What defines a Ranger?

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Greg
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What defines a Ranger?

Postby Greg » Mon Jun 29, 2015 5:53 am

Greetings, all!


I have been somewhat absent due to our move, which is complete only so much as in that we have arrived in CA, and I start my new job shortly.


In the meantime, I had a lot of drive time in which to think while crossing the lower 48, much of which was spent pondering an open discussion we had in person around the fire at the recent Indymoot. The questions raised and tossed around went something like this:

What is the purpose of a Ranger? In Tolkien's vision, what purpose did a Ranger fulfill, and what tasks did a Rangers actually perform to such ends? And, finally, What improvements to garb and kit items can be made to not only better facilitate Tolkien authenticity, which we're ever striving for anyway, but to ultimately reflect more accurately what a real, functioning Ranger would need/use.

Thus ends the description of our discussion, and hence shall begin my own personal thoughts gathered from some note taking today and driving time this past week:




The only rangers we have any real descriptions of are Aragorn, the Grey Company, and Faramir's organized branch of the Gondorian military, so I'll break this down individually.


Aragorn is the only Ranger we encounter that travels and acts alone, and is the one we get the largest amount of information on. Be cause he is solitary, he is the one we can relate to the most, typically. All that being said, he can be summed up, perhaps most appropriately, by Gandalf:

The Greatest traveller and huntsman of our time.


He is, of course, so much more as the story progresses, but, none of us intend to pose as the future king of Gondor, so we can skip all that.

The Grey Company we know only in brief, and most of the descriptions we have of them allude simply to their dress and gear, or to their similarities in stature and bearing to that of Aragorn...so it is safe to assume that, outside the war-filled environment in which we get our only glimpse of them, they would fall under the same description as Aragorn, sans the honorific of 'greatest'. In short, skilled travelers and huntsmen.

Lastly, the Ithilien crew. They are a military organization, obviously, with the clear goal (during the period we know them...we don't have a clear listing of their usual duties) of harassing the enemy to the best of their abilities. Their garb possesses hints of uniformity, such as green masks over all but their eyes, and green gauntlets, but the description of the rest of their gear makes it difficult to discern if the varying hues of greens and browns are referring to differences within each man's color palette, or differences in colors from one to the next.

So what is consistent across the board?

They all seem to gravitate to earth tones, which has never been argued against on this board.
They all seem to generally favor the same weapon scheme: spear, bow, and sword (though only the sword is named as being carried by all).
They all are CAPABLE of operating away from supply sources...some are better connected than others.

All of that being said, I started to look at what we as a community seem to focus on the most and see if things line up.

The top discussions in this community as topics of study for a budding ranger are, in no particular order:

-Stealth
-Bushcraft
-Tracking/Hunting
-Western Martial Arts

I see bushcraft and tracking/hunting as necessary skills to pursue mastery of for the livelihood of a Ranger of the north, but stealth discussions and stealth-based kit items often lean far in the direction of video game or d&d based ninja-like qualities, which seems concerning to me since that level of stealth never seems to come up in Tolkien's writings.\
WMA is a prudent skill to learn and practice, but I honestly wonder how well-honed the swordsmanship of some, such as the Grey company, would really be. It does not take long for a swordsman's reactions to get rusty...how often would a wanderer with a thankless job encounter live battle? A training partner? The luxury of training time and equipment?

The Ithilien crew is blessed not only with companionship for sanity and training, but also stocked outposts and (assumedly) regular re supply via Gondor, so perhaps pursuing an Ithilien persona would be simplest...but where's the fun in that?

None of this is to say that being stealthy in the woods is bad, or that practicing WMA is bad...but where should our priorities be? And really, where should our KITS be?

This isn't meant to solely question skills, after all...we build our kits to reflect what we believe a Ranger is, or should be. How much focus is placed on combat in your a Ranger kit? Is it excessive, for someone who will rarely encounter quarry more dangerous than tonight's often color-blind dinner? How much focus is placed on stealth in your kit? Is it excessive, for someone who will spend a vast majority of their time thanklessly watching roads and trails from a still position, where natural colors can do the job on their own?

As I continue to rebuild a large percentage of my kit, I intend to try hard to avoid the Ranger's apprentice and Dungeons&Dragons approach to Rangers, because I believe we all probably wind up thinking of them too similarly to a fighting special forces group and not often enough as the solitary, possibly poorly equipped wanderers that are a REMNANT of a great people, rather than the SWAT team from Numenor.

To this end, I intend to pursue not only the skills, but garb and tools that clearly define me as a traveller and huntsman first, and a soldier at need rather than a knight without armor.

End speech, commence discussion. What defines the Ranger title, and how can we translate it to functional gear?
Now the sword shall come from under the cloak.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Eledhwen » Mon Jun 29, 2015 12:22 pm

Excellent topic, Greg. You echo many of my own thoughts here.

I don't worry much about stealth at all...aside from being able to remain hidden from prey or folk wandering about. Gear wise, I simply go with the 'no fair thing' description when wandering the bush. I do have the silver star, but that is not worn when just out ranging.

I do not practice WMA. This does not mean I do not work with my weapons, but these days it is more exercise than training. I haven't any sparring partners, only a pell, and I use a shortsword anyway so the drills are fairly straightforward.

I do practice my bushcraft and trailcraft constantly. Every time I am out, and some of my Marine training is involved in that, such as hand-arm signals.

I use earth tones almost exclusively, and soon the black bits will be replaced with earth tones as well. Black is rather easy to see once you know what to look for...it tends to stand out in an interesting way. I have been reworking some of my own kit.

For a bow I no longer carry the longbow. It is lovely, it can work in the forest (I use it for St. Huberts' Rangers), but I have come to think of the bow as a secondary weapon for Northern Rangers...Aragorns' bow tends to the small hunting style. These days I use a Scythian style bow...it is very small, lightweight, and works very, very, well in the forest. Yes, there is no mention of any Ranger using this sort of bow, but there it is...I do. ;)

I do spend a lot of time working with and on maps. There is no mention of Rangers making maps, but I have that training and knowing the terrain seems to me important. I also learn the various herbs and food plants in the forests and fields. Survival stuff, but also knowing how to go from point A to point B swiftly and, if necessary, unseen. Something a great traveler would look to I think, if only to shorten journeys now and then.

There are other things I do, and these days I am shifting away from even the sword to a large extent, moving (believe it or not) to my harp...planning and preparing to build a light and strong backpacking harp I can also take while ranging about. I am not getting any younger. LOL

Anyway, excellent topic. :) Glad your move went well.

May your blessings be many, and your burdens few and easily borne.

Vendui!

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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Mirimaran » Tue Jun 30, 2015 12:04 am

What a great topic, and posts! Wondering if the Rangers are a result of the threat, namely those wild things in the North, goblins and Orcs (if you lean to the distinction) Trolls and the like, and to the South more directly, the threat of Mordor (Orcs, evil men etc). In the North we know that after the fall of the Dunedain, they could not rise again as a nation for fear of the threat of final annihilation, so choosing to become the secret and wandering people that we know them as in the late Third Age of the World. I do believe that they had secret fastness, and from there had to coordinate some sort of presence in Eriador as to maintain their ancient birthright. Even said, I think that Bree served as the main Ranger presence, and most Rangers would have been outfitted from there. I don't know if beyond the Westernesse Daggers and Anduril if we are presented with any examples of Dunedain weapons, so I would think that local forges would provided swords, spear and arrowheads, etc. I do believe that weapons would have been passed down as hereditary objects as well. Also, to have those with little sense and long noses to believe what they see, I think the Rangers of the North would have those believe that they were little more than beggars to most, rather than to be perceived as a threat, so they would appear ragged. Rusty green after all, means faded.

The Men of the South, however, are presented as a distinct military unit, maintained and outfitted by Gondor, with standing orders as to dealing with the threat from the East. They seem to be primarily a harassing force, ill equipped to hold positions, rather best suited for intelligence gathering and striking hard and fast at the Enemy, then melting away. Perhaps this is more of how we view Rangers as special forces.

As we all know, when the Grey Company find Aragorn, he is informed that all that could be gathered in haste are 30 in number. Whether their numbers had finally dwindled, or those of the Company served somehow as the house guard to the Chieftain of the Dunedain, it remains to be seen. Gandalf tells Butterbur later in the novel (spoilers!) that the Rangers have returned, seems to confirm that they were always few in number, so the presence of one Ranger of the North must had been formidable. But, to digress just a moment, in The Hobbit, Heroes are mentioned. I believe that the Professor was thinking of Beowulf when writing that line, but as Hobbit was not meant that time to be the prequel that we know it as today, it might have been just one of those intriguing tidbits that we enjoy from Middle-earth. But maybe he had one of our Rangers in mind :)

Did I meander? Not all those who wander, you know :) Oh yes, what defines a Ranger. Look in the mirror, Men and Women of the West, and know that 'when dark things come from the houseless hills, or creep from sunless woods, they fly from us.'

I love my Rangers!

Ken
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Taurinor » Tue Jun 30, 2015 12:45 am

I agree with your interpretation, Greg, that the Rangers of the North seem to be primarily travelers and hunters. The description of the Grey Company is one of Rangers of the North when going to war, so to try to get an idea of what they might be like in times of (relative) peace, I went to the description of the Rangers as they were seen by the Bree-folk.

The Fellowship of the Ring, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony wrote: But in the wild lands beyond Bree there were mysterious wanderers. The Bree-folk called them Rangers, and knew nothing of their origin. They were taller and darker than the Men of Bree and were believed to have strange powers of sight and hearing, and to understand the languages of beasts and birds. They roamed at will southwards, and eastwards even as far as the Misty Mountains; but they were now few and rarely seen.


Now, this description most likely needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but it does offer some clues. Rangers are said to have “strange powers of sight and hearing, and to understand the languages of the beasts and birds.” One interpretation is that this belief is literally correct, but I think it is more likely that the Rangers are extremely skilled woodsmen and trackers. A Ranger might be able to tell that a storm is coming by reading the behavior of the birds or the color of the sunrise, but to those unfamiliar with such clues it might seem as though the Ranger could see the storm a long way off. A skilled tracker might pick up on sounds and signs that an untrained observer would not, and it could seem as though the hunter could speak to the animals.

Missing from this description is any mention of the Rangers as a fighting force. This suggests to me that the Rangers are not obviously armed as warriors, especially because that is the sort of thing Breelanders take note of.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Homeward Bound wrote: Then the hobbits suddenly realized that people had looked at them with amazement not out of surprise at their return so much as in wonder at their gear. They themselves had become so used to warfare and to riding in well-arrayed companies that they had quite forgotten that the bright mail peeping from under their cloaks, and the helms of Gondor and the Mark, and the fair devices on their shields, would seem outlandish in their own country.


Even Aragorn is not carrying a functional sword when we first encounter him, suggesting that his primary function is not as a combatant. In the fight with the Black Riders at Weathertop, he is armed with “a flaming brand of wood in either hand.” Instead of demonstrating his skill in battle, the attack highlights his skill in herblore:

The Fellowship of the Ring, Flight to the Ford wrote: “Athelas they named it, and it grows now sparsely and only near places where they dwelt or camped of old; and it is not known in the North, except to some of those who wander in the Wild. It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers may be small.”


It is unclear who he means by “those who wander in the Wild”, but it doesn’t seem like to much of a leap to think he might be referring to other Rangers.

Finally, the fact that Bree-folk use the words “Rangers” and “the wandering folk” to describe Strider and those like him suggests that they think of them as travelers first.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Ursus » Tue Jun 30, 2015 12:58 am

What a well thought out post Greg.

With my kit I do my best to maintain an even versatility of the afore mentioned skills. I tend to give a slight edge to combatives/weapon work and tracking. As an instructor on both subjects I guess it tends to make me a bit biased towards them while ranging.

Stealth and tracking for me tie in as much of the same thing. Major Robert Rogers wrote that a man should sneak through the woods as if he were trying to sneak up on a deer. Stealth is something I spend a lot of time on out of need. At 6'9 and 250 lbs I have to be more cautious with my movements and noise on the trail, which can be difficult but I pride myself in. To this end I do a great and constant amount of work with my pack's carry system and weight distribution, update pics coming soon. My overall pack set up stays the same for each ranging, the contents do not. I do my best to keep the weight down so I can move as lithely as possible. Practical stealth seems important in the books. One of the first things we hear from Aragorn is how he was lying in a hedgerow spying on the hobbits. This is much of the kind of stealth I practice, as well as ghosting through the trees and covering up all signs of my passage.


For bushcraft I remain a strict minimalist. It is far better gear up on skills and training than gadgets for your pack in my book. I think the Dunedain would all have been raised practicing bushcraft and that it was as natural as breathing for them. The Ithilien rangers probably weren't naturals at bushcraft but more like picked soldiers who were given training that was more geared towards laying ambushes and so on.

For me a warrior is what I am at all times, not just in the ranger sense but everywhere I go. The odds of having to fight for my life in the bush are small, but I always go on the trail as if I may have to. Just like the rest of my kit I take what I feel may be needed or necessary to the scenario. If I hit the trail and I'm training as if I'm headed into "enemy" territory then I arm myself quite heavily yet tactically as well. Three things almost always go with me. My longsword, dirk, and bow- long or short depending again on the training scenario. Additionally I usually carry another fighting dirk strapped to my quiver and my norse tomahawk. If I'm going just to work on bushcraft I just take my sword and dirk. Regardless the sword always goes. Also I train constantly. At least one hour per day of intense weapon and bag work, and teaching on the weekends. When on the trail for several days I train when I have down time. I imagine this is how Tolkien's ranger would have done as well. Intense free flourishing may not be as beneficial as a good sparring partner but its still a good workout for body mechanics and endurance. Just as the warriors way calls to me I'm sure it called to some Dunedain more than others. While never cited, I always assumed there was some form of organization among them. Some were hunters/gatherers, some were scouts and spies, some were fighters, and some like me try to be all at once.

Much like combat, tracking is an intense and obsessive passion of mine. Tracking is a skill that is easy to practice everywhere you go. I track while walking down the street or walking in the woods. Everything and everyone almost always leaves a sign of passage no matter what the environment. Anymore I track without even thinking about it. My father (to whom I partner with to teach tracking) and I have always taken turns tracking each other to keep our skills sharp. This is something cited often in the books, mainly in reference to Aragorn's incredible skill. Still as a people of the green wood I would again have to assume every one of these men and women were nothing short of incredible trackers and hunters.

My clothing and appearance I keep very rusticly organic in color, fabric, and plain to the point of almost being ugly and peasant like. Linen, wool, oilcloth, and leather only. The only thing that gives me away as something more is the quality of my weapons and gear. To me overall a ranger is someone who is an adaptable and expert combatant and survivalist. He becomes what the situation needs him to become. As far as Tolkien's rangers go, I've always seen the Dunedain in particular as protectors of the land more than huntsmen. A sort of warrior survivalist that safeguards the people.
Last edited by Ursus on Tue Jun 30, 2015 12:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Straelbora » Tue Jun 30, 2015 4:33 am

As to Rangers being wanderers in the wild, I try and keep some things in mind.

Tolkien's Middle-earth, especially at the time of the events of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," is a post-apocalyptic world, modelled after Anglo-Saxon Britain, centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire.

When the Roman Empire fell, the cities depopulated, with a few exceptions like Constantinople, and people clustered in small, often walled or otherwise fortified farming villages or towns. The only 'city' left in Middle-earth is Minas Tirith.

In 'Dark Ages'- Medieval Europe, few people actually travelled (a word itself which comes from the medieval French word for 'work'). There were some itinerant traders and craft people (mostly Dwarves, in Tolkien's world). Forests and empty lands in Europe were populated, at least in the minds of townspeople, brigands and supernatural creatures.

I think these things color the opinions of the townspeople towards Rangers. Average Men and Hobbits would have little to no woodcraft.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Mirimaran » Tue Jun 30, 2015 5:03 am

Agreed, Straelbora.

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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Taurinor » Tue Jun 30, 2015 12:59 pm

Straelbora wrote:I think these things color the opinions of the townspeople towards Rangers. Average Men and Hobbits would have little to no woodcraft.


That was part of what I was trying to get at, that what might seem like supernatural powers on the part of the Rangers to townsfolk might just be skills in bushcraft.

The other point that I was trying to make is that the Rangers, when not marching into battle like the Grey Company, might not carry obvious instruments of war, since it seems like the Bree-folk take note of that sort of thing. That makes me think they might carry hunting bows that could be used in battle when necessary instead of war bows, and axes and knives instead of longswords.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Straelbora » Tue Jun 30, 2015 1:54 pm

Taurinor wrote:
Straelbora wrote:I think these things color the opinions of the townspeople towards Rangers. Average Men and Hobbits would have little to no woodcraft.


That was part of what I was trying to get at, that what might seem like supernatural powers on the part of the Rangers to townsfolk might just be skills in bushcraft.

The other point that I was trying to make is that the Rangers, when not marching into battle like the Grey Company, might not carry obvious instruments of war, since it seems like the Bree-folk take note of that sort of thing. That makes me think they might carry hunting bows that could be used in battle when necessary instead of war bows, and axes and knives instead of longswords.


Right- in Rohan and Gondor there were still 'knights,' but elsewhere, no large, organized government to fund well-equipped, professional soldiers.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby MasterStrong » Tue Jun 30, 2015 3:52 pm

Heehee! Now this is a discussion I can sink my teeth into

All excellent posts, by the way.

One simple question regarding a ranger carrying weapons of combat vs. hunting. If, as a ranger, you are venturing out and want to be as prepared as possible for any circumstance but also not be overly encumbered, would a sword not be a reasonable balance between use and weight?

As I'm just building my kit, I'm curious what my more experienced friends have to say.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Ursus » Tue Jun 30, 2015 8:02 pm

MasterStrong wrote:Heehee! Now this is a discussion I can sink my teeth into

All excellent posts, by the way.

One simple question regarding a ranger carrying weapons of combat vs. hunting. If, as a ranger, you are venturing out and want to be as prepared as possible for any circumstance but also not be overly encumbered, would a sword not be a reasonable balance between use and weight?

As I'm just building my kit, I'm curious what my more experienced friends have to say.


Everyone is different when it comes to their personal sword carrying preferences. Just on average I would say the best blade for a ranger to carry is a single handed sword of some variety or a well balanced hand and a half. A lot depends on training to. I carry a large well balanced longsword, but I'm so used to carrying it that its length isn't a hindrance. I do own a fine single hander that's built on a Hanwei/Tinker Pearce Viking blade blank that I've been known to carry at times but really my love is for my longsword. In terms of getting your most bang for your buck in combat I'd go with a hand and a half. Light, easy to carry, can be used with or without a shield or other weapon and most importantly the combat system it can be used with is one of the most versatile and lethal in the pantheon of sword usage. Just my two cents.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Greg » Tue Jun 30, 2015 8:15 pm

The real trade off with sword selection is time spent in actual use VS. time spent banging around on your hip, both then compared separately to the perceived threat level in the region you are living/working in, to make it sound like math.

Essentially, if you're living in Minas Tirith and riding off to fight patrols of orcs regularly, a long sword or hand-and-a-half would be appropriate, because it will see use regularly against a very real threat, so the size/encumbrance would be worth the discomfort.
On the flip side, if you are a Ranger patrolling around Annuminas, you are deep into the west and far from the Great roads and the Misty Mountains, so not only will the frequency of expected use be low, but the perceived threat will be lower as well making your cause manageably defendable by a smaller arming sword or some such, which will be easier to manage for weeks or months of disuse on your hip.


On the topic of "Understanding the languages of birds and beasts", Taurinor hit it on the head with his storm analogy. To that end, in a similar strain, I'm working on making a case for Falconry based off that reference. What an uneducated breelander perceives as "talking to animals" could, in fact, simply be extensive knowledge of a particular bird or beast based on large amounts of close-in-contact time spent. I was an active Falconer for a full season before I started picking up on Maia's quirks and mannerisms, because I had a day job, and only saw her during training and hunting. Then she came on a camping trip with us, and perched near the fire pit for three days. That intensive, constant time brought me immeasurably closer to understanding my birds and how they operate...watching her preen, bathe, flip her head upside-down to look at me...the list goes on. All the things I hadn't been seeing were the equivalent of what the general public (ie. Breelander) doesn't see either, so a Ranger that spends large amounts of time in close with a bird of prey will interpret wild bird's movements and mannerisms in detail far exceeding a layperson and, as a result, have real-world reasoning for abilities perceived by others as "Magical".

Note...Aragorn uses the movements of Hawks TWICE between Bree and Moria to decide his route or watch for threats... *wink*
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Peter Remling » Tue Jun 30, 2015 11:49 pm

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a class on just what Greg is talking about except instead of raptors, we were listening to songbirds.

We sat in a field quietly for 30 minutes. The first ten were fairly quiet until the baseline was re-established. For the next ten or so we listened to increased birdsong and crickets chirping. About 20 minutes in, a turkey vulture flew overhead. Almost immediately all birdsong ceased and even the cricket noise level drastically reduced. Several minutes later the birdsong returned even though the vulture was still visible. The birds realized it wasn't a threat and returned to their normal communication.

It is the observance and interpretation of natural events that singles out the ranger from the average citizen.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Udwin » Wed Jul 01, 2015 2:45 am

I'll admit that I might have come up with the Rangers-as-SEALS connection, but I did not mean for the Rangers to be thought of as 'operators' or any sort of 'tactical', really. I certainly don't imagine them 'eliminating' orkish leaders or whatnot.
It was meant only in regards to the way that the Rangers watch and defend the Shire and Bree-land, keeping enemies at bay--thanklessly and often unknown/unacknowledged by the average citizenry:

""Strider" I am to one fat man who lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly. Yet we would not have it otherwise. If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so." (LR Book II, Chapter 2)

As for the Ithilien Rangers, while they operate as part of the Gondorian military, their mission and methods suggests a more 'partisan' nature: they may draw their (semi-uniformed) supplies from Minas Tirith, but they maintain caches from which to guerilla-strike and harry the enemy, not to wage out-and-out War.

The finer points of Sharp Metal Things are generally outside my wheelhouse, but an observation on weapons: note that even though Strider is known to the Bree-landers to be a Ranger, he is still not going around 'open carrying' with his weapon:
“Throwing back his cloak, he laid his hand on the hilt of a sword that had hung concealed by his side” (LR Book I, Chapter 10, p194); it would be better to be known as a Ranger by one's skills, reputation or gear than by the big sword scabbard or war-bow at one's side.
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Re: What defines a Ranger?

Postby Greg » Wed Jul 01, 2015 5:20 am

I had completely forgotten you had been a one to reference the seals. That's funny, because one of the reasons I felt that this thread was necessary was that, despite the excessive lean towards ranger personas the forum displays, none of our discussions on them ever seem to go deep enough into purpose for existence, or the 'common' ranger vs. the royal-blooded fancy-panties as your own write-ups for non-ranger free people's...and given the name of the forum, I thought it high time that we northerners catch up!

Side note: this thread may need to hereafter be renamed the "massivelylongrepliesrequired" thread. I'm LOVING it!
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