I love the concept of a Ranger that’s just out in the wilderness, living off the land. This survivalism should be reflected in the Ranger’s craftsmanship. Since most Rangers are ranged attackers, it makes sense that they should be able to craft their own projectiles. Even special projectiles that will help them in the variety of situations they may encounter in the wilderness. Meet the Fletcher:
I must be a glutton for punishment. Every time I sit down to design a character option, I decide to tackle a concept that’s inextricably linked to some un- or half-developed system of the game (e.g. Psion).
Thankfully we’re in the realm of developed. While the crafting system in 5th Edition (5e) is notoriously sparse, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything provides guidance for the cost and time spent crafting an item:
With the correct tools and 25 gp of raw materials, you can craft 50 arrows in a workweek. Sufficient, but mundane. I want an arrow crafting system that lets me see results beyond ignoring oft-handwaved ammunition tracking. I was left thirsting for more.
The Arcane Archer (Fighter) didn’t quite scratch my itch. They almost did the smart thing of avoiding interaction with equipment. The auto-errata’d Arcane Shot class feature which shouldn’t (and now doesn’t) require a magic arrow being the prime example. There was cool stuff in that design (Curving Shot), but the Arcane Shot effects are more point-of-sale than an arrow craftsman.
I was diving into a similar design conundrum grounding the Fletcher in the crafting system. If you make them rely on magic ammunition, they can easily run out. On the other hand, given sufficient downtime, they can craft oodles of magic ammo.
This bleeds into another issue. If a Fletcher can craft special ammunition, they should be able to share that ammunition with their party. Conceptually, this is fine because we share abilities with our party all the time (e.g. Bardic Inspiration, Paladin Auras). However, it presents two new design challenges that we must address: differentiating the Fletcher and balancing the party.
This leaves us with 3 design issues:
- Ammunition production.
- Differentiating the Fletcher in combat.
- Party power.
Why It’s a Bad Class
Like the Ranger itself, the Fletcher’s power is dependent on the DM’s management of the rest system. Given sufficient downtime, the party can become overpowered. Without it, the class can be underpowered. Yet, this is true for every class.
There’s always the chance that the player will make it easy on the DM by hoarding their special ammunition for themselves, but where’s the fun in that? It’s much more likely that the DM will have to manage the party’s resting and downtime to adjust the power dial. Thankfully, this can be a great asset in the hands of a skilled DM.
Why It’s a Good Class
We can address the design issues in the subclass. With respect to the arrow crafting options, we can balance the output and power. To make the class stand out from a battery of archers, we can give it special abilities. Finally, we can bolster the base class features by giving subclass features that provide benefits off of the choices you make with the base Ranger.
First, we can balance for how many arrows are consumed daily because we know the standard assumptions for 5e: 6 to 8 combats per day, 3 rounds per combat. Rangers get 1 attack per turn until Level 5 when they get 2 attacks. This gives an idea of how many special arrows we should be crafting per long rest to achieve a balanced class. This can get really complicated, so I tried to tie it to proficiency bonus as much as possible.
Second, we can control the power of the class by limiting the top-end power of the crafted arrows. No way this will work if they’re as powerful as the Arcane Archer’s Arcane Shot options. Ultimately, if the powers are balanced so that it should be fair to use them every turn, even if you had a million years to whittle arrows. If you feel these are getting out of hand in a low-magic campaign, you can brew up different reagents that might be required to craft each special arrow type.
Third, we give the Fletcher some options that can’t be utilized by other options. A straight attack and damage bonus from Masterwork Magic is essential to class identity. We also drive the skilled craftsman theme further home and giving a damage bonus to to Fletcher. While the capstone ability steals a little bit of the Sharpshooter feat‘s thunder, I don’t worry as much about encroaching on stronger feats when they have other benefits that stand on their own.
Fourth, we use subclass abilities to give the base Ranger choices some teeth. Flight Tracker feeds into the Ranger narrative, and also lets you help your allies in your favored terrain. Detailed Tooling gives you a skill proficiency and increases your damage against favored enemies.
I had a lot of fun matching the Detailed Tooling skills with Favored Enemy options. There’s a hidden meaning behind every one. You should steal these for your Ranger either way: