make Attacks With Two Weapons (DMG (1979) 70). (How a player is supposed to know that his PC could do this — what with the rules for doing so being buried in the DMG — I don't know.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 2 '18 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems much more of a confirmation that ranger was weak in both editions, than it does an attempt to draw a connection to why both ended up being weak. The synthesis that @SevenSidedDie mentions about two-weapon fighting being a uniquely ranger thing in the editions where the ranger is powerful (the 4e ranger had the fantastic twin strike power for some of the best dual-wielding in the game), and a thing available to everyone in editions where the ranger is weak, would be a start. But I think there’s probably more to it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 2 '18 at 18:34

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