Why am I comparing these two particular editions?
I have had limited interaction with D&D from 3rd through 4th editions. But AD&D 2nd was my jam and 5th is a new friend.
Less simple story: (TL;DR)
I had a hiatus from regular gaming when my daughter was first born until she reached the age of 7. As a full-time student and then worker, my hours with her were interrupted often and were few and far between, and so I decided to spend more quality time with her. During those years, I missed a few things in the cultural gaming sphere. One of the behemoths I played regularly BC (Before Child) was the much-moduled AD&D 2nd Edition. I was quite familiar with most of the classes and some of the races that I could work with. My grognard husband was slow to tune into the 3rd edition (though was happier with 3.5 when it showed up in 2003) and so I had limited experience with either.
My jump back into gaming post-child was GMing a 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons starter module for a group of largely brand-new gamers. It was my first and last foray into 4th. We parted on friendly terms.
But now I am back in routine with a weekly game, as last year I was won over by the changes in 5th, but none-so-much as the improvement on the Ranger class.
1) Requirements Schmirements
Honestly, I still have a love of the ability requirements that made 2nd edition character classes very focused on being good at certain things. But having minimums in Strength and Dexterity (13) and Constitution and Wisdom (14) could result in different table-rules being enacted.
Not only can the requirements be tough to get, but it limits the broad range of abilities that this character could have. Maybe there is a Ranger who has always been great from afar, flinging arrows without enemies knowing what is coming. Do they also have to be strong, hardy, and wise as well? I would argue that it is not necessary.
2) More Balanced
The Ranger in 2nd Edition seems to have been a favoured class of Min/Maxers from near and far. I played in more than one group where I have seen that personality coupled with that class. The Ranger’s ability at first level to double their attacks with two handed weapon style with no penalty and a +4 for attack rolls on favoured enemies made a ton of people that really just wanted to be a Fighter choose the Ranger class instead. In order for a Fighter to even have the chance to come close to matching that, they needed to look in extra books for fighting styles and choose ambidexterity as a trait so they could wield those two weapons. And favoured enemy for the fighter? Not a chance. The only thing they could do is get really mad at some orcs. Those who wanted to game the system as much as they could had it in spades with the Ranger in 2nd.
In 5th, they seemed to have figured out how to make the all classes both varied and less gameable. They rightly brought in new abilities and choices near the beginning of the levels for each class that presents not only the ability to do cool shit, but the opportunity for fleshing out characters. In 5th ed. at 2nd level, the Ranger can choose their favoured fighting style (and yes, two handed is still an option) that works with their back story, their world, and their physical prowess. Looking at archery, defence, dueling, two weapon fighting, or close-quarter shooter, there is a great variety of style without being too dominant over other classes or overly detailed and cumbersome (I am looking at you Palladium Fantasy RPG.)
3) More Logical Progression
Along with the choice early on for fighting style in 5th edition, there are also the beginnings of other Ranger benefits that are acquired early on. Favoured terrain provides bonuses for everything you do in that area, including helping out your group as they traverse the woods/prairies/mountains/candyland with you. For 5th, your favoured enemy is not just how angry you get at them or how well you can hit them (thanks 2nd.). Now you know much more about that enemy such as their customs, how to track them, and even an ability to speak to them in one of their own languages. This is so much more beneficial than the “Hulk rage” approach earlier in D&D.
They also introduce Ranger spells immediately into the character class. Rangers innately have this ability to use magic in a way that makes sense for their environment. They also have their own compendium of Ranger Spells to choose from instead of glomming onto selected Priest spells like they do in 2nd. In the earlier incarnation of spell casting, for some reason the Ranger hits 8th level and knows some priest spells. In the Player’s Handbook, there is no explanation for this effect. (Though with the multitude of books written for AD&D 2nd, I am sure it has to be explained somewhere.) It seems disjointed and out of nowhere. And this is not the only ability that seemingly comes from left field. At 10th level, there are 2d6 followers of no particular race or species that start to show up. I won’t get into the theory behind this one, but I do think a more consistent progression makes more sense when playing a character.
Archetypes may be my favourite part of 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. As each class reaches 3rd level, they are confronted with a choice in path for their character to take. With a Ranger they receive a choice between the Hunter Archetype or the Beast Master Archetype.
Your Hunter knows the reality of their situation well. They are able to best defend and attack those who would threaten civilization. They are well aware of the wilderness, but they are not a wild animal. Their attacks are meant to strike blows specifically at their enemies.
If you choose Beast Master, you are the bridge between the wild and the civilized. You are able to have a beast companion to help you keep your two worlds from completely colliding with disastrous effects. This animal companion will not only follow you, but will fight alongside you.
Either pick at 3rd level further defines your role in the campaign, which is what I love.
In the end, the 2nd edition Ranger just wasn’t built as clearly as 5th. But without the work done early on in Dungeons and Dragons, we wouldn’t have what we do today. Bravo, D&D, you have kept us coming back for more.
For a general overview of how the editions rolled out see this wikipedia page.
This article was written by Vanessa who is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. When she isn’t involved in things and stuff, she teaches middle school science, math, art, and other random subjects. She loves new teenagers in action. They make her laugh and shake her head and her world is much better with laughter. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.