Can you name a non-Tolkien feature of D&D…?
Thursday , 21, September 2017
I was wondering if perhaps I had overstated my case in claiming that most people wrongly assume that D&D sprang from Tolkien’s approach to fantasy… but no, it really is par for the course:
Let’s review, shall we…?
- The OD&D three-point alignment system, the AD&D Paladin class, and regenerating trolls were all lifted wholesale from Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions. Additionally, the book explains the broader context behind why a Keep on the Borderlands would be a particularly significant location for fantasy role-playing adventure.
- The idea that players would naturally advance to the point where they could stand up against gods and demons in battle derives from Michael Moorcock’s The Stealer of Souls.
- The thief class is an amalgam of Fritz Leiber’s Grey Mouser, Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever, and Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows. The latter is why thieves have a “hide in shadows” ability rather than a generic (and mundane) stealth skill; it’s also why thieves are unaccountably good at climbing. All of these characters are why thieves and rogues in early fantasy role-playing games have far more magical ability than what most people would tend to given them these days.
- Most everyone knows that the D&D magic system is pulled from Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth. Fewer know that the concept for reversing spells is taken directly from The Eyes of the Overlord.
- The inspiration for the AD&D planar cosmology is from de Camp and Pratt’s The Fallible Fiend, though Moorcock also contributed to this aspect of the game.
- The AD&D system of spell components is taken from de Camp and Pratt’s Harold Shea stories. Also, the setting for module G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is pulled verbatim from de Camp and Pratt’s The Roaring Trumpet, as are dragons that breath clouds of chlorine gas.
- The nucleus of the AD&D psionics system comes from Sterling Lanier’s Heiro’s Journey. (The green slime monster is also plundered from this novel in addition to large swaths of Gamma World.)
- The template for the Gygaxian mega-dungeon is pulled from Margaret St. Clair’s The Sign of the Labrys.
- The idea that it would make sense to simply plunder every mythos from every culture in the world is a touchstone of early D&D. You will also find this approach to fantasy in Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword.
- The “fighting man” class of OD&D is based on John Carter of Mars and Barsoom puts in an appearance in the OD&D wilderness encounter tables. The “White Ape” from the Moldvay Basic Set is another clue regarding the primacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs in classic fantasy games.
Can you imagine flipping through The Lord of the Rings and finding detailed descriptions of The Law of Contagion and the somatic components of Saruman’s spells…? How about a barbarian that kills a god with his sword forged from star metal? Or a guy that goes on an adventure with Thor and Loki? Spells that you “forget” when you cast them…? Space aliens? Chinese demons, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and an Efreet all in the same story? Weird powers of the mind? Robots? Radium rifles? Travels to other worlds? Fantasy cities replete with a ridiculous “thieve’s guild”…? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that is exactly the sort of spirit that ran rampant during the early days of fantasy role-playing.
D&D is just an unbelievably weird game. It is nothing like the carefully constructed lore, and mythology, and languages of J. R. R. Tolkien. Going by the example of Gygax and the other pioneers of fantasy role-playing, the concept for the game was that you could take anything from any story or legend, add it to the game, and just play the heck out of it. Genre distinctions meant nothing. If you wanted a monk character pulled straight out of nineteen-seventies kung fu movies, it was on the table. And if you wanted him to fight the displacer beast from A. E. Van Vogt’s science fiction classic “Black Destroyer”, you could expect to meet it in the same world that hosted more traditional creatures from Greek mythology like satyrs, minotaurs, dryads, and gorgons.
And if that world was not enough, there was nothing stopping players from using spells and artifacts from Dr. Strange comics to travel to the Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure. Oh sure, there were elves and dwarves and balrogs and hobbits and rangers and orcs and half-orcs and magic rings in there, too. But they were in a place where practically anything ever imagined was in play. Such a place has next to nothing in common with Tolkien’s Middle Earth.