The Shrewd Ranger

Road Not Taken is a roguelike videogame. Like other titles in this sub-genre, it embraces permanent death as a primary feature. Under the limitations of a withering life and a fleeting career, the game explores patterns associated with the management of resources.

As the story goes, there is a village that relies on berry-picking for its main production — an activity performed by both the adults and the kids. Sadly, the parents seem to be terrible at keeping an eye on their little ones as they go about their business in the forest. Sons and daughters are lost every year to this cause.

To minimise the death toll, the mayor has decided to seek help from a guild of rangers. Each contract established with one of its members lasts for fifteen years. The ranger would relocate to the village and start the final chapter of his life with the locals.

The forest is a dangerous place, even for a professional. Wild animals lurk, malevolent spirits haunt, and plain bad weather could also become deadly without strategic planning. The ranger has taken on a risky job, and if he doesn’t want his career and life to meet a premature end, he would have to look out for his own safety before being able to save others.

The weather forecast was wrong again.

Consumables play an important role in the ranger’s work; he needs the energy to survive and to press forward. When the going gets tough, he must make do with what could be gathered on the job. A ripe apple, some honey from bees, or even an improvised stew — any smidgen of sustenance helps. If it is obtainable, the ranger should gobble it down there and then, lest the opportunity is lost amid unforgiving conditions.

Back at the village, a different set of resources enter into play. From the mayor comes remuneration in the form of money or rice. Additionally, the ranger may return with a couple of those precious berries from the woods, or even a bunny if he is in luck.

Yet even in owning a sizable house, the ranger has no intention to pile up on his earnings. He isn’t like the foolish farmer who says to himself, “I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods.”1 With roguelike wisdom, the ranger is aware that these perishables are only useful to him right here and now. It is in his best interest to give them away while he lives as tokens of generosity in exchange for the friendship and love of other villagers.

From his interactions, the ranger may also receive charms, which are genuine assets that could make a real difference out in the field by enhancing abilities or altering the environment.

At the conclusion of the ranger’s life, these belongings are dispersed. I would imagine that they are entrusted to those who were close to him as keepsakes, reminders of the heroic deeds that brought life to the village. Perhaps a ritual would even be born out of this, echoing the words of a certain saviour: “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”2

The succeeding ranger joining the village may uncover a few of these charms at the house, left there by the family of his predecessor. As for the rest, he would have to speak to the neighbouring progenies who have inherited the items of power and heard the tales that surrounded their previous owner. However, they would not give them to the new ranger until he proves worthy both in deed and generosity. And from that point on, the cycle continues, as it had in generations past.

Which road not to take?

On the other hand, the handing down of knowledge from one ranger to the next occurs unconditionally. The Book of Secrets serves as a sacred text for the guild. It starts off empty, but through the contributions of all who have taken up the burden, expands into an encyclopaedic database of the flora and fauna that exist in the forest, and how they relate to one another.

This scientific compilation and its conferment ensure that any ranger would become better at their job than the last guy that donned the uniform. Even if one of them adds nothing but a single entry during his time of service, the input would surely benefit someone down the line.

It is vital to maintain this pattern; as with all truths, the best practice is to preserve them and say, “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”3

Life is short and fragile. Our achievements are finite. Road Not Taken finds meaning in these limitations through presenting examples of how an individual may gather resources, share with others, and build into the future, all the while knowing that his end may just be around the corner.

  1. Luke 12:18 (NLT).
  2. Luke 22:19 (NIV).
  3. 2 Timothy 2:2 (NLT).