Saturday, January 28, 2012

The "Aragorn Style Ranger" as Fox Mulder

"Are you frightened? Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you" -Aragorn

Just what is a ranger in your gaming world? Is it simply a fighter who is wood-wise or "skulks around in the woods", as I've seen him described? Some sort of dual weapon wielding martial arts expert? Mythmere's blog has an excerpt from the  transcript of  Class Design: From Assassins to Wizards, with Monte Cooke, Bruce Cordell, and Robert J. Schwalb.

"Greg: Are there any classes that you're now interested in because of the design work you've been doing?

Rob: They're all awesome, but I think I would have to pick the Ranger. There's so much stuff going on that I'm excited for each version. You could make up a beast ranger, or an Aragorn stye ranger or a Drizzt style ranger and they all feel awesome and icon"

I don't pretend to know what a Drizzt style ranger is. All I know is that it has something to do with Forgotten Realms, which I've never played nor read any material on.

So, just what is an Aragorn style ranger? In Middle-earth that is a very complicated question. It has to do with an ancient line of kings, some atlantean style shenanigans, a race unto themselves and quite a bit of other esoteric stuff that might or might not fit into your campaign world. The more you use, the more sense there will be of "ripping off" Tolkien.

But what is the essence of such a ranger in D&D? I'm a long time AD&D player, and use that for all of my gaming reference. There were bits about surprise, tracking, and general woodland stuff. But here's the most interesting part to me:

1) They use d8 hit dice instead of d10 as a fighter

2) Against certain "giant class" humanoid opponents (which include a large number of monsters from kobolds and goblins to trolls and giants), they add their current experience level to the damage done on a successful attack.

So, the d8 indicates that fighting is not their primary focus. Toe to toe with a fighter of the same level, they would lose. They actually fight like a cleric. However... and here's the fascinating point... they get considerable extra damage to certain classes of monsters. They are monster hunters.

I'll say it again. They are monster hunters. All of their other skills... tracking, surprise, etc... are in service to this one idea. They devote their lives to hunting monsters.

Think about any normal society. Over generations, they go to war, build civilizations, get complacent, then weak, then fall. But not rangers. While everyone else is sitting cozy by the fire, telling stories of how terrible it was in the bad old days, the ranger is living and breathing those days. They know that any semblance of peace that is painted onto the landscape is temporary; there are things just beyond the edge of the woods... things that only come out at night.. that want to rip out your heart and eat it. They want to steal your children, drink your blood, and use your corpse as a puppet.

Knights are fairly good at dealing with such things when they are told about them, but they are easily distracted. They are the ADD characters of the gaming world. They'd rather be tilting at each other in a tourney and then feasting with their ladies than mucking about in the woods, sloshing through muddy graveyards, or crawling in dark holes in the ground. I mean... when you are only fighting at night or in the shadows, how can you get fame and glory? Give them a dragon that they can fight on horseback with 100 onlookers, and you've got a tempting target. But that other stuff?

It's for Rangers. Rangers can be the backbone of your adventuring campaign. The go-to people. The ones with the knowledge to save your ass. Because they know what you are hunting... and what hunts you.


  1. I actually usually consider the cleric to be the monster-hunter. Van Helsing and all that (focused on demons and undead, I suppose). Maybe the ranger is the mundane equivalent of the cleric? The hunter of beasts in the woods. The AD&D ranger (originally from Strategic Review, IIRC) seems far too much like a literal clone of Aragorn. Able to use crystal balls? Really?

    Personally, I tend to lean towards a more military ranger. Scout and outrider. Sort of the wilderness special forces of the D&D world. Not necessarily as much of a loner as ranger-types in literature are usually portrayed (loner-types are not all that good for a cooperative fantasy game).

    I think the thread that connects all these different rangers is the focus on the wilderness and survivalism. It's funny that dual-wielding has come to define the Drizzt-style ranger, as that particular bit of his character is really very specific to his backstory and not much connected to his ranger-ness. He was trained as an elite drow weapon master in his youth, but when he repudiated his dark heritage and fled the drow homeland, he needed to learn how to survive on his own, first in the underdark and then on the surface in the wilderness. He could not trust anyone else because they would distrust him as a dark elf. It's actually a pretty cool ranger backstory, but doesn't have anything to do with the crunchy bits they grafted on to the later versions of the ranger class, which are dual-wielding and an animal companion. The animal companion part is even funnier, because in the novels the animal companion is not natural at all: it is a figurine of wondrous power which can summon an extraplanar panther (and he acquired it in the drow metropolis before he left).

    1. Sure the original was based on Aragorn. But how many crystal balls are floating around in your world? To me, the low hit die and high damage against monsters defines the ranger more than anything else.