D&D = American + European Fantasy

Dungeons & Dragons draws on a rich mythology from the works of European authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and Michael Moorcock. And yet D&D was also influenced by American authors like Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, H.P. Lovecraft, and R.E. Howard. The end result is that D&D's tone sits somewhere between the two.

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European Folklore

The bones of D&D have obvious roots in European myths and legends; we see it in the dwarves, elves, hobbits, and orcs of J.R.R. Tolkien and the fairies, giants, and dragons that are scattered throughout the Monster Manual. Colleen Gillard explains how British fantasy flourished by staying in touch with its pagan roots -- and was even influenced by the landscape:

Landscape matters: Britain’s antique countryside, strewn with moldering castles and cozy farms, lends itself to fairy-tale invention. As Tatar puts it, the British are tuned in to the charm of their pastoral fields...

But D&D has many influences, not the least of which are co-creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, who brought their own American sensibilities to the game. For a fantasy role-playing game that is distinctly European, look no further than Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, now in its Fourth Edition.

American Influences

American fantasy, like the Europeans, was influenced by its terrain:

America’s mighty vistas, by contrast, are less cozy, less human-scaled, and less haunted. The characters that populate its purple mountain majesties and fruited plains are decidedly real...

But perhaps the strongest difference is a sense of control over one's destiny. This belief, carried over with America's earliest settlers from Europe, reinforced that self-enrichment was a moral right, as outlined by Max Weber:

...Weber wrote that capitalism in Northern Europe evolved when the Protestant (particularly Calvinist) ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. In other words, the Protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned and uncoordinated emergence of modern capitalism.

No wonder then that Gygax strongly adhered to a leveling system in which heroes can rise to success through the accumulation of wealth at significant risk. This was how heroes like Conan, Fafhrd, and the Gray Mouser did it, and it draws on a long tradition of American folklore:

Popular storytelling in the New World instead tended to celebrate in words and song the larger-than-life exploits of ordinary men and women: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, even a mule named Sal on the Erie Canal. Out of bragging contests in logging and mining camps came even greater exaggerations—Tall Tales—about the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, the twister-riding cowboy Pecos Bill, and that steel-driving man John Henry, who, born a slave, died with a hammer in his hand. All of these characters embodied the American promise: They earned their fame.

Unlike in European fantasy where boys become kings (or in Harry Potter's case, orphans become wizards), characters in D&D aren't usually born heroes; the very nature of leveling systems and experience points ensures they earn it.

A Motley Mix

Adding these two influences together creates Dungeons & Dragons, a rich tapestry of fantasy that draws on the works of European authors and then throws in American sensibilities where the heroes are in control of their destiny -- or at least their skills and attributes.

For all their American influences, D&D heroes are still small in the weave of the world. In early D&D games, they died by the handfuls at the whim of dice, a lesson distinctly at odds with American determinism.

D&D has come full circle to influence the fantasy that created it. You can see its motley pedigree's fingerprints on sweeping fantasies like Game of Thrones. As the fantasy genre continues to flourish and the world becomes more interconnected, it seems likely that we'll see more works that draw on other cultures...D&D included.
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Indeed. Conan seems to have a substantial inability to hang onto much of anything in many stories.




He also does a lot of the "wrong" things, too: Drinking and loose women being two examples, along with simply escaping from a nasty situation with his skin intact but little else.

Not only does Conan not achieve power through Wealth, he is completely indifferent to wealth at all. He obtains it, he spends it/loses it, and he moves on.

To Conan, power comes from what you are made of not what you can hold.
 

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Hey, I like my generic pseudo-Medieval pseudo-European fantasy settings, thank you very much.

Though IIRC (it's been a while since I read it, to be honest), Das Schwarze Auge is pretty similar -- I'd have expected it to be a European pseudo-Medieval fantasy setting.

Maybe someone more familiar with DSA can elaborate.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
What else is D&D that isn't classic fantasy? I guess "dwarves with Scottish accents" might have been a D&D-derived meme?

Dwarves with Scottish accents is from Warcraft as I recall.

I know it's pleasant to think that your hobby is changing the world, but I'm not convinced.

I haven't really looked at any fantasy novels in a while but there was a definite feeling of "I came up with this story in my campaign" going. Hopefully that's died out.
 

Jhaelen

First Post
Not only does Conan not achieve power through Wealth, he is completely indifferent to wealth at all. He obtains it, he spends it/loses it, and he moves on.

To Conan, power comes from what you are made of not what you can hold.
IIRC, in D&D, originally, you gained xp for _spending gold_, not for gaining it. I.e. it closely resembles the Conan stories in that regard.
 

KenNYC

Explorer
In 5th edition WotC decided to make gold worthless for petty design reasons, a decision they're doubling down on with Xanathar's variant "no gold at all" system that will be used by their official tournament rules.

To me, that is losing sight of an essential American quality of the game.
If they don't have gold at all how do they buy stuff? I am not understanding this.
 


CapnZapp

Legend
If they don't have gold at all how do they buy stuff? I am not understanding this.
A reasonable question. However since this isn't a rules thread, or even about any specific edition, is it okay if my answer is "go look it up"?

(The rule is from Xanathar's, but my guess the most accessible explanation will be found in the Adventurer's League; since they will use it from this season on)

For the purposes of this thread, the relevant summary is simply:

In 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons the publisher has moved away from gold (almost) entirely.
 


Gorath99

Explorer
Dwarves with Scottish accents is from Warcraft as I recall.
It certainly helped to popularize it, but it wasn't the first. From what I understand, Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions from 1953 already featured a dwarf with a Scottish accent. Dragonlance's Flint Fireforge and Salvatore's Bruenor Battlehammer also predate Warcraft.
 

KenNYC

Explorer
A reasonable question. However since this isn't a rules thread, or even about any specific edition, is it okay if my answer is "go look it up"?

(The rule is from Xanathar's, but my guess the most accessible explanation will be found in the Adventurer's League; since they will use it from this season on)

For the purposes of this thread, the relevant summary is simply:

In 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons the publisher has moved away from gold (almost) entirely.


I say this and will continue to say it: the more I play 5e the more I see the wisdom of 1e. That makes no sense. Now your character has this magic out of game power that lets you just go on shopping sprees from non-existent stores that you never actually go to, and you just magically wake up one day with your Scrolls, armor and Holy Avengers? So much for role playing.

La La La, I think I would like a magic horse with a gold saddle!

Where do you go to get it?

It doesn't matter, the rules say I can have it and I want it now!


The whole thing reminds me of the horrible girl from Willy Wonka.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
A reasonable question. However since this isn't a rules thread, or even about any specific edition, is it okay if my answer is "go look it up"?

(The rule is from Xanathar's, but my guess the most accessible explanation will be found in the Adventurer's League; since they will use it from this season on)

For the purposes of this thread, the relevant summary is simply:

In 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons the publisher has moved away from gold (almost) entirely.

That's so weird, I look in the PHB & see gear listed with GP costs. I look in the DMG & find GP in treasure hordes. Heck, there's even still GP costs for magic items (true, a bit more vague than in 3x/PF & 4e, but there.) There's even costs of living listed.
I haven't bothered to look concerning castle walls, spell-casting/sage services & stuff, so maybe that's missing?
And there's no price chart (or even a chart) for the random harlots. :(

All in all though? A very strange approach: Move away from gold almost entirely - yet publish prices for pretty much anything the players might want to spend it on.
 

delericho

Legend
So.... Gold. Just by another name & smaller #s.

Not really.

As it was, if you went on an adventure but didn't bother collecting treasure, you could get the XP but no gold. Conversely, if you failed the adventure but did collect treasure, then at least you had the gold to show for it.

It would be more accurate to say that these rules make gold another form of XP, awarded for the successful completion of adventures.

Note: None of that is a value judgement. Not only because I don't play AL games (and don't use those rules in my home game), but also because I'm sure they do work just fine for AL games - where I expect people would much rather spend their limited time adventuring rather than shopping.
 

delericho

Legend
Ummm. Actually no I can't. Honestly I don't see a lot of the extras D&D throws on top of classic fantasy appear in modern media. Spell memorization is probably the most D&D-ish trope, and I don't see much of that. What else is D&D that isn't classic fantasy? I guess "dwarves with Scottish accents" might have been a D&D-derived meme? Are clerics not allowed used edged weapons in GoT? Do we have character who cannot be injuries, just go from fully-effective to dead? Evidence of strong classes?

I know it's pleasant to think that your hobby is changing the world, but I'm not convinced.

Mostly, it's that George R.R. Martin had read the "cold iron" thread, and had the good sense to call it Valyrian Steel instead. :)
 

ccs

41st lv DM
I say this and will continue to say it: the more I play 5e the more I see the wisdom of 1e. That makes no sense. Now your character has this magic out of game power that lets you just go on shopping sprees from non-existent stores that you never actually go to, and you just magically wake up one day with your Scrolls, armor and Holy Avengers? So much for role playing.

La La La, I think I would like a magic horse with a gold saddle!

Where do you go to get it?

It doesn't matter, the rules say I can have it and I want it now!


The whole thing reminds me of the horrible girl from Willy Wonka.

That's not the wisdom of 1e, nor a fault of 5e. It's mostly* the result of bad 3x/PF play & the MagicMart mentality - but it can happen in any edition.

*Sometimes though it's sufficient to just tell the players what their spending limit is when in a town.
For ex: Several weeks ago the party was passing through Port Nezawhatever in our ToA game. Two of the players were purposefully trying to derail things by having a session long shopping trip. The other 4 players wanted to get back into the jungle ASAP. And 2 of those players are on a clock. They can't stay past 8PM. So Joe trying to haggle with every merchant? Counterproductive. And annoying as everyone at the table already knows I have zero interest in running such a session in this campaign. I told them this at the outset. Because THIS game is an action/adventure story about hacking your way through a jungle, fighting dinosaurs, killing snake-people, & trying not to die in a death trap dungeon. That's the game I'm DMing. And if you're at this table, that's the game you're playing.

So I simply told them they could buy anything they could afford on the PHB list + whatever of the following magic items.
I rolled 17 diffrert items & used a #s ap to generate prices for each using the rarity/price suggestions in the DMG.
They could haggle on any given item. Success lowered the price by 25%. Failure raised the price by 25% and allowed you a 2nd haggling check to talk the merchant back down to the original cost.
You could sell anything for 30% of it's value, no haggling. Magic Items value to be determined by my # ap.
All in all? A few items were bought, a few were sold, no one was dumb enough to try & rob any merchants, about 30 minutes were wasted, & then it was back to fighting zombie T-rexes.
 

delericho

Legend
I say this and will continue to say it: the more I play 5e the more I see the wisdom of 1e. That makes no sense. Now your character has this magic out of game power that lets you just go on shopping sprees from non-existent stores that you never actually go to, and you just magically wake up one day with your Scrolls, armor and Holy Avengers?

Note that the rules in question are optional rules tucked away in a supplement to the game. (They happen to be used in the organised play Adventurers' League for reasons of time and balance.)

The default in 5e is that you can only buy or sell magic items at the DM's discretion. The rules in the DMG actually encourage role-play rather than turning it into a visit to a magic mart.
 

delericho

Legend
Two of the players were purposefully trying to derail things by having a session long shopping trip.

I sympathize - I haven't faced that for a long time, but I once had a session where a player spent the bulk of a session on a big shopping trip. After being told "you can buy potions and scrolls only", he proceeded to go through the (3e) DMG and ask "can I get a..." over and over again, each time naming something that was neither a potion or a scroll. It can be incredibly frustrating.

So I simply told them they could buy anything they could afford on the PHB list + whatever of the following magic items.
I rolled 17 diffrert items & used a #s ap to generate prices for each using the rarity/price suggestions in the DMG.
They could haggle on any given item. Success lowered the price by 25%. Failure raised the price by 25% and allowed you a 2nd haggling check to talk the merchant back down to the original cost.
You could sell anything for 30% of it's value, no haggling. Magic Items value to be determined by my # ap.
All in all? A few items were bought, a few were sold, no one was dumb enough to try & rob any merchants, about 30 minutes were wasted, & then it was back to fighting zombie T-rexes.

You were way more generous than I would have been! I would probably have rolled about 4 magic items for sale (if even that), with prices pre-determined, and ruled "no haggling". With selling magic items to be handled between sessions via email.
 

That's not the wisdom of 1e, nor a fault of 5e. It's mostly* the result of bad 3x/PF play & the MagicMart mentality - but it can happen in any edition.

*Sometimes though it's sufficient to just tell the players what their spending limit is when in a town.
For ex: Several weeks ago the party was passing through Port Nezawhatever in our ToA game. Two of the players were purposefully trying to derail things by having a session long shopping trip. The other 4 players wanted to get back into the jungle ASAP. And 2 of those players are on a clock. They can't stay past 8PM. So Joe trying to haggle with every merchant? Counterproductive. And annoying as everyone at the table already knows I have zero interest in running such a session in this campaign. I told them this at the outset. Because THIS game is an action/adventure story about hacking your way through a jungle, fighting dinosaurs, killing snake-people, & trying not to die in a death trap dungeon. That's the game I'm DMing. And if you're at this table, that's the game you're playing.

I know, we're derailing, but I just wanted to jump in and state my approval to this! Yes, sometimes it's interesting to play out haggling for a whole session. But every DM (and group!) should be wary of players who are imposing their will on the game even after the DM and the others stated what a game they would like to play.

Back to topic:

I like the distinction between European and American style of fantasy. Both have interesting aspects to them. It's just that I'm so used to the cowboy/pulp/superhero tropes of D&D that I really don't know how to play differently than in that style.
 

jontheman

Game designer
"For a fantasy role-playing game that is distinctly European, look no further than Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay"

That was probably true back in the 1980s/1990s, but it started to feel very high-fantasy before GW did their Etch-a-sketch end of the world so they could move on to Age of Sigmar. I think the most recent edition of Dragon Warriors did that European feel far more effectively.

The one thing that really makes the games stand apart is the artwork. I've just finished reading Art & Arcana and the huge, in-your-face and colourful art of D&D, especially 4th Edition, really makes it stand out. When I played D&D I approached it with expectations of high adventure and Hollywood-style antics, whereas other games such as WFRP and Dragon Warriors made out that you were covered in crap.
 


Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
If they don't have gold at all how do they buy stuff? I am not understanding this.
There's essentially nothing to buy.

WotC decided it so desperately hated things like magic item economies or crafting they made these things essentially impossible. There's some mundane gear that's a bit expensive, such as full plate armor, but not all characters want that and once you have those, there's nothing else, really.
 

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