Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Appendix N, 1981 Edition

At the end of What is Dungeons & Dragons?, the authors have appended a bibliography, since, in their words
One of the best sources of ideas for D&D is Fantasy literature. Obviously, any list of this sort must be subjective, but all the authors here should prove useful for D.M.s and enjoyable for players.
I've lamented before that it was once commonplace for an RPG to include a bibliography of inspirational literature, but that this practice eventually fell by the wayside. If contemporary games do bother to include such a bibliography, too often it's overwhelmingly a filmography or, worse yet, a ludography (as if this hobby weren't inbred enough already).So, I was delighted to see that the young fellows who wrote What is Dungeons & Dragons? made an effort to highlight authors "whose works are relevant to D&D."

Here are their choices, which are interesting both because of how they match Gygax's own choices in the Dungeon Masters Guide and because of how they differ
  • Asprin, Bob: He's singled out for both the Myth series (about which my feelings are mixed) and the Thieves' World anthologies.
  • Bradley, Marion Zimmer: I was never a fan of Bradley, but I know her Darkover books in particular were influential with some.
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice.
  • Cabell, James Branch: I am mildly embarrassed to admit I have never read a word of Cabell that I can remember.
  • Carter, Lin: Carter was a hack but he was often an enjoyable one, by and large.
  • Davidson, Avram: I'm impressed to see him included on this list, even if the book misspells his name as "Aram."
  • DeCamp, L. Sprague: Were it not for his involvement in the denigration of Howard's legacy, I suspect I'd be a much bigger fan of DeCamp, who wrote a number of excellent fantasies, especially his collaborations with Fletcher Pratt.
  • Donaldson, Stephen: Until I saw his name on this list, I had no idea that Lord Foul's Bane had been written as early as it was (1977). 
  • Dunsany, Lord.
  • Eddison, E.R.: The Worm Ouroboros presents what may well be the first fully-realized fantasy world in English fiction.
  • Farmer, Philip José.
  • Herbert, Frank: He's here for Dune, which, on the face of it, is an odd choice, but perhaps not.
  • Howard, Robert E.: REH is listed solely for Conan, which is fair enough, though disappointing.
  • Lee, Tanith.
  • LeGuin, Ursula K.: I still can't say whether I like LeGuin's work or not, but there's no doubt that she is influential.
  • Leiber, Fritz: This is a gimme; Leiber is probably the single writer most influential on D&D.
  • Lewis, C.S.: I think Lewis's influence on gaming -- and fantasy in general -- is often overlooked.
  • Lovecraft, H.P. 
  • McCaffrey, Anne: While my feelings about LeGuin are mixed, I can pretty safely say I don't like McCaffrey's stuff.
  • MacDonald, George: Like Cabell, I've never read a word of MacDonald.
  • MacIntyre, Vonda: Dreamsnake is an interesting post-apocalyptic novel. I'm surprised it was included on this list.
  • McKillip, Patricia: I will admit that explicitly Celtic-derived fantasy makes me break out in hives, so I was no fan of The Riddle-Master of Hed.
  • Merritt, A.
  • Moorcock, Michael.
  • Norton, André.
  • Tolkien, J.R.R.
  • Vance, Jack.
  • White, T.H.
  • Zelazny, Roger.
This list isn't too far removed from Gygax's own. The most notable absence from the list is Poul Anderson, which is, in my opinion, a great oversight. Likewise, the 1981 list above includes many more contemporary authors, whereas Gygax's was much more "old fashioned," even in 1979. There are also many more British authors on the 1981 list, which is only to be expected given its provenance.

44 comments:

  1. No mention of Tolkien, also.
    Odd ?

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  2. No, that's my error. Let me fix that now.

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  3. Nice and indeed influential on the creation of D&D. Which was, as I've noted before, a long time ago.

    I agree that more games should note their 'Appendix N's' as it were but I for one would certainly include all influences. Separare them by format if you wish but film, television and other games can certainly inspire and influence the creation of new ones.

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  4. James -

    Ken Hite's always namechecking Avram Davidson, which is usually enough to point me in his direction. Where should I start reading his stuff?

    Sidebar: nobody think too hard about the gender breakdown of James's criticisms here...

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  5. That's a nice list.

    No fan of Carter or DeCamp, although I don't get riled over meddling in legacy matters any more than I dislike Derleth for his tampering with Lovecraft's vision. I never cared a whit for Anderson either. Dune we adored as kids, considering it dark fantasy with some nice handwavium scifi trappings, much like a great deal of the work by our literary hero Zelazny. Lord of Light and Dune fueled several major campaigns of ours.

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  6. Apologies for the double post. Not sure what happened there. Since I'm here--Lewis was indeed influential when I was a boy. of course for the Narnia work, but we also did our best with Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength as well.

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  7. Avram Davidson!

    I've mostly read his sotries (uniformly very good) and nonficiton (Adventures in unhistory is a must-read, IMO). I don't think I've read any of his novels but the series that starts with The pheonix and the mirror always gets good reviews.

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  8. @Wally: As regards Davidson, I'd suggest starting with The Phoenix and the Mirror, a fantasy about the Roman poet Virgil (whom the Middle Ages regarded as a sorceror). Peregrine: Primus and Peregrine: Secundus are also good.

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  9. I think Lewis's influence on gaming -- and fantasy in general -- is often overlooked.
    Too true...

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  10. I also find it interesting, and gratifying, that they omitted The Sword of Shannara.

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  11. James-
    You needn't feel embarrassed about not reading Cabell; he's definitely an acquired taste and, to my mind anyway, provides very little inspiration for roleplaying. (I should say that I like Cabell's work a great deal; ironically enough, I'm sitting about 500 yards from his personal library as I type this.) If you do decide to read some Cabell, start with Figures of Earth and The Silver Stallion.

    As for George MacDonald, I think you might like Phantastes, and possibly Lilith (although parts of the latter devolve into Victorian twee).

    Finally, a small confusion: what on earth makes you describe The Riddle-Master of Hed as "explicitly Celtic-derived fantasy"? At best, the Celtic influence is implicit, and it never struck me as particularly obtrusive.

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  12. what on earth makes you describe The Riddle-Master of Hed as "explicitly Celtic-derived fantasy"? At best, the Celtic influence is implicit, and it never struck me as particularly obtrusive.

    It's the names, pure and simple. They remind me much too much of all those New Age-y, harp-infested fantasies that were all the rage back in the 80s and they made it hard for me to enjoy the book. Perhaps that's unfair and shallow of me, but there it is.

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  13. Well, that does clarify matters; the names don't seem overly Celtic to me, but such things vary from person to person. And I don't think it's unfair, though it is perhaps unfortunate.

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  14. No Clark Ashton Smith?

    Well, I supposed I'm not too surprised at that. Reprints of his work were very hard to come by; the new compilation hardcovers are great for that. (Although the first book is already out of print and climbing in value on eBay now...)

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  15. No Clark Ashton Smith?

    To be fair, even Gygax left CAS off his Appendix N.

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  16. Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Book of Atrix Wolfe, or Changeling Sea are all much better places to learn what makes McKillip so good. Then you can go back to Riddle-Master (which is worth doing--there's nothing New Age-y about the series).

    I'm just going to pretend that I never heard you say you were ambivalent about Le Guin. La la la la!

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  17. Lin Carter was generally a hack, but the Worlds End series is both witty and superb!

    Dune is very, very Dungeons & Dragon-ish.

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  18. "Dune is very, very Dungeons & Dragon-ish."

    Kris knives, gladiatorial spectacles, magic and science basically indistinguishable from one another, imperial dynasties...yes, it always seemed a good book to lift things from for campaigns. Still does.

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  19. I'll join the voices of confusion regarding your description of McKillip - it might be interesting for you to note that Riddle-Master of Hed was first published in 1976, long before the "New Age-y, harp-infested fantasies that were all the rage back in the 80s"

    I think that a more viable critique, based on what you have said that you like, is that they are about the direct opposite of "heroic fantasy" and in some ways take "high fantasy" to it's Nth degree - I always like to say that she writes old-style fairy tales as novels for adults (or Grail Romances, or something like that). The style of writing is about as different from a REH or a FL as you can get - though I can get a similar sense from CAS.

    D.

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  20. I would disagree with John Brinegar on the Cabell to start with. Jurgen is his masterpiece.

    I would also disagree that he's got little to offer roleplaying. I'd agree he doesn't offer much in terms of setting or stuff stealable to turn into mechanics, but I think his ironic tone (similar to Lieber's) fits well with the level of seriousness presented in old school gaming.

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  21. I continue to be puzzled by the omission of Lloyd Alexander from these lists--apparently its' just me, but I always felt Alexander's use in the Chronicles of Prydain of taking existing names, places, and incidents, from Celtic (Welsh) myth, and then reworking/changing them,served as a springboard for D&D. I also felt his Westmark trilogy would have made a great campaign setting (and give that the first book of Westmark was published in 1981, it seems within the timeframe; however, for all I know, Mr. Gygax never even heard of these books)

    (and, apropos of nothing, even though it I'm sure it had no influence on D&D, every kid should read Alexander's Timecat--as should any adult who hasn't yet--it's a good time travel novel that works hard on its' period history and settings)

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  22. "If contemporary games do bother to include such a bibliography, too often it's overwhelmingly a filmography or, worse yet, a ludography"

    To be fair, there weren't many films or games to be inspired by in 1981 (or 1979). Today I believe there are. I would dubiously regard a modern "Appendix N" if it were exclusive to any one form of media even if that form was the literary one I prefer. Weren't we just recently reading about the grand virtues of the Star Wars MOVIES right here on this blog?

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  23. Lloyd Alexander was a major influence on my early RPGing career--it didn't hurt that I interviewed him on the phone for the sixth-grade book fair. Later in life I got to meet him in person at a Philadelphia children's book store, and he was still just as awesome.

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  24. James, I'd strongly recommend spending some time with the works of Ursula K. Le Guin.

    I plagiarized much of Tombs of Atuan for my game. Her works are certainly easy to mine for inspiration.

    I don't mean this to denigrate writers such as Howard, who's works i very much enjoy, but Le Guin is not playing the same game. Much of this list is (highly enjoyable)pulp. Le Guin's work is arguably canonical.

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  25. A. Merritt, who isn't commented on, wrote several novels and stories that are excellent inspirations for adventures. Ship of Ishtar, which I didn't care for as a story, is a wonderful source for campaign ideas, particularly well suited to D&D. The Black Wheel (disappointingly completed by Hannes Bok), The Face in the Abyss, The Moon Pool, etc... His work is now fairly easy to come by (as is Clark Ashton Smith, William Hope Hodgson and others) through e-readers.

    I believe the Appendix N will see much more commentary about the hard to find writers now that they can be found, and hopefully the discovery of the old pulp heroes and writers for inspiration like The Spider Master of Men and Talbot Mundy. Authors and serials which might be light reading are heavy with adventure ideas.

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  26. these lists always make me feel like i need to read more fantasy. which isn't necessarily a bad thing :)

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  27. Weren't we just recently reading about the grand virtues of the Star Wars MOVIES right here on this blog?

    We were indeed, but I'm still not certain that I'd prefer to see visual media become the primary inspiration for RPGs.

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  28. James, I'd strongly recommend spending some time with the works of Ursula K. Le Guin.

    I should clarify that I do like The Left Hand of Darkness; I think it's a very good novel. I'm just not so keen on the "Earthsea" series and that has rather soured me on LeGuin more generally.

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  29. Wow. While I can sort of grok why Earthsea from Tehanu on might get your goat, I'm surprised that the first three books evoked a negative response from you. I routinely teach them to great success. (I have now also taught Howard to great success and hope to add Leiber, HPL, and CAS to that list as well, either as part of a course on the Old Weird or on Weird Fiction in general.)

    Re visual media: I'm afraid the horses are out of the barn on that one. Films and TV shows were huge influences on my gaming in the early 80s, and I think we can both agree that their mindshare has only grown since then. That said, I suspect that any one willing to try a tabletop RPG is probably either a reader already or a child poised to become one. The issue here is more, I suspect, that the fantasy/SF canon enshrined in Appendix N has vanished in many ways and been replaced by a different canon. I.e., not that there is less interest in reading but that what's being read strikes you as less interesting. :)

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  30. James,
    I'm glad you mentioned that you like The Left Hand of Darkness much better than Earthsea; it clarifies matters again. If I remember right, you tend to like science fiction better than fantasy anyway, so your ambivalence about Le Guin is understandable (as is the ease with which you were put off by McKillip).

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  31. Re visual media: I'm afraid the horses are out of the barn on that one.

    Oh, I know. I'm not expecting there to be a change on this score in my lifetime, if ever, but I don't have to like it.

    The issue here is more, I suspect, that the fantasy/SF canon enshrined in Appendix N has vanished in many ways and been replaced by a different canon. I.e., not that there is less interest in reading but that what's being read strikes you as less interesting. :)

    Absolutely. Again, I don't expect this to change anytime sooner, if ever. My primary complaint is not that there's been a change but that the change is often used to retroactively change prior works, e.g. D&D or Star Trek. My preference would be for the creation of new works more that build on the contemporary canon rather than re-imagining the past.

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  32. @Trey: Sure, Jurgen is Cabell's masterpiece (or at least his best-known book, thanks to the obscenity trial), but I thought James might prefer the books I mentioned. Other readers of these comments may feel differently. And as regards Cabell's value as role-playing inspiration, I perhaps should have said that he has comparatively little to offer; if you're looking for stealable stuff, you're better off with many of the other authors in the list.

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  33. My preference would be for the creation of new works more that build on the contemporary canon rather than re-imagining the past.

    In that case I would definitely recommend giving Scalzi another chance and read Old Man's War (to cross the streams between this bleg and the one on Fuzzy Nation). That's a good example of a book that is clearly indebted to Starship Troopers and Forever War without being enslaved to them and nostalgia.

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  34. That's a good example of a book that is clearly indebted to Starship Troopers and Forever War without being enslaved to them and nostalgia.

    I'll add it to the list for my summer reading then.

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  35. Funny enough, the most obvious place I would find Cabell a happy influence on fantasy role-playing would be on minor deities, along the lines of a certain project know roundherebouts.

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  36. The more I read Clark Ashton Smith, the more I grieve his absence from Appendix N. There's no reason for folks not to read CAS, considering the easily accessible on-line sources.

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  37. Forgot Ashton Clark Smith, from whom they plundered much IP.

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  38. I'm just not so keen on the Earthsea series...

    Well, everyone has their own tastes: for me, they're fundamental works and classics and deserve much higher position than many other names on the list. I'd also highly recommend her Western Shores series (Gifts, Voices, Powers).

    But I also strongly agree that Le Guin is in some senses an auteur: if you're not interested in the way she tells stories, or the kinds of stories she wants to tell, then all you can do is sit back and enjoy her prose and time is better spent on other excellent writers where you can connect more to the text.

    Finally, if people want to put Herbert on the list for Dune, then I'd pretty much insist they also put Wolfe on the list of the New Sun/Long Sun works. (Heck, I'd probably insist anyway.)

    Also -- no Karl Edward Wagner? No Glen Cook? ::sigh::

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  39. Also -- no Karl Edward Wagner? No Glen Cook?

    To be fair, Cook's first "Black Company" book wasn't out in 1981, so his omission is understandable. I agree with you about Wagner, though.

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  40. @James @RobBarrett Adding Scalzi's "Old Man's War" to your summer reading pile pretty much characterizes it. It's competent and smoothly written. But it suffers from fairly flat characterization and an obvious project as an homage to its predecessors without, in fact, all that much in the way of a new voice saying something (for similar things done much better, compare with Chabon's "Gentlemen of the Road" or Busiek's "Astro City": both works that are, like Scalzi's, intentionally nostalgic and genre-restoration attempts that bring something new to the table).

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  41. Black Company out in 1981

    Yep -- fair enough. And Wolfe's Long Sun books neither. Oddly enough, there's only a handful of works post-1981 that I think deserve to be on the list, but there's no point in playing that exercise yet again: it's a well-worn-to-the-nub meme already.

    Ron Edwards' biography in "Sorcerer and Sword", actually, is a pretty fair examination of some names that probably also deserve to be on the list that a lot of people might miss. Norvell Page leaps to mind as someone that no-body ever seems to remember. 8/

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  42. But it suffers from fairly flat characterization and an obvious project as an homage to its predecessors without, in fact, all that much in the way of a new voice saying something

    Hmm -- then perhaps Fuzzy Nation isn't an anomaly at all, because what you say pretty well mirrors my own criticisms.

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  43. I don't dislike Scalzi's work, and he also seems to have the advantage of having an online presence that suggests he a decent, clever, and stand-up guy. But is he revolutionary SF? No, I don't think so.

    He is, however, eminently readable (in that his language and ideas are not tremendously hard to digest), and doesn't demand that his readers have degrees in some science, engineering, or maths realm in order to follow along as seems to be all too common amongst "respectable SF" circles these days.

    Sometimes you really want a nice grilled cheeze on white bread, and Scalzi seems a lot like that...

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  44. Viktor, I see what you're saying and agree that Scalzi isn't pushing the boundaries of the genre. But then again SF can always use "eminently readable" writers capable of revitalizing the mainstream tradition, especially since many of the canonical works in that tradition are not what I would call "eminently readable." (Asimov and Clarke, I'm looking at the two of you; Heinlein, you're only slightly off the hook.)

    Ob fantasy: Joe Abercrombie has certain similarities with Scalzi. Nothing Abercrombie is doing to fantasy is all that original or groundbreaking. (Others before him have deconstructed the Manicheanism at the heart of much fantasy and subjected the fantastic to the generic conventions of realism.) But I find the books to be far beyond most other fantasy in terms of zip, zing, and sheer narrative life. We may have seen all these characters before in one form or another, but they've rarely lived this well. Style does matter.

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