The term ranger first appeared in 1388 in reference to a games keeper (Ayto 1990). It’s derived from the word “range,” the place where a ranger patrols. “Range” is in turn derived from the Old French word “rank.” It was borrowed directly into English as “rank” and later developed into “rang,” from which was derived the verb “rangier” which means “set in a row.”
In Middle-earth, there are the Rangers of Ithilien, who dress in green and fight with bows, spears, and swords, led by Faramir of Gondor. There are also the Rangers of the North, a secret society of knights who wear cloaks of green and gray, armed with sword and spear. They wandered all over Eridaor on foot or horse, passing silently through the land (Day 2001). These rangers have keen senses, a kinship with animals, are stalwart warriors and most of all are excellent trackers. Aragorn demonstrates all of these talents in The Lord of the Rings.
Rangers first appeared in Dungeons & Dragons as an article by Joe Fischer in The Strategic Review (1975). In that article, the ranger had a tracking ability, was lawfully aligned and could cast minor spells. The ranger could only keep treasure he was able to carry, could not hire men-at-arms or servants of any kind, and no more than two of rangers could adventure together. Beyond these rules, little exposition is provided, presuming that the reader is familiar with Aragorn. In fact, few of the restrictions and benefits make sense without knowledge of Middle-earth – the rangers traveled light and were few in number, and intentionally avoided gathering in groups lest they draw attention to themselves. If there is any doubt to the class’ inspiration, the title provided for the second level of the ranger is “Strider.” (1975).
This description is a rough draft from my upcoming book, The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games.