Dark magic is the cornerstone of 5E. If there weren’t liches, evil dragons, mummies, or demons, there wouldn’t be Dungeons & Dragons. These are the threats that the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything wanted to deal with. The Monster Slayer Ranger is specifically designed to be the antithesis of evil magic. They are vampire and witch hunters, anti-mages and crusading vanguards. Are these hunters of threats to society also good dungeoneers? The Monster Slayer 5E guide might give you a decent idea!
Unearth the Evil: Monster Slayer 5E
The Monster Slayer specializes in defeating a single threat. They look at a single person and mess them up. That’s always been the Ranger’s best quality – Hunter’s Mark being one of the better ways to blow someone up – so they do the Ranger’s job well. However, and perhaps more importantly, the Monster Slayer offers a ton of ways to defend against magic. That’s something rather potent, since Ranger’s don’t get counterspell or decent anti-magic by default.
Monster Slayer Magic
As is custom with the rangers of Xanathar’s, you gain a few spells you automatically learn. These don’t count against your spells known; you simply always have these prepared.
|3rd||Protection from Evil and Good|
|5th||Zone of Truth|
Protection from Evil and Good is a wonderful start. This spell targets specific creature types, giving them disadvantage on attacking you, and you get advantage to resist their shenanigans. When you fight those creatures, this spell is almost essential, and is a good use of your low-level slots at any point in your career. Do remember; Alignment doesn’t actually matter here. Only the creature types matter. The Protection works against the Angel, but not the person who summoned the angel.
Zone of Truth is nearly worthless, because they can simply avoid the effect through pleading the 5th. You’d need an alternative effect, or a relatively high persuasion check, for Zone of Truth to matter. There are other ways to handle this effect, like with Charm spells, that would work more.
Magic Circle is really cool, but requires a lot of setup. You can either protect your tent or trap a creature in the tent-sized cylinder. The cylinder is tiny – half of the radius of a fireball – so it’s so hard to defend your entire party with it. It’d be really cramped. More interesting is using this to trap a creature, allowing you to make deals or get information.
Banishment is a tricky spell. You get it really late compared to the other casters, and it doesn’t solve the problem; It just delays it. But… if you stop an enemy Cleric from using Heal on the boss, or Banish the Wizard before it can fireball your party, then it might be worth risking a 4th level slot. And this class actually wants fairly high Wisdom, so your DCs won’t be too bad.
Hold Monster is Banishment with a much, much harsher downside, but allows for a save every round. Use Banishment to get rid of 1-2 supporting creatures (like buffing Wizards or healing Clerics). Use Hold Monster if you want to almost instantly destroy a single creature’s soul. As a warning, Wisdom saving throws tend to be much higher than Charisma saves. This will fail more often than Banishment will!
Okay list. Some of them require a bit too much setup.
Rangers tend to get some supernatural detection ability. This one is specific, but actually really cool.
At 3rd level, you gain the ability to peer at a creature and magically discern how best to hurt it. As an action, choose one creature you can see within 60 feet of you. You immediately learn whether the creature has any damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities and what they are. If the creature is hidden from divination magic, you sense that it has no damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.
So, this is actually pretty cool. Knowledge checks can fail, so you can instead use your supernatural ability to find their weaknesses to know how to hit it. This is wonderful, since you don’t have to metagame; your Ranger can be at 8 int and still know that you need something else.
This also helps your damaging casters. Say your Wizard is an Evocation wizard, with Cold, Electric, and Fire damage. And then they roll bad on their knowledge check and don’t know if a demon has any resistances. You can check yourself, and as long as you’re in stealth (something ranger’s are good at) you can figure all that out before the fight begins.
This also has some interesting utility in social situations. Say your current objective is to find a vampire hidden in town. Your party member knows that Vampires are strong against non-magical weapons. As you walk around town, you notice a few people who are potential suspects. This ability might be the last piece of information you need to figure out if that target has the resistances of the vampire.
So, the downsides. Nondetection completely negates this, which is perfectly fair. If your DM wants to keep the mystery going, they have a way to stop you from just solving it. This still works fine in combat situations and lets your Ranger have a reason to know information without someone telling them.
This has an amount of uses per day, up to 5. So you can check the damage modifiers on about 2-5 monsters before a rest. That’s… fine. You don’t need to sense every single creature, just make sure you know what the threats might be weak to.
Finally, you get your bread-and-butter ability; the reason this archetype exists.
Starting at 3rd level, you can focus your ire on one foe, increasing the harm you inflict on it. As a bonus action, you designate one creature you can see within 60 feet of you as the target of this feature. The first time each turn that you hit that target with a weapon attack, it takes an extra 1d6 damage from the weapon.
This benefit lasts until you finish a short or long rest. It ends early if you designate a different creature.
Just to specify, you can use this as often as you like. You just lose the d6 damage (and future benefits) after a rest, or if you look at someone else.
This is the same exact effect as Hunter’s Mark, without the buffs to tracking them if they get away. It also doesn’t require concentration, so… That’s right. You can use this and Hunter’s Mark for 2d6 damage on the first hit in a round. That’s… cool?
Because it’s only one hit, this is Sneak Attack without any scaling. Sneak Attack is great, but Sneak Attack that never gets beyond 1d6 is mediocre. That’s 3.5 extra damage per round, which quickly becomes insignificant.
This is fine for level 3, especially since Hunter’s Sense and your spell list are both pretty great. Let’s see what else Slayer’s Prey does for you.
At 7th level, you gain extra resilience against your prey’s assaults on your mind and body. Whenever the target of your Slayer’s Prey forces you to make a saving throw and whenever you make an ability check to escape that target’s grapple, add 1d6 to your roll.
Well, that’s simple. Also ridiculous.
This only affects the target of your Slayer’s Prey. If you walk into a room full of the world’s angriest octopii, you can only resist one of them. However, you can use a bonus action to put this on them, and then add d6 to your check to escape, and that might save your skin!
So, how good is adding a d6 to your saving throws? Well, adding 1 to your saving throws is pretty huge. That’s a 5% chance to resist dangerous spells and effects, most of which can stop you from fighting. On average, this is closer to a 15-20% chance to ignore their effects.
Most creatures have some way to access your saving throws; even Dire Wolves can force you to save against trip. This doesn’t need to be for anti-spellcasters. But, if you are targeting a spellcaster, then… you basically added d6 to every single defensive stat. That’s gigantic!
This is one of the better ways to boost your saves in the game, and makes Slayer’s Prey worth it already.
That being said, magic is still horrifying, and you only defend yourself with Supernatural Defense. This can help stop your party from getting crushed.
At 11th level, you gain the ability to thwart someone else’s magic. When you see a creature casting a spell or teleporting within 60 feet of you, you can use your reaction to try to magically foil it. The creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC, or its spell or teleport fails and is wasted.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
This is a weird way to counterspell… and it’s actually somewhat weak.
You essentially have the Counterspell ability, but reliant on your enemy’s rolls instead of yours. Problem number one; your Wisdom is likely a little low. Your DCs might not yet be up to par with the casting of your fellow casters, and thus your enemies have a good chance to resist it.
Problem number two; most casters actually gain proficiency in Wisdom saves. That just comes with being a Caster. So not only will your saves likely be a little lower than the saves of a full caster, but they’ll have a good chance to save. Ugh, headache!
But, if they roll a little badly, then they might lose a spell. That’s huge! And, thanks to how this ability is worded, they can’t even use “natural” teleportation to escape – you stop teleportation whether or not it’s a spell slot. The DM’s gonna have to get a little more creative if they want their enemies to consistently run away.
No matter our gripes, this is a once-per-rest Counterspell-like ability that could save your life or your party’s. Or make the bad guy stay still for a lot longer. That’s worth quite a lot.
Finally, you gain some nearly-guaranteed counterspell-like ability!
At 15th level, you gain the ability to counterattack when your prey tries to sabotage you. If the target of your Slayer’s Prey forces you to make a saving throw, you can use your reaction to make one weapon attack against the quarry. You make this attack immediately before making the saving throw. If your attack hits, your save automatically succeeds, in addition to the attack’s normal effects.
This is… kinda awesome.
This is an extra attack per round… as long as your prey is focusing on you. That can be hard to do, but if your DM considers you threatening, it might be likely. If you’re using a bow, this means that you basically get a free chance to stop any creature that you can see from really harming you. A lot of spells have similar range to (or can outrange) bows, so you can just sling spells and arrows across the fight at each other. And you’re at a massive advantage, since casters tend to have lower AC, and you should have +10-+14 easily.
But, casters might be a little more likely to fight you if you’re in their face. It’s probably easier to be a threat if you’re right there, punching the caster over and over. That will require you to take abilities like Sentinel to prevent the caster from running, but will probably be more likely overall.
Best Races for Monster Slayer Rangers
The Monster Slayer needs both Dexterity and Wisdom; Rangers do better with Dexterity than Strength in almost all cases. Wisdom is needed for Monster Sense and your spell DC, so your Magic User’s Nemesis works more often. If you plan on doing the melee build, you may want Constitution to stay alive.
The basic Player’s Handbook variant human is always spectacular. In this case, if you want to go melee, you might want to use them. +1 to Dexterity, +1 to Wisdom is important. This also lets you take a feat. As I said before Sentinel is perfect for ensuring that a caster can’t escape you, and making yourself a huge threat for them. They’ll feel incentivized to fight you first, and you add d6 to your saves and hurt them lots. You might be able to win races, even against potent bosses! If not, you can take other feats, like Sharpshooter or Crossbow Master, to better take down these creatures from afar, without sacrificing an ability score increase.
The typical ranger, Wood Elves are a stellar choice for you. Elves gain +2 Dexterity, and elves of the forest gain +1 Wisdom; not bad at all! As an elf, you’re automatically proficient in Perception (something every ranger needs), are one of the best night guards ever with Trance, and are good against charms and sleep spells. Your forest background grants you extra walking speed and the ability to hide while only kinda within nature’s boundaries. Great stuff!
Conclusion – Our Take on the Monster Slayer
The Monster Slayer is up there with the Abjuration Wizard as one of your best options for countering casters. The ability to quickly and effectively deal with targets is the Ranger’s favorite pastime, and this class fully embraces that. Make sure you’re threatening enough to be the target of spells and counter the ones that are dangerous! If you need someone to deal with casters, and are missing a damage-focused character, the Monster Slayer is perfect!