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.



Published in: on December 1, 2017 at 4:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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Here’s something that has been coming up pretty frequently in our gaming group: thieves are crappy at scouting in dungeons.  Well, human thieves…which are the only kind in B/X anyway.

In theory, the guy who can move silently, hide in shadows, find traps, and hear noise sounds like the guy you want to scout ahead in enemy/dangerous territory.

But he needs a light source.  And that’s a monster magnet.  So you’re better off sending the halfling, the dwarf, the elf … anyone who won’t be stumbling around blind and attracting all kinds of moth-monsters to his torch or lantern.

I suppose there is something gritty and challenging about furtively dashing through the darkness, occasionally opening the lantern hood to take a look-see, maybe wearing an eyepatch or something to save your feeble human nightvision…  so I should be OK with thieves needing to work around darkness issue, but honestly it hasn’t been fun to do that; not for me as DM, not for the players.

So the alternatives are:

  • silly magical items that provide some limited form of nightvision/infravision/faint light (screw that…you need them most at the low levels before you can afford fancy equipment or have found much magic)
  • using ‘Hear noise’ more explicitly as a substitute for seeing (no thanks to more pointless rolling though)
  • giving thieves nightvision/infravision as a class ability (what?)

I’m actually thinking 2&3 make the perfect combination.  Thieves have acute senses, which can substitute for vision under the right circumstances.  The rule would be:

If a thief is at least 40′ away from distracting noise (allies in mail or plate armor, etc.), and at least 20′ away from distracting smells (dwarves, barbarians, unshod halflings, etc.), he operates as if he has torch light (up to 40′ visibility), using his other senses to compensate for the lack of real light.  He will not be able to discern colors unless some minimal, ambient light is available.  But he can notice movement or the presence of monsters, make out most details of a room, and even search for traps or secret doors, as if he could see.

This would allow a thief to sneak up ahead in the dark and poke around without automatically notifying every monster within 120 feet that outsiders are about.   But he is going to have to be alone, or with other thieves to pull it off.  Maybe he could string along a magic user, or another character in no armor or leather armor, but no knights or smelly rangers.  I like it because it gives thieves a very nice but mostly non-combat ability, and encourages them to go ahead and get into deep doodoo on their own, as Gary intended.

Published in: on December 15, 2011 at 8:54 am  Comments (1)  
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What class is this character?

B/X Blackrazor, and probably some other blogs I can’t recall, have had posts about statting up literary characters.  While I don’t think it’s all that important for a game to be able to ‘simulate’ a literary character, and pretty much never think that way when I’m reading a book, I do find it very interesting to think about how D&D and its offshoots might be able do it when their classes turn out to be something other than what you’d expect. 

So I really enjoyed seeing the arguments that Aragorn (who was obviously the inspiration for the AD&D ranger class, at least in 1e) would actually be a Cleric in B/X D&D (turns the undead, heals, fights well … only the weapons restrictions don’t match); that Gandalf would be a 2e bard (uses a sword a lot, casts relatively few spells, inspires others a lot), and that Conan is a high level thief  (uses any weapon, rarely dons armor, great at sneaking around). 

It’s nice that some literary characters very obviously fit D&D classes. The Grey Mouser is very clearly the inspiration for the AD&D thief.  It’s odd that his buddy Fafhrd does not really seem to match anything in OD&D that well. I guess he could be a fighter but he is most like the bard in Castles & Crusades (excellent fighter, wears little armor, some thief skills, lore skills), and certainly not like the bard in AD&D (no spells).  Maybe an AD&D barbarian would work, since he is superstitious and often called a “barbarian” in the stories. 

Severan in the Shadow of the executioner would appear to be an AD&D assassin (pretty good at killing people, and disguising himself, but not a great thief or fighter, and no magic) … I have not read any further into that series, but as the story progresses I understand he gets more mythic.


Published in: on October 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Illusionist

The illusionist has never been a popular class in my gaming experience.  In fact, the only illusionist I ever recall rolling up (apart from my current C&C character, Dagodart Stav, whose master Duggenning is depicted above) was near the beginning of my gaming days, when my brother & I had somehow convinced my Dad to make a character for AD&D when we were around 10 & 12.  (We had just scored some hex paper and had no idea what to do with it, so we assumed it was the correct paper to use for notes and characters.  My Dad, very tolerantly, went along with it.  His rolls must have been suitable for an illusionist, because I remember advising him to play a gnome illusionist.  I recall nothing else about that session, apart from it being nearly impossible to read anything on the hex paper which had very heavy, dark lines.) (more…)

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 11:11 am  Comments (3)  
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