Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Arguments D&D Appreciators Should Not Use

These two bogus arguments are commonly invoked when classic D&D is discussed. Here is a recent example:

Chainmail fantasy and OD&D are unapologetically Tolkien derivatives. AD&D had to distance itself from Tolkien (and Arneson) for legal reasons. And Gygax rather maliciously tried to make Elves bad…. I’d accept an argument that AD&D attempts to move the game further from Tolkien and further into pulp. But that doesn’t change the origins of all RPGs are rules for Tolkien’s middle earth wargaming. (Source: here and here.)

These are of course “just so stories” for nerds. They are very handy to people that want to ignore outright what is in the actual rules manuals. And face it, very few people have the attention spans necessary to wade through the text of either the OD&D or the AD&D game books. It’s much easier to appeal to moldy wargames and lawsuits that nobody actually cares about– the details of which are so esoteric that few people are liable to call you on your evident sophistry.

All of this falls into the larger pattern in gross nerd thinking that James Steissand has pointed out whereby people think that if they can give an explanation for why a particular rules element is included within the game rules then they can safely discount it at the table and suffer no ill effects. As such, the use of these arguments are the hallmark of facile and low effort thinking. To paraphrase what they actually signal, it is this: “I have already decided what D&D is and nothing in the rules manuals can change my mind about it.” Thus, the substantiative evidence from the game manuals themselves cannot persuade these sorts of people because they have already embraced an overall tack whose purpose is to dismiss outright what is in them!

Nevertheless, here are facts that they above Twitter denizen leaves out of his gloss on classic D&D:

  • Chainmail of course also includes references to both Robert E. Howard and Poul Anderson. Specially, Tolkien’s trolls are dismissed in favor of Anderson’s. Further, Anderson’s rather strange concept of Alignment is a first class element of the game.
  • Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign featured a very healthy helping of John Norman’s Gor. Major elements of the campaign such as the baffling Egg of Coot are more in line with some kind of off the wall science fantasy than a straight ahead Tolkien derivative.
  • Tony Bath’s earlier fantasy campaign quite obviously built off of Robert E. Howard’s works.
  • There is no discernable shift in either the tone or the literary sources used in the D&D rule books as they transitioned from OD&D to AD&D during the seventies. The 1973 introduction to the D&D rules and Dragon articles throughout the period all feature more or less the same authors as those that appear in AD&D’s Appendix N. Indeed, OD&D and AD&D are virtually the same game.
  • Classic D&D’s wide range of fantasy sources outside of the “Tolkienesque” wheelhouse is further cemented by the 1980 release of Deities & Demigods which included extensive sections on Lovecraft’s Mythos, Moorcock’s Elric stories, and Fritz Lieber’s Lankhmar tales. If you want to get into lawsuits, then you need to mention how many people besides Tolkien also had a bone to pick with TSR over these matters.

Obviously, a great deal more can be said on this subject. For an in depth treatment of the matter, please see my book.


3 responses to “Arguments D&D Appreciators Should Not Use

  1. simontmn March 24, 2023 at 5:41 am

    “There is no discernable shift in either the tone or the literary sources”

    I do think that 1e AD&D marks a shift away from the Sword & Planet & other science fantasy influences that are big in OD&D, towards a more medievalesque tone. Sword & Sorcery remains the dominant element.

    • simontmn March 24, 2023 at 5:44 am

      I think the big genre shift towards High Fantasy came in 1983 with Mentzer (& especially Elmore art) BECMI D&D and the iconic Red Box cover art.

  2. Pingback: Appendix N is Essential to Understanding D&D | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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