Tolkienesque means simply, like Tolkien, or more specifically, like The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and related works by author J.R.R. Tolkien. When used in an RPG context, it typically means:
- The standard Tolkien races, humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, and orcs. A setting might omit one or two of those and still qualify.
- An identifiable force for evil.
- A Dark Ages or medieval pseudohistorical milieu. Some anachronisms, such as plate armor or fencing weapons, might appear, although Tolkien armed his heroes with swords, mail, and helms. In general, firearms, modern democracies, and the like are right out.
- Magic is powerful, natural, and everpresent, but rarely flamboyant. In Tolkien’s work, magic is an understanding of moral forces, life and death, living things, and the Eternal. Fireballs and genies are not Tolkienesque.
Rarely is a setting Tolkienesque in its entirety. Rather, when several elements are present, one might identify specific elements as Tolkienesque. For instance, D&D has Tolkienesque races and a Tolkienesque medieval setting, but a very different kind of magic (Vancian, actually). Some settings have a Tolkienesque moral force; for instance, Greyhawk as Iuz, while Dragonlance has an ancient conflict between good, evil, and the balance.