Unearthed Arcana, and therefore the SRD, contains rules for Prestigious Character Classes. Namely, the Prestige Bard, the Prestige Paladin, and the Prestige Ranger. I have seen the first two crop up in handbooks, answers, and optimization guides from time to time, and not without good reason. However, I cannot recall a single time that I have ever seen the Prestige Ranger recommended, or frankly even mentioned, as being useful for any purpose. Why is this? Does it have some value that I do not know of? If not, what does this class lack that makes its fellow Prestigious Character Classes useful?
No reason in particular
The prestigious versions of the bard, paladin, and ranger aren’t presented as player options; they’re presented as DM options, as replacements for the regular bard, paladin, and ranger. As far as the authors of Unearthed Arcana were concerned, you would use them because the DM had decided that the only way to enter those classes in this campaign was to use them. There was never any particular intent that they be “better” for any reason.
In my mind, the better question to ask here is, why are bard and paladin sometimes mentioned? After all, the default state for any option is for it to go unused—you need a specific reason to use something.
The first observation that I have here is, this mirrors the base classes. The bard is a good class. The paladin isn’t, but divine grace is quite-possibly the best non-spellcasting, non-capstone class feature in the game.1 Optimizers often look at these classes for value. The ranger gets considered by optimizers too, but almost entirely for the mystic ranger variant—which isn’t an option for a prestige ranger.
Now then, why would the prestige bard or prestige paladin get special attention, beyond the base classes? The immediate answer is that they stack some levels with another class’s spellcasting—that’s a huge deal. Getting divine grace with only one lost spellcasting level instead of two is a great deal, well worth jumping through hoops to qualify. And then you can grab aura of courage without losing any more spellcasting—aura of courage is pretty good, of course, but not worth losing spellcasting. For the prestige bard, this is less of an issue since inspire courage is a 1st-level feature anyway—but that’s also why prestige bard comes up less often.
The other nice thing about the prestige-class versions is that they add the unique spells of the given class to another class’s spell list. This matters most for bards—mostly because of glibness—but it’s not a bad perk by any means. But the bard spell list is better than the paladin one, and the paladin one is better than the ranger one.
There’s also the argument—which doesn’t really work but some people believe—that the prestige paladin will make your spells “paladin spells” as a result of the unique spells thing. That is powerful because of the extremely-strong Battle Blessing feat, which is a free Quicken for every paladin spell. Like I said, it doesn’t actually work, but for people who believe it does, it’s a very good reason to bring up the prestige paladin.
So the short answer is, bard spells and inspire courage are good, divine grace and aura of courage are very good, and these are reasons to be interested in bard or paladin, prestige or otherwise. Going with the prestige class makes them easier to use on an existing spellcaster. Ranger doesn’t have similar draws.
- It’s not; artificer’s item creation, if nothing else, is superior—although that’s pretty close to a spellcasting feature. And there’s unreasonable comparisons like the “acquire” abilities of the illithid savant. Still, divine grace is very, very good.