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Who Inspired Dungeons & Dragons?

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Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and first published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. The game has been published by Wizards of the Coast since 1997. It was derived from miniature wargames with a variation of the Chainmail game serving as the initial rule system.
Creator(s): Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson
Type: Games
Genre(s): Fantasy
Year Released: 1974

Dungeons & Dragons was derived from miniature wargames with a variation of the Chainmail game serving as the initial rule system.[1] Dave Arneson used Chainmail in his Blackmoor campaign, and many elements of Chainmail were carried over wholesale into Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in 1974. In fact, the original edition of D&D recommended that the reader own a copy of Chainmail. Gary Gygax intended the Chainmail combat rules to be used in D&D, though he provided an alternative d20 attack option which eventually became standard.[2]

When Dave Wesely entered the service in 1970, his friend and fellow Napoleonics wargamer Dave Arneson began a medieval variation of Wesely's Braunstein games, where players control individuals instead of armies. Arneson used Chainmail to resolve combats. As play progressed, Arneson added such innovations as character classes, experience points, level advancement, armor class, and others. Having partnered previously with Gary Gygax on Don't Give Up the Ship!, Arneson introduced Gygax to his Blackmoor game and the two then collaborated on developing "The Fantasy Game", the role-playing game (RPG) that became Dungeons & Dragons, with the final writing and preparation of the text being done by Gygax.[3]

Game-world simulations were well developed in wargaming. Fantasy milieus specifically designed for gaming could be seen in Glorantha's board games among others.[4]

The original alignment system (which grouped all characters and creatures into 'Law', 'Neutrality' and 'Chaos') was derived from the novel Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. A troll described in this work also influenced the D&D definition of that monster.[5] The paladin, named for Charlemagne's pious champions, is inspired by legends of chivalry and piety, particularly those of the European Renaissance. A specific source seems to be the character of Ogier the Dane/Holger Danske as depicted in Three Hearts and three Lions.[6]

The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs was listed in the "recommended reading" list in the first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary Gygax. Prospero's practice of studying his book of spells the night before he might need them may have helped inspire the game's requirement for magic users to do the same.[7]

The John Carter of Mars series was also felt to be one of the inspirations for the Dark Sun Dungeons & Dragons game world setting.[8]

The theme of D&D was influenced by mythology, pulp fiction, and contemporary fantasy authors of the 1960s and 1970s. The presence of halflings, elves, dwarves, half-elves, orcs, dragons, and the like, often draw comparisons to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Gary Gygax maintained that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings, stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the popularity of the work. However, the owners of that work's copyright forced the name changes of hobbit to 'halfling', ent to 'treant', and balrog to 'Type VI demon [balor]'.[9]


The Ranger class is largely inspired by the character of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Notably, in 1st edition AD&D the Ranger class was exceptionally proficient with crystal balls, a trait derived from Aragorn's ancestral right to the palantíri. Later versions of the class diverged radically from its origins, reimagining the class as a Druidic-themed warrior with a mystical connection to nature and animal empathy abilities.[10]

The D&D magic system, in which wizards memorize spells that are used up once cast and must be re-memorized the next day, was heavily influenced by the Dying Earth stories and novels of Jack Vance. The D&D character Vecna is also an anagram of 'Vance.'[11]

The barbarian appeared as a class in AD&D's Unearthed Arcana. The class was obviously heavily inspired by Howard's Conan the Barbarian, whom Gygax professed to being a fan of since 1950. As Conan was often deeply suspicious of magic, this barbarian was limited in its ability to use magical items until higher levels. This class was a great leaper and an able climber, like Conan.[12]

A gnoll or gnole is a fictional humanoid creature - a cross between a gnome and a troll. They first appeared in Lord Dunsany's story in The Book of Wonder: How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art upon the Gnoles and subsequently reappeared in Margaret St. Clair's, The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles and Gary Gygax's Dungeons & Dragons.[13]

Aside from the character Conan by Robert E. Howard, the barbarian class of D&D is also inspired by Gardner Fox’s Kothar series, starting with Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman.[14]

The Psionics in D&D is derived from Sterling Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey, the first in a series of post-apocalyptic novels. Lanier is also well-known for fighting for the publication of Dune.[15]

HP Lovecraft, the pulp horror writer from Rhode Island, also inspired D&D through the "Cthulhu mythos" which he created. Cthulhu is a fictional cosmic entity who first appeared in Lovecraft's short story "The Call of Cthulhu". TSR included an entire chapter on the Cthulhu mythos (including statistics for the character) in the first printing of the Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook Deities & Demigods (1980).[16]


The Ghast and Ghoul characters in D&D are also loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. The Ghast is considered as a stronger version of the Ghoul and described as a “scabrous and unwholesome beast”.[17]

The Lankhmar- City of Adventure set, an accessory for the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, describes Nehwon and the city of Lankhmar, from Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series. It includes information on the city's districts, factions and guilds, characters, and the gods and monsters of Nehwon, as well as encounter tables and adventure ideas.[18]

The D&D creature known as the Gnoll was inspired by the Gnole, a creature in a book written by Margaret St. Clair called “The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles”.[19]

One of the main sources of inspiration about the monsters, spells and magical items in DnD is from A. E. van Vogt's “Black Destroyer”.[20] It is the first science fiction story by van Vogt which depicted a fierce, carnivorous alien, the coeurl, stalking the crew of an exploration spaceship.[21]

Lewis Carroll’s poem "Jabberwocky' was included in his book "Through the Looking Glass" and inspired D&D. The poem references a weapon known as a 'vorpal blade':


"One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back."


D&D defines a Vorpal Sword as a sword that has the ability to cut off opponents' heads. This makes sense in that the poem's plot results in the hero carrying away the head of the Jabberwocky.[22]

Mind flayers are original to D&D. They were inspired by the cover of Brian Lumley's novel "The Burrowers Beneath," a horror story set in the Cthulhu Mythos.[23]