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

delericho

Legend
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.

The settlement construction guidelines in the DMG suggested that most large settlements would have at least one Commoner leveled in the teens. In a metropolis, it wouldn't be terribly uncommon to have an epic-level Commoner present - even before epic levels were even a thing in 3e.

Of course, I don't know how common it was to actually use those guidelines. :)
 

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jasper

Rotten DM
The druid delericho called out Charlie Commoner. They met in the back alley of Jasper Strange Merchantile. Spells rang out in that night. And with a mighty kaboom the fight was over. Out walked Charlie Commoner A 22+ gun smith. Poor Delericho shot 22 times with derringer.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
The druid delericho called out Charlie Commoner. They met in the back alley of Jasper Strange Merchantile. Spells rang out in that night. And with a mighty kaboom the fight was over. Out walked Charlie Commoner A 22+ gun smith. Poor Delericho shot 22 times with derringer.

And thus did the City Watch (mostly Warrior L5's) create the legendary character we know today as ... Batman. ;)
 

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.

Phew, this topic certainly isn't the easiest to talk about, but I'll try my best. Here it comes:

First, I get out some thoughts that I have about the context of the discussion about cultural appropriation.
As far as I know, the critique of cultural appropriation is part of a broader discussion about how to respectfully live with each other in a multicultural society. In our world race/ethnicity has a tremendous impact on how you can live your life. Many people of color, or from asian, african etc. descent have often a quite hard time to live a life that many (not all!) white people enjoy. Aside from having a harder time to reach better education and jobs, the daily life of non-white people can be hard. Daily racism, lack of respect, mockery etc. are abundant. And when we talk about a certain lack of respect towards people, we also talk about a lack respect for the culture and heritage of those people. In colonial times many western writers did write quite a lot about the colonized people. There was also a lot of fiction and adventure literature. Not always where those stories openly vile and negative towards the described people. But the described colonized people often were pictured as extremely exotic, sometimes very strange and incomprehensible with their weird customs, architecture, languages etc. And with every story about the weirdness of those people those stereotypes grew more powerful. And if stereotypes get out of hand, all what is left, are those cliches about people - and those people are not pictured as what they are: just regular human beings like you and me, with ups and downs, hopes and fears and all of the stuff.
So, people started to think about how to write about other cultures appropriately, without ephasizing weirdness and difference and strenghtening stereotypes. Or how to write fiction using parts of other cultures. Some would say that this can be done. Some would say that every writing using parts of other cultures is, wait for it, cultural appropriation. This term also comes into play when somebody wants to use parts of other cultures for other reasons. Like for example dressing in Saris, wearing dreadlocks or things like that. Some people would say that this is in itself without respect or maybe even racist.

Okay, now we are left with the question, can I use things from another culture, like literature? One answer would be: no. Another would be: yes, but be respectful about that culture and its people, know what you do, engage openly and respecfully with the context and history of that what you use, come in contact with people whose daily lives are built on what you want to use.

It seems that some publishers want to go the safe road and avoid problems, what I totally understand. But I also think that the discussion about this should be had nonetheless.

*lecture mode off*
 


Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
AD&D (1st ed) has multiple approaches to NPCs. <snip>

Indeed it did, like many other things in 1E, it was very often ad hoc. This is unsurprising given that much of 1E was generated by collecting articles from Dragon and various modules, so it was never actually built to be consistent.

I don't know if 2nd ed AD&D was more uniform in its approach.

2E was. There were 0 level humans and halflings. All "leveled" NPCs were assumed to be built using the usual rules for PCs.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
But the rules are there now... and really, the whole point of D&D is that you can modify it however you wish...

True, though a lot of times that really depends on the group. I play with two groups, one mostly local and one remote. The local group is quite skeptical of substantial house rules. I understand why, even if I don't totally agree, but that's the group consensus.


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...

Not sure. Part of it might be the fact that they're not too sure what WotC is going to release.
 

Derren

Hero
Okay, now we are left with the question, can I use things from another culture, like literature? One answer would be: no. Another would be: yes, but be respectful about that culture and its people, know what you do, engage openly and respecfully with the context and history of that what you use, come in contact with people whose daily lives are built on what you want to use.

Its not about respect, its about power. European history gets disrespected all the time and no one sees a problem with it. But in the current society the victim has automatically a much higher moral standing, thus people pull the victim card whenever they can.
 

Its not about respect, its about power.

You are right. What I tried to call a discussion about respect is (when we go deeper into the rabbit hole) a discussion about who holds power over whom in history and in recent times. Colonized people were exactly that: European states decided to exploit more far away places and make lives very hard for those who lived there. The Europeans had extreme power over them.

Today there still is no balance. Western states hold most of the riches in the world, while other countries struggle due to quite complex economic and political situations they are in. And people who live in the west but are from non-western descent also struggle to catch up to make a living in their western (home) countries.

So yes, ultimately it is about who has more power (in a global political sense of the word).


European history gets disrespected all the time and no one sees a problem with it.

Well, I'm not sure what people you have in mind who might disrespect European history. And we are also quite the diverse lot. So there are a lot of different European histories to disrespect. ;)



But in the current society the victim has automatically a much higher moral standing, thus people pull the victim card whenever they can.

Hm. Wouldn't you say that a victim has a higher moral standing than an attacker? Because, you know, by definition the attacker did something wrong against his victim. That sound quite clear for me when it comes to moral standing. And I think that should be an universal moral common ground. Not only in our current society.


Going back to the discussion about cultural appropriation I'd like to say that I don't think that using parts of other cultures is per se a bad thing. If all of us would only stick to that what our own cultures do, that would be isolationist and quite boring. Culture had always been about contact. People move to other places, share food, share stories and so on. That's how most of the nice things we have came into being (like D&D). So taking and using parts of another person's culture is not the same as cultural appropriation.
 

Derren

Hero
You are right. What I tried to call a discussion about respect is (when we go deeper into the rabbit hole) a discussion about who holds power over whom in history and in recent times. Colonized people were exactly that: European states decided to exploit more far away places and make lives very hard for those who lived there. The Europeans had extreme power over them.

Today there still is no balance. Western states hold most of the riches in the world, while other countries struggle due to quite complex economic and political situations they are in. And people who live in the west but are from non-western descent also struggle to catch up to make a living in their western (home) countries.

So yes, ultimately it is about who has more power (in a global political sense of the word).
At best this is a half truth, but it veers dangerously close into politics anyway. If you want to discuss this do it over PM.
Well, I'm not sure what people you have in mind who might disrespect European history. And we are also quite the diverse lot. So there are a lot of different European histories to disrespect. ;)
Have you for example looked at 7th Sea? Or Warhammer Fantasy? Pretty much all nations are a cliché caricature of the nation that inspired them. Even religion is not safe, just look what D&D (or many animes like NGE) has done with Christian mythology like angels and the devil. A large part of the multiverse is a twisted version from the Divine Comedy (although whild its highly debatable if that counts as an actual religious text, it still is closely related). If any other religion would have been used that way you can bet there would be complains about it.
It continues outside of RPGs, too. For example look at all the "Oktoberfest" re-enactments around the world (it doesn't even have to be October).


Hm. Wouldn't you say that a victim has a higher moral standing than an attacker? Because, you know, by definition the attacker did something wrong against his victim. That sound quite clear for me when it comes to moral standing. And I think that should be an universal moral common ground. Not only in our current society.


Going back to the discussion about cultural appropriation I'd like to say that I don't think that using parts of other cultures is per se a bad thing. If all of us would only stick to that what our own cultures do, that would be isolationist and quite boring. Culture had always been about contact. People move to other places, share food, share stories and so on. That's how most of the nice things we have came into being (like D&D). So taking and using parts of another person's culture is not the same as cultural appropriation.

It is not a bad thing. Without it there would be no fantasy and hardly any science fiction books out there. The bad thing is when people apply a double standard of declaring their culture untouchable except in the most positive way (and they alone decide on if the criteria is fulfilled based on their mood and if they want to shut down a discussion or product or not), but are happily appropriating whatever they feel like from others with flimsy "they have power" excuses if they even notice it at all.
Cultures have influenced each other since the beginning of mankind in every region of earth. Its practically impossible that they not to, especially considering how networked the world is now. People should accept it instead of using the threat of cultural appropriation in order to gain power.
 
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Shasarak

Banned
Banned
Today there still is no balance. Western states hold most of the riches in the world, while other countries struggle due to quite complex economic and political situations they are in. And people who live in the west but are from non-western descent also struggle to catch up to make a living in their western (home) countries.

So are we classifying China and Japan as Western states now?
 


Starfox

Adventurer
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... the term Cultural Appropriation came up and was discussed as an evil don't do.

Hopefully European publishers have a bit more freedom.

This is so sad.

As far as I know, the critique of cultural appropriation is part of a broader discussion about how to respectfully live with each other in a multicultural society....

Storytelling often requires villains. But the sign of the times do not allow villains that are not westerners. RPGs actually have a solution to this.

If you want to realistically portray a people, you make them demihuman (in the 1E terminology) - elves, dwarfs, humans, halflings.

See Paizo's adventure River into Darkness for a blatant example of this.

If you want to use the angry outsider model, you make them humanoids (again 1E style) - orcs, goblins gnolls. And you don't say "this is an arab-style gnoll tribe", definitely not. You just introduce them as gnolls.

The amount of friction is less, but this does not guarantee there will be no friction. I ended up in a discussion here on ENworld where someone wanted RPGs to stop using orcs as they are a racist stereotype. I *think* he felt they represented black people, which felt very odd to me. When I think of what orcs represent, I'm always thinking Germanic tribes (my own people) as seen by the Romans. Humans have a way of identifying with the underdog, which is nice, but the idea of cultural appropriation has brought this generally positive tendency to a sad state.
 
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At best this is a half truth, but it veers dangerously close into politics anyway. If you want to discuss this do it over PM.

Ah, first, I didn't know that stating the fact of "The greatest amount of wealth on our planet is accumulated in the what we call "western countries" whereas many former colonized countries have disproportionally lower living standards" is politicizing. I didn't want to proselytize or annoy. I just wanted to contribute to the discussion about cultural appropriation. And without talking about the basis of the whole problem of what you called "power", it will be quite hard to discuss this thing.


Have you for example looked at 7th Sea? Or Warhammer Fantasy? Pretty much all nations are a cliché caricature of the nation that inspired them. Even religion is not safe, just look what D&D (or many animes like NGE) has done with Christian mythology like angels and the devil. A large part of the multiverse is a twisted version from the Divine Comedy (although whild its highly debatable if that counts as an actual religious text, it still is closely related). If any other religion would have been used that way you can bet there would be complains about it.
It continues outside of RPGs, too. For example look at all the "Oktoberfest" re-enactments around the world (it doesn't even have to be October).

Warhammer's Old World has been designed by some clever British dudes. It's meant as a satire of the European late Middle Ages and early Renaissance mixed with Dwarves, Orcs, and Chaos Gods. From a more radical point of view of cultural appropriation that would be okay, because they were/are British and are tounge-in-cheek about their own culture (Britain here being a part of the wider European history). I'm not so familiar with 7th Sea, but I guess it's similiar.

About transforming or making caricatures of religious symbols: You know there are quite a lot of complaints about "mocking" or at least using Christian images in an unorthodox manner? Ask your nearest evangelical denomination if they are cool with D&D's angels and demons. :)


Oh, and let me tell you something about Oktoberfest (the original one in Munich)

1.) Usually it begins in mid September and ends in the first days of October. Therefore it is hardly an october-fest.

2.) The Oktoberfest is, in my opinion, not a folk fair or anything traditional but a noisy, overcrowded drink-till-you-throw-up-palooza for over 6 million non-Bavarians or teens on holidays in continental Europe who are okay with paying 13 € for a litre of beer and feel "authentic" because they wear Lederhosen. If other parts of the world want to have that, let them have it - I do not envy them. Maybe their Oktoberfests are better then the one in Munich.
 

GreyLord

Legend
So are we classifying China and Japan as Western states now?

I would not. Japan IS highly technologically advanced, but a LOT of that is after they were rebuilt by the US with Western Money. As it is, though they have tried to branch out, they are still highly dependant on Western money. In that relationship, though Japan has some good trade, the US still has the upperhand and basically can tell Japan what to do (which is why the US still has military bases in the area to a degree. Japan has a Defense force now, but cannot have a real military, and the US ensures that they cannot. AS a result, another reason the US remains is because they ARE the military in the area...which suits the US just fine, but is not always beneficial to Japan.

China on the otherhand...they may have wealth, but that is wealth among ~1 billion people. It's not really spread around. While there are a few ultra wealthy...a great majority live in conditions that most in the Western world would be very adverse to living in. I would not categorize China as a Western state nor appropriating the wealth comparatively. They are an outside nation (outside the Westerners) trying to catch up and be equal, but being very far from that goal as of yet.

IMO.
 

GreyLord

Legend
As has been stated from the OP...in many ways D&D has always been the American style of story with the European veneer.

It's the old West idea where a person can start as a Zero in a highly untamed wilderness, fighting against the odds become someone of note and ability to forge their own way in the world, and eventually perhaps transcend their own level or rank to get a higher social standing of wealth or power.
 



Derren

Hero
Ah, first, I didn't know that stating the fact of "The greatest amount of wealth on our planet is accumulated in the what we call "western countries" whereas many former colonized countries have disproportionally lower living standards" is politicizing. I didn't want to proselytize or annoy. I just wanted to contribute to the discussion about cultural appropriation. And without talking about the basis of the whole problem of what you called "power", it will be quite hard to discuss this thing.
You didnt annoy me, but talking about politics is forbidden on this board so any discussion of that need to happen through PMs. I'm just thinking that based on your post you are oversimplyfing the era of colonialization and its effects.
But again, any detailed discussion needs to happen elsewhere.
Warhammer's Old World has been designed by some clever British dudes. It's meant as a satire of the European late Middle Ages and early Renaissance mixed with Dwarves, Orcs, and Chaos Gods. From a more radical point of view of cultural appropriation that would be okay, because they were/are British and are tounge-in-cheek about their own culture (Britain here being a part of the wider European history). I'm not so familiar with 7th Sea, but I guess it's similiar.
As British people they would have been allowed to caricaturize Britain, but not the other nations like the HRE, Spain, Italia, Poland/Russia (they kinda combined them) etc.
About transforming or making caricatures of religious symbols: You know there are quite a lot of complaints about "mocking" or at least using Christian images in an unorthodox manner? Ask your nearest evangelical denomination if they are cool with D&D's angels and demons. :)
I have yet to hear a large media backlash or twitter storm when D&D uses angels and demons, at least in this century. Same for other media (video games, comics, movies, anime etc.). Yes some fringe groups complained but no one really listened. Compared to that just look at threads here where someone dares to suggest to use native american mythology in their games or even goes so far as to publish them.
Oh, and let me tell you something about Oktoberfest (the original one in Munich)

1.) Usually it begins in mid September and ends in the first days of October. Therefore it is hardly an october-fest.

2.) The Oktoberfest is, in my opinion, not a folk fair or anything traditional but a noisy, overcrowded drink-till-you-throw-up-palooza for over 6 million non-Bavarians or teens on holidays in continental Europe who are okay with paying 13 € for a litre of beer and feel "authentic" because they wear Lederhosen. If other parts of the world want to have that, let them have it - I do not envy them. Maybe their Oktoberfests are better then the one in Munich.

It doesn't matter what you think about it (not a fan myself) but if the same standard would be applied it would be very bad cultural approbation.
The one I have seen was in April btw.

I would not. Japan IS highly technologically advanced, but a LOT of that is after they were rebuilt by the US with Western Money.
Japan managed to reach European levels of technology way before WW2 or even WW1. The Japanese-Russian war showed that. Why do you think Japan was able to challenge the US in the first place and easily conquer large parts of China?

They managed to go from the renaissance to an industrial society in 50 years without being colonized. Quite an achievment.
 
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