Gary Gygax insisted that Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings wasn’t the main inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons. Initially, I scoffed at Gygax’s position. (And for the record, I think it’s obvious Tolkein’s work was an influence.) As time passes though, I find myself grudgingly accepting that there was more to the evolution of what inspired Gygax, and that he may have a point.
Its only recently as I plumb the depths of genre fiction and read more about designing tabletop role-playing games that I see wider influences. When I first started to break down the game I had though it was the culmination of people who were really into Tolkein, medieval military history, and complex mathematical systems. I don’t even know if I think that’s incorrect. However, there there are a handful of writers who keep on find their way into “Suggested Reading” sections in various RPGs I find.
Jack Vance, and his Dying Earth novels are one of the things I’ve seen multiple times. Enough that I have to consider that Gygax would have read this. Its odd as well, but even the descriptions of casting magic in Vance’s novels sounds more like D&D than other texts. For example, I don’t know if I think Gygax would have taken the time to read actual occult works. Was he a fan of Aleister Crowley? I don’t know. It seems like it would be unrealistic.
Other names I’ve seen mention more than once are people like, Michael Moorcock, Poul Anderson, and the general selection of “pulp fantasy novels”. I have to say that, while Tolkein’s presence is undeniable, in my opinion, the rest of these names also have impacted D&D. It makes me want to dig further and see what other stuff I can find. Its fun to see what people were/are inspired by. Its also a convenient excuse to take a trip to the library, something I love.