I just rebought the game (haven't played since original retail release). I thought instead of jumping in with a vanilla balanced party, I would be a glutton got punishment and try to do a (quirky) run consisting of 4 of arguably the worst class in the game.
The problem is it's been so long since I've played (and I never used ranger before anyway). What skills should I have them invest in? What are optimal stats?
Can anyone with the game still fresh in their mind give me a tl;dr rundown of tips to make this work? Also are there any "must have" mods?
Wow. That's...going to be interesting.
First off, were it me, I'd be hiring a Scholar (provides GM Id Item) and a Cartographer (provides Expert Wizard Eye) as my hirelings ASAP. You can eventually dump the Cartographer when you get your second class promotion and can cast Wizard Eye yourself. I'm not sure what to suggest for a second hireling after that. I guess just fill the slot with whatever would be most helpful at the time and work with that, switching whenever your needs change.
After that, it looks like you have some choices to make. You can acquire a wide range of skills, but you'll never be very good at any of them without massive skill point investment. On the bright side, you'll be able to really, really focus on your one core skill: Axe.
Some major decisions and suggestions:
-The Ranger to Hunter promotion is the easiest promotion in the game. This is basically just a (reverse) fetch quest, so you could even skip clearing Harmondale Castle until you do it. Hit the Tularean Forest to get the quest, then make the trip to Avlee to complete it. You'll get more hp/mp per level and a bundle of extra experience right at the start of the game.
-If you're going to go Dark Side, then start collecting those town hall bounties right from the start of the game. Put off turning in a (non-timed) quest if it would interfere with you collecting a bounty.
-You're never going to be very good at magic. Potions (found or bought in shops, since you only have basic Alchemy), scrolls, hirelings, and player ingenuity will have to cover all your magic needs. Giving everyone Expert Body for the increased healing ability will be a useful, cheap investment once you get your second promotion. While I, personally, would make everyone an Expert in every (available) magic type, you'll probably be fine with just having two Experts in each magic (except Body, as noted above). Split the magic skills out among your people to share the skill point burden.
-You'll need to decide what you are going to do about traps. You can Master Perception, but you can only get Expert Disarm Trap. You can probably make everyone more or less immune to traps, but it requires everyone to be spending a fair number of skill points on Perception (at least 28 just to master it, and then more to be able to dodge some of the end game traps); this does have the side benefit of you not having to bother with points in Disarm Trap. Disarm Trap is going to be a massive point sink if you try to use it, because you can only get up to Expert; this will only be a point sink for one character though. The third option is to just accept that traps are going to hurt and to plan accordingly (bring lots of food for resting); this lets you have just one character spend the ~28 points in Perception to spot secrets, if you want to be able to do that. I suggest either spending on Perception for everyone or just soaking the damage and putting the extra points into Axe.
-Give everyone a bow and an axe and call it a day. There is no real reason to putz about with any other weapon types for this party. Have everyone master the Bow skill so they fire 2 arrows per attack, then all weapon skill points go in the Axe skill until you get blasters. 2h axes are going to be more prevalent because they do more damage, but don't be shy about using a 1h axe if it is better than the available 2h axes (which might happen with 4 characters competing for the same weapons).
-I'd have 2-3 people use Chain and the rest use Leather. The chain armor will generally be more protective, but you'll probably find a suit of leather or two that is better than your 3rd or 4th best suit of chain armor. Both will have no recovery penalty by the time you master the relevant skills. Go ahead and use a shield if you are using a 1h axe, but dump the shield as soon as you get a better 2h axe (or stash the shield in case you end up using a 1h axe again later). Don't invest more points than needed to become an expert with a shield.
-Spend enough points to give everyone Expert Learning before increasing any other skills, then never add any more points to that skill. Everyone should get Expert Body Building and Expert Armsmaster when they can.
-Don't bother spending skill points to increase Merchant, Meditation, or Alchemy since you'll never get the benefits that matter from those skills (but do buy the skills for everyone). The Scholar hireling can cover Id Item for you, so don't invest points in that skill either. Repair Item is a hard choice; you'll need stupid amounts of skill points to use it late game when monsters break your high end equipment, and there isn't a single-hireling solution to the skill (different hirelings repair weapons and armor). You probably just need to accept that broken equipment is going to be a problem for you. I'd favor the weapon repair hireling over the armor repair hireling, since your AC doesn't matter if you can't actually kill monsters.
-When spending your starting bonus points on stats, focus on Str, Speed, Accuracy, and Endurance. Luck is useful, but not as directly applicable. You'll never be much of a caster, so don't bother with Intellect or Personality. Consider acquiring the Insane status for everyone and not curing it; the stat debuffs don't really hurt you, but the stat boosts definitely help.