Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Why the ranger class sucks these days...

To understand the fall of the modern ranger, it is helpful to study the rise of the modern bard. When I first started playing RPGs over a decade ago, the bard looked like this:

Now I first want to say that I mean no disrespect to the artist that worked hard on this piece. I think it is a great piece of art, but a bard this is not. The musical instrument is a hardly visible afterthought (he's wearing a lute on his back) and his outfit doesn't scream "storyteller" or "poet" but rather "rogue" or "eccentric."

And this perfectly describes the bard class (D&D 3E) that this picture was used to represent: a mixed bag of uncertain purpose. It has middling attack bonuses, a middling spellcasting ability, mediocre spell selection, and its class-specific features were so situational and odd as to be laughable.

Hence, this comical representation of the bard throughout 3rd edition's reign.

But now! NOW the bard looks like THIS:

Holy moly! Look at that badass fantasy character! A sweet guitar that sticks out like a sore thumb (in the best way) the subtle wood flute hanging around the neck, the lack of any weapons or aggressive garb. This bard is something unique unto itself. The colors are bright and stylish. Even the character's haircut is edgy and cool. This is a socialite. This is a world-traveler.

And just like the picture, the 5e bard is the king of classes. Highly versatile, interesting, and competent. A skilled magic-user, a healer, and combatant, and even a battlefield inspiration.

It is admittedly a bit overpowered, but at least it's playable in an unironic way.

So what has the ranger done in this same timeframe?

Well, the first ranger I ever saw in a D&D book looked like this:

This is someone I can picture roaming the wilderness for months on end. The armor might be a little overdone, but it also looks rugged and that is important. The weapons are sharp and deadly, there are torches on his back next to his bow, and he is wearing a green, elvish-camouflage cape. He's ready to face the wilds. And he even looks like he has, given his bronzed skin tone (for an elf).

This 3rd edition ranger was not as playable as it seemed, but it was playable nonetheless. Favored Enemy is a very tricky feature to make work in a standard D&D campaign, and that was the main draw of the class. Worst case scenario: your 3E ranger had the high attack bonuses, decent hit points, some fun combat perks to start with, and nice skill points and spells to fill out the weaker areas of the character. If your party needed to track anything, or survive in the wilds, you needed a ranger, no question.

What about the ranger now? Well........

She's either a drow, or a purple elf. Neither of those scream "wanderer of the forests" to me like the tanned elf from before. She is also wearing a bright blue cape and puffy white sleeves. Not exactly camouflage. 

Something tells me that this piece was just supposed to be a warrior-type drow, and when time came to put a ranger picture in the 5e Player's Handbook, somebody grabbed this one, drew a bird onto the bow, and called it a day. Not cool.

And worst of all, the 5e ranger is by-far the least popular class. Only three skills? Someone that survives on their own in the wild with no help only gets three skills from their class? Favored Enemy gets nerfed, even though it was already mediocre at best. And don't even get me started on the current state of the animal companion... what a joke. It's so unpopular, in fact, that WOTC has made it a point to update it completely. Are the updates enough? Eh. I'm on the fence.

The Upswing

So what is wrong with the ranger? Why does it blow nowadays? Why is it "weak"?

Because it doesn't do anything. Sure, it can do all the normal character stuff fine. In fact, it can do all the normal character stuff (moving, hiding, fighting, seeing, hearing, etc.) more reliably than any other class. Move through brambles unhindered, fight invisible things, not lose its way in the woods, etc.

But those things aren't exciting. If a rogue could only hide, and not sneak attack, it would suck (by modern standards). Well, the ranger is exactly that. Sure, he or she can run through a field of pricker bushes without getting slowed down or hurt, but once on the other side of the field, they will put you to sleep with their lack of unique proactive choices.

Doing things was the focus of my Ranger Class without Math from a few months back. If you don't wanna read that through, here is the lowdown.

I give them two major weapon choices in combat: bows and knives. They get to choose whether to engage from afar or close up in each fight, not as a one-time character feature. No more melee OR ranged rangers. Each ranger is both.

I give them an awesome and totally independent animal companion to control, which is just one more sweet and proactive choice they get to make each turn. Every ranger gets one.

I give them the ability to make natural traps, and search for natural traps. Boom. Interesting choices in non-combat time other than tracking.

I give them herbalism and bush medicine to make them healers because if rangers don't know that isht then they die all alone in the woods. Just makes sense, and is uber useful for the party.

See how easy that is? But just like the bard because more capable and proactive between 3rd and 5th editions, the ranger fell from grace. How ironic that the tracker and wayfinder class has lost its way.

But hey, now you know how to fix it.