Tuesday, March 1, 2011

You Are What You Read (or See)

One of the persistent controversies of the old school community is the extent to which Middle-earth was a significant influence on the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. What's interesting to me is that, when I entered the hobby, this topic never once came up among my friends and I, perhaps because not a one of us had read a word of Tolkien. I'm certain we all saw the animated versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King (particularly the former, which we watched often on friends' laser disc player -- how's that for ancient technology), but their impact on us was minor. Indeed, I dimly recall someone commenting, after having seen The Hobbit, that "hobbits are just like halflings" or something to that effect.

It's absurd in retrospect and yet it highlights something very important: it wasn't until several years after I'd started playing D&D that I recognized any Tolkien influence whatsoever, because I hadn't read any of his books. I know I read The Lord of the Rings before I read The Hobbit and I think I first read the trilogy in 7th or 8th grade, which would mean somewhere between 1982 and 1984. By that stage, I'd already been involved in the hobby for three or more years and, to me, D&D was just D&D. Whatever elements Gary and Dave had borrowed from Tolkien didn't stand out as any more significant than the stuff they'd borrowed from Howard or Leiber or Vance or any of the other authors I'd read as a result of Appendix N and the reading list in the back of Moldvay's Basic Rules.

There's an interesting parallel in Traveller fandom. What I've noticed is that there are some Traveller players whose vision of the game is strongly influenced by science fiction movies like Star Wars. Now, I've said before that, if I'm truthful, I'm really more of a SF fan than a fantasy one and I read sci-fi much more widely as a kid than I ever did fantasy. Consequently, when I first picked up a copy of Traveller, I immediately recognized in it elements and tropes borrowed from writers like Piper, Anderson, Asimov, Niven, and Pournelle, among others. I didn't then (and don't now) detect the slightest bit of influence on the game from the films of George Lucas, or indeed any science fiction film from the 1970s (I knew people who argued Alien was "a Traveller movie" too and that's just as absurd as suggesting Star Wars was).

Despite this, the feeling persists among some fans that Traveller was heavily influenced by this or that movie, when it should be quite clear to anyone who's actually read the books Marc Miller did that Traveller evokes them rather than anything ever put on movie screens. Seriously, isn't it obvious that the game's series of double adventures was an homage to the Ace double novels published in the 50s and 60s? Or that the Sword Worlds are ripped straight out of Space Viking and the Long Night from Anderson? I could go on at length about this and yet there are still people who persist in the notion that Star Wars was a major influence on the game, even though it only came out a few weeks before Traveller was published.

Here's the thing: Traveller's inspirations are obvious to me, because I'd read them before I started playing the game, whereas a great many of its eventual fans had not. Conversely, I hadn't read Tolkien before I started playing D&D, so, to me, the influence seems not much greater than that of many other fantasy authors. But those who were immersed in the Tolkien boom of the 1970s probably see it quite differently, particularly those who came to the hobby through Tolkien rather than the reverse, like myself.

Make no mistake: I'm still convinced, as a matter of fact, that Gygax wasn't being disingenuous in his repeated assertions that Tolkien had little influence on him and his vision of Dungeons & Dragons, just as I am convinced that Star Wars played no role in the creation of Traveller. But, ultimately, that probably doesn't matter, because a great many gamers, for a variety of reasons, see these influences on these games. They approach them through lenses colored by their knowledge and love of other related things. My feeling that Poul Anderson exerted a great influence on Traveller than George Lucas is every bit as strong as someone else's feeling that J.R.R. Tolkien was a bigger influence on D&D than Fritz Leiber and for the same reason. Fortunately, both games are broad enough to accept a wide range of interpretations, which is probably why, three decades on, we're still playing them and arguing about them.

53 comments:

  1. When I read Traveller for the first time, I was blown away by Hivers -- a really ALIEN alien race. Major props for the creativity.

    Then I finally got around to reading the Ringworld books, and discovered their prior art, the Puppeteers. I still think Hivers are cool, but it's a different kind of cool, now.

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  2. For Gary's game as originally envisioned, I have the sense that he just heavily copied elements as "flavor". But those were a lot of elements - dwarves, elves, hobbits, & half-orcs as described are very Tolkienish. The only non-Tolkienish aspects of the demi-human races would be some of the elf art. The prominence of orcs as D&D monsters is also entirely due to Tolkien.

    You can run the game with a serious S&S bent and barely let Tolkien have an influence, which is presumably what Gary did - Greyhawk for instance doesn't have a lot of Tolkien in it.

    But he dumped in so much Tolkien-flavored dressing into the PHB & MM, and so many DM's were influenced by Tolkien, that in practice it's a heavily Tolkien influenced game.

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  3. "My feeling that Poul Anderson exerted a great influence on Traveller than George Lucas is every bit as strong as someone else's feeling that J.R.R. Tolkien was a bigger influence on D&D than Fritz Leiber and for the same reason."

    I had read The Hobbit about the same time I started playing D&D, followed by Lord of the Rings. I was struck by how different the trilogy was from D&D, rather than any similarities. Later, I read Leiber, REH, Anderson, and Vance (in that order), To me, the influence and lineage was starkly obvious.

    I'd say that anyone who has read Tolkien, Leiber, REH, Anderson, and Vance, and still claims Tolkien is the primary source/inspiration for D&D is letting their fandom get in the way of reality. In other words, there is nothing new about human nature, and discussion of D&D isn't exempt from its influence.

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  4. Alien may not have been a Traveller movie, but Double Adventure: Horde/Chamax Plague was definitely an Alien movie.

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  5. Yes, I read Tolkien (especially THE HOBBIT) before playing D&D, yet saw the two as fairly distinct, especially in terms of how they conceive of magic. D&D magic simply does not work like Middle-Earth magic at all! Also, all of Tolkien's monsters seem far more powerful than their D&D counterparts -- e.g., the trolls and goblins in THE HOBBIT, all of whom require intervention by Gandalf in order to defeat. Peresumably Thorin & Co. were experienced adventurers, yet every monster in THE HOBBIT gets the best of them.

    I think my own personal games of D&D were influenced by Tolkien (especially that "powerful monsters" idea), but I agree that the trilogy's influence on EGG is debatable.

    @By The Sword: Nice catch on the Horde/Chamax Plague connection to Alien! Agreed!

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  6. I touched on this just recently myself - regardless of what were Gary's infuences, the fact that 3 of the 4 races (human, elf, dwarf and hobbit) are taken straight out Tolkien inevitably causes a mental connection to Tolkien in the mind of the player.

    I especially see it as we introduce younger gamers to D&D who grew up with the Lord of the Rings movies.

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  7. Let's not forget that D&D wasn't designed by a single person. Tolkien may not have been Gygax's inspiration, but it was an obvious inspiration to SOMEONE at Castles & Crusades Society or else Chainmail wouldn't reference Tolkien directly by name. Obviously Gygax couldn't change time worn elements of the game when he had the reins with AD&D so all he could do was reassure people that he personally wasn't influenced by Tolkien.

    I never liked Lord of the Rings. Good popcorn flicks but Tolkien lays on the world building thick. It's detailed, no doubt, but I couldn't care less about bathtub songs and campfire poetry. The Hobbit, however, is a timeless adventure story. It was one of the earliest books I finished and a lot of the ideas stuck around for me including giants chucking rocks, giant spiders, stalking wood elves, goblin kings, worgs, giant eagles, shapeshifters, gold hoarding dragons, and epic final battles.

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  8. I had read The Hobbit and LOTR before I picked up D&D and the races for PC's alone scream Tolkien - there aren't any elves, dwarves, or hobbits or half-elves or half-orcs in Howard and not many in Leiber. This means that for _players_ one of the first choices they make is a direct touchstone to Tolkien more than any other author. Gary may not have been thinking about it a whole lot, but every starting player race has a place in Tolkien. Given the popularity of the books back then it's inevitable that connection is going to be made.

    For Traveller I agree - the three little black books are so NOT Star Wars that it was a mark against them in some groups I played in. I read piper's books long after coming to Traveller and the revelation was shocking - so much of Traveller is clearly rooted in those books that it was a revelation to me.

    I don't think any movies had a really strong influence on either game's genesis. There are movies that feel somewhat like a D&D game or a Traveller game (Outland and Alien/Aliens)but they are after the fact realizations rather than influences, on the initial game at least.

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  9. Several years ago I picked up the FFE reprint of the Traveller games (I was looking for the striker rules) In the illustrations they comment that the 'Darth Vader' counter included in the pre-Traveller game Imperium was indeed "added just prior to publication . Marc Miller and Loren Wiseman journeyed (on company time) the 100+ miles to Chicago to see one of the first showings of Star Wars." In the notes abut the game versions, they also point out that they used Vance's Star Kings (Smade's Star) and Saturday Night Live (Remulak) for inspiration. Which I think proves James point, at least as I understand it, which is that RPG's are the sons of many fathers.

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  10. My first D&D campaign was set in Middle Earth, and we thought that's what D&D was an homage to. In particular the idea of Dwarves and Elves being close to human-sized, rather than a few inches in height. As we played the game we changed worlds quite a bit, from the Black Cauldron, Thomas Covenant, and Narnia, and later to published settings such as City State of the Invincible Overlord and Forgotten Realms. But after 30 years I still think that without Middle Earth (which had influenced Chainmail) there would be no D&D.

    Now Star Wars influencing Traveller? That's weird. I grew up reading Heinlein, Campbell, H. Beam Piper, Asimov, Anderson, Laumer, Pohl, Clarke, etc, and I saw more literary influence in Traveller than cinematic (not necessarily those authors in particular). I will confess we ported influences we loved over to Traveller, from Star Wars to Dreadstar. Although, I could see the film Silent Running as a possible inspiration...

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  11. "But those who were immersed in the Tolkien boom of the 1970s probably see it quite differently, particularly those who came to the hobby through Tolkien rather than the reverse, like myself."

    Describes me to a "T." I may have read Conan or other S&S tale here or there before reading The Hobbit and LotR in 1973-74, but Tolkien's works were my big introduction to Fantasy. Thus, when I discovered D&D in a local hobby store a year or two later, my "imprinting" lead me to see the game through a Middle-Earth lens. And while I recognize other influences and accept Gary's argument about the inspiration given by other authors, I'll always have that Tolkien bias to my fantasy gaming.

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  12. I read LoTR prior to getting D&D so I get the point of you post. To me, Tolkien elements were all over the place in AD&D. And they struck me as the most prominent elements. Likewise I never read Vance so the vancian magic system was just a part of D&D to me.

    But as for the influence of various works, the difference between Traveller and D&D in regardls to Star Wars and LoTR is that LoTR existed and was popular among fantasy fandom well prior to the creation of D&D. Star Wars came out a few weeks prior to Traveller being released while it was already in the process of being laid out. Essentially Traveller was done when Star Wars was released.

    If you have a Journal subscription to the SJ Game webzine, Loren Wisemen talks about it in one of his editorials. I think he mentioned reading the Star War novel first, it was released prior to the movie, and going "OK not so bad but not great either."

    While LoTR may not been THE influence on D&D it was an important influence as miniature wargamers wanted to refight the battles of the Lord of the Ring as well as other fantasy novels. You can see that in the various reference to fighting the Battle of Five Armies throughout the older magazines (seemly the most popular of the bunch).

    I think while Gygax never really cared a lot for the LoTR, he catered to it's fans which were all over the place in the wargaming community.

    Also remember that OD&D came out the Greyhawk campaign. It reflects the issues and concerns of the players going through the various dungeons. It isn't that OD&D was designed as much it as grew out of actual play and then reworked and codified by Gygax.

    Players wanted Dwarves, Elves, and Hobbits and that what they got. Of course LoTR doesn't much in the way of overt battle magic so Gygax turned to other sources for inspiration. For creatures everything was mined to make up a interesting and challenging roster to stock the dungeon.

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  13. The original Clash of the Titans and The Sword and the Sorcerer were big influences in our game.

    We would try to create rules based on things we saw in these films, but we never did create a shooting three-bladed sword. :D

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  14. I was more apt to being persuaded by this argument prior to obtaining Chainmail. Looking at Gygax's original Chainmail Fantasy Supplement, I actually can't find any non-Tolkien content in there (except for Anderson's "True Trolls" and the footnote on Elric). Same for the 1972 play report.

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  15. ... even still without my ever having read LOTR.

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  16. >Same for the 1972 play report.
    You have a link to this? Sound interesting.

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  17. Star Wars and Traveller both came out in 1977. So there really wouldn't have been time for SW to have much if any influence on Traveller. But it was perfect timing for SW to influence the interest in and sales of Traveller.

    The biggest movie in the world at that time and oh hey, here's a science fiction RPG. Of course people are going to identify them with one another, regardless of any actual correlation.

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  18. As many here have said, the largest Tolkien influence on D&D can be seen in the non-human races, particularly the presentation of the Elves, Dwarves and Halflings (representations that have continued into every version of the game). One of the aims in my campaign has been to consistently "De-Tolkienify" the races and to make them my own, which causes considerable conflict with old-school players who were very much familiar with the Tolkien aspects of the Non humans present in OD&D and AD&D.

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  19. I remember reading a quote by Marc Miller about travelling to go see that first screening of Star Wars, after they were done writing the game, and how it forever influenced how they viewed the Traveller universe. Very different than being an influence on making the game, obviously, but still interesting. I'll have to dig out my books and try to find it now :) It mentions a couple example NPCs, like the 'farmboy.'

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  20. An interesting thing was that it was quite possible to play D&D while remaining totally ignorant of the existence of LoTR. I should know, as I was one such case (there was not a major push by Unwin & Allen to get the book on shelves until after Tolkien's death, leaving a "hole" in publication (at least in the Commonwealth) in the early 70's). Which probably goes a long way to explaining why my orcs ended up becoming the good guys and the elves the bad guys in my old D&D game.

    Although that being said, we did adapt D&D to Star Wars (based entirely on the book adaption, as the film was still six months or so away).

    The thing is Star Wars isn't really science fiction, or at least, science fiction as the term was understood then. It was action-adventure with science fiction tropes, and thus eminently suitable with comparison with role-playing. Especially given the fact that it shares the Campbellian hero path ethos which is integral to so many games). So it has a much greater resonance with role-players than, say, Silent Running the RPG would have had.

    Add in the fact that visual media is far more persuasive, and that it relies on an ensemble cast (can you say "adventuring party"), rather than a single heroic protagonist (possibly with side-kicks), that was so common to the prior action adventure SF, then a comparison becomes inevitable.

    [Personally, while just as useful in a role-playing context as they were in the movie-making context, and for much the same reasons, one of my pet peeves is Star Wars introducing the "space fighter" as a standard in space warfare.]

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  21. No, I don't think people think that Star Wars big inspiration for the creation of Traveller. Certainly, if we are to believe Loren Wiseman's accounts both were mingling at the same time just at the pre-publication stage.

    However, I think Star Wars had a big part in affecting the overall aesthetic and further development of Traveller. Yes, it stay true to its Golden Age roots but one could perceive a Star Wars creep. The two kept on moving in parallel lines occasionally bisecting most especially in the imaginations of players.

    Again, it is the same with Tolkien and D&D. Either one came to Tolkien first and immediately recognized D&D or one came to D&D first and recognized Tolkien.

    Both rivers of ideas just part of a larger cultural ocean that these fed into. So, to state that there is minimal impact - yes, perhaps to the creators who were drawing upon a vast canvass of ideas to create the RPG but not necessarily so for the participants. And, one thing about the Old School games is that they were games that were created by participants more than the gaming companies.

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  22. What I find humorous is that when I was first playing (in late 70s) I thought AD&D was basically Tolkein with some mythology because I hadn't read Vance, REH, or Lovecraft. Now, after reading most of the influences Gygax acknowledges I find that I agree with the notion of the demi human races being the majority of the contribution. Most of the game really is, at least in my opinion, a mix of Fritz Leiber, ERB, and the reat of those mentioned above. In fact, I would now argue Lovecraft has more of an influence than Tolkein in the flavor of old school D&D. Funny how age and exposure changes our interpretation. Great post.

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  23. >Same for the 1972 play report.
    You have a link to this? Sound interesting.

    It's something James posted here a while back: http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/12/1972-gygax-article.html

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  24. I think Firefly is a Traveller TV show

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  25. >I'm certain we all saw the animated versions of The Hobbit ... but their impact on us was minor.

    So you're saying you guys didn't break into song during an adventure? :-P

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  26. Here's a challenge for those who don't feel that Tolkien is a major influence on D&D: try running a game with no Tolkienesque elements. It was only when I consciously tried to do so that I realized how major an influence Tolkien was. No Elves, Dwarves, Halfings, Rangers, Orcs, Goblins, Ents, Wargs, etc. Even elements that predate Tolkien really do come to us through Tolkien, here I'm thinking Trolls, Magic Rings, Magic Swords, Dwarven Mines.
    No, D&D adventures are not LOTR, they are more Leiber or Howard, but none the less Tolkien's influence is major.
    As to Traveller, one must read E.C. Tubb's Dumarest novels to truly get many of the concepts in Traveller ... including the word Traveller itself.

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  27. I started playing before I read the books, but had also seen the movies. I remember I made an elf and my idea of what an elf was like and looked like was very different than a Tolkien/D&D elf. For my drawing of him he had pointy teeth, slightly pointy ears, and a beard.

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  28. Even elements that predate Tolkien really do come to us through Tolkien, here I'm thinking Trolls, Magic Rings, Magic Swords, Dwarven Mines.

    D&D's trolls come to us through Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. Indeed, they probably bear a lot more similarity to their source material than almost anything borrowed from Tolkien except halflings.

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  29. I'm surprised that anyone would find Star Wars in Traveller. I would have thought that Star Wars fans would be struck by the lack of Star Wars.

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  30. I like Ken St Andre's comment:
    ""my conception of the T&T world was based on The Lord of The Rings as it would have been done by Marvel Comics in 1974 with Conan, Elric, the Gray Mouser and a host of badguys thrown in."

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  31. On that point I will stand corrected James. I haven't read that one, which is probably why I don't use that concept of trolls. My trolls are based on The Hobbit, which probably displays my personal bias. The Hobbit was the first fantasy novel I ever read...
    Still I think my general point stands about many ideas coming to us through Tolkien. He certainly didn't invent elves, goblins and dwarves, but the ones we know in D&D came to us through Tolkien.
    I'll put Three Hearts and Three Lions on reading list, right after I finish the 3 Dumarest books I just got...

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  32. @Pat "The prominence of orcs as D&D monsters is also entirely due to Tolkien."

    I don't recall orcs being prominent in the material published by TSR, in the early days. There were all these other creatures I had never heard of, kobalds, gnolls, hobgoblins. We were always disappointed there were not more orcs; and every campaign I have played in had orcs prominent, but that was because we wanted it that way, not because the TSR material was that way.

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  33. I think I saw Star Wars a couple of years before I got my MegaTraveller box (somewhere around 1989 or so), but I never thought Traveller was close to Star Wars. SW feels much more, well, cinematic, and at least the MegaTraveller rules were not very usable for example for small scale one-man starfighters destroying battleships, which was one of the defining things for SW.

    I have to admit that I had read quite a bit: I basically devoured the whole Finnish translation SF shelf from the local library: Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, Pohl, all that kind of stuff, so that might have affected my perceptions of Traveller.

    D&D never felt that Tolkienish to me, either. I've read LotR about 25 times, and the first time was before I got D&D, but D&D is still more... fantastic, in a way. As has been pointed out many, many times, nobody really goes around flinging obvious spells all the time in LotR. Sure, there are halflings and elfs and dwarfs, but they're not defining the D&D as Middle-Earth.

    Even MERP didn't feel *that* much like Middle-Earth, though it was fun, too.

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  34. No Elves, Dwarves, Halfings, Rangers, Orcs, Goblins, Ents, Wargs, etc.

    I've run quite a few games with none of the non-human races. It doesn't change much, in my experience.

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  35. "I don't recall orcs being prominent in the material published by TSR, in the early days. There were all these other creatures I had never heard of, kobalds, gnolls, hobgoblins. "

    His point had more to do with the fact that before Tolkien, Orcs weren't a 'monster' at all. It was a latinate gloss for any 'evil' creature which made its way into Anglo-Saxon in Beowulf.

    Which brings up another point: Before Tolkien the idea of, effectively, physical 'nations' or 'races' of monsters that wear armor, carry weapons, and fight armies of opposing alignments didn't exist in folklore or the branches of indo-european mythology.

    Whether or not Tolkien is a 'big' influence on the core of the game is a bit of a straw man argument.

    The magic system is Vancian, the adventures and atmosphere more Lieber and Howard, the alignment system has always seemed Moorcockian to me.

    That being said, the character classes and races, the idea of having an adventuring party with elves and dwarves (and weren't they originally 'classes' before they were races), and a number of monsters owe a lot to Tolkien.

    Also, as mentioned above, the early Dragon magazine articles and Chainmail specifically mention using TSR rules to simulate LoTR battles and elements.

    Other than the fact that St. Gary spent a lot of time denying the Tolkien influence, why is this even a continuing issue?

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  36. I'd say that anyone who has read Tolkien, Leiber, REH, Anderson, and Vance, and still claims Tolkien is the primary source/inspiration for D&D is letting their fandom get in the way of reality. In other words, there is nothing new about human nature, and discussion of D&D isn't exempt from its influence.

    That's more or less how I feel too.

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  37. Alien may not have been a Traveller movie, but Double Adventure: Horde/Chamax Plague was definitely an Alien movie.

    Oh, definitely! There are even stats for the alien in an early issue of JTAS, as I recall.

    Traveller's a lot like D&D in that it contains lots of "furniture" swiped from a wide variety of sci-fi sources, but its foundations are clearly rooted in classic literary SF, not cinema and definitely not Star Wars.

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  38. One of the aims in my campaign has been to consistently "De-Tolkienify" the races and to make them my own, which causes considerable conflict with old-school players who were very much familiar with the Tolkien aspects of the Non humans present in OD&D and AD&D.

    That's been my approach too, but I've been fortunate that no one has really minded my alterations. In fact, my players welcome them, since the Tolkien-descended interpretations of these races is old hat nowadays.

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  39. I remember reading a quote by Marc Miller about travelling to go see that first screening of Star Wars, after they were done writing the game, and how it forever influenced how they viewed the Traveller universe. Very different than being an influence on making the game, obviously, but still interesting. I'll have to dig out my books and try to find it now :) It mentions a couple example NPCs, like the 'farmboy.'

    Again, I wouldn't deny that there are little bits in Traveller that were borrowed from Star Wars, just as there are bits in D&D borrowed from Tolkien, but the overall feel of Traveller isn't a Saturday matinee space opera serial like Lucas's creation. It's a much more sober, quasi-realistic setting derived from authors like Piper and Anderson.

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  40. I think Firefly is a Traveller TV show

    Lots of people tell me that, but I don't see it myself.

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  41. So you're saying you guys didn't break into song during an adventure? :-P

    Alas, no.

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  42. He certainly didn't invent elves, goblins and dwarves, but the ones we know in D&D came to us through Tolkien.

    I think it's more accurate to say that strands of their DNA come to D&D through Tolkien, but I'm far from convinced that there weren't other influences even in these cases. D&D's elves, for example, have always been portrayed as shorter than humans, which isn't at all like Tolkien's Firstborn.

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  43. I think the problem for some gamers is that they can't conceive of a time BEFORE Tolkien, so it's hard to see what the fantasy community was like before it.

    You have to realize that Gary was a man who lived his childhood in the 1940s and 1950s. He was a generation removed from most gamers. His "golden age" was the real Golden Age of Science fiction, heck, he didn't have Television as a child. We grew up with Peanuts, he had Li'l Abner. (We have Snoopy Merchandise, he had the Shmoo). We had Elvis and the Beatles (and whatever came after) and he had Sinatra, Bing, and Al Jolson.

    For Gary, with whom the earliest pulps (especially Conan) had the biggest influence on him during his "golden age of 12", I think the constant harping on the Lord of the Rings really grated on him a lot, not from a "legal challenge" aspect, but from the aspect of influences.

    Think of it this way--if you were heavy into the Sci-Fi elements of the 50s and 60s, then you created a game 2 years after Star Wars was out, and only put in a few elements directly related to Star Wars, and you were inspired mostly by Star Trek and Asimov, you'd probably be annoyed at the constant focus on Star Wars.

    I think we need to see it from that perspective.

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  44. I'm always perplexed why people consider this an interesting topic, and at how it keeps coming up over and over year after year after year.... (pulls hair out) It hints of obsession. I think the 'early gamers' were probably an imaginative enough group to mix a wide variety of borrowed ideas and then add a heaping helping of their own ideas and twists to finish it off. I don't see how anyone with a healthy imagination of their own would think otherwise. What flavor of 'elf'/'orc'/'troll'/'adventure'/'magic' is the A/D&D kind? The kind you choose it to be, of course! Pig-nosed orcs and carrot-nosed trolls are not mandatory. Yeesh...

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  45. I think we need to see it from that perspective.

    That's very well said.

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  46. It hints of obsession.

    I don't see it as any more obsessive than almost any other RPG-related topic grown men feel the need to discuss in blog and forums posts. Or rather, I don't see most RPG-related topics as any less obsessive than this one. To one degree or another, "obsession" is what brings us all here in the first place.

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  47. To me, the argument has always been weird since it's about an individual's motivations... an individual that people like to place on high or tear down.

    My impression is there are those who 'dismiss too much' (those who use Tolkien elements as some kind of slight against Gygax and D&D in general... dismissing it/him as a Tolkein copier) and those who 'protest too much' (those who willingly ignore the obvious Tolkien elements in order to say "he wasn't influenced by Tolkein! He *WASN'T*!")

    Roleplaying games are almost always influenced my other media. It's the almost religious level of support or aggression towards Gygax that seems a bit unhealthy to me.

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  48. Re: short elves -- A lot of people who read Tolkien assume that the elves are short. Even after passage after passage about tall elves.

    Re: D&D, I think it's unfortunate that they didn't originally include a non-Tolkien race for PCs. I think that would have helped a lot with allegations of unoriginality.

    Re: "Before Tolkien the idea of, effectively, physical 'nations' or 'races' of monsters that wear armor, carry weapons, and fight armies of opposing alignments didn't exist in folklore or the branches of indo-european mythology."

    Bzzt. I'm sorry, but the Seelie and Unseelie Courts would beg to differ. And not only is it the Daoine Sidhe who wear armor, carry weapons, and do tons of warfare against opposing armies and/or races; nor is it just a Celtic thing.

    Now, granted, it's much more usual for the opposing alignments to be winter vs. summer, fertility vs. barrenness, old vs. young, dead vs. alive, or even geographical feature vs. geographical feature. Very often, the difference in moral viewpoints is something that mortal men find it difficult to understand. But it's a pretty common folklore theme that there are opposing armies of magical creatures or peoples.

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  49. In our original 1980s gaming group three of the players were huge LOTR fans, whilst the fourth player was a REH Conan fan (I'm not sure he'd ever read LOTR).

    For three of us D&D was a game to recreate a world like Middle Earth - but with more magic and fantastic kritters - with its conflict between the forces of Good and Evil. For #4 it was a chance to have Conanesque-style amoral adventures: wander around a sandbox causing trouble and looking for opportunities (often "solo") for personal advancement and enrichment.

    LOL ... looking back now, that difference in literary preference/experience probably accounts for the fact that we interpreted the game in such diametrically opposed ways.

    BTW: in most of our campaigns we left Humans, Dwarves, and Halflings unchanged but, strangely enough, Elves turned out to be much taller, longer-lived, and more serious than in the PH.

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  50. Talking about Traveller - occasionally in reading modern SF I'm struck by obvious classic Traveller influences.

    Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden novels (of which I'm a huge fan) are set in a universe that must have been directly or indirectly shaped by experience in a Traveller game. The main characters are merchants, scouts, pilots, and mercs; and jump-drive certainly seems to work in a very Traveller manner - the ship spending days or weeks inside a gray bubble isolated from the rest of the universe.

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  51. "Bzzt. I'm sorry, but the Seelie and Unseelie Courts would beg to differ. And not only is it the Daoine Sidhe who wear armor, carry weapons, and do tons of warfare against opposing armies and/or races; nor is it just a Celtic thing."

    I should have explained my point better. Notice how I put the word 'physical' in my description. By this I meant 'nations' that exist in the same physical lands as humans. The Celtic seelie 'courts' still existed in a mytho-magical sacred topography that was separate but accessible from physical reality (performing a cosmological function in enforcing the balance of said cosmology) but was not found on any human map that someone could walk to, without being led or finding their way into the Otherworld. See the excellent Celtic tale "The Battle of the Trees" for example. Humans who went to the realms of Faerie weren't just going on a trip, they were being pulled from one world into another by navigate that sacred topography.

    There are also plenty of examples in the folk record of individual monsters being encountered in a semi-physical nexus (for argument lets say 'physical') or even a 'family' of monsters. I've always found the Scandinavian euphamism "went into the mountain" to be an interesting way of describing an individual who becomes something otherworldly, sometimes by joining that family (marrying a troll for example). But they never return to the human lands, or if they do it is to warn family members not to expect them... as they are happier where they are.

    What we don't see are humans finding a nation of goblins, or trolls, or bugbear/bogeymen that exist 25 miles southwest of the kingdom's borders, all with their own human-like economic systems, political systems, smithies, etc.

    As you imply, there are many examples of cosmological battles between divisions of powers(Ragnarok being a good well know example as well as the battle in the Mahabharata - which most likely goes back to a pan indo-european battle of Dumezelian functions). But, same as above, these don't happen in the world of linear, physical history... they exist in the world of cyclical mythic time. Thor's hammer, as with Zeus and Indra's respective thunderbolts are mythic symbols of their functions which, other than in Marvel comics, humans wouldn't have expected to ever find, let alone physically wield. For a wonderful explication on the difference between linear historic thinking and mythic thinking of polytheistic peoples, I recommend Mircea Eliade's "The Myth of the Eternal Return" as a good primer.

    Tolkien, being a master storyteller as well as an expert in his philology and mythology knew this and wove a powerful epic where these boundaries between world weren't as distinct. Gygax and almost every gamer and fantasy writer who have followed have continued this expression.

    The polytheistic Europeans understood where their mythology ended and their history (even seen through folklore) began. Consider the differences between the Norse myths of the Eddas and more 'realistic' nature of the Konungasögur, Íslendinga sögur, or even the fantastic Fornaldarsögur.

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  52. Osskorrei - another interesting take on the same sort of idea is Moorcock's mittelmarch in the Von Bek stories.

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  53. The idea, very prevalent in English folklore, of the 'hedgerow' type borderland/nexus between this world and the otherworld is a great source of ideas for RPGs and Fantasy fiction. One I would personally like to see more of.

    Here's an interesting quote from Moorcock on the origins of his version of the idea from Multiverse.org bringing in German Medieval romances as one source.

    "Middlemarch is by Geo. Eliot and I am playing with that a bit. I don't know if there are 'Middle Marches' between the worlds, but I'd guess the Middle March would have been some border or other. But as far as I recall I invented it. I tend to go back to German sources -- German romance is one of the roots of modern fantasy -- and, of course, Milton is never far away from this sort of argument, since he pretty much set the picture and the story, the way 2001 set it for sf! Blake thought Milton might be the devil's messenger, he drew Satan so attractively."

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