Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Raven Crowking’s posts on reading Appendix N

Yesterday I stumbled onto an excellent blog, Raven Crowking’s Nest, which is also home to a project to read and write about the books in Appendix N. The author, Daniel Bishop, is an old-school gamer with a lot of insight into the hobby, and his posts on Appendix N books are great.

He kicked off with a post full of amazing photos of his Appendix N collection, which vastly outstrips mine both in terms of books owned and books read. Just like when I saw Joseph Goodman’s shot of his Appendix N books, this kind of thing is a huge motivator for me.

He’s also written two posts about specific books so far: a long look at Lavender-Green Magic, by Andre Norton, and a post about Hiero’s Journey, by Sterling Lanier, which makes me really glad I’m going to get to read this book.

Daniel includes notes about how to use these books as inspiration for gaming, which is a really good idea (and one that I may steal for future Reading Appendix N posts here on Yore), and his analyses of their connections to AD&D sound spot-on to me.

I don’t see an easy way to track just his Appendix N posts, although the search bar is an acceptable alternative, but I’ve now read at least 50% of his archive and not been disappointed once — Raven Crowking’s Nest is a blog to add to your reading list.

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Reading Appendix N: The Dunwich Horror and Others, by H.P. Lovecraft

There’s a long gap between my first Appendix N book, The Hobbit (paid link) — which was also my first Reading Appendix N book post, as I’m going in the order I read them — and my next one. One of my best friends in high school, Stephan, introduced me to H.P. Lovecraft by way of Call of Cthulhu (paid link), which he ran for my high school gaming group. I asked Stephan if reading some Lovecraft would diminish my enjoyment of the game, and he said it might, just a little, but it would be worth it; he was right about it being worth it.

I snagged this collected edition, which is neither special or definitive, and read it so often that it now looks like this:

That book led me down the rabbit hole, and Lovecraft became one of my favorite authors. Over the next several years, I tracked down and read all of his fiction — and continued playing Call of Cthulhu, which remains one of my all-time favorite RPGs. My Lovecraft library, which includes several other authors in his circle, spans a shelf and a half in our library. It’s a special pleasure to have a chance to write about Lovecraft’s work in the context of Reading Appendix N.

Why This Book?

Lovecraft is among those authors in Appendix N for whom Gary didn’t recommend a specific title or series. Following my own guidelines for this project, I recommended a specific Lovecraft work based on personal experience: The Dunwich Horror and Others (paid link). Of all of the personal recommendations I made on the 100-book Appendix N reading list, this was the most difficult one to make.

I initially chose At the Mountains of Madness (paid link), which features one specific tale that feels very Appendix N-y to me: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, a Dreamlands story of strange and peculiar lands and peoples. After some deliberation, though, I settled on The Dunwich Horror and Others because it includes four of my personal favorite Lovecraft stories — Pickman’s Model, The Colour Out of Space, The Whisperer in Darkness, and The Shadow Out of Time — as well as the seminal The Call of Cthulhu, and because it offers a sampling of different elements of Lovecraft’s approach to weird horror.

If you’re new to Lovecraft, this book is a great place to start. It’s packed with excellent stories, including many that I can still picture in my mind many years after my last reading (which is true of all the ones I listed above). They’re vivid, creepy, and fantastic.

With a gun to my head, I’d pick The Whisperer in Darkness as my overall favorite Lovecraft story, though it’s in close competition with At the Mountains of Madness and The Colour Out of Space. Here are two quotes from its first couple of pages which, without spoiling the story, are emblematic of Lovecraft in their own ways. First, the opening line:

Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end. To say that a mental shock was the cause of what I inferred–that last straw which sent me racing out of the lonely Akeley farmhouse and through the wild domed hills of Vermont in a commandeered motor at night–is to ignore the plainest facts of my final experience.

…and then the initial third-hand glimpses of strangeness in the hills, reported in the aftermath of a great flood:

What people thought they saw were organic shapes not quite like any they had ever seen before. Naturally, there were many human bodies washed along by the streams in that tragic period; but those who described these strange shapes felt quite sure that they were not human, despite some superficial resemblances in size and general outline. Nor, said the witnesses, could they have been any kind of animal known to Vermont. They were pinkish things about five feet long; with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membranous wings and several sets of articulated limbs, and with a sort of convoluted ellipsoid, covered with multitudes of very short antennae, where a head would normally be.

One thing I love about Lovecraft’s stories set in New England — “Lovecraft Country” — is how grounded in, and evocative of, that part of the country they are. Having grown up in New York, and spent many happy days traipsing and driving around in New England, that region is now inextricably linked to Lovecraft for me. I also love his use of language, which is sometimes criticized for being overblown and overly long on description; his style works beautifully for the kinds of stories he writes.

I also love Lovecraft’s nihilistic universe — the elder gods and things between the stars aren’t evil, or out to get us; they know and care as little about us as we do about ants. It’s only when people begin worshiping them, learning from them, and misunderstanding them that evil enters into the picture. Even 70-plus years after many of these stories were written, that vision of the universe still feels fresh to me.

Above all, though, Lovecraft is a master of the weird, and of introducing the weird into the ordinary world of the 1920s and ’30s in horrifying ways. His protagonists tend to be bookish types, and given to curiosity past the point of caution; the more they learn, the worse things get. Sometimes they can’t help it, as in The Shadow Out of Time, wherein Nathaniel Peaslee’s mind is whisked out of his body and transplanted into a rubbery, tentacled, conical alien form light years away, and quite often they don’t entirely know what to make of the events that transpired, or how to continue on in a world whose veils have been drawn back for them.

In other words, he’s a damned fine horror writer, and his brand of horror is evocative and strange and wonderful and compelling — and it sticks with you. For my money, The Dunwich Horror and Others showcases all of those qualities superbly.

The Dunwich Horror and Others and AD&D

I’m fascinated about why Lovecraft made it into Appendix N, and I can only guess as the answer — assuming, of course, that the answer is other than the most basic option: Gary Gygax was influenced by Lovecraft in a non-specific way, and that influence informed the creation of AD&D. My best guess at a more direct connection, if indeed there is one, is the notion of protagonists ill-equipped to face the challenges ahead, trapped in a universe where the gods don’t care about them, who nonetheless explore cyclopean tombs and alien locales — often going mad, dying, or otherwise being irrevocably changed by their experiences — which matches up pretty well with old-school D&D.

Consider the average low-level adventuring party, little more than peasants with swords and the occasional spell, yet willing to delve into dark and dangerous dungeons, face unknown threats — often threats which far outclass them — and being changed by their experiences; squint a bit, and that’s a Lovecraft story. I could be way off-base, but when I look at Lovecraft’s tales and AD&D side by side, that’s the strongest connection I see. Others, like the presence of monsters and magic, seem a bit too general to explain why Lovecraft is part of Appendix N.

Later on, of course, came a much more obvious connection: Lovecraft’s gods made their way into the AD&D supplement Deities & Demigods (paid link). For legal reasons, the Cthulhu Mythos section was removed from later printings, turning the early ones into one of the best-known D&D collectibles.

Which edition?

Lovecraft was bound for likely obscurity when his work, largely unrecognized, was returned to print and eventually to the American consciousness by August Derleth. Derlath founded Arkham House, produced many editions of Lovecraft’s work, and championed him as one of the founding fathers of horror.

Unfortunately, he also altered the cosmology of Lovecraft’s universe to assign asinine elemental aspects (which didn’t exist in the originals) to beings like Cthulhu, and then introduced his own works to “fill in” the “gaps.” For better or worse, the term he coined to describe the mythology created in Lovecraft’s stories, “Cthulhu Mythos,” has stuck. (Lovecraft himself called his works in this vein “Yog-Sothothery.”)

Between those efforts and the vagaries of reprinting any author’s work many times over many years, and through many publishers, many older editions of Lovecraft’s tales aren’t accurate. Luckily, Arkham House retained S.T. Joshi to edit Lovecraft’s work, and Joshi’s fidelity to his source material is, frankly, fucking amazing. He’s a scholar, detail-oriented and dedicated to preserving Lovecraft as Lovecraft, and his editions are both excellent and definitive.

With all of that in mind, I recommend this Arkham House edition of The Dunwich Horror and Others (paid link). It’s the one I own, and if you like it there are three more Arkham House editions which together comprise all of Lovecraft’s fiction: At the Mountains of Madness (paid link) — which, disappointingly, I couldn’t locate on Amazon; this link is to a different edition — Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (paid link), and The Horror in the Museum (paid link). Finding them used at reasonable prices can sometimes be challenging, but it’s worth it.

Those four books are the core of my Lovecraft library:

I also recommend S.T. Joshi’s annotated editions, which feature notes, photos, and other scholarship that’s anything but dry and boring: The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (paid link) and More Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (paid link). I especially like the photos of locations that featured prominently in Lovecraft’s life and stories.

And, of course, as with most Appendix N books I’ve encountered so far the final recommendation is just read it. It doesn’t really matter which Lovecraft collection you start with — just start somewhere. If you love his tales as much as I do, you’ll quickly find yourself with plenty more to read.

Categories
Board games

Hive Pocket is amazing

Hive Pocket (paid link) is the first game I’ve ever given a 10 after one play session (of three plays). In a lifetime of playing board games, it’s also only my fifth 10 out of over 400 ratings. It’s sublime.

As a game, it succeeds at being everything it wants to be: fun, challenging, and intense — yet easy to learn, quick to play, and possessing considerable depth. As a physical thing, the Bakelite tiles are gorgeous (and functional, as the insects are clear and well-etched AND color-coded, making the game easier to play and teach), the bag is just the right size to include the rules without mashing them (and will work without the rules, as well), and the whole package is perfect.

The objective is simple: completely surround your opponent’s queen bee (the color of the surrounding pieces doesn’t matter) before they do the same to you. Each insect has a unique way of moving, though all must follow a couple of basic placement and movement rules. Part of the charm is that the insects move in a manner similar to how they move in real life — for example, beetles can clamber onto other pieces, neutralizing them. But out of those simple rules emerges a deep game full of both strategy and tactics.

I like the pocket edition because the tiles are smaller (yet not so small as to be irritating — they’re a great size: 25 mm wide and 10 mm high as compared to the original’s 38 mm and 12 mm) and it includes the Ladybug and Mosquito expansions, each of which add one new piece for each player with its own movement rules. Gameplay in all three editions (Original (paid link), which lacks the two expansions, and Hive Carbon (paid link), which has black and white insects and includes the expansions) is identical. It weighs less and costs less, too.

I love the combination of small size and great depth in games, and Hive is the flag carrier for that breed of game. Small enough to play virtually anywhere, simple enough to teach to just about anyone, and a blast to play. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Categories
Board games

My first solo board gaming experience: Arkham Horror

I’ve been curious about solo (or solitaire) board gaming for a while now, and while I recognize that it likely sounds weird to folks who aren’t into board games — and, honestly, it still seemed a bit odd even to me until I tried it — it really isn’t much different than sitting down to play a video game.

Having debated different options and discarded them all for one reason or another, I hit on Arkham Horror (paid link).

I’m a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and of Call of Cthulhu (paid link), so from that standpoint it seemed like a great fit. But I’d also heard that it takes forever — 4-6 hours depending on the number of players and other factors — and has a high luck factor, something I don’t usually enjoy in games. Still, I like trying new things, especially games, and it seemed like a chance worth taking.

When it arrived, I read the rules and set it up on my desk — which it fills almost completely, leaving just enough space to work.

I started the game over the weekend, taking a few turns while everyone else was asleep, and finished it up on Wednesday night. It took about three hours altogether; I played with two investigators (Darrell and Drake, chosen randomly) and probably screwed up a rule or two here and there.

It’s a fantastically evocative game. One of the coolest things I’d heard about it was that it tells a story, and that was absolutely true. The mood and feel are Lovecraftian — shading into Pulp, and perhaps closer in tone to the RPG than the stories — and the flow of the game is unique. I would have been happy to lose, and expected to several times; the story would have been just as interesting.

As it was, Darrell and Drake stumbled around at first, literally clueless, as Azathoth stirred and gates opened all across Arkham. They both went insane and had to recover at Arkham Sanitarium, and that combined with Nodens’ Favor turned the tide. As townsfolk (and Allies, and shopkeepers) fled the city, Darrell became a police deputy and started driving his police car through gates to other worlds and back again. (It eventually broke down.) Drake joined the Silver Twilight Lodge and gathered clues to pass along, and Darrell closed and sealed the remaining gates — sealing the sixth with the terror level at 9, Arkham nearly overrun with monsters. The last defenders of Arkham, armed with forbidden lore, managed to save the city.

And it didn’t feel weird. Really no different than jumping into a video game, prepping an adventure for next week’s gaming session, or any other similar solo creative play-type activity. I’ve always looked at board games as a fundamentally social activity, but I’m glad I expanded that view. Playing solo, particularly in short bursts over several days, was fun in its own way.

I’d love to try it again with a group of like-minded folks, expecting a longer game, but I’m also looking forward to playing it again solo. If you’re in the market for a solitaire-friendly game and like HPL, Call of Cthulhu, or adventure-style games in general, Arkham Horror is worth checking out.

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Gary Gygax’s 2007 additions to Appendix N

I’ve been curious whether Gary ever added anything to Appendix N post-1979, be it books he forgot to include or post-1979 works he would have included if he’d written the DMG later on.

So I did some digging and found this post Gary Gygax wrote on EN World in 2007, a bit more than a year before his death, which answers the latter question:

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.

Update: Over on Google+, James Maliszewski of Grognardia pointed me to another EN World thread (also from 2007) where Gary also adds one more series:

Frankly, I find very few new fantasy books in the general S&S vein worth reading. I do enjoy the “Diskworld” series, and Glen Cook’s “Black Company” novels are appealing to me. Those are about all that spring to mind. The fiction I have been reading these days is mostly murder mystery (I loved the “Judge Dee” series), historical (such as Cornwell’s various series), alternate history, and some re-reading of old fantasy & SF books.

Those are fascinating comments for all sorts of reasons, but let’s start with the books!

The new books

Here are links to Gary’s 2007 recommendations in the format I used for my 100-book Appendix N reading list:

Chronicles of the Black Company collects all three of these books.

The questions

At least as interesting to me, though, are the questions Gary’s comments raise.

Why Lanier’s later Hiero tale but not, say, the second series of Amber novels? Did Gary mean the early Discworld novels, which were partly sword and sorcery parodies, or the later ones where the world shades into more of a Renaissance-like period and the tone is markedly different? Why no comics, when Gary wrote “…countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect” in the introduction to Appendix N?

I wish I’d been doing this project while Gary was still alive, because I’d love to ask him those questions. Not in a critical way, but out of genuine curiosity.

I’m also curious whether or not, as his comment implies to me, Gary’s take on D&D remained essentially unchanged between 1979 and 2007 — because if what D&D was to him did change, why wouldn’t his recommended reading list change as well? I’ve had a complicated up-and-down relationship with the game over the past 20-plus years, so perhaps my reading of his comment is colored by that.

If there are more threads out there like the ones I linked above, I’d love to find them. Gary was a prolific forum poster in the last years of his life, and I bet other folks asked him about Appendix N. I’m glad we have this record of his thoughts on the topic, though — and, if you want to add Gary’s 2007 recommendations to your Appendix N reading list, another few dozen books to read!

I’ve read every Discworld book with the exception of a couple of titles like the cookbook and history (Pratchett is my favorite author), the first couple Black Company novels, and a ton of Piers Anthony that, surprisingly, doesn’t include the ones Gary recommends. After I finish Appendix N, I’ll probably circle back and check out some of the titles from this mini-list.

Categories
Reading Appendix N

Creep, Shadow, Creep and Burn, Witch, Burn

My copy of Creep, Shadow, Creep (paid link) — which I believe was originally titled Creep, Shadow! — arrived today, and it’s by far the oldest physical book in my expanding Appendix N library. It promptly fell out of its cover, but should still be quite readable.

There’s no date to be found inside it, but the first page opens with this fabulous if somewhat dubious statement, making me think it was published during U.S. involvement in WWII:

Today publishers as well as shipbuilders have their part to contribute in our all-out Victory effort.

Here’s a shot:

I also noticed a footnote at the end of the page referring the reader back to Burn, Witch, Burn (paid link), and thereby learned that this is actually a sequel (to a book not listed in Appendix N). I’ve updated the 100-book reading list accordingly.

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Eric Dodd’s excellent essays on Appendix N authors and works

I posted a thread over on RPGGeek about this project, and Steven Robert shared a link with me: Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading: Jack Vance.

This is the latest in a series of thoughtful and informative essays about Appendix N authors and works by Eric Dodd, and it includes links to previous entries in this ongoing series. If I can be even a fraction as engaging as Eric in my posts on individual Appendix N titles, I’ll be a happy camper. You should definitely check these out.

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

The 100-Book Appendix N Reading List

 

 

Hunting down copies of old books for this project has been a lot of fun so far, but I needed a tool to make actual hunting easier — and if you’re looking for Appendix N books to read, you probably do, too. I’ve never seen Appendix N broken out book-by-book, so I decided to create a comprehensive Appendix N reading list.

I assembled this Appendix N reading list based on the common-sense guidelines I’m using for my Reading Appendix N project, so the list includes:

  • Every book Gary listed by title
  • Every book in every series that Gary listed by name
  • For every author Gary listed only by name, one book recommended by me based on research and/or personal experience

To follow Gary’s advice to the letter, seeking out “all their fantasy writing” for authors listed only by name (or with “et al” in their listings), would result in a reading list more than double or triple the size of this one. That list is outside the scope of this project — for all practical purposes, I’d argue that if you read the 100 books on the list below, you’ve read Appendix N. And if that inspires you to read additional works by Appendix N authors, or to complete series that continued after Appendix N was published, rock on!

Notes about the list

The “Author info” link will take you to an author’s Wikipedia page — great for seeing their bibliographies and learning more about them and their work. The “Yore posts” link will take you to posts on this blog about that author and their work (if present). “Free ebooks,” if present, will link you to the author’s Project Gutenberg page so you can locate legal free copies of their work. Book titles link to Amazon, with a bias to collected editions when I could find them.

In cases where Gary didn’t list titles or series for an author, I’ve recommended a specific book based on my research, personal experience, or both.

The 100-Book Appendix N Reading List

(You can also download this list in a stripped-down format suitable for printing and tracking your Appendix N collection: PDF, Excel.)

Free ebook versions

You can find some of the works in Appendix N as free ebooks, notably those that are old enough to be in the public domain. Project Gutenberg is a good place to start, as is Amazon’s Kindle store (paid link), which has many titles for free and sells others for a buck or two. And, of course, your local library will likely have many of them available for free as well!

I’m a print guy, and I wanted to be able to add the books I read as part of this project to my collection, so I’ve provided Amazon links for those who feel the same; if you buy something after clicking on them, I earn a small percentage (at no cost to you). My experience buying used books on Amazon has been overwhelmingly positive.

What counts as a book?

By virtue of the DMG’s publication date, 1979, every book in Appendix N is at least 33 years old at the time of this writing. Many are much older, and a lot of these titles have enjoyed great popularity and thus many reprints in different forms and formats. Burroughs’ John Carter stories, for example, exist in single volumes, two-book collections, and multi-book collections.

While 100 may sound like a suspiciously convenient number for this reading list, I didn’t do anything to make the list come out at exactly a hundred books. I tried to apply common sense to deciding what to count as a book, and a hundred is where the list wound up.

If a title was widely released as a single volume, that obviously counts as a book. In the case of short stories, like REH’s Conan yarns, I picked specific collected editions; if you choose different editions, you may wind up reading more or fewer books. For The Lord of the Rings, which was originally seven books but is best known as a trilogy, I went with what I thought most people would expect — three books, in that case.

No matter how you skin this particular cat, reading every title listed in Appendix N means reading a lot of books. If your personal path through this fabulous appendix results in reading a few more or a few less than a hundred books, no one’s going to call you on the carpet — just enjoy the reading!

Happy reading!

It looks pretty straightforward, but this list took me many hours to build — researching authors to choose representative works, finding the best Amazon listings to link to, adding notes where I thought notes would be helpful to readers, proofreading, and playing with the format until I found one I thought was both informative and uncluttered. I hope it’s useful to you, and that it leads to many happy hours of reading!

Categories
Books DCC RPG Old school Reading Appendix N Tabletop RPGs

The DCC RPG and a reading list

Part of my inspiration for this project came from my copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. The DCC RPG is based on Appendix N, and itself has an Appendix N. In that appendix is this picture of all of the Appendix N titles the author, Joseph Goodman, read before and during the time he worked on the game:

I saw that picture and immediately thought, Holy shit, that looks like fun. As inspirations for Reading Appendix N go, this one played a big role. Something about not only reading all of those books, but also tracking them all down, hit me somewhere primal. “Book + collection” goes straight to my rat-brain.

Joseph also proposed the same common-sense guidelines I’m following for this project: Read everything listed by title or series, and pick a representative work where no title/series is listed. While I didn’t crack open the DCC RPG to use as a template for Reading Appendix N, I’m sure Joseph’s guidelines helped frame the whole project in my mind. Some of the books he picked I followed his lead on, some we both chose independently, and some don’t overlap at all.

The DCC RPG

The DCC RPG is awesome and well worth checking out; here’s the Amazon link (paid link). Even if you never play it, the amount of amazing old school artwork it boasts is worth the price of admission.

An Amazon Listmania! list

I’m not the first to post an Appendix N reading list online — something I’m going to do shortly, having spent several days working on it. This Amazon Listmania! list (paid link) was inspired by the DCC RPG, and appears complete.

I’m in favor of any effort to spread the word about Appendix N, but that list isn’t exactly the kind of tool I need. It’s not in a useful order, doesn’t list individual works by title, doesn’t provide notes or other extras, and doesn’t explain the thinking behind the personal recommendations the list creator made.

I’m also not the first person to undertake reading Appendix N (and I certainly hope I’m not the last!), and that’s fine by me. What I’m trying to do here on Yore is tackle this project in a way that’s useful and interesting to others as well as enjoyable for me. Where a tool exists — like the above list — that’s less than ideal, I aim to build a better one. Stay tuned for my Appendix N reading list, which should go up shortly!

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Reading Appendix N: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

My first foray into Appendix N was in 1984 or ’85, in second grade — I was either seven or eight — when I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (paid link). Of course, I didn’t know what Appendix N was at the time, or even what gaming was; I didn’t start gaming until 1987. But it’s my starting point all the same, and a good one.

It wasn’t this copy; I’m pretty sure it was an old British edition of my Mom’s, but this is the copy my wife and I own now. And I don’t remember why I read it — whether my parents suggested it to me, whether I had heard of it from someone, or whether I just happened across it on their shelves. I was a precocious reader, so it didn’t take much. (I do remember being very proud that I’d read it so young, so I must have known it wasn’t a kids book in the sense of most second grade kids books.)

However it happened, I was hooked. The Hobbit was almost certainly the first fantasy novel I read, and what a great first it was. I think I’ve only read it once since (an oversight I should rectify!), but it stuck with me. I still vividly remember the scene with the trolls, and Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum, decades later.

After hearing all this Bilbo ought to have done something at once. Either he should have gone back quietly and warned his friends that there were three fair-sized trolls at hand in a nasty mood, quite likely to try toasted dwarf, or even pony, for a change; or else he should have done a bit of good quick burgling.

I’m not a believer in teleology, the notion of final causes — of straight lines back from a present condition to some single thing or event in one’s past — but the line from my current interests back to The Hobbit is a pretty straight one nonetheless. Star Wars played a big role, too (the first book my parents didn’t help me read was a Star Wars book of some sort; man was I pissed that they wouldn’t help!), as did Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky (paid link) — my first sci-fi novel, and my first grown-up book.

But The Hobbit was my first taste of fantasy in the classical sense, and a magical one at that. It had maps in the front, and a sense of a vast world waiting to be discovered. And it got me to try The Lord of the Rings (paid link),which I tried and failed to read several times before eventually succeeding (a story for a future post). I’ve always had a fondness for halflings in RPGs, as well as dwarves, and it’s entirely possible that both of those interests started with The Hobbit, as well.

And although they’re not favorably presented (“Should any player wish to be one…”) in the original edition of D&D, hobbits — later renamed “halflings” for legal reasons — did make it into Dungeons & Dragons. And given that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are both in Appendix N, it’s a sure bet that that’s where they came from.

If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend The Hobbit. It’s a quick read, suitable for younger kids, and makes a great point of entry into Appendix N.

The Hobbit and AD&D

It’s not hard to see connections between The Hobbit and D&D — really, the question is why it (and The Lord of the Rings) isn’t a Tier One book, one Gary cited as most directly influencing him when he wrote AD&D. I don’t know the answer to that question; I hope to learn it, or at least come to my own conclusions about it, over the course of this project.

There were hobbits in the early printings of basic D&D, before they were changed to “halflings” to appease the Tolkien estate. There are halflings, dwarves, wizards, adventuring parties, dragons, trolls (albeit of a very different variety), quests, unlikely successes, perilous journeys and many more elements found in The Hobbit in AD&D — and in every edition of D&D, really.

I think there would absolutely be and AD&D, and a D&D, without The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, but I don’t think D&D would have enjoyed as much early popularity, nor spread so quickly, without Tolkien and the popularity of his books.

Which edition?

If I was going to buy The Hobbit new, I’d buy this gorgeous hardcover edition (paid link) from 2007, which is pretty reasonably priced. I’ve flipped through it in the store and nearly picked it up more than once despite already owning a copy. (Update: Reader Simon Forster says the paperback version of this edition includes corrections, and is preferable; I can’t find it on Amazon.) This inexpensive boxed set (paid link), which includes the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is another good option.

Alternately, I’d snag the cheapest old paperback copy I could find. I buy a lot of my used books on Amazon, and anything reasonably popular tends to have a host of used paperback copies for $0.01 + $3.99 shipping; here’s The Hobbit (paid link) in mass market paperback, with lots of penny listings.

I look for sellers with feedback in the 90s whose condition descriptions suggest they’re talking specifically about the copy they have for sale, and avoid the ones with no description at all. As long as the pages are tight and the spine isn’t too cracked, old paperbacks have lots of life in them.

Old books, and books in general

If the fact that I’m devoting hundreds of hours to reading Appendix N, and thousands of words to talking about reading it, wasn’t enough to tip you off, I love books. If you’re reading this, I suspect you do, too.

Old books and used books have a special place in my heart. I love old fantasy and SF covers, with the art direction that amounted to “Draw a space guy and an alien” and the resultant lack of any connection to their contents; the feel of soft old pages; names and other ephemera that you find inside them; and, of course, the smell. There’s no smell like the smell of old books — particularly when they’re old books you’ve read, and the smell brings back distinct memories that are all yours.

Anyhoo, this being the first Reading Appendix N post about a specific book, I figured I’d put that out there so you know where I’m coming from. Happy reading!