Reminder: 'D&D' Used To Be Filled With Hobbits
‘Dungeons & Dragons’ has grown, sprawling over decades and growing into a cultural juggernaut. From humble basements crowded with kids trying to the hallowed halls of Amazon Prime Video to the silver screen, it seems like these days D&D is everywhere. And so is Lord of the Rings. In an alternate universe, we could have had both existing together in the same game. D&D creator Gary Gygax (who does, in fact, have the best name in the world) obviously drew a ton of inspiration from Tolkien’s epic oeuvre, going so far as to crib a bunch of species that Tolkien made up and putting them in his game.
Hobbits were in the original version of the game in 1974, as were ents. Tolkien’s estate was not happy about it. Balrogs, wargs, and ents, all creatures who had origins in folklore going back thousands of years, were also published in early versions of the game that grew into modern D&D. The copyright period had lapsed and technically The Lord of the Rings was public domain. Gygax was using these characters to flesh out his world of sword and sorcery, and they’re so ubiquitous that the certainly wouldn’t seem out of place in any fantasy story. But when Gygax was slated to publish a board game called The Battle of the Five Armies, a direct reference to the big brawl at the end of The Hobbit, it was a step too far for the estate that handled Tolkien’s works. They sent a letter threatening TSR. Hobbies, the publishing company Gygax had co-founded when he couldn’t find a publisher to produce his game, with legal action. Besides hobbits, They also asked that the words dragons, goblin, orc, dwarf, and elf be removed from official D&D materials. If these actions weren’t taken, the fledgling game publisher would be accountable for damages of around half a million dollars.
Gygax definitely didn’t invent the word elf, but luckily for tabletop gaming, neither did Tolkien. TSR agreed to take out hobbits, balrogs, and wargs and changed the name of ents to treants. They also abandoned the board game and the potential lawsuit was settled out of court. Hobbits were changed to halflings and from 1977 on.
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