MonoClass Optimizing: Cavalier Ranger (5e Optimized Character Build)
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The little halfling looked down from above the clouds. Yup, there they were. A group of 3 rust monsters. These little pests had attacked nearly three shipments from the towns iron mine and had quite the bounty on their heads. She adjusted the grip on her spear and patted her dear friends back, the scaly hide of a pteranodon. Taking a deep breath, squeezing the saddle a bit tighter, they began to dive down upon their prey.
Very few people question the fact that Ranger as it appears in the PHB is a little weaker than other classes. This is especially true for those that use the beast master subclass, due to the wording and how the abilities interact crippling many potential builds. This build is unique in that it takes those weaknesses and turns them into strengths. Prepare to ride the skies as a Ranger Cavalier!!!
Something extremely important to this build are the rules for mounts and what can qualify as one. The PHB is very clear that the size of your mount must be one larger than that of the character. So for a medium character that would be a large sized mount. An issue since only medium creatures can become our animal companions. But some player races are small.
Halfling: With a +2 to dexterity, these already begin to steal the show as the best option. Due to their small size they can ride medium sized animal companions as mounts, something that can be abused later on. Use a Stout halfling for the constitution or a Ghostwise if you're using suplements for a nice boost to Wisdom.
Gnome: Their ASI are somewhat abysmal for the Ranger, a +2 intelligence pretty irrelevant. However, if you're focused on utility spells that don't use your wisdom, then this is a valid option. Their advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws is rediculously powerful.
Others: In expansions, there are a few other small player races such as the goblin and kobold. Just remember two things: you're looking to max your strength score and they must be a small race.
One major challenge of this build is that it is very strength reliant, a stat no small race yet makes available. This will make things tricky. We are going to assume you're using the Stout halfling since it is arguably the best for this build. Your stats will look identical if you're using Point-buy or Standard Array for your ability scores.
- Lance Build: Strength 15, Dexterity 14, Constitution 14, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 14, Charisma 8
- Rapier/Whip buid: Strength 10, Dexterity 17, Constitution 14, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 14, Charisma 10
The lance build is impressive, dual wielding 1d12 weapons a great source of damage. However, it's struggle with accuracy until much higher levels makes it unideal for lower levels. As such, only the dexterity build will be adressed beyond this point. Whips can be used for the reach property (though at much lower damage) and rapiers aren't that much weaker than lances that it's overwhelming. Plan to build the dex build and if you happen to get a pair of hand-me-down Gauntlet of Ogre Power, swap over to lances.
Since we are monoclassing ranger, its not a terribly complicated build. However, there are a few important break points.
- Level 3 Beast Master: Your companion is going to act as the ultimate mount for you.
- Level 4 Mounted Combatant Feat: This substantially increases the survivability of your beast buddy. With clever positioning you can almost add their health pool to your own when dealing with non-AoE threats. Plus Evasion on them is pretty much required for the late game if you get there.
- Level 8 Dual Wielder Feat: Unlocking the next tier of weapons is really important, fully enabling this build.
- Level 12 Sentinel: Being able to use an opportunity attack with both your mount and yourself is huge. Doing so and stopping their movement more so. Great with Reach Weapons.
- Level 16 Squat Nimbleness: Increase your Attack modifier finally! You can swap this and Dual wielder if you're okay using shortswords and non-reach weapons.
- Level 19: This is free for customization. Recommend increasing your Attack Modifier or taking the Tough Feat.
Chosing a mount can be fairly difficult, especially given the unique use we are looking to use them for. Bellow are some of the best options available.
Pteranodon: With a flying speed and the flyby ability, this is hand's down the best mount. This guide will reference this mount exclusively after this point as a result. It allows for the best positioning and most utility. Also great for crossbow Expert versions that want nothing to do with ground combat. It's found in the Monster Manual and as such is legal for anyone to choose (even in adventures league!)
Giant Crab: This creature gives up positioning for controling where they stand. Able to easily grapple two creatures, you'll be finding this creature able to provide some utility to your team.
Panther: Arguably the best at combat, this companion might actually justify regularly using the Attack command instead of Two-weapon fighting. If you do this, you're probably looking to use a shield rather than two weapons. Not a bad choice overall.
Boar: A strange case, it packs decent damage and a nice relentless trait for shrugging off some early hits.
Giant Badger: Up there with the Panther in damage, it trades a higher maximum damage for a more consistent source.
- Forcing attacks aimed at your mount to be aimed at you is going to keep your companion alive more than you know.
- By flying 5 feet off the ground, you take yourself out of melee range for most creatures while still letting your animal companion take opportunity attacks. If your wielding a reach weapon such as a lance or whip, you can also add your own opportunity attack!
- Rare situations you'll get advantage on attacks, something very nice since depending on your choices you might have a low attack modifier.
- Evasion on your companion is huge. While they will almost never make a save, they'll at least only take half damage from most AoE attacks.
- Thanks to Hunter's Mark, Rangers are probably the only class that can legitimately use two-weapon fighting effectively.
- Can let you dual wield Reach weapons (Lances, Whips). That is huge for positioning with your beast companion.
- The AC boost is minor, but nice since you redirect a lot of attacks at yourself.
- One of the major advantages of this build is being able to make opportunity attacks, something that this feat maximizes!
- Your animal companion counts as an allie, so you can pretty reliably proc this feats attack with some clever positioning.
- Some grounded mounts might actually do enough damage to justify using the command. If this is the case, you aren't going to be using dual wielder because of the Rangers wording. Carrying a shield and gaining Pseudo-Evasion is pretty increadible.
- If you find you and your mount seperated for any number of reasons, being able to shove a creature could prove invaluable.
- You'll replace Dual Wielder with this in your build and take the Duelist fighting style instead.
There are Two main strategies based on your level and your companion.
Positioning Master: One of the most powerful features of having your companion mount is that you and them can both make an opportunity attack when someone tries to get around you. That means you're always looking to get into melee combat with enemies, making it extremely unappealing to try and get away from you. Another powerful effect exclusive to the Pteranodon is the flyby feature. This has a number of uses. First, you can disengage freely rather than as an action when you need to make a retreat. Second, by flying 5 feet in the air and wielding a reach weapon, both of you can still make opportunity attacks while leaving only the Pteranodon within melee range of most creatures. By alternating between landing and this slightly elevated position, you can control where damage is getting aimed between you and your mount, making you incredibly tanky.
Hunter's Mark + Two Weapon Fighting: If you're not using a high damage mount and instead opt for utility, you're going to use this when you're looking to hurt your enemies. Adding in an extra attack to proc hunters mark really increases your damage, making Ranger possibly the only class that can effectively use two-weapon fighting. If you're dual wielding Lances, this can seriously injure your enemies! This is only possible since your beast buddy is unique in that they take their turn during yours. That means you can always have them move the way you want, use your action and bonus action, then possibly move again. Due to initiatives design and not having a hand free to control the mount, that wouldn't normally be possible, having to hold your action until your mount's turn and they move you into range.
That's it for this guide! Hope you enjoy and get to ride your beast buddy into combat soon!