More from Three Hearts and Three Lions

I recently re-read Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. This is, of course, a critical piece of literature for D&D scholars (and other Appendix-N readers), granted how many ideas that were baked into the DNA of D&D originated here. Most of us are aware of the big-ticket items: Alignment (the cosmic system of Law-vs-Chaos; prior looks one, two), the paladin with a holy sword, a Scottish-speaking dwarf, and the swanmay (see also: mythological swan maidens).

However, with this read-through I was paying more attention to lesser-known, possibly overlooked tidbits, that either are or could be used as core parts of our game. My notes follow (page numbers from 1993 Baen printing):
  • General emphasis on smells in sense-descriptions.
  • Ch. 5, p. 46: Land permanently in twilight for Chaos types (e.g., goblins).
  • Ch. 6-9: Lots of interesting faerie magic, customs here.
  • Ch. 7, p. 55: "All of them [elves] seemed to be warriors and sorcerers"; menial work done by goblin/kobold slaves. (Meanwhile, elves cannot bear the presence of a cross or hearing holy words; see Ch. 3, p. 33; and Ch. 9. p. 76.)
  • Ch. 7: p. 57: Castle with magical moat, always circulating. Lord’s host sallies forth from castle (compare to Vol-3 castle behavior?). 
  • Ch. 8, p. 70: Doorknob turns to speaking mouth (magic mouth?) in castle of Faerie Duke, among many other enchantments.
  • Ch. 10, p. 85: Supernatural enemies harmed by ultraviolet light. 
  • Ch. 12, p. 102: Law/chaos used interchangeably with good/evil (last line of big paragraph). 
  • Ch. 12, p. 107: Giants always carrying gold (and p. 113). Giants (“Great Folk”) sit in wintry halls for centuries practicing contests of skill, especially riddles. 
  • Ch. 12, p. 114: Giant (et. al.) turned to radioactive stone by sunlight.
  • Ch. 13, p. 118: Iron passes through werewolf’s body without doing harm. 
  • Ch. 13, p. 119: Lycanthropy is generally inherited. May be bear, boar, wolf, “or whate’er the animal may be for the person”. Lycanthrope “Wounds knit upon instant” (from non-silver). Possible recessive-trait werewolf who turns only when chaos magic ebbs over the land.
  • Ch. 14, p. 132: Iron hurts lycanthrope in human form.
  • Ch. 15, p. 142: Description of enchanted Avalon, magical island drifting over sea.
  • Ch. 15: p. 144: “Ever-filled purse” advertised on magician’s sign (as Bucknard’s everfull purse). See also Ch. 17, p. 162. 
  • Ch. 15, p. 145: Magician with diploma from magic university.
  • Ch. 15, p. 146: Invisible (unseen) servant.
  • Ch. 17, p. 160: Geas prevents spirits from assisting with divination.
  • Ch. 19, p. 176: Nixie who tries to capture the protagonist. 
  • Ch. 19, p. 180: Undersea weed-house.
  • Ch. 22, p. 217: Troll fights with dismembered hand, leg, jaw, ropy guts (!).
  • Ch. 24, p. 230: Presence of Hell Horse (note 1941-1944 art journal in occupied Denmark called The Hell-Horse [Helhesten]; "hell horse" is a synonym for the nightmare as per MM p. 74). 

Edit: Mike Mornard helpfully confirmed on the OD&D Discussion board that the Vol-3 castle behaviors, as established by Gygax, were in fact inspired by the action in Three Hearts and Three Lions (as well as various Arthurian tales). See here.


  1. I've always wanted to play with the notion that "Lycan"-thropy is one singular curse, and the animal form is different based on the infected; as opposed to a multitude of strains.
    Also, a regenerating toll finger sneaked into the home is my favorite assassination trick.

  2. Law and chaos interchangeable with good and evil... is that how they played it?

    1. Yep. In one of the SR issues Gary even says that was his thinking at first.

    2. This is a score to the Holmesian 5 alignment system.

  3. Amazing stuff. Being a literary studies scholar, this gave me ideas! And even more ideas as GM.

    *rubs hands together in clearly evil gesture*

  4. "wounds knit upon an instant", I'm thinking that the hat is a better way to play weapon immunities: they seem to harm the monster but it regenerates all of the hit points damaged by these weapons.

    1. I like it too... for some kinds of monsters like lycanthropes, incorporeal types, etc. There are a few "hard" types like an earth elemental, stone/iron golem, etc. where I think it's more interesting to have the weapon bounce off without effect.

      The other thing that's nifty is I like the fact that normal steel affects lycanthropes in human form, so (1) you can't use that as test when they're in disguise, and (2) my players have been horrified a few times now when driven to attack someone they think is a human-form lycanthrope, and there's a question on whether they're making a terrible mistake.