Doctor Strange: The Original D&D Grognard

We previously discussed the negative influence of a doctor on Dungeons & Dragons--Dr. Thomas Radecki, who used court cases to advocate that D&D was dangerous to society. But there is another, fictional doctor who strongly influenced D&D spells and magic items and who is now experiencing a resurgence thanks to a Marvel movie: Doctor Strange.

[h=3]That's Strange![/h]The influence of comic books on Dungeons & Dragons is a footnote in the game's history but had an outsized influence on its formation. The evidence is right on the cover of the original boxed set. Jon Peterson explains in Playing at the World :

With his spells learned from books, his magic cloak and amulet and constant assumption of ethereal form, it may raise eyebrows that Doctor Strange receives no explicit mention from the authors of Dungeons & Dragons— however, the illustration on the very cover of the game’s box (as well as the first booklet inside), cribbed from a panel of Strange Tales #167, should count as testimony to the relevance of the comic.

Greg Bell's artwork of a warrior astride a rearing horse was copied from a Dan Adkins' art in a Doctor Strange comic, Strange Tales #167. The influence of Doctor Strange doesn't stop there.
[h=3]Spelling it Out[/h]The categorization of D&D spells is known to be drawn from Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, but it seems likely there were other inspirations for D&D spells. Peterson elaborates:

Doctor Strange, whose adversaries tend to have a sorcerous bent, must continually discover counter-spells; in Strange Tales #116, he consults the Book of Vishanti for this purpose, given that “every counter-spell known to the mystic arts is inscribed within these time-worn pages.” Moreover, a wizard like Doctor Strange must often “detect” and “dispel” existing magical effects. In Doctor Strange #171, he can “detect no evil spell” on his house; in Strange Tales #150, an adversary is “ensnared by a spell which no man living can dispel!” This vocabulary made its way into the Dungeons & Dragons spell list with entries like “Detect Magic” and “Dispel Magic.” Throughout Doctor Strange’s conflicts, especially with Baron Mordo, he and his opponents forever wax and wane in degrees of power, with only one enjoying the advantage in any given encounter.

Doctor Strange also mentioned astral and ethereal travel frequently. But of all the magical inspiration that Strange imbued D&D, one is a form of pseudo-science: psionics. Timothy Kask reiterated that Marvel Comics' Doctor Strange led to the psionics system presented in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry. This may account for the liberal use of science fiction terms for magical effects:

Doctor Strange magics himself around this world and others all the time, but only in Strange Tales #166 when he faces a mad scientist who accomplishes the same feat with technology do we hear of “teleportation tubes,” a “teleportation room” and so on. “Telekinesis” and the related word “psychokinesis” have similar grounding in paranormal investigations, though they date back closer to the turn of the twentieth century.

[h=3]That Cloak of Levitation Needs Its Own Show[/h]The Cloak of Levitation in the Doctor Strange film provides some much-needed levity, but the NOUN of EFFECT may have been the template for a lot of D&D magic items:

The “Item of Effect” syntactical format employed for so many magic items may also owe something to Doctor Strange, most obviously to his Cloak of Levitation; that cloak may have directly inspired the Boots of Levitation in Monsters & Treasure.

The influence doesn't stop there. Peterson posits that Strange influenced everything from from scrolls...

In Strange Tales #155, Doctor Strange’s powerful mentor, the Ancient One, reads from a scroll the “Spell of Vanishment.” “So final— so irrevocable is the dreaded incantation, that it can be used but once”: the scroll disappears when “the chant is ended.”

...to spell books:

Doctor Strange consults his unique Book of Vishanti for all manner of mystical tutelage. Although it contains virtually every spell a wizard might require, “the symbols are faded— difficult to read,” and Doctor Strange worries in Strange Tales #116 that, “if I interpret them wrongly, anything can happen! Dare I utter the chant???”

...to wands and staves like the "Wand of Watoomb" and the "Staff of Polar Power."
[h=3]Stranger Things[/h]Kent David Kelly even posits that a popular monster from D&D was also inspired by Doctor Strange's adventures in Hawk & Moor - Book 3 - Lands and Worlds Afar:

The clay golem was introduced to the game as well, having probably not been inspired by Gustav Meryink's classical novel, but rather by the 1974 Strange Tales issues of Marvel Comics.

When gamers venture forth to see Doctor Strange's latest cinema incarnation, we can take comfort in the fact that we knew the old school D&D grognard before he was cool.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


'Warrior on a Rearing Horse,' and 'Clay Golem' are pushing it, IMHO. It's not like the former image wasn't incredibly common go back centuries. The 'Clay' Golem, of course, is a very old story.

But, yeah, all the named spells and Item of What-this-item-Does? Sure. ;)

OTOH, Dr Strange was a Sorcerer who invoked the power of otherworldly entities, while Vance's novels also featured a lot of named spells...
 

dave2008

Legend
'Warrior on a Rearing Horse,' and 'Clay Golem' are pushing it.

Really?

That warrior on a horse is almost a direct copy and would likely by a legal infringement of some type. The artist I work with tell me you have to change 30% of an image to qualify as original art legally, and that doesn't come close.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It just doesn't seem that meaningful, 'warrior on a horse' doesn't scream 'essence of the Dr Strange comic,' somehow.

That wasn't the point being made.

The point is that the cover is a direct rip from a Doctor Strange Panel, because the people making the book were influenced by reading a lot of Doctor Strange.

I'm not sure how that is even reasonably arguable.
 

That wasn't the point being made.
"With his spells learned from books, his magic cloak and amulet and constant assumption of ethereal form, it may raise eyebrows that Doctor Strange receives no explicit mention from the authors of Dungeons & Dragons—" Sounds like the point is that Dr Strange was an influence on the way magic was portrayed in D&D. That an image that had nothing to do with magic may have been plagiarized from one issue of Strange Tales, just doesn't drive home that first part of it. "Item of Effect" was a lot more compelling, for instance, because D&D did /so/ much of that (though I don't feel like Dr. Strange did a lot of it, just mentioned the Cloak of Levitation a lot).

:shrug:

Nothing implausible, really, just not the smoking gun like Vancian Magic...
 

dave2008

Legend
It just doesn't seem that meaningful, 'warrior on a horse' doesn't scream 'essence of the Dr Strange comic,' somehow.

How meaningful is debatable, but it clearly shows a connection in a striking visual way. A picture is worth a 1000 words after all. For me, it was a more powerful reference to the source material than "dispel" and "detect"
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
"With his spells learned from books, his magic cloak and amulet and constant assumption of ethereal form, it may raise eyebrows that Doctor Strange receives no explicit mention from the authors of Dungeons & Dragons—" Sounds like the point is that Dr Strange was an influence on the way magic was portrayed in D&D. That an image that had nothing to do with magic may have been plagiarized from one issue of Strange Tales, just doesn't drive home that first part of it. "Item of Effect" was a lot more compelling, for instance, because D&D did /so/ much of that (though I don't feel like Dr. Strange did a lot of it, just mentioned the Cloak of Levitation a lot).

:shrug:

Nothing implausible, really, just not the smoking gun like Vancian Magic...


OK, I have no idea what point you're making, or what point you think I was making, nor do I think that the OP was making the point you think they were with the mention of the art, so I'm just gonna walk away now.
 



Jhaelen

First Post
Funny, when watching the Dr. Strange movie, I was actually thinking about D&D's concept of the multiverse. Although I suspect that Michael Moorcock's novels about the Eternal Hero were a stronger influence.
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
Dr. Strange was my favourite superhero growing up, and it comes as no surprise to me that the stories had such an influence on D&D modus operandi.

We should give this the retrospective appreciation it deserves...
 


Zander

Explorer
I have considerable respect for Jon Petersen and greatly admire the assiduousness of his research in Playing at the World, but I have to question a couple of his attributions in the article above.

"Psionics" as we use it in D&D owes much to the concept pioneered by influential science fiction author and editor John W. Campbell. While a direct link between Campbell's work and Gary Gygax's can't be proven, we do know that Gary was a voracious reader and it wouldn't surprise me if his exposure to the concept of psionics originated with Campbell.

The Noun of Effect nomenclature for magic items definitely didn't start with Doctor Strange. There is mention in the 18th century tale Jack the Giant Killer of "shoes of swiftness", a "cap of knowledge", a "coat of darkness" and a "sword of sharpness". In relation to the latter, Gary once confirmed that D&D's sword of sharpness owes its name to Jack the Giant Killer. Unfortunately, Hotmail deleted the correspondence I had with Gary in which he said that.

With regards to Kent David Kelly's speculation that D&D's clay golem comes from Doctor Strange, it may be that the comic book was the conduit, but as the monster originates in medieval Eastern European Jewish folklore (with Biblical antecedents), we can't be sure without more evidence that Gary didn't learn about clay golems from another source.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Jon has some consistent blind spots in PATW. It's good research work, but he's too quick to jump to conclusions based upon too thin an evidentiary base. He also places too much on the current interviews versus sources more period to the events recollected - a fatal flaw for a historian, as memory is rather prone to revision.
 

talien

Community Supporter
"Psionics" as we use it in D&D owes much to the concept pioneered by influential science fiction author and editor John W. Campbell. While a direct link between Campbell's work and Gary Gygax's can't be proven, we do know that Gary was a voracious reader and it wouldn't surprise me if his exposure to the concept of psionics originated with Campbell.

Tim Kask made that link in this case, although it's been repeated in a few places. Peterson provided supporting evidence but wasn't as direct as Tim was:
Timothy Kask
 

increment

Explorer
I have considerable respect for Jon Petersen and greatly admire the assiduousness of his research in Playing at the World, but I have to question a couple of his attributions in the article above.
This article's presentation of those attributions takes Playing at the World out of context.

"Psionics" as we use it in D&D owes much to the concept pioneered by influential science fiction author and editor John W. Campbell. While a direct link between Campbell's work and Gary Gygax's can't be proven, we do know that Gary was a voracious reader and it wouldn't surprise me if his exposure to the concept of psionics originated with Campbell.
Section 5.6 of PatW on psionics draws attention to the particular issue of Astounding where Campbell popularized psionics, and does not connect psionics in any way with the Doctor Strange comic - the article just kind of insinuates that it does.

The Noun of Effect nomenclature for magic items definitely didn't start with Doctor Strange. There is mention in the 18th century tale Jack the Giant Killer of "shoes of swiftness", a "cap of knowledge", a "coat of darkness" and a "sword of sharpness". In relation to the latter, Gary once confirmed that D&D's sword of sharpness owes its name to Jack the Giant Killer. Unfortunately, Hotmail deleted the correspondence I had with Gary in which he said that.
A reading of the end of PatW Section 2.9.2 will show numerous sources for "Noun of Effect" nomeclature. The same paragraph that mentions Doctor Strange's "Cloak of Levitation" cites among other things the Brothers Grimm, Jack Vance, and the Bible. "May owe something" in the PatW quote does not warrant the strong conclusion that the article tries to draw.
 

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