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Apparently the Complete Adventurer contains rules for a new base class, the Scout.

Can anyone explain, at a high-level, what is the difference in character concept between a Ranger and a Scout? When should I, as a player creating a new character, decide to play one or the other?

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5 Answers 5

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Robin Hood is an iconic scout: moving through the wilderness unseen and dropping arrows through the hapless tax collectors' apple from a hundred paces. He can appear out of the brush, attack, and fade back without the opponent having a chance to reply. Usually scouts are part of a larger group, whether a band of merry men, as advance guard for a squadron of soldiers, or checking the trail ahead for a band of adventurers.

A ranger, on the other hand, is more like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. He can smell danger, track prey for miles over rocks, or calm a horse with a whisper. A woodsman, usually a loner (though sometimes with an animal companion), a ranger is often at home with a campfire, the stars, and a good knife. His skill set is very similar to a scout's, but with a basis more in nature than in proficiency with stealth or weapons.

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A scout deals entirely in mundane training and a "mundane" skill set gained through hard work, understanding, intuition and experience. Flavor-wise, scouts are those adventurers and soldiers who train to operate in exotic environments and apply intelligence, understanding, and agility to their problems. Mechanically, scouts are mobile combatants with a strong base of out-of-combat utility through skills and class features. Ultimately, Scout is sort of underwhelming mechanically, but see below.

A ranger is a character that blends skill with divine magic gained through reverence for nature. Rangers aren't as mobile as scouts and instead focus on experimenting with specific combat styles, learning to hunt and understand specific kinds of creatures, and on bonding with nature on a conceptual level. A scout treats nature as the terrain upon which they do their job - a ranger reveres nature as a force to be respected in its own right and gains magical power thereby. Ranger is another class that's underwhelming mechanically, but they have more options than scouts do to improve or trade away features that are undesirable.

The Swift Hunter feat lets you count Ranger levels as Scout levels for the purpose of Skirmish, which is a great boon to a mobile-combatant concept since it lets you move and still deal respectable damage, and when combined with some of Ranger's spells it gets even handier in terms of damage. A definite suggestion if the idea of a mobile combatant interests you.

Incidentally, and as an aside, Aragorn is not well-modeled by the D&D ranger class, unless you'd like to tell me where his spells and animal companion(s) were for the entire movie. Aragorn is more along the lines of a particularly martial scout, or perhaps a Warblade. D&D's ranger is different enough from almost all other fantasy versions thereof that I cannot think of a comparison in media.

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+1 But Aragorn does map well to MERP's version of Rangers however :) –  Rob Jan 10 '13 at 9:05

Ranger Identity Crisis

Conceptually, the Ranger suffers a great deal because it’s not particularly clear what it’s supposed to be – and the authors seemed as confused as anyone else. The original Ranger, perhaps, back when originally introduced to D&D, may have referenced Aragorn, but D&D-ified. I don’t know the history. But it was this original version that R. L. Salvatore used to create Drizzt do'Urden in his Dungeons & Dragons novels. These novels, more than anything else, seemed to inform Wizards of the Coast with respect to their 3rd Edition update.

Thus, the 3rd Edition Ranger is almost circularly-defined: it seems most based on modeling Drizzt do'Urden, a character based on the Ranger of an earlier edition. The problem with this is that Drizzt was a bit of a Mary Sue character who could do everything, and Salvatore took liberties with the class for the sake of the character. A novel’s author can do that, but a character class, not so much. A character can’t do everything, or at least if it does, it can’t do them all very well. So what you get is the Ranger, a class with a great hodgepodge of heavily-weakened abilities taken from other classes.

It’s supposed to be a warrior, so good BAB, HD, and some bonus feats, and it’s supposed to be a outdoorsmen, so good skills. It’s supposed to be related to nature, so it gets some Druid features – but because of the previous benefits, those features are drastically reduced in power.

As a result, you get a character who receives an Animal Companion that’s often too weak to do much more than scout. He has spells, which start late, have a very low Caster Level, and he only gets a very few of them. He has bonus feats for combat styles that focus on large numbers of attacks: those styles require bonus damage to work well. But the Ranger doesn’t get bonus damage. He’s supposed to know his enemy better than anyone, but Favored Enemy’s bonuses are tiny and wind up getting forgotten pretty often.

So the Ranger ends up with a bunch of half-features, and it’s very difficult to know where to take one and what to do with it.

Scout: The Specialist

Ultimately, the Scout isn’t really that much better than the Ranger, but at least the Scout knows what it is: it’s specifically based on an actual classical or medieval military role. The Greeks, the Romans, and medieval Europeans all had skirmishers in their armies that worked at least somewhat like the Scout. They’d move ahead of the main army, using hit-and-run tactics, and they were also excellent at reconnaissance, particularly in woodlands. This focus allows the Scout to do what it’s supposed to do, and do it well, and this specialization turns it into a better-designed class.

The Ranger does keep up because spells are powerful and because many supplements add new combat styles, alternate class features, and additional Ranger spells, while few add new features to the Scout. But a Core Ranger, or Core + Complete Adventurer Ranger, vs. a Scout? The Scout looks better to me. The Scout knows his role and simply does that well. It’s not a very powerful class by any means, but it is definitely better designed.

Swift Hunter

As @Lord_Gareth mentioned, the best answer for these two classes is to use Swift Hunter from Complete Scoundrel to get the best of both: Ranger adds better BAB, and grants you bonus feats that a Scout would want anyway. The Scout adds that bonus damage that the Ranger was badly lacking. The Ranger’s spells help shore up the fact that the Scout’s specialty, for all it does make it a better-designed class in a lot of ways, also leaves it vulnerable to having situations where it can’t really use its class features well. Spells are more flexible, which is exactly what the Scout needs.

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The scout is more like a rogue for the wilderness environment. It has many similar traits to rangers, true, but with some rogue-like abilities that can be used outdoors, such as extra damage dealt while moving. For outdoor campaign environments, the scout makes an excellent multi-class addition to a ranger and his two-weapon fighting abilities. If your campaign is mostly underground, you should probably steer clear of the scout.

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I'm looking for more of a high-level character concept difference; this is a little too pragmatic and rule-mechanics-oriented. –  LeguRi Nov 6 '10 at 19:03

Honestly, most characters that could be a ranger could also be a scout. And vice versa. They're just different sets of mechanics that could be applied to the same sort of character.

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