Sunday, July 14, 2019

Breakthrough in Gygax/Tolkien Studies!

The question of how much Gary Gygax was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien in the writing of the first few versions of Dungeons & Dragons is one of those topics that generates a great deal of chatter on the Internet these days, usually producing more heat than light. Personally I hold to the idea that Gary was fairly indifferent to Tolkien's fiction, but included the Middle-Earth elements at the insistence of his players. However, it did occur to me recently that in addition to the occasionally-superficial borrowing of monsters and classes, there is an element of old-school play which is closely modeled by The Lord of the Rings - the Appendices, even! - than any other source I can think of.

As is well known, D&D characters who attain high levels gain the ability to build strongholds and accumulate followers. The precise rules for this vary by edition - some retroclones* being especially well-known for expanding on this playstyle - and by class, but it's a pretty universal element.

Art by Ted Nasmith
Universal in the game, at least, but perhaps not so much in the inspirational literature. I've read a bit of discussion around AD&D's Appendix N, including Jeffro Johnson's tome on the subject, and don't recall seeing this ever mentioned. As for the Appendix N works themselves, well, we have Conan famously becoming king-by-his-own-hand of Aquilonia, and maybe John Carter becoming the Warlord of Mars if we stretch the definitions some, but these both of these involve taking over an existing power structure rather than carving out a new one. For that, the best example I can think of is the later careers of Legolas and Gimli:

"After the fall of Sauron, Gimli brought south a part of the Dwarf-folk of Erebor and he became Lord of the Glittering Caves. . . . Legolas his friend also brought south Elves out of Greenwood, and they dwelt in Ithilien, and it became once again the fairest country in all the westlands." - The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A

Now, despite my clickbaity headline, I doubt this passage had much to do with what we call the "Domain Game" of early D&D. In fact, I would tend to think the concept as driven more by gameplay needs than anything in fantasy fiction at the time, though I welcome further examples. Still, it's a remarkable correspondence in concept, and one that I certainly wouldn't mind exploring at the table someday.

*Affiliate link.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments with commercial links and "Anonymous" usernames will be spammed.