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There are two ranger archetypes in the PHB; the Hunter and the Beastmaster. There are three ranger archetypes in Xanathar's Guide to Everything; the Gloom Stalker, Horizon Walker and Monster Slayer. These three learn some free spells via class features such as Gloom Stalker Magic, etc. Quoting this example (although the similar features from the other XGTE archetypes say much the same thing):

Gloom Stalker Magic

Starting at 3rd level, you learn an additional spell when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown in the Gloom Stalker Spells table. The spell counts as a ranger spell for you, but it doesn't count against the number of ranger spells you know. (XGTE, pg. 42)

Essentially, they learn a free 1st-5th level spell as they gain access to spells of that level. The Hunter and the Beastmaster do not.

Given how few spells rangers learn anyway, Hunters and Beastmasters now have even fewer retrospectively. Even the Primeval Guardian archetype from UA learns free spells. So I decided that these two ranger archetypes should also learn free spells to bring them into line with the other ranger archetypes.

In other words, I want to invent new "Hunter Magic" and "Beastmaster Magic" class features, exactly the same as Gloom Stalker Magic, but with different spells that suit the Hunter's and Beastmaster's theme better.

I'm sure others have done something similar, but for reference, here are the spells I picked that I felt matched their flavour (in case my exact spell choices impact the answers):

Hunter:

  • 1st: Hunter's Mark
  • 2nd: Hold Person
  • 3rd: Slow
  • 4th: Elemental Bane
  • 5th: Hold Monster

Beastmaster:

  • 1st: Animal Friendship
  • 2nd: Beast Sense
  • 3rd: Conjure Animals
  • 4th: Dominate Beast
  • 5th: Insect Plague

The Beastmaster ranger is infamous as being weak, so I imagine that answers to this question will focus mostly on the Hunter archetype (but who knows?), but does giving these PHB archetypes some free spells affect balance in a way that makes them stronger than the XGTE archetypes, or are they still competitive? In other words, would my players who were playing rangers think "Oh, I'll definitely go Hunter, now that it learns these extra spells" or is it still a pretty level playing field? Including against other classes, for that matter?

I personally don't think it would unbalance anything greatly, it's just a few extra spells known to a class that already has very few, and if it's alright for the XGTE ranger archetypes, I imagine it'll be fine here, but I might be underestimating the strength of the existing class features of the Hunter archetype, or overlooking something else entirely.

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Adding the spells to the PHB Rangers will be fine

For this, I will compare the simplest existing examples from both books, the Hunter from the PHB and the Horizon Walker from XGtE.

We'll compare how strong each one is overall, and decide if the update is warranted.

For every circumstance the Horizon Walker is superior, the overall suggestion gets a +1, +2 or +3. For every circumstance the Hunter is superior, your suggestion gets a -1, -2, or -3. If neither is superior, then the result for that comparison is 0.

If the final result totals to 0, then the classes are already balanced against each other.

Level 3

  • Hunter
    • Colossus Slayer: Add 1d8 damage to a single attack when it hits an wounded enemy
  • Horizon Walker
    • Detect Portal: Detect portal magic within 1 mile
    • Planar Warrior: Add 1d8 damage with a bonus action
    • Additional spell given

Result: Horizon Walker superior, +2

Level 7

  • Hunter
    • Defensive Tactics: Attacks of Opportunity against you have disadvantage
  • Horizon Walker
    • Ethereal Step: Cast a 1 turn Ethereal spell as a bonus action, usable each rest
    • Additional spell given

Result: Roughly equal, 0

Level 11

  • Hunter
    • Volley: Hit clumped enemies, gives +1-14 attacks (probably around +3 on average, from a group of 5 enemies within a 4x4 square)
  • Horizon Walker
    • Distant Strike: Teleport 10 feet after attacking. Can get a third attack when fighting multiple enemies (probably useful half the time)
    • Additional spell given
    • Upgrade for Planar Warrior to 2d8

Result: Hunter slightly superior, -1

Level 17

  • Hunter
    • Uncanny Dodge: Reaction to half a seen incoming attack's damage
  • Horizon Walker
    • Spectral Defense: Reaction to gain resistance to any incoming attack's damage
    • Additional spell given

Result: Horizon Walker superior, +2

Final Result: +3

Go for it. Even comparing the strongest of the two PHB classes, it definitely appears that the Horizon Walker is stronger in comparison, and the Horizon Walker is sometimes seen as the weaker of the 3 rangers from XGtE. All in all, your update should bring the PHB classes slightly more in line.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not saying there's a problem, but are you saying that each of the Hunter options at those levels are equal in comparison to the Horizon Walker (you chose Horde Breaker, but are the other two options equal in comparison as well/) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 5 '18 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I chose the easiest ones to compare to. I assume all choices for Hunters at each upgrade are considered equal, so I just pick the one easiest to compare to against the Horizon Walker's features at the same level. A good example is the level 17 upgrade, which is almost identical to the Horizon Walker's ability, except that it halves all damage (so it stacks with resistance) but it requires sight. Requiring vision is a much bigger deal than worrying about stacking resistance. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 5 '18 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I personally call the level 17 +1 for the HW, not +2, and +2 not +3 at level 3, I think this was a good analysis. (Similar to what I recall being in my notes), ) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 5 '18 at 16:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Gotcha, although the Hunter features are an always-on combat direct impact thing (especially for 3rd level), but the HW provides some out of combat utility or a combat option that requires utilizing your bonus action). Depending on your campaign, I think that can change the assessment. For instance, Colossus slayer generally lets you deal that same extra d8 that HW gets without losing your bonus action. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 5 '18 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch That's a fair point, but at the same time, HW converts that attack into Force damage, which isn't resisted by pretty much any creature ever. I didn't quite list everything, to avoid clutter, but I tried to give an assessment based off of the majority of the concerns I saw. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 5 '18 at 17:05
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No, it would not be unbalanced.

At least, not in my opinion. Added to spells known (rather than additional spell slots) generally adds flexibility but not overall power.

There is a sense in which flexibility itself is an advantage of course (compare wizards to sorcerers) and you don't want to tread too much on the toes of other classes, but as long as you don't go overboard and limit the spells to ones that fit thematically to the sub-class (as I think yours do) then there shouldn't be a problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer would be improved using evidence to justify the claims (from existing rules or from personal experience, for example). \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Sep 5 '18 at 14:31
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The balance won't be upset; consider re-tuning the spells

Daniel covered nearly all of what was in my notes on balance, but the spell selection (while certainly thematic) doesn't match the "domain spells" type of approach found in XGtE.

  • If you look at the spells for the Gloom Stalker, Monster Slayer and Horizon Walker, none of them are Ranger Spells. With that in mind, to be more consistent with that theme you may want to adjust your bonus spell list to have non-Ranger spells as the additions.

Non-Ranger Spells to fit your theme

  1. Replacement on your list for Hunter
    Drop Hunter's Mark (it's a Ranger spell) and add either Snare (XGTE), or Silent Image (PHB). The idea is either a magical way to set a trap, or a better way to apply camouflage for you and your party. Hunter theme.

    The rest are non-Ranger spells that fit your theme nicely.

  2. Replacements on your list for Beast Master

    • 1st level: Replace the Ranger spell animal friendship with either find familiar or snare.

      • Find familiar can't be cast as a ritual, as so many other casters can cast it, so this might be a little costly but it is surely thematic.
      • Snare is 'generic Ranger' as for the Hunter.
    • 2nd level: Replace the Ranger spell beast sense with either earth bind or mind spike

      • Earth bind: a bit of control over flying creatures, Wisdom save
      • Mind spike: after the hit, this spells allows magical tracking for the duration of the spell. This spell does psychic damage, so it is perhaps not as thematic as desired.
        Earth bind strikes me as better in terms of theme.
    • 3rd level: Replace the Ranger spell conjure animals with catnap. It is thematic, and ranges from useful to very useful depending on your party make up.

      • In this particular case, it's arguably better to go with your initial instinct, conjure animals, and back off from "non-Ranger spells only" since it's such a perfect fit for Beast Master.

The others are non-Ranger spells and fit your them nicely.


Addendum:

Getting the right "thematic feel" is a judgment call. You and your DM might find a better "fit and feel" with other spells. It is worth having a discussion with your DM so that any modification fits into the campaign world.
As @DanielZastoupil suggested in a comment:

Level 1: Detect Good and Evil (Level 1, Hunter). This fits particularly well if one of the favored enemies is undead.

Level 2: Mirror Image (Hunter), Web (Either), Alter Self (Beastmaster),

Level 3: Tongues (Beastmaster), Create Food and Water (Beastmaster(gotta feed the tiger again!), Clairvoyance (Hunter)

Level 4: Arcane Eye (Hunter), Giant Insect (Beastmaster)

Level 5: Awaken (Beastmaster), Rary's Telepathic Bond (Hunter) Scrying (Hunter), Far Step (Hunter), Dispel Good and Evil (5, Hunter)

As Daniel noted, Beastmasters having Tongues and Awaken can really boost the animal companion feature at later levels. Making your animal talk, and eventually make it sentient are incentives to keep going with the Beastmaster.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS I was actually just about to comment something like this when I saw your answer, KorvinS. A few other suggestions I saw were: Detect Good and Evil (Level 1, Hunter), Mirror Image (Level 2, Hunter), Web (Level 2, Either), Alter Self (Level 2, Beastmaster) Tongues (Level 3, Beastmaster), Create Food and Water (Level 3, Beastmaster), Clairvoyance (Level 3, Hunter) Arcane Eye (4, Hunter), Giant Insect (4, Beastmaster), Awaken (5, Beastmaster), Rary's Telepathic Bond (5, Hunter) Scrying (5, Hunter), Far Step (5, Hunter), Dispel Good and Evil (5, Hunter) \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 6 '18 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanielZastoupil For sure, there is a lot of subjective judgment in the recommendations, but I was trying to follow the OPs lead on how the thematic choices had been made. I am tempted to add your comment to the bottom of the question as a point of reference. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 6 '18 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like the idea of Beastmasters having Tongues and Awaken. Make your animal talk, and eventually make it sentient sounds like great beastmaster incentives. Edit: Nevermind, I guess Tongues can't be cast on animals. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 6 '18 at 15:41

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