Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hating on Rangers

From Dragonsfoot: a guy directed the following question at me:
The Ranger from The Strategic Review, would you allow its use in your B/X game?

Or are you from the school of thought that would say, "If you want to play a ranger or druid or what ever in a B/X game, why play B/X? Just go ahead and play 1st Edition AD&D and be done with it, adding all that stuff to a B/X game makes it some thing else other then a B/X game anyway?"

To which my [edited] reply was:
This is really two different questions, not an either/or. The short answers are "probably not" and "no." Longer answers follow.

Regarding the ranger from The Strategic Review: this is not something with which I'm familiar, so I can't say for certain. But just because it's an OD&D class (or a class written for OD&D) doesn't necessarily mean it's in my B/X game...

Regarding my school of thought: I consider AD&D to be OD&D + Gary Gygax's House are my thoughts on adapting AD&D classes to B/X play...

#1 The Advanced Edition Companion...provides Labyrinth Lord with adaptations of the all the old PHB classes...I'm not saying they're perfect...but they're good enough for a starting point...

#2 That being said, I personally find the ranger to be a dumb class, as I do most if not all of the PHB sub-classes.

What do I mean by dumb? Well, I don't think it brings anything "to the table," really. In general, I don't find the sub-classes to be new "classifications of adventurer," but instead variants of existing classes (druid, illusionist), or souped-up versions of old classes (paladin, ranger, assassin). The monk is an exception but is a pretty complex class, unlike its B/X counterparts.

To me, any new classes should fill niche roles that are not already filled by existing B/X classes. A ranger is just a "fighter plus." Why would anyone choose to play a fighter instead of a ranger? They use the same armor, weapons, and combat tables; the ranger just has extra "special powers."

Because of the ability score restriction? Nothing prevents a player from rolling until he gets the proper scores.

Because of additional XP needed? Assuming an open-ended campaign, this poses little restriction over time.

Because of an inability to hoard treasure/magic items? This is why portable holes were invented.

And what is the ranger supposed to be anyway? What mythological or historical archetype is it based upon? Is it supposed to be a fantasy Green Beret (as in "airborne ranger")? To me, it appears evident that the ranger is a knock-off of Tolkien's Dunedain, specifically the character Aragorn/Strider from The Lord of the Rings.

Aragorn is a unique individual, not a "class" of adventurer. And I'm not running a Tolkien-esque campaign anyway. Rangers can kiss off.

As I said, that's the slightly edited version, but it contains the crux of the matter:

The ranger class is based on a specific individual literary character from fiction, NOT an archetype.

The term "class" (to me) means "classification of adventurer." There's no such thing as an "Aragorn" class of adventurer, and I find the AD&D ranger to be a rather poor attempt at modeling a unique set of skills in a "class-shaped" package. Are hunters and trackers a part of a fantasy literary tradition? Sure they are...going back to Hawkeye and The Last of the Mohicans at least. There should be a "woodsy" or wilderness savvy adventuring class in D&D, I totally agree with that.

Should such a class be restricted to "good alignment," possess spell powers, have artificial restrictions on gear acquisition, and gain special bonuses against "giant-class creatures?"

No. Fuck no. That's just silly.

Is there any justification for it being ambidextrous (as the 2nd edition and later rangers are)?

NO. That's DOUBLE-silly. Where the hell did that come from anyway?

Look, I understand that some people read what I write and pish-posh my point of view. "It's fun to have more options, fighters are so boring." This is, I'm certain, the same reasoning that decided juicers in Rifts weren't "kewl enough;" that they needed mega-juicers, and titan juicers, and dragon juicers.

It's the same line of thinking that leads to the Bio-Synth Cyborg class (that's Synnibarr, folks).
Even if I was playing a Tolkien-esque campaign, I wouldn't use an "Aragorn class;" again, the literary character is UNIQUE not "standard." He's a fighter with excellent longevity and a robust constitution due to his half-elven heritage. He's a great tracker/wanderer/goblin killer because he's been doing that shit for decades. He's got some healing lore because it's a literary device.

He's also the One True King, yo. Where's the King Arthur class? Where's the Lancelot class? For that matter, where's the Merlin class?

OH, there IS a "Merlin class," you say? It's called the magic-user? Really. So you get the powers of being half-demonic and aging backwards and druidic spells and bardic singing and...

No, no, no...those are literary conceits by particular authors. The magic-user class is more generic than that.

Right. That's what I mean. So take your "ranger class" and shove it where the sun don't shine.

I'm currently in the process of writing this little book, called The Complete B/X Adventurer...I know I've mentioned it a couple times before. It includes several new human classes (humans are O So Versatile) for fun and enjoyment. Each is designed to fill a particular niche or role or classification found in fantasy or "heroic" literature that is not already found in D&D.

There is no "ranger" class.

There IS a scout class outdoorsman and wanderer, in some ways similar to the inhuman halfling. There is also an archer class...a master of the bow, similar to Robin Hood or William Tell. You'll also find a couple different types of hunters...specifically the bounty hunter (who specializes in two-legged prey) and the witch-hunter (who specializes in the supernatural). Any of these might fill the roles left vacant with the absence of a "ranger," depending on what you're looking for.

If what you're looking for is a guy who "does it all," who has all the fighting ability of the fighter, plus spell-casting ability, plus tracking abilities and bonuses against "favored opponents," etc....well, you're playing the wrong type of D&D. Go play your superhero game, because I'm sure you'll find B/X a little too "dry" for your tastes.

Now a word of full disclosure: I have played an AD&D ranger before. Specifically, I once played a ranger/thief-acrobat/bard (half-elf to boot)...I am no stranger to cheesy characters. In my defense, I was 12 years old at the time; I've grown up a bit since then. That doesn't mean I've "lost my imagination and childlike sense of wonder;" if anything, I think I am more imaginative and creative NOW than I ever was as a child. At least, I am more practiced in harnessing my imagination...and I don't need the crutch of a big class filled with cool powers to get my creative juices flowing. I realize that for some folks this is helpful...but dammit, playing Guitar Hero doesn't make you a guitarist, and having a ton of special abilities doesn't make you a more proficient adventurer.

I don't think so anyway.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and being forced to work with a few simple tools (or a few sparse class attributes) CAN result in a rich gaming experience for those willing to explore the possibilities. Sometimes, managing a bunch of "special abilities" can detract from the actual experience of "play."


  1. That's what I'm talkin' about!

    Nice argument. I look forward to someday seeing your version of the Scout and various Hunters. Have you seen the versions in The Arcanum?

  2. Yes. Nice. Although I'm fine with a Rangers of the North campaign, or a Vikings campaign, they don't have to be generic classes.

    The thing about the retarded restrictions, though, which are purely mechanical or meant to emulate one fictional character - would you extend that to "no armour for MUs or barbarians"? Or "no edged weapons for clerics" etc etc etc?

  3. @ Faol: I'm familiar with the various hunter classes in The Compleat Adventurer, which I believe are the basis for the ones in the Arcanum. However, I have never owned/read the Arcanum.

    @ Richard: In my own games, I generally ignore weapon restrictions (I generally have all weapons do D6 damage, too). I have some specific rules for characters that want to wear armor that are not trained in its best can find that in me B/X Companion rules.
    : )

  4. Yeah, I seem to recall that The Compleat Adventurer was the starting point for The Arcanum.

    As I read your response to Richard, I am envisioning Mako wearing a bunch of randomly-chosen armor pieces in Conan The Barbarian.

  5. All right--that's all reasonable. I love the concept of a ranger(scout) class, but never liked or understood the super powers angle. In my old games I cut out 90% of their powers and restricted them to light armor if they wanted to use stealth. They didn't get ambidexterity or two weapon fighting (which is just a +1 to hit in my version) or hurl spells, etc. Pretty much just a fighter who concentrates on wilderness lore and specializes in hunting type weapons.

    I'm very much looking forward to this scout class you've cooked up...

  6. Of course, I respect your right to ban rangers from campaign and rules set.

    But I'm a 1e AD&D man, and I like the ranger subclass.

    You are right that Tolkien's rangers are the primary and most immediate literary inspiration for the AD&D class, but they are not the only one. As with most things in LotR, Tolkien drew his inspiration from earlier literature. In Irish mythology, you have Finn MacCool and the Fianna, an elite corps of warrior huntsmen who needed to master not just the lore of the woodlands, but also poetry (a form of magic to premodern minds).

    There are three aspects of 1e rangers that I don't like. First, the good alignment restriction. Second, the prohibition on more than 3 rangers working together. I just ignore these.

    My third concern is the ridiculously long list of giant class creatures--esp. the expanded list given in Unearthed Arcana, which includes obscure species like gibberlings and grimlocks. One infers that every time they train, rangers must study the anatomy, arms & armor, and fighting styles of 30-40 humanoid and giant races, including many that neither they nor anyone they know has ever encountered. This is obviously absurd. So, I cut down the list for my campaign, letting rangers start at first level with a damage bonus against a few of the most common humanoid species, and then add another species to their giant class hit list every time they advance a level, drawing from humanoids and giants that they or their trainers (or their trainers' trainers) have personally encountered.

  7. The archetype the ranger is supposed to represent isn't a scout or archer or dual-scimitar wielder. It's an elite warrior that is one with the land, patrols its borders, and protects it from invaders. The 1E ranger class/abilities/requirements make sense from that perspective. Aragorn would be the primary example, but I don't think it'd be hard to find other literary characters that fit that mold.

    You could argue that any other class can protect the land, but those arguments are pretty pointless because you could argue that any class can hunt witches, any class can steal things, any class can assassinate, any class can worship a god fervently, etc.

  8. You make a fine case for your own rejection of the ranger class (though this doesn't really need defending; you're free to like or dislike anything you please). You even offer persuasive reasons for others to reject the class: so far, the post is quite good. I fail to see, though, why it is necessary to resort to crude obscenities like "take your 'ranger class' and shove it where the sun don't shine."
    Has someone been pestering you to put rangers into your current game against your will, or otherwise giving you grief for not liking them? If not, why do you seem so angry about the idea that some people use and like the class? Their practices don't dictate yours; you never have to put rangers in your game (especially since you play B/X which has no rangers).

    You come off sounding like you want rangers gone not only from your game, but from everyone's. I don't think that's really what you want, so why the fury?

  9. "I don't think that's really what you want, so why the fury?"

    I thinks it's more passion than fury.

    I don't agree with all the EEG did it! and other assorted knocks on its niche-worthiness, but Blackrazor is correct that as written, the class needs a makeover in a big way.

  10. John Harper, JB definitely writes with conviction. I think that style can add clarity. You certainly know where he stands on rangers. If he had weakly held opinions and was overly diplomatic, you probably wouldn't read the blog.

    And actually for him, this blog is pretty tame. Meet him in person after a few beers and ask him about 4th Edition for a good comparison.

  11. "And actually for him, this blog is pretty tame. Meet him in person after a few beers and ask him about 4th Edition for a good comparison"

    Pet peeves and dead horse and the liberating nature of booze. Pass.

  12. @ Fumers: Now, now, do I really waz on about 4E at the gaming table? I thought that whole line of conversation was off-limits while role-playing...even for me!
    ; )

  13. Oh I forgot 4E is a taboo topic among OSR turbonerds. No, JB has never been guilty of beating a dead horse.

    My point being there's plenty more invective in person than on this blog.

  14. I agree with a Ranger overhaul, though I enjoy/ed playing rangers over the years. We limited ranger armor use to chain and leathers back in the day.

    On a similar note to the ranger hate, we abolished Assassins as a class. Any class could be hired as an assassin in our minds or learn to use poisons. We did not buy into the hash eating cult killer or ninja wannabe stereotype.

  15. I think eating hash as a daily requisite for an assassin is a damn brilliant idea, though.