Sunday, May 10, 2009

Of Rangers (and Elves)

As another piece of the puzzle regarding rangers and their place in D&D, I offer up a lengthy quote from issue #66 of Dragon (October 1982). The quote comes from the "Sage Advice" column. As many know, I was never actually a big fan of the column, which I felt contributed in various ways to the notion that the surest way to resolve any rules questions was to contact TSR rather than just make up a solution for oneself. The quote does nothing to dispel that concern of mine, but it nevertheless does shed further light on how, even as late as 1982, the guys at TSR saw the class.
Rangers developed among humanity as a response to the presence of the giant-class humanoids as direct competitors for food, living space, and power within the worlds governed by the laws of the AD&D game. The deities of humanity saw fit to encourage certain persons to take up roles of guardianship, in essence entrusted with the safety and security of the human race. Rangers are intended to be self-reliant, strong, hardy, and possessed of the wisdom and intelligence to fully appreciate their roles as guardians. They operate in outdoor environments by and large, thus being familiar with normal woodcrafts like tracking, hunting, and camping. Rangers develop skills related to stealthy movement, spying, and so forth, so they may better serve as scouts, keeping tabs on local humanoid groups in the wilderness and in so doing, keeping their home communities and allied settlements informed of all happenings.

Tracking, however, does not a ranger make. One of the facts of life about being a ranger is that rangers are going to be on the hot spot, in the middle of some very savage fighting, on a fairly frequent basis. Humanoids don't like having humans around them, much less having humans spy on them; furthermore, rangers, in their roles as scouts, are somewhat more vulnerable since they prefer travelling in smaller groups. It is forbidden for more than three rangers to travel together, because when this happens rangers interpret this as meaning that they are leaving some other place undefended, and they will immediately try to spread out and cover the widest area possible. On top of this, rangers have (from their upbringing and studies) an intense dislike (to put it mildly) of all evil humanoids. Rangers are not just taught how to live off the land; they are taught to kill, and kill efficiently and quickly. They learn the vulnerable spots giant-class humanoids have, the ways in which they fight and wear their armor, and the best way to do battle with them so that the ranger, and not the humanoid, is still standing afterwards.

No bones are made about this; some rangers are fond of describing their jobs as going to exotic places, meeting interesting creatures, and killing them. However, it is understood that the purpose of combat is not to make oneself rich, famous, or fearsome. Combat is fought only if it cannot be avoided; humanoids, though, offer all sorts of opportunities for combat with their distinctly aggressive and often sadistic policies toward humanity. Rangers are therefore on call at all times in the defense of their homes, communities, and nations.

Elves, regardless of how they feel about humanoids, do not make good rangers because their empathy for life and living things runs counter to many of the teachings that rangers must absorb and learn to use. Elves put a lot of emphasis in combat on style, and cannot rid themselves of their distaste for killing any creature, even evil ones and even when its necessary for ones own protection (though they are still perfectly capable of fighting and killing, too). Rangers, whether lawful good, neutral good, or chaotic good, all share a high degree of dedication to their cause (from their loyalty to humanity as a whole, if lawful good, or from their personal standards, if chaotic good); elves see such intense commitment as grievous to a carefree and cheerful spirit. But elves appreciate rangers, because rangers regard them as allies and will usually try to help elves just as they help humanity.

Half-elves may become rangers since they usually inherit at least part of their human parents viewpoint on life, watering down their elven attitudes considerably. They don't gain the high levels humans do as rangers because they are slightly smaller and less effective in hand-to-hand fighting, and because they still have some of their innate elven distaste for bloodshed in them.

There doesnt seem to be any particular reason why elves, especially sylvan elves, shouldn't have a knowledge of how to track wild game. Human or elven player characters with secondary skills of Forester, Hunter, and possibly Trapper might reasonably be allowed a limited skill in tracking animals or persons, around 20-50% in accuracy, in outdoor (and maybe indoor) environments. But the other skills rangers have would not necessarily apply.

23 comments:

  1. Matthew James Stanham made a fair observation in the comments to yesterday's post on The "Real" Ranger suggesting if Tolkien is the source for The Ranger then Elves clearly should be permitted as Rangers.

    I think the subtlety here is that while Tolkien is the largest influence on The Ranger the influences on D&D Elves are actually much broader. Tolkien's Elves are not accurately captured by Gygax in the MM or earlier books and I believe he intended to describe a more whimsical faery race.

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  2. "Tolkien's Elves are not accurately captured by Gygax in the MM or earlier books and I believe he intended to describe a more whimsical faery race."

    Please expand on this. When you say you believe "he intended to describe a more whimsical faery race" I take it you're talking about Gygax? Tolkien grew to despise the 'whimsification' of the fey folk in English literature and folklore. The elves of LOTR and the Silmarillion are clearly not whimsical and, as far as I can tell, are intended to be an idealized reflection of humanity.

    As for the ranger class, I've always ran it as a specialized fighter with a wilderness/survival focus and completely dispensed with the mystical aspects.

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  3. K. Forest: No need. You asked a question and then you answered it, The elves of LOTR and the Silmarillion are clearly not whimsical.
    Im not sure why someone would think that what Tolkien despised was important. He was a great fantasy writer but not a great writer.

    His thinly characterised human Elves might have been more interesting for a touch more Faerie.

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  4. Cool article; it makes me miss when character classes where an archetype, and not something one just build a character off of, or used as a template, or as part of a role within the party. You didn't feel like you're one of a million of that class, but one of a few.

    I am so going to play a B/X game next (I'd rather 1e, but I know that would be too much to ask for from my players to learn just for a few sessions of play).

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  5. The article is interesting, also for the way it refers to the DMG's secondary skills differentiating them from class skills. I think these secondary skills make a nice and useful list and I'm going to incorporate them in my C&C game.

    As for Tolkien's Elves, the explanation in the article for sure does not apply. In the Sillmarillion and Children of Hurin there is at least one
    elf, Beleg Cuthalion "The Strongbow", who is the prototype of the ranger defender. He protects the borders of Doriath, slaying orcs with dedication and gusto.

    Clearly Gygax's elves are partially another beast. The Tolkien influence comes from the Hobbit, mainly, where the Wood Elves ARE described as whimsical to some extent. More important, probably, is "Three hearts and three lions".

    Judgement on Tolkien as a writer may vary - I can live with that. But I must admit that seeing Tolkien's elves described as "thinly characterized" surprised me quite a bit. There is literally a world of depth beneath Tollers' elves. I mean, the guy invented full fledged languages for them!
    "Yeah, they are one dimensional add a bit of Faerie to liven them up".
    But Tolkien's qualities as a "fantasy writer" and/or "novelist" would require a very big discussion on their own. I believe many remarks that are made on them contain quite complex implicit "genre" and "professionalism" expectations. That, I'm sure, would have greatly surprised Tolkien himself.

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  6. "I think the subtlety here is that while Tolkien is the largest influence on The Ranger the influences on D&D Elves are actually much broader. Tolkien's Elves are not accurately captured by Gygax in the MM or earlier books and I believe he intended to describe a more whimsical faery race."

    No doubt, in which case perhaps we should be allowing "Grey Elves" to be rangers. :D

    Seriously, though, I agree with what you are saying about the AD&D/1e elf and why they were not initially permitted to be rangers; my feeling was more directed to D&D or AD&D/2e where there is more flexibility as to what constitutes an "elf" and predicated on the postulation that the class is based on (and therefore is a close representation of) Tolkien's rangers and should reflect their place in the world.

    I personally prefer Conan and his fellow borderers in Beyond the Black River as a prototype for the ranger, in which case we are talking a much more brutal sort of character class, and one which could easily be extended to the "other side", which is to say the Picts.

    I would hazard to say such a class would be more "swords & sorcery" and more "Gygaxian", without necessarily sacrificing the ability to use it in a "high fantasy" Tolkienesque campaign (and to be fair, the ranger class as written is more "Aragorn" than it is "Dúnedain").

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  7. For that matter, where did Rangers fighting with two weapons even originate?

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  8. Matthew: I personally prefer Conan and his fellow borderers in Beyond the Black River as a prototype for the ranger.

    I'll buy that! My current campaign has NPC Rangers exclusively chosen from Frank Frazetta galleries.

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  9. "For that matter, where did Rangers fighting with two weapons even originate?"

    David Cook answered that last year on Dragonsfoot, and surprisingly (though not in retrospect) it had nothing to do with Drizzt.

    http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=26912&p=514487#p514487

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  10. Elves, regardless of how they feel about humanoids, do not make good rangers because their empathy for life and living things runs counter to many of the teachings that rangers must absorb and learn to use. Elves put a lot of emphasis in combat on style, and cannot rid themselves of their distaste for killing any creature, even evil ones and even when its necessary for ones own protectionAnd yet elves are permitted to be assassins..

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  11. Some of the Sage’s comments really appear to be retrospective justification of the restrictions, rather than original background on which the restrictions were based. I agree with Kent, Andrea and Matthew that it’s obvious that Gygax’s elves are a hybrid of Tolkien and others. Which was, of course, immediately apparent to any Tolkien reader who ever perused the 1st ed race description, or even looked at the height comparison!

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  12. "David Cook answered that last year on Dragonsfoot, and surprisingly (though not in retrospect) it had nothing to do with Drizzt."

    I'm going to be skeptical of that vague non-answer ("I'm not sure where the ranger took shape...")

    The history is too clear: (1) 1E UA gives drow PCs 2-handed fighting; (2) Drizzt appears as a drow ranger, fighting 2-handed; (3) 2E takes out drow PCs but gives the 2-handed fighting to rangers, so as to make Drizzt still viable.

    Zeb would have to come up with a more cocrete history if he really wanted to knock this one down.

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  13. "Zeb would have to come up with a more concrete history if he really wanted to knock this one down."

    It is impossible to make a Drizzt character using the AD&D/2e PHB because the ranger's second weapon has to be smaller than his first weapon. The size categories in the PHB basically limit you to "short sword" (in some printings) or dagger. Indeed, the PHB even tells us that drow are to be treated no differently than the standard elf in terms of abilities. The only way to build a truly effective Drizzt is via Unearthed Arcana.

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  14. Matthew- Thank you bunches, even if that post wasn't the most concrete answer.

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  15. "It is impossible to make a Drizzt character using the AD&D/2e PHB because the ranger's second weapon has to be smaller than his first weapon. The size categories in the PHB basically limit you to 'short sword' (in some printings) or dagger."

    That is little different than 1E. UA says, "Dark elves do not gain the combat bonuses of the surface elves with regard to sword and bow, but may fight with two weapons withoout penalty, provided each weapon may be easily wielded in one hand." (p. 10). Presumably that refers back to DMG requirement that 2nd weapon is dagger or hand axe (p. 70), and drow G3 writeup that 2nd weapon is dagger.

    In summary: Salvatore bent the rules for Drizzt in both editions. In fact, this stands as even better evidence that the 2E rules expanded the permitted 2nd weapon to come closer to the Dr'zzt character.

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  16. I agree that Zeb’s answer doesn’t seem completely conclusive. But I tend to agree with Matthew that you’re reaching a bit. If the intent was to allow Drizzt clones, they’d have actually made fighting with two full-size swords an option. They didn’t. That remained a 1st Ed Drow shtick. It's not the same as the dagger/hand axe DMG TWF; it's take from the monster entry in the Field Folio.

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  17. "That is little different than 1E. UA says, "Dark elves do not gain the combat bonuses of the surface elves with regard to sword and bow, but may fight with two weapons withoout penalty, provided each weapon may be easily wielded in one hand." (p. 10). Presumably that refers back to DMG requirement that 2nd weapon is dagger or hand axe (p. 70), and drow G3 writeup that 2nd weapon is dagger."

    However you read that UA text, no interpretation of the AD&D/2e PHB allows for a Drizzt character. Given that David Cook has indicated that the ranger was not created in the image of Drizzt and the rules appear to support his contention, it seems to be purely wishful thinking to equate the 2e PHB with Drizzt, and probably speaks more to our own youthful prejudices than the design of the product.

    To be clear, there is little doubt in my mind that Gygax originally intended for drow to be bound by the same fighting with two weapon rules as everybody else, since in D1-3 they are almost universally armed with "short sword and long dagger", but by 1988 the understanding at TSR seems to have been that the Unearthed Arcana text was not bound by the normal rules concerning secondary weapons.

    That appears to have been a post Gygaxian (possibly deliberate) misunderstanding, but either way the 2e PHB does not fit the pattern you outlined above. The Drizzt character relies on a reading of Unearthed Arcana.

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  18. I thought the description in the FF supported two equal-sized larger weapons. Is it not in there? I'll have to check the book when I get home.

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  19. "I thought the description in the FF supported two equal-sized larger weapons. Is it not in there? I'll have to check the book when I get home."

    As far as I can tell, the Fiend Folio entry is just a copy and paste of the appendix in D3. Pretty much all it says is "Attacks: 1 or 2", "Damage: By weapon", and "Drow are also both intelligent and highly coordinated, being able to use either or both hand/arms for attack and defence."

    I believe the wording is open to the interpretation that later prevailed when Drizzt made his début in Savage Frontier as a tenth level drow ranger who "fights with two scimitars". Gygax's own examples and a post at EnWorld in later life suggest that such a reading was never intended on his part.

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  20. I think that you are missing the historic example of the Ranger character. So, you get inspired by Aragorn and accept the Ranger as a fantasy equivalent of the light infantryman who is trained to parachute into wilderness and operate behind the enemy lines,as do our own Airbourne Rangers. But you are forgetting about the truer Ranger, the Japanese Yamabushi.

    They were the wildreness pilgrim guides, much like Aragorn to hobbits. Medieval Japanese worshipped sacred mountains and people made cross country pilgrimages to these mountains. Yamabushi lived in the wilderness huts and guided and protected pilgrims on mountain trails, fightng off the bandits and the wilderness beasts. They fought with Katanas, shorter, blunter, heavier swords more suitable for stabbing and hammering, and with spears. They knew wilderness survival, could navigate by stars, administer first aid - set broken bones and stop the bleeding, and they were reputed to have magical properties. Pretty heady for the 8th-10th century AD when they practiced... They were the natural pool out of which the histoic "Ninja" guerillas emerged, actually fighting Shugendo monks in the period when Japanese monks from different schools waged war on each other, and here is the kicker - they were solitary, seemd hermits, but typically lived with witches, who maintained tea houses and made money by reading fortunes. I'd say more interesting than Aragorn stoically singing Elvish love songs by the campfire...

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  21. Dammit, and here I'd finally gotten myself mostly jaded about Japanese culture, and now I had to learn that.
    Damn you, Brooze.

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  22. A couple months ago I opened a discussion about the ranger description from the C&C Players handbook that you guys might find relevant.
    http://www.freeyabb.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=7494&mforum=trolllordgames

    Basically I felt that the Ranger as described in C&C (and in the quote from dragon mag cited above) was too mission oriented to be engaging in the standard dungeon crawls with a party of characters mostly out for gold and glory. Basically the character class was unplayable in most common sorts of campaigns and games. The article quoted above seems even worse with its "no three rangers will travel together for fear of leaving some part of the wilderness unprotected" How then are they going to enter dungeon after dungeon with a party of thieves and wizards looking for loot? You might find some of the responses to the posts I made on the troll lords forum interesting.

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