Saturday, February 26, 2022

Removed or Changed References to J.R.R. Tolkien and His Works in D&D

When Dungeons and Dragons was first released, it made no secret of its many literary influences.  Authors which helped inspire the game included Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance.  One author which stood above all others in the fantasy writer canon was J.R.R. Tolkien, whose work, The Lord of the Rings, had a popularity unmatched by any other fantasy author at that time and arguably since.  

Even though Gary Gygax, the author of Chainmail (1971) and co-author of Dungeons and Dragons (1974), was not the greatest fan of Tolkien's work, he had no compunction about including certain of Tolkien's creations in his published work.  The most notable was the inclusion of Hobbits as playable troop types characters whose characteristics were described in the above-mentioned works.  Other Tolkien creations, like Balrogs and Ents, also featured in the games.  Their inclusion continued in the five D&D Supplements and the D&D Basic Set published from 1975 to 1977.  

While D&D was a small niche hobby publication, this unapproved borrowing did not attract notice, but as the popularity of D&D increased it started receiving mainstream attention.  Sometime in mid-to-late 1977 TSR, the publishers of D&D, received a letter from representatives of Tolkien Enterprises (which held the film rights) demanding they cease using Tolkien's literary creations in their products.  TSR then complied with the demand by trying to rename every instance of a Tolkien-derived name from their products and reprinting them.  But some references were thought too blatant to just handle with a name change, so the balrog and several references to Tolkien got cut from the texts.  This blog entry will try to identify every change in these works.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Dungeons and Dragons, Chainmail & Outdoor Survival - The Intersection of Wargame, Boardgame and the RPG Ur-Text

When one reads the Three Little Brown Booklets (3LBB) which constituted the first publication of the Original Dungeons and Dragons rules, several issues become apparent.  The first issue is that they are a product of their time, written by people who were charting a course into something new and whose potential they had yet to fully grasp.  The second thing is that the authors were not masters of explication, with many assumptions made of the reader which turned out to be unwarranted in many instances.  The third is that the original release of D&D does not stray far from its wargaming roots, it is said to require a copy of Chainmail to play. 

In this blog article, we will examine how much of a requirement this turned out to be and how the Chainmail rules could have and likely may have been incorporated into early D&D combat and other procedures.  At the end we will also consider how well Outdoor Survival, also mentioned in the 3LBBs, is incorporated into D&D.  Hopefully one can impart some of the challenges in trying to understand a ruleset from almost fifty years ago and how interpretation informed by experience is vital to understanding the development of the Role Playing Game.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes) Basic Set - Beginnings of the Friendly RPG

Cover to Holmes Basic Book by David C. Sutherland III

The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, released by TSR in 1977, was the first time a table top role playing game tried to break into the mainstream.  Although role playing was already a few years old at this point, it was not an approachable game for the novice even by the standards of its day.  Role Playing had evolved from wargaming and was still somewhat confined to that crowd after Original Dungeons & Dragons had been released.  One admirer of the D&D game was a physician and neurologist named John Eric Holmes.  He approached TSR and offered to consolidate the existing ruleset into something more approachable for new and younger players.  Gary Gygax accepted his assistance, as Gygax was developing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in order to move away from the unstructured nature of OD&D.  

Holmes compiled a manuscript which turned into a 48-page booklet, which was put in a colorful box with a module or supplementary dungeon building material and a set of polyhedron dice which was released in 1977 as the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set.  Intended to be only an introductory product to help players understand how to play and run an RPG, it proved to be very popular and spawned many successors.  For several years it was one of TSR's most popular products, selling upwards of 12,000 copies per month by 1980.  But is it playable today when those successors are as easy to find and buy?  Let's take a look on how Holmes' distilled OD&D and presented it as a game in comparison with the later versions of the Basic Set.