Role-Playing Games and the Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien

Pre-University Paper, 2003
36 Pages, Grade: 1,0

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1 Life and work of J.R.R. Tolkien
1.1 Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien
1.2 Content of the important Middle-earth related books
1.2.1 Synopsis of “The Hobbit”
1.2.2 Synopsis of “The Lord of the Rings”
1.2.3 Synopsis of the “Silmarillion”

2 What is a role-playing game (RPG)
2.1 What is it all about?
2.1.1 Imagination
2.1.2 Assumption of roles
2.1.3 Storytelling
2.2 The anatomy of an RPG
2.2.1 Definition
2.2.2 The rules
2.2.3 Archetypes
2.2.4 The goal of the game
2.3 A typical gaming round
2.3.1 Material
2.3.2 The roles of GM and players
2.4 Different genres of RPGs
2.4.1 Fantasy
2.4.2 Science Fiction
2.4.3 Horror
2.4.4 Universal systems
2.4.5 Other genres

3 The history of RPGs
3.1 The development of RPGs
3.2 RPG criticism
3.3 Live Action Role-Playing (LARP)
3.4 Computer RPGs

4 Comparison between Tolkien’s work and particular fantasy RPGs
4.1 Geography
4.2 History
4.3 Ethnology
4.3.1 Hobbits
4.3.2 Dwarves
4.3.3 Elves
4.3.4 Orcs
4.4 Archetypes and stereotypes
4.5 Struggle between good and evil
4.6 Summary

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography
6.1 Books
6.2 Contributions from the internet

1 Life and work of J.R.R. Tolkien

1.1 Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” [1] These are the words that would make John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, born on 3 January 1892 in Bloemfontein, the most popular writer of the 20th century. He spent his early childhood in the Orange Free State in South Africa as the son of English-born parents. His mother was Mabel Tolkien, his father, Arthur, worked as a bank manager. Soon Ronald, as J.R.R. was called, moved to England together with his mother and his brother Hilary. His father did not go with them and died a few years later, having never left Africa.

Tolkien’s life in the West Midlands in England, was moulded by the sharp contrast between the stereotypically rural landscape of Worcestershire, and the dark, dirty, city of Birmingham where he was sent to King Edward’s School. These contrasting images would later have great influence on Tolkien’s work.

Eventually the Tolkien family moved to the Birmingham suburb of Edgbaston. Mabel converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which had a formative influence on Ronald. Tragically in 1904 his mother was diagnosed as having Diabetes and died on 15 October that year. Her two sons were cared for by Father Francis Morgan, a Catholic priest close to the family and they lived in the boarding-house of a Mrs Faulkner.

Even at this early stage in his life Ronald’s remarkable linguistic abilities were already evident. He excelled in Latin and Greek and became highly proficient in a number of other languages as exotic as Gothic and Finnish. He even started to make up his own languages which he presented to his close friends at King Edward’s who continued to correspond among themselves about their literary work until 1916.

When Ronald was 16 he discovered his romantic feelings in the form of a 19 year-old girl, named Edith Bratt, who also lived at Mrs Faulkner’s, and she appeared to reciprocate his feelings. But before it could go any further, Father Francis forbade Ronald to either see or write to her until he was 21, as Father Francis considered Ronald to be too young for a serious relationship. Due to his respect for, and his obedience to, his guardian he duly obeyed.

In 1911 he went to Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied Classics, Old English, Welsh, Finnish and the Germanic Languages (especially Gothic) and stayed there until 1913, when he resumed his relationship with Edith again, although not without difficulties as she was already on the point of marrying someone else). However, in 1916 they married.

Tolkien then took up a scientific career and remained as professor of English language and literature in Oxford until his retirement at the age of 67. He had a comprehensive knowledge of old European languages and based on his expertise he continued to develop his own invented languages, complete with full vocabulary and grammar. For him languages could not exist without a context. They always grow out of history and the stories of the men who speak them. So he developed a mythology around his invented languages. Out of his early experiments with these languages the first ideas for the “Silmarillion” – the work that “The Lord of the Rings” was based on – were born around 1914. Throughout his life he always considered his fictional writings (not only the Middle-earth books, but also “The Smith of Wootton Major”, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” or “Leaf by Niggle”) more important than his scientific work.

The three important Middle-earth related books “The Silmarillion”, “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” were all written out of different motives. As mentioned above, the idea behind the “Silmarillion” was to create a history and mythology around Tolkien’s invented languages while “The Hobbit” grew out of the bedtime stories created for his children. He then integrated these tales into his imaginary world and “The Hobbit” was published in 1937. It became a surprise success and he was asked to write a sequel. This turned out to be the 16-year task of writing the “Lord of the Rings”. Its eventual publication caused a huge boom in fantasy literature which continued throughout the whole century. To this day, Tolkien’s work has lost nothing of its fascination and success. “The Lord of the Rings” is the best-selling novel ever and has been filmed twice to date. Also, the publication of “The Silmarillion” in 1977 after Tolkien’s death (1973) raised the popularity of Middle-earth. Altogether his influence has been so immense that one could consider J.R.R. Tolkien to be the father of the whole fantasy genre.

1.2 Content of the important Middle-earth related books

To take a closer look on the Tolkien’s world it is necessary to briefly turn to the content of the three important Middle-earth related books “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion”.

1.2.1 Synopsis of “The Hobbit”

In his novel “The Hobbit“ J.R.R. Tolkien leads the reader into a fantastic world called Middle-earth which is populated by various races such as humans, dwarves, elves and orcs. Among these also live the hobbits, a rather smug and easygoing folk of small build.

One of these hobbits is Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist of the story. In the beginning of the novel he gets to know Gandalf and a party of thirteen dwarves who decide to take on Bilbo as a master thief. He is to go on an adventure with them as the dwarves plan to retrieve their treasure from within a mountain now guarded by the dragon Smaug. Though hobbits do not usually get involved in adventures and are known for their quiet lives, Bilbo agrees hoping that the dwarves would actually leave without him. However, he finds he cannot break his promise to them and so they leave together towards the Lonely Mountain.

On their journey they have to overcome many dangers such as trolls, orcs and giant spiders. At one point the party has to escape from a group of orcs while Bilbo hides in underground tunnels. There he finds the magic ring of the creature Gollum. The ring has the power to make its wearer invisible and, because of this, Bilbo is more than once able to free his companions from danger.

Together, they reach their destination and Bilbo is sent on ahead into the mountain. There he encounters the dragon Smaug. The hobbit makes the dragon so angry that he flies to the nearby city of Esgaroth to destroy it. However, the inhabitants manage to kill Smaug, allowing the dwarves to go safely into the mountain and take possession of it together with the treasure. But the people of Esgaroth claim a reward and argue with the adventurers. But finally, an attack by the orcs unites dwarves, humans and elves. Everybody gets his rightful share and Bilbo returns home again to his quiet Shire.

1.2.2 Synopsis of “The Lord of the Rings”

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote that it was impossible to summarise “The Lord of the Rings” in one or two paragraphs [2] . Nevertheless it has to be done. However, it must be clear that in doing so one can only get a very small taste of the complexity and fascination of this epic novel.

In the beginning, as with “The Hobbit”, the plot of “The Lord of the Rings” takes place in the Shire. The protagonist of the novel, Frodo Baggins, inherits the ring that his uncle Bilbo found on his journey to the Lonely Mountain. Soon it becomes clear that it is the “One Ring”. The history of this ring, so Gandalf tells Frodo, is evil. Many, many years ago, 19 Rings of Power were made at the gods behest and they were given to the elves, dwarves and humans. But they were all betrayed by the dark witch master Sauron, as he had made another, all powerful, ring to rule all of the free peoples of Middle-earth. Later, when he tried to take possession of all of the other rings, the “One Ring” was cut from his finger in the last battle of the Ring War and consequently Sauron lost his power. But over the years his might slowly grew back and he learned that the One Ring had been found again. He sent his servants who are to bring him back this jewel which would restore his power to the full.

Because the ring forces the wearer into evil ways, and subjects him to its will, it is decided to try to destroy the ring forever. This is only possible in a particular volcano, Mount Doom, which lies in Sauron’s realm of Mordor. A group of adventurers is picked by Gandalf to take the ring to Mordor. In addition to the wizard there are four hobbits – Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin – the ranger Aragorn, the elf Legolas, the dwarf Gimli and the warrior Boromir. But, for various reasons, the group breaks up and Frodo has to go into the wilderness of Mordor, accompanied only by his servant Sam. Meanwhile, they are pursued by Gollum, the creature that was in possession the ring at the time when Frodo’s uncle Bilbo took it from him. His only goal is to get the ring back.

Meanwhile across Middle-earth Sauron makes war in an attempt to recover the ring. However, he does not discover the two lonely hobbits who came to throw the ring into Mount Doom. But the ring gains power the closer it gets to the mountain and breaks Frodo’s will so that he does not want to destroy the ring anymore. However, Gollum finds the two hobbits, attacks them and during the fight he falls, together with the ring, into the volcano. Thus Sauron loses his power and the new Ring War is won. Middle-earth is saved. The novel ends with Frodo leaving Middle-earth to the lands of the gods together with Gandalf, Bilbo and some elves.

1.2.3 Synopsis of the “Silmarillion”

The Silmarillion was the last to be published of the three “big” Middle-earth books by J.R.R. Tolkien, but the one that was actually started first. It tells the history of Middle-earth through legends and myths.

It begins with a story about the creation of this fantastic world which is very similar to the story of Genesis in the Bible: A god (Ilúvatar) created the angels (Valar), the powers of the world and their servants, the Maiar. Ilúvatar taught them a complex melody and out of its polyphonic harmony, Middle-earth was created. Among the Valar, however, there was a very powerful and skilled being called Melkor. Melkor was not satisfied with simply playing the melody invented by the god and put his own elements into the music. The resulting dissonance becomes the root of all evil in Middle-earth.

Middle-earth was then settled by elves, dwarves and humans. The elves were the first intelligent creatures in Middle-earth and were immortal. But all the time Melkor continually tried to destroy the order of this world. He succeeded in winning some of the Maiar over to his side – one of them was called Sauron. After many wars the Valar ultimately defeated Melkor and banished him into the hereafter. After the final struggle the Valar left Middle-earth leaving emissaries who would counsel the people and help them if necessary, these being the council of wizards (Istari). One of them paid special attention to the fortunes of Middle-earth’s peoples and helped them against Sauron. This was Gandalf.

The Silmarillion also tells the story of the forging of the rings, how Sauron first tried to conquer Middle-earth and how he was defeated.

Therefor it contains all the in-depth background to “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” and is the piece of work that actually established the world of Middle-earth.

2 What is a role-playing game (RPG)

2.1 What is it all about?

Basically the ideas of RPGs are “...the nature of pretending, the assumption of roles, and the importance of storytelling...” [3] . These are the fundamental things that bear some looking into. I am referring here to the comments of Sean Patrick Fannon in his book “The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible”.

2.1.1 Imagination

We spend a lot of our childhood doing things like reading books and comics, watching television and movies and listening to stories. Naturally, vivid impressions remained in our minds long after the TV was turned off or the book was closed. Away from reality, we let our minds stray to other places and times, pretended to be someone else; dangerous cowboys, swashbuckling pirates or adventurous astronauts. We played “Pretend” all the time.

One of the most important abilities of human beings is possibly the power of imagination. We can question the things we see, think about what might be beyond what we know and have dreams to be fulfilled. This is how mankind was able to develop, to create new inventions because someone believed they could work. Ultimately, this made our civilisation possible.

RPGs require much of this capacity for imagination and inventiveness to be fully enjoyed. In addition, they can also help to increase the imagination. It takes us back to the playful creativity of our childhood.

2.1.2 Assumption of roles

In any kind of game one has to assume a certain role; children playing as mentioned above, a footballer with the role of striker, or a Monopoly player taking on the role of an entrepreneur trying to bankrupt the opponents.

In each of these situations, the assumption of the role is pretty abstract. The footballer is still himself, he knows what he is supposed to do. If two players are playing a miniature wargame, for example the Battle of Gettysburg, and one of them is commanding the Confederate forces, he or she assumes the role of General Robert E. Lee. Also here, he or she does not really get into the role. He or she might understand his way of thinking in battle, but he or she probably will not really get into his mind.

RPGs go a step further. Youare, if only for a brief time, General Robert E. Lee, desperately trying to turn the tide or at least save your troops out of the disaster of this bloody battle, “...there is a certain kind of magic that happens as your mind lets you experience something you otherwise never have.” [4]

In the theatre role-assumption also goes much deeper. For actors it is desirable to completely immerse themselves and actually become the character.

If we assume a certain role we are able to explore areas of the human experience we do not encounter in our real life. It is the opportunity to “try out something different” without destroying our ordinary daily lives. Fictional roles let us fully experience niches of our personalities, maybe even the “dark side”. But nevertheless, we can be certain of returning to reality when we have had enough. We might even reach a better understanding of who we actually are. (Not without reason has role playing been a recognised tool of psychotherapy for decades.)

RPGs are a great way to experience any desired role in a very deep way. Such roles not only provide us with the chance to explore certain aspects of our personality, but also to simply have the opportunity to be someone we are not in real life. “It is cathartic, educational and exploratory. Most importantly, it is a great deal of fun.” [5] Finally, it can be a way to explore the realms of our dreams.

2.1.3 Storytelling

Storytelling is arguably the most important element in the development of the knowledge of mankind. It is the only way to preserve lore. Without it, everything that had gone would be lost forever, no history would exist.

We have always had a great desire for stories and so it became entertainment as well as education. It made no difference if the storytellers were the bards of ancient times, or actors telling a story by acting it out, or J.R.R. Tolkien writing “The Lord of the Rings”. The best of them have always been celebrated and often revered.

But what makes a story impressive? It is how much it captures the listener or reader. You can find yourself lost in the pages of a fascinating book, not noticing the passage of time; A great movie can leave you impressed and thinking about it for days.

However, there are also much greater stories, the stories of our lives. Each one of us is a storyteller, telling a story with ourselves as the protagonist. We live in the present but we also think of what perhaps will be or what could have been; daydreams – the stories we make up.

Some people have the desire to put it into literary form and share it with other people. There are outlets such as fanzines, online message boards or gatherings – such as Tolkien and his friends used to do in his club called “The Inklings”. But another great possibility is the RPG.

RPGs are much more than just theoretical combat exercises. Of course there are certain games this is the case, but even these try to wrap a real plot around these activities.

In fact, game masters (GMs) often spend a lot of time creating a gripping story and maybe even an imaginary world complete with history, mythology, mysteries and whatever else is needed to create the right tension and atmosphere. The players are to create a background around their role, making up a life story for it. Finally the process of actually playing the game is an act of interactive storytelling and the story builds as the GM and the players are telling it. It is a “...cooperative story in which the GM and the players work together to create (hopefully) memorable events with memorable characters.”[6]

2.2 The anatomy of an RPG

2.2.1 Definition

What is an RPG? Approximately every second RPG book opens with this question, but with nobody offering a plain, nor anything close to, a standard explanation. Sean Patrick Fannon attempted it in his “Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible”:

“roleplaying game: A recreational activity based on the assumption of roles in a fictional setting by the participants, where rules are presented for the resolution of tasks and conflicts (normally involving a facilitator), and where the participants are not placed in direct competition to achieve their goals.” [7]

This is essentially a correct explanation, but there has to be a more graphic way in which to describe it. Therefore here is my attempt.

It starts with the question: “Have you ever experienced that the protagonist of a book or a film at one point did something that struck you as so fundamentally wrong that you really wanted to step right in and correct it?”

In an RPG you can do precisely this. Each player has a role, a protagonist, and decides on his own what this character does and how it reacts. This is usually achieved through speech, gestures and facial expressions, just like the whole game is normally based on imagination (and occasional sketches and drawings).

The director, camera-man and actor of all minor parts is the “Game Master”. He not only knows the scenario, which means he knows, at which point one can find what information and where which obstacles and dangers are lurking, but he also plays all the characters, that meet the “alter egos” of the players. He also describes the settings and situations.

To elucidate, here is a second example. It shows a popular way among RPG authors and editors of RPG publishing-houses to explain how role-playing works to outsiders, e.g. journalists:

Editor: Have you ever watched Robin Hood?

Journalist: Yes.

E.: Then imagine, you’re going through Sherwood Forest and suddenly you hear a snap in the bushes.

J.: Then I’ll go and have a look, don’t I?

E.: You find pressed down grass and a piece of green cloth on a branch.

J.: Then I want to find out who this belongs to. Can I see footprints anywhere?

E.: Now you just have played the first role-playing game of your life.

RPGs as a rule are set in other worlds, described in great detail. The most common German RPG Das Schwarze Auge(DSA, FanPro ) e.g. takes place in a medieval fantasy world named Aventurien, which is populated by dragons and sorcerers. However, the RPG Shadowrun (FASA) takes place in the future, in the year 2060. Corporations rule the world and the Matrix, a further stage of the internet, makes journeys into virtual worlds possible. This is certainly is a distinctive feature of RPGs and is dealt with in 2.4 in greater detail.

2.2.2 The rules

Because it would be boring if the players’ characters could do absolutely everything and anything they have in mind (it is difficult to climb up the slippery wall of a castle, no matter how many princesses are hoping to be rescued), there are rules to adhere to. These rules control the attributes of the characters within reasons and by rolling dice the success or failure of any intended action is ascertained.

More precisely, every single RPG has its own individual rule system. They are designed specially for each particular game. For instance, it would not make any sense to have rules covering the use of computers in a medieval RPG.

So, how does such a rule system work? Usually, it is based on the most important aspect of the game: the player’s characters (i.e. the persons/heroes they play). Apart from their name, their profession and their appearance they can achieve specific, pre-determined scores for attributes. These specific attributes (like dexterity, intelligence, constitution etc.) and their possible scores are laid down by the rule system. For example the attributes (abilities) of a typical Dungeons & Dragons (D&D, Wizards of the Coast ) character could look like the example shown on the right.[8]

The rule system again decides how to make use of these scores. Usually they show how many dice one has to throw to carry out an action, or what dice scores are required to be successful. Naturally, certain actions are always linked to the corresponding attributes; e.g. climbing up a wall to rescue the mentioned princesses requires particular strength and dexterity. Charisma, however, is not needed until you actually find them.

In the RPG Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium), for example, one has to throw two ten-sided dices (d10), one showing the decimal place and the other the digit (together called d100 and able to give scores between 1 and 100), to carry out an action. To be successful, this score has to be lower than the score of the characters attribute, for instance “strength”.[9]

But not only attributes are defined, most RPGs also use a skill system. That means, every player may choose skills or talents for his character (e.g. swimming, stealing, swordfighting, cooking or reading) that also have different scores. Combining attributes and skills creates “archetypes” .

2.2.3 Archetypes

The dictionary describes the meaning of the word “archetype” as “an original or ideal model from which others are copied” [10] or “a very typical example” [11] . These definitions both apply to the use of this term in RPGs. The archetype is another categorisation of a player’s character: He can be a fighter, thief, cleric, wizard, ranger etc. It is a kind of profession. All of them have given scores for their attributes and skills. A fighter, for instance, needs a lot of strength and constitution whereas a wizard distinguishes himself by wisdom and intelligence.

The history of archetypes is as long as the history of RPGs themselves. D&D was the game that introduced the “class-and-level” system. This is a type of character definition in which the player chooses a class for his character at the beginning of the game – his archetype. For everything this character does, e.g. saving a kingdom, he gains a certain number of experience points. When he accumulates enough, which is determined by the rules, he achieves a new level in his class. This is accompanied by an increase in his skills and abilities. This way one is able to see the character’s experience in his level: A level 10 wizard is therefore more experienced than a level 6 ranger. This is a very simple and popular system. However, many “gamers” consider it archaic, inflexible and restrictive as one has to be either cleric, or wizard, or bard, and nothing in between. This is why D&D later introduced the concept of “multiclass characters”. With this system one is able to play a mixture of two or more classes with progression achievable in levels.[12]

Yet this was still not enough many of gamers. Consequently most later RPGs do not employ the rigid “class-and-level” system. Nevertheless, there is hardly any game with no archetype-like elements at all. Shadowrun and Deadlands (Pinnacle Entertainment Group), for example, show prefabricated characters as archetypes in their books. These are intended to be suggestions for character creation as well as immediately playable complete characters in order to allow the game to commence without the lengthy process of creation. Call of Cthulhu has a different system. Here the player chooses an ordinary profession for his character. Then he must divide a certain amount of points between fixed skills according to his profession. Nevertheless, when asked what their character was, most gamers still referred to an archetype for a description.

In addition, all RPGs have a system of gaining experience points. While in D&D and DSA experience points allow characters to achieve a new level, in Deadlands and Shadowrun they can be used to increase skills and abilities directly – without any level system.

This leads us on to the next subject.

2.2.4 The goal of the game

In most games the players are supposed to play against each other. RPGs allow them to co-operate. They are all in one group and are dependent on each other because of their different specialisation defined by their archetypes. No adventure can be successful concluded unless everybody has worked together. Paranoia (Cutting Edge/West End Games) is the only successful – satiric – RPG where the players are intended to play against each other, albeit in a subtle way.

So, winning against other players is not the goal. What is the goal then? Of course there are “short-term” goals such as solving the final riddle of an adventure, or saving the kidnapped princess from behind a slippery wall. But on most occasions the game does not end with this. The players often play whole “campaigns”, containing many single adventures (also called “quests”), with the same characters. In this case the goal is to develop the character in two ways: On the one hand this means to increase the score in his abilities and skills, to allow him to find and buy better equipment. On the other hand however, the characters also develop their personalities. Adventures become part of their history.

They become more experienced. In addition, most events leave their mark. In games like Call of Cthulhu or Deadlands there is a good chance to become unplayable due to serious mental disorders. A player has “ roleplay that character in a way that reflects those changes. This is the harder of the two accomplish, but it is ultimately more rewarding.” [13]

However, the second goal is much more important. It is simply the fun of role-playing: The company of the gathered playing friends, journeys into imaginative worlds, the assuming of a different role and the sheer entertainment of storytelling.

2.3 A typical gaming round

For an outside observer a gaming round must appear rather strange and possibly quite boring. He may remark that nothing seems to be actually happening; hardly any dice are rolled, nothing is going on on the table. Everyone is just talking. This is because an RPG happens by description.

Of course there are a lot of dice, books and papers on the table but they seem to be rarely used.

2.3.1 Material

There is a basic rule that says that one actually does not need any material to play an RPG. This is basically true because everything just happens in ones mind and is acted out by gesture and speech. But there are certain remedies to make the game more graphic, raise the tension and improve the atmosphere, or simply to save time.

The aforementioned dice are such tools which add an element of chance to what would be determined by the arbitrary decisions of the GM. RPGs use many different and exotic forms of dice. The most common are four- (d4), six- (d6), eight- (d8), ten- (d10), twelve- (d12) and twenty-sided (d20). There are games like Shadowrun that only use d6, but also some like Call of Cthulhu which use the whole range up to d100.

Almost every gamer swears that there is something called “dice karma”. Against all reason they are convinced that some dice are “cursed” and some are lucky.

Another important element are the rule and sourcebooks. Most RPG publishers not only print the basic book with the core rules, but also a lot of supplements containing more detailed descriptions of the RPG’s world, creature compendiums, additional rules and equipment lists. To date there are seven rulebooks and 138 sourcebooks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D).[14] Furthermore, RPG authors publish a great number of written adventures, scenarios and campaigns which GMs can fall back on.

But original RPG materials are not the only sources. Great aids are also encyclopaedias, maps or history books. Often RPGs are not set in completely different worlds but simply in a different era and area of our own world. Ars Magica for example is set in medieval Europe and therefore standard historical maps and descriptions of castles (even guide-books) become very useful.

Despite the use of one’s imagination there has to be something tangible to show the characters. The standard way used by every RPG are the character sheets. This is a kind of form on which, with a pencil, the players put down their scores in abilities and skills, the character’s description, name, profession, history, equipment, health and many other things. Whenever something changes, it is erased and the new score is written down.

Another (additional) method of physically showing the characters is the use of miniatures. This is often helpful in combat situations to show the position of the characters and their enemies on the battleground. RPG companies produce a large variety of metal miniatures but most gamers simply use Monopoly pieces or surplus dice.

Last but not least there is food. And coffee. A single game session can often last up to 10 hours, so usually there are more snacks on the table than actual RPG material. Furthermore, “gamers eat a lot of pizza. A lot of pizza.(...)The pizza delivery person will become very familiar with wherever it is that you are gaming at.[15]

2.3.2 The roles of GM and players

As mentioned earlier, the GM acts as director of the RPG. But his role is more than this. One could call him an almighty god of the world the game is played in. He is allowed to make decisions about everything, nothing is impossible for him. He can undo the decisions and actions of the players, but it is his primary task to allow the players to have a great time and not to frustrate them. Therefore, he has a rather difficult job to do and needs certain qualities: “A Game Master must have the Heart of a Bard, the Soul of an Artist, the Intellect of a Scientist, the Insight of a Philosopher, the Foresight of a General, the Memory of a Historian, the Will of an Umpire, the Compassion of a Priest, the Patience of a Diplomat, the Ego of an Auteur, and the Instincts of a Gambler[16]. He has to keep in mind the actions and motives of many “non-player characters” (NPCs) as well as the structure of the game world and the things inside. Due to these requirements the number of people who undertake the role of a GM is very small.

The players also have to contribute their fair share to ensure a good game. It is their task to play their character authentically. This is called “good role-playing”. If a player in the game really acts and speaks as his character, with all its individuality and possibly strange quirks, then he often is rewarded with additional experience points by the GM.

There are, of course, some gamers who take this to extremes. They are called “Plumbers” and like to create an exaggeratedly detailed character, “ this character to its depths[17]. As gamers love to classify their characters, they also like to have archetypes for each other. There is, for example, the “Copier” who copies a figure from a book or a movie, the “Mad Thinker” who loves to invent complicated and fussy plans for an operation and the “Rules Rapist” who creates a superhuman character exploiting the existing rules.

2.4 Different genres of RPGs

There are a great many of different RPG genres. In his book “Heroic Worlds”, Lawrence Schick lists 22 different genres from comic-book superheroes to westerns. [18] It would go beyond the scope of this research paper to deal with them so I have to make a more approximated division.

2.4.1 Fantasy

The Fantasy Genre – especially the subgroup of “Sword and Sorcery” – is the largest and oldest genre in RPG history. Fantasy RPGs are usually set in a medieval world containing fantastic elements such as magic, dragons, monsters, elves and dwarves. The characters are heroes and adventurers who fight monsters, find treasures and try to become celebrated veterans. These fantasy worlds are often inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leibner, to mention just a few.[19]

The most famous and successful RPGs are D&D and AD&D. They are the fantasy RPGs, the “archetype” for the fantasy genre and its definition. One could call D&D also an universal RPG because it does not really have its own world. There are different “campaign settings” (i.e. worlds) published, for example Ravenloft (White Wolf Games, formerly TSR), Dragonlance (TSR/Wizards of the Coast) and Forgotten Realms (TSR).

Ars Magica (Atlas Games, formerly Lion Rampant and White Wolf) is another fantasy RPG set in medieval Europe, in which the superstitions and the myths and legends of this time are real. Here the players are to play a convent of Magi (i.e. wizards) and to make it the most powerful among all the other convents.

DSA is the most successful German RPG.[20] It is set in a classic medieval world which is superbly conceived. The characters are archetypal fantasy and so are their goals.

More fantasy RPGs that are widely known are The Middle Earth Role-Playing Game(MERP, Iron Crown Enterprises ), set completely in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Earthdawn (Living Room Games, formerly FASA) and Legend of the five Rings(LO5R, Alderac Entertainment Group ) set in an ancient Japan with fantasy elements.

2.4.2 Science Fiction

The Science Fiction Genre has even more different subgroups such as “Space Adventures”, “Cyberpunk” and “Postholocaust”.

Among RPGs that are set in space are such prominent titles as Star Wars (West End Games) and Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games). In the latter, the characters are Starfleet officers on a ship of the United Federation of Planets. The success of this RPG results from the fact that the RPG is played in the Star Trek universe, exactly like it is in the TV series and the movies. As such, it can be considered as the most detailed of the RPG worlds due to the huge amount of non-RPG material published by Paramount Pictures.

Cyberpunk worlds are classified as “...a hard-boiled high-tech future dominated by vast amoral corporations, human/computer neural interfaces, and violence.” [21] . Its most popular representative is the aforementioned Shadowrun which also contains specific fantasy elements: The characters are so-called Shadowrunners, a modern mixture of mercenaries, fantasy heroes and highly-trained criminals. They are hired by corporations or private individuals for special certain missions that are mostly illegal.

However, the darkest variant of this genre are the Postholocaust RPGs. A huge catastrophe, often a nuclear world war, has destroyed nearly all human civilisation on the planet. Small groups of survivors and mutants fight for their lives as in Aftermath (Fantasy Games Unlimited) or Dying Earth (Pelgrane Press).

2.4.3 Horror

Until now combat seemed to play an important role in the RPGs discussed so far. However, horror RPGs are something completely different. It is not just conflict which is fascinating about these games, but the faceless dread. In most of these games the characters find themselves lost right from the start. The only thing they can do is find out what is behind all the strange things happening around them.

Call of Cthulhu is based upon the myths created in the novels of H.P. Lovecraft: Behind the front of what we call our reality is a much bigger “real” reality. Things in space and time which are so weird that they would twist the human mind if it tried to understand them. The characters are “investigators” (of various kinds) and the more they know about these supernatural occurrences the more their mental health becomes endangered.

Call of Cthulhu was the first RPG that focussed more on intelligent role-playing instead of “Hack’n’Slay”.[22] After all inflationarily meeting zombies and fighting them would let them lose all their horror.

Other important games are Deadlands, a horror-western-RPG, and Vampire – The Masquerade (White Wolf).

2.4.4 Universal systems

Universal systems are the attempt to unite completely different RPG worlds under one rule system; the advantage being that gamers could alternately play, for example, in a fantasy, a space and a cyberpunk world without having to learn the rules of a completely new RPG. However, this advantage is hotly disputed among gamers as the rules are often a characteristic of an RPG world and are part of its charm.

The most successful universal system is GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System, Steve Jackson Games ) featuring worlds like Cyberpunk, Aztec, Magic, Horror, Conan, Discworld, Vampire – The Masquerade and many more.

d20 is a very new universal RPG whose first featured system was the 3rd edition of D&D. It probably will become the most important universal system on the market as other companies have decided to publish d20 versions of their RPGs. To date there are, for example, Cthulhu d20 (Chaosium), Deadlands d20 (Pinnacle Entertainment Group) and Star Wars d20 (Wizards of the Coast).

2.4.5 Other genres

There are plenty of other genres around the RPG sector: military, historical, espionage, humour, mystery, crime, pirates, westerns and even some games that define their own genre. However, there are only a few that have gained wide popularity:

7th Sea (Alderac Entertainment Group), a cloak-and-dagger RPG set in a fantasy pirate world, Marvel Super Heroes (TSR) which features comic-book superheroes, and Paranoia, which is a satiric and chaotic vision of our future, and forces the players to act against each other as each player suspects the others of being communist spies.

All in all today there are more than 2000 different published RPGs.[23]

3 The history of RPGs

3.1 The development of RPGs

Before 1974 there were no RPGs. People who wanted to take part in imaginary conflicts usually played “wargames”. This is a type of game which simulates battles between armies mostly represented by miniatures and later two-dimensional images. The oldest game of this kind is arguably chess, but the modern wargame variant firstly was played by Prussian generals in the 19th century. At that time it was not meant as a game but as a serious strategic simulation for approaching battles.

In the early 20th century, wargames (now as real games) became popular in the United States, pushed by H.G. Wells’ published rules Little Wars (1913, Palmer). In 1967, the northern mid-west USA (to be precise: the Minneapolis/St. Paul area) was the centre of RPG development. Dave Wesely, a wargamer, created the battle scenario called Braunstein. It was set in the Napoleonic wars and, for the first time, players did not command whole armies but played individuals involved in this situation in an RPG-like way. It was a huge success and many more “Braunsteins” in different settings were created. At that time two men called Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren invented a set of rules for staging miniature battles in medieval Europe. Chainmail began to be circulated, initially just in the northern mid-west United States.

At the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s, J.R.R. Tolkien’s works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings came to huge prominence in the United States. “There was a kind of ‘awakening’ to the fantasy milieu.” [24] This did not pass the wargame scene by. One thing led to another, and in 1973 Gary Gygax and David Arneson designed the first real RPG: Dungeons & Dragons. It was published by their own small company TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) and enjoyed increasing popularity. Soon, more RPGs were published: For example Tunnels & Trolls (1975, Flying Buffalo), the first parody RPG, and Empire of the Petal Throne (1977, Game Designers Workshop).

Up to the early 90s the RPG hobby grew steadily: The number of gamers increased every year, the garage-companies that designed RPGs expanded and the most successful RPGs were exported to Europe and translated into several different languages.

The most dramatic event in RPG history was the release of a little collectible fantasy card game called Magic: The Gathering (1993, Wizards of the Coast) .“Within months, it became ‘the Buzz’...” [25] RPG gamers became really addicted to it and spent a great deal money on it. Other companies followed on, and published their own collectible card game (CCG). It was a huge boom. Sales of RPGs went down sharply as more card games were published. However, this particular market was soon glutted. By the time the boom ended in 1996 a lot of small RPG and CCG companies were bankrupt.

Nevertheless, the different games’ share of the market ultimately levelled out and today they coexist peacefully together with tabletop games (the successor of the early wargames), all three of them steadily growing.

3.2 RPG criticism

CCGs were not the only opposition to the spread of the RPG hobby. The general public was suspicious of towards this strange new activity. And soon there was an incident that confirmed their worst fears: The separate cases of James (a D&D player who was clearly mentally disturbed) and Dallas Egbert (an outsider who committed suicide), both from Michigan State University, were described as one event by the press. It was the first suicide that RPGs were blamed for. More accusations followed as this was just what the media was waiting for: Patricia Pulling blamed RPGs for her son Irving’s suicide and founded “Bothered about Dungeons & Dragons” (BADD) in 1982. Also “Mazes and Monsters” with Tom Hanks ran on US TV, in which a young man loses touch with reality, and develops a life-threatening madness due to his involvement with RPGs. In the period which followed a media fuelled witch-hunt developed. RPGs were blamed for Satanism and occultism and were said to be responsible for suicides amongst their players.

Christian fundamentalists called for the burning of RPG material.[26] It finally ended in 1990 with Michael A. Stackpole’s “Pulling Report” in which BADD’s questionable methods of investigation were exposed.[27] In her book “The Devil’s Web” (which was a bible for the anti-RPG movement) Pulling clearly deliberately cited examples out of context and presented an extremely one-sided view of the facts.[28] As a result BADD broke up and the anti-RPG movement quietened down, in spite of the efforts of certain Christian fundamentalist groups.

However, RPGs still have to face this problem in every country in which they are played. The principal negative consequences of RPG playing are said to be the following: the potential drift into occultism, the danger of suicide, the temptation into crime and violence as well as the neglect of school and education. Over the years these accusations have proven to be baseless.[29] Nevertheless the same story recurs in every country where a young RPG scene comes into being: it happened in Great Britain, France, Germany and is now happening in Turkey.

3.3 Live Action Role-Playing (LARP)

It was a logical development in the early days of RPGs that some people wanted to try out the things they played in D&D in reality. They dressed up as fantasy heroes, made dummy weapons and gathered in the wilderness to enjoy a real adventure.

This increased in popularity and as there were already groups that liked to re-enact swordfights and ancient battles, fantasy LARPs soon became a distinct hobby in its own right. Rules were created and organisations were founded (e.g. the New England Roleplaying Organization, NERO; Southeastern Live Action Roleplaying, SOLAR; and the International Fantasy Gamers Society, IFGS).

LARPs are often presented as highly organised events run by established referees and a large supporting staff. Due to this required high effort the number of the active LARP gamers is very small compared to those who play ordinary “pen-and-paper” RPGs. However, the public image is opposite because it is much more attractive to the media to present reports about sword-swinging, costumed ‘lunatics’, than about dice-rolling, conversational ‘stay-at-homes’.

3.4 Computer RPGs

RPGs have had a huge influence on the development of computer games right from the start because “... many computer game designers and programmers (were) gamers.” [30]

At first the idea was simply the concept of sneaking around in dark dungeons fighting monsters and collecting treasure like in Zork (Infocom). The earliest computer game that had more RPG elements than that was Richard Garriot’s Ultima series. This featured its own world, specially created for this game. Over the following years, the computer RPG genre developed and often the games closely followed actual RPGs. Baldur’s Gate (BioWare) for example had a class-and-level system as in AD&D. Today, there are popular games like Final Fantasy I-IX (Square), Diablo I and II (Blizzard), Might and Magic (3DO) and Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption (Activision).

Nevertheless, one cannot call these games real RPGs as they lack several important elements; e.g. the interaction with other players and the immersion into the role (one is only steering a figure on the screen but one does not really slip into the role).

Online computer RPGs are something different. Here the player creates a character, plays it in a designed online world and is able to interact with the thousands of figures who live in this world and are played by other players in front of their own screens. Online GMs are programming quests and NPCs for the players. These internet linked games are still in their infancy compared to ordinary computer games or real RPGs, but their popularity is already very high. The most successful online RPGs are Ultima Online (Origin) and Everquest (Sony).

4 Comparison between Tolkien’s work and particular fantasy RPGs

As already mentioned, the fantasy boom caused by the publication of the Lord of the Rings had decisive influence on the emergence of RPGs. Due to this, one can find elements of Tolkien’s creations in almost every RPG. In a survey I have started, the question “What is J.R.R. Tolkien’s greatest influence on the development of RPGs?” was typically answered thus:

“The whole fantasy genre. The first one that started everything was deeply inspired by Middle-earth, at first. Obviously Tolkien created a kind of standardised fantasy world which is used as a base for many med(ieval) fan(tasy) RPGs.” [31] “He created the world and creatures on which most pure fantasy RPGs were based.” [32] It also becomes apparent that most gamers consider Tolkien to play a big role in RPG history but mainly concerning the fantasy genre. The younger science fiction and horror RPGs shook off the influence of Middle-earth as far as possible. This is why, in the text which follows, the common interests of fantasy RPGs and Tolkien’s world are to be investigated, excluding the Middle Earth Role-Playing Game, as it consists entirely of Tolkien’s myths.

4.1 Geography

Most fantasy RPGs have their own geography such as Tolkien meticulously created for Middle-Earth. On closer examination one can see that most of these worlds, for example Aventurien[33] (DSA), Greyhawk[34] (D&D), the Forgotten Realms[35] (D&D) and Middle-earth, are located in the northern hemisphere, assuming they are continents of a round planet. This can be seen as all of the maps have a cold region in the north and warmer regions – Aventurien even has rainforest – in the south. On some maps of Middle-earth an equator is also indicated – Arda’s Belt.[36]

Aventurien and Middle-earth are both part of a much bigger land-mass that extends to the east. But known civilisation is only set in the western part of the continent. The east is hardly explored and myths are the only knowledge of this area. In the west across the ocean there is an legendary old continent (“Güldenland”[37] in DSA and Númenor[38] in Tolkien’s world). Both of these regions are not part of daily life, but a source for myths and legends.

However, not only DSA copied from Middle-earth. Also areas in other RPG’s maps have similar names to those in Middle-earth. An example: Mirkwood, where Bilbo and his companions have to make a long journey and encounter many dangers[39]. This sounds suspiciously like Forgotten Realm’s Lurkwood, a dangerous forest, populated by orcs.[40] Mithral Hall, a dwarven town (Forgotten Realms)[41] sounds very much like Mithril, the dwarf forged metal in Lord of the Rings.[42]

In general one can observe that many RPG authors were inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien and as a result orientated themselves towards his invented languages in the naming of their geographical regions.

4.2 History

The central events in the history of Middle-earth are the creation of the world[43], the colonisation of Middle-earth by the Dúnedain[44] and the wars against the dark side (Melkor and Sauron)[45]. It is interesting to note that there are parallels in most fantasy RPGs.

In Forgotten Realms and DSA, the creation of good and evil is at the beginning of the world: In Forgotten Realms “...beautiful twin goddesses (are formed), polar opposites of each other, one dark and one light.” [46] As in Tolkien’s universe, those embodiments fight against each other immediately. Similarly, in DSA, the emergence of the Evil is granted a central place in the story of creation. Here it is the figure of the Nameless God who tries to achieve autocracy.[47] He and his servant, the mighty dark wizard Borbarad, are the mirror images of Tolkien’s Morgoth (Melkor) and his servant Sauron. Both “made war upon the Exiles” [48] , the kingdoms that were built by the settlers from the old western continent: In Middle-earth “there they established (...) the Númenorean realms in exile, Arnor and Gondor” [49] . In Aventurien the settlers from Güldenland founded the empire that later became the Mittelreich and the Horasreich.[50] These are recently[51] threatened by the Evil forces that already have conquered huge areas in the east of Aventurien.[52] All very similar themes. This makes it clear that the images in Middle-earth’s history were so attractive to RPG authors that they often simply adopted them.

4.3 Ethnology

Nevertheless, one can find the greatest influence in the ethnology of fantasy RPG worlds. Tolkien created Middle-earth populated with unique races and they often can be found again in RPGs.

4.3.1 Hobbits

The most obvious similarity is in the existence of hobbits, or rather halflings.[53] It is undisputed that Tolkien invented these creatures. In his novel “The Hobbit”, he describes these people as follows:

"I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly (...) They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs..." [54]

Similar content can be found in the description of the halfling race in AD&D [55] . In addition, Frodo’s courage and his resistance to Sauron’s magical force[56] are represented by rule bonuses for halfling characters in D&D: “+2 morale bonus on saving throws against fear (...) +1 racial bonus on all saving throws (against magic)...” [57]

There are even more similarities: “Halflings (had) ample appetites, both for food and for other pleasures.” [58] “And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day...” [59] “They (liked) (...) good tobacco” [60] of which “...they imbibed or inhaled, through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke...” [61]

The copying goes further. D&D’s first edition presented three categories of halflings; the Hairfeet, quite obviously taken from Tolkien’s Harfoots, the Tallfellows (Tolkien: Hallohides) and the Stouts (Tolkien: Stoors).[62]

Recently, however, game designers have tried to get rid of these copies and change the characteristics of their halflings: In D&D’s 3rd edition, a direct successor of AD&D, “halflings prefer trouble to boredom. They are notoriously curious (...) and (...) often set out on their own to make their way in the world.” [63] This is totally contradictory to Tolkien’s hobbits who “...have no use for adventures.” [64] .

4.3.2 Dwarves

Other races of Middle-earth were also completely adopted in RPGs, an example being the dwarves. In Tolkien’s ethnology dwarves are small but well built, immune to most kinds of magic, tough, stubborn and reserved. They are hard-working, skilled cave-builders and great jewel- and metal-smiths.[65] These characteristics are unchanged in most fantasy RPGs: “Their mysterious kingdoms, carved out from the insides of mountains, are renowned for the marvelous treasures (...) they produce...” [66] , they get a “+2 racial bonus on saving throws against spells...” [67] in D&D and are said to be greedy in DSA (Tolkien wrote: “...they delved too greedily...” [68] ) and in Shadowrun they are skilled mechanics because there is no need for smiths in a science fiction based world.

Naturally, Tolkien did not create these characteristics without help. For example the dwarfs[69] in European mythology were also known as skilled smiths and diggers (e.g. the dwarf Alberich from the German epic The Niebelungenlied).

But there are other characteristics in RPGs that are most definitely taken from Tolkien, one even based on a misinterpretation from a passage in The Hobbit and has made its way into a cliché in most fantasy RPGs; i.e. dwarves are unable to swim[70]. This is simply because when the dwarf Bombur falls into a river he nearly drowns. He does not swim. But the reason for this is that the water is cursed and Bombur cannot swim because he “..was already fast asleep...” [71] due to the curse.

4.3.3 Elves

Elves in RPGs are generally defined as “...willowy, pointy-eared, slanty-eyed, treetop-dwelling, arrow-shooting, magic-casting, sneaky, graceful, beautiful, immortal wilderness dwellers.” [72] This is basically the same as Tolkien’s description of elves in his books. Tolkien was influenced by Shakespearean elves[73], as well as German and Nordic myths, but the elves as they are described in modern fantasy are still his synthesis of different influences.

Clear proof of this is the representation of their immortality in RPGs. In Middle-earth they do not die but they leave their lands and “...return over the Great Sea” [74] to Valinor. In Forgotten Realms they “...go west over the Sea to Evermeet” [75] . In AD&D they feel a desire to leave the regions of humans and other mortals when they become old.[76] Other motifs are copied as well. To mention just a few, the elven singing in Tolkien’s book is referred to in the magic elven songs in DSA [77] and their favourite weapon, the bow, reappears as a rule in D&D: “...proficient with shortbow, longbow, composite longbow, and composite shortbow. Elves esteem the arts of (...) archery, so all elves are familiar with these weapons.” [78]

Another example of Tolkien’s great influence is that in RPGs “...elves consider (...) dwarves not at all fun.” [79] . This is based on some events in the novels such as the wood-elves who try to capture the dwarves in The Hobbit[80] and the dislike of dwarves (“They are not permitted in our land.” [81] ) in Lothlórien.

4.3.4 Orcs

Unlike elves, orcs are almost entirely a creation of J.R.R. Tolkien. In the “Lord of the Rings” the forces of Evil consist mainly of orcs. They play such a conspicuous role that they today are the most famous “monsters” in fantasy RPGs. On some levels orcs are certainly described as the embodiment of evil. “The Silmarillion” says that orcs were bred by Melkor out of captured elves.[82] He created an evil, perverted and corrupted version of the divine elves which was their complete opposite – a sort of “fallen angel”.

In Middle-earth, orcs are dark-skinned, slit-eyed, flat-nosed, short-legged man-eaters with long arms and fangs. Here they are smaller than humans but in most RPGs they are described much taller and more muscular[83] as in D&D, Shadowrun and AD&D.

In the first RPGs, orcs indeed were nothing more than evil opponents, generic enemies. Finally AD&D introduced the half-orcs as a race to choose for character creation. Nevertheless the real orcs were still intended to fight.

This is definitely an aspect which one can accuse professor Tolkien and the early RPGs of creating. He wrote of the orcs as an intelligent but inferior race that existed solely to be fought and wiped out. When Aragorn became king after the Ring War, he pardoned the humans who served in Sauron’s army but the orcs were all exterminated, women and children included.[84] Most fantasy RPGs continued this tradition. Only when the reproaches of what is called “fantasy racism” became louder over the past decade, did some RPGs change their attitude and include orcs into the list of races a player can choose from (e.g. in DSA [85] and Shadowrun).

As in other races, there are also similarities in the sound of the language. For example, the name of an orc commander in “Lord of the Rings” is “Grishnak”[86]. The orc word for peasant in DSA is “grishik”[87].

4.4 Archetypes and stereotypes

One can also find the spirit of Tolkien in the character classes of the early fantasy RPGs, like D&D. These archetypes are derived directly from the characters in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.

The class “ranger” for example emerged out of Aragorn in “Lord of the Rings”. Butterbur, the inn-keeper, says about him: “He is one of the wandering folk – Rangers we call them.” [88] Because he guided the four hobbits safely through the wilderness to Rivendell today “rangers often accept the role of protector, aiding those who (...) travel through the woods.” [89] The fact that “elves are commonly rangers” [90] comes from the origin of Legolas as a wood-elf. He, too, demonstrated the typical qualities of a ranger during their adventures.

Another highly influenced class is the fighter. D&D 3rd edition features a “dwarven fighter starting package” [91] as a prefabricated character fitted out with the obligatory dwarven war axe. The dwarf’s “favored class (is the) fighter (because) (...) dwarven culture extols the virtues of the warrior, and the vocation comes easily to dwarves.” [92] This is obviously derived from Gimli whose “...axe swung and swept back. Two orcs fell headless. The rest fled.” [93] Additional clear evidence of the warrior dwarf being an invention of Tolkien is their lack of magic. His dwarves also had no magic, but the traditional dwarves – no matter if it is Alberich, the Nordic Mjolnir or the Irish leprechaun – are all magical creatures.

Finally, there is the thief (or rogue as it is called in D&D 3rd edition). As a stereotype the thief is always a halfling which is rooted in “The Hobbit”, where Gandalf and the dwarves sign Bilbo as a “...burglar, the chosen and selected burglar.” [94] This is why the halfling’s “favored class (is the) Rogue.” [95] Towards the end of “The Hobbit” Bilbo is sent into the dragon Smaug’s cave to get the dwarves’ treasure. Today, in a party of characters (featuring stereotypically an elven ranger and a dwarven fighter) the halfling thief is traditionally sent on the most dangerous missions.

4.5 Struggle between good and evil

The principal recurring motif of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” is undoubtedly the struggle between good and evil. This can also be found in most fantasy stories, but it is also the dominant theme of classic myths and legends. As such this does not seem particularly special, but there is a new development which is not to be found in the classical saga. The Good is personified by characters who seem weak and small compared to the power of the evil lord Sauron. They are successful simply because they stick together as a group. This team spirit is also an important element of “The Lord of the Rings”. Sauron is defeated as he cannot imagine that there is a group working together and no single one of them assumes the role of a leader as the ring-bearer.

This is the main link to RPGs. In most of them the characters are on the good side and fight evil. But, the even more significant key is the teamwork. No RPG adventure can be solved if the group does not co-operate. The first real RPG groups were Bilbo together with the dwarves and the Fellowship of the Ring.

4.6 Summary

It becomes clear that J.R.R. Tolkien exerted a huge influence on the development of RPGs, especially in the fantasy genre. Certainly there are several other writers who also had influence, namely H.P. Lovecraft, William Shakespeare, Ed Greenwood and Anne Rice, to name but a few. Also, there are entire RPG genres which hardly have any connection at all to Tolkien’s works. Nevertheless, one can say that his effect on the fantasy genre, being the first and largest, determined the whole development of RPGs to such a degree that the scene would be totally different if “The Hobbit”, and especially “The Lord of the Rings”, had never been written.

5 Conclusion

I chose this subject for my research paper because I myself am an active role-playing gamer. I have been playing RPGs for twelve years (DSA, later Shadowrun, Ars Magica, Deadlands and Call of Cthulhu) and it is truly my passion.

From my personal experience I came to the conclusion that RPGs are still too much of an underground hobby. It provides such opportunities and chances that it is sad that there is still so much ignorance about it among the public. (For example my sister, who also plays, was once asked if it was not prohibited because of its dangers.)

Finally, it is my hope that following the huge success of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, more people will become interested in fantasy and RPGs.

6 Bibliography

6.1 Books

Brough, Sonia, Langenscheidts Großes Schulwörterbuch Deutsch-Englisch, Langenscheidt, Berlin 1996

Carpenter, Humphrey, tr. Wolfgang Krege, J.R.R. Tolkien – Eine Biographie, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart, 1979

Chick, Jack T., Dark Dungeons, Chick Publications, n.p. 1984

Cook, Monte et. al., Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, Wizards of the Coast, USA, 2000

Don-Schauen, Florian, Aventurische Helden, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 2002

Don-Schauen, Florian, Das Schwarze Auge – Das Fantasy Rollenspiel, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 2001

Don-Schauen, Florian, Schwerter und Helden – Rollenspiel Erweiterung, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 2002

Fannon, Sean Patrick, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible, Obsidian Studios, USA 1999

Fonstad, Karen Wynn, tr. Hans J. Schütz, Historischer Atlas von Mittelerde, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1994

Gelber, Daniel Seth, tr. Heinrich Glumpler, Paranoia – Rollenspiel um eine schöne neue Welt, West End Games, n.p. 1992

Greenwood, Ed, Forgotten Realms – Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Setting, Wizards of the Coast, USA 2001

Hensley, Shane Lacy, tr. Peter Kathe, Günter Doil, Deadlands – Das unheimliche Western-Rollenspiel, Günter Doil Verlag, Friedberg 1997

Hlawatsch, Ralf, Die Welt des Schwarzen Auges, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 1999

Hornby, A S, ed. Jonathan Crowther, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1995

Kiesow, Ulrich, Das Schwarze Auge, Schmidt-Spiele, Eching 1992

Kovalic, John, tr. Oliver Hoffmann, Dork Tower – Livin’ La Vida Dorka, Feder & Schwert, Mannheim 2002

Messinger, Heinz, Langenscheidts Großes Schulwörterbuch Englisch-Deutsch, Langenscheidt, Berlin 1996

Peters, Sandy, Lynn Willis, tr. Heinrich Glumpler, Cthulhu – Rollenspiel in der Welt des H.P. Lovecraft, Pegasus, Friedberg 1999

Raddatz, Jörg, Thomas Römer, Die Zwerge Aventuriens, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 1999

Schick, Lawrence, Heroic Worlds – A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games, Prometheus Books, Buffalo 1991

Schneidewind, Friedhelm, Das große Tolkien-Lexikon, Lexikon Imprint Verlag, Berlin 2001

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel, ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Briefe, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1991

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Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel, The Lord of the Rings, HarperCollinsPublishers, London 1991

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel, tr. Wolfgang Krege, Das Silmarillion, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1978

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel, tr. Margaret Carroux, Der Herr der Ringe, Band 1: Die Gefährten, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1987

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Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel, tr. Margaret Carroux, Der Herr der Ringe, Band 3: Die Rückkehr des Königs, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1987

von Wieser, Hadmar Freiherr, Geheimnisse der Elfen, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 1999

von Wieser, Hadmar Freiherr, Götter, Magier und Geweihte, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 1997

Winter, Steve, Jon Pickens, tr. Stefan Schulz , Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition – Spielerhandbuch, TSR, n.p. 1989

6.2 Contributions from the internet

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Who Are You?”, URL “”, 04/18/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 1 – Holy Rollers”, URL “”, 05/23/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 2 – Elves Have Left The Building”, URL “”, 06/15/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 3 – Thick as Thieves”, URL “”, 07/13/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 4 – In a hole in the ground...”, URL “”, 08/17/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 5 – Rebel without a CAWS”, URL “”, 09/18/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 6 – Kings under the mountain”, URL “”, 10/18/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 7 – Roll up for the magical mystery tour”, URL “”, 11/27/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 8 – To Be Orc Not To Be”, URL “”, 12/21/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 9 – Death Before Dishonor”, URL “”, 01/31/2002, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 10 – Human, All Too Human”, URL “”, 03/19/2002, called up on 07/11/2002

Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies – Episode 11 – In Closing...”, URL “”, 04/30/2002, called up on 07/11/2002

Antrack, M.: Dissertation: “Flucht vor der Realität? Funktion und Reiz von Fantasy-Rollenspielen unter sozialarbeiterischer Betrachtung”, URL “”, 11/20/1996, called up on 04/07/2002

Bergling, Jörg: “Cthulhu @ DroSI – Deutscher Rollenspiele Index”, URL “”, 01/20/2003, called up on 03/07/2003

Dogio: “AD&D @ DroSI – Deutscher Rollenspiele Index”, URL “”, 01/20/2003, called up on 03/06/2003

Dogio: “DROSI II – Schnelle Tabelle”, URL “”, 02/26/2003, called up on 03/07/2003

Hickman, Tracy Raye: “Ethics in Fantasy”, URL “

Schmid, PD Jeanette: “Fantasy-Rollenspiel: Gefahren und Chancen “, URL ““, 05/04/1995, called up on 03/09/2003

Stackpole, Michael A., “The Pulling Report”, URL ““, n.d., called up on 03/09/2003

unknown author: “DSA – Die 3. Sphäre – Die Geschichte des Rollenspiels”, URL “”, n.d., called up on 02/04/2002

unknown author: “Role-Playing Games Lecture”, URL “”, n.d., called up on 02/04/2002

unknown author: “Role-Playing Games Lecture”, URL “”, n.d., called up on 02/04/2002

unknown author: “DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS ™ AND OTHER FANTASY ROLE PLAYING GAMES”, URL “”, n.d., called up on 02/04/2002

unknown author: “Eine kurze Geschichte des fantastischen / rekreativen Rollenspiels”, URL “”, n.d. called up on 02/04/2002

unknown author: “Was sind eigentlich Rollenspiele? Versuch einer Erklärung”, URL “”, n.d., called up on 02/04/2002

”, 1988, called up on 02/04/2002

Winkler, Jens,: “[DroSI] Was ist Rollenspiel”, URL “”, 12/03/1996, called up on 04/07/2002


[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, HarperCollinsPublishers, London 1995, p.3

[2] cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, ed., Briefe, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1991, p.213

[3] Sean Patrick Fannon, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer‘s Bible, Obsidian Studios, USA 1999, p.18

[4] op.cit., p.20

[5] op.cit., p.21

[6] op.cit., p.23

[7] op.cit., p.87

[8] cf. Monte Cook, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, Wizards of the Coast, USA 2000, pp. 7 ff., 287, 301

[9] cf. Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis, Cthulhu – Rollenspiel in der Welt des H.P. Lovecraft, Pegasus, Friedberg 1999, pp.14, 39

[10] A S Hornby, ed. Jonathan Crowter, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1995, p.49

[11] loc.cit.

[12] cf. Cook et. al., D&D Handbook, p.55 f.

[13] Fannon, RPG’s Bible, p.215

[14] cf. Dogio: “AD&D @ DroSI – Deutscher Rollenspiele Index“, URL ““, 01/20/2003, called up on 03/06/2003

[15] Fannon, RPG’s Bible, p.23

[16] op.cit., p.49

[17] op.cit. p.XIII

[18] cf. Lawrence Schick, Heroic Worlds – A History and Guide to Role-playing Games, Prometheus Books, Buffalo 1991, p.3

[19] cf. op.cit., p.82

[20] Germany (DSA) and Sweden (Drakar och Demoner) are the only non-English-speaking countries that have their own successful RPGs apart from the translated American games.

[21] op.cit., p.285

[22] cf. Jörg Bergling: “Cthulhu @ DRoSI – Deutscher Rollenspiele Index“, URL ““, 01/20/2003, called up on 03/07/2003

[23] cf. Dogio: “DROSI II – Schnelle Tabelle“, URL ““, 02/26/2003, called up on 03/07/2003

[24] Fannon, RPG’s Bible, p.123

[25] op.cit., p.154

[26] cf. appendix

[27] cf. Michael A. Stackpole: “The Pulling Report“, URL ““, n.d., called up on 03/09/2003

[28] cf. PD Jeanette Schmid: “Fantasy-Rollenspiel: Gefahren und Chancen“, URL ““, 05/04/1995, called up on 03/09/2003

[29] cf. op.cit.

[30] Fannon, RPG’s Bible, p.160

[31] appendix

[32] appendix

[33] cf. Florian Don-Schaven, Das Schwarze Auge – Das Fantasy Rollenspiel, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 2001, included map

[34] cf. appendix

[35] cf. Ed Greenwood, Forgotten Realms – Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Setting, Wizards of the Coast, USA 2001, included map

[36] cf. Karen Wynn Fonstad, Historischer Atlas von Mittelerde, tr. Hans J. Schütz, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1994, p.10

[37] cf. Ralf Hlawatsch, Die Welt des Schwarzen Auges, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 1999, p.109 ff.

[38] cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, tr. Wolfgang Krege, Das Silmarillion, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1978, p.351

[39] cf. Tolkien, The Hobbit, HarperCollins, London, 1995, p.126 ff.

[40] cf. Greenwood, Forgotten Realms, p.297

[41] cf. op.cit., p.172

[42] cf. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, HarperCollins, London 1995, p.309

[43] cf. Tolkien, Silmarillion, p.13 ff.

[44] cf. op. cit., p.390 ff.

[45] cf. op.cit., p.388 ff.

[46] Greenwood, Forgotten Realms, p.260

[47] cf. Hlawatsch, Welt des Schwarzen Auges, pp.6, 8 f.

[48] Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, p.1013

[49] loc.cit.

[50] cf. Hlawatsch, Welt des Schwarzen Auges, p.16 ff.

[51] Also RPG worlds are developing continuously. There are even RPG newspapers published by the companies telling the latest news inside the RPG’s universe.

[52] cf. Hlawatsch, Welt des Schwarzen Auges , p.94 ff.

[53] D&D’s 1st edition included a race named „hobbits“. After an argument with the Tolkien estate about copyright the name was changed into „halflings“.

[54] Tolkien, Hobbit, p.4

[55] cf. Steve Winter, John Pickens, tr. Stefan Schulz, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition – Spielerhandbuch, TSR, n.p. 1989

[56] passim Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

[57] Cook, D&D Player’s Handbook, p.20

[58] op.cit., p.19

[59] Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p.2

[60] Cook, loc.cit.

[61] Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p.7

[62] cf. Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction & Fallacies; Episode 4 – In a hole in the ground...“, URL: ““, 08/17/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

[63] Cook, D&D Player’s Handbook, p.19 f.

[64] Tolkien, Hobbit, p.6

[65] cf. Friedhelm Schneidewind, Das große Tolkien-Lexikon, Lexikon Imprint Verlag, Berlin 2001, p.728

[66] Cook, D&D Player’s Handbook, p.14

[67] loc.cit.

[68] Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p.309

[69] In his work Tolkien used the plural “dwarves“ to tell them from the traditional dwarfs. Interestingly “dwarves” is also the common term in RPGs.

[70] cf. Jörg Raddatz, Thomas Römer, Die Zwerge Aventuriens, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 1999, p.19

[71] Tolkien, Hobbit, p.137

[72] Aeon: “Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies; Episode 2 – Elves Have Left The Building“, URL: ““, 06/15/2001, called up on 07/11/2002

[73] as they appear in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummernight’s Dream“

[74] Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p.79

[75] Greenwood, Forgotten Realms, p.14

[76] cf. Winter, Pickens, AD&D Spielerhandbuch, p.21

[77] cf. Hadmar Freiherr von Wieser, Geheimnisse der Elfen, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 1999, p.51

[78] Cook, D&D Player’s Handbook, p.16

[79] loc.cit.

[80] cf. Tolkien, Hobbit, p.156

[81] Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p.334

[82] cf. Tolkien, Silmarillion, p.63

[83] cf. Cook, D&D Player’s Handbook, p.18

[84] cf. Schneidewind, Tolkien-Lexikon, p.505 f.

[85] cf. Florian Don-Schaven, Aventurische Helden, Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 2002, p.27

[86] cf. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p.436

[87] cf. Don-Schaven, Aventurische Helden, p.66

[88] Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p.153

[89] Cook, D&D Player’s Handbook, p.44

[90] op.cit., p.45

[91] op.cit., p.37

[92] op.cit., p.15

[93] Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p.522

[94] Tolkien, Hobbit, p.22

[95] Cook, D&D Player’s Handbook, p.20

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Role-Playing Games and the Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien
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Jan Buck (Author), 2003, Role-Playing Games and the Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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