DUNGEONS, DRAGONS AND DREAMERS

With the release of the new and vastly improved edition of Dungeons and Dragons this month, the classicDungeons and Dragons roleplaying game is back in the spotlight. D&D was born from classic fantasy and has cited its influences, and many authors, in turn, have been inspired by their experiences in tabletop roleplaying games.

As Dungeons and Dragons celebrates its 40th Anniversary, let’s take a look at the authors who inspired the game, and authors who were inspired by playing.

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In the game’s original foreword, one of D&Ds creators, the legendary Gary Gygax, listed a number of fantasy works that inspired the feel of the game.

Robert E. Howard is an obvious influence, with his amazing tales of Conan. Conan’s escapades read like a typical Dungeons and Dragons game - hearing of stories of priceless gems in inaccessible towers, venturing into barren lands to face hideous creatures and confronting the powers of evil sorcerers and necromancers. Not just great inspiration, but essential reading.

 Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars is cited as another influence, and elements of Carter’s adventures on the red planet even made it into early versions of the game rules. John Carter was a massive influence on such works as Star Wars and Dune, but it isn’t just science fiction, it’s pure escapism in a realm of strange creatures, powerful princesses, and extreme heroics.

Fritz Leiber’s fantasy stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, a barbarian and his thief sidekick, are the epitome of a D&D party, venturing into danger for purely financial gain to fuel their drunken debauchery with little care for doing “good”. Some of the denizens of Leiber’s world of Lankhmar even made it into the Dungeons and Dragons sourcebook, Deities and Demigods, as were some of the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, and some of the Melnibonéan creations of Michael Moorcock.

The final authors listed by Gygax are L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, whose “Harold Shea” Enchanter series feature a group of psychologists who project themselves into parallel worlds where myths and legends are reality. With a protagonist dissatisfied with their life and ending up in realms of swords, magic and monsters, it’s almost a parallel for playing the game.

Of course, the unwritten influence on Dungeons and Dragons, despite not being mentioned by Gygax in the original foreword, has to be Tolkien. D&D’s halflings (diminutive, Hobbit-like characters) were originally just called Hobbits before legal action required a renaming of the race. Similarly, Orcs - a common threat in the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons - came straight from the heart of Mordor and into the game.

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Dungeons and Dragons may have been inspired by great fantasy works, but the game itself has inspired and encouraged more recent writers. The adventures they played have had a significant effect and influence on their writing.

George R R Martin still enjoys roleplaying, and his epic A Song of Ice and Fire series has the feel of one of the most immense D&D campaigns in existence. Of course, A Song of Ice and Fire has gone on to become a tabletop roleplaying game in its own right.

Garth Nix used to write scenarios for D&D Magazine and Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine before creating the fantastic Old Kingdom series, Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and the forthcoming Clariel. Tales of fantasy in another reality that touches a world similar to that of ours in the early 1900’s at The Wall.

Cult weird-fiction author China Miéville used to play, as did Cory Doctorow. Vin Diesel’s most popular character Riddick was based upon Diesel’s own dark-elf D&D character, and it is thought that Joss Whedon’s fan favourite series Firefly was based on his old RPG game of Traveller.

Dungeons and Dragons has come under a lot of unfair criticism over its forty years, but one thing is certain - D&D drew from some of the greatest minds in fantasy to create a unique experience in tabletop gaming that grew beyond its humble beginnings, to become the perfect social game that fires the imagination with its group storytelling, and has inspired a great many writers to create worlds of their own.

If you’ve never sampled tabletop roleplaying, with the publication of the new edition (sometimes referred to as D&D Next) there is a new Starter Set available to give it a try, and many hobby stores are running demonstration games that you can join in. Give it a go, and who knows, you may be inspired to document your adventures and become the next Tolkien or Martin.