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Praise of the Professor
The influence of Tolkien on D&D has been a touchy topic for years. Some love it, some hate it. From what I've heard, Gygax wasn't originally influence by Tolkien at all, but put references to Tolkien in after the fact to leverage the popularity of the books at the time. On the other hand, I've also heard that Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign was very influenced by Tolkien.

I happen to like Tolkien, but not in the same way many do. I didn't read the Lord of the Rings until the movies came out, but at that time decided to do the mental experiment of reading each book just prior to seeing the movie. It did make me able to compare the book to the movie very well at the time, but was a bit jarring when I discovered the breaks in the movies did not precisely follow the breaks in the books. (The first movie ends a few chapters into the second book.)

I really enjoyed the first book. The second was pretty good. I couldn't make it through the third book. And now for the whammy: my absolute favorite above all else is still undoubtedly The Hobbit.

I think it's a matter of scale. The LotR story becomes more and more epic as the books go on, which I don't like. The Hobbit, on the other hand, consistently has a local feel to it. The dwarves and the hobbit are very much like a D&D party -- they're on a quest to steal a huge treasure from a dragon. It doesn't get much more D&D than that!

Even when you get to the end with the war of five armies, sure there's a good vs. evil feel to it, but ultimately what are they fighting over? Money. Perhaps land if you feel like extending it to that. However, it still feels like a pretty local fight. It might involve armies from several different nations, but I still feel like there's a bigger world with bigger things going on outside of this little conflict.

Heck, part way through the book Gandalf vanishes to go deal with the Necromancer to the South. We never learn any more about this, and I personally think that's awesome. I would love to infuse stuff like this into a D&D campaign. Some small idea that important stuff is happening somewhere else, but stuff the players don't really need to worry themselves about. I think it really helps the immersive feel of the setting, that the world is a big place that will keep progressing whether the players are there or not.

On the other hand, in LotR, everything happening is of the utmost importance. The fate of the world rests in protagonists hands. It's so big, the author has to split up the protagonists and follow each group in its own thread. I think that's pretty much where LotR starts to go sour for me, when the fellowship of nine breaks up. The entire fate of the world resting on just a few people strikes me as false, even in books, and doubly so in roleplaying games. The world does not rotate about your character, if he should die, someone will very likely step up into his place. In fact, the more you accept this, the easier it is when your character does die and it's time to roll up a new one.

So I'm cool with hobbits/halflings in my game. My dwarves are very Tolkien-esque. My elves to some degree as well, though I prefer them to be much more like the wood elves of the Hobbit than Legolas.

On the other hand, I think I've come full circle to prefer naturalist goblins and orcs, rather than a Tolkien-esque corrupted elf soul. I know this is a complete reversal of what I've formally posted. I think in retrospect my real gripe back than was playing in games where it wasn't explicit which viewpoint was taken. In future games my orcs will probably be more tribal than evil, though still very war-like and brutal. More goblin-king, and less urak-hai.

Anyway, that's where I stand, today at least. Give it a few years and we'll see how my tastes have changed then.

June 19th, 2009 - 08:34 am | Comments (8) | PERMALINK

An Interesting Clue From My Mother
I was trying to dig up an earlier post where I discuss my introduction to D&D, but I can't find one. So here's an abbreviated version of the story:

My dad bought my mom a copy of the basic set 'because she was into that sort of thing'. It's true, back then, my mom was part of the fantasy fad. I seem to recall her being especially enamored of unicorns. Anyway, I diverge. She stuck the box into a closet and promptly forgot about it. Enter my elder brother Mark. Mark discovered the box in her closet (what was he doing digging through our mother's closet?!) and opened it up. He was totally into it, and tried to bring me in on the excitement. Unfortunately I was a bit too young for it, though I played on occasion. By the time the bug hit me, it was already past for Mark. Sadly, it was a short-lived interest for him, and we never really got into the game together, a missed bonding opportunity I've always regretted.

The problem is, my memory is so foggy from back then, I can't pinpoint what edition of the game we had. I know it's a pretty trivial detail of little importance, but for some reason I just really want to know.

So I sent an email to my brother and my mother, asking for any more details they remember about how the set was obtained, what was in it, etc. I included some images from the Acaeum to see if any of them would jog their memories. I thought since neither of them really got into the game for any great length, the images might be my best chance. Perhaps the art would trigger some visual memory.

My mom said the art of the blue monochrome cover the Holmes set looks familiar, as does the art of the Mentzer box. Sadly, it feels the same way to me, which makes no sense, given that the interior of the Moldvay books has looked the most familiar to me. The Mentzer cover art definitely resonates, but the interiors of those books looks completely unfamiliar to me.

However, she was able to much better pinpoint the date she received the set. My parents are divorced, and have been as long as I can remember. I have no issues with this, it strikes me as unnatural that they were ever together, probably because I was so young when they split. Anyway, my mom recalls that I was 11 months old when they separated, and 2 by the time they divorced. Mom remembers that Dad bought her that box set in that window of time for her birthday, and recalls it being 'brand new'.

Mom's birthday is in July, just like mine, so it had to be the summer of either '78 or '79, when I turned 1 and 2 respectively. That puts it pretty solidly as a Holmes edition box set. It's possible it sat on a shelf for a while before Dad bought it, but it certainly couldn't be a Moldvay box which didn't see print until 1981.

I've ordered a Holmes edition from Troll and Toad, and am now eager to read it. Both from a historical vantage, to see how it differs from Moldvay, and from curiosity as to whether the interior layout and art look familiar.

Hurry up, post office!
June 19th, 2009 - 11:19 am | Comments (1) | PERMALINK

My Brother
Awesome. Just got an email from my brother that roundly contradicts what my mother said:

I am about 99.999% sure that the book second to last (left to right) is the one Mom had originally. As for what else exactly was in the box I don't recall. I think a single dice (die?) and a crayon plus maybe a few half eaten cookies. Not sure if the cookies were part of the original package or if we added them ourselves.


The book he's identifying here is the Moldvay book, circa 1981, the very same that seems so familiar to me. Based on that I'm pretty confident that we had a Moldvay set, not a Holmes. Makes me scratch my head though about this whole story of the birthday present from when my parents were separated.

Also, what happened to the other dice, and the copy of module B2 that should've been in that box? Apparently we inherited our inability to take better care of our stuff from my mother.
June 19th, 2009 - 01:01 pm | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

One More from Mark
Sent Mark my pictures of the Moldvay box set from this post. His response:

There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that that is exactly the set that Mom had.


There you have it. I think that sounds pretty definitive that we were Moldvay era kids. It's funny to identify yourself as being from a 'generation' that barely lasted 3 years.

Anyway, hopefully that's the end of it. At least until Mom sends more email refuting everything once again.
June 19th, 2009 - 02:10 pm | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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