Gamer Lit: The Hobbit

Posted by Labyrinthian in

I love Tolkien's work.  The older I get the more I appreciate the amazing things he did while designing his world all those years ago.   What I'm about to say may shock you but... I always like the Hobbit more than the Lord of the Rings.

It's difficult to articulate why.  I love epic stories so one would think I would favor the epic trilogy over the smaller more silly hearted adventure story, but that just isn't the case.  One possibility was my age when I read the books.  I was in Junior High when I first read them, and the last time I read the Hobbit was as an assignment for English class my sophomore year of high school. That is, until recently.

For whatever reason my desire to join the Hobbit Bilbo took over and I busted out my copy of the The Hobbit.  I should admit to you that I was more than a little concerned.  Over the last year I have re-read many books I loved when I was younger only to find them lacking in one way or another.  Principal among these were the Dragonlance Chronicles which at one time were my very favorite books.  When I re-read them I barely finished, and did so only grudgingly.  Thus was I more than a little trepid as I cracked the cover and began reading.

I needn't have been.  What I found was a tale and world that I loved and respected more, not less, than I did when I was younger.  Bilbo remains probably my favorite character from all of Tolkien's works.  The Hobbit itself is an amazing blend of adventure, humor, magic, and danger that makes it the perfect adventure tale.  For the vast majority of the book you get to see Tolkien's middle earth at the same time as Bilbo who is experiencing most of it for the first time himself.  By staying with the hobbit, and using an omniscient narrator not unlike him, the reader gets to see things like Gandalf's powers, the abilities of the elves, and other magic or magic like while maintaining their mystique.  Something sadly lacking in so many other books (and in most games!).  The Hobbit has it all, and is even a book that adults can share with children, but what about gaming?

Gaming Inspiration
The Hobbit is practically a D&D adventure in the days before D&D.  You have a party formed, The Burglar (Theif) Hobbit (Hafling), a party of Dwarves (Fighters), and the Wizard Gandalf.  They set their goal at the beginning, they are to venture east and battle the mighty Dragon, Smaug for the stolen treasure of the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.  It's a perfect adventure for an RPG game.  This should come as little surprise given the huge influence Tolkien had on the creators of D&D.  Hell, Halflings were originally called Hobbits until it was changed for copyright reasons.

One thing that struck me on my re-reading of the Hobbit were the "side quests" that Thorin and Company had to contend with on their way to the Lonely Mountain and the great worm Smaug.  These side adventures were a necessity to prepare the adventurers, Bilbo in particular, for their face off with the Dragon at the end.  After battling some evil spiders with his magic sword, Sting, Bilbo has a moment where he reflects that he feels much more capable than he did before.  That somehow, beating the spiders on his own has made him more than he was.  Sounds like leveling up to me!

The lesson here is to remember to give your heroes some time to cut their teeth on lesser encounters so they are prepared to face the great challenges that you have for them.  Don't worry about them being too high level when they get to the cool climactic ending battle you have prepared for them, you can always add extra enemies, beef up your big baddie, or add some other twist to make the battle more difficult.  In addition to earning them some experience these side adventures will increase anticipation for the big finish.  Throughout the book Bilbo's mind is ever on the Dragon and the hoarded treasure.

The bottom line is that the Hobbit is teeming with gaming influences.  If you haven't read it you should pick up a copy (You can find it at your local library if you don't want to spring for a copy of your own) and dive right in.  You'll be glad that you did. 

Note: Those who really enjoy the Hobbit and LotR may want to check out the Lord of the Rings RPG.  



This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 02, 2009 at Wednesday, December 02, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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