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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Walk in the Woods: A non-LOTR Ranger for BX/LL

Like so many of these posts, this started when I was flipping through BX. I was reading a section in the Cook Expert book about wilderness travel and ran across a couple interesting passages that, while I've read before, stuck in my mind.

The first was "Becoming Lost" on X56. It begins by explaining how not to get lost; which is basically follow a road or some feature like a river or have "a reliable guide." Otherwise, the DM starts rolling for your party to wander through the woods until an OP random encounter eats you or you starve.

This got me thinking about how much plot goodness could be derived from paying more attention to these rules, but that's another post for another time.

The second part was about foraging for food. Not only is it a bit of a desperation move for when you're out of rations, but it slows travel down considerably.

This led the bucket of squirrels I call my brain to mull over the idea of the "reliable guide." Who are these guides? It wouldn't make sense for most dungeons to be right off the main road. They should be deep in the wilderness or similar, Players are notoriously suspicious of hiring someone to lead them to some lost temple. They'd much rather just use a map or stumble off through the swamp by themselves. Less chance of betrayal, and no annoying NPC to keep alive and/or share loot/pay.

Like this. But usually fighting over the remote.

If the DM is using the wilderness rules properly though, this can end badly for the PCs. To quote Cook:
"Strangely enough, traveling in the wilderness can actually be more dangerous for a low-level party than venturing into the first levels of a dungeon."

So what if, instead of hiring some local yokel to lead you to the dungeon or whatnot, you had PC fulfill this role? Someone like, I dunno... a RANGER?

First off, let me say that if you want a ranger like a 1st edition AD&D ranger in your BX/LL game, look no further than the Advanced Edition Companion. It's got a great version.

I was looking for something a little less Tolkien: With the orc-slaying, palantir-viewing, spell casting version we all know. I didn't want another fighter either. I wanted someone who was at home in the wilds, who could track, hunt, scout, and also find his way through the wilderness. In many ways he is a support character, like the cleric, but hopefully still with enough to offer a player to make running one interesting and fun. Enjoy.

BX Ranger

Primes: WIS and CON
13+ either = +5% xp
13+ both = +10% xp

Fight/Save/Level as: Cleric

Weapons: Any
Armor: Leather (no shields)

Class Abilities:

Known Regions: The ranger starts with a working knowledge of his home terrain. He is considered a "reliable guide" within this region and can navigate cross-country without getting lost. Once every three levels, the ranger can add familiarity with a new region with DM approval. He must have spent time there and/or studied maps of the area. The size of a given region is determined by the DM, and may be dependent on size, geographical, or even political features.

Tracking: A ranger can follow tracks. The base chance of success is 50% + 2/level. A success shows the ranger a discernible trail and what kind of a creature made it. A failure shows no trail or possibly even a false trail (DM's discretion).

A new tracking roll must be made every hour in a dungeon or urban environment and twice a day in the wilderness (usually in the morning and at midday). The DM may ask for a new roll if the trail crosses breaks in the terrain or might have been obscured (eg crossing rocky ground, a stream or a busy road).

Modifiers to the basic roll include age of the trail, weather, and the nature of the terrain. The list below is not exhaustive, but give the DM a basis to work from. Modifiers are cumulative.

Modifiers Example
-5%         per day since tracks were made or on a shifting surface like sand
-10% hard ground (stone or packed earth) or steady rain for more than an hour
+5% Large beast, a cart, or multiple creatures on foot
+10% Huge creature, a caravan, or a large group on foot
-25% Rain for more than day since trail was made or a storm
+25% Tracking through snow or other obvious footprints
-10% Tracking at night or through poor light/visibility

Nature Lore: A ranger is familiar with the natural world of his known regions. He can easily identify normal plants and animals. He knows how to equip and dress for the weather, and find appropriate shelter. He is also aware when something is amiss (birds stop singing, an odd smell, etc.). As a result he is only surprised on a 1 in the wilderness of his known regions.

Live off the Land: A ranger is better at hunting and foraging than other classes. He can successfully find food on a 1-2 (d6) for 1d6+Level people and can hunt without having to stop traveling for the day. Alternately, if the party does stop or the day to hunt, the ranger finds game on a 1-2 (d6). At 7th level, these increase to 1-3. He is also skilled at skinning and dressing normal game animals.

Scouting: A ranger can move quietly and hide in the wilderness of his known regions as a Thief of the same level. Starting at 2nd level, he has gained sufficient knowledge of game traps like snares and pits to let him set, find, and disarm them as a Thief of half his level (round down).


  1. That looks good. Since he's on the Cleric attack progression, could he have a +1 or +2 with the longbow?

    He needs level titles.

    1. I thought about a bow bonus, but I was de-emphasizing his combat role. Easy enough to add if desired. Cleric attacks aren't TERRIBLE, they're middling.

      "need" is such a strong term re: level titles. ;-)

  2. But if you insist, how about:

  3. This is great. You should whip it into a PDF and throw it up on Google Drive, so folks can download it and throw it in a binder for reference. Seriously like the "I'm a Woodsman, not a Tolkien character" vibe.

    1. I plan to neaten it up a bit and do so. This was my initial pass.

  4. Certainly has the clean elegance of B/X. I guess I better role up an NPC to test drive.

    1. Any feedback is appreciated!

    2. Will do, next session is in 5 days. We are playing Hot Springs Island so I foresee an encounter with the last living member of an expedition gone wrong upcoming.

  5. Played our first session with the ranger last night. Know region, Lore, Scouting, and Tracking abilities were all used and didn't seem out of place (overpowered).
    The party has been hex crawling through mountainous jungle with virtually no spoils. So when the ranger was able to backtrack to a troll lair for some treasure there was much rejoicing and they quickly began to really like the character.
    So far, class utility is obvious and balanced- the B/X Ranger fits rather nicely.

    1. Thanks for the report! Sounds like a good session.

    2. Great news and thank you for the report! Love it.