Friday, September 25, 2015

The Trouble with Rangers

Rangers are on some people's minds lately.

There are numerous discussions involving the ranger class for 5th Edition and how, as presented in the Player's Handbook, it doesn't quite match up to the other classes in some respects. The ranger ideas recently presented in an Unearthed Arcana also seem somewhat wanting, with abilities that encourage multiclassing in a way that give even my most min-maxing munchkiny friends pause to say, "You know, that's kind of crazy broken."

I had some discussions with other designer friends who maintain that the ranger suffers from a lack of coherent theme. I mean, what do you compare them to? Are they the Aragorn, who seems to be a fighter in all but title? Or are they the Drizzt, with bizarre combat expertise and unusual supernatural abilities? Robin Hood the archer, who is more woodsy bandit than expert tracker? The World of Warcraft beastmaster, that relies on the strength of their animal companions to augment their middling combat expertise?

I don't know the answer. You could design four completely different ranger classes based on those archetypes and not make anyone happy. Ranger can't really be summed up in a single sentence without taking some liberties, the way fighter (really good at hurting things with weapons) or paladin (the holy champion of a god or cause) can.

It's weird, because ranger was my favorite class back in the day. I liked being able to skirmish with enemies at range or up close and disappear into the woods between battles, but you could do all of those things nowadays with a well-designed fighter/rogue (or hell, just a fighter with good skill selection).

Maybe most popular ranger concepts don't even need a class anymore, just an archetype bolted onto an existing one. Aforementioned skirmisher could be a fighter archetype, and encapsulate Drizzt quite well (some of his statistical interpretations are actually much more fighter than they are ranger). I'd contend that the ranger-as-champion-of-good better befits the Oath of Ancients paladin archetype than the ranger class (as intimated in the UA article linked above which calls them "paladins of the forest").

So I started dorking around, as I am want to do, blundering through the murky forest of rules and bad ideas to generate concepts based on that line of thinking. A feral beastmaster could easily be a barbarian archetype, who shares a bond with a tribal totem animal and fights alongside it (just, you know, not a carbon copy of the totemic path already presented). You could make a more spellcastery variant of the ranger from a druid path, a militant wing of natural guardians that belong to a "Circle of Blades" or something similar.

I could be way off base, but until the ranger gets an answer to what fictional or historic archetype it's trying to emulate, I think we're going to keep running into design problems with the class. I don't think anyone's happy with rangers right now.

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