Welcome to the sixth day of RPGaDay, where we celebrate all that is good and true about tabletop roleplaying games, thanks to the innovative foresight of David Chapman.
Today’s word prompt is a delicious one: ANCIENT.
One of the more fascinating aspects of fantasy roleplaying, particularly in regard to Dungeons & Dragons, these fantastical worlds are built upon the ruins of much older civilizations, long gone and mostly forgotten.
The basic premise, especially when I first entered the hobby in 1978, was that the world was littered with ruined temples, crumbling castles, and, more importantly, deep underground dungeons where all manners of foul beasties had taken root.
The world as the characters knew it was fresh and new, recent, having been built on the skeletal remains of ancient races who had built magnificent structures that had long since fallen into ruin.
While we see this trope in many fictions, nowhere is it more prevalent than in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
“…this new country seemed threatening and unfriendly. As they went forward the hills about them steadily rose. Here and there upon heights and ridges they caught glimpses of ancient walls of stone, and the ruins of towers: they had an ominous look. Frodo, who was not walking, had time to gaze ahead and to think…
‘Who lives in this land?’ he asked. ‘And who built these towers? Is this troll-country?’
‘No!’ said Strider. ‘Trolls do not build. No one lives in this land. Men once dwelt here, ages ago; but none remain now. They became an evil people, as legends tell, for they fell under the shadow of Angmar. But all were destroyed in the war that brought the North Kingdom to its end. But that is now so long ago that the hills have forgotten them, though a shadow still lies on the land.'”
— JRR TOLKIEN
The Lord of the Rings
Book I, Chapter 12:
‘Flight to the Ford’
In many respects, early D&D (greatly influenced by the works of Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, who also populated his Hyborian Age with the bones of ancient civilizations) placed characters, no matter their race or class, into the roles of archaeologists and treasure hunters.
Combat, and the very nature of Murder Hobo adventuring, was an obvious byproduct of player characters being tasked with delving into ancient ruins, seeking fortune and glory.
Tolkien, Howard, and so many others in their wake, saw the value of taping into our fascination with the ancient and forgotten. Lost knowledge and ancient evils lurking in the inky darkness are a call to adventure and a trope I never tire of…
— Bob Freeman