The Ranger from Aragorn to Drizzt

I’ve really been into tracing down origins of different D&D tropes and assumptions over the last few years. That, coupled with the fact that my game group is doing a “slow-read” of the Dark Elf Trilogy, made me think once again about how rangers changed from Oe to “modern” D&D (3e forward).

[Windowing out for a second - a slow read is an idea I came up with and have used to good effect in a few book clubs. You take a rich work and divide it into about two chapters at a time. Then read through it with the group over the course of a few months. We read Lord of the Rings that way and it was brilliant. I have read Gene Wolfe that way, and Dragonlance too. Anyway…]

There are two things about rangers that mostly were seeded in the early days but came to fruition between 2e and 3e.

One is two-weapon fighting. It appeared as a small paragraph in the 1e DMG (page 70). But before 2e I don’t think two-weapon fighting was a common trope in D&D. I know it wasn’t in Oe or Holmes Basic, but I need to look into the supplements and Dragon mag from that period to see if it was ever discussed seriously between 74 and 78. I do know that 2e used it to differentiate the ranger. (Zeb Cook went on record somewhere saying this very thing.) By 3e it was the subject of a lot of feats and mechanics.

The other is the animal companion. In Oe there is the idea that you could be recruiting monsters/creatures as well as humanoids into your cadre of retainers. But that’s more of a vague suggestion than a discussion. In 1e they talk about it in the DMG somewhere. (I need to revisit my research on this for specific references and will probably write all this up in my blog.) Of course Magic-Users has their spell for familiars. But those are different - more extra senses or tools than animal friends. And gnomes and druids got some stuff along that line. When did it first become a thing for the ranger?

I guess my whole point/question here is the ranger that was based on Aragorn, Robin Hood, or other woodsmen of literature is quite different than the Drizzt Du’Orden style of modern two-weapon fighting ranger with animal friends.

Which do you prefer? Why do you think the change happened? Is Drizzt the fictional archetype or can you point to literary/pop-culture rangers that fit the modern mold before Drizzt?

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What I really don’t like about the ranger class is the spells and spell-like abilities. I fucking hate that feature. It wrecks my image of the ranger as I want to have an Aragon style ranger. If that person had some healing power that was tied to herbal lore then I’d be good with it.

The dual weapon thing is interesting, but seems bolted on to me. The animal companion stuff… meh… doesn’t work for me either.

I think that overland travel and survival and exploration of wild places isn’t dealt with very well (based on my experiences anyway) in D&D and because of that the ranger class struggles to find a way to be something more than a fighter/thief/spellcaster hybrid who can use 2 weapons.

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PREACH.

What seems most ranger-like to me is …

Ability to move through wilderness easily, and to expertly hide, pursue, or evade in wilderness.
Ability to forage and hunt, including tracking and knowledge of the behavior of beasts.
Decent archery, sword, and riding skills.

Basically just a fighter who has spent considerable time in the wild. And I agree, some herbal lore/healing would be a nice addition.

Modern D&D however needs every class to have supernatural/superhero like abilities. Spellcasting, innate magical stuff, or in the case of baseline humans lots of stat-buffing. It becomes kind of an arms race. I understand that they “had to” do something to make the ranger compete with other classes, and I suppose they just chose the stuff closest to hand, but … yeah. Not for me.

Maybe more of the insight type stuff would be good. The ability to predict opponents’ movements. And an unnatural toughness - hard to charm, wear out, resistance to undead stuff. Those would have been better, but I suppose that gets into monk territory. (And don’t get me started on that. I love kung-fu stuff; not sure it fits in baseline D&D.)

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The Favorite Foe thing that rangers have is neat, but I’m not fond of it. I’d rather have a broader brush of “+X when dealing with nature” and a “X bonus for dealing with foes of nature” type of thing. I find that the way it is usually setup is so meta-game.

“Well… we’ve been fighting a lot of giants so maybe I’ll pick those… but there could be Outsiders… or maybe Abominations or Undead… Hey! DM, any hint on what would be good?”

Then you pick X foe and it’s fun for a while… and then the DM changes the foe you face a lot of (which is totally normal and right to do), and then that Foe you picked is a wast of a slot type of thing.

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Favorite foe is indeed very dependent on the GM and usually a worthless ability. Here’s an interesting thought on how to replace it – the Ranger has an increasing chance of knowing a creature’s weakness the longer he studies it. As a bonus action, study your foe’s movements and roll + WIS. DC starts at 25 and drops to 20 on the second try, 15 on the third. (After three if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.)

[EDIT. If you make the roll, the GM gives you some bit of useful information about the creature, starting with a type of damage that it is weak to - or conversely one it is resistant to.]

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That seems a lot more “like a hunter/tracker” of an ability than a list of foes to pick from. I like it.

It’s definitely not broken since you could just read the Monster Manual, but it turns meta-game knowledge into in-game knowledge and justifies it. Basically your ranger becomes the key that allows your party to fight more effectively. They all know a troll is weak to fire. But in-game if they have never encountered one, maybe they shouldn’t know that. One good roll from your ranger and they do. And it would work for any new/made-up monster the GM invents. Or for when they describe something in a way that you can’t immediately identify the Monster Manual entry.

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Is the creature:

  • Hungry?
  • Sleepy?
  • Afraid?
  • Vulnerable to X or Y?
  • and so on

I like it. Adds a bit of “I want to know something that could be helpful here” and then the GM gets to interject some lore about the creature/setting.

in one of the games that i ran with Geoff, he played a lion version of a cat folk and instead of giving him magic spells, because 1) he didnt want to use magic, & 2) his species had a natural aversion to to it, i gave him Shout abilities (from the World of Warcraft 3.5 books. Warriors could get shouts feats to use in combat to bolster his team mates, which were similar to but different than Bard songs.)

Sense he was playing a male lion folk, we rolled it as he was a lion starting to “build a pride”, so having shouts, or i guess in his case Roars, per day made more sense. as he advanced in the class he learned more shouts that did more things.

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Totally works for that IMO. That’s almost something you could give to any of the Lion folk honestly - a species/race bonus or ability. Could be tied to classes like Ranger, Barbarian, Druid - those that are favored by that group maybe. :thinking:

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At the time, I really hated RA for what I saw as changing the rules by writing a novel and forcing TSR to adapt.
I always had like the concept, but not the execution. Lightly armored skirmishers, patrolling the wilds and trying to stop threats with a well-placed arrow before the borders of civilization are threatened.
The magic at high levels in 1E felt like a little druid craft sneaking in to supplement their self-sufficiency, but it happens at too early of a level in 5E.
As for the little blurb about monks, I have wanted to post my thoughts for a while. Hopefully, I will get my thoughts together on that soon.

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I agree with Brett disliking the magic part. I envision the ranger as more of a wilderness scout

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I love this thread. This is my problem with the class for sure.

I also prefer a ranger without spells myself but to play a bit of devil’s advocate on that point. I’ve always been under the impression AD&D was using spells to 1) emulate Aragorn who did develop “magic abilities” in The Return of the King (although those were mostly healing powers, more indicative of a paladin multiclass scenario), and 2) the spells helped to set the ranger apart as more than just a fighter in the woods. I wonder if there are any Dragon articles, interviews, or lore covering why exactly rangers were given spells in the first place.

Rangers using two weapons and an animal companion (minus spells) is the version I prefer. My preference comes from my love of the various moor cat companions in the Shannara series by Terry Brooks. I was introduced to the moor cats long before I learned of Drizzt.

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Interesting piece. Echoes and clarifies much of what is being discussed here.

What you see here is a class that is influenced by the fiction of Tolkien (Aragorn has some small access to magic) and Tarzan (he has a large group of loyal henchmen and we’ll say that a Jad-bal-ja the lion is kind of like a Werebear), and Jack. Did you see how much they hate Giants? That’s totally Jack. There’s no guarantee of an animal companion, but it’s a possibility. It’s also one determined at random and not chosen.

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Aragorn’s magic abilities are, IMO, herbal based and blood based. Not wizardly or even clerical IMO.

I think the spells were added to make them different than a fighter as you say.

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Yes.

And I think many are getting lost in Aragorn as exemplar of the Ranger and assumptions that all of his abilities belong to that “class.” But, according to The Lord of the Rings, (if memory serves) athelas was particularly potent in Aragorn’s hands by virtue of his kingship, not because he ranged the countryside, protecting the Shire from incursions of the Shadow. :nerd_face:

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Correct - Hands of King were the key bits there for him to have that power. Much of his other lore was herbal and outdoorsmen type of stuff. along with the fact that he was like 100 years old or something and had fought in a number of wars, was raised by elves for a time, etc, etc.

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Oh, I completely agree Aragon gained his abilities from numerous aspects of his background. I meant more that AD&D was trying to emulate the final result, but I might be completely wrong.

Are there ranger-like characters elsewhere in Appendix N? I’ve read some of the Appendix N list but only recently started diving into it deeply.

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Should also be stated that back in the 1st Ed AD&D days you couldn’t just “make a ranger.” You had to pick the right race and roll the right stats to meet the prerequisites.

So, that may have influenced the “spell extras” to be added so that it was extra special :slight_smile:

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