Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Into the Vaults: We always wanted to play Aragorn

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I began playing (Advanced) Dungeons & Dragons in 1978. There has always been a ranger class in my D&D, and we always wanted to play Aragorn. No doubt you’ve heard of him? However, it turns out that “ranger” as a concept can be difficult to implement as a class, and a class by itself does not necessarily lead to playing Aragorn.

That 1st Edition ranger class has some curious elements. Sure, tracking, surprise bonuses, the “giant class” damage bonus, interesting followers, and the otherwise incongruous ability to use scrying items all say “Aragorn”. We learned to like the d8 hit die, with a second hit die at 1st level, and 11 hit dice total. But spell use?! Druid and magic-user spells?! Presumably the best way to represent some of Aragorn’s more fantastic abilities in game. However, I have no idea what our beloved Gygax was thinking with the limits on rangers appearing in a group. I can only assume his players loved rangers as much as I do, and he ended up with more at the table than he liked.

I was not an early fan of 2nd Edition, and that’s putting it mildly. I carefully noted and considered every change as I read the new Player’s Handbook. Two-weapon fighting?! I racked my brain for when Aragorn wielded two weapons. Because clearly, if Aragorn didn’t do it, it shouldn’t be a part of the ranger class. Ah! There was that time on Weathertop, when wielding a torch in one hand and a sword in the other, Aragorn at least temporarily drove off the Nazgûl. That must be it! Crisis averted. In time, another dual-wielding character who shall remain nameless came to dominate the portrayal of the ranger.

The official D&D ranger continues to evolve, leaning this way and that, and I continue to evaluate ranger classes (and the games they are a part of) through the lens of Aragorn. But as difficult (if not impossible) as it is to get a ranger class right, turns out, that’s not enough. Aragorn isn’t Aragorn without the Dúnedain, the Rangers of the North, Narsil and much more. Aragorn isn’t a class, he’s a very important thread in the rich tapestry that is Tolkien’s Middle-earth. To play a similar thread, you need a similar tapestry. That’s why I’m passionate about the Heroic Fantasy Handbook, which provides Judges with the tools to weave their own tapestry not unlike Middle-earth, wherein new threads not unlike Aragorn may flourish.

And that is why I play the game!