Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ranger Love

I've had time to reconsider my earlier thoughts on the ranger and while I gave plenty of reason for not including one in a B/X game (or any other edition, for that matter!), I gave no justification at all for putting one into a D&D campaign. And just because I say that A, B, and C are reasons for leaving it on the cutting room floor, does NOT mean there aren't reasons X, Y, and Z for including it in one's game.

Yes, there is some ranger love about to happen here.

Let me reiterate my earlier points, just so they're fresh in everyone's minds:
  • the ranger class as presented have no literary precedent as an archetype in fantasy/adventure writing (don't argue with me on that, folks...one unique character does NOT make an archetype)
  • the ranger usurps the fighter's position in a party by doing everything the fighter does PLUS possessing extra goodies (and don't give me that weapon specialization "add-on" in the UA as a lame attempt at "balance;" that's closing the barn door after the horse is in the next county).
  • adding "kewl (if conditional) powers" needlessly complicates an elegant adventure game for the sake of some munchkin-twink's desire for an uber-character
  • I hate alignment restrictions in class for many reasons, but forcing players to play "good guys" gets away from the heart of the game (scurrilous rogues of a sword & sorcery tradition plundering dungeons)
Okay, got all that? Great. So here's where rangers come in DAMN HANDY as a playable character class:
  1. When you have a very small number of players in your campaign...say 1-3 plus a DM.
  2. When you want to emphasize alignment by making strong character choices and situations, drifting towards narratavist play that addresses a premise.
  3. When both of the above apply.
When the size of your gaming table is limited, it really behooves no one to play straight basic classes...say, a fighter and a magic-user or a cleric and a thief. Not everyone has the wonderful blessing of a dozen hearty souls ready to die in their DM's dungeon...in the past, I've played campaigns where only two or three players were available, and it was these games where a multi-role capable characters really come in handy.

For example, a fighter and a magic-user seem like a great one-two punch...until one (or both) of them need healing. A cleric and a fighter combine to form a pretty stout duo...but one that clinkety-clanks there way into ambush after ambush (at least with unforgiving DMs like myself). Throwing a ranger into the mix gives a two- (or three- or even four-) person party a wide range of skills and abilities to draw upon withOUT forcing players to handle multiple PCs.

And that is (to me) much more desirable than forcing players to go "short-changed." Because we ARE talking about a role-playing game here, and fun as it is to simply treat it like a giant "board/war game of imagination" it is most rewarding when players DO have the chance to role-play, matching their own desires with character action, identifying with their character and experiencing the imaginary world through the vehicle of the character.

That's a lot harder to do when your attention is split between two or three characters.

Forcing a small party to play short-staffed (for the sake of role-playing and a purist approach to game play) can mean condemning even skilled players to a lot of character death and thus lack of progress/advancement. And "no advancement" means confining your campaign to the lowest levels of play indefinitely...which will eventually get tiresome.

Trust me on that.
; )

SO...allowing a player to run a character with access to some bushwhacking skills (surprise, tracking) some spells, some extra damage bonuses...all these things will do well to help fill up and round out the small party of PCs...and at the same time doesn't infringe on the spell-caster or thief's niche.

[assassins, monks, and acrobats can provide the same extra "punch" over a normal thief and paladins a combo fighter-cleric, by the way...again, useful in small parties]

So what if there's no literary tradition of a "ranger archetype?" I mean, there's a ranger archetype now...you can see it in Paul Kidd's stupidly named character, Justicar, or the even stupider named Drow ranger, Drizzle (or whatever the hell his name is). Of course, there was also Weiss and Hickman's character Riverwind, and I'm sure Terry Brooks threw in a ranger-ish character for one of those damn Shanarra books (I could never stomach my way past the first one). AD&D has created a literary archetype with their ranger class...so there. Now it's out there: if you want to read "D&D-esque" fantasy, you may find yourself stumbling across this class.

As for the other reason to include rangers...i.e. drifting a campaign into a narrativist exploration of premise by introducing ethical challenges to players forced to be "good" (or else lose all those cool powers)...well, that's more a theoretical question, as even MY somewhat "drifted" campaigns of my youth never posed serious moral quandaries. But you could do it...and alignment-restricted classes (like the paladin, ranger, and druid) would be the showcase classes for this type of game.

BUT the first reason (rounding out the small party) is an immensely PRACTICAL, not just theoretical, justification for including the ranger in a party...and paladins and the 1st edition bard and characters with psionics...it provides that extra oomph needed to help small parties survive and progress, developing into characters that live and breath in our minds and that can provide us with a window into an imaginary world.

So for THAT reason, it's nice to have some "uber-class" options.

I'm just glad I have enough players at my current gaming table that I have not the slightest guilt for banning rangers.

Cheers!
: )

10 comments:

  1. A good post. I actually started AD&D with a ranger. I never did mind the alignment restrictions, but I think I have always had a difficult time trying to play a bad person...unless I DM, then that is a whole different ball of wax.

    I remember when you put up the first part about not liking rangers. And, not having them in the B/X Companion, which I still need to get my hands on and will be getting it soon. It makes sense. I also like your reasoning for allowing a ranger in a smaller group.

    Great stuff man, keep it up.

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  2. ummm... yeah. UA specialization is given to BOTH the fighter AND the ranger.... making it even less sensible for anyone to ever play a fighter.

    A lot of people opine about how weapon specialization was increased to double spec and given to the rager as well to somehow "balance" the fighter and ranger against the magic user... simply not true. It was included (and bumped up to "double specialization"- and given to the ranger as well in order to balance the fighter and ranger against the almighty cavalier and barbarian !

    Since I hate both the cavalier and the barbarian... and to give the fighter (and only a single class fighter) the benefit of weapon specialization... in my game at least the fighter is not at all underpowered or under represented when compared to the paladin and ranger

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  3. Good post! One thing I want to point out, however, is that Tanis Half-Elven is the ranger in the Dragonlance Chronicle novels.

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  4. @ Drance: not according to the accompanying adventure modules...Tanis was a fighter (around 5th - 8th level).

    Yes, I was disappointed (at the time) to discover this...I always thought he was a ranger, too (note: no spell use by Tanis throughout the novels). Riverwind was the only ranger amongst the companions.

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  5. Well...shoot. Color me corrected! That's disappointing indeed. As for ranger spell use, I always thought that was corny.

    Anyway, to reference the question of Aragorn, I think I have the following statement correct: Aragorn was a member of a race of men called the Dunedain. They spawned a group called the Rangers of the North. They lived in the lost human kindgom of Arnor, the northern realm to Gondor's southern realm. So he wasn't the only ranger in Middle Earth, just one of the few we encounter during the stories. Actually, I think Faramir was a ranger as well, belonging to a group from Gondor.

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  6. P.S. I don't care what they say, Tanis will always be a ranger to me ;-)

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  7. uhm. Robin Hood?

    Let's see.

    Good-took down wicked King John & Alan Rickman.
    Woodsy-Sherwood Forest was his crib.
    Magic-he must have had Charm Person; he ran around in tights and people still took him seriously. (Although that look does make robbing people easier.)

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  8. @ Grat Sax: No...that guy hoarded a lot more gold than he could carry, didn't track smack, didn't cast spells, and definitely did not fight any goblinoids or "giants."

    Hood is better modeled as a poor fighter with an 18 dexterity that spent all his money on a long bow instead of plate armor. Or possibly a thief...that would certainly explain him taking to a life of armed robbery!
    ; )

    @ Drance: Other than the fact that the Dunedain "ranged around" northern Middle Earth, there's nothing written of them that would suggest they have any of the skills presented in the ranger class. They're simply an order of wandering fighters.

    I actually like Tanis better as a fighter. It makes his character much more interesting (certainly not very twinkish to have a half-elf fighter!).
    ; )

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  9. Other examples of the ranger archetype would be Tarzan and Grizzly Adams.

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  10. @ Luke: You MUST be joking, right?

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