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

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
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.
I've got a copy of 3H3L next to me. I'm not sure Hugi's Scottish, specifically, though, but he does speak in a patois reminiscent of it as written down. However, so does nearly every other human character, including Alianora the Swanmay. Flint and Bruenor... been too long since I read those to recall how they're written and I don't have copies. They're clearly "earthy father figure" stereotypes, though, so that can fit.

I suspect it was kind of building as a possible option for "dwarf speech" and then Warcraft pushed it over the edge, but that's just a guess. Unfortunately now it's become a really tired cliche.
 

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gyor

Legend
What about us Canadians, what are we chopped liver? Canadian Ed Greenwood has had a huge influence on D&D not the leastwise because a little setting known as the FORGOTTEN REALMS. And there others.

And at a later date all kinds of cultures have shaped D&D, you can see that in Chult, Maztica, Karatur, Zakhara, the Old Empires region, Calimshan, and so on.
 

Tim Gray1

First Post
Also major influences on D&D: sci-fi and superhero comics, with that 'everything and the kitchen sink can pop up in the setting'. Later, anime.

I think the original roots were sword and sorcery (kill things and take their stuff) with a dash of Lord of the Rings (mixed groups of characters), but at this point those are lost in the basement and it's its own thing.
 

I'm surprised Manly Wade Wellman hasn't come up, with his literal American Fantasy Silver John stories. Heck, in The Old Gods Waken, a group of Appalachian heroes face off against a group of English druids and their forces of darkness.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
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.
So very much this.

Talk about a defeatist attitude: "3rd edition magic item economy wasn't perfect so we better not even try this time".
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
What about us Canadians, what are we chopped liver? Canadian Ed Greenwood has had a huge influence on D&D not the leastwise because a little setting known as the FORGOTTEN REALMS. And there others.

Well, he is/was a D&D writer. I think it's taken as a given he had an influence on D&D!
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
D&D has obvious roots in European and American fantasy. This leads easily to some storylines, and with more difficulty to others.
What I don't get is the "YOU CAN'T TOUCH THAT" hullaballoo that develops around materials created to answer the question "What about ideas and mythos from other places and other times?" *
Aladdin and his Lamp; ninjas; the Forbidden City; Taj Mahal is a tomb not a palace; pyramids buried under jungles; walls covered with artwork - all cry out for people who are not culturally just like the folks back home, just as the stories / landmarks are not just like the stuff we heard / saw back home.

D&D (RPGs in general) needs more material that describes the folks who don't live around here.

* I have a theory, but socio/politics spoils gaming, so I'll spare everybody.
 

Lord_Blacksteel

Adventurer
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.

I think it's more subtle than that - GRRM has been running RPG's since the late 70's I believe, from fantasy to superheroes. That's where the Wild Cards books originated - in his home supers campaign that included several other writers. Since GoT came along much later I would assume there was some influence but I don't think there's a bunch of stuff you can point to as "ooh that came from D&D!". Early on in the books & show I would have said it was very unlike D&D given the lack of magic or fantastic anything for the most part, but with that last season or two where we have characters mounted on dragons fighting an army of undead ... well, it's starting to look a lot more like someone's D&D campaign.
 

Fandabidozi

Explorer
I’m gonna add Journey To The West as an influence. The adaptation Monkey was very popular in the 70’s, complete with popular telly programme of the same name.

The book was, of course, the influence for Dragon Ball - now there’s some serious leveling up!
 


Shasarak

Banned
Banned
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.

I thought that characters who can not be injured and go from fully effective to dead was a Hollywood Movie trope.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Traveling thru Britain, I was surprised at how much of the island is nature. The British nations are advanced civilizations on a relatively small island, yet they still manage to preserve so much vegetation.
 


Gorath99

Explorer
I've got a copy of 3H3L next to me. I'm not sure Hugi's Scottish, specifically, though, but he does speak in a patois reminiscent of it as written down. However, so does nearly every other human character, including Alianora the Swanmay. Flint and Bruenor... been too long since I read those to recall how they're written and I don't have copies. They're clearly "earthy father figure" stereotypes, though, so that can fit.

I suspect it was kind of building as a possible option for "dwarf speech" and then Warcraft pushed it over the edge, but that's just a guess. Unfortunately now it's become a really tired cliche.
Oh, Warcraft definitely played a very significant part in making it the cliche that it is. My point was merely that they weren't the first. :)
 

Starfox

Adventurer
Back to the basics; I agree DnD was originally a mix of European (mainly Germanic, but some Celtic as well) and American. RPGs certainly progressed past that point, but this is where it started.

As a European, I felt very early on (back in 1980 or so) that the gp = xp mechanic was off. In my image of a hero, gold had no role. Maybe that is an "Americanism", that would make sense. Heroes early on also lacked any kind of roots in the game world. I think that is a teenager thing, when you are breaking free of your family, you don't want family influence on your fantasies. But it might also be Americanism, in the idea that it doesn't matter who you are, what matters is what you do and the money you earn. (Chivalry and Sorcery, with its intricate rules on family and society, was an eye-opener here, but C&S went for a much more European feel than D&D.)

I detest the "money as xp" mechanic in 3E and its successors. I feel it prohibits stories about wealth, since you cannot really deprive a character of wealth, or have a character that spends wealth on things other than gear. Doing so upsets the balance of the game. :( I much prefer systems like Champions/Hero System, where you use xp/character points to purchase special equipment. I didn't know 5E had moved away from that, and like that very much. But this thread has actually informed me of the root (or a possible root) of this mechanic, which I find very interesting.

On to anecdotes. In early Rolemaster, there was a rule that you could destroy gems and absorb their essence to gain xp. This is a role reversal of the self-made-man who gains xp from earning money - it brings to mind the picture of an idle noble who refuses to do much of anything, but can get to the epitome of power just through wealth.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Traveling thru Britain, I was surprised at how much of the island is nature. The British nations are advanced civilizations on a relatively small island, yet they still manage to preserve so much vegetation.

It’s the 8th largest island in the world. It’s a big island, not a small one. You’re comparing islands to continents there when you compare it to North America. :)
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
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

And what's wrong with that? That's what the riches are for. :)
 


Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
I detest the "money as xp" mechanic in 3E and its successors. I feel it prohibits stories about wealth, since you cannot really deprive a character of wealth, or have a character that spends wealth on things other than gear. Doing so upsets the balance of the game. :(

Gold = XP is old.

I'm not sure where it first emerged, but it is definitely in 1E. The game has been mostly running away from it for a long time, though with occasional retrograde motions. Early D&D definitely shows its wargaming roots, and "loot" was a pretty easy shift from the kinds of victory points that many wargames have. Once you got the XP, you had it and could spend the money however you wanted. The 1E DMG has lots of ways to spend money besides gear: Sage research, buying a stronghold, paying followers/henchmen, or buying ships being classic examples.

What would be tricky is level advancement but even back in the 1E days people were often thinking of things like milestone advancement---I know I did it as did some other folks I played with later.
 

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