I want to have a Guild of Rangers that protect the southern border from pillage by mountain clans. Basically, more than armed guards on the roads, the Rangers that can go into the wilds beyond political borders and operate as the Earl's Scouts. How can I make them interesting and not cliche?
closed as primarily opinion-based by L.Dutch♦, Aify, adaliabooks, dot_Sp0T, AngelPray Aug 20 '17 at 11:45
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The trouble with cliches is that writers often fail to embrace them wholeheartedly. Extrajudicial Rangers operating outside the Southern border meting rough justice. A big tick.
To make this interesting, simply embrace very cliche you think of. Rangers? Big hairy guys with swords and bows & arrows or crossbows. Too obvious. Too ordinarily cliched.
Now let's go full, over the top cliche. The Rangers are a hereditary clan of chainmail bikini wearing Amazon shape-shifters with night vision and powers of invisibility. The temptation to have them riding motor bikes is great, but should be resisted. Perhaps tame sabretooth tigers would be better.
Basically if you have a bog standard cliche either just go it and make sure you treat it with full seriousness. Think about about every aspect of a Guild that has Rangers who guard the Southern border and who fight the mountain clans. This is their life. This is their calling. This is their felt and lived experience. It's what they touch, what they feel, what they taste and smell, their thoughts, their feelings, their songs and stories, what they joke about around the camp fire. It make their reality.
Even if your Rangers are a Guild of chainmail bkini-wearing Amazon shape-shifters with night vision and the powers of invisibility who ride sabretooth tigers, then believe with every fibre of being that they are real people who live this life and guard the realm. Absurd cliche? Absolutely! But if you treat even the most absurd cliche with all due seriousness and respect, it will be interesting because unexpectedly it feels real. That's all, just make it real.
A Guild (with a capital letter) is an interesting concept here. A guild was an association of master craftsmen, to keep professional standards up and to discourage cheap competition.
Who pays for them?
It could be the Earl you mentioned, either on an annual basis (let us give the Rangers 100 gold crowns this year) or in a more stable way (we reconfirm the ancient right of the Rangers to collect the toll at Bloody Ford). The latter goes halfway towards making the Rangers a feudal landholder in their own right (the Earl shall collect all the customary dues and taxes of his fief, except for those which go to the Rangers instead).
So come up with an unusual way to fund your Rangers.
- Senior Rangers are the 4th sons of the nobility, after one heir, one going into the King's army, and one going into the church. They are expected to bring a handful of retainers and an annuity to pay for them. So that gruffy borderer is actually two heartbeats away from inheriting a Duchy -- the army officer would inherit after the death of the designated heir, but the churchman would be out.
- Rangers have the exclusive right to produce charcoal in the Southern Border Forest. With some handy source of iron ore, they're the premier blacksmiths in the region. All Rangers learn both the art of forest warfare and the art of sword crafting. Their Guild mark on a weapon or piece of armor is respected by all warriors.
- All healthy young men are required to serve for a-year-and-a-day in the Rangers, and to bring their clothes and provisions with them. Arms and a horse will be provided by the local lord. Except that they can dodge the draft if they can present a replacement Ranger who will serve a second hitch in their place. Unlike first-term recruits, those second-term Rangers must be approved by the Guild. So the Rangers are a mix of grizzled swords-for-hire and callow youths.
- Anybody with a Ranger uniform and arms will also have a begging bowl. It is considered good manners to give something when one meets a Ranger -- a poor peasant might give an apple or a piece of bread, a merchant should give a coin.
In Medieval Europe, the real rangers were men employed to patrol a little zone next to their homes they knew perfectly well because they had lived all their lives there. And they also knew their enemies by name and were probably related to them in some way.
I think it would be fun to see them take the pillage by those mountain clans as a periodic thing, like seasons.
"The cousing of my wife has told me that Wilhelm is recruiting men to attack Little Village next week" "In March? Damn, he always raids in June. What did it happen this winter?"
Have them use a weapon other than bow & arrow or crossbow, such as spears and kunai. Have them dress in something other than dull green and brown, like black and pink zebra stripes that somehow still provide camouflage. And, rather than stoic proud rogues, think good-natured frat-boys.
What you are actually describing (very briefly) is some kind of corsair bands operating on land, instead of sea.
Any such corp is shaped by terrain and enemy characteristics.
In a very rocky terrain you can shape them as free climbers attacking from apparently inaccessible positions.
If "enemy" is stationed in impregnable positions on top of mountains you can have a band of burrowers undermining (literally!) their positions.
If incursions come through passes you can have brigand clans acting as highwaymen blocking strategic points and pillaging on the (would be) pillagers.