Monday, November 24, 2008

Dungeons & Hobbits

It's an understatement to say that Gary Gygax was disingenuous in acknowledging the debt Dungeons & Dragons owed to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth tales. This point is not seriously in dispute, I think, by anyone, least of all me. Gary repeatedly, perhaps most famously in issue number 95 of Dragon (March 1985), claimed that the good professor's influence was "minimal." This claim seems, at first glance, very much at odds with reality, given that the early printings of OD&D included references to hobbits, ents, and Nazgûl, as well as many explicit mentions of Tolkien by name. In addition, I would argue quite forcefully that the two biggest and generally unacknowledged Tolkien inspirations to be found in D&D -- and, by extension, all fantasy since 1974 -- is the notion first of a "multiracial" world and second of the adventuring party. Neither one of these has any significant antecedents in the pulp fantasies of Appendix N, most of which depict human-only worlds in which lone adventurers (perhaps with a single companion) engage in feats of derring-do. If Tolkien had an influence that Gygax didn't cop to, it's in these two related areas that I see it most powerfully.

I think it's a mistake, as some have argued, to look for signs of Tolkien's influence in specific monsters, spells, or magic items. Gary was an omnivorous borrower of interesting ideas and he never denied cribbing some from Middle-Earth. But, given that, by my lights, Gygax very much misunderstood The Lord of the Rings -- which he described as "an allegory of the struggle of the
little common working folk of England against the threat of Hitler’'s Nazi evil" -- I can't take seriously the notion that D&D owes more to Tolkien than the two ideas I noted earlier. I think it's quite credible that Gygax was not lying when he says that including hobbits and ents and so forth was "a studied effort to capitalize on the then-current “craze” for Tolkien’'s literature."

The underlying ethos of D&D has absolutely nothing in common with that of The Lord of the Rings, unless one wishes to claim that the fact that they are both "fantasies" is sufficient to make such a claim. I think it's patently obvious that your typical D&D party, whose membership and very form certainly does derive from Tolkien, has far less in common with the Fellowship than with Conan or Elric or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. D&D, as it existed in its Gygaxian form, was a game of shady ne'er-do-wells on the make. Money, fame, and power are the goals of most adventurers, as they were for their pulp fantasy forebears. The worldview that animates D&D is not that of a Catholic academic engaged in an intricate act of sub-creation (and not "allegory," as Gygax mistakenly claims).

I'm frankly baffled as to how anyone, least of all anyone familiar with both Tolkien and Gygax, could seriously argue that there's any philosophical descent of one from the other. I readily concede -- and I think Gygax did too, when pressed on the matter -- that D&D took plenty of ideas from Middle-Earth, but then it borrowed equally heavily from dozens of other sources, including Greek mythology, fairy tales, Disney films, science fiction, and TV shows current at the time. In every case, these borrowings were bent and twisted to serve a pulp fantasy ethos that permeates the entire game. Again, I'd be willing to concede that, as time went on, that pulp fantasy ethos became less pronounced, even in Gygax's own later work on the game, but that does not change the fact, at its inception, the game was not about heroes engaged in an epic quest to save the world from evil so much as assorted malcontents looking for ways to keep their money bags full and their lives free from the tedium of ordinary life.

Philosophically, D&D owes far more to the pulps -- not just fantasy but also Westerns, detective fiction, and sci-fi -- than it does Tolkien. For polemical purposes, it's great to be able to argue that Gygax denied Tolkien had any influence on D&D and laugh and point as he tries to explain away the presence of hobbits and mithril. But I think it's a misrepresentation of Gygax's claim to argue in such a fashion. I don't believe his point was that he didn't find any inspiration in Tolkien's works, because he clearly did, but most of that inspiration was superficial, on par with including minotaurs, centaurs, and titans in the game. To me, this is obvious and not just because I'm a Gygax partisan. I genuinely feel that D&D only makes sense with pulp fantasy as its foundation, even if some of the structures built on top of it have their origins elsewhere.

45 comments:

  1. Not much to add to that than a hearty "I agree", though I might possibly add the caveat that it is porobable that D&D was almost immediately bent to serve any number of "Tolkienesque epic adventure" type games by the player base itself, who did indeed seek to recreate something analogous to the Lord of the Rings.

    The "adventuring party" I am also quite ambivalent towards as a Tolkien construct, as he fairly clearly takes his lead from Beowulf in the Hobbit and the party is soon subdivided into several smaller stories in the Lord of the Rings. I see the adventuring party as more clearly a response to the demands of player participation than the result of any literary model.

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  2. In addition, I would argue quite forcefully that the two biggest and generally unacknowledged Tolkien inspirations to be found in D&D -- and, by extension, all fantasy since 1974 -- is the notion first of a "multiracial" world and second of the adventuring party. Neither one of these has any significant antecedents in the pulp fantasies of Appendix N, most of which depict human-only worlds in which lone adventurers (perhaps with a single companion) engage in feats of derring-do.

    Several of A. Merritt's novels -- The Moon Pool, The Metal Monster, The Face in the Abyss, the second half of The Ship of Ishtar -- feature parties of 3 or 4 (or more) adventurers instead of a lone hero (or hero & single companion and/or damsel in distress). It's one of the key features making those books feel so "D&Dish." Another book featuring a party of several heroes (IIRC) is the one you mentioned just yesterday -- Changeling Earth (though that post-dates Tolkien and therefore may not be as significant).

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  3. I'm still not buying.

    Isn't THE HOBBIT a veritable blueprint for the "D&D Ethos?" Consider:

    1) Its hero isn't out to save the world at all. He's motivated by the promise of riches. (I agree that this is an important part of the D&D Ethos but I disagree with the notion that the canonical D&D adventurer is necessarily "shady." Nor would I describe Elric as a "ne'er do well on the make;" his struggles are almost as epic as LoTR.)

    2) He joins an "adventuring party" and has a very distinct role in that party based on his unique capabilities (a character class!).

    3) He travels into what are obviously "dungeons;" therein he encounters and overcomes interesting tricks and traps. (He even encounters a *dragon,* perhaps inspiring the nifty title!)

    4) His risks are rewarded; he finds loot and fantastic treasures in the dungeons. Eventually he is outfitted with a magic sword, magic armor and a ring of invisibility, enabling him to tackle even more formidable foes. He's "levelling up!"

    Etc.

    D&D--both trappings and "ethos"--was certainly a combination of many different influences. Elric, Conan and the Mouser all cast long shadows over the game for sure. But I'm not aware of anything Howard or Leiber wrote that maps so closely to the fundamental D&D experience as THE HOBBIT.

    Tolkien was also an obvious blueprint for the sort of "world building" that animated the game almost from its very earliest days. Middle Earth was obviously understood by those who built the earliest FRP campaign worlds (Gary, Arneson, Barker, Stafford) as a sort of gold standard for fictional milieux (to use one of Gary's favorite words).

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  4. Great post, and I agree with a lot of the conclusions and comments above. I was actually going to add that I felt the 'party concept' was a result of the demands of player participation, but Mr. Stanham beat me to it.

    I'd like to comment that the playable races, especially once inclusive of Hobbits, gave the game a Tolkien veneer from the very first pages of Men & Magic.

    Lastly, I'd add that early D&D was often used as a Tolkien recreation. One of my earliest D&D experiences was with a long-running group in a campaign based in Middle Earth. The referee was a total Tolkien-geek, and the game often felt story-driven...there were no dungeons that I can recall, and Elves were his pet project. It's no coincidence that the Tolkien craze of the late 60's and 70's (call it a Fantasy craze, if you like) paved the way for D&D.

    Perhaps Mr. Gygax was more of a marketing genius than I ever realized.

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  5. FWIW in his later years Gary acknowledged being very fond of The Hobbit, and that it was just LotR he couldn't stand...

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  6. I posted a bit of a response here. Not that I disagree from a creative standpoint about Gygax's very clear intent, but I really think the situation has more shades of grey than are discussed here.

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  7. Thanks for another great post. I agree with virtually all of your claims, but I do have one minor objection. I do not believe that Gygax was wrong when he identified Tolkien's masterpiece as allegory.

    Just because Tolkien did not intend for his work to be read allegorically, does not mean that one cannot do so. Moreover, doing so does not in any sense produce a "wrong" or "incorrect" interpretation of his work.

    One can construct all sorts of persuasive arguments about Tolkien (or any other author for that matter)that yield interesting interpretations that may differ significantly from the author's original intentions.

    Sorry if I seem to be splitting hairs. Again, aside from this, I completely agree with you.

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  8. Isn't THE HOBBIT a veritable blueprint for the "D&D Ethos?"

    The Hobbit is certainly a better bet than the Lord of the Rings, but I am not sure it can really be described as having a D&D ethos.

    1) Its hero isn't out to save the world at all. He's motivated by the promise of riches. (I agree that this is an important part of the D&D Ethos but I disagree with the notion that the canonical D&D adventurer is necessarily "shady." Nor would I describe Elric as a "ne'er do well on the make;" his struggles are almost as epic as LoTR.)

    Well, actually, Bilbo is more motivated by Gandalf and an obscure fairy heritage that has given him a very minor "Tookish" sense of adventure than he is by any fiscal gain. He was pretty well off at the beginning of the Hobbit, and his mode of life does not seem to have changed afterwards.

    2) He joins an "adventuring party" and has a very distinct role in that party based on his unique capabilities (a character class!).

    He is brought into a party of Dwarves by Gandalf, who claims he is a "burglar". Given that the Thief class is not part of original D&D, I strongly doubt influence from this quarter. The dwarves themselves are pretty homogenous, and somewhat analagous to Beowulf's warrior band.

    3) He travels into what are obviously "dungeons;" therein he encounters and overcomes interesting tricks and traps. (He even encounters a *dragon,* perhaps inspiring the nifty title!)

    He does travel into three underground locations off the top of my head, in two instances quite against his will. The only case in which he voluntarily descends into a dungeon consists of one encounter with a powerful dragon. Certainly, there are no descending levels or anything of that sort. They could be the germ of the dungeon concept, but Conan's underworld adventures are much stronger contenders.

    4) His risks are rewarded; he finds loot and fantastic treasures in the dungeons. Eventually he is outfitted with a magic sword, magic armor and a ring of invisibility, enabling him to tackle even more formidable foes. He's "levelling up!"

    He does acquire magical items, and in so doing joins a very long tradition of adventure stories. The Hobbit is an adventure story, but whatever influence it exerted on D&D must be seen in a wider context.

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  9. ...but Mr. Stanham beat me to it.

    Hey, great minds think alike and all that.

    Just because Tolkien did not intend for his work to be read allegorically, does not mean that one cannot do so. Moreover, doing so does not in any sense produce a "wrong" or "incorrect" interpretation of his work.

    No, but I could recount the eating of my breakfast and you could read it as an allegory. There is a distinction between "author's intent" and "reader's interpretation", and even in an age that acknowledges the death of the author, that should not be ignored, especially if somebody says "X is", rather than "my interpretation of X is that". Now it is perhaps I who am splitting hairs, but there you go. ;)

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  10. The well of inspiration runs exceedingly deep, and its waters are very, very old. It's no surprise then that Gary drew up some of the Professor's water when he threw the bucket in, being that it was close to the top. But those waters were flavored by many other springs, including the waters of Scandinavian folklore that the Professor drank from. People just tend to remember the Professor's brand of H2O more, given it's more extensive marketing and recent arrival on the shelves.

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  11. I think perhaps you're putting too fine a point on things, Matthew. I could easily deconstruct Conan, the Mouser or Elric and point out all the ways their stories are very different from anything you see in D&D. The point is that the broad brushstrokes are certainly there and so indelible that I think it's hard to deny that Tolkien and his works were indeed a major influence on the evolution of the game.

    I did want to address a couple of specific points.

    1) Yes, the thief class didn't appear in the original "little brown books" but it debuted just a short while later, well within the era in which the game was still taking shape. Gygax certainly saw the thief as an essential part of the game as he envisioned it.

    2) Like most of us, Gary's opinions ebbed and flowed and he said a lot of incosistent things over the years. He may have claimed to "hate" LoTR later in life but I personally heard him praise it and offer up certain aspects of it as a model to be emulated in creating fantasy worlds and adventures. I personally believe that if the Tolkien Enterprises legal action had never happened Gary's attitude and his account of the game's evolution may have been very different.

    Also, it's worth reiterating a point I made earlier. Early D&D was not shaped by Gary's hands alone. Many folks contributed concepts and ideas and each of them brought along his own set of influences. (I don't mean to take anything away from Gary, of course. He and Dave Arneson clearly made what were by far the most significant contributions and it was Gary's hand that guided the game into the AD&D era.)

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  12. I think perhaps you're putting too fine a point on things, Matthew. I could easily deconstruct Conan, the Mouser or Elric and point out all the ways their stories are very different from anything you see in D&D. The point is that the broad brushstrokes are certainly there and so indelible that I think it's hard to deny that Tolkien and his works were indeed a major influence on the evolution of the game.

    Sure, but nobody is denying that Tolkien had an influence on D&D, we are just trying to identify where the emphasis lies. Reading REH's Conan tales I was surprised by just how much of D&D I saw reflected there. The tendency in the past has been to identify Tolkien as the major influence, but a close anlysis reveals that this is not necessarily the case.

    Yes, the thief class didn't appear in the original "little brown books" but it debuted just a short while later, well within the era in which the game was still taking shape. Gygax certainly saw the thief as an essential part of the game as he envisioned it.

    To be honest, I don't see much of Bilbo reflected in the thief class, even in the three little brown books. I do see a stronger reflection in the later BD&D "halfling" class, though.

    Like most of us, Gary's opinions ebbed and flowed and he said a lot of incosistent things over the years. He may have claimed to "hate" LoTR later in life but I personally heard him praise it and offer up certain aspects of it as a model to be emulated in creating fantasy worlds and adventures. I personally believe that if the Tolkien Enterprises legal action had never happened Gary's attitude and his account of the game's evolution may have been very different.

    I think Gygax resented the tendency to identify Tolkien as the primary influence on D&D, and I suspect that this coloured his attitude. I do not recall off hand any direct criticism of Tolkien or his writings. I think that if there had been no legal issues, Gygax would certainly have continued to attempt to capitalise on Tolkien's success.

    Also, it's worth reiterating a point I made earlier. Early D&D was not shaped by Gary's hands alone. Many folks contributed concepts and ideas and each of them brought along his own set of influences. (I don't mean to take anything away from Gary, of course. He and Dave Arneson clearly made what were by far the most significant contributions and it was Gary's hand that guided the game into the AD&D era.)

    No doubt, and I imagine part of the purpose of these sorts of investigations is to deconstruct and identify the inspirational sources, regardless of quite who eventually contributed them. With regard to Gygax specifically, there are at least two credible (and not necessarily mutually exclusive) explanations for why he downplayed the influence of Tolkien on D&D: 1) For legal reasons 2) That was his true opinion. The former needs no explanation, the latter requires elucidation.

    It seems increasingly credible to me these days that Tolkien was merely one amongst influences upon Gygaxian Dungeons & Dragons, not to put too fine a point on it. ;)

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  13. On the flip side, The Hobbit certainly paved the way for me (and probably others) to grasp D&D!

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  14. It seems increasingly credible to me these days that Tolkien was merely one amongst influences upon Gygaxian Dungeons & Dragons, not to put too fine a point on it. ;)

    I certainly agree there. :)

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  15. Hi All,

    On the issue of dungeons I think that James is minimizing a bit Tolkien's influence. Just think of the Mines of Moria: it's really a D&D dungeon, it has levels, tribes of orcs live in there, dominated by a bigger monster (the Balrog), it has treasure, secret doors, it even has numbered rooms (!!), it was built by a race different from the current inhabitants and so, on.
    The complex formed by Shelob's lair and the tower at Cirith Ungol is another dungeon adventure. The Wight's barrow is a mini-dungeon. In the hobbit, the Goblin's lair is a dungeon - with a nifty secret door, treasure, a second exit, an underground lake, etc. Thranduil's palace, another subterranean place with many rooms. And finally, Smaug's lair it's the prototypical dragon's lair with hoard.
    I am aware of Conan's subterranean exploits, which where a bit different, and I agree that they are also likely to be a source, but in my view Tolkien remains the main inspiration for the concept.

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  16. I see the adventuring party as more clearly a response to the demands of player participation than the result of any literary model.

    I think you're almost certainly correct. Indeed, I would argue that, even where D&D maps notably closely to this book or that one, it did so not primarily out of fidelity to literary inspiration but because players found it fun. It's all too easy to forget that D&D is a game and its early design was shaped by the demands of regular play rather than by some abstract theory.

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  17. I think Gygax resented the tendency to identify Tolkien as the primary influence on D&D, and I suspect that this coloured his attitude.

    I think that's correct and it's certainly my own personal feeling on the matter as well. I think there's much too much emphasis placed by the "Tolkien everywhere" boosters on a lot of surface similarities between the Middle-Earth tales and D&D, surface details that Gygax, even at his most negative about Tolkien, didn't deny. Of course he borrowed ideas from Tolkien; no one disputes that. The dispute -- my dispute anyway -- is about the extent of those borrowings. I remain unconvinced that D&D's "DNA" is Tolkienian except on a cosmetic level.

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  18. On the issue of dungeons I think that James is minimizing a bit Tolkien's influence.

    Dungeons are widely acknowledged as being one of Dave Arneson's most noteworthy contributions to "proto-OD&D." Arneson was, by his own accounts and that of his players, much more influenced by Tolkien than was Gygax, so it's quite possible that Moria played a big role in the evolution of the dungeon concept. My interest in the subject is primarily on the Gygax side of things, where I don't think the Tolkien influence is very strong.

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  19. James, did you ever play MERP, or its ancestor, Rolemaster? I wonder if there's some value in comparing it with D&D - its structures, the assumptions on which its text is built - there's been a lot of talk about Tolkien leading to High Fantasy, which I take to be fantasy with an overarching plot and/or mission. I wonder if that's visible in the rules.

    I ask because the games of MERP I've played have all been resolutely Low/picaresque: there's been some nod to plotting (on the mystery model) but in some way having the Big Plot dealt with by the novel left the game world free to do other things - things that seemed very much in keeping with your description of D&D.

    Caveat: I never bought any of the published locale/adventures for MERP - the only one I ever read was Bree and the Barrow Downs, so they may tell a different story.

    ...regarding The Hobbit, IIRC Bilbo gets browbeaten into adventuring by Gandalf and pricked into it by foolish pride: he's a classic reluctant hero, like Luke Skywalker, for instance, which places him ina very long literary tradition but makes him fundamentally different from almost any PC. His subsequent series of loosely-linked encounters, however, seems like the very model of picaresque adventuring - so I find myself agreeing with both sides here: Gary might have had other sources, but I don't think any player who took Tolkien as their primary influence in playing D&D was "doing it wrong."

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  20. Gary might have had other sources, but I don't think any player who took Tolkien as their primary influence in playing D&D was "doing it wrong."

    No, not at all. My point was never that D&D must exclude Tolkien or it's inappropriate to use him as an inspiration for one's own games. My point remains that I don't think Gary was lying or obfuscating when repeatedly claimed that Tolkien was a minor influence on his vision for the game. It's that claim that raises my hackles, not the notion that someone might be inspired by Tolkien to start a D&D campaign.

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  21. "It's an understatement to say that Gary Gygax was disingenuous in acknowledging the debt Dungeons & Dragons owed to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth tales."

    This I think, by itself makes any deconstruction of intent of flavor or ethos impossible. Even if some sources may have been in-mind at some points in the creation of D&D, others were in-mind at others. That doesn't make one "The core ethos" of D&D any more than the other. They were a factor...included...that is all. It has no bearing at all on "how D&D is/ was to be played.

    There is NO "as intended" on style of play as it was left for the DM and players to decide. People stating that D&D was intended to be played a certain way is all opinion.

    "It's all too easy to forget that D&D is a game and its early design was shaped by the demands of regular play rather than by some abstract theory."

    Completely accurate IMO.

    "regarding The Hobbit, IIRC Bilbo gets browbeaten into adventuring by Gandalf and pricked into it by foolish pride: he's a classic reluctant hero, like Luke Skywalker, for instance, which places him ina very long literary tradition but makes him fundamentally different from almost any PC."

    That's a huge assumption on PC motivation from a limited point of view. Not everyone plays or has played PCs that are Conan-style mercenaries.

    I think Gary Gygax fought against Tolkien as an influence publicly because his ideas were hardly original. He used the ideas and resources of others and cobbled them together in to a game...and when questioned about the obvious tolkien-esque similarities, he distanced himself from it as much as possible.

    I'm not saying EGG was a bad person, not at all.

    The history of D&D is full of debates on who created what, who was the influence and who gets credit (and who gets screwed over credit) and I think THAT is a more telling view of what the influences were.

    Yes, EGG loved a lot of Pulp Fantasy. I believe those made their way in to D&D. Clearly so. Tolkien did as well. Clearly. As far as an "intent" on play, or "intent" on what D&D was supposed to be like, played like and "felt" like...we are left with a bunch of biased personal opinions from our own preferences and points of view...and the often contradictory statements of EGG, who regularly changed his mind.

    We end up left with a game system that tells us to do what we want, how we want to. PC motivations are up to the PCs. The rest is a matter of conjecture. Likely will be forever.

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  22. a classic reluctant hero... makes him fundamentally different from almost any PC.

    That's a huge assumption on PC motivation from a limited point of view.


    You're right. RPGs can encompass a huge variety of motivations and structures. My point was merely that I think we can take most players, and most PCs, to be willing participants in their stories.

    Sadly, I haven't conducted a good, scientific survey of gamers, games and PCs to check this assertion; if you disagree but also have no evidence then we'll just have to differ.

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  23. Looks like James Mal has been reading The Cimmerian:

    "GDT is only the second best thing to happen to The Hobbit recently. The best is John D. Rateliff, who has changed, has upgraded the way Bilbo’s story is read with his Mr. Baggins and The Return to Bag End. I suffer from whatever the equivalent of illiteracy and innumeracy is when it comes to gaming, so when I read Bill Cavalier’s “The Other REH Days in TC V4n5 (October 2007), I was baffled by the Gygaxian attempt to launder Tolkien right the hell out of the DNA of D & D. Now Rateliff, a games editor and TSR vet, has served up a four-part “Brief History of Tolkien RPGS,” in the first installment of which he addresses exactly that point:

    The reasons for this disparagement of Tolkien’s influence on D&D, and thus ALL roleplaying games, are I think twofold. First, there’s the simple fact that Tolkien’s innovations are so great that they have, ironically, come to be considered “generic”. In fact, they only appear that way because the genre of Modern Fantasy is something Tolkien himself largely created: he is the exemplar that defines the category. The very idea of a player character party—a group of diverse individuals of differing races with differing talents and specialties who set off on an adventure together—is a uniquely Tolkienian innovation, unprecedented in earlier fantasy, where we either have a hero, or a hero & a sidekick. In other words, Tolkien influenced fantasy and gaming so profoundly that we take his imprint on other authors for granted. His impact has become invisible—just look how many people spell “elves” and “dwarves” with a ‘v’ rather than elfs and dwarfs: elves may be partly due to Dunsany, though I doubt this, but dwarves is Tolkien’s invention, which others use without even recognizing their indebtedness.

    Second, there was a deliberate attempt in later years by Gygax and others, continuing to the present day, to play down Tolkien’s influence, most notoriously in Gygax’s famous editorial from the March 1985 issue of Dragon magazine (issue #95, pages 12¬–13). Titled “The influence of J. R. R. Tolkien on the D&D® and AD&D® games: Why Middle Earth is not part of the game world”, it argues that Tolkien had NO discernable influence on the development of D&D, aside from a few surface similarities based on Gygax’s drawing on the same sort of sources as Tolkien himself had used.

    Now, there are three theories regarding this claim, which was met with incredulity at the time and more or less universally dismissed ever since, being belied by the evidence both past and present. The first is what we might call the cocaine theory, the widespread belief that years of rumored drug abuse during E. Gary Gygax’s time heading up TSR’s Hollywood branch had addled his brain. The second is that Gygax simply forgot by the mid-eighties how he’d created the game in the early seventies; certainly his story changed a number of times over the years, and the general trend of those changes is to shift credit away from others (e.g., Arneson) and onto himself. So maybe he simply resented sharing credit with JRRT. The third is, in a word, lawyers, and a salutary fear of lawsuits if any good case could be made for D&D’s debt to Tolkien’s work. And, as we’ll see, he had excellent reason based on personal experience to believe this was a very real threat, which might explain why he was so adamant about denying any Tolkien influence in his 1985 piece, which freely admits to influence from a number of other lesser writers.

    For, no matter how much Gygax might have later denied it, Tolkien’s fingerprints are all over original D&D…
    "

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  24. Looks like James Mal has been reading The Cimmerian

    I love The Cimmerian, even though I frequently disagree with some of its posters, particularly when they stray beyond REH.

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  25. @Richard.
    Point is, both assertions are just that...assertions, and neither can be proven. One opinion on the subject is no more valuable or correct than the other.

    Agreement of disagreement isn't even really the goal here. The goal IMO is that when people make assertions about intent, and about "the majority of PCs" they are really just voicing one narrow view. As long as it is noted that it is just that: an opinion and not a statement of fact or a voice of a majority (which cannot be proven) then all is good.

    Differing opinions are great. I think they are absolutely necessary and healthy. as long as they are stated as opinion and personal

    My concern is when opinion becomes "the one true way" and all other assertions and opinions become somehow less important or less "true".

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  26. My concern is when opinion becomes "the one true way" and all other assertions and opinions become somehow less important or less "true".

    That's fair enough, when you're talking about opinion, but what I'm talking about in this post isn't an opinion but an interpretation of facts: was Gygax purposefully obscuring the deep influence of J.R.R. Tolkien's work in the development of the game? I don't see how the facts can support such an assertion, but I'm open to additional evidence that suggests otherwise.

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  27. There's no way to prove it either way. Your interpretation is your take on it...which is fine.

    What actual "facts" are there on the ethics and feel of D&D? What is the intended "feel" of D&D?

    My point is that it really can't be proven either way...and what we end up with is a bunch of theories and posturing on both sides instead of acceptance that there really isn't "one true way" or one "intended" way.

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  28. What actual "facts" are there on the ethics and feel of D&D?

    We have Gary Gygax's statements on the matter over the course of 30+ years. Unless you're willing to discount them as "opinion" too, they have to be the starting point for any discussion like this.

    My point is that it really can't be proven either way...and what we end up with is a bunch of theories and posturing on both sides instead of acceptance that there really isn't "one true way" or one "intended" way.

    "Intended" and "true" are not synonymous. One could possibly prove, through statements by Gygax, that he intended D&D to be played in a certain way, but that's not the same thing as saying his intended way is the One True Way or that anyone deviating from it is mistaken.

    I can't speak for anyone else, but all I'm arguing for is an end to the notion that Gary was lying about the minimal role Tolkien had in his conception of the game. This isn't about whether there's one "true" way to play D&D or about ostracizing anyone who favors more direct Tolkien influence than Gary sought; it's about setting a historical matter straight through the use of evidence.

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  31. You're right, I'm starting to wander off topic anyhow. No worries. Sorry about the deviation James.

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  32. IIRC, I first encountered "The Hobbit" as a stage production. I really did not believe my parents when they said we were off to see a play about "a dragon, and dwarfs, and goblins, and a wizard ..." Yeah, right!

    It was just too cool, and D&D was so much more of the same.

    Dunsany, Smith, Howard and so on just did not quite reach the fear and loathing and lust for adventure that first anabasis into a dungeon held.

    It was like the shift from "slick" in The Atlantic to "this is where it's at and we're not ashamed." Yeah, they're Elves, and they're not @#$% fairies.

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  33. I can't speak for anyone else, but all I'm arguing for is an end to the notion that Gary was lying about the minimal role Tolkien had in his conception of the game.

    Just to be clear, while I do believe that Gary's attempts to downplay Tolkien's influence on D&D were a little disingenuous I'm certainly not accusing of him of "lying." I believe the combination of the Tolkien Enterprises lawsuit and some of his more vocal critics left him understandably annoyed and defensive. He was particularly sensitive to accusations that D&D was just Tolkien with the serial numbers filed off, and rightfully so. While I think it's fairly obvious that the Professor's works were a signficant influence on D&D, Gary and his cohorts certainly created something wholly original, synthesizing ideas from a number of sources with their own imaginations.

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  34. And to those who argue that THE HOBBIT isn't anything like D&D because Bilbo was a "reluctant hero:" I submit that Bilbo's brand of "reluctance" is exactly the sort of schtick a skilled role player uses to breathe some life into his character. After all, he's not *that* reluctant--it's not like Gandalf and the dwarves force him out of the Shire at swordpoint.

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  35. Just to be clear, while I do believe that Gary's attempts to downplay Tolkien's influence on D&D were a little disingenuous I'm certainly not accusing of him of "lying."

    Fair enough. There are, however, many people who do accuse him of such. There's a long history in this hobby, particularly among those who worked on the "industry" side of things to engage in character assassination against Gary Gygax, something he made very easy by his irascibility and intemperate remarks over the course of many decades. The Tolkien influence gambit is the "polite" way to do so for many people, since it has an academic tone to it that distances the person from the claims they're making against Gygax.

    I'm not saying everyone who raises questions on this score is a character assassin, but there are enough of them out there that I hope I can be forgiven for being a little sensitive about it. For all his faults, Gary Gygax was great guy, a founding father of our shared hobby and a hero of mine. He touched far more people's lives in a positive fashion through his ideas and writing than I shall ever do. I can't help but think that some still harbor envy at his success and that, now that he is gone and no longer able to defend himself, we're going to see an increase in "de-mythologizing" his legacy that's just a cover for good old fashioned mud slinging.

    Anyway, my apologies if I come across as too strident on this topic. I retain an abiding affection for Gary and his works and that sometimes makes me bark at shadows.

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  36. And to those who argue that THE HOBBIT isn't anything like D&D because Bilbo was a "reluctant hero:" I submit that Bilbo's brand of "reluctance" is exactly the sort of schtick a skilled role player uses to breathe some life into his character. After all, he's not *that* reluctant--it's not like Gandalf and the dwarves force him out of the Shire at swordpoint.

    I do not think anybody is arguing quite that. Rather, they are rejecting claims that because Bilbo joined a company of questing dwarves at the urging of Gandlaf then the Hobbit (or alternatively the Lord of the Rings) directly inspired the "adventuring party".

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  37. There are, however, many people who do accuse him of such. There's a long history in this hobby, particularly among those who worked on the "industry" side of things to engage in character assassination against Gary Gygax, something he made very easy by his irascibility and intemperate remarks over the course of many decades.

    Indeed and that's sad. Gary was nothing but very nice to me personally and I had tremendous admiration for him.

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  38. Wow. I like John Rateliff a lot and consider him a friend, but that bullshit about the "cocaine theory" is beyond the pale. Methinks John's own pro-Tolkien bias and his years of indoctrination into the TSR corporate groupthink regarding Gary Gygax are influencing his analysis here.

    Sort of sad that he would publish such a shitty thing, but I guess everyone draws the line somewhere different.

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  39. Erik,

    I have to agree with you about the "cocaine theory," which struck me as scurrilous as well. I'll grant that I've never been on "the inside" of TSR, so I can't say whether such theories ever enjoyed wide currency back in 1985, but I've never heard anyone else mention them before, leading me to believe that only a handful of people, almost certainly anti-Gygax partisans, ever uttered them. I think it's possible to criticize Gary and his actions without resorting to such unsubstantiated rumor mongering and I'll own up to the fact that that one little bit of text made me far less likely to take Rateliff's argument seriously. It's not the kind of thing a dispassionate scholar would ever say without proof and he offers none, thereby calling into question his objectivity elsewhere.

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  40. Lots of great comments here, and thanks to everyone for an entertaining and enlightening read. I'm of the "D&D had HUGE influence" party, but most of the best arguments have been made.

    So, really all I can throw out there is: Rangers.

    We're not talking the Rangers of the American Revolution, either. The Ranger class could have pretty much been called the Aragorn class . . . at least until it became the Drizzt class.

    Cheers all!

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  41. Rangers are indeed the "Aragorn class," no question. It's the only way to explain why they must be good in alignment and get bonuses when using crystal balls and other scrying devices.

    However, the class was originally written by Joe Fischer, not Gygax, and quickly assumed a life of its own. You can surely see the Tolkien influence up through AD&D, but I don't think it's quite as strong as in the case of halflings, for example.

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  42. Fair enough. I got into D&D in 1980, so I don't really have first hand knowledge of the initial rules. I'll leave that to those better informed.

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  43. Just out of interest, which books would you all consider more important to D&D than Tolkien? I ask because I see a huge footprint of Tolkien on D&D which isn't matched by any other single source. Aspects of D&D are touched by Leiber, REH and Vance, but those contributions, in my opinion, are to specific areas whereas Tolkien's influence seems much more widespread.

    I agree that there were multi-character parties in speculative fiction before Tolkien, but the interesting thing is the multi-racial aspect of the D&D adventuring party, which is not found in any of the formative fantasy literature which I have read. It may be there, I just haven't seen it. Other multi-character adventuring parties, of which there are many examples, are usually all Human.

    As for the purpose of parties, while the experience system does reward combat and treasure accumulation, I do not recall anything indicating that the game concept precludes the type of quest as found in the Hobbit (which does have a lot of gaining wealth and might through adventure and battle) or LotR (which might have some moral quandaries but also has plenty of adventure and battle, including in an underground complex). Perhaps the initial releases had a clearer mission statement. I honestly haven't followed the statements of EGG, so I'll take it as a given that, as stated here, he did not intend for the types of high fantasy quests as related in LotR. What did he intend, then? That's a serious rather than a rhetorical question.

    Here's another question, what of the inclusion of Hobbit? I've only been playing since they were called Halflings. I'm wondering if the original Hobbit Was it as direct

    It just seems to me that much of the discussion of Gygax and Tolkien includes a fair amount of revisionism. That's not to say that EGG lied or was maliciously trying to hide Tolkien's influence, it just that the influence seems so blatant. I stand ready to be corrected.

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  44. It just seems to me that much of the discussion of Gygax and Tolkien includes a fair amount of revisionism. That's not to say that EGG lied or was maliciously trying to hide Tolkien's influence, it just that the influence seems so blatant. I stand ready to be corrected.

    I think the issue boils down to a basic disagreement about what constitutes "influence." Those who take the Gygax line see influence as having to do with a commonality of spirit and philosophy and, on that score, I don't think one can reasonably argue that D&D has much of Tolkien in it. Its soul is pure pulp fantasy. Those who champion the Tolkien line see influence as having to do with the presence of elements swiped from Tolkien's writings. On this score, it's very clear that Gygax borrowed a great deal from Middle-Earth.

    For myself, I find the second position to rely too much on superficial resemblance and to give short shrift to the matter of ethos. Obviously, others disagree, but I don't think that means Gygax was incorrect in his assertions. Rather, I think he meant something very different than what people take him to have meant.

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  45. My personal theory is that Tolkien was a significant influence, among others of course, but Gygax wanted to tone its praise down just a tad (publicly) due to the past brush with the Tolkien Estate. Which is wise from a business standpoint. Of course, it would be foolish to deny altogether.

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