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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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auburn2

Adventurer
I think Hobbits, Halflings, Wights, Ents, mithril armor and the original Ranger class came 100% from Tolkien and my guess is Orcs, Elves and Goblins primarily came from Tolkien. I also think the ring of invisibility is based heavily on Tolkien even though it functions different.

While Orcs, Elves and Goblins all existed outside of Tolkien, prior to the 1970s they were not portrayed like they are in D&D many other places besides Tolkien.
 

dave2008

Legend
I think Hobbits, Halflings, Wights, Ents, mithril armor and the original Ranger class came 100% from Tolkien and my guess is Orcs, Elves and Goblins primarily came from Tolkien. I also think the ring of invisibility is based heavily on Tolkien even though it functions different.

While Orcs, Elves and Goblins all existed outside of Tolkien, prior to the 1970s they were not portrayed like they are in D&D many other places besides Tolkien.
Tolkien's goblins are really nothing like D&D goblins though are they? Goblins were a type of Orc, at least of JRRT retconned it.
 


Parmandur

Legend
Tolkien's goblins are really nothing like D&D goblins though are they? Goblins were a type of Orc, at least of JRRT retconned it.
"Orcs" don't actually exist before Tolkien in any capacity, really, and there is precious little breathing room between Orcs & Goblins for most of D&D history (Pretty sure Orcs were even classified as Goblinoids in earlier editions, just like Tolkien).
 





Doug McCrae

Legend
Tolkien's goblins are really nothing like D&D goblins though are they?

There are some important differences but many more similarities. These similarities are so specific that, in my opinion, JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit is almost certainly the main source for goblins in D&D. This post compares the goblins in OD&D, 1e AD&D and 5e D&D with those in The Hobbit. Similarities are covered first.

OD&D

OD&D goblins "see well in darkness or dim light, but when they are subjected to full daylight they subtract –1 from their attack and morale dice. They attack dwarves on sight… When in their lair the 'goblin king' will be found. He will fight as a Hobgoblin in all respects." The OD&D goblin king is "surrounded by a body of... guards" who also fight as hobgoblins.

In The Hobbit, goblins avoid daylight. They live in caves and only venture out at night or when the sky is overcast. Gandalf says "They will be out after us in hundreds when night comes on; and already shadows are lengthening." The Misty Mountains goblins had been planning a raid -- "to come by night" on nearby human villages.

The following passage describes the assembly and movements of the goblin army that fights in the Battle of Five Armies (emphasis mine):

Then they marched and gathered by hill and valley, going ever by tunnel or under dark, until... a vast host was assembled ready to sweep down in time of storm unawares upon the South. Then they learned of the death of Smaug… and they hastened night after night through the mountains​

Initially the Misty Mountains goblins "did not hate dwarves especially, no more than they hated everybody and everything... But they had a special grudge against Thorin's people". But following the death of their leader, the Great Goblin, "the hatred of their race for the dwarves had been rekindled to fury".

The Great Goblin is "a tremendous goblin with a huge head". He has a bodyguard: "armed goblins were standing round him". "The bodyguard of Bolg", leader of the goblin army, consists of "goblins of huge size".

1e AD&D

Like OD&D goblins, the goblins in the 1e AD&D Monster Manual dislike sunlight, have a chief who is stronger than normal goblins, a chief’s bodyguard of similar strength, and hate dwarves. In addition there is a 25% chance that they will be accompanied by wolves, some of which have goblin riders. 1e AD&D goblins are "slave takers and fond of torture".

In The Hobbit "Wargs" refers to "the evil wolves over the Edge of the Wild". "The Wargs and the goblins often helped one another in wicked deeds." "Sometimes they [goblins] rode on wolves like men do on horses."

"Goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted." They are skilled in the manufacture of "instruments of torture". They keep "prisoners and slaves that have to work till they die for want of air and light".

5e D&D

Similar to 1e AD&D goblins, 5e goblins are "black-hearted". They "delight in the torment of other creatures and embrace all manner of wickedness." They "have an affinity for… wolves". They "shun sunlight and sleep underground during the day."

5e goblins "can't help but celebrate the few times they have the upper hand. They dance, caper with sheer joy when victory is theirs." This is probably inspired by The Hobbit. When the Misty Mountains goblins have Bilbo and his companions trapped in burning trees he sees "the goblins dancing round and round in a circle like people round a midsummer bonfire." As they dance they sing a malevolent song about "Fifteen birds in five fir-trees" and the dismal fate that the goblins believe awaits these "birds".

Differences

Goblins in The Hobbit can’t see in the dark, though they do have a good sense of smell. Gandalf says "They can smell our footsteps for hours and hours after we have passed."

1e AD&D goblins are of "Average (low)" intelligence and are "fair miners". 5e D&D goblins have an INT of 10. Goblins in The Hobbit however are clever and skilful miners and inventors, a lot like evil versions of Tolkien's dwarves or tinker gnomes in the Dragonlance setting.

They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. They can tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled dwarves… Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well… It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them... but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far.​

Goblins were a type of Orc, at least of JRRT retconned it.

That's right. In D&D goblins and orcs are different races. In Tolkien's writing, "goblin" and "orc" are different words for the same type of being. John Rateliff gives a good account of this in The History of the Hobbit (2007):

The terms ‘goblin’ and ‘orc’ were used more or less interchangeably in the early material – thus in ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ we hear of ‘Melko’s goblins, the Orcs of the hills’ (BLT II.157), ‘the Orcs who are Melko’s goblins’ (BLT II.159), and ‘an innumerable host of the Orcs, the goblins of hatred’ (BLT II.176), while in ‘Turambar and the Foalókë’ Beleg tracks ‘the band of Orcs . . . a band of the goblins of Melko’ (BLT II.77). It’s possible to read Orc as the more specific term and goblin as the more generic, but often ‘goblin’ apparently replaces the more common ‘orc’ simply for the sake of variety, especially in the alliterative poetry. On the whole, the evidence suggests that Tolkien preferred ‘orc’ for works in the direct line of the Silmarillion tradition (such as ‘The Sketch of the Mythology’, the narrative poems that make up The Lays of Beleriand, the 1930 Quenta, and so forth) and used ‘goblin’ in more light-hearted contexts, such as The Father Christmas Letters and The Hobbit.​
 
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