Friday, May 8, 2009

The "Real" Ranger

The ranger class was introduced into OD&D not in an official supplement to the game, but in issue 2 of The Strategic Review, published in the summer of 1975. Written by Joe Fischer (who was, unless I am mistaken, a member of Gary's Greyhawk campaign), the ranger is obviously inspired by the character of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings -- why else would the class be able to employ all items dealing with clairvoyance? -- and is described as "similar in many ways to the new sub-class Paladins." Thus, rangers have to be Lawful in alignment and remain so, may not employ hirelings, and are limited in how much they may own. The Strategic Review ranger is skilled in tracking, especially in the wilderness, and is a dedicated foe of "Giant Class (Kobolds-Giants)" monsters. He also gains the ability to cast clerical and magic-user spells, beginning at 8th level.

The impression I get from reading Fischer's original class -- and it's entirely an impression, since there's no expository text beyond game mechanics -- is that rangers are humans (and only humans, since this is OD&D) who learn the ways of the Wild in order to defend civilization against it. Like Tolkien's DĂșnedain of the North, rangers are civilized men who forsake the comforts and safety of civilization in order to protect those they leave behind. To borrow a phrase, rangers exist in the Wild but they are not of it.

AD&D expands upon Fischer's original concept somewhat, but the basic idea behind the class remains the same. Though Gygaxian rangers can cast druid spells rather than cleric spells, as in The Strategic Review, they share nothing of the druidic worldview, which is described in the Players Handbook as "viewing good and evil, law and chaos, as balancing froces of nature which are nbecessary for the continuation of all things." AD&D rangers, however, must be good in alignment and any change to a non-good alignment (even a neutral one) strips the character of his unique ranger abilities.

For some reason, though, it's common for many gamers to think rangers are somehow connected to druids and their nature religion, when, from my perspective, rangers and druids would most likely be foes, or at least often at loggerheads. Rangers are strongly aligned with Law and thus civilization. That's certainly how I've always understood and portrayed the class. That's why I don't think non-humans, especially elves, should be permitted to become rangers: the class is all about taming the wilderness or at least keeping its worst elements in check for the betterment of mankind. They're not nature's "champions" so much as individuals who've become intimately familiar with nature in order to better combat its darker side.

I'm currently working on a version of the ranger for use with Swords & Wizardry that draws a lot of inspiration from Joe Fischer's original. I'll probably post it here when I'm done with it.

55 comments:

  1. Interesting stuff, James. Makes you think. I need to look at the ranger again in Castles & Crusades and see how it stacks up against this, and if I can do a little tweaking. I think I like the distinction of “in the wild, not *of* the wild” quite a bit. I do think a lot of systems seem to put them more in line with a druidic/nature affiliation.

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  2. The thing I like most about the "classic" (A)D&D ranger is that the specific role and background of the class is up to the DM. All you get is rules for a subclass of fighter that has some wilderness tracking and minor magical abilities and you decide the rest. Whether they're charged with defending civilization from the wild or the reverse, the rulebook isn't going to contradict your interpretation.

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  3. I need to look at the ranger again in Castles & Crusades and see how it stacks up against thisAFAIK, the C&C was made under the original conception of the Ranger.

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  4. Rangers and druids are certainly at loggerheads. On the original alignment chart, druids are neutral with a slight tendency to evil. Druids sometimes practice human sacrifice!

    All anathema to rangers, of course.

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  5. Geoffrey,

    Which alignment chart is that? I don't ever recall seeing one that included rangers and druids on it.

    Thanks.

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  6. Interestingly, the Ranger description in C&C's Players Handbook seems to totally affirm James' description from the very first sentence. "Every king, prince, general or mercenary captain needs specialized warriors whose skills go beyond sword and shield." The next two paragraphs build up this view of the servant of human civilization entering the wilds as an antagonist.

    Honestly, I never really read the class descriptio (despite even being an active C&C GM), and certainly not with this interesting frame. It gives the character much more depth than the druidic fellow traveller.

    Someone mentioned in a recent exchange off of my blog a character class that Gygax was toying with in the late 80s, the Hunter. I'm curious what role this character type would play in all of this.

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  7. Gah, Bakshigorn.
    Couldn't it at least have been a picture of Viggo?

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  8. I couldn't agree with you more about the misinterpretation of the Ranger. I used to have to battle my players over that quite often. (Fortunately, "I'm the DM" usually won those arguments. :) )

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  9. The hunter is an odd class that feels like an attempt to create a de-Tolkienized ranger class from my recollection of it. If you poke around online, you can find its write-up. It's definite a post-Unearthed Arcana class that reminds me a lot of the Barbarian (and not in a good way).

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  10. Sorry I had forgotten that the Hunter discussion was an offline riff from a friend. I did just post Gygax's full article about the class up on the blog at if you are interested: http://hillcantons.blogspot.com/2009/05/gygaxs-hunter-class.html

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  11. Rach,

    As you could have guessed, I'm not a fan of the movie Aragorn, who was far too conflicted and angsty to be Isildur's heir. Flawed though "Bakshigorn" may be, he's at least a little closer to the character as Tolkien describes him.

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  12. Actually, looking again at C&C, it would seem they've hit pretty close to the mark (nice work!). Cool. I think I subconsciously transfer a bit of the the d20-era ranger to whatever game I run. :)

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  13. "It's definite a post-Unearthed Arcana class that reminds me a lot of the Barbarian"

    The format is similar, although to be fair, the hunter seems more balanced and doesn't have all the stupid roleplaying restrictions the barbarian did (i.e. not wanting to interact with the party M-U at all except to smash all his magic items). :)

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  14. Do check out the S&W Companion White Box Ranger - it is based on the same source material.

    http://swcompanion.wdfiles.com/local--files/resources/rangerwb

    - Neil.

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  15. Rangers want to keep the bears from stealing pic-a-nic baskets, while druids would be stealing the pic-a-nic baskets for the bears.

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  16. I think that the ranger should be open to the way the player wants it to be. It is just a fighter with some outdoorsman skils and some spells. Why not let the player decde ifthe ranger is an agent of civilization or just a fighter that lives in the forests?

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  17. That's a good point, James. (And BF). I must admit that I had a druids + rangers link in my head, and I see now that it was poorly founded. For example, I thought the backstory to module S2 had a line about a "great druid and his ranger acolytes"... when I look it up, I see in reality it was a "good cleric and his ranger acolytes". Interesting.

    I guess the actual link is druids + bards (per the PHB Appendix).

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  18. "Why not let the player decde ifthe ranger is an agent of civilization or just a fighter that lives in the forests?"

    I think a lot of these "let the player re-skin" arguments bump up against what the DM has established for a campaign setting.

    In some settings, this example could be fine. If the DM has a world where the forests are intrinsically evil, and corrupt all who dwell within them, then this wouldn't make sense. Other "re-skin" arguments are even more likely to violate setting consistency.

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  19. "I think a lot of these 'let the player re-skin' arguments bump up against what the DM has established for a campaign setting."

    I think more that people are just assuming comptability with the campaign world as a given before they even put forward the argument.

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  20. You're right on in your view with rangers and lawful. I once asked Gary about the ranger and being lawful. These are like paladins of the wilderness (my words to describe, not his). They fight for civilization in the non-civilized areas.

    As for elves not being rangers - obviously he changed his mind judging from that forward he wrote for that 2e netbook (which someone brought up recently).

    Gary said he gave rangers m-u spells simply because he thought it would be neat to do so. And he told me the reason why elves were chaotic was because they were chaotic in many pulp-fantasy books he read. This leads myself to think: in the way most people seem to run their games and alignments, elves should probably be neutral (good, true, evil - except for drow who would be CE).

    I think 2e just didn't understand the original concepts, and everything has been changed since (like paladins are "holy warriors" of the church).

    it makes me think. Imagine being an early adopter of D&D back in the '70s. And we'll say you love crusader knights. You write to Gary and Dave telling them of your Templar and Teutonic knight classes you made. You meet them at a convention, and give them a demo. Who knows; maybe UA might of had a class called the Teutonic.

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  21. James, I would say in your interpretation of the ranger hobbits/halflings are a natural class to allow. They are all about orderly country side which is what the ranger is trying to preserve. Not to mention Aragorn, the prototypical ranger, began as Bounder, a hobbit.

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  22. "I think more that people are just assuming comptability with the campaign world as a given before they even put forward the argument."

    Most "re-skin" arguments that I see show evidence of not possibly falling into that category.

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  23. I've always felt one reason why demi-humans, like elves, weren't rangers was because it might of been originally viewed that elves were already naturally rangers. They already knew their way around the forest. Unlike druids who got to know what plants were safe to eat at a certain level. Elves automatically knew such things.

    Rangers were an archtype: humans who knew the ways of the wilderness, and were adapted to be warriors of that terrain. Or if you wanted to imagine: rangers were human who learned the ways of the elves.

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  24. James,

    It's an article from way back in The Strategic Review #6 (Feb. 1976), and reprinted in The Best of The Dragon vol. I (pp. 26-28).

    You'll notice that druids are slightly off the center of the neutral box, floating towards the evil end of the scale. On p. 28 Gary mentions "Druids serve only themselves and nature, they occasionally make human sacrifice, but on the other hand they aid the folk in agriculture and animal husbandry. Druids are, therefore, neutral--although slightly predisposed towards evil actions."

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  25. My very first D&D character, before I ever GM'd, was a ranger out of that SR issue. He is still a high level NPC in my gameworld (where I stuck him after I created it).

    I had rangers have ties to both nature protection, and civilization protection, both. Especially the organization known as "Woodlords," made it their duty to protect "civilized folk" from nature and elements, and vice-versa. Doesn't always come down to that in play, but that is the ideal.

    Using AD&D 1st ed, I have homebrewed the ranger into being more open in alignment choice, and letting half-elves and hobbits be rangers as well - don't forget the "Bounders" from LOTR; ranger hobbit badasses who patrolled the wilds near the shire.

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  26. OH, and God how I hated the look of Aragorn in that animated movie. Sleeveless tunic and skinny legs hanging out (although I remember the miniature from that film being one of the best of the line, in terms of using it for other types). Almost as bad as the viking Borimir.

    I like tore-up and homeless looking Strider from Peter Jackson the best.

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  27. In a perfect world, you could take Bakshi's (IMO) better interpretation of the story and marry it with Jackson's (IMO) amazing visual interpretation of Middle Earth and its denizens and you'd have the best movie ever. Alas...

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  28. Veil: "Gary said he gave rangers m-u spells simply because he thought it would be neat to do so."

    I always suspected that was the case, though I never saw a compelling reason for them to use spells.

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  29. THIS IS A GOOD POINT AND A RIGHT ON COLUNM! IT IS LIKE THE MOVIE "APOCTALYPSE: NOW' AND DRUIDS ARE RANGERS WHO WENT NATIVE

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  30. I don't like the "new" Ranger. I don't like the "old" Ranger either.
    I think no class should have moral or meta-objectives built into them.
    This, for S&S style of game.

    It also has lots of problems, like the "stop being a ranger and become a fighter" issue, and the need to stay in some area fighting for a lord, and not been able to just travel the world in search of gold and adventure.

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  31. If you are using "Tolkien" as the basis for the ranger class, then it seems to me nonsense to exclude elves, and especially half-elves, from being rangers. The sons of Elrond are obvious contenders on that score, and the Dunedain themselves appear to have the characteristics of D&D half-elves, rather than men.

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  32. Here is my take on Rangers versus Druids. They do protect the human civilization from the wilderness, but not in the sense of the wilderness being trees and bears and wolves. This about how D&D world differs from our own. In here, WE humans are dominant species and the dominant intellect, the only civilization. Speaking from a Druid point of view, AD&D divides human-like creatiures into Man-centric "good" demi-humans and "evil" typically more bestial humanoids. But in reality, there is a wide variety of intellects and civilizations competing to be dominant in the AD&D Universe on the daily basis. Think Beholders, Mind Flayers, Demons, Devils, Dragons. How many of these are competing agains man as a dominant species. How many of them would consume man as we do chicken or would enslave humanity to serve their physical, economic, or magical/theologic purposes?
    The difference between Druids and Rangers is that Druids viee all this from poiint of viee f protecting Natural Environment (Dragons hoarding wealth and undead running amok would be as much a threat for them as industrialization of the forests and magical pollution by elves). Rangers primarily operate protecting smaller rural communitiies about these threats to HUMANITY. Ultimately the demarkating line between Demi-humans and Humanoids is that Demi humans will value all sentient life as we do human life in the democratic societies, while the evil humanoids will treat other non-species sentient life as just more meat, or like the early colonialists treated native populations.

    To this end, in my setting, Rangers are a semi-secret society, like thieves' guild, and all rnagers undergo an apprenticeship with a more experienced hunter to deal with one of the following threats ("Race enemies" in AD&D) As Rangers advance in lever, their study of the opponent moves agaisnt the more powerful creatures. Here are the specific threats that Rangers (Jaeger Knights) learn to track and destroy: Wildrness Abominations (Un-natiral beings taking root in the wild - Gibberlings, Giant Spiders, Giants, Fungi and Molds, Trolls, Lycanthropes, Dragins); Magical Monstrocities (Imps, Doppelgangers, Medusae and Basilisks, Elementals, Efreeti, Golems, Demons); Terrors of the Undead, from Zombies to Liches; Humanoid Menace - Humanoid tribes from Goblins until Giths, Rangers learn all about their tribes, tribal alliances and politics, like anthropologists, and can ost effectively negotiate with them should they approach a settlement. Nightmares of the Underdark, includes Ettercaps, Dueregars, Dryders, Drows, Umber Hulk, Floating Orbs, and Illithid threat. As Rangers grow in level, heir sklills move away from outdoors towards the knowledge related to the specific threat they are learning to defend humanity against.

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  33. You know your own business maybe, but in your place I wouldn't take up with a Ranger out of the wild...

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  34. My first exposure to the Ranger was in 2nd Ed. Reading between the lines, it seemed clear that, behind the scenes, someone really wanted to be able to make Aragorn within the rules. Instead of just saying "no, pick something that fits with the rest of the game" or "make it as a custom class with the rules in the DMG," they created a class with an incongruent backstory and set of abilities.

    The ranger class, then, represents whatever category of adventurer Aragorn fits into. That definition is meaningless outside of Middle Earth, which leaves us going through contortions to articulate what the category is.

    To make matters worse, someone realized that Robin Hood ran around in the woods too. So they grafted an archery option onto what is already a Frankenstein class. So Rangers represent whatever category Aragorn fits into, plus whatever category Robin Hood fits into.

    That in turn creates a weird state of affairs where rangers make better archers than fighters. I enjoy playing archers, but have always rankled with all the baggage that comes along with being a ranger.

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  35. In the 1st edition PHB, there were no elven rangers...only human and half-elf. In light of your article this makes a lot of sense (humans or human-blooded beings being the antithesis of chaotic nature).

    Very good food for thought, thanks!

    By the way...there was a hunter class presented in a pre-Unearthed Arcana, non-TSR supplement. It's been so many years, though I may be mis-remembering and confusing it with an "archer" class that I believe was 1st presented in Dragon.

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  36. Do check out the S&W Companion White Box Ranger - it is based on the same source material.

    That's eerily similar to the class I've been constructing ...

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  37. James, I would say in your interpretation of the ranger hobbits/halflings are a natural class to allow. They are all about orderly country side which is what the ranger is trying to preserve. Not to mention Aragorn, the prototypical ranger, began as Bounder, a hobbit.

    True. I don't use halflings in my D&D games generally, so I tend to forget about them. I do agree with your point, however.

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  38. It's an article from way back in The Strategic Review #6 (Feb. 1976), and reprinted in The Best of The Dragon vol. I (pp. 26-28).

    Ah yes, thanks for the reference. I should have remembered that chart, since I references several others from the same article not that long ago.

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  39. I think no class should have moral or meta-objectives built into them.
    This, for S&S style of game.


    I agree that a proper swords-and-sorcery game ought not to have such things, but, of course, OD&D isn't a pure S&S game by any means. The door to other types of fantasy was introduced very early with the inclusion of first the cleric and then the paladin.

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  40. If you are using "Tolkien" as the basis for the ranger class, then it seems to me nonsense to exclude elves, and especially half-elves, from being rangers. The sons of Elrond are obvious contenders on that score, and the Dunedain themselves appear to have the characteristics of D&D half-elves, rather than men.

    Certainly but the D&D ranger is, like so many other things in the game, this weird amalgam of inspirations and influences. The Tolkien connection is there and it's powerful, but it's just the base of the class, at least in my interpretation of it.

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  41. I agree that a proper swords-and-sorcery game ought not to have such things, but, of course, OD&D isn't a pure S&S game by any means. The door to other types of fantasy was introduced very early with the inclusion of first the cleric and then the paladin.I agree. The openness of D&D is maybe it's biggest strength, and that's way it's the most popular game, because it can accommodate vastly different styles of play.

    With regards the cleric, it can be of ANY alignment, and follow ANY god, with ANY kind of tenets. That's why I think it can fit S&S gaming without any of the problems many see in the class.

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  42. James- Sorr 'bout the delay in responding. Aware of your issues with PJ's interpretation.
    Surely there was some better illustrator out there, though. Whatever LOTR Trilogy's flaws, it can't be worse than that rotoscoped nightmare.

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  43. Some more thoughts on Rangers: Are Rangers the Clancey-esque Special Ops of AD&D?". I didn't quite catch on to the Ranger/Druid opposition, though.

    (Also, the ensuing discussion can be safely ignored after the first post or two.)

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  44. It is not surprising that so many see a druid ---> ranger connection, since Gary himself had a rather famous half-elf druid/ranger multi-class PC.

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  45. http://lordofthegreendragons.blogspot.com/2009/03/eco-ranger.html

    for my take on rangers, as the indigines edge

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  46. I think no class should have moral or meta-objectives built into them.New sub Classes should be reflective of their setting. A bag of classes for a swords & sorcery setting will be different than one for a one inspired by Tolkien.

    Some classes will span settings simply because they will be present wherever sentient beings are involved (fighters).

    In skill based systems, like GURPS, use templates. A template groups skills together that reflect a given profession or organization. Some have progression information in them. For example apprentice, wizard, mage, arch-mage etc.

    I view OD&D classes in much the same way. But with the condition that the full class treatment is needed only for those with adventuring potential.

    Plus classes don't have to be balanced in terms of game mechanics. I have found that a better than normal class can be adequately balanced through setting and roleplaying.

    However if setting and roleplaying are not important to your game then mechanically balanced classes are important.

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  47. Kevin said . . .

    "To make matters worse, someone realized that Robin Hood ran around in the woods too. So they grafted an archery option onto what is already a Frankenstein class. So Rangers represent whatever category Aragorn fits into, plus whatever category Robin Hood fits into."

    Actually, if the intent was a Tolkien style Ranger then archery does fit. Faramir and his men were all Rangers and all archers.

    In fact, I think, Aragon is the exception being the only ranger in the book not using the bow as primary weapon.

    However, I have no idea where the magic comes into it?

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  48. James, you are a deep thinker on these topics and once again I think you've uncovered an aspect of D&D that Americanises it and makes me like it less. The idea that the wilderness itself represents a threat to civilisation that must be mastered is pure early modern/early colonial: to the extent that there is a split between the "medieval" and the "modern," I think it's fundamental. If D&D's creators buy into this (armed) opposition (and I don't see why they shouldn't) then D&D's ranger should be its boundary policeman. The archetypal ranger then is Jim Bowie, friend to Johnny Appleseed who aggressively pollutes native forests with introduced species, so that travelers and settlers should always find a familiar (European) fruit, and enemy to the Druid, who is some noble savage amalgam of a northern European Beltane figure and a Native American shaman.

    FWIW I'm pretty convinced that Tolkien's rangers went looking for the devil (Sauron/Morgoth/Witch King of Angmar) building up his power base out of sight of Man, and that's what took them beyond the bounds of civilisation - so the wilderness/nature is just an environment that can support Man and his Other, which has secret pockets that rangers have to delve into.

    Rangers represent whatever category Aragorn fits into, plus whatever category Robin Hood fits into.That makes perfect sense to me, and as a king-of-the-forest-in-hiding, Strider has much in common with Robin. Of course, it's another story after he decloaks, but massed battlefields, while they might involve rangers, really aren't the business of "ranging."

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  49. The archetypal ranger then is Jim Bowie

    Hunh?! The guy was a slave trader, smuggler, and real estate scam artist whose career climax was to die in his bed at the Alamo.

    I get your overall connection to the American West, but I don't follow how Bowie would be a ranger at all other than some "man of action" connection to a hostile frontier.

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  50. Jim BowieI just meant the archetypal backwoods/frontiersman character - Davy Crockett would have been rather better, I guess, although what I'm really referring to is the dime novel frontiersman, so an entirely fictional one, rather than a fictionalised one with all the messiness of actual biography to get in the way, would be better yet.

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  51. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  52. ...as for the slave trader and smuggler thing, well, that's a bit too much reality, and our objective here is fantasy, so I agree that it's inappropriate.

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  53. Lots of good points in this thread. I think Gary’s half-elf Ranger/Druid PC indicates that he abandoned the concept of evil-tending Druids fairly early; I suspect it was a bit of throwaway reasoning when he put that early alignment chart together. Later he made them very clearly agents of Balance within the Greyhawk world. Neutrality is a distinct “side” in the cosmic struggle as depicted in his novels, and the one Druid we see acts in its interests, as part of a distinctly hierarchical organization.

    Personally I think there’s room both for Rangers to be protectors of humanity in opposition to a hostile wilderness, and for them to be protectors of both, straddling the line between wilderness and civilization. In the latter role, friendship with Druids and with elves makes perfect sense. Again, coming from the perspective of the class being based on Aragorn,.he is clearly taught his wilderness lore BY the elves and by his fellow Dunedain, who are closely allied with the elves. Aragorn does not oppose the wild places/creatures by any means. He opposes evil things that live in the wilds; but the wilderness is never equated with evil. Quite the opposite in Tolkien.

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  54. I think the real problem with people thinking that the ranger is a druids best friend comes from 3rd edition where 1st level a ranger has animal empathy then 4th he gets an animal companion. No matter what came before a lot of people seem to not really had much to go on in early editions and then all of the sudden he's a warm and fuzzy animal lover able to understand their "feelings" and gets a companion from the wild that acts just like the druids companion except instead of getting better with every level it goes at half the rate.

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  55. Perhaps a little bit. But I think the major reason for the perceived affinity (apart from traipsing about in the woods)is that rangers can use druid spells.

    I don't think the problem is so much in seeing the ranger as acting more like the druid. I think the problem lies in a common misunderstanding of druids.

    THEY ARE NOT CUDDLY ANIMAL LOVERS.
    THEY ARE NOT PEACEFUL HIPPIES.
    THEY ARE NOT NEUTRAL-GOOD.

    They are a bad-ass hardcore cult who has no interest in most of humanity, unless it encroaches on their terrain. In the rare areas where they DO hold political or religious sway over whatever populace is around, their judgments are remote, final, and sometimes harsh.

    Rangers on the other hand, exist SOLELY to serve humanity and other civilized races. They are civilization's agents, who tame the wilderness, even as a part of that same wilderness.

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