Knights of the Woods

Rangers in History, Mythology, and

by Mercurie

Although I have had friends who
have played MMORPGs for years, it has only been recently that I have
started playing MMOs. I don't have a lot of experience with the various
classes. In fact, being a relative newbie, I have only played fighter
types so far. But once I feel I am up to it, I believe that my chosen
class will be the ranger.

Indeed, as far as fantasy oriented pen and paper role playing games go
(D&D, Rolemaster), ranger is probably the class I have played the
most. I suspect that much of this has to do with the fact that I grew
up on a farm which had 20 acres worth of woodland. Growing up I had
plenty of opportunity to go hiking, hunting, and camping in the woods.
I rather suspect that I am one of those rare people who actually feels
safer in the woods than I do on city streets. When I started playing
pen and paper RPGs, I was naturally attracted to the ranger class.

href=""> alt="Artemis statue"
style="border: 0px solid ; width: 89px; height: 150px;" align="left"
hspace="4" vspace="2">Of course, while the ranger class is one of
the most popular classes in both pen and paper RPGs and in MMOs, beyond
Lord of the Rings and fantasy novels which followed it, there really
isn't quite anything like a ranger to be found in folklore, mythology,
or pop culture. Greek mythology features several individuals who are
described as hunters. Among the ancient Greeks the goddess Artemis
governed hunting, wild animals, and the wilderness. She was most often
portrayed with bow and arrows. Another personage from Greek mythology
associated with hunting was Orion, the son of Poseidon and the mortal
Eurayle. While both Artemis and Orion were thought to be great hunters,
I do not think either of them quite fit the idea of the ranger as
portrayed in most RPGs (either pen and paper or MMO).

In English folklore there is a figure who comes much closer to the
modern concept of the ranger. Indeed, except for possibly Sherlock
Holmes, Robin Hood could be the most famous character to emerge from
England. Most of us are familiar with the various legends revolving
around him. Robin Hood was an outlaw (sometimes a fallen noble,
sometimes a peasant) who was forced to take to Sherwood Forrest as a
hideout from the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John. There he
gathered around him a band of Merry Men, with whom he robbed from the
rich and gave to the poor. Robin Hood was supposedly the greatest
archer of his time and there can be little doubt that he had other
skills that would be of benefit living in the woodland as well. That
said, Robin Hood possessed none of the spells or other uncanny
abilities often seen in rangers in MMOs.

Another figure found in English folklore that is close to the ranger
class of RPGs is Herne the Hunter. The legends of Herne vary, but one
of the more popular was that he was a Hunt Keeper in Windsor Forrest
who was murdered and became a ghost. Since that time he was said to
haunt Windsor Forrest, in particular a large tree called Herne's Oak.
Like Robin Hood, however, Herne had none of the spells that rangers in
RPGs possess and no special abilities until after he'd become a ghost.

Of course, the United States has had its fair share of frontier heroes.
Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett are two examples from history. One from
fiction is the hero of The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore
Cooper. Cooper detailed the adventures of the character variously known
as Leatherstocking, Hawkeye, and Pathfinder, but whose given name was
Natty Bumpo, in a series of five books. In many ways Bumpo was nearly a
superhero, with abilities far beyond those of most European settlers of
his era. Bumpo was an incredible marksman. He could track as well as a
bloodhound. He had every skill one could possibly need to survive in
the forest. But while Bumpo was nearly superhuman in Cooper's books, he
possessed no spells or other abilities that a human being could not
attain without extensive training.

Nearly all of these characters resemble rangers as we know them in RPGs
to a large degree, but it seems to me that it would not be until the
publication of The Lord of the Rings that a character fully resembling
the ranger class href=""> alt="D&D Ranger miniature"
style="border: 0px solid ; width: 150px; height: 141px;" align="right"
hspace="4" vspace="2"> would emerge. Indeed, I think this is for
the simple reason that D&D and every other fantasy RPG to come down
the pike has looked to Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings for
inspiration. Aragorn, also known as Strider (among the Hobbits) and
Elessar (among the Elves), was one of the Rangers of the North. The
Rangers of the North roamed the wilderness to guard against such
threats as orcs. While the Rangers of the North guarded the North, the
Rangers of Ithilien guarded the south (namely, Ithilien, an area of the
land of Gondor with the misfortune of bordering the evil land of
Mordor). It seems to me that in Lord of the Rings, the Rangers have
abilities that are remarkable even when compared to the legendary Robin
Hood. Their knowledge of woodlands and stealth is enough that they can
actually "hide in plain sight." If the name given the class in D&D,
"Ranger," were not enough to show Tolkien's influence the fact that the
abilities of Rangers in most RPGs closely match those of the Rangers of
Lord of the Rings should be enough to dispel any doubts.

href=""> alt="Niborea's ranger desktop"
style="border: 0px solid ; width: 150px; height: 120px;" align="left"
hspace="4" vspace="2">Indeed, I rather think the appeal of the
ranger class is also the reason the character of Aragorn has appealed
to so many. Rangers are individuals who live in the wilds to defend
society against what might possibly exist in the wilds. They possess a
remarkable array of skills--stealth, camouflage, and tracking--and are
both skilled swordsmen and archers. They are well experienced in
fighting monsters; after all, it was the Rangers in Lord of the Rings
who protected against invasions from the orcs. In many ways, Rangers
can be described as Knights of the Woods. If a player wants to play a
character who lives on the fringes of society, but it is still very
much in the heroic mould, then I can easily see how the ranger would be
his or her choice.

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Karen 1
Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.