Saturday, August 29, 2020

Tolkien's influence on D&D art

So, here's something I noticed years ago but haven't ever seen commented on, so I thought I'd share.

Setting aside the many borrowings from THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS in D&D, there's also evidence that Tolkien's short work FARMER GILES OF HAM (1949) influenced D&D. 

In a way this shd not be surprising -- in fact, I cd make a case that in plot FGH is more like a D&D adventure than either of Tolkien's major works available at the time. I think the borrowing has gone unnoticed because it's art, not text.

Here's a picture by Pauline Baynes of Tolkien's reluctant hero chasing a dragon (FGH page 44).

And here's a strangely familiar illo from CHAINMAIL (3rd edition, page 37), the work that preceded the first edition of D&D; the core that D&D grew out of.

Comparison between the two shows that the figure of the dragon in each are so similar that the later one might well be tracing.

But it doesn't end there. Take a look at the cover of CHIVALRY & SORCERY (1977), one of the first-generation D&D derivatives (along with TUNNELS & TROLLS, RUNEQUEST, ROLEMASTER, &c).*

Granted here we have similarity rather than direct copying, but I think the resemblance is striking. And partly due I suspect to the C&S artist basing his work on the CHAINMAIL art, not having seen the Tolkienian original.

--John R.
--current reading: THE LAST TSAR 1992

*Of these, CHIVALRY & SORCERY was notable for its appeal to those who wanted their fantasy roleplaying as realistic as possible. It's no surprise its title page bears a dedication to the Society of Creative Anachronism.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

TSR Faces, 1994

So, I was amused and bemused to come across this old module whose cover was a tribute by the artist (Paul Jaquays) to fellow TSR staff circa 1994. Amused, because seeing these reminds me of people I enjoyed working with; bemused because after the lapse of twenty-six years there are some faces I don't recognize. So here are the ones I do, hoping that someone else out there will identify the ones I don't:

Front left: unidentified.
Front central: Sue Weinlein.
Front right: Dave Wise

center left: Jeff Grubb (with fez).
center, with basket: unidentified
center right, in doorway: Skip Williams

back left: Wolfgang Baur, talking to unidentified (?Ann Brown)
back right, with halberd: unidentified.

In the distance, waving at us: Zeb Cook, who had just left TSR, bidding us farewell after his epic fourteen-year run.*

--John R.

*which ended on a high note, with his creation of PLANESCAPE.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

a RAVENLOFT 'LIVING DEATH' recommended reading list (1995)

Here's a piece I created long ago that I was glad to come across again: a listing of stories, mostly from the period 1890 though 1914, for DMs wishing to create their own adventures set in Gothic Earth. I wanted to be respectful of WotC's copyright, so I have cut the commentary and here give just the listing. Those wishing to see the whole piece can find it in POLYHEDRON #112, the October 1995 issue, pages 11-13.

. . . On Life, On Death . . .
Recommended Reading for the LIVING DEATH Campaign

William Hope Hodgson
Carnacki the Ghost Finder (1914), 
   Esp. "The Gateway of the Monster" and "The Whistling Room"
   See also the novel The Ghost Pirates (1909) & the short stories "The Voice in the Fog" and "The Derelict".

M. R. James
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904)
More Ghost Stories (1911)
A Thin Ghost and Others (1919)
A Warning to the Curious (1925)
   Esp. "Oh Whistle & I'll Come to You, My Lad", "The Tractate Middoth", "Casting the Runes". 
   Also worthy of attention: "The Mezzotint", Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance", "A Neighbor's Landmark", "A View From a Hill", and "A Warning to the Curious".

The Master: Edgar Poe
"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", "The Fall of the House of Usher", "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains", "Ms. Found in a Bottle", "The Lighthouse" (unfinished), "William Wilson", "The Pit & the Pendulum", "The Premature Burial", "The Masque of the Red Death", "Silence", "The Tell-Tales Heart", "The System of Doctor Tarr & Professor Fether", The Cask of Amontillado", and The Adventures of A. Gordon Pym (1838).

Bram Stoker
Dracula (1897) 
   Also "The Burial of the Rats" and "Dracula's Guest".

R. W. Chambers
The King in Yellow, esp. "The Yellow Sign" (1895).

W. B. Yeats
"Rosa Alchemica", "The Tables of the Law", & "The Adoration of the Magi" (1897).

Algernon Blackwood
John Silence (1908).
   Also "The Listener", "The Empty House", "The Willows", "The Wendigo", and many others.  

Arthur Machan
"The Novel of the White Powder" (from The Three Imposters,1895).

Ambrose Bierce
"The Damned Thing", "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", "An Inhabitant of Carcosa", "The Suitable Surroundings", "The Middle Toe of the Right Foot", "Mysterious Disappearances", "The Moonlit Road", "The Stranger".

Sheridan LeFanu
"Green Tea", "The Murdered Cousin", "Carmilla".

Henry James
"The Turn of the Screw" (1898) & "The Jolly Corner" (1908).

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892).

Clark Ashton Smith
"Genius Loci" (1933).

H. P. Lovecraft
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927).

Lord Dunsany
"The Bureau de Exchange du Maux", "The Field", "The Highwayman", "Where the Tides Ebb and Flow", "The Ghosts", "How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art upon the Gnoles", "The Hashish Man", "A Narrow Escape", "The Kith of the Elf-Folk", "Poor Old Bill", "The Wonderful Window", "Taking Up Piccadilly", "The Sphinx in Thebes (Massachusetts)", "The Trouble in Leafy Green Street", "Lobster Salad", "The Three Infernal Jokes", "The Return", "The Old Brown Coat", and "By Night in the Forest".
     See also the play A Night at An Inn (1916).

Robert Lewis Stevenson
The Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).

R. A. Gilbert 
The Golden Dawn: Twilight of Magicians (1983).

Recent, but Still Worthy
Robert Arthur
Ghosts and More Ghosts (1963)
  Esp. "Footsteps Invisible", "Do You Believe in Ghosts?", "Obstinate Uncle Otis", & "Mr. Dexter's Dragon".

John Bellairs
The Face in the Frost (1969).

Barbara Hambly
Those Who Hunt the Night (1988).

Jonathan Carroll
The Land of Laughs (1980).

Roger Zelazny
A Night in Lonesome October (1993).

--I ended with a brief note about why Mary Shelly, Gaston Leroux, and Stephen King were not included.

While I'm thinking about the MASK OF THE RED DEATH setting, I also wrote a scenario ('The Lost Valley') for one of the LIVING DEATH tournaments (GenCon 1996 I think). I'm hoping this turns up as well, since I was quite fond of it at the time, though it's been many years since I've seen it.

--John R.
--who ran a CALL OF CTHULHU session recently based on Robert Arthur's "Do You Believe in Ghosts?" which went v. well.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Richard Adams' private fantasy world

So, in my recently dipping into Richard Adams' autobiography* I was surprised to learn that he was one of those people who as a child made up his own private fantasy world. Shirley Jackson was another, and we know that when her daughter showed an interest in writing Jackson encouraged her to create her own such fantasy world. One of the more famous of such twentieth century efforts is BOXON, created by the Lewis Brothers, while Eddison was already writing about characters and events from what came to be THE WORM OUROBOROS when he was ten. And we know that all four of Tolkien's children had his or her own world, each of which took the form of an island (John's island had lots of trains, while Priscilla's was apparently populated entirely by stuffed bears).

Yet what I found unexpected in Adams' account is that he not only kept up his fantasy world at least well into college but that his example led to several of his fellow students revealing that they too had private worlds. Like Tolkien's suspicion that there were more people than you'd think who exercise the 'private vice' of creating their own language, Adams's experience suggests there were similarly quite a few who had their own private worlds.

Here's Adams account: I've quoted the full passage to help establish the context, which begins with his singling out the things that were most important to him at Oxford.

". . . my imaginative life, which was in certain respects more real to me than reality.

"I had always had a lot of fantasy in my life — as far back as I could remember. Once it had been the kingdom of Bull Bands, its halls and state rooms secluded among the laurels; a land-locked realm, deriving its attributes largely from King Arthur and peopled with knights, whose enemies were foxes. Later, at Horris Hill and unde the influence of films and writers like Sapper and Dornford Yates, Bull Banks had become a gay, fashionable city-state of sport and pleasure, its celebrities, my companions, forever playing cricket or football matches or dancing in champagne-flowing night clubs (like those of Ralph Lynn and Winifred Shotter; Bertie Wooster; Marlene Dietrich).  At Horris Hall I had found that this Bull Banks carried so much conviction and included so much detail that other boys revealed their own fantasy countries (and one or two, I suspect, hastened to invent them). A few years ago, walking along the Embankment by Charing Cross, I ran into a friend from those days, and as we chatted, recalled those kingdoms — his and mine. 'Ah,' he said, 'but you had the ends much better tied up than I did.' Certainly a great deal of my time and mental energy went into the fantasies, which in my infancy compensated for solitude and at boarding-school for boring features like Mr Morris and Mr Arnold.

"Not the least of the wonderful things about Oxford was that it happily accepted and took on board your fantasy potential — whoever would have thought it? — developed and transformed it, blending it with magic oils, with sounds and sweet airs that gave delight and hurt not. Christopher Isherwood found exactly this at Cambridge, and wrote about it in his autobiographical Lions and Shadows. Alasdair, like Isherwood's friend Chalmers ('Already the crowds begin —'), would find phrases suggesting themselves as we listened to music. I recall how we derived, as surely as ever did Swann from the 'petite phrasee' of Vinteuil, a peculiar and personal meaning from the Leonora No. 3. (Alasdair used to sing, 'I think, he soon, will really be quite free.')

Indeed music was the great, the principal releasing agent, acting like some miraculous catalyst to bring upon us trance and ecstasy . . . "

—Richard Adams, THE DAY GONE BY (1990), page 228  

Of course there are many world-creators who do their creating primarily as adults: Tolkien himself being the most famous modern example, but Austin Tappen Wright and Cordwainer Smith fit the pattern as well. I suspect most people with such propensities these days scratch that itch by playing D&D.

--John R.

*which covers the first half of his life, to the days just following World War II

Thursday, August 20, 2020

God bless Google

So, the day before yesterday I had a line from a song I cdn't identify stuck in my head all evening.  Usually with such things I just have to give it time and over the course of a day or so the snippet will stretch to include a few words or notes to either side of the bit I have. This time it didn't seem to be making any progress, so before the morning was over I'd typed in the line I had and Google's lyrics-searching did the rest.

For the record, the line was 

does your head ever give you trouble

And, for those who want to guess it on their own, I've moved the answer to comments.

--John R.
--current listening: that song and also THE CONCERT FOR BANGLA DESH, which I'd never heard until last week. Essentially a live version of George Harrison's ALL THINGS MUST PASS, the high water mark of his solo career.

The New Arrival: Flieger's ARTHURIAN VOICES

So, last week brought a pleasant surprise: the arrival in the mail of Verlyn Flieger's new book (always a good thing): ARTHURIAN VOICES. This is a collection bringing together two independent but related works: AVILION and THE BARGAIN.* The first retells LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, the second SIR GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT.  I contributed a back-cover blurb, which reads as follows:

In Avilion, Verlyn Flieger brings to life the personae of the Arthurian legend, specifically those in the works of Sir Thomas Malory. She offers the chance to hear the familiar story anew, giving the characters, major and minor, a chance to speak in their own distinctive voices. Out of a mosaic of perspectives emerges a heartbreakingly believable array of tales, as each character tells the story as it appeared to him or (significantly) her. 

If Malory is the first of the great Modern English Arthurians, the Gawain-poet is the last of the great Middle English Arthurians. In The Bargain, Verlyn Flieger takes us behind the scenes and into the heads of the cast of Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, one of the most subtle of the great medieval Arthurian tales.

To this shd be added this evaluation by Arthurian scholar Richard West in his Preface to the work

In Avilion Flieger has brilliantly retold the life of 
King Arthur in short compass in the multiple voices and 
viewpoints of major characters in the legend. In The Bargain 
she delightfully recasts a single adventure of one of Arthur's
nephews and knights in dramatic dialogue . . . 
Prepare to be entertained.

--John R.
--current reading: Lindsay's A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, Adams' GIRL IN A SWING, Garth's THE WORLDS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, and much misc. matter.

*which I always think of by its original title, MR. GREEN

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Tolkien Enterprises Again

So, another item of interest emerged in the ongoing sort-through that ties in nicely with the comments I made recently about Tolkien Enterprises being confused with the Tolkien Estate. This one comes in the British rpg magazine ROLE PLAYING INDEPENDENT, in the January 1993 issue (Volume 1 Issue 2 page 5).

In a page headed "In Brief" devoted to short news items (mostly updates about forthcoming releases), one of the ten items reads as follows:

A recent advert placed in 'YOU' magazine offered for sale a limited
edition range of pewter characters from The Lord of the Rings. We are
advised by Tolkien Enterprises that this line of "Lord of the Rings
pewter figurines offered for sale by Shire Evocations is unauthorised by
Tolkien Enterprises. The Tolkien Estate has granted Tolkien Enterprises
the sole right for quality control and licensing of merchandise based on
J. R. R. Tolkien's works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Watch
this space for further developments!

This offers a good example of Tolkien Enterprises presenting itself as if it were acting on behalf of Tolkien's heirs, when a close reading of the announcement shows they've only suggested this. No wonder people got the two (Tolkien Estate/Tolkien Enterprises) confused and never realized they were separate entities with diametrically opposed goals.

--John R.
--current reading: skimming a lot of old modules (D&D and C.o.C.). Some of them hold up really well; others have mainly nostalgia value. It's rather like classic rock, which I listen to all the time: mostly what I liked back then I still like now, and what I didn't I don't. I'm currently playing through MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP for the first time and am looking forward to reading it once the game eventually wraps up (which cd come sooner than we think, in our most recent session we came perilously cloose to the dreaded t.p.k.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Ensemble hero

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I had trouble getting my head around Gygax's answer to one crucial question: the origin of one of D&D's most iconic features: the ensemble hero -- that is, a group of characters with widely divergent abilities, that very diversity being crucial for the group's success. Along with providing the main PC races (and a goodly chuck of the default monsters), Tolkien's major influence on D&D was the concept of the PC party. 

Here's the exchange, to be found on page 90 of CHEERS GARY:

"A lot of Fantasy novels focused on a single hero (Conan, Tarzan, etc.) or perhaps a hero and a sidekick.

"How did you come up with the idea of a whole party of characters adventuring in a dungeon? . . . 

"Especially since D&D grew out of table-top wargames, and tabletop wargames tended to be 1 on 1 or 3 vs. 3 types of scenarios. Most table-top wargames (unless they involved hidden movement) don't have a referee."

Gygax's answer: 
 "Fortunately I read in a lot of genres other than fantasy, including the historical war fiction one. Even there, though, crafting a story around a large cast of characters is difficult, and from such a number one or two main protagonists, and possibly an antagonist or two emerge.

"In tabletop games, the LGTSA would have teams of players, sometimes as many as six on a side. There was usually one person as umpire or referee, the one who set up the game to be played, although that individual would sometimes play as well. When I ran my later games they were usually the 'Man-to-Man' medieval ones, and as pretty common on the tabletop, each player had a command figure. A team of several defenders would plan and cooperate to try and defeat a like team of attackers.

"It wasn't much of a leap from that to single 'command figures' operating as an adventuring group. Do keep in mind that original D&D had provisions for and pretty well assumed that each PC would hire a few men-at-arms -- the old tabletop force of soldiery."

[the rest of Gygax's post talks about the time-honored D&D tactic of running away, Mordenkainen being named as a prime practitioner]

--It seems to me that Gygax is sliding around the point without answering it, since instead of a diverse group of divergent abilities he focuses instead on an earlier stage, of commanders of similar powers and stature. Or am I just missing something here? Perhaps if I came out of wargaming myself this all be simpler. 

I had recently realized that there's another major fantasy novel from that era that offers up a masterful handling of an ensemble group of heroes: Richard Adams' WATERSHIP DOWN. But that came a little too late to be an influence on D&D.

And it was nice to learn that of post-D&D fantasy Gygax was a fan of Terry Pratchett and also liked the 
LotR movies.

 --John R. 
--current reading: a bunch of old gaming magazines, as part of the ongoing sort-out

Monday, August 17, 2020

more Gygax forum postings (2002-2008)

So, I've now finished CHEERS GARY, the collection of online posts by Gygax in which he answered a lot of questions about the history of TSR, the origin of many specific features of D&D, shared yarns from early sessions, et al. As it turns out, it's a good forum for him: relaxed, informal, and filled with people who admire him. Favorable conditions brought out his best side; at times he was positively avuncular. As when he Tells Us About His Character, leading to the discovery that those early gaming session that have passed into legend, when Mordenkainen and Bigby and Robilar were regular PCs, and their exploits a lot more like a regular session of our average weekly group than we'd imagined. Even the mighty Castle Greyhawk had only twelve levels plus a secret hidden level. All this is good stuff.

There is the occasional sour note, as any time he mentions the Blumes, and I was disappointed to see him take swipes at Skip Williams (p. 360) and Zeb Cook (p. 359), who I think deserve better. And I think it's fair to treat his accounts of all he achieved and would have achieved in Hollywood with skepticism.* But on the whole this book is well worth reading.

Me being a Tolkien guy, I naturally took special note of material connecting to Tolkien, like the Saul Zaenz cease-and-desist story mentioned in a previous post.

The first such post goes directly to a major point:
"[T]his very small thing has nagged me for years , , ,
"In Appendix N (inspirational reading) of the DMG, you write: 'The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, REH (Howard), Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, HPL (Lovecraft), and A. Merritt.'
"In listing the primary authors that influenced the AD&D game, you left out J. R. R. Tolkien (you put him in a much larger list of sources of fantasy but did not include him among the 'most immediate influences'). As many people (erroneously) consider D&D to be a rather close copy of Tolkien's world, leaving out Tolkien seems conspicuous.
"Is there any particular reason you didn't single out Tolkien as one of the major influences on AD&D?"

Gygax's answer:
"I omitted JRRT's work as a primary one because it didn't inspire me in regards to gaming, to create the material in A/D&D that made it what it is at its core. While I enjoyed THE HOBBIT, the trilogy was not an exciting read for me.
"The listed authors and works were what moved me to want to design a game that allowed participants to have exciting fantasy adventures. The 'influences' from JRRT's work that I included in the game were mainly there to interest others in playing it, not what caused me to want to create it." (p.72)

--Here I think Gygax was just identifying himself as one of those who read and enjoyed Tolkien but didn't get swept up in it, like so many of us do, reading it over and over again. Fair enough. But I still think he is being disingenuous over the lack of influence, perhaps to the point of fooling himself.

There's another example in his answer to a question (p. 90) about the ensemble hero--along with the character races Tolkien's greatest contribution to D&D-- but I found his answer so oblique that I gave up trying to make sense of it here; I'll have a go at making it a separate post in itself and if that fails just give up.

He did concede that the Ranger  was derived from Tolkien's Aragorn but rather downplays this as a character class not created by Gygax but one of his players (p. 123).

One minor puzzle is his stating that he did not derive the gnoll from Dunsany himself but from a Dunsany pastiche published in a science fiction/fantasy magazine: Margaret St. Clair's 'The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnolls", THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SIENCE FICTION (p.163). On the one hand, this may explain why he spelled Dunsany's name wrong in the original three-booklet text of D&D. On the other, the fact he credits Dunsany and not St. Claire is odd if she not he were the source.

--John R.
--current reading: GIRL ON A SWING by Rbt Adams

* as when he talks of how Orson Welles was eager to play the villain  in the D&D movie Gygax was putting together in the early eighties, and how John Boorman's team wanted in on the deal. Given how awful the Hollywood projects from the early eighties were, and how terrible those that followed were, I don't think we lost much when Gygax's spin-off of the cartoon sputtered out or when his version of the D&D movie (described on p. 171) bit the dust.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


So, in sorting though some old gaming magazines, skimming before discarding, one thing that strikes me are the number of companies that thrived back then that have long since vanished from the shelves at hobby stores. I suspect many have vanished from the memories of gamers as well. Certainly I assume most younger gamers (e.g. those who came into the hobby at the time of 3e/d20 or since) may have heard of these older game companies (e.g. Judges Guild, FGU) and early games but have never actually played them.

This made it an interesting experience to read through an issue of CHALLENGE (#65, October 1992), published by the once-mighty GDW. If I had at the time been guessing which of the major companies of that era wd still be around three decades later I might well have picked GDW (Game Designers Workshop) as a likely candidate. After all, they were among TSR's very first competitors (EN GARDE came out not long after the original three-book set of D&D) whose TRAVELLER was the most successful of all science fiction games, holding its own against all comers, until it was eventually unseated by STAR WARS.

In retrospect three events suggest bad judgment may have played a bigger role than bad luck.  The first was the publication of SPACE: 1889. Roleplaying games were not exactly known as a bastion of progressive thought, but even so the years of the run-up to the celebration of Columbus's 500th anniversary were marked by a lot of re-evaluation that you wd have thought wd make a company think twice before launching a celebration of colonialism.

The second came from their decision to blow up their world -- specifically, to make a new edition of TRAVELLER, their iconic game, starkly different from the game their fans had known and loved for years by radical shifts in the setting. Lord knows we fans of 1st edition AD&D complained bitterly over the changes made to create 2nd edition, but in retrospect the changes were relatively minor and, importantly from TSR's point of view, the new edition sold extremely well. Whereas I get the sense that MEGATRAVELLER, as it was known, failed to capture most of classic TRAVELLER's fan base.*

The third is the weirdest: the decision to publish Gygax's new D&D-ish fantasy rpg, despite the fact that Gygax's previous game (Cyborg Commandoes) had conspicuously bombed and the company that put it out (New Infinities) sued out of existence by the notoriously litigious TSR. Who promptly sued GDW over DANGEROUS JOURNEYS, forcing the game off the market and stalling out the planned further releases in the line (including a GAMMA WORLD clone); the whole mess ended with GDW turning over its entire unsold stock to TSR, who buried them in its warehouse.

As I said, weird. But I can say that the Powers That Be at TSR had a healthy respect for GDW's creative team's talent, hiring away Tim Brown, Bill Connors, Rob Lazzaretti, Julia Martin, and Lester Smith (who had been Gygax's editor on DANGEROUS JOURNEYS).**

Strange times.

--John R.

*again, it didn't help when they came out with third edition TRAVELLER a few years later and decided to rename it, leaving the all-important word 'Traveller' out of the game's name, instead redubbing it 2300 AD.

**just as several years later (circa 1995) they hired away quite a lot of West End Games' staff

Seattle in 2020 (projection from 1992)

So, it can be disconcerting when we catch up with near-future predictions, when the future becomes the present. A good case of this I recently came across is in a CYBERPUNK adventure that had appeared in CHALLENGE magazine back in 1992. It includes the following map (by Rob Lazzaretti) depicting Seattle in 2020, predicting correctly that we'd still have the Space Needle but wrongly assuming the Kingdome stadium wd still be standing.

Here's the map, from the adventure "The Dank Pit" by 'Legion' (which I assume is a house name for in-house generated material for the magazine).

--John R.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Tolkien Enterprises vs. TSR

So, for years I've been convinced that the old story about the Tolkien Estate having gone after TSR for their use of hobbits, ents, balrogs et al in early printings of D&D was wrong and that it was actually Saul Zaentz's group, Tolkien Enterprises (the movie merchandising people) who'd issued that cease-and-desist back in 1976. But while I've able to build up a probable case I've been lacking direct proof. Now Gygax has provided it.

The question Gygax was asked was

What were the circumstances on the hobbit race being removed
 from the original game? Was a letter from Tolkien properties 
sent to TSR threatening legal action?  or was it a more friendly 
phone call to remove the buggers from the game?

to which Gygax replies

TSR was served with papers threatening damages 
to the tune of half a mil by the Saul Zantes (sp?) [sic]
division of Elan Merchandising on behalf of the tolkien
 [sic] Estate. The main objection was to the boardgame 
we were publishing, The Battle of Five Armies. The 
author of that game had given us a letter from his attorney
claiming that the work was grandfathered because
it was published after the copyrights for JRRT's works
had lapsed and before any renewals were made. 
The action also demanded we remove balrog, dragon,
dwarf, elf, ent, goblin, hobbit, orc, and warg from 
the D&D game. Although only balrog and warg
were unique names we agreed to hobbit as well,
kept the rest, of course. The boardgame was dumped,
and thus the suit was settled out of court at that.


While clearly an off-the-cuff response made years after the event, this account clearly grasps the distinction between Tolkien Enterprises (Saul Zaentz's movie merchandising company, later the licensers of MERP) and the Tolkien Estate (Tolkien's family, who had control over the books themselves, rather than all the paraphernalia). It correctly portrays Tolkien Enterprises as the more aggressive of the two. And there was a period when Tolkien's copyrights were challenged in the courts, which eventually ruled that the rights had not lapsed and that the Tolkien family still had control. Even the story about asking for legal assurance and getting bad advice sounds familiar; I've heard a similar story about Iron Crown's TOLKIEN QUEST and (especilly) NARNIA QUEST pick-a-path books.

There are quite a few other references to Tolkien and the early days of D&D, which I'll try to pull together into a third and final post regarding the CHEERS GARY book once I've finished with it and read all the way through. But the Tolkien Enterprises bit more than makes picking up this book worthwhile.

--John R.
--current reading: CHEERS GARY

The New Arrival: CHEERS, GARY

So, a few posts ago I mentioned how I'd love to get ahold of a copy of the book CHEERS GARY, a collection of posts from an ENWORLD forum in which a number of fans asked Gary Gygax, the co-creator of roleplaying games and cofounder of TSR, all kinds of questions, mostly about the early days of the game.

Thanks to the generosity of someone who was lucky enough to pick up a copy at GenCon 2011 and was now willing to pass it along (thanks H).

It's a dip-able book rather than a concentrated read-through, and I've been enjoying reading it a few pages a day. Much of its appeal comes from Gygax's relaxed tone. Unlike some of his infamous editorials in DRAGON years before, these are low-key and approachable: more a sharing of what he remembers off the cuff.

Plus there's some TSR/Tolkien material in here worthy of its own post, which I'll see about pulling together and posting tonight.

--John R.

--current reading: CHEERS GARY (2011), THE WORLD OF TOLKIEN (2020), A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS (1920)
--current music: 'Chicago' by Graham Nash (circa 1971)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Diana Jones Award

So, every year the roleplaying games industry gives out an award for Excellence in Gaming.

This year, the award went to Black Excellence in Gaming.

Sometimes I'm proud of my industry. This is one of those times.

--John R.

For more on the judges' decision, cf.