Character Build: Gloom Stalker Ranger
Seriously, every Monster Monday I have to come across yet another creature that can see in the dark without repercussions. Hell, all of my players’ characters can see in the dark too! What’s the point of throwing everyone into a pitch-black cave if they can see? I’m declaring an official war on darkvision.
Thankfully, the gloom stalker ranger has just the tools I need to massacre every creature of the night, every monstrosity of the Underdark, and well, anyone with darkvision!
Goals of This Build
Hit Hard, Hit Fast
I want to be able to shoot whatever creepy-crawly might think about coming within 100 ft. of my party before its synapses have the chance to fire off the mere idea of doing so. Not only that, but I want that initial shot to hit like a dump truck.
Dread Ambusher is just the feature I need. It will give us both a bonus to initiative and a bonus attack on our first turn among other perks. I mean, the best way to end a fight is to kill everything before the fight begins, right?
Not to mention the fact that rangers are just natural archers with their Archery Fighting Style. Throw in a little bit of Sharpshooter and/or Crossbow Expert and we’ll be able to clobber anything within hundreds of feet of us.
Master the Darkness
Darkness is scary. Generally, darkness gives creatures an inherent advantage at ambushing an unsuspecting adventuring party. However, that advantage will quickly become a disadvantage with the likes of a gloom stalker in your party’s ranks.
Umbral Sight will either grant our gloom stalker darkvision or further enhance their darkvision so that they can see even further away. Not only that, but darkness is their natural element. They’ll be able to move through pitch-black areas as if they were invisible, giving them ample opportunity to ambush their foes.
With Favored Enemy and Natural Explorer, you’ll be a master of the Underdark and its creatures. You will not only survive this harsh biome but thrive in it. The untold riches that are guarded by the environment and terrifying creatures are now ripe for the picking for your party!
Books Needed for This Build
Optional Books for Races
Note: We’re going full ranger this build. The past three character builds have all been rogue, fighter, or rogue/fighter. I need to chill.
Note: If you want to be a cool kid, choose your background based on flavor and swap the two skill proficiencies for something good.
Race: elf (any), variant human, kenku, or aarakocra
Note: Aarakocra and kenku are probably the two “ideal” race choices due to their +2 DEX +1 WIS, but when I think “Master of the Underdark”, I think drow. Honestly, pick a race with +2 DEX or variant human and you can’t go wrong in terms of optimization in my opinion.
Ability Scores: This was done using point buy. Check out this article for more info on point buy!
STR: 12 (+1)
DEX: 16 (+3) – +2 from Drow
CON: 14 (+2)
INT: 9 (-1)
WIS: 14 (+2)
CHA: 10 (+0) – + 1 from Drow
Note: Dexterity is the supreme king of 5e. Plus, decent Constitution and Wisdom modifiers will do us well in the rest of the game.
Skills: Athletics and Survival (Background) & Perception (Race) & Animal Handling, Insight, Stealth
Note:How is Medicine not a ranger skill? Do you seriously want me to believe that a ranger has lived in harsh environments for their entire life and not regularly needed to apply first-aid to themselves or others?
Post Level 1
Ability Score Increases (ASIs)
A pure ranger gets five total ASIs throughout their journey to level 20.
Ability Score Priorities
Dexterity >>> Wisdom > Constitution > Charisma = Strength = Intelligence
This is an archer build, so obviously we’re going to be maxing out our Dextererity for good measure. This will improve our chance to hit, damage, AC, and several skills. Dexterity is an important stat in 5e, so it’s always beneficial when it’s our character’s top priority!
Wisdom is the ranger’s primary spellcasting stat, so it makes sense that we’d call this our secondary ability score. I wouldn’t go higher than 18 which will give us a +4 modifier to improve our spellcasting capabilities and increase our initiative thanks to Dread Ambusher.
We’re an archer build so ideally, we won’t be getting into the thick of battle on the frontlines. That being said, a Constitution of ~16 will pay off. You’ll gain some extra health, but boosting your Constitution a tad will set our gloom stalker up with high modifiers in all three of the most frequently used saving throw abilities.
Our Strength, Charisma, and Intelligence ability scores are going to be used sparingly. This is a combat-focused build so I opted to initially make our Ranger’s Strength the highest of the three. It will come in handy if we need to make any sort of escape rolls using our Athletics as well as a few other scenarios.
Charisma is our casting stat for the spells we gain from our race. This will only impact Faerie Fire though, so don’t put too much weight into this skill unless you’re looking to improve your charisma-based skills. The same goes for Intelligence. These two are purely used for role-playing purposes.
Alert – Alert is a solid feat in general and its +5 to Initiative may be a bit overkill for a gloom stalker. However, it’s an excellent choice for giving your ranger some extra flavor and utility. I mean, it should be impossible to ambush a master of survival.
Crossbow Expert* – Should you opt for a weapon with a bit more punch such as a heavy crossbow, you’ll want to pick up Crossbow Expert. You’ll get rid of that pesky loading property. You could also choose to use a hand crossbow and be able to make weapon attacks with a crossbow using your bonus action, boosting your action economy.
Elven Accuracy – If you decide to make your gloom stalker a drow or any other elf, Elven Accuracy is an exceptional feat to supplement Sharpshooter. This feat gives you 1 point in Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma and gives you a super advantage whenever you attack with advantage using one of those skills. Gloom stalkers have plenty of opportunities to gain advantage on their attacks so this feat will get a ton of mileage.
Lucky – Lucky is a great feat for any build.
Sharpshooter* – Sharpshooter is honestly a must-have for any archer in 5e. It negates cover, increases your range, and gives you a Power Attack option for your ranged weapon attacks. I’ve written a calculator and an article on this feat because of how important it is.
Skulker – This is probably the weakest out of all of the feats I’ve listed. However, it’s an excellent feat for a gloom stalker in terms of its flavor. Your ability to hide will be improved in multiple ways as a ranged attacker, plus you’ll be able to see in dim light without any issues.
*-Required (depending on weapon choice)
Favored Enemy – Level 1, 6, and 14
Favored Enemy in 5e is a “flavor feature”. The feature gives your ranger advantage on Survival checks as well as Intelligence checks on their Favored Enemy. The ranger also learns a language that their enemy of choice speaks.
Just choose whatever creatures you think your ranger would be likely to hunt. This could be based on your backstory or even the environment that your party has spent the majority of its time in.
With that being said, I’d recommend choosing aberrations and monstrosities at some point if your gloom stalker originates in the Underdark or if your party will be spending a majority of their time there or in similar environments. Both of these creature types are everywhere down there!
Natural Explorer – Level 1, 6, and 10
The ranger’s second 1st-level feature is yet another flavor feature. Natural explorer gives the ranger and their allies benefits to exploring and interacting with the ranger’s favorite environment. This could be obtaining extra food, tracking creatures, ignoring difficult terrain, and quite a few other perks.
This is one of the problems that a lot of people have with the ranger’s class design. These abilities can be useful, but they’re completely at the mercy of how often the DM calls upon them. Every other class gets a flavorful feature that grants them consistently useful perks. But I digress, this isn’t the point of the article.
The Underdark should be at least one of your gloom stalker ranger’s Natural Explorer choices.
Fighting Style – Level 2
This should be obvious, but for this gloom stalker build we’ll be picking up the Archery Fighting Style. This gives us a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged weapons.
Keep in mind that this feature doesn’t specify that you need to have proficiency with said ranged weapons. Though I mean, rangers have proficiency with both simple and martial weapons so there isn’t much they won’t have proficiency with.
Spellcasting – level 2+
The ranger, similarly to the paladin does not learn any Cantrips. They are a 1/2 caster class. Unlike the paladin though, rangers have to learn their spells. They cannot prepare their spells.
At 20th-level a ranger will know a total of 11 spells, though the gloom stalker will wind up with an additional 5 from Gloom Stalker Magic. We’ll also know an additional 3 spells from Drow Magic so we’ll have almost double the number of spells of a typical ranger.
While you can’t prepare spells, you can substitute a known ranger spell for a new ranger spell upon each level up. This is a good way to swap out spells that don’t scale well, or ones that rarely see any use. Could’ve just let them prepare spells though.
Ranger Spellcasting Ability
Spell save DC = 8 + proficiency + Wisdom modifier
Spell attack modifier = proficiency + Wisdom modifier
Primeval Awareness – Level 3
For 1 minute per slot expended, you can sense if there are specific types of creatures within 1 mile of you. This distance increases significantly if you’re standing in favored terrain so there’s some cool synergy here.
The downside to this is that a) this is a very short time and b) this feature doesn’t reveal anything about these creatures’ location or how many creatures of which type are nearby.
1+ mile is such a large radius that it just feels like such a useless feature. While the paladin’s Divine Sense has a much smaller area of effect it’s so much more useful. It tells the paladin that there’s danger nearby so they should be on guard, plus it doesn’t use up a spell slot.
Rangers are a bit of an odd duck class in that their fun features almost entirely come from their subclass and not their primary class features. So while Primeval Awareness is a lackluster way to waste a spell slot, if you scroll down a bit your gloom stalker will get a ton of cool stuff at 3rd-level.
I just felt compelled to put that here in case you were growing disheartened with playing a ranger.
Extra Attack – Level 5
Have you ever wanted to attack more than once per action outside of just the first round of combat? Your wish has now been granted!
Land’s Stride – Level 8
Land’s Stride is both a flavorful and useful feature with a few niche perks added to it. For starters, you’ll no longer be hindered by nonmagical difficult terrain.
You’ll also be immune to anything nonmagical plants may throw at you such as thorns, spines, or other spikey parts.
But you’ll also gain some resistance to magical plants as well with this feature! Saving throws against hazards from magical plants or plant-based spells can be made with advantage.
Hide in Plain Sight – Level 10
With at least 1 minute and access to dirt, mud, plants, or other materials, you can create a convincing camouflage.
Once you’ve applied your camouflage you can utilize your environment to give yourself a +10 bonus to Stealth checks. The only condition is that you must remain motionless and take no actions. If you do so, you’ll lose the benefits of the camouflage and need to reapply your muddy disguise.
It’s a bit of a niche feature, but it’s got its uses. I could see this being a fun feature to use.
Vanish – Level 14
You can now use the Hide action as a bonus action on your turn. Vanish is yet another way for us to gain advantage and utilize Elven Accuracy regularly.
You also can no longer be tracked by nonmagical means unless you intentionally leave a trail. Honestly, at 14th-level this should just be extended to the whole party if there’s a ranger nearby.
This would be an ok feature if it wasn’t just a mediocre version of Cunning Action that the ranger gets 12 levels after the rogue does. That being said, it’s still a nice damage and survivability buff in combat, even if it’s comparatively weak to other class’ perks.
Feral Senses – Level 18
You have enhanced wild-like senses and can now fight creatures you can’t even see. Not being able to see an enemy doesn’t impose disadvantage on attacks you make against it.
Plus, you can deduce the location of invisible enemies that are near you as long as they’re not hidden.
This is a cool feature both flavor and gameplay-wise. It’s a bit niche, but it’s powerful in the situations that it’s useful in.
Foe Slayer – Level 20
If you are attacking one of your favored enemies you can add your Wisdom modifier to an attack or damage roll of a single attack you make against them. You can decide which roll to apply Foe Slayer to after the roll is made which is a nice benefit at least.
Honestly, my only gripe with this feature is that it only applies to one attack per turn. It’s pretty cool otherwise.
Ranger Archetype – Gloom Stalker
While I was pretty down on the majority of the ranger’s class features, the features they gain from their archetype are all very cool. XGtE in general improved the ranger significantly in my opinion, though that’s not to say that Hunter from the PHB is a bad option either.
Gloom Stalker Magic – Level 3, 5, 9, 13, and 17
At each of the levels listed above, you’ll learn a new spell. Each spell will count as a ranger spell, but they won’t count against your total spells known.
1st-Level: Disguise Self
2nd-Level: Rope Trick
4th-Level: Greater Invisibility
So not only do we gain a ton of new spells to bolster the ranger’s small pool of known spells, but they’re all both good and flavorful. These spells can help you and your allies sneak your way into dangerous locations, give you new tools in combat, and escape deadly foes.
I’ll go into a bit more detail on these spells later on in this article.
Dread Ambusher – Level 3
Right off the bat, Dread Ambusher lets us add our Wisdom modifier to our initiative rolls. This is important because the second portion of this feature grants a gloom stalker the ability to be an absolute menace on the first round of combat.
On a gloom stalker’s first turn of every combat their walking speed increases. Not only that, but they gain an additional weapon attack as part of their Attack action that deals an additional 1d8 damage. Free action economy? Don’t mind if I do!
Honestly, this feature alone sold me on playing a gloom stalker at some point.
Umbral Sight – Level 3
If you somehow don’t have darkvision, congratulations you now have it. If you already have darkvision then yours gets increased by an additional 30 ft.
This means that our drow will have 150 ft. of darkvision.
What do your elf eyes see?
Oh, plus, if you’re fighting creatures that are using darkvision to see you, you are effectively invisible to them provided you are cloaked by darkness. If you can manipulate your environment in your favor you can wind up having advantage on your weapon attacks regularly.
Iron Mind – Level 7
The Underdark is full of scary stuff. Illithids, drow, monstrosities, demons, etc. you get the picture.
Only those with wills of iron can survive, and at this point in your gloom stalker career you’ve not only survived in such conditions, but you’ve also thrived. With this in mind, treat yourself to proficiency in Wisdom saving throws.
This is a fantastic feature because Wisdom is one of the three most-used saving throw abilities in D&D 5e. You’ll now have proficiency in two out of the three thanks to your starting proficiencies.
If you have proficiency in Wisdom saving throws already you can opt to choose Charisma or Intelligence instead.
Stalker’s Flurry – Level 11
This is sort of like the Arcane Archer Fighter’s Curved Shot except it’s better. No, seriously, this is a fantastic feature.
If you happen to miss an attack, you can make another weapon attack as part of that same action. So already this is off to a great start because this doesn’t use up any other part of our action economy in combat. It’s a “get out of jail free” card.
Unlike Curved Shot, Stalker’s Flurry allows you to attack the same target or a different one if you so choose. This means that we can be much more liberal with our use of Sharpshooter‘s -5/+10 Power Attack feature.
Also, if you took Crossbow Expert you can even use this feature during your Bonus action weapon attack.
Shadowy Dodge – Level 15
You are so powerful that you can now manipulate supernatural shadows around you. Now that’s some spicy flavor right there!
You can use these shadows as a reaction to impose disadvantage on an attack made against you. The only downsides to this feature are that you have to use this feature before you know the outcome of the roll, and you can’t use this against an attack made with advantage against you.
While it certainly comes later than the rogue’s Uncanny Dodge feature, Shadowy Dodge gives gloom stalkers the ability to straight-up avoid damage rather than reduce it which has its perks.
We have 11 total spells that we can learn at level 20. I’ll be listing more than that and will be leaving some off that I don’t personally value as much. Feel free to stray from this list if you’re looking for something different!
Keep in mind that if you’re playing a drow like me you’ll also have the Dancing Lights Cantrip.
Disguise Self*, Faerie Fire* Cure Wounds, Goodberry, Hunter’s Mark
Disguise Self will allow you to walk around looking like a completely different person. It’s an easy way to sneak into drow forts to procure food and supplies!
Keep in mind that Faerie Fire uses your Charisma score for its spellcasting modifier. That being said, it’s an option for potentially providing some damage buffs for your party without needing to expend a spell slot.
Cure Wounds and Goodberry are your two basic healing options. Honestly, you can grab one and then probably just ditch it for Healing Spirit later.
Hunter’s Mark is like THE ranger spell. You are required by law to take this.
Rope Trick*, Darkness*, Healing Spirit, Pass without Trace, Silence, Spike Growth
Rope Trick is hilarious and I’m mad at my players for never pulling this one on me. You can have the whole party climb up a rope into extradimensional space and just peace out for an hour in the middle of a combat encounter.
Darkness is a Drow Magic spell so you won’t need to use a spell slot. Just keep in mind that you cannot see through it naturally with your darkvision alone!
Healing Spirit is a ridiculously powerful healing spell and will bring a ton of utility to the table. Plus, it only costs a bonus action to cast it so it doesn’t impede your ability to deal damage during your turn.
Pass without Trace is another utility spell for our ranger. It gives creatures of your choice within a 30 ft. radius a +10 to Stealth checks. It’s like Hide in Plain Sight, but for everyone! Also, you can move.
Silence has enough range that you can use it from far back to counter enemy spellcasters all for the cost of a 2nd-level spell slot!
Spike Growth can be used as AoE crowd control in a pinch or as a trap for your unsuspecting enemies!
Fear gives you some AoE crowd control. It’s only for creatures within 30 ft. of you, though so it’ll probably be used defensively since if a creature is that close to us we’re probably in a bit of trouble.
Plant Growth is a niche spell. However, if you’re in a setting with tons of vegetation it’s an exceptional crowd control spell. It requires a creature to use 4 feet of movement per 1 foot of movement meaning that it’s twice as effective as difficult terrain.
Conjure Barrage gives you the ability to shoot an arrow and turn it into a conal attack. Lightning Arrow lets you shoot an arrow and then deal AoE damage to creatures near your original target, so it’s a bit more targetted than Conjure Barrage. AoE options are always a plus!
Greater Invisibility*, Guardian of Nature, Freedom of Movement
Greater Invisibility is an excellent fallback if Umbral Sight does not allow you to make yourself invisible to your foe.
Guardian of Nature, specifically the Great Tree option synergizes with a backline archer playstyle perfectly. You’ll gain advantage on all Dexterity-based attacks ad some extra survivability for up to a minute!
Freedom of Movement is a bit of a niche pick, but it brings a ton of utility to the table in the right situation.
Seeing is a fantastic utility spell for sneaking into places your party isn’t welcome. It’s essentially a mass Disguise Self spell so it’s very useful if some of your party members don’t have access to this type of illusion magic.
Conjure Volley gives us a hefty AoE damage option, plus it’s all magical damage so resistance most likely won’t be able to factor into it like any of your regular weapon attacks.
Optionally, you could take Swift Quiver if you find yourself preferring to make additional single target attacks for a combat encounter instead of a single AoE.
Strengths of this Build
You’re a damn fine fighter. In the darkness you a phantom that can use a creature’s darkvision against them to grant you permanent invisibility in certain situations.
With Sharpshooter, Dread Ambusher, and possibly Crossbow Expert your opening turn is going to be a devastating volley of arrows or bolts into whatever poor creature had the displeasure of becoming your target. You will drop creatures before your party even gets a chance to take their first turn, I guarantee it.
Compared to a normal ranger you have a lot more spells at your disposal, including five that aren’t even on the ranger list! Your wisdom modifier, in general, becomes much more of an asset to you thanks to Dread Ambusher.
Weaknesses of this Build
The most glaring weakness is the sun. If you roll drow like me, you’re going to have a rough time out in the sunlight so be prepared for that. Seriously, disadvantage on perception checks and attack rolls is no joke.
While a gloom stalker can function just fine in the sunlight, they won’t be able to make the most out of Umbral Sight. By all means, try to make the most out of Umbral Sight, but there are going to be plenty of situations where you’ll need to forego it for the greater good.
Features like Natural Explorer and Favored Enemy will bounce between being unbelievably useful and completely useless depending on the location your party is in as well as how proactive your DM is about calling upon these features.
All three archetypes in XGtE, in my opinion, do help alleviate some of the issues that the ranger class has. I mean, just the additional freebie spells each one comes with is a noticeable boost to the class. Now if only they were able to prepare their spells like their paladin counterparts, that’d be something!
While I opted to keep this character build to a single class, gloom stalker rangers can work well with a fighter and/or rogue multiclass. Both classes synergize exceptionally with our dex-based ranger. Umbral Sight is a reliable source for free Sneak Attack procs after all!
All in all, the gloom stalker holds its ground without faltering. While the archetype certainly has its niche in exploring and fighting in the Underdark and other places with little to no light, its features work in any situation, not just in the class’ preferred locale.
I think this fits well with the flavors of the ranger class anyway. Every ranger has their specialty, but they’re able to thrive in any harsh environment.
Keep in mind, this build didn’t even touch on the possibilities of a melee ranger! I have an idea for that in the future, but I’m not sure if I want to dish out a second gloom stalker build so soon. We’ll see!
Fantastic build. Man I love single class builds. I personally get a little tired of the Paladin/Rogue/Barbarian builds etc…I would LOVE to see a melee version of this build. Great job and your content here is great! Cheers!
P.S. I do have a question: What is your view of the Gloomstalker compared to the Assassin?
Thank you! I’ll definitely keep that in mind and may revisit this in the future!
That’s a tough one for me. As a whole, I think I prefer Assassin, not because of the subclass, but because the rogue base class has a ton of fantastic featuers to work with as a whole.
If we’re talking about subclass vs. subclass I like the gloom stalker better. It’s hard to compare them though since the ranger is so reliant on their subclass giving it useful features whereas the rogue isn’t.
Thanks for the reply. And I tend to agree that the rogue base class is fantastic. Hope you’ll add an Assassin build at some point too. 😉
I meant to ask you last time but what is your favorite rogue subclass? I’m guessing the Swashie?
That’s a tough one, but I think for now it’s definitely the Swashbuckler!
One of my players plays a Thief and pulls off some amazing stuff. Arcane Trickster is also on my short-list to try out too.
Rogues are too much fun!
for melee use a race with speed bonuses like tabaxi or aarakokra, or one like bugbear with reach. you need to connect on the first round. then look for bonuses like the bugbear bonus damage. Aasimar is a not great choice, they get damage and fly when transformed, but it takes their action and they fly 30, so both lack synergy with gloomstalker. Really bugbear is best.
For weapons a bugbear wants something that hits hard. Gloomstalkers are not rogues they don’t need finesse to deal damage (but a tabaxi probably wants it). I’d go reach weapon, like a halberd or glaive. This opens up the potential for polearm mastery or gwf.
For spells, things like misty step are a huge benefit. as are any that can block light. Depending on your dm, illusionary tapestriea over windows to put you in the dark. Avoid concentration spells because you want hunters mark, especially if you have a halberd because all three attacks benefit.
The goto multiclasses are your boring paladin and rogue assassin to stack 1st round damage. A level 2 Paladin, 3 assassin, 3 gloomstalker bugbear that has surprise can deal:
1d10 weapon, 2d6 race, 1d8 class, 3d8 smite, 2d6 sneak attack, with advantage and if surprise assassin autocrits, +3 str (no asi here, and no feats). potentially this is 69 before the crit. and then they get the bonus 1st round attack that is still 1d10 +3d8 +3.
That gets boring though, as said. I like adding giant soul sorcerer, or spore druid, or fighter to get some sustain after the first round. gloomstalkers are nova style burst damage they need help sustaining damage outside the burst.
As a backup character I’m making a gloomstalker but there is something I don’t understand in this article (I’m still new to d&d so I might have missed something stupid)
From what I read in the crossbow expert feat:
“When you use the Attack action and attack with a onehanded weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a hand crossbow you are holding. ”
So this next line in this article is the one I don’t get:
Crossbow Expert* – Should you opt for a weapon with a bit more punch such as a heavy crossbow, you’ll want to pick up Crossbow Expert. You’ll get rid of that pesky loading property and be able to make weapon attacks with a crossbow using your bonus action, boosting your action economy.
So my point is: the feat says the bonus action is with a HAND crossbow, not a heavy crossbow right? So the only advantage of taking this (if you’re using a heavy crossbow) is for the loading property?
Or where am I seeing this wrong?
Nope, you had that right! I revised that section a bit. Thank you!