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OD&D Pop culture references in early editions?

Doug McCrae

Legend
The old clerical spell "Stick to snakes" could be seen as a pop culture reference by some
I was wondering about that too. You're right about sticks to snakes. Its original source is the magical duel between Moses and his brother Aaron and the pharaoh's magicians in Exodus 7:8-13. Lots of other clerical spells have Biblical sources. This blog post argues, I think persuasively, that they come from a Sunday School understanding of Bible stories, so that would probably count as pop culture.
 

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Yora

Legend
The old clerical spell "Stick to snakes" could be seen as a pop culture reference by some
Well, so is raise dead and insect swarm.
General mythology and folklore don't really count as pop culture references, otherwise pretty much everything in D&D is.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
There are a lot of inside references (Vecna = Vance) and my favorite is probably the Vacuous Grimoire, which was a slam on the contemporaneous Arduin Grimoire. My favorite detail wasn't the loss of intelligence, it was that the book changed appearance to conform to the other books it was with. ;)

I think that the best way to show that ... maybe Gygax didn't have his finger on the pulse of pop culture in order to reference it was in Heward's Mystical Organ, which includes references to such "with it" songs from 1979 like ... Fly Me to the Moon and The Monster Mash.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Doctor Who (and some other British TV) was frequently carried by local PBS stations in the US going back at least a decade before that. We didn't get Red Dwarf or Black Adder until the late 80s, as I recall, but had Dr. Who much earlier.
I’d have been impressed if you’d managed to get Red Dwarf before the late 80s! #timetravel
 

I’d have been impressed if you’d managed to get Red Dwarf before the late 80s! #timetravel
TBH I had kind of assumed that there had been some sort of delay, but it looks like not much if any.

I remember the first series/season being shown as a marathon overnight on a Saturday night by our local PBS affiliate in Philadelphia when I was a 13 or 14, though I can't remember the exact year. I was excited about it and wanted to record it on our VHS player, but realized that I would have to stay up all night watching, because at the longest-play/lowest quality recording, a tape would hold a max of 6 hours of video, but with the pledge drive breaks the marathon would run from midnight to 7am. So I had to stay up and stop recording at the breaks, resuming when they ended, to fit it onto a single tape! I managed it, though, and my younger brother and I watched that tape of the first season many times, as well as the next few, though eventually we stopped following the show. :)

I think some fog spells required peas...
Doesn't Gust of Wind require beans? :LOL:
 


Stormonu

Legend
Well, so is raise dead and insect swarm.
General mythology and folklore don't really count as pop culture references, otherwise pretty much everything in D&D is.
Although using Ray Harryhausen imagery and Cecil B. DeMille/Hollywood-style costumes in art probably would count.

And I think the Conan-style barbarian of Unearthed Arcana would count as a pop-culture reference.
 


Blue Orange

Adventurer
Although using Ray Harryhausen imagery and Cecil B. DeMille/Hollywood-style costumes in art probably would count.

And I think the Conan-style barbarian of Unearthed Arcana would count as a pop-culture reference.

So I guess you have to count pop culture as 'outside of Appendix N', since Howard was listed as one of the primary influences on the game. I.E., pop culture in-jokes in addition to the primary listed influences. It's a bit of a nitpick, since Conan the Barbarian most definitely is pop culture.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
I think most of the original D&D creators where more into ancient mythology than popular culture. And for them, their pop culture was the 50s and 60s, which even the oldest here are too young to remember much of.

In the 80s, with the Hickmans and the like, we saw more contemporary cultural influences coming into D&D, but they where played straight for the most part. I think it's fair to say that the UK took a more ironic approach to fantasy at that time. Of course, most home games had many pop culture references, I certainly had daleks in mine.

For something riddled with actual pop culture jokes (many of which are now so dated that you wouldn't notice them) you should look at the original Baldur's Gate computer game.


I don't think Doctor Who and Blake's 7 where much known in the US until at least the late 80s. There was no BBC America exporting them in those days.

I think you're right, but there are some pop-culture nuts who might know that stuff. Westerns are a now-dead genre that probably had more of an influence than we think.

Spelljammer's Clockwork Horrors were confirmed to be the Daleks by their creator, I think.
 


Sprattoo

Fehu Games (Formerly Fail Squad Games)
The most pop culture thing I recall about Old School D&D is the 70's haircuts and fashion sprinkled into the art that was representing medieval fantasy. The clothes being some mash up of KISS, Bowie, and Queen costumes, feathered hair, and Heavy Metal artwork simulations.

Don't get me wrong, I thought it was great... but I knew that 70s hair and style didn't quite fit. The later editions featured solidly 80s perms and post-disco clothes.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Not D&D, but Michael Moorcock made several pop culture references in the Hawkmoon series, most notably Aral Vilsson as one of the gods of Granbretan ( Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of the late 60s/ early 70s for non-Brits)
The Granbretan gods before the Tragic Milennium included "Johne, Jhorg, Phowl, and Rhunga."

There are a lot of inside references (Vecna = Vance) and my favorite is probably the Vacuous Grimoire, which was a slam on the contemporaneous Arduin Grimoire. My favorite detail wasn't the loss of intelligence, it was that the book changed appearance to conform to the other books it was with. ;)
Which is admittedly a bit weird since basis for the Eye and Hand of Vecna were Moorcock's Corum books rather than Vance.
 


Turgenev

Adventurer
In the Dungeons & Dragons Monster & Treasure Assortment book (1977, 1978, 1980), Magneto's helmet shows up in treasure in the back cover image by Jeff Dee.

D&D-M&TA_Back.jpg


Cheers,
Tim
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
There are a lot of inside references (Vecna = Vance) and my favorite is probably the Vacuous Grimoire, which was a slam on the contemporaneous Arduin Grimoire. My favorite detail wasn't the loss of intelligence, it was that the book changed appearance to conform to the other books it was with. ;)

I think that the best way to show that ... maybe Gygax didn't have his finger on the pulse of pop culture in order to reference it was in Heward's Mystical Organ, which includes references to such "with it" songs from 1979 like ... Fly Me to the Moon and The Monster Mash.

Since those were released 1954 and 1962, that gives us some useful coordinates to, for example, check the Billboard hits.
I believe one of the early editions' boots of dancing (cursed item) says the wearer may heel and toe or shuffle off to Buffalo, which is from 1933.
 

Tonybro001

Explorer
It started being carried on my local PBS station in 1983, just as an example.

And by 1987, it was well known enough that Keith Parkinson (an American) put a mini-TARDIS on the shelf behind Raistlin in his painting "The Last Spell of Fistandantilus":

Wow never spotted that before👍
 




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