Rangers are an intriguing melee class with self-sufficiency and versatility that rivals other classes.
Playing to that versatility requires that Rangers be prepared for the environment and enemies they could encounter.
Rangers have far fewer spells than other WIS-based classes such as Clerics, but the few spells they have are tactically perfect for staying alive and dealing damage. A Ranger needs only a WIS of 14 to cast all spells up to level 20, so it's not a bad plan to add these points on character creation and be done with it. (Note that 14 WIS can be achieved through 8 Starting value, plus wearing a WIS+6 item - WIS boosted in this way still qualifies for casting ability)
Don't underestimate the power of Resist Element and Protection spells. These can make those pesky witch doctor kobolds that shoot scorching ray and acid arrows seem nothing more than annoying bugs that need squishing.
At high levels, a Ranger will have an increased DEX from class enhancements (+3 at level 8), and also be able to cast Cat's Grace on themselves for a big temporary boost. But Rangers cannot increase STR so easily, making it very important to start with a good number.
Rangers can enjoy stealth that other melee classes (other than a Monk) cannot do. Hide and Move Silently skill points are a plus. While you will later receive Hide in Plain Sight, it pays to keep your stealth abilities strong. A Rogue can scout, but only a Ranger has a chance to battle it out should you blow your cover. Consider a mix of skill points to start but tweaking Hide and Move Silently skills with action points or wearing items to give an edge without compromising other skills.
Like Monks, all Rangers should work in a balance of STR and DEX, giving the higher number slightly to STR if a melee-oriented character, or DEX if ranged attacks are your preference. STR determines how much damage, but a good DEX determines if your swing or arrow will actually hit.
Melee or Ranged?
No Ranger should be all-melee or all-ranged. The class name alone notes your important versatility. Always carry a ranged option as well as a melee option. Some quests have enemies on ledges impossible to climb. When these mobs must be cleared to proceed or survive, a Ranger (even one not built for the best bow attacks) is the fastest and most capable archer in any group. Likewise, there are times where a bow does not deal sufficient damage and a direct attack is needed. Take advantage of the Ranger's given feats for Two-Weapon Fighting and have a response handy for piercing-resistant foes.
Favored enemies help Rangers concentrate their damage--and it's a fun way to customizing your character for specific mobs in various quests. Don't pick randomly: Study the game (or use your past experience) to pick favored enemies that are traditionally harder in the game so your weapons gain the most advantage in taking the foe down.
Healing and Hit Points
Take advantage of the Ranger's healing abilities to stay alive longer than Fighters that are dependent on potions alone. Boost your Ranger Devotion enhancements to get the most out of your healing spells. Wearing items with Improved/Greater/Superior Devotion with percentages that differ from your Ranger Devotion boost will stack for better healing.
Your elemental resistance and protection spells are very economical, but a few extra spell points can't hurt. Find items that give you extra spell points to make it through tougher areas where shrines are few.
With no selection of a Prestige Enhancement, a plain ol' Ranger puts emphasis to being even in damage from either bow or sword. The downside to this build is not having a specialty in either skill, either. The upside is that you can really pump up skills and action points that otherwise get hoarded for PrEs.
The Tempest Ranger
All Rangers get Two-Weapon Fighting, but it's the Tempest build that makes this shine.
Good weapons make for powerful attacks, but two hands means you can double up on the damage types. Exotic weapons like the khopesh are still great, but even shortswords may be a better option with the right feat selections—and when metalline khopeshes are hard to find.
You'll need the best light armor you can find as you progress in levels. Look to the Ruins of Gianthold for the Dragonscale Armors.
The Arcane Archer and Deepwood Sniper
These Rangers should take advantage of many skills, feats and spells to put them at an advantage against enemies that hit faster and harder than themselves.
Having unlimited Arcane Arrows means never having to say, "I'm out of arrows." However, be sure to have the right bows or arrows for the right targets. Iron golems will not be damaged by anything but adamantine arrows or arrows fired from metalline bows.
Spot is a must for any archer. In wide wilderness areas, Spot will allow you to slay enemies from such a far distance that the enemy can't see who is attacking—or will be halfway dead by the time they try to make to your position.
Hide and Move Silently are helpful to set yourself up in some areas.
Imbued arrows should be changed about for the enemy. Acid-imbued arrows are good general weapons for most living creatures as its effects stay even when you aren't shooting.
In addition to an arrow imbue, two great spells to activate before you proceed in a quest or slayer area are Ram's Might and Longstrider. Ram's Might adds more damage to your hits with the Bow Strength feat you received at level 2, while Longstrider increases your running speed (it doesn't stack with Striding items or Haste, however).
Good bows will have complementing elemental damage to go with your imbued or specialty arrows.
Some very good bows which are comparatively easy to find are:
- The Silver Longbow which is easy to find from the The Church and the Cult quest or the auction house; with higher damage, increased threat range, and Holy damage, it's a favorite even into high levels. (note: does not bypass silver damage resistance)
- The Bow of Sinew found as an end reward of the Harbinger of Madness quest chain, provides seeker, and an expanded critical hit range of 19/20.
- The Petrifying War Bow, crafted from the Gnollish War Bow and Stonedust Handwraps from the Lordsmarch quests offers both crippling, to slow down your enemies, and Greater Stone Prison, to stop them in their tracks outright; this bow may be harder to find than others on this list, however, as it requires multiple items from different quests.
- The Elemental Longbow of Earth from Cannith Challenges has increasing benefits at every four levels, including an (improving) acid DoT; (Improved) Acid Resistance; (Improved) Destruction; (Improved) Stone Prison; and finally Disintegration for a small chance of doing massive amounts of untyped and irresistible damage and augment slots.
- Once you reach Epic levels, the Roadwatch Bow offers greatly increased damage for rangers who either are lawful or have the UMD to overcome the requirements; the Epic Normal version is easy to get from the Netherese Legacy chain end reward.
Anything you can do to increase your shot speed is a great advantage. However there are very few items that can help here directly:
- Quiver of Alacrity
- Needle, Quill-slinger (not that much use to a bow using Ranger)
- Pinion, Cloud-piercer
- Docent of Quickening (not much use to a fleshy Ranger)
- Crafted trinket of Ranged Alacrity
- Haste potions (note that Haste - either from the spell, potions, or a clicky) doesn't stack with any of the above sources of Alacrity, as they're all typed as an enhancement bonus)
- The Arcane Archer set from Tower of Despair, consisting of Gilvaenor's Ring and Gilvaenor's Necklace (competence bonus; stacks with haste/alacrity)
- Wind Howler Bracers from Blockade Buster don't increase speed, but they do directly increase damage.
Rangers will speed up shots as they level, to give some comfort.
Deepwood Snipers are similar to Rogues in that they use fewer attacks to gain the most damage. Aim to find weapons with Sneak Attack ability to make the most of this.
Suggested Play Tactics
- Good archers prepare their targets and kite as little as possible. You'll prolong a kill by running around when shooting, since other melee classes can't land their hits.
- The "Death From Above" tactic (almost) always works. Sneak to a high area, limit the enemy's ability to reach you in melee, and pelt them with arrows as if shooting fish in a barrel. Limit this tactic to easily killed, slower enemies, your distance to them, and the power of your strikes. Use this tactic against Named monsters with great care, even with an invincible Manyshot at hand.
- Find paralyzing and banishing weapons. These bows and weapons make for quick ends to many foes.
- Seeker items are your friend. Anything that increases your chance to hit hard and often per arrow or swing is good. The Blood Stone is nice, for starters.
- Don't be afraid to use a "meat shield," especially as an archer. Rangers can summon a creature (through spells or using hirelings) to soak up aggro long enough to use their ranged attacks or deflect attention when concentrating on a harder enemy. Improved Wild Empathy is also great in that it can create a more powerful animal companion than what one can summon. A Twilight Lion from the Vale of Twilight works wonders.
- Never ever shoot a mob in a party before the melee fighters gain aggro. Archers who shoot too far ahead could attract the entire mob—and you will be unlikely to take them all down before a few cut you down. Attacking too early could jeopardize your entire party.
- Rangers own some of the best but common tactical buff spells in the game. Save the spell caster's spell points at the start of a quest and insist on handing out spells such as Freedom of Movement, elemental protects and resists, Barkskin and Neutralize Poison to the party yourself, leaving the casters to handle the few Death Ward and heavier protective spells. As a Ranger, your spell points will be less used during battle, leaving the spell casters more points to use in battle.
- Tempest Rangers should specialize in removing trash mobs. Their speed and hit power makes this ideal without the dangers of meleeing tougher foes that Fighters and Barbarians should deal with.
- Don't be afraid to use a bow. Even used a bow once in a while. It might save you a lot in resources.
- Rangers are good Cleric defenders. You are a very self-sufficient class. Others are not, including the Clerics. Watch out for your healers and they will watch out for you.