Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gygax on Tolkien (Again)

Victor Raymond contacted me yesterday about a discovery he recently made that he thought would be of interest to me. It's an article from a fanzine called La Vivandière. As its name suggests -- vivandières were women, often wives, who accompanied French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars and acted as provisioners -- the fanzine's focus was on miniatures wargaming and Victor surmises that it was probably associated with a Minneapolis wargames shop known as La Belle Alliance, which later became the the Little Tin Soldier Shop. What's interesting is that the article Victor sent to me is by Gary Gygax and entitled "Fantasy Wargaming and the Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien" -- and it was published in 1974.

The date is of particular importance, because nearly every discussion of the role of Tolkien's work in influencing Gary Gygax is based on evidence from a much later date, after the threatened lawsuit against TSR by the Tolkien estate. Indeed, many commentators presume, based on this fact, that Gary had to have been, at the very least, disingenuous when he downplayed the influence of Tolkien and that his doing so was based primarily on his desire to distance TSR from its having infringed Tolkien's copyrights. I've never bought this theory, feeling that the bare text of D&D, even in its original form, with all those references to hobbits and ents and orcs, pretty clearly showed that Tolkien was, at best, a superficial influence on the game as Gygax conceived it.

The article probably won't settle the matter definitively -- we gamers like to argue, after all -- but I do think it'll go a long way toward putting to rest the notion that Gygax was lying when he later claimed that Tolkien's work mostly provided a handful of creatures that he gleefully looted in an effort to ride the coattails of their popularity during the 1970s. Here's what Gygax says -- in 1974, remember -- about the role of Tolkien as compared to other authors:
What other sources of fantasy can compare to J.R.R. Tolkien? Obviously, Professor Tolkien did not create the whole of his fantasies from within. They draw upon mythology and folklore rather heavily, with a few highly interesting creations which belong solely to the author such as the Nazgul, the Balrog, and Tom Bombadil. All of the other creatures are found in fairy tales by the score and dozens of other excellent writers who create fantasy works themselves: besides Howard whom I already mentioned, there are the likes of Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, and Roger Zelazny -- there are many more, and the ommission [sic] of their names here is more of an oversight than a slight. In the creation of Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons the concepts of not a few of such authors were drawn upon. This is principally due to the different aims of a fantasy novel (or series of novels) and a rule book for fantasy games. The former creation is to amuse and entertain the reader through the means of the story and its characters, while the latter creates characters and possibly a story which the readers then employ to amuse themselves. In general the "Ring Trilogy" is not fast paced, and outside the framework of the tale many of Tolkien's creatures are not very exciting or different.
Perhaps I am irredeemably biased but that passage sounds an awful lot like something Gygax could have written in 1984. Indeed, it's remarkably like his standard line about the influence of Tolkien on D&D and his critique of The Lord of the Rings as "boring." He goes on:
Tolkien includes a number of heroic figures, but they are not of the "Conan" stamp. They are not larger-than-life swashbucklers who fear neither monster nor magic. His wizards are either ineffectual or else they lurk in their strongholds working magic spells which seem to have little if any effect while their gross and stupid minions bungle their plans for supremacy. Religion with its attendant gods and priests he includes not at all. These considerations, as well as a comparison of the creatures of Tolkien's writings with the models they were drawn from (or with a hypothetical counterpart desirable from a wargame standpoint) were in mind when Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons were created.

Take several of Tolkien's heroic figures for example. Would a participant in a fantasy game more readily identify with Bard of Dale? Aragorn? Frodo Baggins? or would he rather relate to Conan, Fafhrd, the Grey Mouser, or Elric of Melnibone? The answer seems all too obvious.
Gygax then goes on to cite numerous examples of where Tolkien's creations were and were not a model for those in Chainmail and D&D, in addition to pointing where he borrowed just as heavily from other sources, notably Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. Throughout, his repeated point is that, while both games "owe a great deal to him," "fantasy wargaming goes beyond Tolkien" because, in fantasy, "there are no absolutes or final boundaries simply because it does draw upon all of these sources with the bonus of individual imagination added by those who play it."

As I said, the article settles nothing. If anything, it muddies the waters a little further insofar as Gygax readily acknowledges the debt both his games owed to Tolkien for some of their integral ideas. At the same time, I also think it clarifies beyond any doubt that Gary's repeated dislike for Tolkien and his denial that it was a good model for fantasy roleplaying was not merely a consequence of the threatened lawsuit by Tolkien's estate. Rather, it reflected a longstanding and heartfelt belief on his part, a belief that certainly ossified as the years went on and he grew ever more irritated by the extent to which Tolkien (and his epic fantasy imitators) were deemed the ne plus ultra of fantasy, an opinion Gygax never shared -- even in 1974, before he had any reason to claim otherwise.

48 comments:

  1. Great info. While I don't entirely disagree with you on this subject, I must disagree on your claim that the Tolkien influence is "superficial". I think you are overstating your case. Playing a hobbit is supported, playing a green martian is not. Playing a vulcan is not. Playing one of the serpent people is not. I do not consider this distinction trifling or merely superficial, especially when one considers the point of view of players as opposed to referees.

    That Tolkien is only one of many influences I will readily concede, but sometimes I think you err in going too far the other way.

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  2. Given Gary's dislike of the novel, I'm surprised he didn't include more non-Tolkien races/classes in D&D from the start. I understand that the popularity of LOTR played heavily in the inclusion of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and later half-orcs. But why -- aside from the gnome (another latecomer) -- not showcase more non-Tolkienian options? Were Gary's own campaigns rather human-centric? Did he just not see the need for more demi-human and/or monster races?

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  3. Gygax is absolutely correct that Tolkien's Middle Earth had very little in common with Howard's Hyperborea. However, his dismissive and frankly ignorant assessment reveals that he either doesn't know (or doesn't care, or both) that those differences were deliberate, thought out, and had great meaning to Tolkien's myth- and worldbuilding.

    And calling Saruman and Gandalf ineffectual really just blows my mind - again, for its patent wrongness and complete lack of understanding of _how_ those beings worked in Middle Earth, and Tolkien's reasons for that.

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  4. That Tolkien is only one of many influences I will readily concede, but sometimes I think you err in going too far the other way.

    Some of it's rhetorical flourish on my part. I think the pro-Tolkien camp (never mind the "Gary is a liar" camp) states its case equally strongly, so I may well exaggerate my own position to compensate.

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  5. Were Gary's own campaigns rather human-centric?

    Yes. There are very few examples of significant demihuman PCs in the Lake Geneva campaign and most of the big movers and shakers were human.

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  6. Michael,

    I've said before that I think Gary gravely misunderstood and misinterpreted Tolkien. That's one of the reasons why I believe him when he said Tolkien wasn't a huge influence on him beyond some surface details. I'm not sure that Gygax ever got beyond the surface details of Middle-earth.

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  7. @ Michael: some comments made by Gygax in Panzerfaust 63 (Sept-Oct 1973) about a "Battle of the Five Armies" Chainmail scenario suggest that he was judging Tolkien's characters, monsters, and setting as a wargaming scenario vs. saying that their value as liteature/world building/etc. was low.

    I'll post the quotations later (and thanks to irbyz for the recent reminders about the piece!).

    Allan.

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  8. I can't wait to print this out in caps and show it to my friends. They worship at the altar of Tolkien. Kudos Gary.

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  9. Jeff makes a good point about hobbits being character options; one might extend that to elves and dwarves as well, since LOTR is the main fantasy example of those races as important characters (at least the main one existent in 1974). Specific elements of Tolkien's works are present in OD&D in a way that specific elements of Howard's, Leiber's, Moorcock's, and Merritt's are not; there is no denying this. However, I still think James's basic point is valid: Gygax did not consider Tolkien a major influence on D&D.

    Gygax apparently did not like LOTR; his comments suggest that he was not a perceptive or sympathetic reader of Tolkien. He clearly was not trying to create a game that would simulate Tolkien's work, and did not feel that he had done so. Every printed comment he ever made, even in 1974 before the threat of legal action, indicates this. The interesting question is why there is so much specific Tolkien material in the game.

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  10. The interesting question is why there is so much specific Tolkien material in the game.

    My guess is that, while Gary himself didn't much care for Tolkien, lots of other wargamers did. We know Blackmoor was more strongly influenced by Tolkien, for example. So Tolkien references were included as an enticement to those wargamers who were fans of Middle-earth.

    It's worth noting BTW that the article specifically states that OD&D's elves aren't those of Tolkien (or Anderson for that matter) but "an entirely different interpretation." And hobbits get as much verbiage devoted to playing them as playing a dragon, albeit with slightly more mechanical detail.

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  11. @ Allan: I sorta got that feeling, too, that a big part of Gygax's dislike of Tolkien was how poorly it would translate onto the game board/book. However, his remark about the wizards seems to indicate a deeper dislike and misunderstanding.

    @ James: as I just wrote. :-) I love "Gygaxian" in the DMG, but given the low quality of Gary's fiction writing, it seems like an enormous piece of cheek for him to have so easily dismissed LotR.

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  12. “Men & Magic” says your can play a hobbit but implies you shouldn’t. Although the human, elf, dwarf, hobbit, half-orc combo does look awfully Tolkien. My impression is that those races were included because that’s what the players who didn’t want to play humans asked for. If it hadn’t been for those players, perhaps all PCs would have been assumed to be human.

    Of course, that touches on the fact that JRRT’s influence on Gary is not entirely synonymous with JRRT’s influence on the game.

    I suspect Gary didn’t fully understand LotR and didn’t want to. It seems, however, that he did understand enough to know that a Tolkienesque game is not what he wanted to play. Even if it is something that some of us like to do with the game he gave us.

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  13. Given that his players seem to have clamored for the trappings of Tolkien, to the extent that they were included in the LBB despite one of the author's misgivings, it's perhaps fair to say that D&D was heavily influenced by LoftR, even if Gygax was not.

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  14. Given that his players seem to have clamored for the trappings of Tolkien, to the extent that they were included in the LBB despite one of the author's misgivings, it's perhaps fair to say that D&D was heavily influenced by LoftR, even if Gygax was not.

    I don't think anyone denies the influence -- even Gary. The dispute is over the adverb "heavily." In the article, Gygax says OD&D "owes a great deal to [Tolkien]." He goes on to say that the game's "popularity and content lean not inconsiderably upon his creations." I think the fact that content is joined with popularity provides the answer as to why there are the Tolkien references there are in the game, as Gygax noted in many later articles. Tolkien was the means by which he attracted the attention of wargamers in the early 70s. It was the price he was willing to pay to get the game noticed. And it worked.

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  15. One thing that all of this reminds me of was a conversation I had not that long ago with Michael Mornard about all of this. Basically, what Michael had to say was that Gary wasn't terribly interested in Tolkien, but his players were clamoring to include it, so he did. There's more to it than that, but I suspect Michael could be asked directly.

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  16. We should also keep the historical context in mind as well. We're talking about the late 60s to mid 1970s. Tolkien's books were put into mass paperback in the US during this time. A LOT of people were reading them. This coincides with the large distribution of many other fantasy authors already mentioned. This eventually gave all of these authors (JRRT included)a broader mass-market appeal.

    Then comes D&D.

    And you know what? Gary was smart to add those elements that were similar to JRRT's works to the game (elves, half-orcs, rangers, etc.). IT helped broaden the appeal of the game to those who were familiar to JRRT.

    Now, I fully believe that Gary found the works of RE Howard, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, etc. more of an influence to D&D than Tolkien. BUT IMO, as a marketing move, adding those few "Tolkien-like" elements to the game, made D&D more accessible.

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  17. Since the LotR films were release during his lifetime, I wonder if Gary ever watched them and what he thought of them if he did. Assuming he didn't see much in the books, perhaps the films gave him a fresh perspective. Just a thought.

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  18. I find it interesting that Gary thought that players would not more readily identify with Aragorn, as opposed to Elric.

    Aragorn seems to be the prototypical ranger character. I'd scientifically estimate that 98.2% (+- 90% margin of error) of all ranger PCs are based on his character alone.

    Looking at him as a PC, we have an interesting backstory that the "GM" can (and does) develop as he levels up. He first starts out on an escort mission, has a few battles along the way, etc. The story culminates with him leading armies and fighting in battles (I guess he made it past 9th level).

    I can see the argument against Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin - but not aragorn (nor Gimli/Legolas).

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  19. Personally I think the actual story of The Lord of the Rings has had less of an influence on role-playing (apart from overly emphasising "the quest" and "how to deal with the bad artifact" themes in many games), than his world-building and construction of a coherent mythology and history.

    Much of his primacy in role-playing is because people want to create as grand an edifice as he had done.*

    In general the sword & sorcery authors wrote their stories, but it was generally up to other people to extract the information from the stories to create a world. Thus you are more likely to find reference books that explain the world of Howard's Hyperborea, Burrough's Mars or Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos than literary criticism of the same.

    And as Gygax mentioned, these worlds tend to be empty enough so that it is possible to tell your own stories in them. As other authors have frequently found, being able to tell their own stories in the world these authors have created.


    [* Not that this is necessarily a good thing, but there is a definite tendency for gamemasters, especially inexperienced gamemasters, to want to create the world out of the whole cloth. In the worst case this limits the abilities of the group to play their own stories. Whereas a more open framework typical of the S&S genre allows one to fit your own stories within the campaign framework. It's a case of the freedom of writing "Here Be Dragons" on a map, rather than "Here be Smaug, and ancient Red Dragon laired within a dwarven hold..."]

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  20. blackstone said:
    We should also keep the historical context in mind as well. We're talking about the late 60s to mid 1970s. Tolkien's books were put into mass paperback in the US during this time. A LOT of people were reading them. This coincides with the large distribution of many other fantasy authors already mentioned. This eventually gave all of these authors (JRRT included)a broader mass-market appeal.

    An excellent point! in the later 1960s, people were spray painting "Frodo Lives" in the NY Subways, for example: that's how popular Tolkien was once LOTR paperbacks were available (both the pirated and legal ones).

    Alan said:
    I find it interesting that Gary thought that players would not more readily identify with Aragorn, as opposed to Elric.

    Aragorn seems to be the prototypical ranger character. I'd scientifically estimate that 98.2% (+- 90% margin of error) of all ranger PCs are based on his character alone.


    But do remember that Gary wasn't the original creator for the ranger class: that was Joe Fischer in SR#2.

    Allan.

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  21. Since the LotR films were release during his lifetime, I wonder if Gary ever watched them and what he thought of them if he did. Assuming he didn't see much in the books, perhaps the films gave him a fresh perspective. Just a thought.

    He did, and he talks about them on ENWorld a bit. Basically, he thought they were pretty good (unsurprisingly, mainly the action scenes) and wished the the D&D film had been more like them.

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  22. grodog wrote:
    ut do remember that Gary wasn't the original creator for the ranger class: that was Joe Fischer in SR#2.

    Very true. However, I still believe that looking at LotR through a "PC" lens, that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are good fits for player characters.

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  23. As a 1E player, Tolkien's impact seems clear; his influence does not. The elements we've all mentioned - elves, hobbits, orcs, rings of invisibility, etc. - are clearly traceable to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

    However, when you look at the modules - where the rules and content are actually put into action - said impact nearly vanishes. The classic modules are far more "pulp" than epic, and borrow heavily from the authors Gygax maintained were his primary inspiration. Whether it's the Lovecraftian overtones of Tharizdun or pulp serial feel of Keep on the Borderlands, the early years of published, canon 1E material shows clearly what its literary roots and mentors were.

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  24. I guess part of the reason the Tolkien's races, including the Hobbit, were included in D&D is that the booklets were written, at least partially, to fit more or less with allready ongoing campaigns, at least the two Old Ones (Blackmoor and Greyhawk - where players demands had a big role, to the points Gary suggest to have the players vote on some points), and also campaigns which could have started between the prerelease and the publication.

    And Blackmoor did have an Hobbit character, apparently before the publication of D&D. So, it enforces the idea that Gary could have done his best to prevent the influence of Tolkien in D&D, while it was strongly supported by players.

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  25. I've said before that I think Gary gravely misunderstood and misinterpreted Tolkien.


    I find it interesting that Gary thought that players would not more readily identify with Aragorn, as opposed to Elric.


    Yes, I find it amusing that the three characters Gygax picks as examples of personalities you wouldn't want to play in D&D are amongst the most adventurer-ish of the lot!

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  26. Regarding JRRT and EGG, I would like to point out that Gary was never saying he was a better writer than him, particularly where his own novels were concerned (he called his own books half-jokingly "pot-boilers").

    But I think the key criticism that inspired EGG to write his notes was how dominant Tolkien became amongst fantasy fans--especially in the day and age that D&D was created. People would look at JRRT's work and declare it innovative in many areas while Gary could see the same sources used. And I think Gary was in part trying to let people know that there is a wealth of sources that D&D was built from, not just one novel. He wanted people to read the other sources, and see the wealth of literature he read as a kid and young adult. Not just JRRT, but Howard, Lovecraft, Vance, Lieber, deCamp, Merritt, Moorcock, Anderson, and the rest.

    I think that's the main point that gets missed when we analyze his statements.

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  27. That second passage reminded me of how vehemently I disagreed with Gary's sniffing dismissal of Tolkien and LotR way back then -- and still do.

    Not surprising, since the Aragorn he held in such contempt is one of my favorite characters in all fantasy literature.

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  28. Nice find.

    I can fully support Gygax's position in 1974 that Tolkien was just one of many equal influences in the creation of his game, but contributed many useful and interesting ideas.

    Post-lawsuit, however, Tolkien got downgraded from one of "not a few such authors" to a second-tier contributor who was only included to sucker in the fanboys.

    Which any honest analysis of OD&D's text would reveal to be patently absurd: Tolkien-inspired creations can be found everywhere. Not out of proportion to many other sources (including Howard, Anderson, and Lovecraft), but everywhere nonetheless.

    Of course, on the flip-side, Gygax wasn't the only guy credited as the author of those books.

    On a completely random tangent: I think the fantasy author who gets most over-looked for influencing D&D is Randall Garrett. His Lord Darcy stories are, AFAIK, the only pre-D&D example of a division between holy and arcane magic based on the fact that only the former was capable of healing injuries.

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  29. on the other hand and more importantly for me Tolkien would probably take a deem view on people prancing around middle earth in some game...

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  30. So, here's the relevant info from "Fantasy Wargaming a'la Tolkien" by Gary Gygax (in Panzerfaust #60, Sept-Oct 1973 [date is extrapolated based on other PF issue dates; this specific issue appears undated to my eye], pages 40-41).

    The comment about Gandalf being limited to 1 LB and FB suggests a
    limited view of his powers and capabilities (and that Gary had not yet picked up on his status as a Maia via the Appendicies of LOTR). The comments about Bombadil suggest an on-going debate/discussion about Bombadil as a gaming figure, to me, and that he was responding to common
    queries at the time (either in Lake Geneva, or in the wargaming press, or perhaps both):

    ===

    Tolkien, being neither a military historian nor a wargamer, gives his readers terriffic [sic] accounts of battles without sufficient hard data--so to speak--to allow duplication in miniature. There is one, however, that shouldn't be too difficult to duplicate on the wargame table. That is the "Battle of Five Armies" from The Hobbit.

    Therein the author gives enough order of battle and other information so as to allow reasonable approximation of the "actual" conditions of the
    engagement. This is how to set it up and conduct the game using the
    CHAINMAIL Fantasy rules:

    Orders of Battle

    [snip]

    1 Wizard (Gandalf) with but 1 Lightening-bolt [sic] & 1 Fireball

    [snip]

    Knowing the number of dwarves to be 500, and that there were two waves of 1000 elves which attacked, the other forces can be approximated with fair credibility. The most difficult force to estimate is that of Bolg. Certainly 5,000 goblins would not be too many to assume, as Tolkien says later that the bulk of their warriors fell during the course of the battle and the pursuit of the fugitives thereafter. However, is that
    number--translated to 250 wargame figures--sufficient to face the troops deployed against them? If all goblins and the ogre guards of Bolg are classes [sic] as "Half-armor and shield" for purposes of missile fire, and Bolg himself as "Full armor and shield", the effect of archers upon their ranks will be negliible considering their numbers, and correct as far as the tale reveals. If the commander of the Warg/goblin array moves with utmost dispatch, there is a chance for him to attain his objective
    before the eagles arrive. I would appreciate hearing from any reader who fights the battle in order to learn how the opposing forces did in their game.

    [to be continued]

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  31. [concluded]

    While on the subject of Tolkien's fantastic creations, old Tom Bombadil comes to mind. Professor Tolkien didn't really deal with this fascinating character at length, much to the readers' loss, but from what he did write some strong conclusions pertaining to his fantasy wargaming abilities and potential can be arrived at. Tom, as the "eldest" doesn't seem to be subject to the laws that affect the people (large and small) and the evil creations made after him. Bombadil is much like an elf, but he is different and superior. He travels with leaps and bounds, is tireless, can hear or sense calls of distress over great distances, and he commands plant and animal life with his spellsongs. Bombadil's capabilities would seem to include the negation of spells--at least insofar as they affect him. His destruction of the barrow wight was accomplished in an offhand manner, indicating the ease with which he accomplished the task. Finally, nothing save the strongest evil could harm him, evil only possible if the Dark Lord became master of all.

    Thus, from what Tolkien tells of Bombadil nothing could harm him in combat, he could destroy at a touch wraiths, wights, and possibly lycanthropes. He could certainly command animals and Ents. What would happen if Tom Bombadil faced a dragon, the Balrog, or giants is anyone's guess. Regardless, he is both too powerful and too neutral to include in the fantasy wargame, except perhaps in a Tolkienesque campaign where the forces of goodness were in extremis; then, along with Goodberry, they could almost certainly appear to help where they could. His wife would have the power to raise morale--as Tom would--and possibly she would be classed as an enchantress of sorts, equal to a Magician or a Warlock. Be that as it may, Tom Bombadil is a very merry fellow, even though he doesn't fit the wargame table.


    Enjoy!

    Allan.

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  32. I got the impression from "Bob & Bill" that Bledsaw's first campaign was also set in Middle-Earth but quickly moved off its map to the Wilderlands, which supports both the idea that it was a natural assumption for groups at the time to start with Tolkien and also that it quickly proved poorly suited for gaming.
    - Tavis

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  33. has everyone seen "DM of the Rings?"

    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?cat=14

    I don't know whether it speaks to influence, but it does highlight how playing D&D doesn't feel like reading Tolkien. (Aragorn, cursed by an especially crass and shallow PC) regards every settlement as a "town" and wants to find a brothel or at least a blacksmith where he get his sword fixed.

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  34. As long as everyone here agrees that Gandalf was a 5th level magic-user, I guess I'm open to diversity of opinion on the other topics.

    - Ig

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  35. > I got the impression from "Bob & Bill" that Bledsaw's first campaign was also set in Middle-Earth but quickly moved off its map to the Wilderlands, which supports both the idea that it was a natural assumption for groups at the time to start with Tolkien and also that it quickly proved poorly suited for gaming.

    Only if 1 1/2 years counts as "quickly"?
    Don't know about a natural assumption to "start with Tolkien" since they didn't really "play LotR" there as far as I can ascertain. There was a nice baseline map to use, however: easy prey...

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  36. IMHO the impact of Tolkien's work become predominant when we passed by Chain Mail to Dungeons and Dragons. There's no more iconic Dragon in a Dungeon than Smaug in Erebor. But for sure the "pulp" feeling has been always kept alive mainly by Gygax (Greyhawk is the less tolkenian setting, contrariwise the tolkenian feeling in early FR was huge), but even by other authors (EoC, Temple of Frog, City of Gods, etc in DA Blackmoor are more pulp fantasy than tolkien inspired).
    I think Tolkien had more appeal to the youngest gamers than any other author. However I agree it was a huge but superficial influence, the ranger class is another exemple since it seems a mess about tolkien ranger, Aragorn features due to his royal dunedain heritage and his skills learned from his elven fellows.

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  37. "I find it interesting that Gary thought that players would not more readily identify with Aragorn, as opposed to Elric."

    Well, Aragorn is the prototypical goody-two-shoes. I think Gygax's idea of a hero is more of a swashbuckling rogue. Kind of like Han Solo before he met the princess and turned into a big boring wuss. :)

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  38. Gary Gygax had great taste.

    It sounds like TLotR was the Twilight of the 1960-70s...

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  39. ^HAHAHA

    It smells like trolls around here.

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  40. Sorry, I didn't intended it as such. It just sprang into my mind reading grodog's comment above.

    Is it actually possible to troll a thoroughly flogged deceased equine as the Tolkien/RPG-fan topic?

    If so I submit Edmund Wilson's take on the series : )

    Key quote: "it ought to be said at this point... that Dr. Tolkien makes few claims for his fairy romance... The pretentiousness is all on the part of Dr. Tolkien's infatuated admirers, and it is these pretensions that I would here assail."

    =0

    BTW I *love* DM of the Rings.

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  41. I'm not usually one to re-direct a criticism at the critic, but Edmund has no room to call anyone pretentious. He's the twit's twit.

    I'm infatuated with Tolkien's work. I admire his writing. But I feel pretty much the same about a dozen other authors. There's nothing pretentious about it. Aside from my ascot. :-D

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  42. Well, these days I take being called pretentious as a compliment : )

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  43. I think the whole debate is a wonderful illustration of collaborative creation. It's very much how three, four, or five people in a rock or jazz band can invent something on the fly, taking disparate bits of things that the participants value in different measure. (Say the guitar player likes Jimmy Page, but the bass player much prefers Wayne Shorter) You will end up with something that has skeins of all these influences, some patently obvious to even the most untrained ear, some far more obscure, though perhaps they were meant to be more prevalent.

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  44. On a completely random tangent: I think the fantasy author who gets most over-looked for influencing D&D is Randall Garrett. His Lord Darcy stories are, AFAIK, the only pre-D&D example of a division between holy and arcane magic based on the fact that only the former was capable of healing injuries.

    I don't ever recall anyone associated with the early game mention the Lord Darcy stories. That might be because the bulk of them were written after OD&D was published, although several predate the game by a decade. I'm a fan of them myself and never considered them a possible influence on the game but it's an intriguing notion.

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  45. As a philologist as much as an author interested in his readers, Tolkien was well aware that a lot of folks (like Gygax) just didn't get or get into his books. It's not a matter of level of intelligence or literary understanding; it's more a certain cast of mind. (If I were a neuropsychologist, I would do studies.) Anyway, this was Tolkien's opinion on the matter:

    The Lord of the Rings
    Is one of those things.
    If you like it, you do;
    If you don't, you boo.

    So Gygax booed, and others didn't. That's all.

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  46. Oh, and Ace's edition wasn't pirated. It was in fact quite legal, under US law. Tolkien's publishers published a small edition; they didn't do it properly for US law; and LoTR went into the public domain. Which stunk for Tolkien, but was perfectly legal for Ace to take advantage of. "Pirated" is a harsh word for "printing a PD book".

    Thus all the kerfuffle over various trademarks and movie rights, and thus Tolkien's "courtesy at least" foreword to the Ballantine edition. All he could legally do was ask nicely; and it was public-spirited of Ace and other US publishers not to continue publishing their own editions.

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  47. In d&d and ad&d for starting player character we can say that aside from gnomes and humans the dwarves, halflings, elves and half elves are taken from Tolkien. But it must be taken into account that Tolkien did not create dwarves and elves, he had taken them from norse mythology, and the first prominent figure who used elves in popular fantasy was Lord Dunsanny not Tolkien. Also the elves and dwarves in d&d are more like their norse mythology counterparts (especially the duergar). When you look at the monstrous manual you will see that there is very little tolkien matter there.

    Many people underestimate the original elements for d&d like the githyanki, beholders, mind flayers, sahuagin, kuo-toa etc.. (yes i know a lot of them has some Vancian and Lovecraftian influence but they have a unique originality in the end).

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  48. D&D would have been better off excluding hobbits/halflings as player characters -- and I am a big, big LotR nerd.

    There's plenty in Tolkien for those looking for heroic fantasy. Would AD&D have had rangers without LotR?

    I could never take Gygax's Tolkien bashing seriously. Tolkien casts a very long shadow over D&D.

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