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D&D 5E Why D&D is not (just) Tolkien

How influential was Tolkien on early D&D, on a scale from 1-5?

  • 1. Not influential/ minimal influence.

    Votes: 1 0.6%
  • 2. Very little influence / no more important than other fantasy writers.

    Votes: 19 10.9%
  • 3. Moderate influence.

    Votes: 65 37.4%
  • 4. A great deal of influence/a large amount of D&D is borrowed from him.

    Votes: 71 40.8%
  • 5. Exceptionally inflential/no D&D without him.

    Votes: 18 10.3%

  • Total voters
    174
  • Poll closed .

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Sacrosanct

Legend
Do you know what I think? Of course you do, because everyone values my opinion. ;)

The original Tolkien influence on D&D wasn't nearly as great as people thought. Gygax was pretty well read on folklore and pulled much of the same influence as Tolkien did. However, since Tolkien did have a resurgence in popularity starting in the 70s, and most fantasy geeks knew him but did not know all the origination material (Wagnar, etc), we as gamers molded D&D to fit Tolkien's writings more than Gary ever did. Therefore, many of the similarities to Tolkien that people say D&D copied from were because of us, not because of Gary. And many of us gamers who did that, went on to work for TSR/WoTC, incorporating into new D&D products those similarities. I mentioned this in the other thread, but in OD&D, elves had beards. By the time 1e came out, elves were depicted in game material (books, modules, Dragon magazine) much more Tolkienesque. So it isn't so much that Gary copied all these things from Tolkien (he said he didn't), but we as gamers were most familiar with Tolkien so we made our games emulate his works, and then as we went to write articles for Dragon and go to work for a fast growing TSR company, we as gamers brought those similarities.

My $0.02 any way.
 



Mephista

First Post
The influence of Tolkein is pretty huge. The man's books are the heart of modern fantasy, just like Dracula and modern vampires. But... no dnd without him?

I bet the game would look very different, but the heart of D&D was taking a mix of war games and funky dice and making something more involved. We'd still have a game.
 


G

Guest 6801328

Guest
As I said in the other thread, I believe that Tolkien's wild popularity created a fertile/receptive market for the idea of an RPG as long as it felt somewhat like Tolkien.

I'm venturing into "what if the Nazis won WWII" territory* here, but there are two ways to ask What If:

a) What if Tolkien never wrote his books? In this case it's possibly...and I think likely...that there is a reduced probability that EGG & Co. would have thought of creating a fantasy RPG out of miniature wargaming, and a greatly reduced probability that such a game would have found mass market appeal. Would we still have RPGs today? I dunno...probably. But they would look a lot different because a different game would have set the standard.

b) What if EGG & Co. were somehow either totally oblivious to Tolkien, or hated Tolkien so much that they intentionally avoided anything that might have smelled like him? In this case there would have been a receptive market, but perhaps that market would have found the product less satisfying ("What if I don't want to play a human?"). In which case, again, D&D might have failed to reach critical mass and become the dominant RPG and today some elements of D&D (HP, Vancian casting, etc.) might not be so prevalent.

So I won't go quite so far as to claim that D&D specifically and RPGs more generally wouldn't exist today (although it's possible), but they would likely look much different because D&D wouldn't have been as popular and therefore its ideas wouldn't be so dominant. As somebody said in the other thread, maybe Traveler would have become the dominant game. Just think how our RPGs would look today.

*We do know for certain that if the Nazis won WWII then there would be literary essays examining whether Mordor is a metaphor for the USSR and/or the United States....
 


G

Guest 6801328

Guest
I disagree strongly on this one. All available evidence shows that the creation of the RPGs from the wargaming scene happened organically out of boredom and downtime from wargaming. It was for people to identify with the individuals (leaders) they were commanding. The idea of wargaming spread from modern military (at the time, Kriegspiel) to historical re-enactment to "medieval combat" (knights, etc.) with ease.

That only seems to be disagreement with my first and lesser claim. (And even then, I would still argue that creating a medieval "rpg" is still not a "fantasy" rpg.) Even if they invented D&D exactly as it is, would it ever have become more popular than...well, than miniature wargaming itself was, in the absence of a huge Tolkien fan-base? I'm very, very skeptical. I know the reason I started playing way back then (~1981) was because of Tolkien.


This is more complicated. But to provide a (possible) counter-example, it's similar to asking "What if every school didn't teach the Great Gatsby?" Or, in other terms, "Why is to Kill a Mockingbird so popular?" (Because it coincided with paperback books being used in schools). Was there a cultural zeitgeist for fantasy at the time, that Tolkien fulfilled (that wasn't there when he first published, or at least not to the same extent), or did Tolkien create it? Chicken or egg? I happen to think that the late 60s and 70s were receptive to it (see also movies, other books, etc.) and that Tolkien moved into that space. As did D&D; but if not Tolkien, it would have been others.

That's the trouble with counterfactuals; they can't be disproven. :)

Sure. And I *think* I'm being pretty explicit that this is just conjecture and my opinion.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I agree with lowkey13. I mean, let's look at the timelines. The Hobbit was written in 1937. The LoTR in the 50s. They were out a long time before the resurgence of the 70s*. Sci-fi/fantasy started to sharply gain in popularity in the 60s, and hit a high in 70s. That means that the fantasy resurgence of the 60s/70s would have happened even if Tolkien never existed. Guys like Michael Moorcock began writing in 1950, before LoTR, and were inspired by S&S authors like Howard.

So even if Tolkien never existed, there were still authors like Howard, Lieber, Lloyd Alexander, Moorcock, etc. The fantasy resurgence of the 70s still would have happened. Tolkien is simply the most popular, that's all. And seeing as how the SCA and Tékumel started in the 60s (before the resurgence of the 70s), it stands to reason that RPGs would have been created even if Tolkien never existed, and would look very much like they do now. Maybe not halflings or Balrogs, but those are actually pretty small contributions compared to the whole game. As I (and others) have pointed out in the other thread, many of the things people are crediting Tolkien for creating (flying eagles, lycanthropy, etc) he didn't create, but took right out existing myth. So they still would be here without Tolkien.


*When I talk about the resurgence of the 70s, I'm talking about how Tolkien, despite the books being decades old, didn't get mainstream popularity until this decade with the rise of sci-fi/fantasy in general, and he really became mainstream with the Hobbit animated film in 1977. Which actually proves that D&D would still be popular without Tolkien, because D&D took off before Tolkien suddenly rose in popularity with that movie. Prior to the movie, he was no more popular than the aforementioned authors.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
I disagree strongly on this one. All available evidence shows that the creation of the RPGs from the wargaming scene happened organically out of boredom and downtime from wargaming. It was for people to identify with the individuals (leaders) they were commanding. The idea of wargaming spread from modern military (at the time, Kriegspiel) to historical re-enactment to "medieval combat" (knights, etc.) with ease.

That only seems to be disagreement with my first and lesser claim. (And even then, I would still argue that creating a medieval "rpg" is still not a "fantasy" rpg.) Even if they invented D&D exactly as it is, would it ever have become more popular than...well, than miniature wargaming itself was, in the absence of a huge Tolkien fan-base? I'm very, very skeptical. I know the reason I started playing way back then (~1981) was because of Tolkien.


This is more complicated. But to provide a (possible) counter-example, it's similar to asking "What if every school didn't teach the Great Gatsby?" Or, in other terms, "Why is to Kill a Mockingbird so popular?" (Because it coincided with paperback books being used in schools). Was there a cultural zeitgeist for fantasy at the time, that Tolkien fulfilled (that wasn't there when he first published, or at least not to the same extent), or did Tolkien create it? Chicken or egg? I happen to think that the late 60s and 70s were receptive to it (see also movies, other books, etc.) and that Tolkien moved into that space. As did D&D; but if not Tolkien, it would have been others.

That's the trouble with counterfactuals; they can't be disproven. :)

Sure. And I *think* I'm being pretty explicit that this is just conjecture and my opinion.
 

sim-h

Explorer
The thread title and the poll questions don't marry up exactly.

D&D is certainly not just Tolkien. Vance, Leiber et al heavily influenced.

However there would definitely in my opinion, be no D&D without Tolkien, therefore the last answer is the only possible response. There may well have been other FRPGs, but no recognisable D&D with it's halflings, orcs and goblins etc.
 

Shroomy

Adventurer
How early are we talking? Because at some point, the zeitgeist would have pulled D&D towards Tolkien regardless of whether or not he was a big personal influence on Gygax and Arneson. Personally, I'd argue that Anderson, Howard, Leiber, Lovecraft, Moorcock, and Vance were bigger influences on D&D at that time than Tolkien.
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
The thread title and the poll questions don't marry up exactly.

D&D is certainly not just Tolkien. Vance, Leiber et al heavily influenced.

However there would definitely in my opinion, be no D&D without Tolkien, therefore the last answer is the only possible response. There may well have been other FRPGs, but no recognisable D&D with it's halflings, orcs and goblins etc.

Sure there would. Maybe not halflings, but there were orcs and goblins in lore already. Tolkien himself said he took "orc" from Beowulf. Also, Tolkien had orcs and goblins as largely interchangeable as the same creature, just different language for the same thing. We might not have them appear as they do in LoTR, but AD&D didn't either. In AD&D, they were pig faced, looking more like Gamoreans than a Tolkien orc. Only in later editions did they match closer.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
How early are we talking? Because at some point, the zeitgeist would have pulled D&D towards Tolkien regardless of whether or not he was a big personal influence on Gygax and Arneson. Personally, I'd argue that Anderson, Howard, Leiber, Lovecraft, Moorcock, and Vance were bigger influences on D&D at that time than Tolkien.

I agree. That's why I made my comment earlier about how the Tolkien influence we've seen in D&D over the past few decades is because WE as gamers put it there as we got hired onto TSR and WotC, because that's what most gamers are more familiar with nowadays. Look at elves from OD&D, or orcs from 1e. Nothing like Tolkien's versions back then.
 

Harzel

Adventurer
I agree with lowkey13. I mean, let's look at the timelines. The Hobbit was written in 1937. The LoTR in the 50s. They were out a long time before the resurgence of the 70s*. Sci-fi/fantasy started to sharply gain in popularity in the 60s, and hit a high in 70s. That means that the fantasy resurgence of the 60s/70s would have happened even if Tolkien never existed. Guys like Michael Moorcock began writing in 1950, before LoTR, and were inspired by S&S authors like Howard.

So even if Tolkien never existed, there were still authors like Howard, Lieber, Lloyd Alexander, Moorcock, etc. The fantasy resurgence of the 70s still would have happened. Tolkien is simply the most popular, that's all. And seeing as how the SCA and Tékumel started in the 60s (before the resurgence of the 70s), it stands to reason that RPGs would have been created even if Tolkien never existed, and would look very much like they do now. Maybe not halflings or Balrogs, but those are actually pretty small contributions compared to the whole game. As I (and others) have pointed out in the other thread, many of the things people are crediting Tolkien for creating (flying eagles, lycanthropy, etc) he didn't create, but took right out existing myth. So they still would be here without Tolkien.


*When I talk about the resurgence of the 70s, I'm talking about how Tolkien, despite the books being decades old, didn't get mainstream popularity until this decade with the rise of sci-fi/fantasy in general, and he really became mainstream with the Hobbit animated film in 1977. Which actually proves that D&D would still be popular without Tolkien, because D&D took off before Tolkien suddenly rose in popularity with that movie. Prior to the movie, he was no more popular than the aforementioned authors.

I believe your estimation of when Tolkien became popular is a little off. Consider this bit from the Wikipedia article on The Lord of the Rings:

Wikipedia said:
Then, in 1965, Ace Books proceeded to publish an edition, unauthorized by Tolkien and without paying royalties to him. Tolkien took issue with this and quickly notified his fans of this objection.[45] Grass-roots pressure from these fans became so great that Ace Books withdrew their edition and made a nominal payment to Tolkien.[46][47] Authorized editions followed from Ballantine Books and Houghton Mifflin to tremendous commercial success. Tolkien undertook various textual revisions to produce a version of the book that would be published with his consent and establish an unquestioned US copyright. This text became the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, published in 1965.[46] The first Ballantine paperback edition was printed in October that year, and sold a quarter of a million copies within ten months. On September 4 1966, the novel debuted on New York Times' Paperback Bestsellers list as number three, and was number one by December 4, a position it held for eight weeks.[48]

Tolkien was popular at least a decade before the 1977 movie; he was a 60s thing.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I believe your estimation of when Tolkien became popular is a little off. Consider this bit from the Wikipedia article on The Lord of the Rings:



Tolkien was popular at least a decade before the 1977 movie; he was a 60s thing.

I said he was popular. But he wasn't more popular than Howard. Certainly not the end all, be all of fantasy that was the sole reason a game like D&D could be created. There's a reason why a bunch of fantasy movies were being made in the 60s and 70s long before they took a risk on an animated Tolkien one.

Popular, yes. Of course. But people are overestimating his influence of the time.
 

Arilyn

Hero
As I said in the other thread, I believe that Tolkien's wild popularity created a fertile/receptive market for the idea of an RPG as long as it felt somewhat like Tolkien.

I'm venturing into "what if the Nazis won WWII" territory* here, but there are two ways to ask What If:

a) What if Tolkien never wrote his books? In this case it's possibly...and I think likely...that there is a reduced probability that EGG & Co. would have thought of creating a fantasy RPG out of miniature wargaming, and a greatly reduced probability that such a game would have found mass market appeal. Would we still have RPGs today? I dunno...probably. But they would look a lot different because a different game would have set the standard.

b) What if EGG & Co. were somehow either totally oblivious to Tolkien, or hated Tolkien so much that they intentionally avoided anything that might have smelled like him? In this case there would have been a receptive market, but perhaps that market would have found the product less satisfying ("What if I don't want to play a human?"). In which case, again, D&D might have failed to reach critical mass and become the dominant RPG and today some elements of D&D (HP, Vancian casting, etc.) might not be so prevalent.

So I won't go quite so far as to claim that D&D specifically and RPGs more generally wouldn't exist today (although it's possible), but they would likely look much different because D&D wouldn't have been as popular and therefore its ideas wouldn't be so dominant. As somebody said in the other thread, maybe Traveler would have become the dominant game. Just think how our RPGs would look today.

*We do know for certain that if the Nazis won WWII then there would be literary essays examining whether Mordor is a metaphor for the USSR and/or the United States....

If time travel books and shows have taught me anything, it's that small changes cause massive ripples!

I think Tolkien was a key ingredient. It's hard to imagine a fantasy war game based off Leiber or Moorcock. We have to remember the original DnD wasn't even a role playing game. Originally, Gygax was very opposed to role playing in his game.

Yes, role playing was popping up in other games, but nobody was pushing it. Eventually, we would have probably gotten rpgs, but not from Gygax. Tolkien was not just another author in the fantasy resurgence. His works paved the way. The fantasy Chainmail supplement was pretty much a Tolkien supplement. This, in turn, led to DnD. Remove Tolkien, and I'm just not seeing DnD being created. And even if it was, as you said, the environment would not have been ready for it. If I'm remembering the history correctly, that little supplement in Chainmail was panned by a lot of wargame hobbyists. Tolkien was sufficiently popular, however, that it managed to gain enough adherents that Gygax and Arneson felt it was worthwhile to create DnD. So yeah, no Tolkien, no DnD. But we can never know for sure.
 


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