RMU: Rehabilitating the Ranger

I confess I’ve never really liked the Ranger in Rolemaster. It’s not that I dislike the archetype: who wouldn’t want to be Robin Hood, Legolas, or Drizzt? The problem lies in the implementation.

The RM2 Ranger had a great set of utility spells (to help with Stalking and Hiding, Movement, survival in the wilderness, etc.), but very little that buffed him in combat; indeed, a fighter was better than a Ranger with a bow. Shouldn’t Robin Hood be better with a bow than Lancelot? Also, many of the Ranger’s spells were also duplicated, in stronger or weaker versions, on the Open and Closed Channeling lists, so there wasn’t very much that was unique. Nor is Rolemaster alone in having an underwhelming Ranger: D&D has missed the mark sometimes too. While the 4e version of the Ranger was strong, the 5e version has been one of the most severely criticized aspects of 5e, and Wizards has tried several times to use supplemental material to fix the class. Opinion on it is still quite mixed.

So how can we revive the Ranger? I would say the key is adding and modifying the Ranger Base spells. These are easier to distinguish than other aspects of a class, because in Rolemaster, other classes can buy the same weapon skills and wilderness skills and even Ambush too. The spells, though, are unique.

I am happy to report that RMu has added a new spell list for Rangers (Beastly Ways) that is quite good, especially in its higher level spells. The Ranger uses these spells to mimic creatures: Rabbit Reflexes give a bonus to initiative, while Boar Strength gives a big strength buff, for example.

The new RMu Ranger list is both useful and flavorful, but one thing is still lacking: a list to buff his bow. Happily, supplements and later editions to Rolemaster do point the way to our Holy Grail. I direct your attention first and foremost to the list Wyrd Bow, published in the Guild Companion in 2000. This list is based on the Druid’s own Druidstaff (RMCompanion I), but adapted to fit the Ranger: http://www.guildcompanion.com/scrolls/2000/jun/wyrdbow.html . This list provides a number of strong buffs: it gives a bonus to the bow, turns it into a spell adder, and enables trick shots, quick loading, and extended ranges. Now there’s a Ranger I could get behind – and definitely would not want to get in front of!

Given that the Wyrd Bow list is based on a Druid list that some consider overly powerful, I would recommend toning down some of the spells on the list, especially the first level spell, ‘Minor Bow’. This turns the bow into a +10 magical bow, but if it is ever destroyed, the caster is at -35 for 1-4 weeks. Ouch. That’s too strong for my tastes, and the downside is also too punishing, so I would recommend toning down both the benefit and the malus. How about we make it just a +5 magical bow, and substitute the destroyed clause for just saying the caster can only have one Wyrd Bow attuned?

The Channeling Companion also offers some Priest lists that would help beef up the Ranger. Hunting Mastery gives the all-important low level combat buff (Aiming), while The Hunter gives the RM Ranger a D&D-style favored enemy, against which his attacks hit harder. Either or both would be welcome additions to the Ranger’s quiver.

So what do you think? Does the Rolemaster Ranger do it for you? What changes would you make to the class?

14 thoughts on “RMU: Rehabilitating the Ranger”

  1. The Wyrd Bow list is… weird. The RoCo1 Minor Druidstaff gives: +1 spell adder, +5 quarterstaff, can be thrown as a spear (Krush crit), and only one Druidstaff can be had at a time. I don’t know why the destruction penalty was added. I didn’t compare every spell, but it’s definitely been powered up excessively (and I’ve never allowed Druids, as they’re just “more badass Animists”, which utterly misses the point).

    RoCo1 also has Guardian Ways, which makes Rangers fairly powerful in their woods and their war.

    I adjusted the ChLaw semi-spell users mediocre weapon skills based on RoCo1, so Rangers have the same costs as Paladins, did something similar with Bards (1-2 DP more at each weapon than Thieves) so they’d be competent swashbucklers.

    Rangers also have one of the cheapest Channelling costs, and I use that heavily to receive PP or spells at “holy” sites (“gods” being more extradimensional patrons & power sources than the religious thing). Rangers need to play up the mystical elements and work with Animists, not as much the military.

    In practice, a couple Rangers passed thru my games, and they did fine. One rerolled as a Barbarian almost immediately and was happier.

    1. Yes, the skill cost issue is still a bit of a concern; the Paladin has much better costs. I guess that is the price the Ranger pays for all those utility skills, but it does make it hard for a Ranger to keep up with the Paladin in the combat arena.

      Good find on Guardian Ways.

  2. I don’t agree that the Ranger is worse than the fighter with the bow. At least it will be the same if you develop the same ranges. and if you have a high Agility (as usual in this profession), you will have better OB with the bow than fighter.
    In addition, neither Legolas nor Robin Hood were Rangers in the concept that Rolemaster gives them (with spells), but rather warriors or explorers.

  3. In the games I run, and in those I get to play in, bows just are not a thing. The game I am playing in as involved dungeon crawls and the wilderness has been filled with night ambushes and sneak attacks.
    Once everything is close quarters a bow is more of a liability.

    Rangers tend to use either spears, shortswords or hand axes in our worlds. If the class can only afford to develop one weapon then picking one that can double up as a half skill thrown weapon or can be used in two weapon combo or can be used with ambush are all big plusses.

    To a large extent, the Ranger has become synonymous with Commando rather than Legolas for us.

    I agree that tinkering with the magic is the way to go in making the profession more popular. When I have played them I have gone down the Spell Research route to make the ranger more fun to play. Night vision is much more useful that Light spells if you are trying to be stealthy, for example.

  4. Ranger seems to be one those professions that has quite a bit of variation in how people see it compared to most other classes. Some model the Ranger after ME, others see a game warden, a bowman, others see a fighter/animist, tracker, bounty hunter etc. Depending on the person’s perception you could really vary the appropriate spell lists that you use.

  5. So maybe my concept of the Ranger is off?

    I like the concept of an Arms-based outdoorsman, who relies on his own wits and skill to survive, but personally I could probably take or leave the spells. I don’t need my outdoorsman to be a pious devotee of an anthropomorphic God.

    This was why I liked the 4e DnD Ranger, because his power source was not divine; it was a mix of martial and natural (‘Primal’ indicated connection to ancient traditions or spirits of the natural world ).

    I’ve never seen anything like that or the DnD Scout (Rogue variant) in the versions of the Ranger in the RM core, but the extended RM books did offer the Outrider and Barbarian. Maybe that’s why I find the RM Ranger underwhelming?

      1. Yes, I thought about that. RM does already have the Beastmaster class, which is a Semi-Mentalism outdoorsy class (I even made skill costs for him in RMU), but the idea of making a Mentalist or Essence Ranger did cross my mind. It kind of is interesting the way RM (and DnD) divide spells into realms. The Ranger could fit in any realm, really, depending on how you see him. His spells in RM are definitely more divine, but combat buffs like range increases and trick shots could easily fit in Mentalism or Essence.

  6. Aragorn’s Rangers and Faramir’s Rangers were all stealthy warriors. I always think they have more in common with the scout of MERP and Rogue of RM than the Ranger Profession, especially if you can use the array of open lists with similar spells as mentioned above.

    1. Yes, I think that has set the paradigm for me too — that is kind of how I see them. I view them less as spellcasters and more as commandos I think.

      Really, when you think of it, the outdoor skills is more of an archetype or focus applicable to arms, semis, or spell users. Give a pure caster an outdoors focus and you have a Druid; give an arms user the same focus and you have a scout; give it to a semi and you have the DnD/RM ranger.

  7. That’s an interesting article, but I would note a couple of things:
    –There was never any problem for us with the speed of levelling of classes such as the Bard and Ranger. We use a milestone approach, so all characters level at the same speed. That wasn’t why our group has been underwhelmed by these classes.
    –Nor does anyone think the Bard or Ranger are useless outside of combat. They both have a lot of utility. That wasn’t the problem either.
    The problem is that all my players like to play professions that can hold their own in combat.
    Yes, I could tailor adventures to the specific, non-combat strengths of different classes. But it seems a little contrived. The party gets a Ranger in the party, and now suddenly many of their quests involve finding their way in the wilderness; it seems like I’m just creating ‘make-work’ as charity for a class that would not be very useful otherwise.
    What I would prefer is for each class to have some interesting combat options. The Ranger never has had many in RM. Take a look at the sorts of spells the various core classes in RMU get, and you will see the discrepancy between combat and utility spells:
    –Combat, single and group buffs (Paladin); some healing
    –Utility (Ranger)
    –Utility (Bard); some group control
    –Utility/Stealth (Dabbler); influence
    –Utility/Stealth (Magent); some self-buffs
    –Combat/Evasion (Monk); some self-buffs and healing.

    –Utility/Healing (Cleric); some single-target control
    –Utility/Nature (Druid); some single-target DD
    –Combat, single and group DD (Magician)
    –Combat/ Utility, single and group control (Illusionist)
    –Combat, single and group control (Mentalist)
    –Healing (Lay Healer)

    –Healing (Healer)
    –Combat, single and group control (Sorcerer)
    –Combat and utility, single target damage (Mystic)

    You can see that the Pure and Hybrid casters have a nice mix of combat and utility. Indeed, RMU has improved on prior editions by giving these casters some additional combat options (shock bolt is pretty ubiquitous, for example).

    But the semis… well, it’s still mostly utility. The Paladin is really the only semi I would say has a lot of combat options (his lists have been improve imho). The monk has some combat spells too, but the changes to Haste and Stunned Maneuvering really hurt. The rest of the semi lists are all utility/stealth. Rolemaster has always done this: produced far more utility lists than combat lists.

    So what I’m arguing for is just more combat options, for those players who want to be capable in combat. Players who don’t want to take these combat options don’t have to; if you want to play a pacifist Bard, you still can. It is just that I would like to also have the option to play what DnD calls a ‘Valor’ Bard: someone who can also shine in combat. Because combat is the meat and potatoes for our group, such that my players simply don’t play classes that can’t hold their own at the critical moment. Our parties tend to be full of Paladins, Sorcerers, and Fighters, but you won’t find a Ranger, Bard, or Dabbler at all.

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