A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

8Jun/12Off

DND Next: The Pseudo-Ranger

As the result of a write-up of the ranger "design goals" on the Wizards of the Coast website, there has been a lot of discussion of what a ranger is and what it should be. I figured I'd chime in with an opinion because rangers are the second most common class I play (the first being rogues), and I've played a ranger on more than one occasion in every edition they've existed in in D&D. I felt it necessary to come to their defense.

Before I continue, let's have a little history on the ranger as a class... The ranger existed as a core class as far back as AD&D 1st Edition (it was technically absent the in Basic edition; support for playing a ranger in the Basic edition was provided in Dragon Magazine), and since then it has been a constant presence in the D&D class list despite going through some seriously radical changes in each edition:  he went from having favored enemies to quarry damage, his spellcasting power source wavered between primal (druid), arcane and divine, and at one point rangers were even limited to the races and alignments they could be (in 1E, they were forced to be of good alignment).

But with the coming of "DnD Next" many are asking whether the ranger should be its own class at all. Logically, it's very possible that the ranger could be a subset of the fighter or rogue and made more ranger-like through the use of themes. After all, a ranger is arguably not much different than a fighter but with an affinity to natural environments.

Several arguments have been made regarding this, and quite a few of them actually make a very good case and could work quite well as a theme... but a problem exists: the ranger class has a history. It doesn't really matter if a ranger-like PC can be better designed with themes, background, feats or a lot of flavor text; the ranger has to exist as a class because it's been that way for over thirty years. If a player sits down at a game and says "I want to play a ranger," he can't be told "there isn't one" or "here's to play a character that is kind of like a ranger... only not."

In my opinion, there are certain aspects that have become required elements of D&D. Some more than others, of course; players will always have the six attributes, they will always have some sort of AC defense (how it is calculated is another matter), and will always roll d20s to resolve things. Just as there will always be mages and clerics, the ranger has become somewhat of an integral part in all that is D&D, and as such it should always be defined as a class even if it makes more sense for it to be something else.

Finally, many have mentioned that they would like "DnD Next" to contain only the four base classes - fighter, thief, mage and cleric - and create all other types of classes using themes, backgrounds, etc. The problem with this is that it really overcomplicates the class design; all of a sudden, you have a "fighter" that can be defined twenty different ways, and each one of those ways has to be explicitly worded so as not to cause confusion with each other. By separating like minded themes in to a new class, it makes the creation of both classes significantly easier. I won't have to wade through five different ranger-like themes when I want to create a straight up fighter.

So, please, let's keep rangers as their own class. Besides, it'll probably be the only way I'll once again get my velociraptor animal companion! 🙂

Filed under: 5E, Design, DnD, Mechanics, RPG Comments Off
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  1. I see the attraction of an elegant, slimmed down class list, but when you’ve got to shoehorn classic concepts into one of the four it isn’t elegant anymore, it’s just being awkward for the sake of a small class list. I wouldn’t mind seeing six core classes and adding the ranger and bard to the rogue, wizard, fighter and cleric.

  2. What about using those modules that Wizards is so intent on bragging about? Maybe by default some of the classes that are only there for the sake of legacy could be unavailable by default, needing players to be creative with themes to build such a character, while with an additional module more classes could be added?

  3. I have no dog in this hunt, because I don’t get nearly as offended as most gamers. Is the Ranger a separate class? Is it a subclass? Are the Drow a mysterious enemy race or a common PC race? I don’t care. If I enjoy the game, then that’s good enough for me, and I’ll never complain about things like that.

    That being said, the Ranger was designated a “sub-class” of fighter in AD&D, and the theme/build system seems perfectly in line with that. I’m not sure whether the AD&D Ranger was built by tweaking the Fighter class because that process wasn’t transparent, but it would represent a much more efficient method for doing so than trying to build classes from scratch. It also places power in the hands of the players that are destined to play those classes. Of course, allowing players to build their own classes always results in power creep, but that could be curbed by the DnDNext dedication to DM empowerment.

    In any case, to claim that the Ranger needs to be a separate class in the interests of tradition is mistaken, but in no event is any more traditional than alignment languages. 🙂

  4. I tend to agree with you on this point. If you strip the classes down to their bare essentials and rely on a bunch of add-ons for other “classes” like the ranger, the game just won’t feel the same. Instead of “I’m a ranger” you’ll have “I’m a fighter with a wilderness theme and a rustic background.” It just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    There’s something to be said of having a few pre-done options that you can give a single name to.

  5. As Frylock pointed out earlier, the ranger first appeared as a subclass of fighter in ADnD. It didn’t even exist in the original DnD. So, basing your argument on the premise that rangers have always been their on class is false.

    Personally, I’m more concerned about what makes a ranger a ranger. In 1e, rangers dual-wielded, wore light armour, tracked, and cast spells (at higher levels). They also used the same ‘to hit’ table as fighters, but their hit dice were d8’s (versus the fighters d10). At first level though, a ranger got 2d8 and only 1d8 each level thereafter. They did not have animal companions (which I believe were popularized by videogames).

    So, what’s the core of the ranger? What ability makes the ranger unique from everyone else? I would propose it’s woodlore. The ability to be self sufficient in the wild (i.e. hunting, fishing, trapping, fire starting, making shelter, etc.) Rangers should also be able to track and be able to stalk/hide in wilderness settings. Additionally, rangers should be primarily a martial class.

    Everything else in my mind is fluff: animal companions, spells, dual-wielding, etc.

    If you really love rangers, this is the sort of discussion you should be having. Not worrying so much if the ranger is called a ‘class’, ‘theme’, ‘background’, or what have you.


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