So…there’s been a lot of talk about the ranger, recently. This is, mostly, due to Wizards deciding that the class might need a tune-up. And by tune-up, they of course mean that the class needs to be remodeled from the ground up. This is after they already came up with an alternate, spell-less ranger progression. Add onto that the fact that EN World recently came out with two new ranger archetypes with their EN5ider line, and Kobold Press presented the Hivemaster in Southland Heroes, and rangers have been quite a popular topic of late.
But why? What makes the ranger so interesting? That’s kind of an easy question to answer, and yet it’s a bit difficult. Rangers are cool, man. Take a look at Aragorn, or his cooler alternate identity: Strider. Just think about the first time he shows up, sitting across the room, watching our heroes in dark silence. Then, later, he busts out his fightin’ skills and wrecks face on Weathertop. Dude’s a badass, is what I’m saying. Or what about Benjen Stark, in A Song of Ice and Fire? Just think about the mystique built around the idea of being a ranger when you first meet him. How much does Jon want to be part of that elite group? How much do you feel for him when he gets chosen to be a steward? Because, to him, and to us, being a ranger MEANS something. Being a ranger is like being a member of an elite team of super-soldiers who “range” out into the dangerous wildlands. Who WOULDN’T want to be among their number? And, of course, let’s not forget my favorite ranger of all time. His name is Max. His world is fire and blood. Yes, Max Rockatanski, Mad Max, is most definitely a ranger. He wanders the wasteland, mapping what he finds, occasionally helping others. But more than anything else, he is a survivor. He even has an animal companion in The Road Warrior (that’s Mad Max 2 for you international folks).
My point is that rangers are, thematically, badasses. That was their origin. And even to this day, it persists. Whether we’re talking about Aragorn, Benjen, Max, or even D&D’s golden boy Drizzt, rangers are designed to be…cool. They’re survivors, warriors, and natural guides and guardians. They can be warriors on the wall or stalkers in the night.
So why is everyone trying to modify and re-write the ranger? Well, I think because the class, as it stands in 5e, doesn’t really convey what people desire. They can talk all they want about whether or not the class is “balanced” compared to other, comparable martial characters, but I think that it really comes down to how the class feels when it’s being played. I mean, compare it to the new Ranger that Mike Mearls and the Wizards team released recently. Yes, it is quite a departure from the original ranger mechanically, but even they admit that it’s intended to be a return to the class’s original concept and flavor. It’s about changing the feel of the class, finding something that makes the ranger unique, and still remains true to the class’s origin.
Maybe they’ve done that. The general opinion I’ve seen on the interwebs, however, is not a positive one. Other bloggers have introduced the idea of a class-divorced ranger: a fighter who uses the Outlander background and focuses on two weapon fighting and bows. But is that sufficient? Does that cover the full extent of the class’s themes? Over the course of the next couple articles, I’m going to take a deeper look at the ranger as a class. What does it do right? What does it do wrong? And then, I’m going to take what I’ve learned and try to construct some form of “definitive” ranger. Will I succeed? Probably not. But, hey! As anyone who knew me in my Pathfinder days would tell you, class design is my forte. So let’s see what I can do.