In the article where "TSR Details its Policy", Rob Repp asserts
that "Drow were created by TSR." Well, several people on the net
took issue with this statement, and two of them actually did
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Andra L. Douglas)
Subject: drow: not created by tsr, says webster.
Date: 26 Sep 1994 10:19:10 -0500
Organization: UTexas Mail-to-News Gateway
From the webster's unabridged 1970 (big sucker, that.) "drow,
n., [scot.] A tiny _elf_ which lived in _caves_ and forged magic
metal work." Soooo, you're wrong. Next thing you know you'll be
claiming trademark on 'banderlog'. ALD's husband, Thack.
From Rob McNeur (Rob@ccc.govt.nz):
The dictionary I checked yesterday was a Chambers dictionary
*1972* edition (well before Gary wrote his stuff) and lists the
word DROW as coming from mythology, specifically from the
Shetland islands area and has it meaning a troll-like monster,
which, given the wide meaning of the 'troll' term prior to
widespread RPGs, just basically means a nasty monster, which
would allow it to cover the 'dark elf' as well. So Gary Gygax/T$R
still stole/borrowed it and can't copyright it.
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This tidbit of research brings up two important questions. First,
just how many public domain terms is TSR claiming as its own
intellectual property? Second (and more importantly), doesn't
this situation perfectly exhibit a conflict that naturally arises
between copyright law as it was originally intended and copyright
law as it has been interpreted?
Copyright law in the United States originates in the Constitution
(Article 1, Section 8) "Congress shall have the power... to
promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for
limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to
their respective writings and discoveries." Notice the intention
of the Framers. Copyright law isn't for the benefit of the
authors. It is for the benefit of society via the promotion of
the sciences and the arts. Notice also, as witnessed by the fact
that Gygax did extensive research to find names for the monsters
he wrote about, that it is in the very nature of some writers to
attempt to build on previous works (and this has been
particularly true of RPG authors). Granted, the term Drow was in
the public domain (and it referred to subterranean elves) long
before Gygax ever wrote about "Drow Elves" (as he was probably
well aware), however, such creatures as "Balrogs" and "Hobbits"
were not, yet he and Arneson chose to detail these creatures as
well, creatures which Tolkien had invented. Was it wrong to do
so? Since the Tolkien suit apparently forced TSR to change
Hobbits to Halflings (at least in name), we can conclude that the
law is trying to stop writers from building on each others work.
But is this in the best interests of society and the arts? I
cannot help but wonder what the Framers would think.
Of course, Hobbits, Balrogs, and Drow Elves aren't the only
monsters which TSR "borrowed" from literature and legend. Here
are four articles which comment on that very fact.
From: djdaneh@pbhyc.PacBell.COM (Dan'l DanehyOakes)
Subject: "Lifted from Tolkien?"
Organization: Pacific * Bell, San Ramon, CA
Date: Tue, 1 Nov 1994 17:57:29 GMT
We find two fantasy fans, Dave Arneson and E. Gary Gygax ("The
Enormous EGG"), playing CHAINMAIL. They play out battles set in
an imaginary kingdom. The only thing lacking is magic.
Lo! They create rules for magic. Lo! They introduce monsters.
The monsters are drawn from various sources. If Tolkien is more
evident than the others, it is only because he is best-known.
Many monsters are drawn from the works of Lord Dunsany
(Gibbelins, Gnolls... the description for these even mentions
Dunsany). Some are drawn from Fritz Leiber's "Fafhrd and the
Grey Mouser" stories. The magic system is consciously based on
Jack Vances "The Dying Earth" stories. And so on.... They enjoy
it and publish it, and it becomes popular, first within
sf/fantasy fandom and then beyond.
Of the authors ripped-off by -- uh, I mean _influencing_ Gygax
and Arneson, perhaps because Tolkien's work _is_ the most
popular/best-known, only the holders of Tolkien's copyright
choose to challenge TSR. TSR is forced to back down, and this
ultimately results in the replacement of Hobbits and Ents with
Halflings and Treants (both still blatantly derived from Tolkien,
but with the serial numbers now filed off).
From: email@example.com (Brad Spencer)
Subject: Re: An exercise in hypocrisy by TSR
Date: Sat, 22 Oct 1994 02:47:23 GMT
Turn to the Monstrous Compendium, Forgotten Realms pages, the 'F'
section. You will see a monster called a 'Fachan', described in
some detail. An odd monster, to say the least; one might think
this monster an original concept. Now, consult your favorite
guide to the Unseelie Court of Scotland [Faerie legends] and one
of the members are, gosh, 'The Fachan', which looks exactly like
the MC version. Not a single mention in the MC that this
particular monster has been derived from someplace else. Other
members of the Unseelie Court include, Hags and Blach Annis,
Bogles, and Kelpie all of which became monsters in the Monstrous
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Bryan J. Maloney)
Subject: Re: history lesson -- Gygax and TSR?
Date: 13 Dec 1994 02:05:40 GMT
Organization: Purdue University
Orcus: Roman god of the Dead, later demonized by Christianity.
Demogorgon: A demonic figure who appeared in a Percy Shelly poem
Manes: Latin spirits of dead family members--center of ancestor
worship in Rome. Demonized by Christianity.
Type IV demons: The Balrog from Lord of the Rings.
Type III demons: From the same source that produced the Naga
(Indonesia and India). By the way "Naga" is Indonesian for
Succubus: European legends, common figure. Also overlapped with
vampires to some extent.
Asmodeus: Among the hierarchy of Hell, according to the Catholic
Dispater: Same as Asmodeus. Appeared as the lord of a mosque in
Dante's Divine Comedy.
Pit Fiend: Hell was called a "pit", demons were called "fiends".
Do the math.
Bone Devil: Similar to a lesser devil in Dante's Divine Comedy.
Larvae: Another type of Roman spirit.
The original DMG acknowledged Tolkien's influence in a list of
credits at the back, along with Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Poul
Anderson, Roger Zelazny, etc.
I think the issue is the contrast between authors who are
flattered by imitation, and authors who think 'sue' as soon as
they smell it. What bugs me about the TSR line is that they know
perfectly well that their game would not exist at all without the
authors whose ideas not only about individual creatures - re
halflings, trolls, dragons, elves and dwarves (even the spelling
mimics Tolkien, pre-Tolkien it was dwarfs and dwarfish, not
dwarves and dwarven) but also all the ideas about how fantasy
societies would work, what makes a hero, how magic might work...
it's not a question of whether all this stuff was copyrightable
or not. It made the game possible.
TSR has accumulated this huge pool of fantasy creativity, added
some bits of its own (and let's remember that much of that was
not the work of 'TSR' as a corporate identity, but individuals
like Gygax, Greenwood, Weis and Hickman, Dave Arneson, some of
whom fell out with the corporate machine over just these types of
question) and now wishes to lay title to as much as it can.
TSR is NOT flattered by imitation, but it relied on the goodwill
of authors who were. The Tolkien estate was not especially
flattered, being an estate and not an author, and feeling a sort
of sacred duty to preserve the hobbit in aspic. It complained.
I wonder what TSR staff thought of that complaint when they
received it? Did they think it was unsporting, unfair? Did they
feel that the presence of hobbits in their game paid homage to
Tolkien, and should have been taken as such? Did they complain
about being bullied by a big, established publishing outfit?
Does this sound familiar...?