Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Addendum to Appendix N

Thanks to Allan Grohe, who pointed me to a statement by Gary Gygax, where he talked about how he might have changed Appendix N's reading list if he'd written it in 2007 rather than 1979:
The fact is that I wouldn't change the list much, other than to add a couple of novels such as Lanier's second Hiero yarn, Piers Anthony's Split Infinity series, and the Disc World books.

I would never add other media forms to a reading list. If someone is interested in comic books and.or graphic novels, they're on their own.
I find this a very interesting answer for several reasons. Firstly, I think it significant that Gary, late in his life, still felt that the selections in Appendix N, which was made up primarily of books written before 1970, was representative of D&D's inspirations. This jibes well with my own intuition that D&D, particularly in its Gygaxian form, is something of a nostalgia project. By that I mean only that many of the fantasy/science fiction sources from which it drew were "old fashioned" even in 1974. Those sources had wider currency then, because of the pulp reprint explosion of the late 60s and early 70s. Likewise, those reprints inspired many then-contemporary writers to pen their own tales in the same vein, which further fed the somewhat "antique" approach to fantasy that Gygax favored and promoted. I personally connect D&D very strongly with these "archaic" approaches to fantasy, which feel to me far more alien and fantastic than modern, post-D&D fantasy.

Secondly, it's noteworthy that Gary didn't mention Glen Cook's Black Company series, one of the few bits of post-70s fantasy writing I recall his ever endorsing as being in the same spirit of D&D. He may simply have forgotten them, but, if so, that too is perhaps telling. Thirdly, the reference to Discworld might, on first glance, seem an oddity, but remember that Gary was an accomplished punster. He no doubt took great pleasure in Terry Pratchett's similar facility in that form of humor, which I have long argued is an important part of the Gygaxian feel.

Lots of food for thought in just a few words. Thanks, Allan!

13 comments:

  1. I would never add other media forms to a reading list. If someone is interested in comic books and.or graphic novels, they're on their own.

    That to me is far more telling than the scarcity of new additions (although I'm surprised Gemmell didn't make the list given it was Gary who brought Legend to the states).

    If you go back to my post on what I miss from the golden age the first thing I list is "a shared literary language". I think one of the biggest negative influences on RPGs has been the move from written sources as the primary inspiration to visual and other games as the primary source. While I am happy to embrace both the lack of literature as being the principle means of transmitting a culture is a key component of the Gygaxian and other early modes.

    Tabletop RPGs are about words; it is a literate culture. Once that is gone the descent into an analog computer game is inevitable. That even at the end Gygax couldn't add comics or movies tells me he understood this in his bones.

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  2. How could I forget Gemmell?

    But, yes, I think you're absolutely right that D&D was the product of a time when not only were fantasy and sci-fi indistinct, but when there was a shared literary culture that is no longer in evidence.

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  3. Even more is that no mention of Raymond E. Feist or the often overlooked or Joel Rosenberg's very enjoyable Guardians of the Flame books.

    Still, it does not surprise me to see him stick to that list.

    I also agree with him about the inclusion of movies and the like in a reading list. It is something that I liked what you did in Thousand Suns with your reading list, and only list books.

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  4. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Old school gamers are readers. We just are.

    Also, the Discworld books would be a good fit anyway, since much of their philosophy comes from when Terry Pratchett ran his own version of D&D way back when.

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  5. James,

    I totally know what you mean by a 'shared literary culture'. For example, twenty-five years ago nearly everyone I knew that played D&D had read nearly the same fantasy books (Swords of Shannara for example)and I think this shared culture greatly influenced how they viewed fantasy 'worlds'. Nowadays I don't know if you could say the same.

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  6. He mentioned the Black Company books in this context often enough that I wouldn't read anything into their exclusion in this particular instance except that he was answering off-the-cuff without looking at his bookshelf. Likewise his failure to mention the 3rd & 4th Dying Earth books (which he usually mentioned) and his inclusion of Piers Anthony (which he mentioned this time but not others).

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  7. By that I mean only that many of the fantasy/science fiction sources from which it drew were "old fashioned" even in 1974.

    This is a point that's usually completely overlooked by those (usually trying to justify the stylistic changes and additions of 3 & 4E) who argue that D&D always followed the trend of what was popular at the time and that the influences on early D&D were just a coincidence of when it was published rather than a curatorial decision by Gygax. A. Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fletcher Pratt, Robert Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Lord Dunsany had all been dead for decades by the time D&D was published, and although Leiber, Vance, Poul Anderson, and L. Sprague de Camp were all still alive and active, many of the specific books Gary cited were from the 40s and 50s (and even with Michael Moorcock he specifically cites titles from the early 60s -- the first 2 Elric volumes and the first 3 Hawkmoon ones -- and thus at least by implication excludes the later-written material).

    He did include some more contemporary works and authors -- John Bellairs, Fred Saberhagen, Gardner Fox's "Kothar" and "Kyrik" series, Philip Jose Farmer's "World of Tiers" series, Roger Zelazny, Lin Carter's "World's End" series, Andrew Offutt's Swords Against Darkness anthologies, etc. -- but it's worth pointing out several much more popular fantasy works that could have been included but weren't -- John Norman's "Gor" series (from 1967), Anne McCaffrey's "Dragonriders of Pern" series (from 1968), Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series (from 1970), Stephen Donaldson's "Thomas Covenant" series (from 1977), and Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara (also 1977 -- a year before Swords Against Darkness III, which is on the Gygax list).

    Obviously the shape of D&D would've been much different had those books been considered as influences (as, indeed, it was in the post-Gygax era when they did become "backdoor" influences).

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  8. Discworld is much less of an oddity if you think in terms of the early Rincewind Discworld (The Color of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Sourcery) and Guards! Guards!

    Later Discworld went all over the map for inspiration, but those books were very much drawn from the very same literary sources as D&D.

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  9. Even more is that no mention of Raymond E. Feist

    No surprise there for me - REF's books are hugely derivative of D&D and don't really contribute anything original that D&D could have used. In addition, the writing itself is pretty clumsy in my opinion and I don't think Gygax would have like its bluntness.

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  10. Richard Iorio!..man I haven't seen you around since the old WFRP Mailing List days. Still a librarian?? What're you writing about these days?

    Still, I have to disagree with you over Feist & to a lesser degree Rosenberg. The former practically lies about his novels having no relation to any rpgs, while the latter, IMO, only relied on them for the seed idea of the series, which quickly turned into a Libertarian manifesto.

    Unlike Glen Cooke's novels, which seem to inspire a D&D sensibility indirectly, Feist and Rosenberg are actually inspired by and feed off RPG tropes, which IMO, makes them little better than a Forgotten Realms tie-in novel.

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  11. Re Steven's comment above, I agree - remember that the first two Discworld novels are written as parodies of a wide variety of fantasy and swords & sorcery, including much that is on EGG's list!

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  12. Re. Kellri.

    Nope, no longer a librarian, I do marketing research. Still writing, and James and I run and own Rogue Games (http://www.rogue-games.net).

    Re. Book.

    Feist, for me, is not a bad read. I guess I do not mind his work as much as I do the output from the old TSR books. Rosenberg, IMO, is a pretty good read, and is a good example of world building, if done by gamers. Are they great book? Nope. Still I am not much of a fan of genre fiction and if I was forced to choose between a Feist book or a R.A. Salvatore book, I would choose Feist.

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  13. This is a point that's usually completely overlooked by those (usually trying to justify the stylistic changes and additions of 3 & 4E) who argue that D&D always followed the trend of what was popular at the time and that the influences on early D&D were just a coincidence of when it was published rather than a curatorial decision by Gygax.

    I'm starting to think this is one of the central facts about the early hobby that's been overlooked in recent years. It's so easy to read back into the beginning the trends of later years, when TSR really did -- as WotC does now -- blow with the winds of the times and try to make D&D into something more in tune with whatever happened to be popular in "fantasy" at that moment. That was not always the case.

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