Guide to Writing a Ranger Character: Fantasy Archetypes

Rangers in the fantasy genre are professional adventurers.  Hunters, survivalists, and martially capable, the ranger is like a guide to other characters in the story.  However, whenever we write these woodland-loving characters, how can we enhance their backstories to something worth buying into?

These characters are known for their animal companions, archery, blade work and survival skills.  Therefore, let’s take a look at what drives these rugged outlanders and how we can explore all their wild characteristics.

Consider the following when writing a ranger in the fantasy genre:

Hero, Villain, or Lancer?

First, definitions are in order—maybe just for lancer, since you probably know what a hero/villain is by this point.  Lancers are characters that are every bit as capable as a knight or a warrior hero—they just aren’t at the center of the story.  The name comes from a medieval mercenary soldier on horseback—like a knight without the title.  They’re the best friend, the begrudging rival that joins forces to face a worse foe, the hired mercenary that turns out to be a legend.

I realized; rangers have a wide range of roles they could play in a story—all while carrying the wisdom found in the wilderness.  Maybe they were avoiding their destiny by spending time wandering the forest, only to spiritually find their footing and get back on track.  On the other hand, they may be wandering mercenary types that are adept at hunting monsters or bounties.

Rangers don’t always stick out as the hero.  Wizards and knights tend to stick out in the hero category.  However, the lone hunter has plenty of potential to be the hero of the story.  At the very least, the ranger is a highly capable character.

Examples:  Lancer and Hero

Fortunately, the legendary Lord of the Rings gives us great examples of ranger lancers and heroes.

Aragorn is introduced as Strider—a ranger who helped the hobbits escape the ring wraiths.  Turns out, he’s avoiding his lineage as a king, living his life as a ranger who is madly in love with an elf.  Of course, destiny calls, putting his skills as a ranger to the test as a leader of men against Sauron’s army.   An ancient sword is reforged, placed in his hands to conquer the darkness.

Legolas, on the other hand, is an interesting character that doesn’t seem to be at the center of the story.  However, the fellowship is more than grateful to have him along.  He’s a wood elf of high lineage—his senses are unparalleled, he can read mystical signs in nature, and he takes out major foes throughout the story.  His presence in the story is big, even if he’s not at its center—which is super intriguing.  He’s cool because he doesn’t take the glory.


Ranger villains are uniquely dangerous.  They track, sneak and slay without remorse.

Some may be obsessed with the thrill of the hunt, filling with bloodlust to conquer their next foe.   Kraven the Hunter from the Spiderman franchise comes to mind.  He lives for the hunt and has found something he’s never hunted before–Spiderman.  He’s driven by the challenge of hunting superpowered prey because that would solidify his dominance.  This need to dominate is animalistic.  It matters to him, and that’s all that matters.

Other ranger villains may be cold and calculating–assassins and cutthroats.  They live side-by-side with the forces of nature, seeing the cycle of life in all its different forms.  Also, they aren’t bothered by carnage, which can be taken to a darker state.  Kind of like the evil doctor trope.

Finally, they could be villainous in the most straightforward way–poachers.  Rare fantastical creatures may be hunted for feathers, teeth, meat, or anything valuable.  Imagine a character dead-set on hunting the last unicorn in existence.  What a jerk.

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Let’s Get In Touch with Nature, Dude

Of course, we can’t talk about rangers without mentioning their affinity for nature.  These characters are based on hunters, though they may be tasked as advanced soldiers to patrol a certain patch of wilderness.  Therefore, they are going to be well-versed in the environment, whether magically or with more grounded skills.

Details matter to rangers.  Bird calls, herbs, animal tracks, weather patterns and environmental hazards are all second nature.  Naturally, this makes them talented detectives in their own way.  They can pick up tracks from a missing person, find clues otherwise invisible and interact with the environment in a way others wouldn’t think about.  This MacGyver style capability is fun to play with when the character is forced to problem solve in an intense situation.

This character can be simple yet deep.  Something about being in touch with the wilderness seems mystical and spiritual, so this can be an interesting angle to develop this character’s journey.


Whenever characters have an animal companion, it tends to show that they are capable of a great deal of empathy.  This sense transcends other humans into all kinds of lifeforms.  When those lifeforms uniquely respond to your ranger, it tends to make them far more likable.

Yep, rangers are voted most likely to have an animal companion.  Maybe it’s a pet, maybe just a best forest friend.  These animal companions can literally be anything, but no matter what creature you choose, you will have another character to flesh out.  So, let’s take a look at a few common pet set ups in most ranger stories.

Clever Companions

By clever companions, I mean crafty ferrets, rats, birds and squirrels that come in handy at just the right moment.  They tend to be on the small side, unassuming and often out of sight.

This is a perfect opportunity for a comic relief character.  Animals can show personality traits without needing dialogue.  It’s really in the way they behave.  Look at pets in the real world and see how they interact with their people.  Head tilting, nipping, submissive posturing, acting aloof, scratching—there are so many subtle ways animals communicate their feelings.

Sure, your gruff, tough man of the forest can have a softer side with his pet squirrel.  We’ll crack up throughout the story about how the bearded guy of few words loves his squirrel companion.  But when that little guy shows up with keys he stole from the guardsmen to break your characters out of a cell, you see his real contribution.


Some pets play the guardian role, like a protective family dog.  It always feels good to know a large animal has your back.  There’s something primal and secure about knowing you have your own beast for whatever may lurk in the forest at night.

This often comes in the form of bears, big cats and wolves, but you can definitely expand it to everything from dinosaurs to giant pigs.   Whichever species you go with, do a little research on how they behave (or may behave).  It makes for much more believable interactions, and you may learn something about how they communicate.  Dominance and competition play a huge role in how creatures like this interact with the world, but they often respond to a calm demeanor.

Finally, don’t forget to include a softer side to them.  They are characters in the story and have their own thoughts and feelings.  They may be legitimately dangerous to others, only responding to the ranger.  It’s like how your dog will wag their tail and kiss your face after they tear through a rabbit.  Naturally, this enhances the cool factor.


Having a relationship between a character and the creature that carries them through the adventure is a great way to build sympathy for any character.  Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones is a great example.  We all found ourselves on her side as she mothered her dragons.  They loved her in return.  Then, suddenly, we’re like aw, crap, the crazy lady has dragons.

Anyways, rangers tend to get the cool mounts because of their affinity for the wild.  They are wild to their core, and dragons, giant wolves and alien bird monsters all agree that’s awesome.

Many stories use this newfound bond with a powerful creature as a core moment in character growth.  The ranger finds something strong within themselves and the outside world is confirming the growth.  This moment can also signify prestige, tapping into the whole ranger to king (or leader) pipeline.  Now, it’s time to conquer the impending threat.

A Loner’s Life

A hunter’s life is full of solitude, and rangers tend to find themselves alone, especially when we first meet them in a story.  This could look like a sad existence, as though the character is running away from something.  On the other hand, it could be self-imposed, like a spiritual journey or way of life.

Either way, solitude tends to give characters a sage-like demeanor.  They’ve had plenty of time to examine the natural world and think without society disrupting them.  Cycles of life and death are close at hand, as are the realities of survival in a primitive setting.  They don’t wince at the sight of guts or complain about the rain.

This point of view can be radically different from people who are used to dealing with civilized matters.  In political or royal intrigue stories, they tend to fall into the dagger part of cloak and dagger.  Rangers may struggle with reading between the lines in bartering or social etiquette.

Many rangers are on a path to find meaning, belonging or purpose.  I think it suits the type of character that makes a lifestyle out of wandering and hunting.  They don’t live a safe existence, but they’ve independently gained the skills to deal with most daunting environments and challenges.

Discipline in blade and bow combat.

A ranger’s martial ability is heavily influenced on focus.  The same mindset that allows them to read the wilderness affects the way they do everything.  Hunting takes patience and knowledge.  So does blade work—carving, dressing game, melee combat.  When you hunt monsters, you need to be lethal and mobile.

Archery is another key difference between a ranger and other warrior archetypes.  It puts the range in ranger.  Again, focus is a must for archers.  To consistently be accurate with anything involving accuracy can be illusive to those who don’t practice.  Have you ever gone bowling and watched your game slip as the night progressed?  Maybe a couple of beers got you sloppy, or maybe you just don’t bowl regularly, but some unknown force seems to show up and ruin your accuracy.

Rangers have the mindset and discipline to practice accuracy and the focus to keep it.

This same focus and mindset contribute to close combat.  Rangers and hunters think of blades as tools, familiar with them as a part of their own bodies.  You could add as much or little martial training as you want, but this factor will always come into play.