D&D's Origins in Gothic Fiction


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    D&D's Origins in Gothic Fiction

    I haven't read much Gothic fiction -- just Dracula, really -- and the genre has gone profoundly out of fashion, but in its day it was extremely popular, and, as Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorne declared in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, the first Gothic novel, Otranto, influenced modern fantasy quite a bit.

    This is what jumped out at me though:
    The prevalence of castles in the literature was no accident, nor was the frequency with which they were built on the iceberg principle, with nine-tenths of their structure consisting of subterranean vaults. These spectre-infested spaces were rooted in the fantasies of an architect, Giovanni Piranesi. A revised edition of his Carceri d’Invenzione appeared in 1761, featuring a series of drawings of prison interiors conceived on a titanic and overpowering scale.
    Welcome to Blackmoor. (Ravenloft came much later, of course, and reintroduced a lot of Gothic elements quite explicitly.)
    Last edited by mmadsen; Wednesday, 2nd November, 2011 at 04:06 AM.

 

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmadsen View Post
    Welcome to Blackmoor. (Ravenloft came much later, of course, and reintroduced a lot of Gothic elements quite explicitly.)
    Ravenloft 3rd Edition made the connections and parallels between Otranto, the Gothic genre, and D&D explicit in its introduction.

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    Now you mention it, I've played quite a few sessions that felt like Sheridan LeFanu's Uncle Silas or Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.
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    See also Titus Groan (1946) and later novels in the series, which heavily influenced some of my early D&D campaigns.
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    The Wikipedia entry for Piranesi has some images that seem quite D&D:


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    I think you're right in that there is a large part of the original and especially later versions directly inspired by Gothic Fantasy, however, I would say that the original concept is much less inspired by Gothic Fantasy and much more by Historical or Just Plain Fantasy.

    For instance I find the writing of Fritz Leiber to be almost a verbatim translation of the thief and fighter for OD&D. I would say that the first campaign worlds were probably more inspired by Gothic Fantasy than the game as a whole. But I get where you're going.
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    I think the Gothic influences of early D&D got there by way of Universal and Hammer horror films, EC comics, Lovecraft and Lovecraft pastiches. I think it's especially underappreciated how much those Universal monster movies contributed to the mish-mash that was early D&D.
    <exasperated DM> "Underlying what? ... motivation? Do you want to play Dungeons & Dragons or not?"

    <drama obsessed player> "How can I narrate my character's co-mingled sense of alienation and ennui towards modern society in this second-rate dungeon hack? My character returns to the surface and uses his remaining gold to start up an organic coffee shop that caters to left-wing revolutionaries... and hot elvish chicks."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thunderfoot View Post
    I would say that the original concept is much less inspired by Gothic Fantasy and much more by Historical or Just Plain Fantasy.
    Quote Originally Posted by rogueattorney View Post
    I think the Gothic influences of early D&D got there by way of Universal and Hammer horror films, EC comics, Lovecraft and Lovecraft pastiches.
    I wouldn't pretend that Gothic fiction had a more direct influence on D&D than swords & sorcery stories or classic horror films -- but where else do we see "iceberg" castles with vast underground dungeons?

    I can think of a few swords & sorcery stories that borrow the trope, but it certainly doesn't seem central to the genre, the way it is to Gothic fiction.

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    Some of the gothic influence on RPG's is arguably second hand. The Conan stories, for example, has gothic setting elements ... wizards' towers, tombs and a huge dungeon-like lost city in "Red Nails" and so on. Ruined and lost civilizations are pulp staples, going back at least to Tarzan.

    Of course, genre was not as defined then. Fantasy, horror and science fiction were all "Weird Tales".

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    I'm thinking I should try to read Otranto by Halloween.

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