I am a sponsor because I believe in freedom and everything America stands for. Time is pressing, but I hope you enjoy the show!
I just wanted to offer a special welcome to people attending the American Celebration Tour!
I am a sponsor because I believe in freedom and everything America stands for. Time is pressing, but I hope you enjoy the show!
One of my primary concerns in pursuing a career as an author has been to avoid copyright infringement, My early exposure to Dungeons & Dragons has sent me on a quest to trace the literary sources upon which they based their monsters’ often peculiar portrayals.
In doing this study, I have also encountered the reality that authors build upon a literary tradition. The influences of prior authors shape some our favorite books, television shows, and movies. Often, later writers find phenomenal success after the original works by which they were influenced have fallen into obscurity.
What I have come to realize is that we all do it.
If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants. —Sir Isaac Newton
There is no author you can cite who hasn’t absorbed the influences of his literary forebears. Tolkien and Lovecraft were both influenced by Dunsany. George Lucas was, in turn, influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Frank Herbert, Gene Roddenberry, J.R.R. Tolkien, and possibly even Gary Gygax, just to name a few.
It’s the originality with which we build our worlds and the characters who inhabit them that matters. There are only so many stories and so many ways to tell them.
So while it’s fun to trace the origins, the body of literature is so vast that it’s a virtually impossible task. To say nothing of authors who are inspired by pastiches and don’t even know it. That’s how genres are born.
As a footnote, I stayed up all night reading Almuric by Robert E. Howard after I read on a blog that the villains were one of the literary influences behind D&D’s Drow. I inadvertently discovered that it may also contain one of the influences behind their early portrayal of the canine kobold.
You just never know where something might have come from. Throw in folklore, myth, and legend and now you’re looking at the work of a lifetime.
Better to let the imagination flow. Homages can be fun, but there’s often more behind them than even the author may realize.
For those of you who may be wondering, the title of this blog post is a reference to The Hobbit.
World building is a fine art. Literary gaming is a complex thing because designers must tread that thin line between copyright infringement and original material. Too often, designers play it safe, with the consequence that original folklore and myth get left in the dust. Which is a shame, because, as you’re about to learn, simply adapting the mythic can be richly rewarding. Those original myths also stand silently behind many of pop culture’s literary icons.
I will not take any credit for discovering these, just pleasure in finally knowing the truth. I’ve read too many blogs and books to source them all, but if you are curious, let me know and I’ll gather the links for you.
Let’s start with the Drow. They draw inspiration from the Norse svartalfar. It took my own research to see that they also share some of the supernatural abilities of the Draugar. The very same inspirations stand behind Tolkien’s orcs, although he was well read in the elder literature and was aware of the influences upon which he drew. Another blog reminded me that Tolkien’s orcs were originally Elves corrupted by Melkor. It was an origin story he later changed, but it was one vision. It has been said that Gary Gygax neither liked nor fully understood The Lord of the Rings. The form the Drow took is a clear demonstration of that. There’s also the fact that Gygax drew inspiration from myriad other sources in their creation, most notably The Shadow People by Margaret St. Clair and the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Swap them out for Orcs for gamers tired of Gygaxian Drow. One can also see something of the Deodand of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance in their makeup. Either one would make an interesting change for gamers tired of playing Black Martians dressed up as elves. No, I’m not kidding. On the other hand, playing up the Martian angle might be a way of breathing fresh life into a game that has somewhat lost touch with its science fantasy roots. You’ll find the tools for custom races in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for those of you interested in crafting a home brew campaign. For those interested in exploring Barsoom as a fully fledged RPG, you can pick up the John Carter of Mars game from Mophidius.
One of the strangest developments in Roleplaying Game history has been the evolution of the Kobold. Early editions utilized the well known folklore. It’s the less well known variety that informs their portrayal afterwards. Although, as I have learned, it’s a curious mishmash of elements that has confused players. Dungeons and Dragons sufferers from a peculiar habit of anthropomorphism, possibly a legacy of the Appendix N literature. Not everything in folklore and myth was so clear cut. That’s the difference between myth and the literature it inspires. So where does that leave our funny little dragon men?
As it turns out, they’re not so funny after all, but they’re not men. There was a form of kobold known as the drak, drake, drachen, or puk. This is the fiery kobold. It takes various forms, but for our purposes in tracing its D&D lineage, it appears in folklore as a miniature wyvern. It also appears as a flying fiery stripe. The little dragon ignites in flight. It’s a mischievous little beast that steals from its neighbors and brings its plunder to the home of its human hosts. The creature living underground in Dungeons & Dragons straddles the fence between this and the wicked old gnomes of the mine. The closest thing to the folklore in the game is the Pseudodragon. Do your own research. You may find much to inspire your own campaign or writing.
That’s it for now.
Have a great day.
I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time on this blog analyzing a rules peculiarity out of Dungeons & Dragons that affects my favorite fantasy race, Elves. The reason I have put so much time and energy into this is that a novelist needs to understand his characters so that their interactions make sense within the fictional universe he has created.
Here are the story elements underlying the rules that have been perplexing gamers since their debut.
The ghoul in D&D is actually a Draugr from Norse myth, the inspiration behind Tolkien’s Barrow-Wight and Nazgul. It’s the claws that have been throwing me off. Replace them with the Draugr’s traditional head slap and the rules finally make sense! It becomes a powerful stunning blow that Tolkien pastiche Elves shake off because of their superior fitness and unique healing abilities. Every author has a unique vision, but it’s nice to finally have the rationale!
There you have it! Happy Halloween!
Whatever you’re writing, the devil is in the details. Sometimes it takes seeing someone else’s treatment of a matter before you truly understand it.
I have learned never to use the word definitive again. Just when I think I’ve gotten to the bottom of something, I discover a new layer. I discovered another one in just writing this piece.
Those in my circle are well acquainted with my love of the nuances of myth, literature, and legend. I’ve discovered another one. My current reading shed new light on Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft.
I just read through Gnole House, an introductory adventure that accompanies the Quick Start Rules booklet for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. It’s based on the original short stories that inspired the Gnoll from Dungeons & Dragons.
The original short story was by Lord Dunsany. Margaret St. Clair wrote a sequel years later. Their depictions are remarkably different. The adventure includes both creatures. That set me thinking and sent me back to Pickman’s Model.
A simple rereading reveals that there are, in fact, several different types of ghoul presented within Pickman’s Model at different stages of their life cycle. Several are scary, but there’s only one that the narrator describes as being a panic-inducing horror—something so dreadful that, when spooked, he is momentarily paralyzed. Reading the sequel, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, reveals the reactions people have to the average ghoul. Reading the stories side by side elucidates their portrayal within Dungeons & Dragons. This is important because Lovecraft is said to be a strong influence in their creation. It certainly seems so from the lore. There may, however, be something else at work. I’ll cover that later.
The small and man-sized ghouls might set your heart racing, might make you cry out, but only the horrendous ogre on the final canvas induced a panic attack. There should be at least two ghouls. Interestingly enough, in Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions, the Troll is described as being akin to a ghoul.
In conclusion, it’s only the gigantic monster that is petrifyingly terrifying. Given that Anderson’s work was adapted as D&D’s official troll, it comes as something of a surprise that the two influences didn’t produce monsters more faithful to their literary sources.
Ghouls also appear in the official tabletop roleplaying game of Lovecraftian Horror, Call of Cthulhu. While the rules are different, no greater ghoul is described.
A contradictory influence comes from Lord Dunsany himself. Within his work we find what may be the answer to the gaming enigma. The literary origin of the ghoul’s paralyzing touch may come from a single line within How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon The Gnoles, although the effect is left to the reader’s imagination. So the D&D ghoul may be a mostly Dunsany inspired creature. Track down the story for a frightfully fun Halloween read. You’ll find it in The Book of Wonder.
The illustration above is fair use. Contact me if I
am mistaken and I will remove it without hesitation.
I have been tracking down the literary and mythic sources of the often mystifying depictions you find of monsters in the Dungeons and Dragons game. A gamer can just enjoy, but a writer must know to avoid inadvertently infringing someone else’s copyright when he sits down to pen his own work.
One of the most peculiar adaptations debuted in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. Up until that point, they had been clearly based on the creatures from German folklore, in particular, the troublesome fellows who bothered miners.
The official story is that the change occurred due to a miscommunication between Gary Gygax, the game designer, and Donald C. Sutherland, the artist. There’s clearly more to the story. I do not have a copy of the original Monster Manual, but I do have the next print with the red dragon hunting a herd of pegasi on the cover.
Let’s begin with the art. Sutherland depicted kobolds as diminutive dog men with large pointed ears and tiny devil horns. The contradiction to the official story appears when you start to read the description. Kobolds were scaly and laid eggs like lizards. Gygax had to have known, unless this particular monster was another writer’s responsibility.
Was there a literary inspiration out of Appendix N that described such a creature? Yes. It’s right there in black and white. In fact, it’s the very first series cited under Edgar Rice Burroughs name, “Pellucidar.” Whether or not it was a conscious homage is a question that will likely never be answered, but there was a fantasy and science fiction canon that was read back at the dawn of the hobby. Both men must have at least been aware of the novels, if not read them. Then, perhaps a dim memory of the material may have inspired the kobold.
The novel is Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. In it, we meet the Horibs. They are snake people. They range between four and nine feet tall. Like snakes, they grow larger with age. They have snake heads with unblinking eyes, large pointed ears, and small horns, giving them an appearance that the humans within the novel find disturbing. They also lay eggs.
The Horibs are an almost precise match for Sutherland’s kobolds!
As an interesting addendum, I was browsing online last night. The current description of kobolds as draconian has another inspiration: gargoyles. Their folklore is directly derived from dragons. In fact, they’re a much closer match to kobolds as they’re currently described. If you check out gargoyle pictures online, you’ll be surprised how closely they resemble Sutherland’s depiction, too. Right down to having dog-like faces!
So, now you know.
I’ve got a book to finish so I may slow down on my blog, but I’ll be back with any interesting tidbits. Have a great weekend!
Since I started to read the Appendix N literature, I thought that Dungeons & Dragons’ Hook Horror might have been inspired by the monsters from Fritz Leiber’s The Bleak Shore (one of his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories). I have recently discovered a much closer match, Gigan from Japanese Monster Movies! You never know where these beasties might come from next!
Up next, how Tarzan at the Earth’s Core inspired the Sutherland Kobold.
Have a great day!
I have really been chasing my tail on this one. My previous posts on this topic have been interesting examinations of possibilities, but have gone wide of the mark. The answer I sought has been something I’ve seen expressed online, but wasn’t able to make sense of at the time. It took rereading the myths of the Norse Draugr to finally put two and two together.
Why does a ghoul’s touch cause paralysis and why are elves immune?
The devil is in the details. It’s a legacy of esoteric rules language from Chainmail (the war game that preceded Dungeons & Dragons) whence “touch” meant engaged in hand-to-hand (mêlée) combat. Two miniatures (figures) on the game map on the table were right next to each other. In the conversion to D&D, the language was retained, but the meaning became obscured and ultimately lost when a successful attack roll was later required for paralysis to endanger its victim. There are no literary or mythic models as far as I know. Hence, my confusion. Where was this coming from?
Now, for the solution. What I just learned is that the Draugr doesn’t paralyze with its touch. It does it through its terrifying, soul-draining glowing eyes! And the Elves of Middle-Earth do not fear the ghosts of men.
Makes for some spooky Halloween reading if you’re so inclined. The Saga of Grettir the Strong contains the primary literary incident. Here, then, is the real answer to the question. As a writer, it’s imperative to understand why things work. Now that I really do, I’m finally free to write! I feel a marathon brewing!
(The illustration above is fair use. If I am mistaken, please let me know and I will remove it without hesitation.)
Come back soon to discover the real inspirations behind Hook Horror and the Kobold!
The Drow are pop culture icons, but these dark elves haven’t always been with us. Or have they?
It took rereading the myths to finally uncover the truth. The Drow aren’t what you think they are. Not by a long shot.
The creation story of the modern Drow is well known. They were invented by Gary Gygax as the villains to inhabit a new underworld setting for a series of adventures for Dungeons & Dragons in the late 70’s.
The original Drow was a goblin-like or dwarf-like creature in the folklore of the Shetland and Orkney Islands. What is interesting is that the name can be traced to the Norse Draugr. Modern readers and audiences will understand a Draugr as a cross between a zombie and a vampire.
Perhaps the most perplexing ability the Drow possess is their innate power to generate light or darkness. And there it is, in the myth of the Draugr. They generate foxfire, a light that’s the borderland between the worlds of the living and the dead. Another story speaks of four individual lights that witnesses see gleaming from a barrow. They can also cause darkness in the middle of the day.
This, coupled with the Drow’s obsidian complexion makes it abundantly clear that our modern Drow are essentially dashing, elven vampires. The draugr have received the hollywood glamour treatment. Gygax simply followed in Stoker’s footsteps. The Drow are a variation on a theme. Now that I know the truth, I can at last put them in context as a writer.
I prefer a game more faithful to its source material. Contrary to popular mythology, the Dark Elves of Norse myth appear as High Elves within D&D. The Drow have stolen both their name and their spotlight. So they are banned from my gaming table.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and I
hope to see you back here very soon. Whether you’re a gamer or a fan of fantasy fiction, I welcome your comments below.
(The illustration used above is fair use. However, if I am mistaken, please let me know and I will remove it without hesitation.)
Since the introduction of these more serious minded gnomes into Dungeons & Dragons, people have been puzzling over the name.
Is it a joke? Smurfs with the serial numbers filed off? There are plenty of joke monsters in the game and wouldn’t have been out of character for a man who pronounced his own campaign world Oerth with a Brooklyn accent (“Oith”).
I have read elsewhere online that the name is derived from Scandinavian folklore, but have been unable to confirm this.
I think I may have found a possible answer. It’s good enough for me. There was apparently a dwarf in Norse myth named Svíurr, Alternately named Sviárr or Síarr. Anglicized, this becomes Svir. The “f” may be a combining form? It means the vanishing one. Neblin, according to Wikipedia, is an alternate form of Nibelung. So, you end up with Svirfneblin.
I don’t know if Gygax went into this depth of analysis when creating them for his game, but it is an intriguing possibility. Especially, granted that one of their signature abilities is to vanish. Their grey complexion is an incredible camouflage in their environment.
(The above illustration is fair use. If I am mistaken, please let me know and I will remove it without hesitation.)
That’s all for now. Hope you’ll join me again soon.