The wilds of the world are dangerous places, filled with strange beasts and hungry monsters. Most would never step off the beaten path and risk getting lost in these expanses. There are some, though, who are at-home in these huge, empty tracts, who have the skills to survive away from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities, and who can fade into the foliage like ghosts at the first sign of a threat. Valued allies, and deadly enemies, rangers are masters of the untamed wilderness. However, they are often seen as nothing more than that. If you've been looking to step outside the box with your next ranger, consider the following tips.
This guide is meant for use with the Pathfinder RPG, but the tips may be just as useful for other games with a ranger class. For more gaming insights and advice, check out Improved Initiative!
Tip #1: Why That Favored Enemy?
Gaining a favored enemy is one of the best known abilities of the ranger class, and the bonus the ability provides can turn a tough fight into a cake walk. However, stop and ask yourself why you favor fighting that particular creature. Is it because you were specifically trained to take them down? Is it due to long experience, so you can anticipate their moves, and you know where to hit them hardest? Is it because they're just like you, so you know them as well as you know yourself?
The most stereotypical reason for a favored enemy is because the creature personally wronged you, such as by killing your family or selling you into slavery, but that choice is so overdone it's become predictable. So if you're a fan of that one, try something else on for size. If you really want to stand that trope on its head, make yourself the latest in a long line of hunters who taught you all the tricks they knew by the time you were able to go out on your own. That way anytime someone asks you how you knew to use cold iron on the devil-in-disguise, you can tell them about the tales your granddad used to weave by the fire side about when he was a young man, fighting for the church.
Tip #2: Why That Fighting Style?
Rangers get to choose a combat style early on, and they are able to take bonus style feats even if they don't meet the prerequisites for them. This can make rangers particularly deadly combatants, and it allows you to create a unique fighting style for your character.
Instead of just picking the fighting style that is mechanically the most efficient, though, take a moment to ask where your ranger learned that style, and how it impacts both their character and their story.
For example, if you take the natural attacks combat style, were you raised by a community of lycanthropes? Or trained by druids, who imparted to you the secrets of animal savagery? If you are a bowman, do you fire with military precision? Or are you a mobile fighter, stalking and firing on the battlefield more like a hunter than a soldier? Do you fight with a sword and dagger in a style often seen in back alleys and waterfronts, or do you use a single large weapon, striking hammer blows the way certain mountain clans have been said to fight?
Give your mechanics some story, and they'll immediately feel like a more organic part of your character.
Tip #3: What Is Your Profession?
Too often we let our class act as a stand-in for our character's actual profession. Or, worse, we just call them an "adventurer," as if that word actually means something. As I said in What's In A Name? How Character Class is Limiting Your Creativity, too often we just tell people we're a ranger, as if that explains everything.
So take a moment and ask what your character actually does for a living. Is she a game warden, policing the forests on behalf of the crown and tracking down poachers? Is she a bounty hunter, using her skills to bring law breakers to justice? Is she an enforcer for a criminal syndicate, running contraband through the wild lands? Or is she a spy, using her skills to observe movements of dignitaries and nobles in order to keep her government appraised of who is where?
There are a lot of things someone with a ranger's skill set could do, so think it through.
Tip #4: What's Your Opinion On Civilization?
The stereotype of the ranger is that they're averse to civilization as a rule. They're close to nature, and easily blend into it, so we often assume that taking them out of that environment makes them feel uncomfortable.
Of course, that isn't a requirement. It's just sort of traditional.
So, while your ranger is probably at home in forests, deserts, at-sea, or in the jungle, ask if that's where they prefer to be. After all, there's nothing that says they don't live in luxury as a lord, or even reside in a castle as a noble's master of the hunt, when they aren't on an adventure. And even if being out in nature is where your ranger is most comfortable, what are some things that would make them seek out a town, or even a city? Do they get an occasional hankering for a good whiskey, and a meal they didn't have to cook? Do they prefer the feel of a feather mattress over bunching up at the base of a pine tree? Do they get lonely, and stop in for an evening of being around people? Do they need to re-supply, trading furs and other goods so they can stock up?
Tip #5: Who Are You When You're Not Ranging?
What does your ranger do when they're not on the campaign trail?
That's not a rhetorical question. Many players just assume rangers take long walks through their favored terrain when they aren't actively on an adventure, essentially twiddling their thumbs until they're needed again. But if you take a moment, and really ask who your character is off-the-sheet, you might end up with some interesting ideas.
For instance, does your ranger prefer to grow crops and relax on his own front porch (the basis of the character concept The Farmer Ranger)? Do they like to go to the horse races, wagering their latest gains on whether Like The Wind will cross the finish line first? Does your ranger prefer to be left alone, or are they gregarious? Do they drink? Smoke? Do they like to tell big fish stories about that dire bear they supposedly brought down during that huge blizzard before they cut open its belly and slept inside it? Or about how they once went fishing, only to have to fight a sea serpent with a crossbow? Is your ranger the town healer, caring for people and livestock alike when they're hurt?
There's a lot of space in their history that isn't covered by the character sheet. Fill it in, and see how all those things inform who your ranger is.