The Social Implications of Magic: Ranger Base

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Their style of warfare will in many ways look far more like commando raids or guerilla warfare than the stereotypical fantasy medieval model."

This is the sixth in a series of articles consisting of notes on each of the spell lists in the RMSS version of Spell Law. While it occasionally considers various other ideas concerning the spells, the primary focus is on the commercial or societal use of spells in order to see how they might influence the shape of a culture that employs them.

Inner Walls

Resistance, Bless, Prayer and Inner Wall are just basic self-defense/maneuver bonus spells and do nothing beyond make the caster a bit tougher.

Heat Resistance, Cold Resistance, and Protection from the Elements are helpful in rescue operations, as for Animists, but Rangers are more likely to be in that role to begin with, since they should have more mundane skills to support the role.

Sterilization is a very useful spell if used to maintain a sterile environment for medicine or to treat water/food that may be questionable. I would not allow it to be used on most living creatures, as they are not entirely "solid or liquid". Perhaps this is a quibble, but otherwise this spell would be more powerful than most of the disease-curing spells of higher level. It still makes the Ranger useful in preventing infections in case of injury or poor sanitation.

Purge Disease, Purge Curse, and Purge Poison give high level Rangers some of the same curative powers as other Channelers.

This list mostly protects the Ranger, and other than Sterilization it is nothing not seen elsewhere.

Moving Ways

These spells allow for an effective system of messengers where more direct methods of magical communication are not available or are subject to surveillance. They are also useful for search and rescue operations.

Swimming would be very helpful in water rescues, for the person to be rescued as well as for the Ranger. A panicked person in the water can tire himself out very quickly with inefficient and frantic movements and Swimming will prevent drowning from exhaustion. Swimming True improves the situation by allowing faster swimming at a mild exhaustion rate for cases where speed is needed.

Ranger orders will probably have some interesting racecourses.

Traceless (Something) and Hide Tracks will mean that the pursuit of Rangers or those hidden by them will require non-visual tracking. Scent or magic seem the obvious choices. What could be a very nice touch is the wonderfully clean floor of the local Ranger base, in spite of all those muddy-booted Rangers tramping in and out all the time. These spells also allow the Ranger to transport the hunted, whether they are escaping slaves, convicts, refugees, or other endangered individuals.

Hide Tracks True means that the Ranger can prevent being tracked absolutely as long as he is alone. This really makes a very high level Ranger an ideal commando or scout and encourages him to work alone or with other high level Rangers. (Much as the Paladin's array of support spells makes him likely to be found working with regular troops.)

As noted under the Lofty Movements list, Merging Organic can see ritual use or, as with various movement spells, be used for access to holy sites. For Ranger orders, the site might not be holy, but simply an inaccessible base of some kind.

Great Merging Organic adds the ability to perceive outside one's hiding place. Now it becomes a useful spying technique. The only effective non-magical defense is to conduct your business away from large organic material. Merging True Organic (an odd name: I would think it should be Merging Organic True, myself) allows the Ranger's hiding spot to become a place of restoration and preparation. With the proper spells, the Ranger can reemerge healed up and loaded with his favorite enchantments. With a little work, these spells could be used to create a legend of a "haunted" forest, with deadly spirits that ambush from out of the trees.

In combination, and with help from the Rangers' skills and other lists, these spells make Rangers highly effective at passing through hostile territory while avoiding direct confrontation or assuring that such confrontation comes on their terms. A group of Rangers can provide intelligence or carry out assignments well inside hostile territory. This gives whomever or whatever gives them their orders abilities that will influence the political balance whether in war or peacetime. They can also carry out search and rescue operations over fairly large areas due to their high mobility. Their style of warfare will in many ways look far more like commando raids or guerilla warfare than the stereotypical fantasy medieval model.

Nature's Guises

Hues could make for an interesting game. A Ranger casts the spell and then the others try to determine what object's color he has taken on. This could be an educational game for young Rangers-to-be to teach them to recognize which colors are associated with which things and to develop their searching techniques. It also makes a neat party trick. At times, it is a disguise; if one is of a different skin color than the locals, one could use Hues to (briefly) borrow the local skin tone.

Shade and Darkness allow some hiding of others, but compared to simple skill, I do not think they would have much impact. They could be useful in some rescue/medical operations to get someone or something out of the sun. They are also handy for creating gloomy/spooky effects.

Freeze allows for the creation of ice, with the effects previously noted under Barrier Law. Indeed, this spell solves the problem of "seeding" the Ice Wall production with an initial block of ice. Rangers will probably exploit its use in treating injuries and will use the icebox storage method to keep herbs and other perishables fresh. Other liquids than water can be frozen/cooled, but I cannot think of major uses for such cooling, unless the technology has advanced to industrial age levels. In that case, Freeze should make handling certain substances easier and safer.

The importance of artificial Light has been covered before.

Silent Moves, Self Cloaking, and Shadow all contribute to establishing the Ranger as a stealthy guerilla man of mystery. Note that these can be used to make the Ranger seem frightening as well as to actually hide. The Ranger as stealthy guerilla is reinforced by Study Form, Plant Facade, Animal Thoughts, Animal Facade, Plant Form, and Animal Form, although there are some additional implications here, some covered under Animist base lists. The Study and Thoughts spells suggest that the Ranger develops a deep understanding of plant and animal ways. Perhaps the Animal Thoughts are the Ranger's surface thoughts, with the more sophisticated thinking "underneath" as it were. This could mean a great empathy with beasts and there may be a considerable number of "wild" Rangers who owe no allegiance to "civilization".

Nature's Summons

This is an interesting list with multiple angles. I am particularly interested in its use as an information-gathering list (as usual).

Summon Nourishment is good for a snack, but more significantly, you will be brought something edible, so you now know one edible local item, which is more useful in strange lands than the snack itself.

Summon Warmth just warms the caster, which is no great effect. Just another one of those spells that help the Ranger range.

Summon Guide will reveal the way to various known locations. This is useful for mapping the paths between key spots. A team of Rangers could use this spell to quickly create a known set of pathways for whatever business they were about. However, some prior knowledge of the area is required in order to have target locations. Since the Guide will typically know a route that avoids humans as much as possible, the pathways provided should be reasonably good for the sort of secret work Rangers are always up to.

Summon Guardian is good for a night's protection. This is especially useful for a Ranger on a solo mission, because he has someone to keep watch.

Summon Mount seems no better than having a horse at first glance, but a horse's tracks suggest a rider, whereas those of a bear or a moose will not. In addition, the Ranger does not need to risk stealing a horse or supporting and concealing one beforehand.

Summon Hunter? Can a Ranger not find his own meat? Sure, but this and Summon Nourishment mean he can get food brought to him, allowing him to spend more time in his day traveling or doing important Ranger business. It allows him to eat when he cannot move because he is injured or watching over someone else who is injured or if he simply does not want to leave his hiding place.

Summon Sense is a handy little information-gathering spell. Have a bat check out a cave or a dolphin, a bay. Summon a sniffer to assist in tracking. Summon a sharp hearer to spy on conversations from a safer distance. Summon a hawk and check out the region from a bird's eye view.

Summon Group and Mass Summons do not really add new capabilities; they just provide a quantitative boost to the old. However, they are certainly useful for making an impression to enhance the Ranger's reputation.

The Spread Plants spells are useful for reclaiming wasteland and can be used in urban situations for landscaping and covering over landfills. Used after a fire, they can help reduce erosion damage. They could also be used to help cover evidence of activity that has disturbed the ground (e.g., to help hide footprints or a freshly dug grave). Agricultural grasses and trees could be used to make this an agriculture-enhancing spell.

Fog Prayer's main purpose would be to create an environment to enhance the Ranger's stealth. Combined with a Summon Sense spell, this could give the Ranger a great advantage. It could also be used ceremonially: a group of Rangers in an appropriate environment will usually succeed and fog always adds an air of mystery and otherworldliness to proceedings.

Rain, Storm, and Hail Prayers may be used to discourage pursuit or drive people indoors to make covert operations easier. Hail, Lightning, and especially Tornado Prayer may be used to try to damage enemy lands. They may also be used purely for effect (although Tornado Prayer is inappropriate most places one is not trying to attack). The precipitation spells can be excellent for agricultural sabotage if correctly timed.

Clear Weather Prayer is ideal for parades and other outdoor events, as well as holding off precipitation near or during the harvest or other times a main crop is particularly vulnerable. It can also be used to give the Ranger good weather when he is the one doing the tracking rather than the evading.

Weather Prayer True adds the possibility of providing favorable winds for sailing craft or freezing the ground to make digging difficult. Prayer Mastery is merely a supposed improvement on the various Prayer spells, although at 50th level, the success rate of the regular Prayers should be 100%, so unless one is overcasting, this is actually worse!

The summoning spells can also be used for educational purposes, in order to show students a particular type of animal.

Note 5 requires the Ranger to not "violate the trust" of the area's animals. Otherwise the list become much less effective, which may be the most important entry for this list. It reinforces the concept of Ranger as a caretaker of the natural world.

This list allows a Ranger to be highly effective as a lone agent, even in mostly unfamiliar territory, aiding him both on the move and in sitting tight. It also gives some of the agricultural and landscaping ability of the Animist.

Nature's Way

This list has the "Passive spells" note on it, but since the only Passive spell is Detect Traps, the note is really only relevant in worlds with sentient traps.

As discussed under Nature's Lore, Trap Detection is useful for clearing areas of traps after peace is established. The presence of this spell on a Ranger base list increases its availability in terms of both casters and potential magic items. Rangers themselves can use it to watch for traps in areas of possible ambush or if they fear something they are tracking may have left a surprise. It is just generally useful for traveling around in unknown and/or hostile areas.

Water Finding spells could be used to establish trade routes through deserts, to locate water for new settlements, and to find secluded water sources for magical and religious ritual purposes. These uses are in addition to the obvious one of keeping the Ranger and his companions supplied with water while on the move or for finding a water source to wait at when hunting. The reliance of civilization on water can make this a method of finding one's way to local farmland, villages, bridges, river trade routes, etc. It is the assistance in establishing routes through deserts that I would expect to have the greatest large-scale impact.

As mentioned under the Creations list, Fire Starting is ideal for lighting sacred/ritual flames as well as for practical use.

Food Finding is less important than Water Finding, as food sources are typically much less stable than water sources and this spell probably will not allow forming routes through areas of food scarcity. Compared to other methods of getting food, this has the advantage that the Ranger can direct another to the food while not going himself. It provides yet another way to identify edible things in an unfamiliar environment.

Water Purification can be used not only for drinking and cooking water (where its disease-preventive nature is useful) but also for water used in washing wounds and for water rituals (a Ranger "holy water" without any special properties). If purification includes mineral contamination (as I think it should), then this spell can allow seawater purification, extending the range of sea-going vessels. Even if it does not handle seawater, it should at least make drinking your urine more palatable.

Shelter Finding spells may again be useful for establishing routes, finding locations for various types of bases, finding someone else's bases, archeological exploration, and for the initial settlement of an area. I think the size requirement for the entrance is a bit larger than is necessary; it should certainly be taken to mean four feet across the longest way, rather than smallest or average dimension.

Any of the Finding spells might be useful in rewarding an animal who has done one a favor.

Lesser Traps and Major Traps mean that Rangers can leave a nasty surprise for pursuers or prepare an ambush site. Ranger areas may be well-trapped except for their safe routes, which may not be easy routes for most (here the Moving Ways list is significant). Since it creates a normal trap, the only difference here is speed, and this matters mainly in that these spells give another boost to the Ranger's ability to get away from pursuit.

Weather Prediction is important in travel (especially by ship), agriculture, event planning, military planning, and clothing selection. Reliable (and multiple casters make Weather Prediction, like Guess, very reliable) forecasting has many uses. Rangers in an urban or rural setting would be valued for this ability. When operating in the field, they can time their assaults, rescues, covert travel, etc. to take advantage of the weather. It could even be used to check the success of weather Prayers (or the need for them).

Nature's Awareness allows for monitoring a fair sized area magically. This makes it excellent for keeping track of those hunting you (the requirement for stillness makes it logical for use while Hiding), following the movements of those you are spying on without actually watching them, finding those who are Hiding from you with less than perfect stillness, finding victims during rescue missions, finding those still alive on a battlefield, and for performing sentry duties. Also consider the spiritual aspects as noted under the Nature's Law list.

Waiting Awareness provides a means to monitor checkpoints and approaches passively, increasing the ability of Rangers to make an area secure. It also allows the Ranger to sleep with some security.

This list again reinforces the Ranger's wilderness, stealth, and information-gathering abilities. This list is well suited to pioneering Rangers guiding colonists or preparing the way for them, including finding sites suitable for settlement (in particular, those with water available).

Path Mastery

Pathlore is another good scouting spell. In the context of the spell description, "origin" must mean how (and why?) the path was created, as "destination" is used as the term for an end point. Thus a dirt track made by men can be distinguished from one made by deer. This can be valuable knowledge, especially if one is hunting one or the other. The ability to know the nearest end of the path also means that one can work out a map of a road network while staying well away from the centers of population. Pathfinding spells will help locate the paths and speed the work of gathering the data. Paths True falls into this same category. Know Path is more of a means of getting to one's destination, but can also be used in mapping operations.

Nightvision allows nocturnal or other low-light actions without carrying a light. This just enhances a Ranger's stealth potential and may lead to a good deal of nocturnalism. I would expect races with good natural night vision and light sensitivity to learn a Lightvision spell in place of Nightvision on the various lists it appears, where Lightvision would allow normal operations in bright light (while losing the ability to operate normally in darkness).

Tracking spells enhance the Ranger's abilities as a tracker. Path Tale, Tracks Lore, Passing Lore, and Tracks Analysis take this into the supernatural realm with the ability to peer into the past. In a world where this is fairly common (nearly any middle or high magic world using Spell Law), I would expect there to be a term for this. I elect "retrosurveillance". The great thing about retrosurveillance is that it allows you to get detailed information after the subject has already come and gone, thereby all but eliminating the chance of one's spying being noticed. Tracks Ahead is a superb tracking spell, allowing one to take short cuts with knowledge of the route the trackee has traveled, and also a kind of retrosurveillance, as it reveals where the object of one's interest has been.

Detect Ambush spells offer increased defensive abilities and would be helpful in setting one's own ambush against an aggressor.

Animal Tongues, Plant Tongues, and Stonespeech have been discussed under the Nature's Law list. The only additional note is that Ranger interrogations may include horses and other animals involved with enemy operations. Depending on how they have been treated, they could be very cooperative.

We come to the end of the Ranger lists, which define a very different sort of holy warrior from the Paladin. The Paladin is made to be big and bold and charge right at the enemy, whereas the Ranger is a tracker and stealthy foe who appears seemingly from nowhere, does his work, and disappears again. The Paladin works best leading a force of warriors. The Ranger works best alone or in conjunction with other Rangers (and perhaps Animists or in some cases with other stealth types like Magents). Rangers are well-suited to evoke fear (and not just in their enemies). Numerous spells are useful for creating a "haunted wood" or "haunted hill" around their base, where dreadful shadows conceal phantom men who strike from nowhere and cannot be caught. Paladins will tend to gain the trust of the people; Rangers may well be viewed with suspicion, especially by urbanites.

A Ranger may well be a hermit, either to fulfill his duty or out of choice. Rangers will tend to be found either in rural or wilderness areas, as urban centers do not allow the full exercise of their abilities. Even when mixing with non-Rangers, they will spend much of their time in association with beasts and it is likely not unusual for a Ranger to lose some attachment to the values of "civilization". He may even come to view civilization as hopelessly corrupt