Inspiration for all of the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors and dauntless swordsmen. Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young, from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples. Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950. The following authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as just about any other imaginative writing or screenplay you will be able to pluck kernels from which grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!If I were going to pick the single greatest impact the old school renaissance has had on the hobby since its inception, it would not be a renewed appreciation of the megadungeon or the hexcrawl, even though that is one of the OSR's great victories. Rather, I'd say it was broader knowledge of the pulp fantasies that Arneson and Gygax, especially those enshrined in Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I say this with confidence because, prior to about 2008, I can't recall ever seeing the phrase "Appendix N" used at all on gaming forums or blogs, let alone being used as a template for designing entire games. Nowadays, though, Appendix N is talked about well beyond the confines of the old school echo chamber.
I bring this up because, the other day, I was chatting with Victor Raymond. I told Victor, as I've told anyone who will listen for years now, that, while I've probably played far more Dungeons & Dragons than any other RPG, fantasy is for me a distant second to science fiction in terms of my personal interest. I mentioned that, prior to picking up D&D in 1979, my direct experience with fantasy literature of any sort was mostly limited to what I'd read in Buffinch's Mythology and similar books. D&D was thus, for me, a primary gateway to fantasy rather than being an outgrowth of my pre-existing interest in the genre.
Conversely, by the time I picked up Traveller in 1980 or '81 (I honestly can't remember which year it was), I was already very well versed in the classics of the genre. My local library had an extensive collection of Ace Doubles that I devoured, along with many other sci-fi paperbacks from the '50s and '60s. So, when I heard about Traveller, it immediately clicked with me. I knew exactly the books and authors that had inspired Marc Miller and so Traveller made sense to me in a way it didn't to many of my friends who equated "science fiction" with Star Trek or, more likely, Star Wars. To them, Traveller was strange and not at all what they were expecting, just as I expect that D&D probably seems strange to newcomers whose understanding of "fantasy" is rooted in something other than Appendix N literature.
But there's a further wrinkle that needs to be considered. A common complaint against D&D now that Appendix N is more widely known is that the game fails to emulate its source material. What class is Conan or the Gray Mouser? What level was Gandalf ("Fifth!" Yeah, yeah ...)? Where are all the dungeons? And so on. The problem with these questions, as I see it, is that D&D was never intended to emulate its sources at all. Rather, it took inspiration from them. Read the quote from Gygax above. The fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons is its own thing, just as the sci-fi of Traveller is its own thing, even though, in both cases, their creators looked to certain authors and books for the seeds of the ideas that would blossom into their creations. So, D&D is no more meant to emulate the Hyborian Age than Traveller is meant to emulate the Technic Civilization and I think it's silly to criticize either for failing to do so. That was never the intention of their creators.
The problem, I think, is that, at some point, as RPG designers became more self-aware of what they were doing, emulation came to replace -- or at least overshadow -- inspiration. I'm honestly not sure what the first RPG was where genre emulation was explicitly a design goal. Champions perhaps? Even then, it wasn't the only goal, merely one of several, but, over the years, it seems to have become much more prevalent to the point that designers use "genre emulation" as an explanation for why certain rules work the way they do.
None of this is intended to denigrate emulation, only to point out that there's a difference between being inspired by a book or a movie and trying to emulate that book or that movie. There is no contradiction in saying that D&D was inspired by The Dying Earth and yet have a magic system that doesn't closely match the one Jack Vance describes there. Based on their own words, neither Arneson nor Gygax intended for D&D to emulate any specific work of art, which is why you get weird stuff like the cleric class, which takes bit and pieces of several different characters and ideas from multiple media and brings them together into something unlike any of its inspirations.