Rangers have been part of the game for decades. In the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, a ranger is described as being “adept at woodcraft, tracking, scouting, and infiltration and spying.” The concept of rangers stretches all the way back, one assumes, to the character Aragorn, and the Rangers of the North of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythos. Rangers were warriors at home in the wilderness, and they could unerringly track down their enemies. Every edition of the game since 1st steered the ranger a little this way and a little that way.
The modern concept of the ranger also owes something to a ranger named Drizzt, a drow ranger created by R. A. Salvatore’s. Drizzt has adventured across the length and breadth (and depths) of the Forgotten Realms with a weapon in each hand and a faithful animal companion to watch his back. Even though Drizzt doesn’t typify rangers, his traits have colored the popular conception of the ranger all the same.
So we had a lot of material to track down before we came up with the ranger design that met our class criteria (be recognizable to D&D players, be unique from other classes, and resonate in some fashion with an archetypical story).
The following design goals are generally listed in order of importance to the class, though we feel they’re all important for shaping a ranger.
1. The ranger is a wilderness hunter and tracker.
Rangers are at home in the uncharted wilds, whether those wilds are darkling forests, mountain badlands, or sunless deeps. In their guise as trackers, rangers are both stealthy and alert. They can track a falcon on a cloudy day and find useful herbs. They remain aware of potential trails or ambushes. In their guise as hunters, rangers can choose to focus on an individual quarry, whereupon their hunter’s instincts kick in, allowing them to strike with enhanced lethal force.
2. The ranger is a warrior.
Rangers wear light armor appropriate for stalking prey, and they are adept with martial weapons. Having learned many hard lessons in the wild, rangers are tougher than other people, and they are better able to withstand hurts. Many rangers focus on a particular combat style, traditionally two-weapon fighting or archery, and they do so by using an appropriate theme.
3. The ranger is a protector.
Rangers revere nature, and they are often called to protect individual trees or creatures, groves or packs, or fey creatures. Rangers can also protect creatures that are out of place in the wilderness, serving not only as a guide, but also as a personal defender against threats both natural and unnatural.
4. Rangers are friends with wild creatures.
Natural beasts are generally well disposed toward rangers and vice versa, as reflected in a ranger’s natural ability to befriend animals. Rangers have the option to form a deeper bond with a given animal by gaining its trust and loyalty, allowing it to aid the ranger as a scout, informant, or provider of some other useful service. Each new animal with which a ranger bonds allows the ranger to grow a better understanding and appreciation of the natural world.