The Ranger class is an interesting one to look at. Mechanically and thematically speaking, so many people see a ranger as someone who is out in the middle of nowhere leading Hobbits (…I mean, halflings) around and making sure that they don’t get killed. However, in terms of actually playing a game of D&D, having a character like that who is a bit of a loner and is focused on exploring or travel isn’t all that interesting. The most interesting parts of the game are the interactions and combat, and while there are versions of the Ranger class that are better at that now, there still is a lot of focus on exploration within the base skills of the class.
Now, as a Dungeon Master (DM), you can focus more on survival, tracking, and exploring if you have a Ranger in your party. And as a player, you can play a ranger who is interested in or focused on either combat or social interactions; it’s just a bit trickier to do than with some other classes that also have the capacity for adding survival skills. The team at Wizards of the Coast updated the ranger class so that this character type is a bit more effective, and have created a new version of the class that’s available online, as the version of the ranger class offered in the Player’s Hand Book (PHB) is weaker than basically any other class. Where you can really get some strength out of the ranger is when you are in a campaign in which you have a specific type of creature/villain that you fight a lot. For example, if you’re facing off against Goblins, you can become a ranger who is an expert at tracking, finding, and killing them.
My piece of caution for the ranger class is to not play the Lone Ranger. As a player, you have the responsibility to give your character a reason to be with the party. And as a DM, it’s my responsibility to keep that reason there — or, if it is removed in some way (say you needed help killing the Goblin King and that’s been accomplished), then as DM and player, we need to work together to create a new or re-worked reason for you to stay around. On the other hand, there’s always the option to retire the character once their purpose or arc is fulfilled — if the time comes, the DM can determine that it would be best to allow the player to retire their character and roll up a new one. Some people might find a character switch to be a lot of fun, which is what we’re about when playing.
Now that we’ve talked about the standard features of this character type, let’s look at some different backstory possibilities for a Ranger character:
You grew up in the wild country with your nomadic tribe. Compared to many of them, whom you’d consider barbarians, you were always interested in society, and whenever you went to a town, you’d converse with the people and learn about them. When you got older, you realized you knew something that most other people didn’t — you knew the wild country, and you could create maps to sell and help people find their way through the wilderness. There’s a ring of mountains you’ve seen in the distance, and you want to be able to map it as well. However, everyone tells you that it’s too dangerous, and that no one has ever mapped it before. But you’ve found a group to travel with, and maybe if you work with them long enough, you can get them to help you map out that area.
As a child growing up in the streets of a small town, playing with friends, you never expected your life to change too drastically. But then, goblins attacked your village, and you were barely able to escape. You went to the city for a while, but when you were older and heard of another goblin attack back in your home county, you needed to go back and take care of the goblins. You spent time visiting there and learning everything you could about the goblins. Now you’re ready to kill the Goblin King. You need help, though — if only you could find some others as strong as you are.
For decades, you’ve been the protector of the realms, keeping the planes of existence separate. It’s a solitary lifestyle, and you’d grown used to it. Then, more and more planar portals started opening, and creatures started showing up. This is something bigger than what you can handle. You’ve tried to stem the flow of creatures and monsters, but you’re going to need help. And that means that, after so long, you’re going to have to be around people again. You’re going to have to open yourself up again and pray that it doesn’t end up with you getting hurt like last time.
Life was great — you were a guide for big game hunters, and you loved it. You knew where creatures lived and how to hunt them. But one horrible day, you watched as all of the the members of a well-paying party were killed while hunting a monster. There wasn’t anything you could have done to save them, but it ruined your reputation, and what you saw haunts you to this day. Now you need to rebuild your reputation, and you need help tracking down that monster before more hapless big game hunters try and fail to conquer it.
Have you had a chance to play a Ranger before? What was your reason for staying with the party?
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