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.

Chainmail 3rd Edition

Tolkien References Changed or Removed from 5th - 8th Printings

A. Hobbit to Halfling Changes

The word “Hobbit(s)” was completely changed to “Halfling(s)”. Pages on which “Hobbit(s)” was originally used are 3 (Table of Contents), 28, 29 (x2), 36, 38, 39, 43 (x2).

B. Tolkien References Removal

Two out of the three mentions of J.R.R. Tolkien were removed from the book.

  • 1st is on Page 35, Dragons, where the second sentence ended with “which is typified in Tolkien's THE HOBBIT”.

  • 2nd is on Page 36, Rocs, where last sentence in original description was “(These equal the "Eagles" of Tolkien's Trilogy.)”

C. Balrog Removal

All mentions of “Balrog(s)” were completely removed from the book.

  • Page 3 includes “Balrogs” as the first entry on the line of the Table of Contents which includes “Giants, Ents, Dragons”

  • Page 28 includes “Balrogs” with the line for “Ogres” and “Trolls” on the table.

  • Page 30 included a line “Balrogs – Fantasy Combat Table, score 12” in between the lines for the table with “Ogres” and “Giants.”

  • Page 31 included a line “Balrog Saved by a dice roll of 6 or better” in the table in between the lines for “Wraith” and “Giant.”

  • Page 34 included “Balrogs” in between “Hero-types” and “Elementals” in the second sentence which starts with the words “True Trolls”.

  • Page 34 included “Balrog 8 or better”” in between “Super Hero” and “Elemental” on the table on that page.

  • Page 34 included the description of “Balrogs” as follows:

BALROGS: A Balrog is truly a terrible opponent. Balrogs cannot be killed by normal missile fire or in normal combat. It inflicts casualties in normal combat as if it were two Heavy Horse. In addition, the Balrog can immolate any normal figure it touches during its move or melee. They operate equally well in darkness or in light. They can fly 15" per turn, and remain airborne for three turns.

Morale Rating — 50 Point Value — 75

  • Page 35 the last sentence under the “Ents” description ended with “and Balrogs need 5 or better.”

  • Page 35 the sentence beginning with “Because they are extremely evil” included “Balrogs” in between “Giants” and “Rocs”.

  • Page 36 includes “Balrogs” in the description of Fire Elementals before “Dragons”.

  • Page 39 includes “*Balrog -4 points” on the first table above “Troll”.

  • Page 39 includes “Balrogs” under the “Chaos” heading below “True Trolls” and above “Giants”

  • Page 43 includes “Balrogs” in the Fantasy Reference Table below “Trolls, ogres” and above “Ents” with the following statistics:

        Special                    Missile
Move    Ability    Charge    Fly   Range     Attack     Defend
6”      B(J)       9”        15”   -              Special

  • Page 44 includes “Balrog” as the first row, “Attacker”, and first column, “Defender”, entries on the Fantasy Combat Table as follows:


Attacker      B   D   E  E  G  H  L   R  S  T  W  W@  W
Balrog        7, 11, 11, 8, 8, 4, 6, 1-, 7, 6, 4, 8, 11
Dragon        6
Elemental    10
Ent (Tree)   12
Giant         9
Hero*        11
Lycanthrope  10
Roc          12
Super Hero*   9
Troll, Orge  10
Wight, Ghoul 12
Wizard*@      7
Wraith*      10

D. Ent to Treant Changes

The word “Ent(s)” was completely changed to “Treant(s)”. Pages on which “Ent(s)” was originally used are 3, 35 (x9), 36, 38, 39 (x3), 43, 44. The words “(also Trees)” were removed following the first mention of “Treant” on page 35. Additionally, the phrase “other than an Entwood” was removed from the sentence “If they are fighting inside of, or within 6" of, a wood, other than an Entwood, they will double their melee capability.” under the “Lycanthrope” entry on Page 34.

Dungeons and Dragons Original Box Set

Tolkien References Changed or Removed from 6th-7th Printings and all official modern reprints

Abbreviations Used: 

                                    M&M for Volume 1: Men &                                                Magic,

                                    M&T for Volume 2: Monsters &                                        Treasure

                                    U&W for Volume 3: The                                                    Underworld and Wilderness                                                Adventures

A. Hobbit to Halfling Changes

The word “Hobbit(s)” was completely changed to “Halfling(s)” except for the use of “Hobbits” on M&M 6 until modern reprints. Pages on which the “Hobbit(s)” was originally used and changed are M&M 8 (x3), 9; U&W 8, 9.

B. Tolkien References Removal

All the three mentions of J.R.R. Tolkien (consistently misspelled as “Tolkein”) were removed from the books:

  • M&T Page 7, first sentence under the entry “Orcs” originally ended with “basing the decision on Tolkein or random chance.”

  • M&T Page 9, first sentence under the entry “Wights” original read as follows: “Barrow Wights (per Tolkein) are nasty critters who drain away life energy levels when they score a hit in melee, one level per hit.”

  • M&T Page 9 deleted the original second sentence under the entry for “Spectres” : “(The Nazgul of Tolkein now fall into this category rather than as Wraiths as stated in CHAINMAIL)”

C. Balrog Removal

All mentions of Balrogs were completely removed from the books:

  • M&M Page 8, “Balrog” changed to “Dragon” in the “Other Character Types” paragraph.

  • M&M Page 9, “Balrogs” below “Men*” and above “Evil High Priests” under the Chaos column of the table.

  • M&M Page 23, the phrase “(the Balrog in the "Ring Trilogy")” was removed from the description of “Hold Portal” after the words “a strong anti-magical will shatter it”

  • M&T Page 3, eliminated the line for “Balrogs” in the Monster Reference Table. The line was below “Dragons**” and above “Gargoyles” and was given as follows:

Monster Number   Armor Move in   Hit % In Type or
Type Appearing Class Inches**  Dice Liar Amount of

Balrogs 1-6   2 6/15   10 25% Type F

  • M&T Page 7, eliminated the line for “Balrog” on the table under the “Orcs” entry. The line was below “11th Level Magic-User” and above “Dragon” and was given as follows:

Cave Complex Village
Balrog 25%/100 Orcs Nil

  • M&T Page 14, eliminated the monster description for “Balrogs” and inserted an illustration from Tom Wham, also found on the 1977 Character Record Sheets to keep the page numbering consistent. The description of the “Balrogs” was given as follows:

BALROGS: Balrogs are highly intelligent monsters with a magical nature. There is a high probability that spells will not work against them. To determine success of spells use a base of 75% resistance at the 11th level and adjust upwards or downwards in 5% incriments, i. e. a 12th level Magic-User would have a 70% chance of resistance. Balrogs cannot be subdued, but they can be enlisted in the service of a strong chaotic character. There is, of course, always the possibility that the Balrog will attempt to assume command himself, for Chaotic creatures will generally obey a Balrog before a human (except for an Evil High Priest who is slightly more influential). Balrogs have those charactertistics indicated in CHAINMAIL, but when fighting fantastic opponents they attack in two ways each turn: The normal attack is with a magical sword of +1 value, and if the Balrog immolates (any score of 7 or better on two six-sided dice, check each turn of melee) it also attacks with its whip. If the whip hits the Balrog drags the opponent against its flaming body, doing two dice of damage! In this manner a Balrog can fight one or two opponents at the same time.

  • M&T Page 32, the end of the last sentence under the description for “Fire Resistance” was changed from “it takes -1 away from damage caused by these and from Balrog immolation.” to “it takes –1 away from damage caused by these and other immolation.”

  • U&W Page 15, “Balrog^4” in the table was changed to “Chimeras^4”

  • U&W Page 16, eliminated “Balrog 15” from the Movement table, no replacement was provided.

  • U&W Page 19, “Balrogs” replaced with “Griffons” under Flyer Types on the Wilderness Wandering Monsters Table. In early prints the “Flyer/Undead/Giant Types” portion of this table straddles pages 18 and 19, but in later prints this table is complely located on page 18.

  • U&W Page 19, replaces “Balrogs” from “Dragon Types” on line 10, with “Chimeras”. This shift upwards requires “Chimerae” to be replaced by “Hydra (7-9 heads)” on line 11 and “Hydra (7-12 heads)” with “Hydra (10-12 heads)” on line 12.

  • U&W Page 26, “Balrog” underneath “Category” removed from the line for “Cocktrice, or Gargoyle”.

D. Ent to Treant Changes

The word “Ent(s)” was completely changed to “Treant(s)”. Pages on which “Ent(s)” was originally used are M&M 9, 33; M&T 4, 16 (x2), 23, 27; U&W 15, 18

E. Artwork Alteration

The names originally next to certain illustrations were removed in the following instances:

  • M&M, Page 9 “Hobbit” from the lower image.

  • M&T, Page 1 “Nazgul”

  • M&T, Page 13 “Balrog”

  • U&W, Page 14 “Nazgul”

  • U&W, Page 25 “Ent” from left image

Supplement I: Greyhawk

Tolkien References Changed or Removed from 6th or 7th Printings to the 12th Printing (or they may never have been changed) and all official modern reprints

A. Hobbit to Halfling Changes

The word “Hobbit(s)” may have been completely changed to “Halfling(s)” except on page 5 until modern reproductions. Pages on which “Hobbit(s)” was originally used are pages 4, 11 (x2) and 68 (x3) (Errata sheet).

B. Balrog Removal

All mentions of Balrogs were completely removed from the book:

  • Page 17, “Balrog” entry removed from table in between “Dragon*” and “Gargoyle”, Balrogs have 2 attacks and cause points of damage per attack as follows: 1-12 with sword, 2-12, 3-18, or 4-24 according to size.

  • Page 63, “Balrog” changed to “Efreeti” in three instances.

  • Page 65, “Balrogs” changed to “Efreet”

C. Ent to Treant Changes

The word “Ent(s)” was completely changed to “Treant(s)”. Pages on which “Ent(s)” was originally used are pages 17 & 41.

Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry

Tolkien References Changed or Removed from 5th-9th Printings and all official modern reprints

A. Hobbit to Halfling Changes

The word “Hobbit(s)” was completely changed to “Halfling(s)”. Pages on which “Hobbit(s)” was originally used are page 9.

B. Balrog to Type VI Demon Changes

Any references to “Balrog” were changed to “Type VI Demon.” Pages on which a Type VI Demon is referenced are pages 1, 12, 23, 27, 33 (x3), 38, 56. Known instances where “Balrog” was originally used include pages 12, 27 & 33. A sentence was removed which originally read “Type VI: These rather rare demons are sometimes known as balrogs, and as such have been particularly described in other works (CHAINMAIL, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, etc).” The illustration on page 3 was originally identified as a “Balrog”, it was changed to “Demon Type VI.”

C. Ent to Treant Changes

The word “Ent(s)” was completely changed to “Treant(s)”. Pages on which “Ent(s)” was originally used are pages 2, 24 (x2), 56, 58.

Swords & Spells

Tolkien References Changed from 3rd-6th Printings

A. Hobbit to Halfling Changes

The word “Hobbit(s)” was completely changed to “Halfling(s)”. Pages on which “Hobbit(s)” was originally used are page 3, 6.

B. Ent to Treant Changes

The word “Ent(s)” was completely changed to “Treant(s)”. Pages on which “Ent(s)” was originally used are pages 34, 37, 38.

Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes) Basic Set

Tolkien References Changed or Removed from all but the 1st Printing of the Rulebook.

Note that the printings of the Rulebook are independent of printings of the Basic Set.   The Basic Rulebook was sold separately.  There were ten printings of the Rulebook, which went through three "Editions".  

A. Hobbit to Halfling Changes

The word “Hobbit(s)” was changed to “Halfling(s)” in most instances from first printing to second printing of the First Edition. Pages on which “Hobbit(s)” was changed to “Halfling” are page 5 (6x), 6 (4x), 7 (5x), 10, 11 (4x), 13, 39 (6x), 44 & 47. Pages where “hobbit(s)” was retained are pages 7, 9 (2x), 17, 39.  All remaining references to hobbits were changed by the Second Edition except for page 17.

B. Tolkien References Removal

  • Page 46, "Battle of Five Armies" wargame removed from 2nd and later printings of the First Edition from the TSR product list.
Curiously, the two references to balrogs on page 14 were never removed.  Similarly, the text on page 31 "The 'Nazgul' of Tolkien fall into this category." and page 33, "Barrow wights (as per Tolkien)"  were also never removed from the printed rulebook even though nearly identical language was eliminated from these creature's (Spectre and Wight) entries in the OD&D box set.

Other Materials

Supplement II: Blackmoor and Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes, did not have any Tolkien references.  

Usage of Tolkien Elements

In original Dungeons and Dragons, you will find a substantial influence from Tolkien.  The playable races described in the books are humans, elves, dwarves and hobbits.  Almost all of the protagonists and good aligned characters in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are a member of one of these races.  Fighters and Magic-Users are present in both, and Bilbo's contribution to Quest for Erebor ("burglar") could fulfill the role of the D&D Thief.  The enemies in LOTR and Hobbit include goblins and orcs, giant spiders, wild men, dragons, wights, wraiths and a balrog.  Natural allies included Rocs, which were explicitly compared to Tolkien's intelligent Eagles, and of course the tree-herding Ents.  

The original Dungeons and Dragons books referred to plot devices in Tolkien's works, they did not reference other authors work by both the artist's name and the artist's creation.  Tolkien was very popular at the time, perhaps in part because he died in the very year, 1973, that Dungeons and Dragons had taken concrete shape.  Films of The Hobbit and LOTR would be made of his work by the late 70s, radio adaptations would be performed and new work from his writings such as the Silmarillion and The History of Middle-Earth would be published.  

Of course, once the legal situation had been resolved, actual changes TSR made to their products were slight.  Instead of Hobbits, the games had a race called Halflings, who were short, nimble humanoids with a love of creature comforts and no need for shoes.  "Halflings" is frequently (and often in a derogatory manner) used in Tolkien's published work, so the name change could not fool anyone. The usage was apparently established prior to Tolkien sufficiently so that it was safe to include the concept in the game with such little effort.

Similarly Type VI Demons, called Balors in the AD&D Monster Manual are large, powerful winged demons with a flaming sword and a whip.  "Worgs" were described in that manual as being in league with goblins, just like the "wargs" in The Hobbit.  "Treants" are intelligent, semi-anthromorphic tree-like beings who are chaotic good and have power over normal trees.  "Mithril" became "mithral".  Sometimes they didn't even bother to change the name, such as with "Orcs".  Tolkien Enterprises seemed more concerned with marketable Tolkien names (granted he was a philologist, so the creation of names and words was very important to him) than with his ideas.  One cannot copyright ideas but one can trademark names when the association is made with a set of ideas.  

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