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D&D 5E The Dual Wielding Ranger: How Aragorn, Drizzt, and Dual-Wielding Led to the Ranger's Loss of Identity

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Whoever fights monsters should see to it in the process he does not become a monster. And if you research into the Drizzt, the Drizzt will research back into you.
- Herbert West, animatedly.

Today, on a very special episode of Snarf Explores the Classics featuring a young John Travolta in a sweater, we will be looking into the general topic of "Rangers, what's up with that?" and the more specific question of "What came first, the Drizzt or the Egg?"

Ahem. No. Well, yes, but more particularly:
1. Why do Rangers seem to keep having an identity crisis throughout the editions that has continued to 5e?
2. Did Drizzt create the dual-wielding ranger, or did the dual-wielding ranger create Drizzt?

Given that I am touching on the topic of Rangers AND Drizzt, I am quite sure that this will be a topic that no reasonable person can disagree with. In addition, I would like to thank @auburn2 for bringing this topic to my attention! So, without further preamble, let's talk about the history of the Ranger and how it led to the continuing crisis of identity (all things are IMO, of course, except for citations to the historical record, which are likely true unless I accidentally went into an alternate timeline).

1. The Pre-history and OD&D History of the Ranger.
"First the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil." -Joe Strummer, getting the raga drop.

The Ranger first appears in Volume 1, no. 2, of The Strategic Review (TSR, get it?), the precursor to Dragon Magazine., in the summer of '75. Created by Joe Fischer, this is one of the first new classes, and is already an explicit "sub-class" of "Fighting Men." Early on, we see that it already almost fully formed- the level titles (Runner, Strider, Scout et al.), the ability to cast limited spells starting at 9th level (Cleric and MU, since druids don't exist yet), 2 hit dice at first level, a high requirement for constitution (min. 15), and a bizarre grab-bag of abilities that will seem eerily familiar to those who have read a certain fantasy series, including: No more than two can operate together; tracking; resistance to surprise; advantage fighting 'giant class' (really humanoids, from kobolds through giants); and ability to use Palantiri ... um, crystal balls and similar scrying devices.

In the words of Gary Gygax on this forum- "The Ranger class was originally devised by Joe Fischer, then a regular in my D&D game group. I published his initial treatment of the class in The Strategic Review, thereafter revised it and included it in the core game rules. Of course it is apparent that Joe based the class on JRRT's work and Aragorn. Likely a forester of some sort would have been created at some point, but it would have been quite different from the Ranger as it appeared. certainly."

Sometimes things that are obvious, are obvious. The original Ranger was Strider/Aragorn. Joe Fischer wanted to be Aragorn. We've all been there. Whether from the books, or because Viggo is dreamy.

(Finally, there was one additional interesting thing about the class as originally presented; high level rangers would attract followers, including extraordinary followers ... such as a pegasus, or a werebear ... which we will circle around again to for 2e!)

2. The Minor Revisions in AD&D
"If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is probably not the hobby for you." -Mal Cobb, confusingly.

While many other OD&D classes were introduced directly through supplements, the Ranger and the Illusionist are the only two classes that entirely skipped official publication in OD&D and went straight from the magazine to AD&D (1e). Given the number of times that Gygax has gone on record discussing how Tolkien was not that big of an influence on D&D, you would think that he extensively re-worked the Ranger for 1e, right? Right? RIGHT??!!???


Look, there are going to be some necessary changes because the systems changed. The old ranger had to be lawful. The new ranger has to good! The old ranger was a sub-class of fighting-man. The new ranger is a sub-class of fighter! You get the idea. Other than necessary changes, what substantive changes were made to the Aragorn-homage?
Um, well, the old ranger had pre-requisites of I:12, W:12, and Con:15. The new ranger has S:13, I:13, W:13, Con:14.
Switch out from cleric spells to druid spells (which is really an update- druids weren't around at the time).
Allowed three (3!) rangers to operate together instead of two.
Switched some of the d6 mechanics to percentiles, and made the surprise rules even more confusing.
And that's about it. We can pick some more nits here and there (yes, the spell progression changed and lengthened, etc.), but it was pretty-much a whole-hog port of the original class, that was just a thirsty attempt to play Aragorn.

...um, not that there's anything wrong with that. So by now, we have it established. The Ranger is Aragorn. Which is cool, and all, but ... well, classes in D&D generally are "archetypes," and "This one specific dude from one specific book that everyone knows" is not exactly an archetype. The Paladin, which is also a very specific vision, did not suffer from this simply because people were not nearly as familiar with the source material.

3. And then, there was Unearthed Arcana.
"I spent half my money on gambling, alcohol, and women of ill repute. The other half I wasted." -Fred Rogers, winking.

So a brief and minor interlude- in the summer of 1985 (see comments in the threads), Unearthed Arcana was released. Now, normally I like to completely ignore Unearthed Arcana, for the primary reason that, like the vacuum of outer space, it sucks. However, buried in the otherwise useless Ranger additions (mostly tracking stuff) is one bizarre and startling addition in the class; we can call it the Legolas Addition.

Before UA, remember, there were two things that "everyone knew" about Rangers. They were human, and they didn't have a high dexterity. Wait, what? Yes, you heard that right! So in the PHB in 1e, you see that only two races can be Rangers- Humans and Half-Elves. Except that half-elves were restrict to a maximum of level 8 as a Ranger- IF THEY HAVE 18 STRENGTH! If you have a 16 or lower strength (remember how rare the high abilities were back then, and you had all these other minimums), you were limited to level 6. More importantly, and weirdly, the only allowable multiclass for the half-elf with Ranger was ... Cleric/Ranger. (PHB 17, 23). And Clerics had a max level limit of ... 5. While I do not make sweeping generalizations, I never once saw a Half-Elf Cleric Ranger under the AD&D rules.

But in UA, everything changed. First, there was the opening up of the Ranger class to new races (UA 7). Not just Humans and Half-Elves, but ALL ELVES (except, um, Wild ... because they are too forest-y, or something ... eh ...). So you've added in Wood (hehehehehehehe SHUT UP BEAVIS), Valley (gag me with a ... never mind), High (It's 4:20 somewhere), Gray (do Gray elves exist in Greyhawk?), and ... wait for it ... DARK ELVES. That's right, Charlie Murphy, Darkness. The Drow have come to play in the Ranger Domain. Sure, they needed absolutely ABSURD requirements (UA 9), including a minimum 18 strength even to consider the class, but still!

Meanwhile, the Half-Elf had greatly expanded level limits, with the ability to go up to level 15 in Ranger with Monty Haul abilities (19 strength, 19 int, 19 wis, 19 con - seriously, it was like Gygax was begging you to cheat). Moreover, UA now had a rule that you could exceed the level limits by an additional two if you single-classed as a demi-human. (UA 8).

So you've opened the door to Elven Rangers, and expanded the world for Half-elven rangers, and added Drow and allowed them to be Rangers. What do Elves do? Well, if you ask "the Guy at your table you always, always, always plays a character named Legolas" then you know the answer. Elves go PEW PEW PEW with their little bows because elves have no soul, dead eyes, and refuse to enter into melee combat like real, honest folk. .... ahem.

Sorry. So, the weird twist in UA is that the Ranger is now required to use a bow (or crossbow) as an initial weapon of proficiency. (UA 22) You might think that is no big deal; but by making this a requirement, and by adding the weapon specialization options, it suddenly becomes much more likely that the Ranger is going to specialize in going pew pew pew with a bow. Suddenly, the Ranger is an archer class!

Wait- so why is this a weird switch in UA? Because the original ranger class had no real special abilities with bows, or ranged weapons. In fact, because the original ranger was allowed to use any armor, and because it had so many prerequisites (S, I, W, Con), it was likely that your ranger was going to have sub-par dexterity, and not really worry about the ranged weapons. The original ranger was far more "later Aragorn in armor, fighting battles" than "wilderness warrior" despite tracking and druid spells. But the UA shift made it that much more likely to be an archer.

4. The Cook and Salvatore- Drizzt and 2e.
"I don't have OCD. I've checked, three or hour hundred times, and I definitely do not have it." -Crush the Sea Turtle, dude-ingly.

For once, I'm going to say this up-front. No hiding the ball.

Now, let's read on! Gygax was ousted from TSR at the end of 1985, and the new regime began to turn to de-Gygaxing the product. In 1987, the great TTRPG designer, David "Zeb" Cook led a team to design what we would soon know as 2e. The material with the Ranger came out in the PHB in April, 1989, and was finalized in 1988.

So what changes do we see with the Ranger. Well, the one that immediately jumps out is that the requirement for a minimum intelligence has been replaced with ... you guessed it .... DEXTERITY! And Dexterity is now a prime requisite. But wait, there's more! The switch from the "Aragorn-style" heavily-armored knight-lord is complete, as the rules allow for wearing any armor, but note that many of the Ranger's abilities only work with studded leather or lighter armor ... including a certain brand new one. Are you ready? Are you sure?

That's right. Starting with 2e, the Ranger "can fight two-handed with no penalty to his attack rolls[.]" (PHB 28). The Ranger can still track, but now can also move silently and hide in shadows. Instead of just having "giant class" (humanoids, like orcs and kobolds et al) the Ranger can now pick a particular creature to have a bonus against ... you know, a favored foe. They are friendly with the critters of the wild, and ... blast from The Strategic Review past, can get cool followers at high level, like a werebear or pegasus. Almost like, you know, PETS. Finally, they lost the druid/magic user spells and go back to just casting Priest spells at high levels.

So here is where we get into the Drizzt question. So, did 2e do this to the Ranger because, like Raymond, everyone loves Drizzt?

NO. There are three crucial pieces of evidence for this (and I truly resent having to research this, not being totally into Drizzt. But hey, if you are totally into Drizzt, please feel free to add any corrections necessary):
A. Timing. Drizzt first appears as a sidekick in the Crystal Shard; the book was published after the rules for the 2e Ranger had already been determined and play-tested. Drizzt wasn't a massively popular character until a few years into the 2e run.

B. What Salvatore has said. Drizzt first appears in the novel The Crystal Shard. Drizzt was not some character with a lot of background at the time- instead, he was a last-second replacement in the nearly-finished novel. In Dragon Magazine #188, in 1992, R.A. Salvatore recounted the creation of Drizzt Do'Urden. He said that Drizzt was conceived as Wulfgur's sidekick, and that instead of having any particular planning for it, simply responded in a phone conversation when asked that "I'll do a dark-elf ranger." (Dragon 79). Importantly, Drizzt wasn't based on particular rules.
"And that's where he was born, just like that," Salvatore said, adding that many readers assume the dark elf originated in one of the author's role-playing campaigns. Although the author has played fantasy role-playing games like the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game for more than 10 years, "I have to tell you, the game had very little influence on my writing," he said. Instead, his main influences included classical literature and the landmark fantasy works of J. R. R. Tolkien. "I like to think of Drizzt as a cross between Daryth from Doug's book and Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings."

C. What Zeb has said. Dave "Zeb" Cook (effectively the "Gygax" of 2e) has been asked this specific question- yo, is two-weapon fighting for rangers because of Drizzt? And he responded with (I will quote the whole thing, and underline the relevant part):
Well, time was never really the issue with 2e, except that there was just a lot of work to get done. I think I worked on it for about 1 to 1 1/2 years. Of course even with that amount of time there was still a mountain of work to do. As for editorial freedom, there were constraints. Not really heavy handed "Thou shalt nots", but nothing I did was just on a whim. Anything I was changing or adding had to go through a process -- the other designers and editors had their input, the head of the department had his. There really wasn't any detailed input higher than that, but a lot of stated goals -- probably the demons and devils thing (honestly, people make way more of a name change than it deserves!) and the overall concern that we had to retain reasonable playability with 1e where we could.
A good example of the latter was what we could have done with armor class. Gameplay and system mechanics-wise, it would have been much better to change AC so it ran from 0 (worst) up. It's conceptually easier and would have given more flexibility in the design. But that would have made it much harder to use 1e material so we nixed it. There were similar discussion about rolling over or under given number. The systems were inconsistent, but it was what players were familiar with.
I'm not sure where the ranger took shape, though I know it wasn't an imposition because of Drizzt. (Frankly, I've never read more than bits of the Drizzt series.) It was more to make them distinct and it fit with the style and image.

So, between the timing, and the words of both principals, I think we can safely assume that Drizzt was not the reason for the switch. So, as a quick aside, why did Drizzt use two weapons? Well, maybe because two weapons are cool. And maybe ... because he's a dark elf. "Dark elves do not gain the combat bonuses of the surface elves with regard to sword and bow, but may fight with two weapons without penalty, provided each weapon may be easily wielded in one hand" (UA 10). It was just an odd synchronicity that you had emo super elf become popular at a time when a rules change permitted a class to start dual-wielding.

5. And This is Why the Ranger Continues to Baffle.
"Have you ever tried to unmake soup?" -Mr. Creosote, voraciously.

While it might be productive to continue going through and seeing various versions of the Ranger through 3e and 4e, I think that the original sin of the Ranger can be seen right here in the OD&D/1e/2e light.

Essentially, the Ranger was designed to allow someone to play Aragorn. That's it. That's the root of the class. So many of the original class-design features were to allow the class to play as a woodsy-Strider at low levels and a Knightly Aragorn at higher levels, just like the BOOKS! So you had a mishmash of heavy armor, and spellcasting, and tracking, and orc-killin', and only keeping what you and your horse can carry (because ... eh, whatever). Later, UA went more heavily into the archery, which was still weird given that Rangers weren't especially good at Dexterity.

As Zeb Cook put it- 2e tried to develop more of an identity for them. But it was still a mishmash. Are they archers? Lightly-armored dual wielding skirmishers? Spellcasters? Outdoors-y types? Friends of the nature and keepers of pets? WHY NOT ALL OF THEM? The lack of focus, the lack of a consistent archetype, has continued to bedevil the Ranger and is a feature in numerous conversations; mind you, it doesn't stop it from being popular, but it is neither a general archetype (FIGHTER, WIZARD, ROGUE) nor something specific and easily articulable (MONK, WARLOCK, BARD).

Okay, that's a LOT of words. Snarf is out.

@Alzrius correctly pointed out a dating error in the comments w/r/t UA. Corrected.
Corrected typo per Voadam.
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The correct answer is that they wanted to allow you to also play Faramir in UA.



The correct answer is that they wanted to allow you to also play Faramir in UA.
Yeah, I was just thinking how the Rangers of the South got shafted with that "no more than two can work together" stuff.

Also, Robin Hood (hiding out in the woods with his band of merry men) seems like an obvious part of the DNA of both Faramir and the D&D ranger, and of course, Robin Hood is strongly associated with the bow.


Unserious gamer
It's interesting to contrast the evolution of the ranger with the paladin, since they fill a similar conceptual space (warriors with limited magical powers, a mix of fighter and a divine class).

The ranger's definition became pretty stretched after the 2e changes, and has only become more stretched through the editions. There's a core of concepts that pretty much everyone recognizes as a "ranger", but the borders are incredibly diffuse; plenty of an individual's ranger concepts can slot pretty easily into fighter, rogue, and even druid or barbarian depending on which aspect of the character's abilities are viewed as more integral to the concept.

Paladin, on the other hand, has a really strong and recognizable core, to the point that every edition has had player pushback about the rules stretching the identity of the paladin too far. Most everyone can recognize a paladin concept as being a paladin, or when a concept is trying to be a "blurred boundary" paladin.
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Nitpick: the AD&D 1E Unearthed Arcana (affiliate link) came out in June of 1985, not December, according to Shannon Appelcline's history.

Interesting! I usually use wikipedia for quick references to dates:
List of Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks - Wikipedia (listing a publication date of December 1985).

I checked your link and it does say June '85, but without sourcing.

I cross-referenced acaeum, which didn't help, but did give me this AMAZING pre-publication cover:

Searching the ISBN number provides that the first edition was published in ... oh jeez, August of 1985. That said, wikipedia is definitely wrong, since the September 1985 issue of Dragon Magazine has an update from Gygax that says, in pertinent part, that the "immediate sales of Unearthed Arcana exceeded even our expectations, and we have had trouble supplying sufficient quantities ... Unearthed has hit the best seller list for hardbound books." This would seem to mean that it was published very recently.

1. Thank you for pointing out the error- I think I've made that several times in a row now, and I will correct that in the OP.

2. Wikipedia- always great until it isn't.

3. Still not sure about June. But definitely no later than August on '85.

4. That cover.

Cavaliers. shudder

The concept of Cavaliers as described was like the most exciting class for me by such a large margin when I heard D&D described to me and why I bought D&D (not knowing 2E didn't have them). To be fair to me I was 10.

Then I saw the rules compared to other classes in 1E, and then the various takes on them in other editions.

I have never played a Cavalier.


Hobbit on Quest
I'm not sure I'd attribute too much to the UA required proficiencies with respect to rangers turning into archers. My guess is the designers were trying to make sure a ranger actually knew how to use a weapon suitable for hunting since they spend so much time out in the wild. Most people playing rangers probably already knew this and made sure their rangers had an appropriate ranged weapon proficiency from the get-go.


Mod Squad
Staff member
The concept of Cavaliers as described was like the most exciting class for my by such a large margin when I heard D&D described to me and why I bought D&D (not knowing 2E didn't have them).

I have never played a Cavalier.

Oh, yeah. The game could certainly use a good mounted knight. And nobility/chivalry, we can work with. No question.

But that implementation. Gah.

Oh, I did play that cleric/ranger multiclass Snarf mentions, back in the day. It didn't suck as badly as it may seem on paper.


The EN World kitten

The concept of Cavaliers as described was like the most exciting class for me by such a large margin when I heard D&D described to me and why I bought D&D (not knowing 2E didn't have them). To be fair to me I was 10.

Then I saw the rules compared to other classes in 1E, and then the various takes on them in other editions.

I have never played a Cavalier.
Certainly, this guy didn't make them look good:



I always thought Drizzt was a 1e UA drow ranger who dual wielded because of being a drow. The fact that I read The Crystal Shard when it came out a year before 2e did (and that 2e drow PCs explicitly did not have special drow abilities that Drizzt had) may have added to that belief. Plus running a campaign with two dual wielding1e UA drow PCs at the time.


First, I love your posts like this, and your sense of humor.


I have a hard time keeping focus to read the wall of text and making it all the way to the end. If it's just me, I'll admit my failings and feel free to ignore me.

Awfully Cheerful Engine!

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