Every once in awhile, you get someone who comes along and insists that despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Dungeons & Dragons is nothing more than Lord of the Rings: the Game–everything that is not taken from Tolkien is just window dressing that Gygax added because he was sued by Tolkien’s publisher to distract from the fact that D&D is just Lord of the Rings.
To these people, challenging this notion that Tolkien is the be-all, end-all of Dungeons & Dragons and “the basis of all fantasy” is the same as hating the man and denigrating his works.
It’s so very tiresome…
But what if D&D were “just” Lord of the Rings? How much of the window dressing would you have to strip away?
Well, we’ll start with the PCs:
Hobbits and Dwarves are in, naturally. I think we can keep them without any real changes.
Fighters? Yes! Fighters are very much a hallmark of Lord of the Rings, and you don’t see them in very many other fantasy works.
We’re off to a great start!
Now, Wizards and Magic Users… are out, because Wizards are actually a race and there are only like five of them, and they don’t really cast spells from the spell list. So, uh… NPC Wizards only.
Elves: this should be easy! I mean, we’ll have to give them all 6-12″ in extra height, but that’s no problem! But they’re all fighters except for the NPC elven kings and queens who have access to very subtle magics.
Thieves: these guys are pretty universal, but I don’t recall a lot of traps or locks that needed dealing with in Lord of the Rings.
Clerics are right out because there was no organized religion in Middle Earth since the second age, and there aren’t that many undead to turn, and since nobody has magic except for the Maiar and the eldest of the Elves, no humans, dwarves, or hobbits could be clerics. Maybe give 1st level cleric spells to NPC elven kings? Oof, this is starting to get not very D&D-like!
You’d probably have to roll Ranger’s woodcraft abilities into some kind of non-magic proficiencies, and without religion, no Paladins, either…
Um… let’s go to monsters! Maybe we’ll do better there!
- Goblins – check
- Orcs – check
- Nazgul – check
- Wights – check
- Balrogs -check
- Ents – Check
- Wolves/Wargs – check
- Giant Spiders – check
- Trolls – well, they’re radically different from D&D trolls, but we’ll call this check
- Dragons – no check…? There’s only one dragon left in the Third Age and if you’re playing a “Serious” Lord of the Rings game, he’ll probably have plot armor. You might find more if you play in a First or Second Age game, but that’s not “Lord of the Rings” is it?
Okay, you’ve got a decent basic monster list, but you’ll probably have to leave out the overwhelming majority of monsters D&D is best known for if you’re going to go with “D&D is just Lord of the Rings.”
… drat. Pic link didn’t attach.
In my first D&D group only one person had read all of The Lord Of The Rings. We were far more likely to encounter creatures from Star Trek or the old horror movies that played on the local UHF station than anything from Tolkien.
In fact, the first GM I played D&D with was a Hard SF fan who re-interpreted everything as advanced technology or psyonics that just looked like magic. (Once he discovered Gamma World he never went back to D&D).
When I started running as a DM I borrowed heavily from Lovecraft and ER Burroughs and DC Horror comics.
I honestly can’t think of anything I encountered in a D&D game that a DM lifted from Tolkien. If the game was based on LOTR, no one told us that.
“D&D is LotR” Counterpoint: TSR Module S3 “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks”