Saturday, February 26, 2011

Genealogy of the Two-Weapon Fighting Ranger

Thoughts prompted by flipping through various AD&D books in just the right order.

In AD&D 1e, rangers don't have two weapon fighting.

In AD&D 2e, they do. Drizzt is, I think, commonly cited as the source. But where did Drizzt's two weapon fighting come from?

Unearthed Arcana.

It was Unearthed Arcana that introduced the Drow as an official PC race. And as Unearthed Arcana (p. 10) notes:

Dark elves do not gain the combat bonuses of the surface elves with regard to sword and bow, but may fight with two weapons without penalty, provided each weapon may be easily wielded in one hand.

This ability may have precedents in the D series of modules or other sources (Dragon?). Anyone know?

So here's what I'm seeing. A two weapon wielding dark elf ranger who is an exile from his homeland (see UA p. 10, again) is a legitimate starting character type in AD&D, via Unearthed Arcana. The books take off, people dig Drizzt, and the two weapon fighting thing gets transferred/associated with the character class (ranger) rather than the race (dark elf) in a lot of people's minds. AD&D 2e makes it official. From 3e (3.5, especially) on, it is generalized even more, leading to weapon styles, which are especially numerous in Pathfinder.

Maybe you already knew this. I just realized it (assuming I'm getting the major lines of descent right).


The literary inspiration for the original D&D ranger was Strider.

Now it's Drizzt.

Modern D&D -- Ouroboros or Oedipus?


  1. Did that much time really pass between Unearthed Arcana and 2e that the game designers didn't understand why Drizzt could fight with 2 weapons? It's hard to believe someone working for the company that's producing the next edition of the *official* D&D game doesn't understand how the previous versions of the game worked.

    Oh. Wait.


  2. Heh. :-D

    I really do wonder about this one. It could have been accidental on the part of the designers, but I wonder if it was intentional. Substantial chunks of the game text for AD&D2 are just copied and pasted from the 1st edition books, and many of the people involved had long-standing connections to the game, enough that they could well have known.

    Then again, there are a lot of obscure little details tucked into AD&D 1e that didn't make the transition, and the 1st edition rules are something of a glorious miscellany. So I imagine it'd be easy to lose track of, or transfer, details like this.

    Even some rules that had once been more important were being de-emphasized, presumably because the designers hadn't been using them much at the game table, like the round/turn distinction and the tracking of exploration time, setting the stage for 3rd edition's move to jettison the turn along with associated mechanics like morale and XP for gold that had made wandering monsters a threat rather than wandering bags of XP.

    It's hard to tell why things evolved in certain ways, but it's interesting to poke around in the texts and find precedents.

  3. I personally feel Madmartigan had more influence than he generally gets credit for.

  4. I thought it was due to the Nasir character from the BBC Robin of Sherwood series. I distinctly remember him fighting with two scimitars. :D

  5. Now that you mention it, Zak, Madmartigan was the reason I personally wanted to play a guy with two swords in the late eighties. It's hard to believe I'd forgotten about him so completely since. I think you're onto something.

  6. Hey Timeshadows, that Nasir reference is interesting. I've never watched the BBC show, so that one was outside my experience. I went through a Robin Hood phase when I was a kid, but that was too early for the BBC series to have made it into my hands. At the time, my enthusiasm was mostly driven by the Disney animated Robin Hood.

    Is having missed that BBC series something I should consider remedying?

  7. Yes. See the 1984 Robin Hood! At least the first two seasons.

  8. As GSV has said.

    It, being a bit 'old' by now may seem a tad innocent, but it is a beautiful series, and the Clannad theme music in parts makes for a dreamy experience.


  9. The BBC Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986) was fantastic. It really influenced a lot of my D&D games in the 80s. :) Exeter from Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (1989) was also a great two weapon warrior.

    Roger E. Moore wrote an article in Dragon #68 (December 1982) called "Be a Two-Fisted Fighter". That's quite a bit earlier than the other movies mentioned. I can't recall if there is any two-weapon fighting in Hawk the Slayer, Beastmaster, Conan the Barbarian or The Sword and the Sorcerer - but those would be around the right time.

  10. From the article:
    "The DEITIES & DEMIGODS book of- fers a couple of examples of characters who commonly use two weapons: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from the Nehwon mythos. "

    That was the original source for two-weapon fighting in D&D. :)

  11. Thanks, GSV and TImeshadows! Sounds like it's worth taking a look at.

  12. Thanks for the lead on that article, Stuart. I find it interesting that Moore specifically calls out the two weapon fighting rule as "one of the more obscure rules" in the DMG. That suggests that while the rules were there, they weren't getting much use -- though there's so much variation from campaign to campaign that some folks were probably making use of it.

    The Fafhrd and Gray Mouser reference is interesting, too. There's also historical precedent in certain kinds of fencing. It seems like the historical precedents, AD&D two weapon fighting rules, and Fafhrd & Gray Mouser examples all seem to agree on a normal one-handed weapon in the primary hand and a dagger or other small weapon in the off hand.

    Two equal sized (one handed) weapons seems to be a more cinematic (Madmartigan? Nasir??) evolution of the idea, though I could be wrong about Fafhrd and the Mouser, not having read any of those stories recently enough to know.

    It still seems like the conflation of two weapon fighting with the ranger class has Drizzt as a vector. In the Moore article, rangers aren't specifically called out, and in fact both fighters and paladins advance faster than rangers in their effectiveness with two weapons on the table on p. 8. Admittedly, Fafhrd is mentioned as having been modeled as a ranger, but I think it's coincidental. The close link between two weapon fighting and ranger-ing seems more recent.

  13. Hmm. Didn't Drizzt only become a ranger after being trained as a fighter? I know that he fought with them before leaving his home city, and he certainly wasn't a ranger then...

    Capcha: Pothots. An inaccurate Igor with a crossbow?

  14. Hi C'nor,

    I'll take your word for it -- I'm not actually very well informed on Drizzt's in-canon biography, so I don't really know. (I read the Icewind Dale books when I was a teenager, but I haven't kept up on the direction of the series since, so I'm mostly ignorant of the details.)

    I'm more coming at it from an out-of-canon perspective, anyway, just musing aimlessly about Drizzt's place as a vector for the development of the concept of two-weapon ranger. It does still seem to me that the idea of rangers as two-weapon fighters is one that was introduced to the AD&D rules through association with Drizzt, and that the game mechanical precedent was set by the drow of the Unearthed Arcana supplement rather than by the AD&D 1st edition ranger class.