When building a swarmkeeper ranger in DnD 5e, consider the following:
- Choose a quirky race with high Dexterity/Wisdom.
- Build a basic ranger as an Archer: Archery Fighting Style.
- Choose Primal Awareness instead of Primeval Awareness.
- Learn abilities with the swarm: Gathered Swarm, Swarmkeeper Magic.
- Choose ranger spells: Hunter’s Mark, Ensnaring Strike, Summon Beast…
- Higher-level ranger class abilities: Lands Stride, Hidden in Plain Sight…
A swarmkeeper ranger in DnD 5e uses his or her connection with nature to gain a symbiotic relationship with a swarm of creatures: insects, birds, pixies, bats, etc. This swarm can attack, defend and move my character around the battlefield, as well as interact with the world in non-combat functions. For this build, I’ll want to make a fun, mischievous ranger who leans toward Stealth and archery.
Choose a quirky race with high Dexterity/Wisdom
This isn’t a typical foe-slayer with swords and high-flying arrows, though I’ll have plenty of that happening as well. This build should be on the fun side. However, I want to make sure my moves and spells are effective. Therefore, I’ll choose a goblin with a swarm of bats or bees or a kenku with a swarm of crows.
Goblins gain a +2 to Dexterity, giving me the ability score I’ll need for Stealth, armor and attack accuracy/damage. However, the goblin’s 2nd increase is a +1 Constitution, which still comes in handy for defensive needs. What I like about the goblins are their ambush tactics and general chaotic nature. Fury of the Small gives me extra damage on landed attacks equaling my level. Nimble Escape allows me to take the Hide or Disengage action as a bonus action.
The kenku version might be my favorite, giving me a small, crow-like character with a +2 Dexterity/+1 Wisdom bonus combo. Plus, the kenku gives me options for subterfuge on a roguish level. Kenku Training gives me 2 additional skill proficiencies in Stealth, Sleight of Hand, Acrobatics or Deception. Expert Forgery gives me the ability to copy someone’s handwriting or work, and Mimicry gives me the ability to impersonate another’s voice.
Build a basic ranger as an Archer: Archery Fighting Style
Because of my ranged focus with my swarm, my basic ranger build should be focused on archery and Stealth.
For my beginning stages, I’ll choose the classic Favored Enemy ability to gain advantage on tracking (Survival) or recalling information (Intelligence) about a certain type of monster (monstrosities, fey, beasts, dragons, etc).
I’ll also replace Natural Explorer with Deft Explorer, which gives me specific ability improvements at level 1, 6 and 10. Starting off, I’ll learn Canny, which grants double proficiency in one of my skills. Roving is learned at level 5, increasing my walking speed by 5 feet. Finally, Tireless is learned at level 10, granting me temporary HP equal to 1d8 + Wisdom modifier.
At level 2, I’ll choose the Archery Fighting Style, giving me a +2 to ranged attack rolls. Over time, this has become one of my favorite fighting styles. I have all kinds of tricks to deal extra damage—I just need the attack to hit!
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Choose Primal Awareness instead of Primeval Awareness
Yet another ability introduced in Tasha’s, Primal Awareness replaces Primeval Awareness with specific spells learned at certain levels. These spells count as bonus spells and can be used freely once a day. This means I can save spell slots for other necessary combat or healing spells. These spells are:
- Speak with animals: (level 3) Chat with my swarm or other natural beasts I find along my adventure.
- Beast sense: (level 5) This gives me the ability to see through a willing creature’s eyes. Best used in conjunction with summon beast.
- Speak with plants: (level 9) Now, I can actually talk to plants. Ask trees who has walked by or if something is inherently wrong in the environment.
- Locate creature: (level 13) More toward the traditional Primeval Awareness, I can locate a specific creature within an area.
- Commune with nature: (level 17) The most epic communication. I can learn information about bodies of water, monsters, towns and the environment overall.
Learn abilities with the swarm: Gathered Swarm, Swarmkeeper Magic
My key ability and theme revolve around my swarm, which acts as a force that can attack, carry me and carry other objects. Plus, this ranger subclass comes with special spells learned at certain levels.
Gathered Swarm is the name of my initial swarm at level 3. Once on each of my turns, I can use the swarm to aid me immediately after I hit a creature with an attack. Remember, the Archery Fighting Style helps me accomplish this ability more often. My abilities with the swarm are:
- Target takes additional 1d6 piercing damage from the swarm.
- On a failed Strength save, target is moved up to 15 feet away.
- The swarm moves me horizontally 5 feet.
I’ll also gain my first spell from Swarmkeeper Magic, which looks like this:
- Faerie fire (level 3): Illuminate a space with blue or purple light, uncovering those under an invisibility spell and granting me advantage on attack.
- Mage hand (level 3): My swarm reaches out like a hand to manipulate objects, retrieve items or even test traps.
- Web (level 5): a 20-foot cube worth of sticky spiderwebs is placed on the field, restraining those inside who fail a Dexterity or Strength check.
- Gaseous form (level 9): I meld into my swarm, fitting through tight places in a noncorporeal form. Until I release the spell, I have advantage on Strength, Dexterity and Constitution saves. However, I can only float around the map with 10 feet of speed.
- Arcane eye (level 13): Use my swarm as a floating eye, transferring what it sees back to me. This arcane eye can move 30 feet in any direction.
- Insect plague (level 17): My swarm transforms into a nasty, 20-foot-radius sphere of death. Foes who fail a Constitution saving throw take 4d10 piercing damage.
The Swarm Becomes Stronger
Writhing Tide (level 7) gives my swarm the ability to move me further, giving me a flying speed of 10 feet and the ability to hover for 1 minute. I can use this ability equal to my proficiency modifier, so 2 a day at first. Then, I’ll need a long rest to recharge.
Mighty Swarm (level 11) upgrades my swarm’s strength, granting these effects:
- My Gathered Swarm damage upgrades to 1d8.
- If a creature is moved by the swarm, they also fall prone.
- When I’m moved by the swarm, I gain half cover until the start of my next turn.
Swarming Dispersal gives me the ability to fuse with my swarm and escape a bad situation. I gain resistance to whatever damage type I received and teleport up to 30 feet away. Again, I’ll be able to use this an amount of times equal to my proficiency bonus.
Choose ranger spells: Hunter’s Mark, Ensnaring Strike, Summon Beast…
With all the spell choices I’ve already gone through, it’s hard to believe I still haven’t picked up my basic ranger spells. For this character, I’ll lean on spells that utilize the swarm.
- Hunter’s Mark: I use a bonus action to set a mark on an opponent, granting me an extra 1d6 of damage on attack. Altogether, I can make an attack like this: 1d8 (longbow) + 1d6 (hunter’s mark) + 1d6 (Gathered Swarm) +1d4 (Favored Foe) + 3 or 4 (Dexterity).
- Ensnaring Strike: Target must make a Strength saving throw or be restrained by magic vines. These vines deal 1d6 piercing damage each turn the target doesn’t escape. Of course, I could replace the “vines” with my swarm.
- Cure Wounds: heal damage for 1d8 + Wisdom modifier.
- Summon Beast: I can summon a beast and choose a form—one can fly, one can swim and one is built for ground combat with 30 HP and Pack Tactics. This beast shares my Initiative but takes its own turn after mine. I like the idea of creating a larger bat or crow, a flying creature that can pull off a Flyby attack without causing an attack of opportunity. The damage is 1d8 +4 + spell level.
- Cordon of Arrows: I can place 4 pieces of ammunition in the ground, which magically react to enemy movement and fire and arrow for 1d6. Because of my mobility with the swarm, setting booby traps around the field could be fun.
Higher-level ranger class abilities: Lands Stride, Hidden in Plain Sight…
As I level up my ranger, I should remember my basic class abilities at higher levels. Level 5 grants me an Extra Attack, which is absolutely devastating with the ranger’s archery (longbow, and damage effects).
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Land’s Stride is an ability I learn at level 8 that gives me the ability to move through nonmagical difficult terrain without taking extra movement. I also avoid being swallowed by magical plants and can move through thorns and needles without taking damage. The magical plant evasion is a nice touch.
Level 10 grants me Hide in Plain Sight, which essentially makes me a camouflage master and gives me a bonus +10 to Stealth rolls. I’ll need access to fresh mud and natural ingredients to make the camouflage. Plus, I’ll need 10 minutes or so to craft my look.
Vanish cranks this hiding ability up a notch with a free Hide action as a bonus action. Also, I can’t be tracked by nonmagical means. That is, unless I want to be tracked.
Feral Senses comes at level 18, giving me the ability to sense enemies who are invisible. I no longer have disadvantage against enemies I can’t see.
Foe Slayer is my final ranger ability at level 20, adding my Wisdom modifier to attack or damage rolls against a favored foe. Now, I’ll gain an additional 2 or 3 damage to the 1d4 I roll.
To Sum it Up
This is a fun and unique ranger class. I like the aspect of controlling a swarm for attacks and movement around the field. Plus, the creative freedom to transform the swarm into whatever I want is nice addition.
Ultimately, the kenku crow swarm was my favorite concept from this build. I haven’t found a ranger class I like more for the kenku crow-people.