From 1961, a novel by Poul Anderson. Weighing in at 220 pages, this old novel is a fraction of the size of the contemporary fantasy novel. But that just means the story moves faster, and there is a lot less fluff than in today’s offerings!

The classic tale of a modern man thrust “back in time” to a fantasy version of the Earth-that-never-was, Three Hearts and Three Lions is one of the required texts of the D&D “Scripture”. This book is likely the source of the Alignment system of the OD&D game, and definitely the source for the description of the Troll and answers the burning question, “Why are Giant Pike featured in the 1e Monster Manual?”

Regarding Alignment, in this story we have a much simpler view of the world than AD&D’s 17 finely graduated variations on the themes of Law vs Chaos and Good vs Evil. It is more of a method of describing what side you are on in the great battle between Humans and the Faerie Realm. “Be thee for Law, or be thee for Chaos?” For Civilization and Order? Or for Wildness and freedom from responsibility? There is a multi-dimensional war going on, and you must take sides.

Personally, I find this to be a better system for mechanizing the worldview of your characters. In this way the conflicts become more clear-cut and the intrigues gain a grander scope. You and your companions are truly part of a larger struggle!

This business of Chaos versus Law, for example, turned out to be more than religious dogma. It was a practical fact of existence, here. … In this universe the wild folk of the Middle World might be trying to break down a corresponding painfully established order: to restore some primeval state where anything could happen.

Without spoiling anything, I think I can say that the fight scene Anderson presents between the “party of adventurers” and the troll is one of the best in all of fantasy literature. It reads exactly like a well-run combat encounter would be described afterwards. The only thing missing is a bit of Type D treasure…

Simply put, Three Hearts and Three Lions reads like it was written specifically for players of D&D, so well does D&D capture the flavor and essence of the story. If you haven’t read it, I urge you do do so. If you have, but maybe it’s been a while, pick it up again. You won’t regret it!

Please share your thoughts and memories of this book or other influences on your gaming experience.

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