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

The 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. Dave Arneson used Chainmail to run games where players controlled a single character instead of an army, an innovation that inspired D&D.[1]

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, dragons and the like often draw comparisons to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Gygax maintains that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings (although the owners of that work's copyright forced the name change of hobbit to halfling), stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the popularity of the work[2][3]

Other influences include 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.[4] Monsters, spells, and magic items used in the game have been inspired by hundreds of individual works ranging from A. E. van Vogt's "The 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).[5]

One of the games designers, Gary Gygax, has specifically listed influences including Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, A. Merritt, and H. P. Lovecraft. Less significant influences were Roger Zelazny, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, Philip José Farmer.[6] A number of elements were drawn from the fantasy work of J. R. R. Tolkien, although Gary Gygax claims the influence is primarily superficial.[7]



The barbarian appeared as a class in AD&D's Unearthed Arcana. The class was heavily inspired by Howard's Conan the Barbarian, whose adventures were a major source of inspiration for the game.[citation needed] 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 retains 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 new barbarian remains close to its archetypal founder, however, possessing a trap sense and uncanny dodge abilities similar to Conan's keen eye for trouble.


The bard, appearing originally in AD&D, 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 folklore of the medieval cleric of Templar.[8] 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 specialty 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, and do not wear metal armor.


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, named for Charlemagne's pious champions, is inspired by legends of chivalry and piety, particularly those of the European Renaissance[citation needed].


Largely inspired by the character of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. 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, reimagining the class as a Druidic-themed warrior with a mystical connection to nature and animal empathy abilities.


Although the plucky rogue, thief or trickster character is a staple of human legends, the D&D rogue and his ancestors a special debt to Bilbo Baggins and Grey Mouser, Fritz Leiber's swashbuckling rogue.[citation needed]


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




Dwarves come from Scandinavian and Teutonic mythology[10] 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 who hire Bilbo in The Hobbit to serve as an "expert treasure hunter."[citation needed]


Elves in Dungeons & Dragons derive mainly from the works of Tolkien, 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 Land.[11] Gary Gygax claims D&D elves draw very little from Tolkien.

[12] Elves in D&D are immunine to paralysis as a holdover from agame balance adjustment in Chainmail.[13]


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.[14] TSR stopped using the word "Hobbit" after the threat of a lawsuit from holders of Tolkien's intellectual rights. 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.



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 breath 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.



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[16] 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.


Treants are based on Ents from Tolkien's work.[17] They were renamed after the same lawsuit from the Tolkien estate 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.[18] Additionally, the novel Stormbringer has been cited as an influence.[citation needed]


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 LOTR[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.[19]



D&D alignment draws from several sources. The Law-Chaos axis comes from the stories of Michael Moorcock, particularly his Eternal Champion stories, and is echoed in other sources[citation needed]. Alternatively the Law-Chaos axis may be derived from the novel Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson.[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 comes from Vance's "Mazarian the Magician", which features the Excellent Prismatic Spray[citation needed].

Cursed weapons[]

Character in D&D that acquire cursed weapons don't want to be rid of them. This was drawn from the "One Ring" in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga and Stormbringer from Michael Moorcock's novels of Elric. [20]


  1. "Gary Gygax Interview". Game Banshee. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  2. Kuntz, Rob (April 1978). "Tolkien in Dungeons & Dragons". The Dragon #13 (TSR Hobbies, Inc.) Vol. II (No. 7): 8. 
  3. (Gygax 1985)
  4. According to the original Dungeon Masters Guide Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading the first seven listed here are the "most immediate influences." Gygax, Gary (1979). Dungeon Masters Guide. TSR, Inc.. pp. 224. ISBN 0-935696-02-4. 
  5. DeVarque, Aardy R.. "Literary Sources of D&D". Archived from the original on 2005-02-19. Retrieved 2007-02-21. 
  6. "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)
  7. "The seeming parallels and inspirations are actually the results of a studied effort to capitalize on the then-current "craze" for Tolkien's literature. Frankly, to attract those readers - and often at the urging of persons who were playing prototypical forms of D&D games - I used certain names and attributes in a superficial manner, merely to get their attention!" (Gygax 1985)
  8. "The AD&D game models its cleric after the medieval fighter-cleric, à la Templar or Hospitlar." Lakofka, Lenard (1982-12), "Leomund's Tiny Hunt: The cloistered cleric", Dragon (TSR, Inc) VII:7 (68): 30 
  9. "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. 
  10. "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)
  11. "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. "Player Character Races". In Mike Breault. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: 2nd Edition: Player's Handbook. TSR, Inc.. pp. 24. ISBN 0-88038-716-5. 
  12. "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)
  13. "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)
  14. 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)
  15. "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 (2005-02-1). "Gary Gygax Q&A: part VII" (in English). Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  16. "'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)
  17. "'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)
  18. "Trolls, however, are not identified well by the Professor; these game monsters are taken from myth, influenced somewhat by Poul Anderson." (Gygax 1985)
  19. "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. (1991-10), "Bazaar of the Bizarre: Ioun stones: Where do you go if you want some more?", Dragon Magazine (TSR, Inc) (174): 90 
  20. "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")