Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is Robin Hood a Ranger?

Lest you think the title of this post is a strange, out-of-left-field type of question, let me explain.  With the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook mere days away from release I find myself thinking of all the editions that have come before.  Each edition can be viewed as part of the larger history of a still developing game or as an entity unto itself.  How you choose to view it is up to you.  Some persons of my acquaintance have strong feelings, both positive and negative, about each edition, others less so.  In 1989 TSR released the 2nd edition of the AD&D game (AD&D 1st edition was released in 1978 and represented the first great split in the game that itself started in 1974 with 3 booklets in a box.  In my opinion the 1st edition AD&D was not much different from the OD&D of 1974.  It was still a fantasy game that took inspiration from a wide variety of sources, many of them what we would call science fiction (and even cosmic horror, yes, I'm talking H.P. here).  The 1989 2nd edition was, at least in terms of setting and tone, a great departure from that which had come before.  The Player's Handbook (PHB), and indeed the 2nd edition as a whole, was chiefly the design work of one David "Zeb" Cook.  Zeb's 2nd edition PHB had something that was absent from the 1st edition PHB, namely little blue boxes that helped explain things in the text.  Sometimes these were just notes to clarify the rules but at other times they were background information.  Looking at these blue box notes we can see that the 2nd edition shifted focus from the wide ranging fantasy ideas of the 70s' work and into a more historically-based fantasy tone.  (You, in the back, stop snickering)

If a player in the 1970s wanted to make a character the PHB assumed (inasmuch as an inanimate object can be imbued with an anthropomorphic behavior) that the player was already familiar with RPG, possibly also wargaming, and had an idea, likely gained from Tolkien, what a Ranger was.  Generally speaking.  A look at the abilities of the AD&D 1st edition Ranger shows us a character that is very much Strider (or Aragorn if you like) from LOTR.  A look at the OD&D Ranger (from Strategic Review) shows us the roots of the character.  It's Aragorn.  Bonuses against giants (into which group Trolls and even Orcs were placed), healing abilities, extra hit dice, required to travel alone (well not allowed to group with a bunch of other Rangers) for the most part.  This was the Middle Earth Ranger all over.

Keep in mind that this was in the days before anyone named Do'Urden decided to run around swinging scimitars and fucking up gaming for everyone.

In 1989, however, Zeb, et al, decided that new players would not, necessarily, have an extensive gaming and/or fantasy background.  To help the players choose and understand the classes available to them, and to keep those players into the new way of AD&D thinking (a way that removed the words "demon" and "devil" from the product due to some unfortunate press in the 80s) the PHB included inspiration notes for the classes that referenced historical or literary antecedents for the classes themselves.  The Ranger class read as follows:
     The ranger is a hunter and woodsman who lives not only by his sword, but also by his wits.
     Robin Hood, Orion, Jack the giant killer, and the huntresses of Diana are examples of rangers
     from history and legend.  The abilities of the ranger make him particularly good at tracking, 
     woodcraft, and spying.

There it is.  The PHB specifically refers to Robin Hood as a Ranger.  We all know Robin Hood, right?  He's that guy that split an arrow with another another arrow at an archery tournament and had a band of Merry Men wearing tights.  You know, that guy.  Green Arrow.
What else do we know about Robin Hood?  Robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.  Yep, that seems like a thief.  Only he did it by waylaying people in a forest so that doesn't really fit the urbane nature of the housebreaking, lock picking, hiding in the shadows to stab you in the back thief type.
I seem to remember his having an animal companion.  A bear I think.
Ooo-da-lolly, ooo-da-lolly, and so forth.
I might be wrong.

Ultimately this image of the 2nd edition Ranger, at PHB launch, was the idea of a woodsman-warrior.  Aragorn could still apply, but the idea was to make him more of a man of the forests in a pseudo-medieval sense.  To appreciate this we have to forget all that business about King Richard and Prince John and look at a Robin Hood from a much lower social class.  A forester, not a noble in hiding.  Ranger seems a good candidate for Robin Hood.
Admit it, you prefer the fox.  This is not Robin Hood.  I don't know what this is, but it is not Robin Hood.  Dances with Outlaws?  
Or it did.
3rd edition really changed the way we saw Rangers.  Arguably the change was a slow evolution that started with the 2nd edition's Complete Ranger's Handbook, a book that put forth many other types of Rangers, many of them more woodland protector than woodsman-warrior.  By the time of 3rd edition the Ranger was on his way to becoming the martial hippie of the D&D world.  3rd edition gave Rangers animal companions nearly from the start where before animals were possible followers a Ranger could gain at 10th level (along with fighters, other rangers, and similar character types).  Rangers had much more reliance on dexterity and archery became a line of improvement for them if they so desired (with the other being that heinous two-weapon fighting bollocks...thank you Drizzt...ass).  The key shift here is from the 1st and 2nd edition warrior who is at home in the forests, experienced in that dangerous and rugged terrain, to a character that is some sort of mystic mumbo-jumbo protector OF the forests.  Greenpeace but more effective with weapons.  Which is to say effective at all, really.
There is an actual feat for this in 3rd edition.  I shit thee not.
4th edition, I don't want to talk about 4th edition.  The obsession with Rangers shooting things, a very MMORPG concept no doubt linked to a simple misunderstanding by MMO developers involving the RANGE portion of RANGER, continued on and players were not having it any other way save for that duel weapon nonsense.  I don't know what to expect from 5th edition but I hope it is not the trend that started with 3rd and kept spiraling downwards.  A tracker, a survivor, a man at home in the forests who lives in defiance of the dangers there, always aware and a guide and protector of humanity in the wilds.  You know, like this guy:
That guy, up front...come on, you know who I'm talking about.
Yep, that's a Ranger.
And so, I think, was Robin Hood.

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