Rangers are one of those classes that have made a success story out of taking two different ideas – the strong martial fighter and the skilled wilderness survivalist – and fusing them together. While on paper the ranger may seem like a mish-mash of ideas, in play the class makes them work quite well. The only real weakness of the class is its inflexibility – you can choose your favored enemy and combat style, but other than that one ranger is pretty much the same as another.
Gun Metal Games aims to fix that issue with the aptly named Rangers Renewed, the third book in their Class Options line for Pathfinder.
A ten page PDF, Rangers Renewed – written by the prolific and inimitable Stefen Styrsky – makes a very strong showing of itself. The PDF has nested bookmarks, which is praiseworthy, along with several pieces of high-quality full color illustrations. While aesthetics aren’t the most important thing in an RPG product, they help a lot, and I was quite pleased to see that such care was given to such a short book.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of what Rangers Renewed offers, there’s an elephant in the room that must be addressed – since this book came out before Paizo’s Advanced Player’s Guide, with its plethora of new options for all classes, rangers included, we have to ask to what degree the ideas in this book overlap with that one.
The answer is: surprisingly little. There is some conceptual overlap to be sure, but not as much as you’d think. Two or three of the new combat styles are the same, and some of the alternate class abilities resemble those in the APG’s ranger archetypes, but that’s about it. The only other similar idea is that both books present spell-less ranger rules, but they handle them very differently.
So just what is here? First, we’re given a big list of new class abilities. Unlike the packages of alternate abilities that are APG archetypes, these are singular abilities which can be swapped in for normal class abilities (though the choice, once made, is permanent). Sixteen are presented, ranging from things like being able to gain a swim speed instead of woodland stride, intimidating animals instead of befriending them, or growing more skilled with a weapon (that is, gaining bonus feats for their combat style) instead of adapting to a new terrain.
After this, we’re then presented with two new alternate capstone abilities – new abilities that can be taken at 20th level instead of the normal master hunter ability. Essentially, these are also alternate class features, but they’re presented in their own section, something I thought was pretty cool, since capstone abilities are the rewards you get for playing a class through to the end. The first ability, veteran hunter, lets you be immune to one power of one specific sort of creature, while undying hunter keeps you alive despite hit point loss while fighting a favored enemy.
Following this, we’re given nine new combat styles that rangers can take. In a display of innovation, not all of these are actually focused around combat – rather, some let a ranger focus on doing something particularly well. The “beast master” combat style instead grants feats (several of them from this book) focused around connecting and bonding with an animal companion much closer. The “runner” combat style focuses on being quick and nimble.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t more traditional combat style choices here, however. From spear-fighter to mounted combat to mage-killer to trapper (using a net and bola), there are plenty of great options presented.
The section on spell-less rangers follows. These rules focus around a ranger giving up all spellcasting progression, in exchange for which they gain increased abilities with their combat style. That is, they gain several new combat-style class abilities at 11th, 13th, and 16th levels. Such new abilities are given for the nine new combat styles presented here, as well as the original two-weapon fighting and archery combat styles.
The book closes out with twenty-nine new feats. I found myself wishing that they’d included a table that listed them for easy reference; one of those things that you don’t realize how helpful it is until it’s not there. That said, the feats do a good job in presenting new options, with many being focused around animal companions – A Second Set of Eyes and Ears lets you add a bonus to your companions Perception checks, or to yours, or example. Companion’s Stride lets your animal companion use Woodland Stride. There are a number of great feats here.
Unfortunately, there are some problems here too. A few feats, like Death From Afar – which lets you coup-de-grace an enemy with a ranged weapon, so long as they’re unaware of you and flat-footed, from two ranged increments or less away – seem too powerful. Others make mistakes, like Sundering Critical letting you critical hit objects or constructs, despite the latter being vulnerable to crits already in Pathfinder. And a few just make what seem like simple errors, like several feats having “Expert Cast” as a prerequisite when it’s likely they mean “Expert Weaver.”
Still, despite its weaknesses Rangers Renewed does a lot to live up to its name. Even with the APG presenting quite a few new ranger options, most of the alternate combat styles and class abilities are innovative and present new options that aren’t found elsewhere. Alongside more than two dozen new feats and an interesting new way to have spell-less rangers, there’s a lot in Rangers Renewed that really does renew what the ranger class can do. Pick this book up and try something new with your ranger, instead of being another Aragorn knock-off.
[4 of 5 Stars!]