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

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
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.

Which is why there are rules for mundane crafting, magical crafting, and buying and selling magic items right there in Xanathar's guide, of course.

No, they're not as granular as 3e... but they have a great deal of flexibility to them. To me, having random pricing and haggling for rare and exotic items, and potential complications with making them, is a lot more interesting than the set prices and procedures of 3e.
 

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Derren

Hero
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.

Not sure that I agree with that.
Of course most PCs come from humble beginnings according to their background, but in nearly all editions of D&D they were already better just because they were PCs. Never was 1st level PC equal to an normal NPC.
Also, because of the very rigid leveling system it was pretty much guaranteed, in 4E even enforced, that they became heroes. Basically they were heroes from birth...

I do agree with the influence of westerns on D&D which was mentioned. Not only because of the episodic format of many early D&D adventures but also because of the general feel and structure. You have a peaceful town threatened by some armed "bullies", strangers come into town, kick the bullies out and resolve the situation, they get thanked and ride into the sunset. Thats the basic D&D template, especially when they tried to promote "points of light". The general lawlessness in D&D also reminds me of westerns. Where the PCs appear they are the boss. Government is mostly nonexistend and even where it is the PCs can do basically anything they want as most laws from real life except the most basic ones don't exist.
Also, the way people looked after their weapon in previous editions (and even now sometimes) has a very "cold dead hands" feel.

By the way, if you want a more European rpg try The Dark Eye (Das Schwarze Auge) from Germany. Although it has become a lot more international/american by copying D&D in later editions.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Which is why there are rules for mundane crafting, magical crafting, and buying and selling magic items right there in Xanathar's guide, of course.

XGtE was released over three years after the core books, which themselves have numerous categorical statements indicating that the authors didn't want anyone making anything or really even buying much of anything.


No, they're not as granular as 3e... but they have a great deal of flexibility to them. To me, having random pricing and haggling for rare and exotic items, and potential complications with making them, is a lot more interesting than the set prices and procedures of 3e.

True, they are out there, and there are some interesting bits, though they're very much written in a "don't bother" mode. Check out the costs for scribing scrolls, for instance. (I don't have the book in front of me to check, but recall it being super crazy expensive.)
 

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
XGtE was released over three years after the core books, which themselves have numerous categorical statements indicating that the authors didn't want anyone making anything or really even buying much of anything.




True, they are out there, and there are some interesting bits, though they're very much written in a "don't bother" mode. Check out the costs for scribing scrolls, for instance. (I don't have the book in front of me to check, but recall it being super crazy expensive.)

Well, I'm brand new to 5e, having just picked up the books after a 12 year hiatus from D&D. I'm also constrasting this with 2nd edition, which had no rules at all that I can recall from any book for buying and selling magic, extremely vague crafting rules, and rules for creating items that were contradictory and nearly impossible... I think 5e found a suitable middle ground.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Well, I'm brand new to 5e, having just picked up the books after a 12 year hiatus from D&D. I'm also constrasting this with 2nd edition, which had no rules at all that I can recall from any book for buying and selling magic, extremely vague crafting rules, and rules for creating items that were contradictory and nearly impossible... I think 5e found a suitable middle ground.
From that perspective, yeah, 5E looks better. 1E and 2E's creation rules were pretty strongly on the "don't bother" line, definitely. 3E got out of hand and 4E managed to make magic items both utterly necessary and very boring.
 

Shasarak

Banned
Banned
Not sure that I agree with that.
Of course most PCs come from humble beginnings according to their background, but in nearly all editions of D&D they were already better just because they were PCs. Never was 1st level PC equal to an normal NPC.

PCs not being equal to NPCs is a pretty new invention. It never used to be the case.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
PCs not being equal to NPCs is a pretty new invention. It never used to be the case.

D&D has been highly inconsistent over the years on this but having different numbers for NPCs is far from new. In 1E there are NPC stats that are quite different than PCs, although many NPCs could have the same setup as a PC, too. For instance, most warriors were "men at arms" who had D8 hit dice, not a D10 like a fighter. The Sage was different, too. In 3E there were explicit NPC classes. In 4E NPCs either had monster stats or no stats at all.
 

Shasarak

Banned
Banned
D&D has been highly inconsistent over the years on this but having different numbers for NPCs is far from new. In 1E there are NPC stats that are quite different than PCs, although many NPCs could have the same setup as a PC, too. For instance, most warriors were "men at arms" who had D8 hit dice, not a D10 like a fighter. The Sage was different, too. In 3E there were explicit NPC classes. In 4E NPCs either had monster stats or no stats at all.

If you look at an adventure from ADnD you can see the NPCs stated up as "Fighter 4" or "Druid 3".

Burne the most Worshipful Mage of Hommlet does not use monster stats, he is a Level 8 Wizard.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Which is why there are rules for mundane crafting, magical crafting, and buying and selling magic items right there in Xanathar's guide, of course.
Which did not exist for several years of the game's existence, of course.

For several years there was heaps and heaps of gold, and next to nothing to spend it on. Not opinion. Fact.

Anyway, the playing style where you go from one mission to the next with zero interest in guilds or castle-building is a playing style where the only things you want to buy are things that help you in the next dungeon.

In other words, magic items.

By the way, this is the playing style encouraged by most of the official hardbacks. When the clock is ticking you don't waste time on downtime.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
If you look at an adventure from ADnD you can see the NPCs stated up as "Fighter 4" or "Druid 3".

Burne the most Worshipful Mage of Hommlet does not use monster stats, he is a Level 8 Wizard.

Right, as I said, D&D has been inconsistent, 1E in particular. You could see adventures which would have NPCs with standard class levels and others which didn't. Some would even mix. I just checked WG5: Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure, WG4: Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, and Desert of Desolation, which are the only 1E modules I have easy access to. They are mostly consistent as you say, but not completely and often you'd see just F6 with a hit point total, so very minimal information. The 1E DMG ("Hirelings and Henchmen", pp. 28-37) suggested only special hirelings had levels (such as sergeants and captains, who were fighters) or, of course, henchmen. I'm not sure that most NPCs really need a ton of stats, so this isn't necessarily bad, though I do think having some standard templates for skill checks would be helpful.
 

pemerton

Legend
AD&D (1st ed) has multiple approaches to NPCs.

Men-at-arms in the DMG had d4+3 hit points, and attack on the 0-level chart. Sergeants, Lieutenatns and Captains have fighter levels (1, 2 to 3, and (I think) 4 to 7 respectively) but are incapable of gaining levels.

Most of the "men" in the Monster Manual have 1d6 hit points, and attack on the 0-level chart.

The NPC officers a fighter gets with his/her troops are levelled fighters and there is nothing said about whether or not they can gain levels. (I've always assumed that they can.)

Sages have 8d4 hp, a smattering of spell knowledge from a class depending on their area of expertise but not based on any character level charts, and a special chart for determining their stats.

The discussion in the DMG of a PC trying to get help from a NPC mage very strongly implies that the NPC mage is statted up just as a PC one would be; and the Monster Manual entries for "men" and demihumans specify higher level NPCs which appear to be intended to be statted up like PCs. (But they use different magic item generation charts from those in the DMG Appendix C for NPC encounters.)

Berserkers in the MM have a special attack ability that is not able to be dupicated by any PC build of a 2 HD character.

Etc.

I don't know if 2nd ed AD&D was more uniform in its approach - 3E, 4e and 5e all oviously are, although 3E goes one way and 4e and 5e the other.
 

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
Which did not exist for several years of the game's existence, of course.

For several years there was heaps and heaps of gold, and next to nothing to spend it on. Not opinion. Fact.

Anyway, the playing style where you go from one mission to the next with zero interest in guilds or castle-building is a playing style where the only things you want to buy are things that help you in the next dungeon.

In other words, magic items.

By the way, this is the playing style encouraged by most of the official hardbacks. When the clock is ticking you don't waste time on downtime.


Right, I guess I'm jumping in late - I didn't really look at the books for 5e until last month, and Xanathar's Guide and Adventures in Middle Earth were what I looked at immediately after the core books, so they kind of "color" the way the edition looks to me (and make it look very different from those who have been playing from the beginning, core only).

But the rules are there now... and really, the whole point of D&D is that you can modify it however you wish... my question is, why haven't third-party supplements been more "adventurous" in expanding the scope of the game and the rules? It just seems like they produce more of the same. I recall d20 third-party supplements being a lot more daring...
 

rmcoen

Explorer
I agree with the observation that many D&D adventures feel like Westerns (ride in, fix it, move on). Never realized it, but that's spot-on.

The observation about "succeed because powerful" vs. "succeed despite weak" was an interesting observation as well. Another thing I hadn't really noticed, and now wonder why.

In many of the fantasy stories that I have read, the hero succeeds because of some innate thing that makes them *special*. Sometimes, other people help/make them succeed because of The Special (Frodo and the Fellowship, initially; protectors of the royal heir). Othertimes though - and frequently - it's "wow, I didn't realize just how special/powerful/awesome I really am". D&D heroes tend to be in this category... fighters with their hp (ahem, nigh super-human determination to soldier on despite otherwise-debilitating wounds/circumstances/magic), wizards with spell progression (ahem, mastering the burgeoning power that they didn't want / didn't know / didn't understand), etc. I just finished reading the extension to the "The Deed of Paksenarrion" (Elizabeth Moon), wherein a simple farmgirl *eventually* grows into a Paladin... so very D&D. (maybe 3e, with Paladin being more Prestige Class than Core)

Personally, I really liked 3e's NPC classes as a distinction -- Warrior 4 vs. Fighter 4 made a nice distinction between PC and NPC, without "trapping" the world at "my cat can kill you" Level 0 (1d4 hp) while the heroes achieved epic potential. I even wrote rules for how characters with NPC classes could improve themselves, "upgrading" to PC classes through training and experience (for example, the half-orc Warrior 4 the party rehabilitated and hired, who eventually "grew" to Fighter 6 under two PCs' tutelage instead of Warrior 7).

I like heroes - in games and stories - to have that flashing neon "PC" sign, to have that Special. It aids my suspension of disbelief, how the hero doesn't get killed, narrowly escapes, and just plain doesn't catch a cold camping in the moors for a week. the flip side of that - in current popularity - is Game of Thrones... "main" characters die, are permanently maimed or disfigured, and so on. Much more "real" - but I wouldn't want to be that character's player!


Last tangent. 1e encouraged those wandering adventurers to eventually put down roots. Pacify frontier and build a stronghold. Capture marauding monsters and use them as guards in a Tower. Tame the local criminal world and organize it into a Guild. Establish a new Temple. Spends hundreds of thousands on improving the world, anchor yourself to a place and a government (even though you can likely single-handedly kill the head of the government *and* his entire army), and get into politics. 2e took that away; 3e was the "Me Generation"; 4e took it a step further and said "level 1-10, you are in the old west; 11-20 your setting is Earth; 21-30, your backdrop is stars/mist/alien worlds". Characters who want to be *part* of the world instead of David Caradine's Kung Fu drop out of the campaign (and stagnate). In my current 4e campaign (level 25), the heroes have established a new Monastery to the Raven Queen (Avenger and Paladin 6 leave party), cleansed and are rebuilding a dwarven Undermount city (Paladin 10 leaves party), rebuilt a "point of light" citystate and established a new Arcane Academy (ironically, Psionic Warrior 14 leaves party to become King), and recaptured a monster-conquered citystate and added it to now-Empire (current PC's Epic Destiny of God-Emperor).

I forget where I was going with that...

Thanks to the OP for bringing up this topic, and all the discussion of the roots and influences.
 

I like heroes - in games and stories - to have that flashing neon "PC" sign, to have that Special. It aids my suspension of disbelief, how the hero doesn't get killed, narrowly escapes, and just plain doesn't catch a cold camping in the moors for a week. the flip side of that - in current popularity - is Game of Thrones... "main" characters die, are permanently maimed or disfigured, and so on. Much more "real" - but I wouldn't want to be that character's player!

Maybe that could be generally applied to the differences between heroes in "classical" stories (books, movies etc.) and interactive fiction (games, d&d)? I think that it is far easier and more (for the lack of a better word) enjoyable to watch a character suffer over long periods of time in static fiction than to play said character in interactive fiction. I just can't picture a campaign where my players are in the most miserable condition for more then two consecutive gaming nights. They would have to do something heroic and uplifting so that they show up next time I dm.


4e took it a step further and said "level 1-10, you are in the old west; 11-20 your setting is Earth; 21-30, your backdrop is stars/mist/alien worlds". Characters who want to be *part* of the world instead of David Caradine's Kung Fu drop out of the campaign (and stagnate). In my current 4e campaign (level 25), the heroes have established a new Monastery to the Raven Queen (Avenger and Paladin 6 leave party), cleansed and are rebuilding a dwarven Undermount city (Paladin 10 leaves party), rebuilt a "point of light" citystate and established a new Arcane Academy (ironically, Psionic Warrior 14 leaves party to become King), and recaptured a monster-conquered citystate and added it to now-Empire (current PC's Epic Destiny of God-Emperor).

Aw man, that makes me wish to start a 4E campaing again.
 


NickM

First Post
An interesting thread here, which I'll have to reread more carefully when I can give it more attention. I was a little surprised that there were no comments about using the picture of the American Disney castle. :)
 

Koloth

First Post
I hope I am wrong but in today's publishing environment in the US, using material from other then European or recent American history is pretty much a no-no. I wound up at a Writer's Convention(the friend that planned the trip thought it was a Fan convention). It was a very interesting experience. In every panel, the term Cultural Appropriation came up and was discussed as an evil don't do. Reinforced by several publishers or publishing company representatives flatly stating they would not publish a story they thought used ideas from non European/American sources unless said use was 'Proper'.

I also noticed the CA term quickly came up in the Africa product discussion linked to in the original post.

Hopefully European publishers have a bit more freedom.
 

Shasarak

Banned
Banned
Personally, I really liked 3e's NPC classes as a distinction -- Warrior 4 vs. Fighter 4 made a nice distinction between PC and NPC, without "trapping" the world at "my cat can kill you" Level 0 (1d4 hp) while the heroes achieved epic potential. I even wrote rules for how characters with NPC classes could improve themselves, "upgrading" to PC classes through training and experience (for example, the half-orc Warrior 4 the party rehabilitated and hired, who eventually "grew" to Fighter 6 under two PCs' tutelage instead of Warrior 7).

I dont know how much distinction having a 20th level Commoner added to the game world excepting of course for that great article that detailed specialised flaws that Commoners could take including "Pig Bond" and "Chicken Infested".

But I guess someone has to kill all of those House Cats.
 

delericho

Legend
I dont know how much distinction having a 20th level Commoner added to the game world...

As with so much of 3e, the NPC classes took a great idea and expanded it to the point of stupidity. Those classes should probably have topped out somewhere around 5th level.
 

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
As with so much of 3e, the NPC classes took a great idea and expanded it to the point of stupidity. Those classes should probably have topped out somewhere around 5th level.

Eh, I don't recall seeing a high level commoner ever statted-out in anything official. Such a creature could theoretically exist, but there were a lot of things in 3e that could theoretically exist that nobody ever bothered with.
 

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