Hunter’s Mark D&D 5e Guide: Tips, Spell Uses, Rules & Comparisons

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Arguably the most notorious ranger spell, some claim this to be the Ranger’s bread and butter.

While others argue that it is really not a “must-have” spell.

So let’s find out which of these best describes Hunter’s Mark, or if it’s somewhere in the middle.

Hunter’s Mark

Type: 1st-Level Divination
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: 90 feet
Components: Verbal
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You choose a creature, and any attack you do does an extra 1d6 magical damage, matching whatever type of damage you do.

Hit it with an arrow? Magical Piercing.

Hit it with a warhammer? Magical Bludgeoning, etc.

In addition to the damage you do, you also gain advantage on both perception and survival checks when trying to track the target of your hunter’s mark. So a nice additional bonus to a spell that is already good with its first effect.

Hunter’s Mark Uses

Hunter’s Mark is an exclusive Ranger spell, meant to serve as a spell built for them, with their few spell slots from being a half-caster class.

Similar to how a Barbarian will bonus action rage at the start of combat, most rangers will use their bonus action at the beginning of their turn to cast Hunter’s Mark on a target.

The secondary effects of Hunter’s Mark can be useful while tracking a target.

But this is a very situational ability.

It goes well with the tracking skills of the ranger, both mechanically and thematically, but again, those are situational.

The primary effect is the additional 1d6 damage per attack. This is great at lower levels, however it does not stack at higher levels, which is a little disappointing.

The duration of up to an hour is great, and increasing it with higher spell slots can be useful.

Basically, you can do an increased 3.5 average damage per turn for an hour with Hunter’s Mark, which can be helpful in closing the gap. Extra attack allows this to pay off even more.

Hunter’s Mark lends itself better to ranged characters as maintaining concentration will be made easier.

Hunter’s Mark Build Ideas

Most ranger mains elect to take this spell, and a few builds might really benefit from his spell.

Hunter’s Mark works great, especially with Wood Elves thematically and mechanically, due to Wood Elves primarily being trackers and scouts.

Variant Humans also work mechanically, as gaining the Sharpshooter feat at level 1 can allow for more accuracy, and eventually a chance at an even larger damage output.

As far as exotic races, Tabaxi fits in both mechanically with the dexterity bonus, and thematically since they are more than likely hunters.

Gloomstalker Ranger

By itself or paired with a rogue multiclass, the Gloomstalker is known for the insane damage output it has on the first turn of combat, making it ideal for surprise attacks and high dexterity.

Let’s take a 3rd Level Ranger that just took Gloomstalker, and they’re using a longbow, and they have 18 dexterity and 16 wisdom.

So they go first in the order due to a +7 bonus to Initiative.

On the first turn, they cast Hunter’s Mark on a creature as a bonus action.

If they hit the creature, it will do 1d8+4 piercing damage, plus 1d6 magical piercing damage.

Then with Dread Ambusher, an additional attack can be made on the first turn. If it hits, that’s an additional 2d8+4 piercing, plus 1d6 magical piercing.

So a level 3 Gloom Stalker utilizing this can do 3d8+8 piercing and 2d6 magical piercing, or 21.5 piercing and 7 magical piercing, or 28.5 damage total on average.

At Level 5, due to the addition of extra attack, this damage scales even further.

So now you have three attacks, making the damage 4d8+8 piercing and 3d6 magical piercing if all attacks hit the target.

This is 26 + 10.5 or 36 average damage per turn.

This can be even more lethal with a Rogue Multiclass. Maybe throw in sneak attack which an Assassin can trigger reliably, due to you gaining advantage if you’re ahead of a creature in the order.

Which Gloomstalker will allow more often than not.

Hunter Ranger

If you do not have Xanathar’s Guide to Everything as an option, then a Hunter Ranger can still make Hunter’s Mark shine.

So with the Giant Killer feature, if the creature misses you a lot(or if you maintain concentration on each hit) it can do crazy damage outputs. This means each attack adding hunter’s mark on to the damage.

But let’s talk Colossus Slayer more in-depth.

If the creature is already damaged, then you can do an additional d8 damage once per turn.

So if another party member hits a creature first, or you attack it on your first turn, every subsequent round has you doing 2d8+4 piercing and 1d6 magical piercing.

This is 13 piercing and 3.5 magical piercing, or 16.5 damage total.

With Extra Attack at Level 5, it scales to 3d8+8 piercing and 2d6 magical piercing every round if every attack hits.

This is 21.5 + 7 or 28.5 average damage per turn.

This is a bit more consistent than Gloomstalker’s first round nuking capacities, so it will even out after three or four turns of combat.

Another Ranger Spell Option: Zephyr Strike

Type: 1st-Level Transmutation
Casting time: 1 Bonus Action
Range: Self
Components: V
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

For the duration, you do not provoke opportunity attacks.

In addition, once per use on your turn, you can choose to gain both advantage and an extra d8 of force damage. Regardless of if it hits, on that turn, you gain 30 feet of movement.

Besides giving us the best Ranger Subclass, Xanathar’s Guide also gave us one of the better ranger exclusive spells.

So Zephyr Strike is a much more effective spell for melee Rangers, due to the fact that your movements don’t provoke opportunity attacks, you deal an extra 1d8 force damage on a hit, and gain 30 feet of movement speed after an attack.

This essentially allows you to function as a swashbuckler rogue. And it works better with things like two weapon fighting, after eating the first round bonus action.

Zephyr Strike doesn’t last as long concentration-wise, and doesn’t apply to every attack on a turn like Hunter’s Mark does. But the other bonuses offset this.

This is arguably a better spell than Hunter’s Mark… but each shine in their own situations.

If you’re playing a melee ranger, take Zephyr Strike, if ranged take Hunter’s Mark, since each works in that area of play.

These two spells are much better than any of the other first round concentration spells since they’re the best combat spells for the 1st-level spell slots.

Things like Fog Cloud and Detect Magic are nice, but are best left to those with more spell slots and those with ritual casting respectively.

Other Concentration Spells

So how about some quick comparisons to other spells that are using Concentration? As that’s more important to half-casters than other classes.

Spike Growth, though a bit situational, can be a really great spell. You can tactically change the battlefield to your liking. Difficult Terrain is nice, as is the 2d4 piercing damage while inside or moving into the 20 foot radius.

This spell works best in more confined areas, as once it is sprung or if a creature makes a perception check to reveal the hazardous terrain, it loses all but its crowd control abilities.

Things like Silence can be great if up against enemy spellcasters, as losing the ability to use verbal components hampers almost every spell. But this is another very situational spell, as spellcasters aren’t really common until late tier 2/early tier 3 play.

Conjure Animals is a pretty infamous spell. And the majority of the time DMs allow players to pick the animals, despite the rules stating otherwise.

But gaining 8 wolves with pack tactics can be game-breaking. And a bit of a headache with 8 additional creatures for you or the DM to decide what to do with them.

So if your DM allows it, this might be the first option that can really outpace Hunter’s Mark for your concentration.

Conjure Woodland Beings is an improvement on the Conjure Animal Spell, allowing you to summon Fey instead. And can be used in a very similar way, too.

Also, Swift Quiver outpaces Hunter’s Mark. Albeit with a 5th level spell slot and a much smaller duration.

The Elephant in the Room

As most ranger mains can tell you, Ranger falls off drastically in higher levels of play.

Most rangers multiclass once they get Ranger to 5, since those are where all the best abilities are.

Ranger/Rogue? Usually it’s Ranger 5/Rogue 15 or Ranger 5/Rogue 12/Fighter 3

Ranger/Fighter? Ranger/Paladin? Both work if the other is the more heavily concentrated on.

Ranger is probably my favorite class, but take it from me, they can be quite underpowered at higher levels.

So some of these higher spell options won’t be available as you only get to a level 2 spell slot for Ranger at Level 5.

That means only Spike Growth and Zephyr Strike will compete with Hunter’s Mark for the spell slot at that level. Something to think about!

Final Thoughts

Hunter’s Mark is an essential Ranger Spell.

But depending on the build, it can be replaced with Zephyr Strike.

Both options are great, and both provide some good secondary effects.

Hunter’s Mark has a reputation as an essential spell for a reason: it works very well.

That was pre-Xanathar, but even now, Hunter’s Mark still remains a reliable and viable option for any Ranger in 5th edition.

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