*note: image presneted here without permission from Serrated Soul.
The Ranger underwent some odd, and annoying, changes between incarnations, not just between the AD&D and D20 versions, but between AD&D 1ed and 2ed. I suppose if I were unkind, I could attribute the change between AD&D editions to that execrable character Drizz't and legions upon legions of fanboys who wanted a character just like him, but that's probably more than a little unkind and out of order. Still, hard to deny.
In the Gary's PHB, rangers were stout men and women who went into the wild "kicking ass and taking names" to be blunt, and were particularly effective in clearing out humanoids and giants, pushing the wilderness back from civilization and protecting civilians from Nature. Essentially, the Chuck Norris of the AD&D world. If you crossed him, the ranger would hunt you down no matter where you went using his awesome tracking abilities and take you apart piece by piece. On top of that, when he reached higher levels, he developed a following of contacts throughout the wilderness and world (for that is what they were originally, contacts not just hangers on).
By the time 2nd edition rolled around and Drizzlemania was in full swing and the Forgotten Realms became the all purpose dumping ground and universal setting for all TSR product, the ranger, if you'll excuse my cynicism, was a sissified and hippified version of himself. Gone was the damage bonus against giant class monsters and in its place we have . . . favored enemy? Ok, I get the concept that gives us the option of a ranger choosing his foe based on what happens to be plaguing the region he hails form, but seriously, the ability is effectively useless by about 4th level. Fifth if we're being generous. So our ranger has been castrated, and it seems that the designers realized this, so they handed him the ability to fight with two weapons at once without penalty. I have yet, after all my years of gaming, to figure out what dual wielding weapons has to do at all with being a ranger other than hopping onto the fan wave of immitating the aforementioned drow. An army of them, in fact.
It doesn't end there, though. The followers list was torn apart and they were turned into tagalongs and pets. It also seems that the focus of the class shifted from a man protecting civilization from nature and the horrors of the wild, to a man who just didn't like cities and so took up a life in the forest to be left alone. Now, rather than gaining some proficiency in magical and druidic spells as added survival tools, the ranger is confined to plant based clerical spells. A tree hugging hippie. Ugh
It's not all bad, really. I do like that the tracking ability was changed to a non-weapon proficiency in which the class is the only one not taking a massive penalty. That, to me, is a significant enough improvement to not entirely discount the class whole cloth.
The less said about what happened to the ranger in third edition the better. Suffice to say I'm still confused by the idiocy that went into the willful misinterpretation of the word "Ranger" to mean "he who attacks with a ranged weapon" and yet still somehow manages to dual wield scimitars pointlessly.
Instead, for my game (assuming I can generate the time and players interested), I plan on merging Gary Gygax's ranger with the 2nd edition ranger. The 2nd edition ranger will serve as the platform, the architecture so to speak. Dual wielding weapons and "favored enemy" will be chicked out summarily and replaced with the damage bonus form the 1st edition ranger. Moving silently and hiding in shadows will be handled per 2nd edition PHB, or perhaps mocking up a system similar to how thieves function (assigning percentage boosts each level).
The followers list in the 2nd edition PHB will be chucked in favor of the 1st edition followers list, and instead of having followers show up at 9th level in a lump, followers will be spread out across levels, showing up periodically according to their abilities. A wolf follower might show up early on at 2nd or 3rd level, while human followers would show up a little after that, and a dragon or other powerful fantastic creatures might not appear until well after. And further, the ranger would have to "earn" his followers. They aren't added class benefits, they're as much NPC's as the mayor of the local village and need to be treated as such.
I want the ranger, in Thylia, to be taken back to its roots with a little mechanical update for the AD&D 2nd edition and to toss out the foolishness that seems to be inbred into the class in later generations.