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D&D 2E Looking back at the leatherette series: PHBR, DMGR, HR and more!


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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Having worked our way through the racial section of the PHBRs, we come back to classes, turning our attention now to those class selections beyond the classic four (other than the bard and the psionicist, who snuck in early). It's mildly ironic that, given the shadow that the legacy of Tolkien cast over the various demihuman races, we now come to the one and only class that owes its genesis to his work.

With that said, let's turn our attention to PHBR11 The Complete Ranger's Handbook.

The ranger fills out a particular niche: sometimes, some crimes go slipping through the cracks. But these two gumshoes are picking up...wait, no, my mistake. That's the rescue rangers.


...and I bet you thought I was going to make a Power Rangers joke, didn't you? Nope! I'm not going to go that route; it's too predictable, and I've got to keep you guys on your toes.

So anyway, D&D's ranger is basically Aragorn, which is a much nicer way of describing them than "militant survivalists who, for some reason, voluntarily spend most of their time deep in the wilderness." And, of course, they can cast a smattering of spells, which has been giving people who want to play Strider a hard time for several editions now. For some reason, the fact that Aragorn was never followed around by a small zoo's worth of animals the way the AD&D ranger is never seemed to be nearly as much of a problem.

What's more notable, at least to my mind, is that AD&D 2E would be the last time we'd see the ranger be an alignment-restricted class. I still remember how, in 1999, to celebrate the upcoming D&D 3rd Edition, WotC gave people who attended the announcement free t-shirts that had yes/no checklists for what would and wouldn't be in the new version of the game. One of the "yes" listings was "evil gnoll rangers," and it was a real eyebrow-raising declaration, since up until that point, rangers had to be some flavor of Good (plus, they had to be human, elven, or half-elven).

I'll note that rangers never seemed like the cool kid of character classes. Some basic searching, for instance, turns up very little D&D material that name-dropped them specificaly. Only Masters of the Wild: A Guidebook to Barbarians, Druids, and Rangers bothered, and even then it listed them last (don't worry, rangers; I'm sure it was alphabetical). I suppose we should also make note of Martial Power and Martial Power 2 for 4E, since those were both subtitled "Options for Fighters, Rangers, Rogues, and Warlords," but at that point it's conspicuous how they can only get billing as part of an ensemble cast in the much-tinier font size, and the whole things just becomes sad.

But what's in this book specifically? Well, not too much besides what's on the metaphorical tin. While exceptions exist, the majority of this book is dedicated to fleshing out the ranger's extant abilities in greater detail. It's not that this isn't valuable; it is, but it means that you're not going to get much in the way of new insights about what it means to play a ranger. Evolution, not revolution, and all that.

Which isn't to say the limits aren't pushed at all, just not very much. There are optional rules for allowing the use of their Hide in Shadows and Move Silently abilities in heavier armor (at a penalty), for instance, rather than disallowing them altogether. There are terrain-based tables for not only followers, but the ranger's "species enemy" as well. Probably the most notable expansion is the inclusion of rules for "demi-rangers," which allow dwarves, gnomes, and halflings to be rangers...though with considerable restrictions on what they can do (and I don't just mean by limiting them to certain kits; the book seems to be of the slant that if you want to play a ranger while being one of those races, the fact that it's letting you do so with a series of punishing restrictions is a privilege, one that you should be thankful for. As I've noted previously, I can't bring myself to be upset about this; the in-character implications for what, exactly, this represents and how it manifests in terms of world-building is simply too intriguing).

I'll take a moment to mention the kits, here. While they don't range (heh) as far as I'd like, they do have some rather outré options. The Feralan, for instance, is a barbarian in all but name, even having a rage ability, and the Greenwood Ranger is basically Swamp Thing without needing to live in a swamp (though it notes that they are buoyant). Unfortunately, there's no option here (that I saw) for a spell-less ranger, nor an urban one, so people who wanted to play Ezio Auditore or the Prince of Persia before it was cool were out of luck.

Looking over the list of proficiencies, I'm struck by how concerned this book was with falconry. It's not just how expansive the proficiency itself is; the book also has a special sidebar about it among the section about followers, for instance. I suppose that could be a thing if you can magically talk to your bird after sending it out to scout around, but it still seems like a lot of verbiage being spent on something comparatively inconsequential.

The new spells and magic items didn't wow me very much back in the day (spells like allergy field and polymorph plant - that last one being the ability to turn any kind of plant into any other kind of plant - seemed like the very definition of "low impact"), and the section on role-playing a ranger seemed interesting only insofar as it included guidelines for XP awards for various ranger-y activities. I will give some credit to the "rangers and religion" chapter, though; the issue of how druids and rangers interact was something that even back then I was curious about, especially since they had alignment issues separating them, what with rangers having to be some sort of Good and druids needing to be True Neutral. In 3rd Edition, the expanded alignments for both classes basically made rangers the militant enforcers of druidic organizations.

Curiously, we take a cue from The Complete Bard's Handbook next, giving us the 1st Edition ranger, and I'm a little surprised at the differences. They can use some arcane spells along with their divine ones, they get two Hit Dice at 1st level, and they have a serious hate-on for "giant class" humanoids...which includes goblins, kobolds, xvarts, and a whole lot of other suspiciously tiny giants. I can almost see the ranger paying the bard to play some songs ahead of time to justify their stance, here: "we can't be silent, 'cause they might be giants, and what are we going to do unless they are?"

So that's the The Complete Ranger's Handbook, leaving rangers still hewing perhaps a bit too close to their literary inspiration. Even so, no one can ever take them down; the power lies on their si-i-i-i-i-ide...

...ah, screw it.


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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Another of my favorite from the series. . . At this point, I should just assume that all my choices are counter to the consensus (which is something these boards taught me about me and D&D in general about 20 years ago).
 

cbwjm

Hero
Something to note about character kits, is that the complete fighter's handbook didn't contain "fighter" kits, they were warrior kits and called out as something that paladin's and rangers could take. There were some restrictions, rangers couldn't be cavaliers for instance but otherwise a ranger could take the beastmaster kit from the complete rangers handbook or the beast rider kit from the complete fighters handbook. Course this still doesn't help the ranger with being spell-less or an urban ranger due to how focused the ranger was on the wilderness.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I still prefer my rangers with few to no spells, and if the former not until middle-levels at earliest.
 
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I distinctly recall purchasing this book at a bookstore in Texas to read on my flight back to Illinois after my Air Force field training...and then getting seated by a guy who viewed me as his full-time conversation partner because he hadn't had the foresight to find something to occupy him on the flight. I had to wait until I got back home to read through it.

Johnathan
 
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cbwjm

Hero
I prefer my rangers to have spells. I wasn't a fan of lord of the rings so never knew that it was loosely based on strider. Because of that, and running into the ranger first in 2e, I always considered spellcasting a part of the class.
 


Voadam

Legend
I prefer my rangers to have spells. I wasn't a fan of lord of the rings so never knew that it was loosely based on strider. Because of that, and running into the ranger first in 2e, I always considered spellcasting a part of the class.
Just like all those archetypal rangers from the 2e PH :)

"The ranger is a hunter and woodsman who lives by not only his sword, but also his wits. Robin Hood, Orion, Jack the giant killer, and the huntresses of Diana are examples of rangers from history and legend."
 

cbwjm

Hero
Just like all those archetypal rangers from the 2e PH :)

"The ranger is a hunter and woodsman who lives by not only his sword, but also his wits. Robin Hood, Orion, Jack the giant killer, and the huntresses of Diana are examples of rangers from history and legend."
I didn't really care about the examples, I cared about the class and the class had spells so for me, that was an important part of the ranger.
 

Orius

Adventurer
Ranger's is another of my favorites. The later class handbooks usually feel more focused, and I think they're better structured. Stuff I liked in particular about this one ate the terrain focused enemies and followers, the demihuman kits, in particular the dwarven mountain man, and the various survival and wilderness equipment. And the material on falconry wasn't too bad either.

Note that where a 1e ranger gets two HD at level 1, it's a 2d8. The 1e ranger will generally have more hp in the lower levels, but the 2e ranger eventually catches up. And IIRC, does the 1e ranger go to a flat +2 hp from name level onward? The 2e ranger OTOH, gets the same +3 as the other warriors.
 

Mannahnin

Adventurer
So anyway, D&D's ranger is basically Aragorn, which is a much nicer way of describing them than "militant survivalists who, for some reason, voluntarily spend most of their time deep in the wilderness." And, of course, they can cast a smattering of spells, which has been giving people who want to play Strider a hard time for several editions now. For some reason, the fact that Aragorn was never followed around by a small zoo's worth of animals the way the AD&D ranger is never seemed to be nearly as much of a problem.
The animal companion thing I suspect was originally inspired mostly by Tarzan (1E Rangers only got them potentially as random followers at high level, right?), though I think there may be other fantasy/literary heroes with animal friends. Then by the time 2E came around, of course, the Beastmaster movie was very well known among D&D players.
 

Voadam

Legend
Note that where a 1e ranger gets two HD at level 1, it's a 2d8. The 1e ranger will generally have more hp in the lower levels, but the 2e ranger eventually catches up. And IIRC, does the 1e ranger go to a flat +2 hp from name level onward? The 2e ranger OTOH, gets the same +3 as the other warriors.
1e rangers get +2 per level instead of +3 at name level, but their name level is also at level 10 instead of 9 like the 2e ranger. So at level 11 a 1e ranger will have 11d8+2 (+any con bonus x11) versus a 2e ranger's 9d10+6 (plus any con bonus x9). The 1e fighter and paladin were similar to the 2e ranger on these numbers.

1e rangers did have a weird ahead and then behind progression.

First level is probably the most useful time to have that comparative advantage in hp.
 
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Stormonu

Legend
Wow, I’d forgotten about the late levels Paladin and rangers got spells In old editions - like an afterthought.

There is a definate shift between the first four Complete books and the rest of the series - as I recall, the Complete Fighter, Rogue, Priest and Wizard were written in conjunction with the rewrite going on for 2E, and the later books just “went to town” as folks became more proficient with writing for the game.

And while its been over 20 years since I’ve sat down with these books, my memory was that my favorite was Wizards, Bards & Paladins, and my least was Humanoids. The reason for the latter, as I recall was the stiff penalties (Superstitions and “they’ll kill you in civilized areas”, as I recall) attached to running any of those races within. There was a similar problem with Orcs of Thar as I recall - the DM’s book had some rather dark connotations on the origins of the goblinoids (they were elves and other humanoids being punished with reincarnation into this horrid lifestyle for past evils), but the player-facing information was (annoyingly) comedic levels of slapstick.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
0D&D in The Strategic Review #2, AD&D 1e, & 2e - Level 8

Maybe it is just that even in the longest campaign I ever ran in any edition 8th level was about 3 or 4 levels from campaign end (beyond that I find D&D is less fun for me) but that seems just about right for when Paladins and Rangers should start getting spells. :)
 


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