I saw a bunch of traffic on Twitter lately about the ranger. What is the ranger? How best to represent the ranger? Why does the ranger seem so dull sometimes? So what I thought I’d do is write down who I think the ranger is and then derive the rest from that. If we stay true to concept, the idea goes, we get mechanisms that match their context.
I bolded the bits that are ready to mechanize. You do that. I don’t know what system you love.
You live your life in the wilds and mostly alone. Maybe you don’t like people or they don’t like you. Maybe you made some mistakes in the past and they are still hunting you. Maybe you just like the wilds better than you like people. But you do love people. You see yourself as their first line of defense — when things are going wrong in the wilds, soon enough the impact will be felt by people. You are always on patrol, always looking for those problems, and solving them if you can. And if you can’t you, reluctantly (because it means you have to return to civilization, however temporarily), raise the alarm.
Your core principle is self-sufficiency. Your equipment is at least repairable if not creatable, by you alone in your wilderness home. You know how to find food and shelter, since you’re always on the move. You naturally heal quickly and are resistant to natural toxins, and when that doesn’t serve you, you are adept at administering first aid to yourself. You don’t need anyone, or at least that’s what you tell yourself and what you trained yourself for.
You’re wary of making friends with wildlife since animals are often essential to making and repairing your kit. But who could resist the companionship and skills of a good dog or trained wolf? If you have a pet, it’s probably a predator and it probably sees you the same way you see it: a friend, a companion, and someone to be respected. It’s not going to be any more loyal to you than you are to it. So you make careful choices about that loyalty.
You prefer equipment you can make yourself and you can live with equipment you can maintain yourself. Anything else is useless to you. And if your gear has more than one use then that’s fewer things you need to carry.
Consequently you like bows. You can hunt with it and you can fight with it, though in your head these are much the same thing. Crossbows have fiddly bits, typically metal, that are just not worth your attention to keep, maintain, and (worst of all) go into town to replace. You can make a bow yourself in a couple of hours. Arrows too, though metal arrowheads are a treasure: you hoard them, keep them dry, and recover them whenever possible. And you keep them very, very sharp. In a pinch you can make stone or bone arrowheads that are almost as good.
You are proficient with all bows.
Swords are just not worth it. They are not the best weapon in the first place and then they are not useful for much other than fighting. And that fighting is mostly duels, which you think is profoundly stupid: the idea of engaging in a fair fight just makes no sense to you: that’s not how one survives a hostile world. You avoid unnecessary fights and when you have to fight you make it on your terms. And your terms are very good for you and very bad for them. You probably carry some knives which you keep as carefully as your arrowheads. You may carry an axe or two since they have a thousand uses, many of which you come across every day. Or maybe just one but you have some spare axeheads. You can make the shaft any old time, but the axe head is scarce (unless you enter a town) and your time is too valuable to be swanning around a village. You don’t dress fancy enough anyway. And, if it’s to your taste, you probably have a spear. It’s a walking stick and a weapon. You can throw it and you can thrust with it. You can kill and you can just keep enemies at a distance. And you can make every part of it but the metal tip.
You are proficient with knives, axes, and spears. In some Regions you might have other proficiencies related to the survival needs of the area (a mattock or pick in stony territory, for example).
If you could get away with it you probably wouldn’t bother with armour, but most of the threats to people on the edge of the wilderness wear armour and you will need to handle them face-to-whatever if need be. But it’s armour you can maintain yourself, it’s armour you can get on (quickly) yourself, and ideally it’s not something else to carry awkwardly. So no shields, no big metal plates. Mail is handy and you can probably make some repairs, but it’s not ideal. It gets ragged pretty fast and time spent with special tools and a lot of squinting is better spent sleeping or eating. So you prefer cloth with metal plates sewn in, or good leather with lot of padding. If you’re in the mood to make it you might make a cuir bouillee breastplate or (more likely) some vambraces to protect your arms from thorns and your rugged fletching.
You are proficient with leather, cloth, and mail. If you wear mail it’s probably not very good quality.
You would not be caught dead without rope and you know how to make it with any one of a dozen local sources, whether plant or animal. You know where flint is found naturally but you can whip up a fire with dry sticks and your bow if need be. And while the dark is dangerous, you probably don’t like travelling with a torch or (worse) a lantern — it’s an invitation to trouble. Instead you sleep when it’s dark.
If you need a particular piece of equipment while in your Region and you could reasonably be carrying it, then you have it when you need it or you can swiftly make it.
You’ve no need for money. It just adds to your load, both physically and metaphorically. You might keep a few coins or gems for emergencies, but that’s exactly what you feel commerce is: an occasional emergency that you hate. But you prepare for.
If your system has an XP for gold scheme, consider changing it up for the ranger: you only get XP for you gold share that you give away.
You hunt to survive and consequently you are an expert at tracking prey. You’d starve otherwise.
In your region you can follow any trail made by any being not magically protected from being detected. Except maybe another ranger.
You always create an environment that is advantageous to you and you don’t trust others. So whether or not you’re in a party sleeping in shifts, you have certainly prepared a campsite with alarms if not deadly traps.
In your region any site you have prepared has traps and alarms around it.
Your approach to a fight is more procedural than most: you reconnoiter, you prepare, you trigger your encounter, and you leave when you have to. And you set yourself realistic goals from the outset: no one wants to fight to the death, least of all you.
You have great stealth in your region.
You have great observation skills.
You can make traps in your region.
You attack by surprise.
You effortlessly escape by prepared routes.
If you must travel in a party you must have a really good reason. And you’re probably very dedicated to that — if you make yourself part of a party then they become a tiny village that you hate that you love. You are now their protector. But know why.
You have a reason for being in the party. Declare it. Why do you love these people this much?
You prefer a particular region. It might have many kinds of terrain but it probably has one dominant climate. You know all the animals in this region and all of the plants — you know what’s safe, what’s dangerous, what’s edible, what’s medicinal, what’s a potential weapon, and what’s better to avoid altogether.
You are never poisoned and never go hungry in your region.
You can heal yourself in your region on par with magical abilities.
You can heal others in your region to a lesser degree.
You never get lost in your region.
You move faster than normal in your region.
You know the special abilities of anything native to your region.
Outside your region you may have only limited abilities — if the wood’s unfamiliar and the animals are unfamiliar then you will start to have trouble maintaining your equipment and even surviving unassisted. You are very much a creature of your place, and though it may contain mountains and forests and lakes and swamps, it doesn’t extend forever. But you can learn, especially from other rangers.
You can learn a region by acting as a ranger in that region for an extended period of time or through multiple advancements. If you are mentored by another ranger, this happens faster.
Your region has existing trouble and you specialize in guerilla warfare against that trouble. It might be people or it might be monsters or it might even just be weather or fire. Whatever it is, you have trained and equipped yourself especially to deal with this threat. You know everything you need to know about it and value new information very highly. And you will go out of your way to do it harm.
You have bonuses to all your abilities when facing your enemy.
You will want to divert from a task to kill or hinder your enemy if the original task has nothing to do with them. There is no bonus or penalty for this, you just want it. No need to be a dick about it in a party.