Monday, May 3, 2021

DCS Does Tolkien

Most aficionados of Dungeons & Dragons are, I suspect, familiar with the story of how OD&D originally included explicit references to monsters and beings from J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, such as hobbits, balrogs, and ents, among others. They also probably familiar with the fact that legal action was threatened against TSR by "the Tolkien estate" – actually the Saul Zaentz Company – because the inclusion of these creations were entirely unauthorized. What they might not know is that it wasn't Dungeons & Dragons that brought TSR to the attention to the Saul Zaentz Company but rather the 1976 wargame, Battle of the Five Armies.

I have no direct experience with Battle of the Five Armies. I wasn't a wargamer (take a drink) at the time and, in any event, the game was no longer available for sale by late 1979 when I first entered the hobby. I'm sorry I never saw it, as it features a number of pieces by David C. Sutherland III, such as this color box cover illustration, depicting Men, Dwarves, and Elves facing off goblins and wolves.

The cover to the rulebook also features another depiction of a similar scene, this time in black and white.

I'm a huge fan of "lost" artwork like this, which is to say, pieces by established artists that are not widely known. This is particularly true of artists who worked in the early days of the hobby, like Sutherland and Trampier, both of whom contributed immensely not just to the look of D&D but, due to the game's immense influence, to the wider world of fantasy. 


  1. I saw a copy of this one...once. At a distance. Like you I was a little late on the scene to have had a chance to own a copy. Honestly lucked out getting both EPT and Divine Right, and even then they were used copies.

  2. Fun fact -- the First Edition texts of The Lord of the Rings were in the public domain in the USA from 1954 - 1994 because of a screw-up by Tolkien's US publisher Houghton Mifflin. Tolkien & Houghton Mifflin became aware of the situation when Ace Books published a paperback reprint of LOTR in 1965 without paying royalties. This caused Tolkien and his publishers to quickly publish a revised/expanded version of LOTR to get a copyright-protected version out in the marketplace. Ace Books eventually bowed to industry pressure by paying royalties and not reprinting the 1st edition again, despite not being legally required to do so. A number of Tolkien-themed board games that came out in the 1970s also relied on the 1st edition copyright screwup to avoid the need for permission by the Tolkien estate (e.g., Quest of the Magic Ring [1975]). Once the Tolkien estate sold rights for the animated Hobbit and LOTR movies (that came out in 1977 and 1978, respectively), Hollywood got its lawyers into action threatening lawsuits for infringement against everyone who had used the properties without approval of the Tolkien estate. Regardless of the merit of some of these threatened lawsuits, the targets were all individuals or small companies who quickly capitulated.