No elf rangers or druids

I could probably develop this into a more detailed and nuanced argument, but here goes with some thoughts as I kill ten minutes at my desk, when I should be on my way home but have an after-hours union meeting to wait around for.

Just a contrarian thought. Elves always seem to be a go-to choice for rangers because most versions of D&D give rangers some extra skill with bows, and elves have bonuses to hit with long bows at least in AD&D. Rangers are also associated with the outdoors, and elves love nature, right?

Going back to the first instance of rangers in a D&D manual (the AD&D PHB), we just have this laconic description before jumping into their abilities and powers: “Rangers are a sub-class of fighter who are adept at woodcraft, tracking, scouting, and infiltration and spying.” Their powers revolve around killing “giant class” monsters (generally speaking, humanoids/goblinoids, and not including giants but including ogres and trolls), tracking, and some spells. Their increased chance of surprise would make them pretty deadly with bows under first edition surprise rules. But apart from limited druid spells and attracting woodland followers, I’m not really seeing the nature-loving aspect to them. They look a lot more like Tolkien’s rangers, who protected mankind by patrolling the frontiers. Rambo more than Robin Hood.

Why would elves be protectors of mankind? The first edition restriction that elves can not be rangers makes sense in this light, especially if you mix in some of the Poul Anderson ideas about elves being not so friendly to humans.

D&D druids are fleshed out a bit more, but the basic idea is that they are throwbacks to Celtic druids (as described by Julius Caesar?), and worship trees, the sun, and moon. Bearing in mind that AD&D elf characters are always high elves, the shouldn’t be druids. Druids sound rather backward; a refined elven culture certainly wouldn’t be worshiping nature directly, but would have developed a pantheon of gods, as we see in Deities & Demigods. Even if wood elves are allowed per Unearthed Arcana and post-1st edition versions of D&D, wood elves don’t seem any wilder or more primitive than high elves, just different.

Druids are tied, minimally, to a certain kind of semi-barbaric human civilization. (OK, barbaric according to Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, which was propaganda, but we’re buying the myth anyway by making them tree-worshipers). Elves are not Celts or Gauls. Rangers are also tied to human civilization, as a sort of frontier defender of humans. Again, not a role you would see taken by up non-humans.

In this light, half-elf rangers make a little more sense (and really half-orc rangers make more sense than elves, while we’re at it) — half-human outcasts might be deployed to the frontiers, hidden from prejudiced eyes and laboring to defend a wold they are not really accepted by.

So whenever I see people say it just “makes sense” to allow elves to be rangers and druids, I shake my head. It makes sense only if you divorce those classes from they actually represent and focus solely on the “nature” part of their roles. But both classes actually serve humanity; they simply do so on the fringes of civilization, in the wilds.

 

 

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Published in: on December 1, 2017 at 4:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. For a good example of (thoroughly human!) rangers, read Robert E. Howard’s Conan tale, “Beyond the Black River”.

  2. There’s also that prior to the 1900s, elves were depicted in folklore as being ambivalent (at best) towards humanity: sometimes helpful for the fun of it, but far more often being mischievous, malicious, and/or seductive.

    For some reason, I’m having trouble imagining Rambo moving with cat-like stealth through dry leaves, then shooting the one tiny spot that severely wounds a big enemy, though. Not that I’d pick Robin Hood, either… Madmartigan from “Willow”, perhaps? 😉

  3. that’s really insightful; I like to play my elves as rogues among humans. They still know nature stuff,but in a more holistic way; time, the way history repeats itself, seasons, the natures of man vs. animal, man vs. himself. They know common sense stuff like how herbs work with the body’s natural processes, instead of say, poop poultices. They understand a bit more about the meaning of neutrality, as in the alignment…letting nature take its course.
    But you’re right, they don’t go around patrolling the borders of humanity’s declining empires (and when are they not really declining?) or being animists amoung their peers…it doesn’t make much sense in most of our collected campaign world’s when you get down to it.
    Great post! Great ideas are those ones that make you go Of Course! I Knew That! 🙂


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