10 things Dungeons & Dragons took from The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien’s trilogy is arguably the most influential fantasy work ever written, inspiring many novels, films and games, including the popular role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Many fans have recognized similarities between the two, while those who have studied the history of Dungeons & Dragons will be familiar with some ways the game’s creators “borrowed” from Tolkien.
To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with Dungeons & Dragons inspired by the Lord of the Rings. The game is even richer and more fun because he was inspired by the greatest fantastic books ever written, just as Tolkien’s epic was enriched by his love of existing sources. That said, fans of both will no doubt be interested to see how the world’s most popular tabletop RPG was influenced by Tolkien’s literary masterpiece.
ten Halflings are just Hobbits
Most of the classic Dungeons & Dragons fantasy races can be found in Tolkien. In fact, even using the word “race” to describe these different species is something Tolkien uses frequently in his writings.
Elves and dwarves were common fantasy figures before Tolkien, but there is no denying that halflings were directly inspired by hobbits. In fact, the word “halfling” is frequently used the Lord of the Rings. Early editions of Dungeons & Dragons even used the word “hobbit”, although they were eventually forced to stop.
9 Rangers are inspired by Aragorn
At the start of each new campaign, players must choose a race and class for their character. One of those classes is the Ranger, an experienced hunter and tracker who roams the wilderness, stalking his prey with a bow or pair of swords.
Many know that the the Lord of the Rings The character Aragorn is a ranger who wields a sword and travels through the wilderness, and the similarity is more than a coincidence. In his article “Tolkien & Dungeons & Dragons” at The Artifice, Professor Jeff MacLeod notes that Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Manual Originally included a rule that a second level ranger would become a “strider”. Aragorn’s nickname is Strider.
8 Balors were originally called Balrogs in Gygax’s notes
The two people credited with inventing Dungeons & Dragons are Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. Of the two, Gygax is often described as the more visionary, taking the war games Arneson tinkered with and fleshing them out with historical and fantasy elements.
The Balors are powerful monstrous demons with fiery wings and whips. Although Gygax “invented” them, they are directly inspired by the Balrog that appeared in The Fellowship of the Ring. In fact, Gygax even wrote “Balrog” in his personal notes when listing demons.
7 Mithril is a powerful dwarf metal created by Tolkien
Mithril is a fantastic metal created by Tolkien. The dwarves of Middle-earth mined this rare silvery ore from the depths of the mountains, turning it into fantastic weapons and armor. The metal is incredibly rare and is much more valuable than gold or precious stones.
In various works of Dungeons & Dragons, a more or less identical metal is called “mithril”, “mithral” or, for some reason, “real metal”. Surprisingly, the metal also appears in many other fantastic series.
6 The dwarf cities Gauntlgrym and Mithral Hall are eerily similar to Moria
There is an ancient city underground where the dwarves mined mithril and created many wonderful items in their forges. Then the dwarf king was cast out and his people were sent into exile. This great dwarf kingdom was called Moria, or at least it was in the works of Tolkien.
As part of the Forgotten Realms campaign, there is an area of almost identical description called Gauntlgrym. In addition, there is another lost dwarf kingdom that bears the so original name of Mithral Hall.
5 Treants are based on ents
It turns out that Tolkien’s estate wasn’t exactly excited about all parts of the Lord of the Rings which have been incorporated into Dungeons & Dragons. In 1985 Gary Gygax published an article in issue 95 of Dragon magazine titled “JRR Tolkien’s Influence on D&D and AD&D Games”. Here he insisted that he was more influenced by the actual story and the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard. However, he admitted to adopting Tolkien’s concept of “ents”, as the Tree People are known. He admitted other influences as well, but tried to justify many of them in different ways.
The Tolkien estate sued for copyright infringement. Once the dust settled, “tréants” became the word used in place of “ents”. Additionally, the Balrogs have since been renamed balors and the word “hobbit” has ceased to appear in the Dungeons & Dragons books.
4 The gate to Mithral Hall is clearly based on the gates of Durin
One of the most famous scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring takes place when the characters arrive at a hidden mountain side gate that will lead them into Moria. The gate is only visible in moonlight, and to enter the city inside, characters must utter a password.
This also happens to be the setup for entering Outland, which takes the characters into the caves underground to help reclaim Mithral Hall in the novel. Silver streams by RA Salvatore. This must just a coincidence, right?
3 The Novel Streams of Silver borrows heavily from the Hobbit
The legend of Drizzt by RA Salvatore is possibly the most popular Dungeons & Dragons novel series ever written. The second Drizzt book that Salvatore wrote, Silver streams, has many similarities to Tolkien’s plot The Hobbit. Here are some events that occur in both books.
A group of adventurers help a dwarf king recover his lost ancestral home. Said house was invaded by a dragon. The dwarf’s grandfather was king before their people were driven out. The halfling character is a thief with a magical trinket. The adventurers stop to rest in a city and are aided by a noble elf of great renown. A secret magic door allows characters to enter the underground fortress of the Lost Kingdom. The sleeping dragon learns from intruders and attacks. The dragon is hit by a special arrow. The King of the Dwarves falls in battle at the end of the book. There are probably other similarities worth including here, but players and readers get the idea.
2 People didn’t talk about orcs before Tolkien
In Tolkien’s works, goblins are often referred to as orcs. To be clear, Tolkien didn’t invent orcs, but before popularizing them the term was obscure and had a less clearly defined interpretation.
Many fantastic works have used the word “orc” over the years. While they’re technically a separate breed from the goblinoids in Dungeons & Dragons, in many ways they’re basically just bigger, tougher goblins.
1 Half-elves are loosely based on Elrond’s half-elf
Among the most popular breeds of players is the half-elf. If the name doesn’t make it obvious, a half-elf is the child of an elf and a human. YouTuber and Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast Matthew Coleville has a series of history videos for each edition of the game, where he walks people through the creation of characters in each edition while adding historical context. If that sounds boring, it isn’t.
One thing he notes is that Gygax had a complicated relationship with Tolkien’s works, and that the race of half-elves was loosely modeled on the character of Elrond Half-elven. While Elrond is one of the most iconic beings in Middle-earth whose mixed heritage is considered worthy or notable, Dungeons & Dragons made love between humans and elves so commonplace that half-elves are a playable race that any player can choose from. In a weird way, it shows just how commonplace magic has become in this new game.
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