It was now up to the rogue, the wizard and the ranger to defeat this magical beast. The wizard, currently airborne, raised her hand and drop it with a sharp word and a bolt of electricity onto the horn of the monster. The rogue was next and opted to slink back behind a rock instead of attacking.
The ranger was alone on the ground in front of the beast. The wizard floated behind him at the end of her spell. His blade connected with the monster's front left leg and ripped out a large chunk of flesh. Unfortunately the follow up axe swing failed to hit it's mark.
And that was when he heard it. A distinct clicking rang in his keen ears despite the chatter and moans around him. He knew that noise well. It used to haunt him in his dreams and give him many restless nights. His many encounters with monsters of this kind had drilled the sound into the deepest portions of his mind. It was the sound of the beast's throat preparing for a deadly attack.
'Get Down!' he shouted as he threw himself down by instinct. He only had enough time to look back and watch the arcanist be struck by an icy blast from the dragon's maw.
The cleric will need to cast another healing spell soon."
Many of the people reading the above passage I just made up will imagine a fivesome of adventurers fighting a white dragon. The little scribbling describes a ranger of a very much losing adventuring party defending themselves in a monster's domain. The ranger was shown using his familiarity and knowledge of dragons to deal a painful blow to the beast and dodge its freezing cold breath weapon. A nice narrative showcases the ranger's favored enemy class feature of the 3rd edition.
But what if I said the monster was not a dragon. What if I said it was a chimera, a large beast with three heads. The fighter was bitten by the lion head. The lightning bolt spell struck the goat's horn. And the breath weapon came from the dragon head. Would it matter? Would it matter that the ranger's favored enemy was against dragons and not magical beasts?
I had a love hate relationship with favored enemy since I started with D&D. My first character was a half elf ranger who hunted elves (well evil elves) and later dragons and undead. I loved playing a hunter and stalker of a favored foe. But it didn't take long for me to ask "Can we fight more drow?" The DM only planned for a few drow attacks early and was forced to make a recurring drow antagonist to rival my ranger to keep the newbie (me) happy about my choice.
4th edition stripped the creature type dependence away. It didn't feel right to me though. Hunter quarry was cool and all. But it didn't push the intensity of favored enemy.
Pushing the DM dependence aside just a bit, I went into my mind and thought "What is Favored Enemy exactly?" The ranger has special knowledge, training, and experience dealing with his favored enemy. So a ranger who has Favored Enemy: Dragons knows how to deal with dragons. He or she knows how to deal with large scary monsters that have breath weapons.
But is this knowledge in isolation? Does it apply to other Large Scary monsters that Breathe fire/cold/electricity/acid/poison? The big problem with the 3rd edition version is that it did not apply to nondragons. But it should. A ranger who favors dragons should be able to apply it to other large monsters like sphinxes, other sources of fear like necromancy spells, or being with breath attacks like gorgons. Instead of a Favored Enemy: Dragons, rangers would get Giantkiller, Fearless, and Maw Dodger. Giantkiller grants a small bonus to attack against large enemies. Fearless grants a large bonus against fear effects and against Intimidation. And Maw Dodger grants a large bonus against breath weapons. Since my ranger also hunted elves, he had a bonus to Stealth to represent his experience and training to bypass the keen senses of the elves and another ability to evade magic to represent his experience dealing with the magic they constantly wield.
Using this method the ranger can stil have his favored prey while still having the feature useful to other enemies. This feature could also be applied to other types of beings. Dwarves and gnomes might get Giantkiller to display their dealing and hatred of giants which can then apply to all large enemies.
Overall I don't think Favored Enemy is a lost cause. It has lots of flavor and if implemented a certain way, it might be workable. Well, tell me what you think.