29 June 2008

DM of the Rings

I'm sure anyone who's ever played D&D knows that the original premise of the game was Lord of the Rings. Especially if you've ever seen the original first edition rules, which try very hard to guide everyone into following the archetypes as seen in the books. Later additions were made, expansions added, alternate ideas tacked on, and now the game is much more open than it originally was.

The focus of the game has changed as well from the original point of Tolkien's works. In the books, it was all about the battle of good vs. evil. The game became an adventure of slaying monsters and collecting treasure.

Nowhere has this been better illustrated than in the webcomic DM of the Rings by Shamus Young. He describes the point of the comic perfectly in the first strip, so I'll let his words stand for themselves.

But my point is this: so many works (both in RPGs and in literature) are so thoroughly derivative of JRR Tolkien's works that the term "fantasy" has come to be a very cliché term. Whereas it once meant "the creative imagination," or "a capricious or fantastic idea," it now means "a work of fiction involving magic that takes place in a pseudo-medieval (or, on occasion, based on other periods or places in history, such as Roman or middle-eastern) setting and often involves supernatural creatures like elves and dwarves, especially as seen in Lord of the Rings."Personally, I've always been a big fan of the power of creativity, and so I don't like to limit myself to works that are more or less derivative of Tolkien. It's part of why I'm such a fan of The Dark Crystal: it's fantasy that doesn't pull its inspiration from Tolkien. I'd love to see a role-playing game based on that film (I once tried to devise a GURPS write-up for the Dark Crystal world, but it failed due to lack of interest).

I've even tried to create my own role-playing game that was entirely my own devising (it's harder than you might think). Sadly, I gave that up after reading this sentence (from Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering by Robin Laws): "North American audiences... will give up their beloved archetypes when you pry them from their cold, dead fingers." They don't care for creativity and ingenuity. They want the same thing they've always had, and novelty be damned.

Oh well. At any rate, that's a brief rant on my opinion of the nature of the fantasy genre. It's in your head now, so you're stuck with it. So until next time,

Game on!


  1. Have you seen the rules for the Neverwhere game? I downloaded them for free a while back from Drive Thru RPG.

    I just realized I'd been meaning to ask you for a while.

    It has the lightest rules system I think I've ever seen.

  2. I have a pdf copy... I don't even remember when or where I got it. However, for some reason that even I can't fathom, I've never been able to motivate myself to read it.

    Maybe one day I will, given my love of Gaiman and that particular opus. But for the moment, I can't really offer an opinion.


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