I love D&D. I know many of you do as well. Let’s do a D&D Fact Of The Day.
Did you know that in early D&D Treants were Ents, Halfings were Hobbits and Balors were Balrogs?
Gary Gygax himself was not a huge Tolkien reader. During an interview for The One Ring.net, he admitted to liking The Hobbit but that it was not his primary source of inspiration for the design of Dungeons and Dragons.
1. Do you enjoy the works of JRR Tolkien? If so, How did he influence your work?
Oh-oh! I am going to be in trouble from the get-go! I loved THE HOBBIT, read it once to myself, then about three or four times aloud to my children.
As a Swords & Sorcery novel fan from way back–I read my first Conan yarn about 1948, was a fan and collector of the pulp SF and fantasy magazines since 1950, I was not as enamored of The Trilogy as were most of my contemporaries. While I loved Bombadil, the Nazgul too, the story was too slow-paced for me.
However, many of his players were fans and wanted him to put in more elements of Tolkien’s world into the game. From the same interview...
How did it influence the D&D game? Whoa, plenty, of course. Just about all the players were huge JRRT fans, and so they insisted that I put as much Tolkien-influence material into the game as possible. Anyone reading this that recalls the original D&D game will know that there were Balrogs, Ents, and Hobbits in it. Later those were removed, and new, non-JRRT things substituted–Balor demons, Treants, and Halflings.
Indeed, who can doubt the excellence of Tolkien’s writing? So of course it had a strong impact on A/D&D games. A look at my recommended fantasy books reading list in the back of the original DUNGEON MASTERS GUILD will show a long list of other influential fantasy authors, though
They were removed because of a lawsuit by the Tolkien Enterprises. From Wikipedia...
The world of D&D was influenced by world mythology, history, pulp fiction, and contemporary fantasy novels. The importance of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as an influence on D&D is controversial. The presence in the game of halflings,elves, half-elves, dwarves, orcs, rangers, and the like, draw comparisons to these works. The resemblance was even closer before the threat of copyright action from Tolkien Enterprises prompted the name changes of hobbit to ‘halfling’, ent to ‘treant’, and balrog to ‘balor’. For many years Gygax played down the influence of Tolkien on the development of the game. However, in an interview in 2000, he acknowledged that Tolkien’s work had a “strong impact”.
72 is for Dragon Magazine #13, Vol 2 Number 7 from April of 1978 which had an article by Rob Kuntz entitled “Tolkien In Dungeons And Dragons.” Rob was one of the earlier developers of D&D and started TSR with Gary. If you want to read the full magazine there is a free PDF you can download. I find this part particular interesting.
What I am saying is that for a role-playing, continuous adventuring
world, Tolkien’s does not fit well within the D & D game style.
Thus, difficulties will always be found when one attempts to combine D
& D and Tolkien’s Middle-Earth into one. One last piece of information
which might help those people out there who are confused about
which “light” Dungeons & Dragons should be taken in or how the
game was inspired; I suggest you read the following. This is an excerpt
taken from the foreword to Dungeons and Dragons, written by Gary
“These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination,
those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures
where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill
upon reading Howards’ Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp &
Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting
their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find Dungeons
and Dragons to their taste.”
The message was clear that maybe D&D rules would not be what you need to simulator the world of Tolkien. Of course this was when D&D was more aimed at wargamers and was a lot different than the game it became. Still there is some interesting stuff including stats and bios for the Shinto and Buddhist gods and goddesses of Japanese myths. Proving that the gods were getting stats long before 3.5
73 is an article called “On the Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien on the D&D and AD&D games” from the March 2nd 1985 Dragon Magazine, #95. It is a much longer article so I will just link you the PDF if you want to explore it on your own. Some highlights include an article on how to include primates in your game, an ad for a pre Shai LeBouf Indiana Jones RPG and stats for Iron Man and War Machine from a 1980s Marvel Super Heroes RPG. I think I played a game with that very system at PortCon back in June when I was in Maine. 74 is from the “J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia”, p 229 .
The matter was settled easily enough with some name changes. Halflings instead of hobbits, Ents instead of Treants and Balors instead of Balrogs. While the names may have changed the core essence of the characters was still there. For example this is a Balor.
This is a Balrog.
There is diffidently a similarity. Of course it’s all the same. Halflings are generally more adventurous and willing to travel than Tolkien’s Hobbits were. But of course that all can depends on what the DM wants as well. And with that note I need to start rapping up this FOTD up. I will leave you all with one final quote from the The One Ring.net interview.
16. I know you have not seen the trailer because you don’t want to spoil it, but what do you think of the Lord of the Rings movies being produced? What are your hopes for it?
I am more excited about the JRRT-based films than I am about the D&D movie also in the works.
The man knew what he was talking about. I’m RobGronowski’sPartyBusDriver and i’ll see you all on the next Fact Of The Day.
Header image provided by Order Of The Stick by Rich Burlew