D&D General Why Fantasy? Goin' Medieval in D&D

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Yes, this is certainly why there is so much medieval hardware in early D&D, even though we know from Appendix N that non-medievalist writers such as Howard, Lovecraft and Moorcock where big influences on early D&D.

And there is a sense of confusion over certain elements, like swords, castles and monarchy are "medieval", when they are actually mythic, and much older. These are found in everything from Greek myths to Beowulf to Star Wars to modern Britain.

Beowulf is the great granddaddy of D&D stories, dating to before the medieval period, but already having named swords (Hunting), proto-kings (Hrothgar) living in proto-castles (Heorot). It also has a protagonist who is already an action hero from the very start of the story, able to single-handedly kill a monster that has already defeated dozens of ordinary warriors, and who is motivated by a desire for fortune and glory, rather than seeking to save the world from evil.
Yeah, it's always kind of hilarious to me how people get all snooty about "hero to superhero" stories and how much better and more realistic "zero to hero" are. Yet the classics, the foundations of the genre, extremely frequently begin with legit (super)heroic characters from the word go (like Beowulf or Hercules), or relatively ordinary characters....that get a crapton of divine nepotism (Perseus with his magic items) or the gift of superpowers (Achilles' invulnerability or Samson's strength).

People skipping the "zero" part is older than Antiquity, and may predate written language entirely. It is as fundamentally fantastical as any story of a have-nothing hero clawing their way to victory through guile and luck.
 

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Yeah, it's always kind of hilarious to me how people get all snooty about "hero to superhero" stories and how much better and more realistic "zero to hero" are. Yet the classics, the foundations of the genre, extremely frequently begin with legit (super)heroic characters from the word go (like Beowulf or Hercules), or relatively ordinary characters....that get a crapton of divine nepotism (Perseus with his magic items) or the gift of superpowers (Achilles' invulnerability or Samson's strength).

People skipping the "zero" part is older than Antiquity, and may predate written language entirely. It is as fundamentally fantastical as any story of a have-nothing hero clawing their way to victory through guile and luck.
The Greek myths are basically the origin of superheroes, since most of them have "origin stories" that explain how they got their superior abilities. I class Beowulf as an action hero because there is no explanation of how come he is so much better than all the other highly trained warriors. It's just because he is the hero and they are not.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Just pulling this one part out...Medievalism is often a means for nostalgia for an imagined, earlier time and, accordingly, the hierarchal social orderings of that time. At the same time, medievalism in fantasy can be a kind of base for creating speculative worlds and imagining characters (including oneself) in them, and in that way can be, like in children's literature, a kind of portal to another world that is not this world. And that doesn't have to be strictly escapist, but can be political and utopian.

Concretely, the author I'm thinking of most here is William Morris and the pre-raphaelites, who turned to medieval imagery and stories to ground a socialist alternative to industrial capitalism


Except D&D largely ignores this aspect of the medieval world. The PCs are never located in the strictly ordered social order of the medieval world nor are they restricted by it. Kings or Barons never have life and death power over them nor are they made answerable to them in the base assumption of the game, your particular game world may vary.
Instead you get characters that would be equally at home in Ank-Morpork, Deadwood or Barsoom
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
Except D&D largely ignores this aspect of the medieval world. The PCs are never located in the strictly ordered social order of the medieval works nor are they restricted by it. Kings or Barons never have life and death power over them nor are they made answerable to them in the base assumption of the game, your particular game world may vary.
Instead you get characters that would be equally at home in Ank-Morpork, Deadwood or Barsoom

The overlap between how American fantasy conceptions came about in D&D, and how America created a mythic and fantastical "Old West...."


.....are not a coincidence. IMO.

(Remember that many of the people who created D&D in the 70s and 80s grew up consuming Westerns when they were younger)
 

The overlap between how American fantasy conceptions came about in D&D, and how America created a mythic and fantastical "Old West...."


.....are not a coincidence. IMO.

(Remember that many of the people who created D&D in the 70s and 80s grew up consuming Westerns when they were younger)
I think we can take the section on Boot Hill in the 1st edition DMG as evidence of that!

And there is a strong "Old West" influence on Howard and Burroughs, who both get mentioned in Appendix N.

Speaking as someone who isn't American, that sense of "Americana" is something that feels distinctively D&Dish to me.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Yeah, it's always kind of hilarious to me how people get all snooty about "hero to superhero" stories and how much better and more realistic "zero to hero" are. Yet the classics, the foundations of the genre, extremely frequently begin with legit (super)heroic characters from the word go (like Beowulf or Hercules), or relatively ordinary characters....that get a crapton of divine nepotism (Perseus with his magic items) or the gift of superpowers (Achilles' invulnerability or Samson's strength).

People skipping the "zero" part is older than Antiquity, and may predate written language entirely. It is as fundamentally fantastical as any story of a have-nothing hero clawing their way to victory through guile and luck.
Nobody said you can't have both. As had been stated, you can always start the game at 3rd level.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
The overlap between how American fantasy conceptions came about in D&D, and how America created a mythic and fantastical "Old West...."


.....are not a coincidence. IMO.

(Remember that many of the people who created D&D in the 70s and 80s grew up consuming Westerns when they were younger)
@Snarf Zagyg, I pretty much grew up consuming westerns, on the other side of the Atlantic. I also think that, that "free agent" on the frontier with very little oversight is essential to any long campaign format roleplaying.

You could play modern special forces/military using say, Twilight2000 rules but the scenarios you could play are limited and would force toward episodic play. You could rescue hostages or hunt the warlords or what ever but for open ended play you need the post apocalyptic landscape of where ever after the nukes have dropped and your actual command/supply structure has collapsed.

Even if you look at the Expanse, it is clear that the shape and structure of Belter society and economics is that way to create a space where player character can have the unsupervised agency to operate.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Yeah, it's always kind of hilarious to me how people get all snooty about "hero to superhero" stories and how much better and more realistic "zero to hero" are. Yet the classics, the foundations of the genre, extremely frequently begin with legit (super)heroic characters from the word go (like Beowulf or Hercules), or relatively ordinary characters....that get a crapton of divine nepotism (Perseus with his magic items) or the gift of superpowers (Achilles' invulnerability or Samson's strength).
I think a lot of this ignores the heavy Tolkien, Howard influence of early (sword and sorcery) D&D and assumes that The Classics have the bigger influence.
People skipping the "zero" part is older than Antiquity, and may predate written language entirely. It is as fundamentally fantastical as any story of a have-nothing hero clawing their way to victory through guile and luck.
I vastly prefer the latter myself. I think its best to cast a wide net. D&D should be designed to go from zero to hero to superhero IMO. As Micah Sweet says "Nobody said you can't have both. As had been stated, you can always start the game at 3rd(5th, 10th, 15th) level."
 

I think a lot of this ignores the heavy Tolkien, Howard influence of early (sword and sorcery) D&D and assumes that The Classics have the bigger influence.
Tolkien and Howard are VERY different!

And Tolkien was very influenced by classical sources. As was Howard if you included the Bible as a classical source.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Tolkien and Howard are VERY different!

And Tolkien was very influenced by classical sources. As was Howard if you included the Bible as a classical source.
The themes of their work wasnt really about powerful (super)heroes though. Power was intangible to the protagonists. They survived by guile, luck, and heart. Not because they had super strength or shot laser out of their eyes.
 

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