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Sources and influences on the development of Dungeons & Dragons include fantasy fiction, mythology, and wargaming rules among others.

An immediate predecessor of Dungeons & Dragons was a set of medieval miniature rules written by Jeff Perren. These were expanded by Gary Gygax, whose additions included a fantasy supplement, before the game was published as Chainmail. When Dave Wesely entered the service in 1970, his friend and fellow Napoleonics wargamer Dave Arneson began a medieval variation of Wesely's Braunstein games, where players control individuals instead of armies.[1] Arneson used Chainmail to resolve combats.[2] As play progressed, Arneson added such innovations as character classes, experience points, level advancement, armor class, and others.[1] Having partnered previously with Gygax on Don't Give Up the Ship!, Arneson introduced Gygax to his Blackmoor game and the two then collaborated on developing "The Fantasy Game", the role-playing game (RPG) that became Dungeons & Dragons, with the final writing and preparation of the text being done by Gygax.[2][3][4][5]

Many Dungeons & Dragons elements also appear in hobbies of the mid- to late twentieth century (though these elements also existed previously). Character-based role playing, for example, can be seen in historical reenactment and improvisational theatre. Game-world simulations were well-developed in wargaming. Fantasy milieus specifically designed for gaming could be seen in Glorantha's board games among others. Ultimately, however, Dungeons & Dragons represents a unique blending of these elements.

The theme of D&D was influenced by mythology, pulp fiction, and contemporary fantasy authors of the 1960s and 1970s. The presence of halflings, elves, dwarves, half-elves, orcs, rangers and the like often draw comparisons to the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. The resemblance was even closer before the threat of copyright action from Tolkien Enterprises prompted the name changes of hobbit to 'halfling', ent to 'treant', and balrog to 'balor'. Gygax maintained that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings, stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the popularity of the work[6][7] However, in an interview in 2000, he acknowledged that Tolkien had a "strong impact".[8]

According to the original Dungeon Masters Guide in "Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading", the "most immediate influences" were the works of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Roger Zelazny, and Michael Moorcock.[9] Subsequently Gary Gygax listed the "major influences" as Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, A. Merritt, and H. P. Lovecraft, with "slightly lesser influence" from Roger Zelazny, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, and Philip José Farmer.[10]

Monsters, spells, and magic items used in the game have been inspired by hundreds of individual works ranging from A. E. van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" (the Displacer Beast), Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" (Vorpal sword) to the Book of Genesis (the clerical spell "Blade Barrier" was inspired by the "flaming sword which turned every way" at the gates of Eden).[11]



The assassin appeared as a base class in Supplement II: Blackmoor for OD&D, in 1st Edition AD&D and as a prestige class in 3rd Edition. They were loosely based on stereotypes of real-world assassins, and on the Islamic assassins that originated during the Crusades.


The barbarian officially appeared as a class first in Dragon and then in AD&D's Unearthed Arcana. The class was obviously heavily inspired by Howard's Conan the Barbarian, of whom Gygax professed to being a fan since 1950.[12] As Conan was often deeply suspicious of magic, this barbarian was limited in its ability to use magical items until higher levels. This class was a great leaper and an able climber, like Conan. The D&D 3.5 version retained some similarities, but eliminated the disdain for magic. A less psychotic version of a berserker's fury was incorporated as the rage ability (previously, berserkers had been NPCs or monsters) for barbarians. The 3.5 barbarian remained close to its archetypal founder, however, possessing a trap sense and uncanny dodge abilities similar to Conan's keen eye for trouble. In 4th edition, the barbarians' rage abilities are overtly magical; the barbarian allowing himself or herself to be possessed by Primal (nature) spirits which provide supernatural rage.


The bard made its earliest appearance in The Strategic Review #6 (February 1976), predating AD&D. It was inspired by stories of the Celtic bard, a musician and keeper of ritual lore, related to the druidic tradition.[citation needed] The original bard was a dual-classed fighter/thief/druid. Later editions diverged from this inspiration, making the bard a sort of scoundrel, minstrel, and enchanter with a knowledge of legends.


The cleric is largely inspired by medieval Knights Templar.[13] Like the Templars described in White's The Once and Future King, clerics in D&D were forbidden edged weapons by religious vows. Their spellcasting abilities parallel the miracles of saints, but bear little resemblance to the folklore of the fighting priest. AD&D 2nd edition introduced the concept of speciality priests, of which the druid is an example, who had different spell capabilities and different weapon choices. Clerics, in 3.5, are drawn to maces and staves primarily by a lack of proficiency with martial weapons, and to a lesser degree by a deity's favored weapon. The warhammer, typically presented as a small sledge, rather than the historical pick-like weapon, is another iconic cleric weapon, wielded by dwarven clerics in 3.5, with more than passing resemblances to the hammer of Thor.


Although inspired by lore of Celtic priests in pre-Roman times,[citation needed] druids in Dungeons & Dragons bear little resemblance to their historical counterparts. A druid, in D&D, is a divine caster who reveres nature. They possess special supernatural powers, in particular the ability to change into animal form, and do not wear metal armor.


The fighter (or fighting man as he was originally called) is a very generic category of historical, mythological and fantastical warriors, mercenaries, knights, and bandits.


The monk is based on the Asian martial arts tradition, particularly wuxia and appearances of kung fu, karate, and ninjitsu in the later part of the 20th century in the US.[citation needed] Many of their abilities are those ascribed to sifus and Zen masters.


The paladin is named after the legendary champions of Charlemagne. A specific source seems to be the character of Ogier the Dane as depicted in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions.[citation needed]


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


Although the daring rogue, thief or trickster character is a staple of human legends, the D&D rogue and his ancestors owe a special debt to Bilbo Baggins and Grey Mouser, Fritz Leiber's swashbuckling rogue.[citation needed] In his article "Jack Vance and the D&D Game", Gary Gygax stresses the influence that Vance's Cugel and also Zelazny's Shadowjack had on the thief class.[14]


Although the sorcerer was primarily introduced as a substitute spellcaster for those that did not like the wizard magic system, the legends of magic-users born with inborn magic can be traced back to stereotypes as Merlin (except that he had demon blood, rather than dragon blood).


Wizards memorize their spells, then forget them when cast in the fashion of magicians from Jack Vance's Dying Earth series of novels. [15]



Dwarves come from Scandinavian and Teutonic mythology[16] with some inspiration from The Lord of the Rings, although modified in translation. Tolkien's dwarves were already less sorcerous and fey than their legendary Anglo-Saxon forebears. D&D dwarves derive their greed, stubbornness, and martial character essentially from the company of dwarves in The Hobbit.[citation needed]


Elves in Dungeons & Dragons derive mainly from the works of Tolkien,[citation needed] with their long lives, affinity for wild places, ancient magic, grace, benevolence, dreamless sleep, and humanoid appearance.[citation needed] Like Tolkien's elves, the Second Edition of Dungeons & Dragons had elves who did not die of old age, instead they migrated to another land, similar to the way Tolkien's elves all eventually felt the urge for the Undying Lands.[17] Gary Gygax claims D&D elves draw very little from Tolkien. [18] Elves in D&D are immune to paralysis as a holdover from a game balance adjustment in Chainmail.[19]


Gnomes come from all kinds of mythology. They were traditionally a small and plump race of jolly men who had beards and pointed caps. The early editions of D&D reflected this stereotype, but later versions began using a variant of gnome that was slightly taller and thinner, with slanted eyes and a talent for machinery.


In earlier editions of D&D, halflings are strongly inspired by Tolkien's hobbits (even referred to by that word frequently), being diminutive, chubby, furry-footed home-bodies with a penchant for dwelling in hollowed out hillsides and a racial talent for burglary.[20] TSR stopped using the word "Hobbit" after the threat of a lawsuit from holders of Tolkien's intellectual rights.[citation needed] They were ever after referred to as Halflings (a word Tolkien also used for hobbits, but which is not trademarked) though they remained otherwise as described before. Upon the release of the third edition of D&D, Halflings were significantly reimagined, becoming sleek tricksters incorporated some elements of the Dragonlance series' kender and colorful stereotypes of Gypsies.


Half-orcs are loosely based on Tolkien's works, which described a cross-breed race of Men that had orcish blood.


Although half-elves in D&D are a large group, in classic mythology and in Tolkien there were only a small group of them, most notably Elrond.



The Beholder was conceived of by Terry Kuntz, the brother of early D&D designer Robert J. Kuntz.[21] The Beholder's xenophobia towards other subraces of Beholders was added after Jim Holloway submitted multiple designs for the Beholder's spelljamming ship and Jeff Grubb decided to keep them all and used xenophobia to explain the differences in design style.[22]


The centaur comes from Greek mythology.


The chimera comes from Greek mythology. The original could spit or glance with lightning or poison. The D&D version, having a dragon head, could breathe fire. The third edition version could have the head of any chromatic dragon; a blue dragon chimera would spit lightning, like a classic chimera.


The djinn comes from Arabic folklore. In D&D it is a type of genie.


A dryad is a demigod in Greek myth, a type of goddess or nymph associated with nature.


The efreet, a type of genie in D&D, comes from Arabic folklore. They live in a City of Brass.


An ettin is a species of giant in English and Irish folklore.


The word golem comes from Jewish folklore, and refers to a man of clay, named Joseph, created by a community as a protector.


In legend, a hobgoblin is a type of sprite or brownie. In D&D, it is a larger, particularly violent variety of goblin. Tolkien had used the term 'hobgoblin' for a large sort of goblin in The Hobbit, but later realized that in folklore hobgoblins were actually the smaller sort.


The medusa is named after a creature in Greek mythology with the same appearance and powers.

Mind Flayer[]

Mind flayers are original to D&D. They were inspired by the cover of Brian Lumley's novel The Burrowers Beneath. [23]


The minotaur appears as a unique creature in Greek mythology.


Nymphs come from Greek myth, in which they exhibit their blinding beauty.


Orcs come from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings[24] where they are described as bestial, brutal, and evil humanoids. The term orc, before Tolkien, meant a monster, possibly an ogre, but usually referred to a type of sea monster.


The simurgh is a creature of Persian mythology.


The Tarasque (note different spelling) was a legendary monster in the French region of Tarascon. According to tradition, the monster was tamed by St. Martha.


Treants are based on Ents from Tolkien's work.[25] They were renamed after the same lawsuit from Tolkien Enterprises that prompted the switch from "hobbit" to "halfling", among other changes.


Trolls come from Northern European folklore. The D&D version was inspired by a regenerating troll that appear in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions.[26]


Although vampires appear in ancient Greek and medieval myth, D&D vampires owe their ancestry to Hollywood renditions of Dracula.[citation needed] Silver is a weakness of cinematic vampires.


The wight is a deadly undead creature inspired by the barrow-wights in The Lord of the Rings.[citation needed]


The wyvern appears as a heraldic figure.

Magic Items[]

Ioun Stones[]

Ioun stones come from the Dying Earth tales of Jack Vance, with little alteration.[27]



D&D alignment draws from several sources. The Law-Chaos axis is inspired by an idea from the novel Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson which was developed by Michael Moorcock in his Eternal Champion stories.[citation needed]

AD&D added the Good-Evil axis, emulating Christian dualistic ideas.[citation needed]


A lightweight, shiny metal inspired by Tolkien's mithril.[citation needed]

Prismatic Spray[]

The prismatic spray spell comes from Jack Vance's "Mazirian the Magician", which features the Excellent Prismatic Spray in his novel The Dying Earth.

Cursed weapons[]

Characters in D&D that acquire cursed weapons can be magically compelled to not want to be rid of them. This was drawn from the "One Ring" in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novel and Stormbringer from Michael Moorcock's novels of Elric. [28]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Arneson; "My Life and Role Playing" in Different Worlds #3
  2. 2.0 2.1 Template:Harvnb Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Banshee_Gygax" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Kushner; Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax
  4. Mead, Lawrence; Malcomson, Ian (2003). "Dungeons & Dragons FAQ". Wizards of the Coast. Retrieved October 3, 2008. 
  5. Wizards of the Coast; The History of TSR
  6. Kuntz, Rob (April 1978). "Tolkien in Dungeons & Dragons". The Dragon #13 (TSR Hobbies, Inc.) II (7): 8. 
  7. (Gygax 1985)
  9. Gygax, Gary (1979). Dungeon Masters Guide. TSR, Inc.. p. 224. ISBN 0-935696-02-4. 
  10. "A careful examination of the games will quickly reveal that the major influences are Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, A. Merritt, and H. P. Lovecraft. Only slightly lesser influence came from Roger Zelazny, E. R. Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, Philip Jose Farmer, and many others." (Gygax 1985)
  11. DeVarque, Aardy R.. "Literary Sources of D&D". Archived from the original on 2007-07-21. Retrieved 2007-02-21. 
  12. Gygax, Gary (July 1982). "A couple of fantastic flops". Dragon #63 (TSR Hobbies, Inc.) Viii (1): 72. 
  13. "The AD&D game models its cleric after the medieval fighter-cleric, à la Templar or Hospitlar." Lakofka, Lenard (December 1982). "Leomund's Tiny Hunt: The cloistered cleric". Dragon. VII:7 (68). TSR, Inc. p. 30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Using a blend of “Cugel the Clever” and Roger Zelazny’s “Shadowjack” for a benchmark, this archetype character class became what it was in original AD&D." Gygax, Gary. "Jack Vance and the D&D Game". Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  15. "The four cardinal types of magic are ... the relatively short spoken spell (as in Finnish mythology or as found in the superb fantasy of Jack Vance).... The basic assumption, then, was that D & D magic worked on a 'Vancian' system and if used correctly would be a highly powerful and effective force." Gygax, Gary (April 1976). "The Dungeons and Dragons Magic System". The Strategic Review (TSR Hobbies, Inc.) II (2): 3. 
  16. "Dwarves, on the other hand, are well known in Teutonic and Scandinavian myths; here, the Professor and I build upon the same foundation." (Gygax 1985)
  17. "Upon attaining this age, an elf does not die. Rather he feels compelled to migrate to some mysterious, other land, departing the world of men." Cook, David (1989) [1989]. "Player Character Races". In Mike Breault. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: 2nd Edition: Player's Handbook. TSR, Inc.. p. 24. ISBN 0-88038-716-5. 
  18. "Tolkien had them taller, more intelligent, more beautiful, and older than humans; in fact, he made them quite similar to the fair-folk, the fairies. The elves of the AD&D game system borrow two names (gray and wood) from the Professor's writings, and that is nearly all. They are shorter than humans, and not generally as powerful." (Gygax 1985)
  19. "Ever wonder why elves are immune to paralysis? As far as we can figure out, that immunity came from a game-balance issue in the original Chainmail rules, which mostly covered medieval warfare (with a fantasy supplement that spawned the game we all play today). Masses of low-cost undead troops were beating up high-cost elf troops, so the 'elves are immune to paralysis' emerged as a balancing factor." (Noonan 2007, "Birth of a Rule)
  20. Though some sources claim that "'Hobbit' had some precendent as a folkword borrowed from legends, Tolkien personified and developed these diminutive stalwarts extensively. They, and the name, are virtually unique to his works, and the halflings of both game systems draw substantial inspiration from them." (Gygax 1985)
  22. Grubb Street, Friday, April 18, 2008: Beholder - So when I asked for beholder ships, he (Jim Holloway) gave me a wide variety. And we decided to use ALL of them, and since they were radically different we decided that beholders were xenophobic and hated other beholders. And since various artists over the years made beholders look doughy, crab-like, tentacled, and a variety of other shapes, the idea of different species of beholders (all looking different) made sense.
  23. "The mind flayer I made up out of whole cloth using my imagination, but inspired by the cover of Brian Lumley's novel in paperback edition, The Burrowers Beneath." Gygax (posting as "Col_Pladoh"), Gary (2005-02-01). "Gary Gygax Q&A: part VII". Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  24. "'Orc' (from Orcus) is another term for an ogre or ogre-like creature. Being useful fodder for the ranks of bad guys, monsters similar to Tolkien's orcs are also in both games." (Gygax 1985)
  25. "'Ent' is interesting; Tolkien took the name from an old Anglo-Saxon word for 'giant,' and his treatment of them as sentient trees is inspired. This sort of creature appears in both game systems." (Gygax 1985)
  26. "Trolls, however, are not identified well by the Professor; these game monsters are taken from myth, influenced somewhat by Poul Anderson." (Gygax 1985)
  27. "The idea and name for the ioun stone originally appeared in a series of books written by Jack Vance. Collectively, these works are referred to as the Dying Earth novels. They include: The Dying Earth, Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel’s Saga, and Rhialto the Marvelous." Hargenrader, Matthew P. (October 1991). "Bazaar of the Bizarre: Ioun stones: Where do you go if you want some more?". Dragon Magazine (174). TSR, Inc. p. 90.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "The salient feature of D&D's cursed weapons, that you don't want to get rid of them even after you know about the curse, comes straight from Tolkien's One Ring and Moorcock's Stormbringer." (Noonan 2007 "Birth of a Rule")