Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance: Chronicles #1), a review

What books do fans of fantasy fiction think of when they reflect on the works that define the genre? After The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, or A Game of Thrones and its subsequent sequels, it’s fair to challenge people to name works of fantasy fiction. “name your top five fantasy novels…” I imagine people would name Harry Potter or Conan as well, so we’re up to three or four now.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? People might struggle to name more than a few. Despite its apparent popularity, fantasy is not well-explored by most people. Interestingly, one of the books-series of books, actually-that I often see on shortlists of “Best Fantasy Novels” is Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. In fact, I picked it up and read it because someone else suggested it as a favourite work of fiction.

This novel is the first in a trilogy that details the adventures of a group of heroes in a fantasy world (Krynn) created for the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. Tanis, Sturm, Caramon, Raistlin, Flint, and Tasslehoff find themselves pitted against the forces beyond their comprehension, and seemingly well beyond their capabilities. They read like archetypal fantasy. Dragons, medieval wizards and warriors, elves, dwarves and so on. So much about this book perfectly encompasses what I suspect most people imagine when they think of fantasy fiction, for better or worse.

This book scratches a particular itch. On one hand, and let’s just get this out of the way, detractors of fantasy will point to books like this as an example of why the genre is garbage. Overall, the sophistication of the story probably fits with YA novels. The characters feel somewhat contrived and based on well-worn cliches. On the other hand, who cares what they say!

So much of what has become a staple of geeky culture is evident in this book. The humour, the character archetypes, and of course, the fact that the story is one giant D&D reference. Back when this novel was published, in 1984, people thought about stuff like TTRPGs much differently. There was the infamous Satanic Panic, which would have been at its peak when this novel was published. Tabletop gaming, in general, was much more niche 38 years ago when this book hit the stands. Yet, this book has endured and has cultivated fans for decades. From start to finish, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is like a precursor to every geeky joke and anecdote you might expect to hear people swap at a gaming table.

This last point is probably the most important for the novel’s legacy. It’s easy to tear this book down because it isn’t highly refined literature. However, it is fun, and it is fun in a unique way for its fans. Sometimes a book can be greatly enhanced when the audience gets the “in-jokes” that are peppered throughout the story. Weis and Hickman wrote their tale to include all of that, but the thing that stands out for me is that they get the in-jokes as well. They could be swapping them with the readers because they’re also the audience. Both author and reader played TTRPGs, principally D&D.

It was a level playing field between the creators and the consumers, and even if the stories don’t break the mould, they bring to life what a lot of gamers were engaging with during TTRPG sessions. These novels were created to breathe a different sort of life into D&D (see Shannon Applecline’s Designers & Dragons), and they ultimately succeeded. The original Dragonlance modules served as inspiration, and have become something of a cult classic in fantasy fiction.

No, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is not for everyone. People who like fantasy and D&D might not even like Weis and Hickman’s treatment of the source material, but there are those that do. These novels are for the people that play games, first and foremost. That was always the intended audience, and it always will be. If you’ve ever played D&D and enjoyed traipsing about the wilderness, clashing with evil spellcasters, and slaying monsters, then these books are for you. They were always meant for you.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, a review

It is a rare thing when an author of so-called “literary fiction” veers off to create genre fiction. However, when it does happen, it can be a thoroughly engaging read. That is the case with The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Nobel Prize-winning author is well-known for a number of literary works, but his fantasy novel, The Buried Giant, stands a bit apart from those other texts. It is most definitely dramatic, the story incorporates fantasy elements, enough of which drag it into the genre itself. To be specific, the story is probably best catalogued as “Arthurian” due to its references to the fabled king.

The tale is set in Britain shortly after the death of Arthur, but at a time when his knights may still be roaming the countryside. The protagonists are an elderly couple (Axl and Beatrice) that set off to visit their estranged son. However, they can’t remember where he lives on account of a memory-draining mist that is created by an enchanted dragon. As you can plainly see, the story has fantasy elements.

For my part, I found the book to be very well-written, but not at all dependent upon genre conventions. There were times I doubted the story to be fantasy at all and was instead a dramatic story relying on a combination of folkloric superstition and unreliable narration. An example from the text would be when Axl and Beatrice were early in their trek and speaking about a sleeping giant that was beneath a hill. Neither characters question the veracity of the knowledge, even if it seemed absurd. It was taken as fact that there really was a giant slumbering just where they were somewhere beneath the topsoil. Rather than shirk from the genre, Ishiguro stuck it out and embraced all of this, tidily wrapping fantasy conventions into his story about two travellers at the end of their lives.

It’s here that I have a quibble. While I appreciate the talent that Ishiguro possesses, I can’t help, but wonder if there aren’t some aspects of the story that didn’t need to be present. Years ago, I had read something about writing genre fiction, I believe it was by Stephen King, and the idea put forward was that, if a writer can remove an element of the story, but the tale stays the same, then removing those elements is probably worth the writers time.

Basically, while an author might want to write a paranormal horror story, if that approach is being forced, then the author might want to consider writing a thriller without supernatural elements. It may have served Ishiguro to have taken this approach. A lot of his fantastic elements were presented literally, as though they truly existed, but I’m not sure it was necessary.

Presenting the more fantastic elements of the story works fine. They have a place and don’t detract. My slight sense of confusion comes from considering that the narrators, like everyone in the book, are unreliable. No one can remember anything, or be certain of very much. This makes the idea that folkloric superstitions are omnipresent as viable as the fantasy concepts that were at work in the story. If no one knows what is true, then anything can be.

There were never really any demons, but Axl and Beatrice were certain of their existence. Was it really a monstrous wolf creature, or just a large feral dog with mange? In order for the book to remain a fantasy novel at various points, you need to convince yourself as a reader that the fantasy elements had to be there, even when it isn’t entirely justified.

That being said, Ishiguro stays the course, and works through his story with dragons and knights and maybe even a voyage over the River Styx? Sir Gawain, the Green Knight himself! even has a role in the book. While there was ample opportunity for this to have been historical fiction or magical realism, this story does a credible job at fantasy.

Ishiguro doesn’t break the mould, but the story is a quality tale from start to finish. His real artistic flourishes come not from the genre but from his own approach to the story. The main characters are senior citizens. Historical references and allusions are peppered throughout the text. The story is built upon the architecture of earlier Arthurian stories but references a member of the round table no one in my book club had ever heard of before. Did they even exist? We actually had to debate this because it was subtly worked into the story, that no one could tell if Ishiguro invented the character, or if there was a real historical inspiration.

One thing that has remained after having finished the book is that it has lingered in my memory. Fortunately, I’m not feeling the effects of the tale’s dragon! I finished it weeks ago, and have finished other books since then. Yet, the story continues to reverberate in my mind, especially the ending. It’s one of those books.

Maybe it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, but it will make you think if you give it a chance. Ishiguro is an expert wordsmith, and while he’s not necessarily innovative, his fantasy novel is worth your time. This is probably a great book for people that want something that straddles that line between literary and genre fiction, or people that need a break from the more formulaic entries in the genre. I promise, if you let him, Ishiguro will present a challenge, and all while regaling readers with knights, heroes, dragons, and an endearing couple in search of their long-lost child. What’s not to love?

Talisman Adventures RPG Core Rulebook

Originally published at British Fantasy Society

Originally released in 1983, the board game Talisman has been around for decades. As noted on publisher Pegasus’ website, the game is currently on its fourth edition and has ventured forth into new territory as a tabletop roleplaying game, Talisman Adventures: Fantasy Roleplaying Game. Transitioning from a fantasy adventure board game to a fantasy RPG seems simple enough, but there are areas where re-creating the classic game could go awry.

Ultimately, Pegasus has done a great job. The core rule book is a complete full-colour standalone product with great art. It is a player’s guide, gamemaster resource, bestiary, and introductory module. Reading through the game gives one the impression that it was designed to be efficient, but still offering enough that players had options for customization. No, there aren’t overwhelming lists of equipment, spells, or feats. There is enough to give a respectable variety of options.

The game makes use of some interesting mechanics such as the Kismet die and fate.  The kismet die is a very simple way of augmenting the action in the game. For example, a rapier might be able to ignore armour on a good kismet roll, or it could break if being used against a two-handed weapon on a bad roll. In either situation, it could significantly impact the game. Then there is what’s called light fate and dark fate that can be used to swing the momentum towards or against the players. It’s a fun tactical/dramatic element that can abruptly alter the course of the action.

Pegasus included some fun options for playable characters as well, including being either a ghoul or troll. That’s right, players can hunt for treasure as the walking dead or the much-maligned villains of classic fairy tales. The book even takes a jab at trolls saying that, as great builders, “no one knows bridges, as well as a troll does.”

In contrast to its more unique elements, the game feels a bit lacking as far as the setting goes. Even though Talisman has been around since the early 1980s, this RPG feels as if it were embracing fantasy as broadly as possible, maybe even to a fault. Now, some might appreciate this, but it lacks any distinctive flair. There’s even a city called, “The City”. It’s the kind of thing that feels like a placeholder in a homebrewed adventure, not a professionally published game.

Adding to this is that the world feels very “contained”. The borders are very clear and even though the scale isn’t specified on the map, it still gives a sense of being kind of limited. That doesn’t mean that the world couldn’t be expanded upon by a GM, but once players have trekked through a couple of forests there could be the sense that they’re running out of terrain.

Without actually saying it, Talisman feels like a tool kit for tinkerers. Beyond fans of the board game, this would be a great fit for people that like creating their own gaming material. The specifics were intended to be left to the players. Instead of offering fleshed-out details for everything, the game poses questions to consider throughout the rulebook. 

Ultimately, this is a tightly conceived ttrpg, derived from a board game that has endured for decades. While it lacks flavour for its default setting, the devil is in the details. For Talisman, it appears that the point isn’t to reinvent fantasy RPGs, rather it aims to put its twist on the tried and true of the genre. It is a simple d6-based game, with a very open world that invites players to make it their own. 

Conan: Waves Stained Crimson Campaign

*Originally published at British Fantasy Society

There have been a slew of releases for Modiphius’ Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed of since the initial Kickstarter brought the game to life. However, the multi-part campaign, Waves Stained Crimson Campaign stands apart from the others. It’s a dark adventure on the high seas where the PCs are tasked with rescuing a kidnapped member of an elite family. On the surface, it feels fairly straightforward, but it’s absolutely not.

This really felt like a story-a tale by Robert E. Howard told in five acts. If someone were to readapt this into a novella of about the same length, it would read like a sort of harsh Lovecraftian fantasy. Elder gods, depraved sorcerers, deadly duels, intense battles, and more. It works very well at capturing the elements of Conan and puts players in what they’d expect to see in the classic fiction. Run it as a series of one-shots, or in its entirety. It’s flexible and accommodating.  

The art complements this very well, and there are great full-colour illustrations of the story all throughout the book. It’s a very reasonable length, despite being much more than a single quest. Players are given a lot of latitude for resolving the different sections of the campaign, but it’s all smoothly crafted.

However, this is not for people that really like their characters. It is difficult. As expected, every chapter ends with a short section on rewards for successfully completing that particular part of the story. Yet, that same rewards section for every chapter begins with a phrase such as, “Characters that survive…” and then the rewards are listed. It’s fairly clear that PC death is to be expected while running this from start to finish.

Ironically, despite the difficulty, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this campaign should have had some kind of timer. Players should need to finish in a certain amount of time in the game world, or they lose. This might seem unfair considering how hard this already felt, but the primary antagonist has a plan that they want to see through to its conclusion. Although, the fact that PCs aren’t really on a clock makes Waves Stained Crimson more forgiving.  If this had been a race against time, it would ratchet up the tension even further, but it also may have been a different kind of story. 

This tale is worthy of Conan, but it might be a rough way to introduce new players to the game. Someone might be all excited about creating their first character only to have it die by the time the group has completed the first leg of the adventure, and then have another character die in the next section, and so on. If you want a swashbuckling challenge that is filled with freakish occult horrors, this will scratch that itch. Pirates, demons, treasure, and more! This is a great, albeit very difficult, addition to Modiphius’ Conan line.

Is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ an origin point for fantastic art?

Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s summer, and where I am that means it’s convention season. There are several cons on the horizon that will likely draw visitors in the tens of thousands. One of my favourite things about a con, especially a comic convention, is the artist’s alley.

It’s become something of a tradition for me, but I love to find a nice (and affordable!) print that I can hang up on my wall. Of course, I look for comics, but I also make it a point to find something that I can use to decorate my home. There are always great artists that have cool stuff on display, and some of it is truly inspired.

Thinking about all of this got me wondering though, what are the roots of the fantastic illustrations that I love? is there one person? Does fantasy art have an origin story? The answer is likely wide-ranging and not something that can be attributed to a single person. Regardless, it’s fun trying, and I had a good time digging around in image archives to look for older pictures that could be catalogued as “fantastic art”.

Interestingly enough, my search led to the classic story, Alice in Wonderland. The story’s author, Lewis Carroll (born, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was himself a bit of an illustrator, but it was the work of artist John Tenniel that most people probably recognize. I’m not a biographer and would suggest any interested parties take some time to look over some of his background that has been recounted elsewhere.

What I’d like to focus on is Tenniel’s work. Incredibly, despite having been created in the 19th century, much of Tenniel’s work still endures today. There are images reprinted on all kinds of merchandise that refer back to the original story he had illustrated for Carroll.

I don’t know about you, but I love this image. The detail, the shading, the composition of the scene, basically, everything. It’s not something that anyone would likely ever see hung in a prestigious museum, but it is a fantastic piece of art, both literally and figuratively.

Tenniel’s work has no doubt served as inspiration for many many artists that have followed him. Is he the origin of fantastic art? Maybe, but probably not. There’s no doubt a number of artists have contributed works that could be described as “fantastic”. However, are Tenniel’s contributions significant historical pieces of fantastic art, and by extension art history? Absolutely. It’s not often that both a story and its illustrations endure in equal measure. Tenniel’s work has, and that’s why he merits special consideration here.

Please enjoy other works by John Tenniel that are available via Wikimedia Commons as well as the Internet Archive. It’s worth your time and all of Tenniel’s works should be in the public domain. Happy browsing!

Thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s writing

Actually, I’m not really going to write about Sanderson at all. I don’t know him and have never even met him-not even to have taken an awkward selfie with him. However, I can now say that I have read one of his books, and I don’t understand the hype. At least not entirely.

It took me a while. His name had been around my geeky reading circles for years, even decades if we’re going to be completely honest, but I’d never actually read anything by him. That changed when a book club I’m a part of added Mistborn as their selection. After reading the book I can understand why he has the fanbase he does, but I wasn’t impressed with the book.

What stood out for, as well as for a lot of people in the book club, was how many people agreed that reading Sanderson’s novel was like reading an entirely text-based version of anime or a comic book. From start to finish, the whole story moved in a way that really emulated the kind of big action an audience would expect from a pulpy comic adventure story. In a way, it was kind of fun, and it’s the sort of thing that lends a lot to Sanderson’s popularity. I get it, really, I do.

There was another aspect of Mistborn that was also a strength, the overall architecture of the tale. I’m not talking about the worldbuilding, that was fairly tidy as well, rather I’m speaking towards the fact that Sanderson clearly planned out the entire story before writing it. Maybe even the entire trilogy. Don’t forget, Mistborn is only the first book in the series. Some people can improvise their way to a complete novel, but considering the way the story evolved, it’s pretty clear Sanderson sat down and sketched an outline of this narrative in advance of trying to build up his word count.

There weren’t many loose ends, even though some things, like what exactly a “kandra” is, didn’t receive much of an explanation. However, people who have read the trilogy explained to me that a lot of what look like holes in the story are actually addressed in the subsequent two books. A novel shouldn’t have to rely on later books to flesh out these details, but it’s hard not to get the idea that this was Sanderson’s plan all along. Three 600 pages books is a lot more manageable than one 1800 page book, but that’s just my opinion.

Sanderson’s worldbuilding was very efficient and had the same sort of clinical feel to it that the structure of the story had. Everything had the sense of being placed into the story for a very particular purpose. The implementation of Luthadel, the capital city, and its location on a mineral-rich site was key to the metal-based magic that Sanderson implemented. It’s even explained in the book that Luthadel’s location made it what it was because the abundance of so many minerals was helpful to the Allomancers, or anyone that “burned” metals. This kind of thing is planned. Writers don’t accidentally fall into such a confluence of ideas to make a story work. Sanderson thought about this and then executed a plan to make his story function the way he wanted it to. This is all on the positive side, but there’s more.

On some level, I feel like Mistborn is exactly the kind of story that enthusiasts and detractors of genre fiction would both point at to support their argument. There are some contexts where a dispute like that would be seen as a positive, but in this case, it’s a problem. Essentially, it means the book’s faults are likely accurate.

For example, the story is almost entirely plot-driven. That’s fine for the people that like stories like this, but it left Mistborn lacking in depth. Attempts at philosophy or wisdom came off as awkward and somewhat banal. A catchphrase used over and over in the book was “There’s always another secret.” This isn’t profound, but considering how important it was to the story, it sheds light on how shallow the book felt at times.

Similar arguments could be levelled against the characters, many of whom felt more like cliches, rather than unique voices moving the story along. One of the primary actors in the tale is Kelsier, a dedicated, if not fanatically driven character. He’s charismatic, reckless, but without him, the story doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, he takes on the role of an uninspired messiah figure. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler for anyone reading this!) The cumulative effect of all this is a book that feels like it was written with an efficient process and feels somewhat sterile. If Sanderson had gone back to add depth to the book, it would have vastly improved the final product. Ultimately, what’s left is readable, but only moderately satisfying.

Then again, Sanderson is a unique voice. I have a hard time thinking of another author that presents this type of perspective to their work. There are definitely authors that I think write better books, but Sanderson still has his own presence among all the entries in the fantasy worlds populating the shelves of genre fiction. Like I said at the beginning, Sanderson’s work isn’t my preference, but I understand why people like it. His record breaking Kickstarter kind of underlines his importance in some people’s personal libraries. The success of his Kickstarter is an indicator as well, that a lot of people enjoy his writing. Just don’t count me among them.

A follow-up to Elmore’s artwork

While I fondly look back at the halcyon days of my youthful gaming, I’ve also aged. Part of that aging process has included, mercifully, maturation. Basically, I’m not a kid anymore. The thing is, I still love games. When I go back now and look at older TSR publications, I can’t help but notice how different the art looks in contemporary gaming as opposed to how it looked in books that were published decades ago. Some of Larry Elmore’s artwork reflects this older style of fantasy art. I have a hard time believing that people would embrace his artistic approach, but it still stands as a major contribution to gaming. Some of his art will stand the test of time. His cover for the Basic Edition Red Box has become a sort of iconic image in TTRPG. All the cleavage and chain mail bikinis, not so much. It just really goes to show that, while the games have changed mechanically, they have also changed aesthetically.

And a lot of that change has been political/ideological. This is something that I think is ultimately a good thing. This could easily turn into a long post discussing perspectives in art history. For example, the art reflects the tastes of the people viewing it. As the gaming industry realigns itself to become more inclusive (something long overdue), it has necessarily altered how it presents itself. This doesn’t mean there aren’t damsels in distress. There are. There are also gentleman in distress, and female fighters who kick in doors to rescue them.

The hobby is changing, and I think its fun and exciting to see the changes over time. Ultimately, what is was, and what it is, as well as it will be all have a sort of genealogy. This all reflects the permutations in what the hobby means to people, because this is a niche industry, and its the gamers within the hobby that drive these changes. With all due respect to Elmore, and the artists of his era, I think we’re on the right path.

Who is the greatest genre artist of all time?

Now, what I’m really asking is, who is the greatest pictorial artist. I’m not so concerned with who is the best wordsmith, at least not in this post. And to be fair, I’m not going to decide the matter here either.

There are greats like Moebius, Frazetta, Vallejo, and more. Art is, in general, subjective. Its hard not to pick out people who had a tremendous influence though. Larry Elmore, is one example. Is he the greatest? I don’t know. Did his work for TSR help create an imagery specific to table-top RPGs? Hell yes!

images (7)

I say this because Elmore was one of the early artists for TSR. Without his art the companies aesthetic would have looked different. Truth be told, not all of his work has aged well. He did a lot of pieces featuring the chain mail bikini trope that probably wouldn’t really be very successful currently. (I chose not to add an example.) Some it represents how people saw the fantasy genre many years ago. Other images though, will likely stand the test of time.

images (6)

Again, is Elmore the greatest? Probably not. Is Elmore a legend in the world of fantasy imagery? The answer is a resounding yes. He helped put fantasy art on a product that would go mainstream. Without realizing it, there are probably tons of people who link his art with D&D, or even the fantasy genre at large, and they probably don’t even know it. His art was/is good, even if it’s not in line with contemporary tastes. Cheers to Larry Elmore, and his contributions to the world of fantasy art.

Larry Elmore - 029 - Doom Of Dark Sword

A different type of gaming inspiration

The formatting for this came out a bit oddly, but it seems ok. This is an old Anglo-Saxon Poem entitled, “The Wanderer”. Tolkien referenced this poem in the Two Towers. (See the note on the website I copied this from.) What I’ve copied and pasted here is the text. The Anglo-Saxon version on the left, and the English translation on the right. Have a read and enjoy. For fantasy gaming, I personally find stuff like this fascinating, and am always looking to sneak tidbits of ancient texts into my games. I find it really adds a certain type of flavor.

Thanks for reading!

 

Oft him anhaga Often the solitary one
are gebideð, finds grace for himself
metudes miltse, the mercy of the Lord,
þeah þe he modcearig Although he, sorry-hearted,
geond lagulade must for a long time
longe sceolde move by hand [in context = row]
4a hreran mid hondum along the waterways,
hrimcealde sæ (along) the ice-cold sea,
wadan wræclastas. tread the paths of exile.
Wyrd bið ful aræd! Events always go as they must!
Swa cwæð eardstapa, So spoke the wanderer,
earfeþa gemyndig, mindful of hardships,
wraþra wælsleahta, of fierce slaughters
winemæga hryre: and the downfall of kinsmen:
8a Oft ic sceolde ana Often (or always) I had alone
uhtna gehwylce to speak of my trouble
mine ceare cwiþan. each morning before dawn.
Nis nu cwicra nan There is none now living
þe ic him modsefan to whom I dare
minne durre clearly speak
sweotule asecgan. of my innermost thoughts.
Ic to soþe wat I know it truly,
12a þæt biþ in eorle that it is in men
indryhten þeaw, a noble custom,
þæt he his ferðlocan that one should keep secure
fæste binde, his spirit-chest (mind),
healde his hordcofan, guard his treasure-chamber (thoughts),
hycge swa he wille. think as he wishes.
Ne mæg werig mod The weary spirit cannot
wyrde wiðstondan, withstand fate (the turn of events),
16a ne se hreo hyge nor does a rough or sorrowful mind
helpe gefremman. do any good (perform anything helpful).
Forðon domgeorne Thus those eager for glory
dreorigne oft often keep secure
in hyra breostcofan dreary thoughts
bindað fæste; in their breast;
swa ic modsefan So I,
minne sceolde, often wretched and sorrowful,
20a oft earmcearig, bereft of my homeland,
eðle bidæled, far from noble kinsmen,
freomægum feor have had to bind in fetters
feterum sælan, my inmost thoughts,
siþþan geara iu Since long years ago
goldwine minne I hid my lord
hrusan heolstre biwrah, in the darkness of the earth,
ond ic hean þonan and I, wretched, from there
24a wod wintercearig travelled most sorrowfully
ofer waþema gebind, over the frozen waves,
sohte seledreorig sought, sad at the lack of a hall,
sinces bryttan, a giver of treasure,
hwær ic feor oþþe neah where I, far or near,
findan meahte might find
þone þe in meoduhealle one in the meadhall who
mine wisse, knew my people,
28a oþþe mec freondleasne or wished to console
frefran wolde, the friendless one, me,
wenian mid wynnum. entertain (me) with delights.
Wat se þe cunnað He who has tried it knows
hu sliþen bið how cruel is
sorg to geferan sorrow as a companion
þam þe him lyt hafað to the one who has few
leofra geholena: beloved friends:
32a warað hine wræclast, the path of exile (wræclast) holds him,
nales wunden gold, not at all twisted gold,
ferðloca freorig, a frozen spirit,
nalæs foldan blæd. not the bounty of the earth.
Gemon he selesecgas He remembers hall-warriors
ond sincþege, and the giving of treasure
hu hine on geoguðe How in youth his lord (gold-friend)
his goldwine accustomed him
36a wenede to wiste. to the feasting.
Wyn eal gedreas! All the joy has died!
Forþon wat se þe sceal And so he knows it, he who must
his winedryhtnes forgo for a long time
leofes larcwidum the counsels
longe forþolian: of his beloved lord:
ðonne sorg ond slæð Then sorrow and sleep
somod ætgædre both together
40a earmne anhogan often tie up
oft gebindað. the wretched solitary one.
þinceð him on mode He thinks in his mind
þæt he his mondryhten that he embraces and kisses
clyppe ond cysse, his lord,
ond on cneo lecge and on his (the lord’s) knees lays
honda ond heafod, his hands and his head,
swa he hwilum ær Just as, at times (hwilum), before,
44a in geardagum in days gone by,
giefstolas breac. he enjoyed the gift-seat (throne).
Ðonne onwæcneð eft Then the friendless man
wineleas guma, wakes up again,
gesihð him biforan He sees before him
fealwe wegas, fallow waves
baþian brimfuglas, Sea birds bathe,
brædan feþra, preening their feathers,
48a hreosan hrim ond snaw Frost and snow fall,
hagle gemenged. mixed with hail.
Þonne beoð þy hefigran Then are the heavier
heortan benne, the wounds of the heart,
sare æfter swæsne. grievous (sare) with longing for (æfter) the lord.
Sorg bið geniwad Sorrow is renewed
þonne maga gemynd when the mind (mod) surveys
mod geondhweorfeð; the memory of kinsmen;
52a greteð gliwstafum, He greets them joyfully,
georne geondsceawað eagerly scans
secga geseldan; the companions of men;
swimmað oft on weg they always swim away.
fleotendra ferð The spirits of seafarers
no þær fela bringeð never bring back there much
cuðra cwidegiedda. in the way of known speech.
Cearo bið geniwad Care is renewed
56a þam þe sendan sceal for the one who must send
swiþe geneahhe very often
ofer waþema gebind over the binding of the waves
werigne sefan. a weary heart.
Forþon ic geþencan ne mæg Indeed I cannot think
geond þas woruld why my spirit
for hwan modsefa does not darken
min ne gesweorce when I ponder on the whole
60a þonne ic eorla lif life of men
eal geondþence, throughout the world,
hu hi færlice How they suddenly
flet ofgeafon, left the floor (hall),
modge maguþegnas. the proud thanes.
Swa þes middangeard So this middle-earth,
ealra dogra gehwam a bit each day,
dreoseð ond fealleð; droops and decays –
64a forþon ne mæg weorþan wis Therefore man (wer)
wer, ær he age cannot call himself wise, before he has
wintra dæl in woruldrice. a share of years in the world.
Wita sceal geþyldig, A wise man must be patient,
ne sceal no to hatheort He must never be too impulsive
ne to hrædwyrde, nor too hasty of speech,
ne to wac wiga nor too weak a warrior
ne to wanhydig, nor too reckless,
68a ne to forht ne to fægen, nor too fearful, nor too cheerful,
ne to feohgifre nor too greedy for goods,
ne næfre gielpes to georn, nor ever too eager for boasts,
ær he geare cunne. before he sees clearly.
Beorn sceal gebidan, A man must wait
þonne he beot spriceð, when he speaks oaths,
oþþæt collenferð until the proud-hearted one
cunne gearwe sees clearly
72a hwider hreþra gehygd whither the intent of his heart
hweorfan wille. will turn.
Ongietan sceal gleaw hæle A wise hero must realize
hu gæstlic bið, how terrible it will be,
þonne ealre þisse worulde wela when all the wealth of this world
weste stondeð, lies waste,
swa nu missenlice as now in various places
geond þisne middangeard throughout this middle-earth
76a winde biwaune walls stand,
weallas stondaþ, blown by the wind,
hrime bihrorene, covered with frost,
hryðge þa ederas. storm-swept the buildings.
Woriað þa winsalo, The halls decay,
waldend licgað their lords lie
dreame bidrorene, deprived of joy,
duguþ eal gecrong, the whole troop has fallen,
80a wlonc bi wealle. the proud ones, by the wall.
Sume wig fornom, War took off some,
ferede in forðwege, carried them on their way,
sumne fugel oþbær one, the bird took off
ofer heanne holm, across the deep sea,
sumne se hara wulf one, the gray wolf
deaðe gedælde, shared one with death,
sumne dreorighleor one, the dreary-faced
84a in eorðscræfe man buried
eorl gehydde. in a grave.
Yþde swa þisne eardgeard And so He destroyed this city,
ælda scyppend He, the Creator of Men,
oþþæt burgwara until deprived of the noise
breahtma lease of the citizens,
eald enta geweorc the ancient work of giants
idlu stodon. stood empty.
88a Se þonne þisne wealsteal He who thought wisely
wise geþohte on this foundation,
ond þis deorce lif and pondered deeply
deope geondþenceð, on this dark life,
frod in ferðe, wise in spirit,
feor oft gemon remembered often from afar
wælsleahta worn, many conflicts,
ond þas word acwið: and spoke these words:
92a Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? [#] Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?
Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Where the giver of treasure?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Where are the seats at the feast?
Hwær sindon seledreamas? Where are the revels in the hall?
Eala beorht bune! Alas for the bright cup!
Eala byrnwiga! Alas for the mailed warrior!
Eala þeodnes þrym! Alas for the splendour of the prince!
Hu seo þrag gewat, How that time has passed away,
96a genap under nihthelm, dark under the cover of night,
swa heo no wære. as if it had never been!
Stondeð nu on laste Now there stands in the trace
leofre duguþe of the beloved troop
weal wundrum heah, a wall, wondrously high,
wyrmlicum fah. wound round with serpents.
Eorlas fornoman The warriors taken off
asca þryþe, by the glory of spears,
100a wæpen wælgifru, the weapons greedy for slaughter,
wyrd seo mære, the famous fate (turn of events),
ond þas stanhleoþu and storms beat
stormas cnyssað, these rocky cliffs,
hrið hreosende falling frost
hrusan bindeð, fetters the earth,
wintres woma, the harbinger of winter;
þonne won cymeð, Then dark comes,
104a nipeð nihtscua, nightshadows deepen,
norþan onsendeð from the north there comes
hreo hæglfare a rough hailstorm
hæleþum on andan. in malice against men.
Eall is earfoðlic All is troublesome
eorþan rice, in this earthly kingdom,
onwendeð wyrda gesceaft the turn of events changes
weoruld under heofonum. the world under the heavens.
108a Her bið feoh læne, Here money is fleeting,
her bið freond læne, here friend is fleeting,
her bið mon læne, here man is fleeting,
her bið mæg læne, here kinsman is fleeting,
eal þis eorþan gesteal all the foundation of this world
idel weorþeð! turns to waste!
Swa cwæð snottor on mode, So spake the wise man in his mind,
gesæt him sundor æt rune. where he sat apart in counsel.
112a Til biþ se þe his treowe gehealdeþ, Good is he who keeps his faith,
ne sceal næfre his torn to rycene And a warrior must never speak
beorn of his breostum acyþan, his grief of his breast too quickly,
nemþe he ær þa bote cunne, unless he already knows the remedy –
eorl mid elne gefremman. a hero must act with courage.
Wel bið þam þe him are seceð, It is better for the one that seeks mercy,
frofre to Fæder on heofonum, consolation from the father in the heavens,
þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð. where, for us, all permanence rests.

One thing begets another

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.