Monday, April 18, 2011

R is for: Ranger

When 1st Edition AD&D was The Thing there was one character I played more than any other, one that is by far my highest level character from any form of D&D, and that was my Ranger.

Yep, 20th level - He'd reached that by 1985 at the latest and I started AD&D in 1980 so that's 5-6 years of regular playing. Also please understand that in the early 80's we played constantly - after school 2-3-4 days a week for a couple of hours, on the weekends, through spring break, 5-6 days a week during summer vacation - we were gaming machines back then and the majority of our time was spent on this game. It's impossible to duplicate it now but it was awesome and we were very happy back then.

We also used the GP for XP rule because... it was the rule! I know some other old schoolers declared it dumb and didn't use it and I have no doubt this explains the glacial pace of advancement in those games, but if you used it, well, it was entirely possible to come out of a big dungeon with a ton of loot. We also got pretty good at estimating the value of furnishings and art objects. We were like expert miners mining coinage and furnishings deep under the earth, only instead of chipping away rock we had to chip away at orcs or bugbears or dragons. I know he took down at least 3 major dragons with good-sized hoards, and that explains some of the wealth and items on his sheet.

A lot of those stats started pretty high but we also burned a lot of wishes boosting stats (one reason being that you were a lot less likely to get reamed by the DM for using them that way - seriously, look at the Dragon articles from this time on wishes and how to screw players who used them) and we also went after those magical stat-boosting books at every opportunity too.

Heh - 4 wishes still ready to go!

Appearance....OK... hates Demons (sure), Evil Dragons (he fought enough of them) and Tiamat - yeah she killed a party he was associated with and that helped fire up his one-man war on dragonkind.

Personality-wise, this character was me. I didn't assign him any particular traits because I always saw him as my self-representation in the game world. That's how a lot of us played back then and a lot of the other stuff came later and with running multiple characters. There's a fair amount of descriptive material on his sheet. The Rankin-Bass Return of the King Aragorn sort of looks the way I envisioned him, but it's not a perfect match.

"Argon" was a name I chose to sound Ranger-ish but to not be a straight LOTR rip-off, though it's pretty close. As it turned out I ripped off the periodic table of elements instead (which I only realized somewhat later in my junior high earth-science class) but at least it was from an unusual source). I never added a descriptor or an honorific to it, always referring to him simply as "Argon" or "Argon the Ranger".

I'm not sure why I felt so connected to the ranger class in AD&D. It's probably because it's the Fighter Plus class, with a damage bonus against common enemies, interesting abilities, then cool followers and some spell use at higher levels. They weren't tied into the light armor DPS identity that they have now - mine went around in plate & shield and felt just fine about it. I made a few others for one-offs or tournament games because I liked the class so much, but the only one I played extensively was my "main".

Argon started off in the Keep on the Borderlands and went through many custom home-brew adventures under at least 3 different DM's. He eventually took on the giants with a strong party and proved his worth against all 3 clans. Somewhere around that time he found his intelligent frost brand sword and wreaked massive havoc with it in the fire giants' hall. He went on to take on the Drow as well, went on an expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and investigated the lost caverns of Tsojcanth. He never did take on Lloth as we got caught up in a dragon war (no doubt influenced by the Dragonlance books) and he spent a lot of time in his later career fighting them. We later had a stable DM for a long time and placed everything we did in Greyhawk though we started before the Gods were really spelled out, using only the 1980 Folio version for years, so we had things like the Norse gods in it.

Argon eventually settled down and built a massive fortress at the mouth of the Nesser River, right in the middle of the big map. I had pages of followers, henchmen,  notes on villages, and stats for a small fleet of warships he maintained and used to journey down to Hepmonaland and the Amedio Jungle  looking for trouble. His was a chaotic, messy career and it was epic in scope.

I know he was level-drained a few times but I know of at least once that he burned wishes to offset it

I believe he was killed once in a fight against Storm giants but he was resurrected shortly thereafter and went right back after them with more help, then used a ring of wishes to fix his constitution loss. That's the only death I can remember and it was rare for him to even get close.

At one point he had the artifact "The Ring of Gaxx" (it was at the bottom of a BIG dungeon)and he was in a group that recovered the "Crystal of the Ebon Flame" (from a dragon hoard). Artifacts were just another source of funky magic abilities back then - we were not terribly concerned with history or the chance of corruption.

In the end he was active at least occasionally right up until 1989 and the release of second edition. With 2E rangers looked quite a bit different and I lost the connection with them. I won't say I was heartbroken or anything because I was excited about all the new stuff, but I never played Argon again and made zero effort to convert him to a 2E character - what would be the point? After 10 years of running around in gold-plated armor with magic shield in one hand and talking ice sword in the other, it just wouldn't be the same. I took up wizards and then clerics until 2E's time eventually ran out as well and I tuned into mostly-DM.

I always thought these guys looked like they might be rangers
So there's my "Best Character Ever" post - he didn't have the deepest characterization or background or personality quirks or a cool illustration or a catchphrase or some signature move but he was the one I played the most, for the longest time, and covered the greatest span of time of any character of mine having been born at the start of a decade and my new hobby while I was wrapping up elementary school  and fading out at the end of that first era as I progressed through college. I lived in 3 different states in the course of his career, went to 5 different schools, and probably played with 50 different people in those runs. It's been a long time but looking over his sheet brings back a ton of memories of that time and where some of those notes and even items came from.

 I feel myself getting a little misty-eyed and philosophical but I'll spare you most of it. It's not even nostalgia in the "things-were-better-back-then" sense but more of realizing that I spent a lot of time having a blast with people whose names I don't even remember now but I have their character's name scrawled in the margin of a character sheet or a treasure list and I can recall exactly what we did that day. All I will say is don't be ashamed  of those early days and don't discount them - maybe you were in a group where the cleric wielded the wand of Orcus when you took on Asmodeuus and your thief backstabbed him with Excalibur for the win, but it's not something to forget - those stories can be a lot of fun and that's how things really were! Maybe it was a pure monty-haul-fest but who cares now? I'd like to see more of that kind of stuff, not less! One of these days I'll share my own whopper,  the story of our expedition to Hell and the unfortunate end of Dip the psionic chicken. Not today however - I've run on long enough.


Bogus Gasman said...

Great post - I love stuff like this.

Ric said...

Best post about a character ever, thank you for sharing this. I think a lot of us old gamers will be a bit misty eyed at the end of this. You are so right about the Cleric wielding the wand of Orcus!

Blacksteel said...

Thanks guys, it's good to know it connected with some people. I think a lot of old schoolers have similar stories or memories at least. I don't really feel a need to try and bring all of that back, but I don't feel like we need to forget about it either. Watching the kids do some of the same things we used to do when they play does make me smile though.