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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 .

Parmandur

Legend
Sacroscanct seems to have just blocked me despite replying to my last post, but anyway the same timekeeping advice is found in Book 3 of OD&D (Undeworld and Wilderness Adventures): p 38 says that "1 week of actual time = 1 week of game time". At least as far as Conan is concerned, this emphasis on precision in time-keeping is quite different from the "time passes" approach REH takes to the narration of Conan's life; but it is fairly integral to the non-pulpy resource-management aspect of classic D&D play.

As a sidepoint, Sacorsanct also asserts that a thief's hide in shadows protects against infravision, whereas the AD&D rules actually make the opposite clear - infravision detects a hiding thief unless there is a nearby heat source (PHB p 28); whereas a Cloak of Elvenkind gives a 90% chance of invisibility against infravision regardless of whether or not a heat source is present.

The idea that hide in shadows makes a name-level thief "near-invisible" is simply not borne out by the actual AD&D rules. (I don't have the Greyhawk supplement, and so can't comment on whether thieves were stronger in that book than in AD&D.)
Rather rude if you to bring facts into the discussion, really.
 

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Erekose

Eternal Champion
Really interesting to read this thread from start to finish. Started off quite well but quickly has polarised into two opposing views - that have gone on and on and on ... I don’t know whether to be impressed by people’s tenacity not to give up their point of view or despair at the lack of movement on either side??? Time to just agree to disagree ...
 

Parmandur

Legend
Really interesting to read this thread from start to finish. Started off quite well but quickly has polarised into two opposing views - that have gone on and on and on ... I don’t know whether to be impressed by people’s tenacity not to give up their point of view or despair at the lack of movement on either side??? Time to just agree to disagree ...
Hi, welcome to the Internet.
 



Hussar

Legend
The internet yes, just surprised to see it on EN World ...

LOL. There's a 200 page thread on the boards right now discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of different character generation methods. Getting stuck on minutia and arguing about it endlessly is pretty much part and parcel of geekdom.

And, from time to time, if you can avoid getting frustrated, it can be a lot of fun too. :D
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm sure if I had read better in early 20th century fantasy, I might peg "an underground lake, a series of caverns filled with giant fungi" to something, but ultimately that does not read of literary fantasy at all. It's gamey (game-like, I guess?), and it doesn't feel coherent in any literary way. Instead of calling on Howard and Leiber, it feels a much stronger claim that Gygax was creating something very different from literary fantasy, without a necessity of being nice, neat and coherent.
Just to add to this: the bowling alley for giants doesn't strike me as very S&S, but there is a lot of that sort of thing in early D&D.
 

Lehrbuch

First Post
@Parmandur also deals with the point about parties. Conan doesn't operate in the context of a party. Sometimes he has a sidekick/cohort...

I think that a lot of the idea of a party is do with the more practical fact that every player needs a character, rather than some specific literary influence. It seems as easy to think of D&D's idea of a party arising from "everyone needs a PC, so, what would it be like if Conan had some mates", as opposed to "we need a party because there is an interminable number of dwarves in The Hobbit".

In much written literature there are usually smaller numbers of protagonist characters simply because the audience/reader gets confused and struggles to identify with the main characters if there are too many. D&D (and RPGs in general) are different because each player identifies most strongly with their own PC. Of course, literature with ensembles of characters does exist (e.g. the Arthurian cycle) but even then individual stories/chapters usually only deal with one or two main knight-characters. Likewise Tolkien tends to split up the party and concentrate on just a few characters a lot of the time. But the idea of a party (or not) is more a facet of the specific media RPG vs written/told story than any thing else.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think that a lot of the idea of a party is do with the more practical fact that every player needs a character, rather than some specific literary influence.
Sure. But the presence of a party then shapes play in some directions rather than others. It creates opportunity for ongoing rivalries (whether serious or more light-hearted); for various sorts of dependencies or other inter-relationships to emerge; etc. Which then makes some literature more salient, either by way of resemblance or as a model.
 

Lehrbuch

First Post
Sure. But the presence of a party then shapes play in some directions rather than others. It creates opportunity for ongoing rivalries (whether serious or more light-hearted); for various sorts of dependencies or other inter-relationships to emerge; etc. Which then makes some literature more salient, either by way of resemblance or as a model.

Not really. "Parties of adventurers" from literature are quite different from a D&D party.

Ensemble groups of characters from literature tend to:
  • Have wildly divergent level of capabilities. Usually, one or two "hero" "party members" are a whole lot more capable than all the others, who may as well not be there from an overall capability perspective (but may be nonetheless important from a story perspective). There is no nonsense about everyone having an equal chance to "shine". This is radically different from a D&D party, where everyone is the same level, are approximately equally "useful" and grow in capability together.
  • Often have a lot of duplication/replication in capability area. Literature "parties" tend to be all warriors, or all wizards, or almost all dwarves, or similar. They are hardly ever "one of each" parties, like the typical D&D party. This is because "one of each" parties don't really arise naturally that often from stories. A notable exception is the Fellowship of the Ring, but there party composition explicitly arises from an in-character desire to make the party represent a kind-of-UN-of-nations against Sauron rather than much to do with concerns about capability niches. This is very different to a D&D party.
  • Often are very dysfunctional. Betrayal, rivalries, sabotage, self-destruction, etc. are common in literature "parties" --- because that is an interesting human story. In fact, that is the story. The plot/quest is often just window-dressing to move the scenes along. Whereas most DMs/players sensibly do not try to have very dysfunctional parties. And the structure is usually the opposite in D&D: the plot is the story, and any intra-party banter / rivalry is just something to enliven the moments between the plot.
  • Often split-up. As I said before, it's boring and confusing to read about large parties of adventurers, so authors usually find reasons to split large parties into smaller more manageable groups, which the narration jumps between (or maybe the narration only follows one fragment). This is the opposite of typical D&D sessions, where DM and players usually avoid splitting the party. Which is probably partly because dealing with a split party is more complicated for the DM, but mostly to do with the fact that it is boring listening to other people play the game, when you have shown up to play your character.

So, I think that literature which has "parties of adventurers" is only very superficially influential on the idea of a D&D party. It seems like many features of "parties" in literature are explicitly opposite in the typical D&D party.
 
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Hussar

Legend
However the point about equal power levels is a fairly recent addition to the game. Back in the day there was a strong expectation that if you died, you came back at first level.

Plus having a stable of pc’s to draw from with varying levels.

Plus hirelings which would be much lower level and henchmen with somewhat lower levels

Plus many, many ways to lose levels in play.

Plus every class having different do tables meaning that the party would rarely be the same level even without the above.

No you can’t really argue that older dnd was set up so the group would all be equal. Far from it.


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Lehrbuch

First Post
However the point about equal power levels is a fairly recent addition to the game. Back in the day there was a strong expectation that if you died, you came back at first level...No you can’t really argue that older dnd was set up so the group would all be equal. Far from it.

In practice, in my experience, because of the way that the XP tables work, you either caught up to be within a level or so very quickly, or you got so frustrated with repeatedly dying that you quit and did something else until the DM reset the campaign with all new characters.

Also, I don't think that it is entirely credible to argue (as you seem to be) that a D&D party is "meant" to have a high casualty rate so that from an initially homogeneous party (everyone level 1), the internal power-balance within the party eventually comes to mimic the imbalance between literary characters such as, say, Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins.
 

Hussar

Legend
Dunno about “meant”. Do know that that’s how it played. And there are reports of play at the time of groups having very high lethality rates.


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Lehrbuch

First Post
Dunno about “meant”. Do know that that’s how it played. And there are reports of play at the time of groups having very high lethality rates.

Even if you believe that high lethality really creates an adventuring party with an internal power-imbalance composition like the party in The Hobbit, it still seems really unlikely that this was the intention of high lethality. High lethality is more likely a consequence of a design intention (articulated or not) such as "player expertise should matter" (which sounds like a believably war-gamerish intention).

If the intention was simply that "the party should have an internal power imbalance" we would be rolling PC level on a d12 during character generation, or something similar.
 

Lehrbuch

First Post
Even if you believe that high lethality really creates an adventuring party with an internal power-imbalance composition like the party in The Hobbit, it still seems really unlikely that this was the intention of high lethality.

After all, the literary sources tend to also have quite low lethality, so I don't think you can argue high lethality is part of imitating literature models. The subtitle of The Hobbit is "There and Back Again", not "How Numerous Dwarves Came To A Bloody End".
 




Hussar

Legend
Something that came up earlier but I think wasn’t explored is the way settings, particularly TSR/WotC settings look. Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms are far closer to Middle Earth than Hyboria. Non-human nations living side by side with humans is something you don’t see in fantasy before Tolkien.

Never minding that the Five Shires appears in Mystara.


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Parmandur

Legend
Something that came up earlier but I think wasn’t explored is the way settings, particularly TSR/WotC settings look. Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms are far closer to Middle Earth than Hyboria. Non-human nations living side by side with humans is something you don’t see in fantasy before Tolkien.

Never minding that the Five Shires appears in Mystara.


Sent from my iPhone using EN World
Actually, Greyhawk has a Hyborian feel to it, with Age of Chivalry bits thrown on top along with Dwarves and Elves: Greyhawk itself is straight up Lankhmar, for that matter. Greenwood was certainly more Tolkienian in his influence on Forgotten Realms, more broad all-around really.
 

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