I will start out by writing out my spec. I specced with high realm rank in mind.
Natural Spec / With Items / With Rank 8
Stealth 30 41 48
Bow 34 45 52
Pierce 34 45 52
Pathf. 48 48 48
CD 17 28 35
The way I look at speccing a Ranger is basically to divide the spec lines up and see how items and rank affect each. For example, if you had stealth at a natural 50, it is the exact same thing as if you had 35 plus 15 with items and rank. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have a natural 50 in Pathfinding (PF), it is not the same as 35 +15. Items and Rank have zero affect on PF - if you want a certain level of PF, you have to spec it. In between these two extremes, you have Bow, Pierce/Blades and CD. For bow, the last level you need to spec to for the best crit shot is at 27, so in this case 35 plus 15 bow would give you the same thing as a natural 50. Pierce/Blades and CD lose styles you would get if you specced it out naturally. In the case of CD, the styles don't matter all that much so you don't need to worry about it. With Pierce/Blades, you want to get to the styles naturally - I recommend at least 34 for Pierce and 39 if you go Blades. More on that decision in a minute. The conventional wisdom says CD should be at 2/3 melee (pierce) - to get the optimum damage. I agree with that. For Bow and Pierce/Blades you will find severely diminshing returns over 50. With See Hidden in the game, you will be using your daggers as much as you use your bow, so the days of the high bow specced sniper are long past. It just doesn't pay. You want to be well rounded now.
Pierce or Blades?
Well, this all depends on a number of factors. Are you a Keen or Celt? (If you are an Elf then I guess go with the Keen suggestions, or reroll a Keen!) Personally, I recommend Keen! You can't lose (and all-Keen groups are funny as hell, don't miss out on a chance at that)! Many folks go Celt for the higher str and con - and that is fine, some would say preferrable - although the Celts are kinda stinky to my Keen nose. Keens have higher dex and qui. Pierce relies on both str and dex, while Blades is based on Str. For this reason, most Keens go Pierce and many Celts go Blades. The Blades are attractive to many Rangers because they are more effective versus enemy assassins' armor types - and those are our natural predators. Personally, I recommend Pierce - and here is why. The Pierce styles are better overall - and definitely better due to the Diamondback style at 25 (off evade). This one style, in my opinion, more than makes up for the natural resistance of assassins to Pierce weapons. Also, you can take Pierce to 34 and be happy with your high-end style chain - most Blades users will tell you it is essential to go to 39. This saves you spec points for other things. Remember, you get diminishing returns over 50 for Pierce and Blades - and 39 plus 11 for items gets you straight to 50 without even taking realm ranks into consideration. Another reason I like Piercing over Blades versus assassins is that most assassins will lay a Str debuff on you right away anyway, and since Pierce relies on Str AND Dex, the debuff won't affect you as badly. Another reason to be a Keen Ranger with the higher Dex and Qui is that evade is more effective the higher these stats are. I can't tell you the formula, but it's true. You evade more, you get to Diamondback Stun more often, your opponents die more. Dodger helps this a lot as well - so I recommend at least Dodger 2 for your RA's early on.
Some Rangers will tell you they specced 50 bow and love it. Bully for them - they are missing out on half their potential as Rangers. So you want to be a sniper? Who cares if you can Crit shot someone for 1085 versus 1014? For the amount of spec points you spent to get that little bit of extra damage you could have some mean melee skills. Remember, seriously diminshing returns over 50. So figure out what you think you can get to in realm rank, add 11 points for items to that, then figure out what you need to get to around 50. Heck, I had 46 bow for a while and I did fine in that department. Get to know the advantages of different bows. People always ask me what kind of bow do I use - I have to ask them in what situation? I mainly use 2 bows - a Heavy and a Short. The short is like a gatling gun for speed shooting - the damage is a lot less but casters don't have a chance to cast on me I am filling them with arrows so fast. Short is good against other archers as well, to keep them interrupted so they are forced to charge....and if another archer charges you, it is all over for him. Rangers rule the archers in melee. Heavy Bow is for all sorts of situations - general use, keep defenses where you get one or two shots so you have to make them count, etc. It is a lot slower but it packs a wallop! There are ways to speed up your shooting - get your quickness to 250 and get Mastery of Archery realm ability. (250 seems to be the cutoff - anything over that in quickness doesn't seem to affect your bow speed anymore). For Speccing bow, I wouldn't go any higher than 36 (you can get to 50 easily with 11 from items and then realm rank 4).
Well, in my mind there are two ways to go with stealth. High or super low (1). People that go low - ONE point in stealth - use it as an enemy stealther detector by flashing it on and off all the time. If an enemy stealther is near, you won't be able to stealth - these people generally grab True Sight as their first RA. The lower your stealth, the larger the range you have to be from enemy to be able to stealth, so with stealth at 1 you have the largest range enemy stealth detector you can have. Personally, I love stealth, and love high stealth - it serves me very well. The advantage to the 1 stealth point approach is that it leaves you spec points for melee, etc. For me, however, high stealth is much more functional. You can be closer to an enemy when you stealth, allowing for timely escapes. Assassins might not see you when camo is up (they all have see hidden nowadays). Scouting is an important ability for Rangers, and high stealth lends itself to that. It is easier to travel with other stealthers if you have high stealth and can keep an eye on them and keep up with them. There is nothing worse than traveling in a stealth group and have to unstealth to keep up with the other stealthers because your stealth is so low that you move so slowly. (You move faster in stealth the higher your stealth...it has to do with a ratio between your level and the level of your stealth - something like that). Stealth over 50 does absolutely nothing for you - so make sure you leave some room for realm ranks at the other end, once you add in your items. I would recommend 30 stealth, just as I have it - leaves you room to grow to 50 as you reach realm ranks, and it puts you at 42 with items and rank 2), which is decent enough at that stage.
The different levels of Pathfinding get you your different levels of buffs and speed spell. The majority of Rangers these days seem to think the damage add buff is the most important, and they try to make sure they have the highest level of dmg add (46). There have been a lot of complaints on the Ranger boards because of a tweak to damage add in the game and they are worried they screwed ours up. If they did, I believe they will fix it soon, but I have not noticed anything wrong with my dmg add personally. Most Rangers nowadays are going 46 or 48 PF - although there are a lot of exceptions. My take on PF is that you want to get that last dex/qui buff. I don't buffbot so it is a real help to me. Remember, dex/qui affect evade, bow speed, pierce damage, melee speed, etc etc. I think a lot of people overlook this. It helps melee and bow, and the only way to get it is to spec it. Well worth it to me.
Well I basically covered this earlier - get your CD to 2/3 of your melee for optimum damage output. Dual wield is helpful versus shield users as well, especially if you are a fast hitter. I don't know a single ranger that uses a shield / dagger combo, so don't even ask me about doing that (ok go ahead and equip one if you like while you are running around to deflect arrows, just don't fight with a shield). CD styles are pretty lame for the most part, but I do use two of the lower ones after I evade and stun them with DB - it is a CD evade chain - one bleeds them and one slows their weapon speed which is helpful.
I hear Rangers complaining all the time about sucking in melee, and I figure they must have an old sniper spec, only to find out they have more pierce and CD than I do. They just need to learn how to fight. When you do a neck check after porting, hit the macro you are going to set up to turn Cancelstyle Off. If you are a button masher like I am, you will truly benefit from Cancelstyle Off. Ask one of the tanks in your guild to explain it. Use backup styles - when I fight I hit two styles at a time: Diamondback and Black Widow, Diamondback and Sidewinder, then DB and Asp's Bite. If you evade, the DB goes off and you can use the CD evade styles and then DB some more or chain it. If you don't evade, it uses the secondary style and you can go up the chain from there. If they block or parry or you miss, start at the beginning of the chain again by hitting DB / BW. You might be laughing about now, but you would be amazed how many Rangers have no idea to melee. We didn't used to have to melee much, so many never learned the basics. Get to know the enemy classes better and know their capabilities. This will help you choose who to start beating on or shooting first. This is very important! Get those casters and healers and hunters out of the way first...
Group Ranger versus Solo Ranger Specs
Some Rangers know that they will always be in groups, always have buffs, etc, and that is fine. If you know that is how you like to play, then my speccing suggestions may not apply. You may not need stealth. You may rely on bow more. You may not need pathfinding buffs - even the damage add because your best friends have the right buffers. Heck you may be a buffbotter (I hate you), and can spend more points in other areas. There are a million and one ways to spec a Ranger. This is just a guide to help you think through your options in an intelligent manner. Personally, I find that my spec gives me the best of all worlds, and I am extremely group-friendly and do exceptionally well solo. Yes, of course Realm Rank helps me in this regard, but it is not the determining factor for the outcome in the majority of my battles.
I often get asked what RA's are helpful for Rangers. There are an awful lot of good ones out there, and at Rank 8, I still don't have half of what I want! Try to use RA's to balance your weaknesses as you level. If your melee is a bit weak, go with melee oriented RA's at first. Try to keep your ranger as balanced as possible. Some folkd go with all bow spec and bow oriented RA's then complain that they die all the time while clinging to an outdated "sniper" spec. Some RA's will help you in PVE as well as RVR, so I would go for those first, to help you level. Dodger is one of these. I recommend at least Dodger 2 to start with, and Dodger 3 eventually. Ignore Pain. I love IP. Yeah, they screwed up First Aid, but it is still a handy skill as well, though not nearly as handy as it once was. Now that assassins no longer have IP, it is a very valuable tool to have as a Ranger when fighting assassins. They may get in a PA and stun, but IP can put you back on equal footing (as long as you get it off before they kill you and after that stun wears off). Purge. I don't have purge, but I hear it is wonderful. Yeah, don't look so shocked, I don't have purge. I may yet get it, but there were other things I wanted as well. Mastery of Archery. Great skill - speeds up your bow so you can gun those bad guys down. However, the prerequisite for this one is Aug Dex 3, so it comes at a high cost. Save this one for a little later. True Sight. I love TS - it is a fun skill. Could save your life, frustrates the hell out of assassins, and is good payback for them having See Hidden. Necessary skill? Not really. But fun. Toughness 1 and Aug Con 1 - each worth a point spent. Avoid Magic. Worth at least a point to get level one and help your resists. MoP - Again, worth a point here. Tireless 1. Worth a point. Longwind - I just got this one, and I think the extra sprinting is well worth the point I put here. Avoid Pain - I don't have this one and hear mixed reviews. Personally, I think the pre-req is too high on this (Aug Con 3) to make it worthwhile. Falcon's Eye - worth at least a point here. Aug Dex and Aug Qui - you will have to get these anyway as pre-reqs to many of the others, so just get them when you need to. Volley and Longshot - a complete waste of points. OK, I am doing this off the top of my head, so I am sure I am leaving some out.
Do a /who in your zone now and then to know where people are. Even if you are not in a chat, take a second to send a scouting report to other Hibs in the zone. It helps them, it helps you to maintain contact, and it helps the realm in general. I can't tell you how many times a random scouting report has saved someone's bacon. If you do this regularly, you will find that people reciprocate in a number of ways. They might let you know what they are seeing, they might throw you buffs more often when they see you, etc etc. It's just like a magic penny....
Work with other stealthers - takes a bit to get used to at first, but boy it can be fun once you learn how to work together! NS/Ranger teams are awesome!
Give complete scouting reports. Include numbers, cons, location, heading, speed/no speed, names, classes you recongnize, if you see someone you know has see hidden then say so... The more info the better. Say what side of the wall and which wall, not just "at wall." You get the picture...make sure others do!
Sometimes you are going to die no matter if you did everything letter-perfect. Oh well, so what?! Nothing you can do about being stunned or mezzed unless you have purge. That See Hidden assassin that is grouped with speed is going to get you if he is near when lost camo in the last fight. Stuff happens, but if everything was always even, then you wouldn't play this game.
Move away after you make a kill. Ever die in the frontier and get twenty tells asking "where?!" Well so do your victims. Chances are an infiltrator or SB is on his way to your location as we speak. Get the heck out of there! Kill and move. Kill and move. If you killed an assassin, really move your !@#$%^&* fast - cuz he will get a rez and come uncover you to that group that got him up to show his gratitude to them. KILL AND MOVE. KILL AND MOVE.
Carry extra daggers on you and carry your own venoms. Shades are more than willing to envenom a bunch of daggers for you all at once, especially if you are providing the poison. Have a system so you know which sack contains your snare daggers, which contain your debuffs, etc. Use that third weapon slot and move weapons in and out during a fight.
Know your arrow types and the class of the enemy you are shooting.
Use geographical chokepoints to raise the chances of a good fight. Doors are dead giveaways that a stealther is near. The Alb wall in Odins or the Mid wall in Hadrians are both great places to visit. In either case the home team goes there to defend and check on things all the time and the away team has to pass that place to go anywhere. Unless it is really slow and you don't have a lot of traffic, I still recommend that you KILL AND MOVE! ...cuz someone is always comin' to get ya and asking the others where you are.
Get to know the frontiers like the back of your hand. Give names to rocks and trees and features so that you and your fellow stealthers have reference points to work off of. Download maps and use them until you don't need them anymore. There is nothing worse than people that have no clue about where they are. As a stealther, you can explore everywhere relatively easily.
Rebuff often. Don't get caught in the middle of a fight and have your buffs go down. Don't wait until you are losing your buffs to rebuff. Keep them fresh!
Don't be afraid to change your hotbar setup - it won't take that long to get used to and is well worth it in the end.
Not all Rangers are going to agree with everything I wrote here, but people ask me how I specced and why I did it that way, and this explains it as best I could. You might read where a Ranger went High CD and mediocre Pierce or Blades. The point is, there are a ton of options out there and find one that suits your style.