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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!

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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!

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Books Reading Appendix N

The size of the bite

I dropped by the only large used bookstore I know of in Salt Lake City during my lunch break, Weller Book Works, and while I didn’t buy any new Appendix N books I did learn something: If I stick my goal to read every work by all of the authors in Appendix N, or even just all of their fantasy and SF work, this is a shitload of reading.

To take just one author — the one who led me to realize just what that goal entailed — Andre Norton has written like a billion books. Others are also quite prolific, like Fred Saberhagen, L. Sprague de Camp, and Leigh Brackett; reading every book they wrote is a serious challenge.

That’s not a bad thing, but it’s a goal so large in scope that I would run the risk of feeling overwhelmed and giving up. I’ve decided to limit the scope of this project to the works listed in Appendix N, plus one work for every author for whom Gary didn’t list a title/series. I’ve amended the original Reading Appendix N post accordingly.

Better lists

Prowling the aisles with Appendix N open on my phone, I also realized I need a to-buy list other than the appendix itself — and a couple more lists to boot.

For example, Andre Norton again: Which book should I start with? A little research suggested the first Witch World novel, but there’s no reason to look that up every time I’m in a bookstore. I’d also love to have a list where I could track the books I own and the ones I’ve read.

Those lists will be the subject of future posts.

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Books Reading Appendix N

Reading Appendix N: The project, the appendix, and the goal

Back in July, I started a project with a simple goal:

Read every book listed by Gary Gygax in Appendix N of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide.

I started reading Appendix N books because I wanted to gain insight into the roots of the hobby, and of D&D in particular, and kept reading them because this is an awesome list of books. I respect Gary Gygax and his work a great deal, and it’s neat to discover how much our taste in books and some of our childhood experiences overlap. I love that Appendix N includes authors I’d never heard of, and books I’d never have considered on my own, in addition to well-known works and things I’d read before discovering it.

Having a simple, clearly defined goal in mind has already helped me stay on track when I could easily have been distracted by the oodles of other shiny books in my teetering, ever-growing to-read stack. That’s part of why I’m embarking on this project as a project, and blogging about it, rather than just reading these books without a goal and guidelines (which, of course, would also be a fine way to approach Appendix N!).

Delving into Appendix N has been a fun and rewarding experience so far, and it occurred to me that other gamers, readers, and fans of fantasy and sci-fi might also be new to Appendix N and want to take a stab at reading some or all of its referenced works. “Reading Appendix N” is my ongoing series of blog posts about doing just that, of which this is the first.

What’s Appendix N?

At the end of the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979), Gary Gygax included a host of appendices — A through P. All of them provide extra stuff for the game, things like wandering monster tables, dungeon dressing, and the like, except one: Appendix N.

That one, as I’ve discovered over the past few weeks, is a treasure trove of incredible books. Appendix N is only half a page long, but it’s jam-packed with goodness. Here it is in its entirety:

APPENDIX N: INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING

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 Long. 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!

Inspirational Reading:

Anderson, Poul. THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH
    CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
Bellairs, John. THE FACE IN THE FROST
Brackett, Leigh.
Brown, Fredric.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice. “Pellucidar” Series; Mars Series; Venus Series
Carter, Lin. “World’s End” Series
de Camp, L. Sprague. LEST DARKNESS FALL; FALLIBLE FIEND; et al.
de Camp & Pratt. “Harold Shea” Series; CARNELIAN CUBE
Derleth, August.
Dunsany, Lord.
Farmer, P. J. “The World of Tiers” Series; et al.
Fox, Gardner. “Kothar” Series; “Kyrik” Series; et al.
Howard, R. E. “Conan” Series
Lanier, Sterling. HIERO’S JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz. “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” Series; et al.
Lovecraft, H. P.
Merritt, A. CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE
    MIRAGE; et al.
Moorcock, Michael. STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; “Hawkmoon”
    Series (esp. the first three books)
Norton, Andre
Offutt, Andrew J., editor SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III.
Pratt, Fletcher, BLUE STAR; et al.
Saberhagen, Fred. CHANGELING EARTH; et al.
St. Clair, Margaret. THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
Tolkien, J. R. R. THE HOBBIT; “Ring Trilogy”
Vance, Jack. THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al.
Weinbaum, Stanley.
Wellman, Manly Wade.
Williamson, Jack.
Zelazny, Roger. JACK OF SHADOWS; “Amber” Series; et al.

The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, REH, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, HPL, and A. Merritt; but all of the above authors, as well as many not listed, certainly helped to shape the form of the game. For this reason, and for the hours of reading enjoyment, I heartily recommend the works of these fine authors to you.”

The project

Appendix N lists 28 authors, 22 specific titles, and 12 specific book series. With regard to the authors, Gary recommends “all their fantasy writing,” and he includes “et al” for some authors — which I take to mean Just go read all of their books, they’re excellent.

Once I had bought and read my first book from Appendix N explicitly as part of this project — Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld — I realized I needed some guidelines to keep me focused and on track. Here’s how I’m approaching this project:

  1. Read every book cited by name
  2. Read every book in every series cited by name
  3. Where no titles/series are cited, read at least one book by that author
  4. If the first book in a series, or by an author, is godawful, consider skipping the rest — but it has to be really bad

I haven’t broken out every series by title to see how many books this actually is, but my guess is around a hundred. But where to start?

Tier one of Appendix N

Because my initial goal was to learn more about the origins of D&D, I came up with a “Tier One” reading list based on Gary’s closing paragraph: the works he cites as having “helped to shape the form of the game.”

Here’s Tier One:

  • de Camp & Pratt. “Harold Shea” Series; CARNELIAN CUBE
  • Howard, R. E. “Conan” Series
  • Leiber, Fritz. “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” Series; et al
  • Lovecraft, H. P.
  • Merritt, A. CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE
        MIRAGE; et al
  • Vance, Jack. THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al

This has proven to be a great starting point for me. I’ve already read everything H.P. Lovecraft ever wrote, and all of the Conan yarns. I read The Eyes of the Overworld, Dying Earth, and the first Lankhmar novel, Swords Against Death, before writing this post, and I’ve already bought a couple of the other books in Tier One.

If you want to give this project a shot yourself but are intimidated by the number of books in Tier One, you could always truncate the list a bit further: Just read one book by each of the Tier One authors. I can vouch for the awesomeness of Howard, Lieber, Lovecraft, and Vance, and skimming suggests that de Camp & Pratt and Merritt will also be enjoyable — so as short lists go, this seems like a good one.

The little banner

Given the number of books listed in Appendix N and how little free time I have for reading these days, this project could take a while. It seemed like a good idea to create a graphic for this series to make it stand out from other posts here. Behold my amazing graphic design skills!

I chose the books that appear in the logo based on their significance to me. Left to right, top row first, they are The Dunwich Horror and Others (H.P. Lovecraft), The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Robert E. Howard), The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien), The Three of Swords (Fritz Lieber), The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien), the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide (Gary Gygax), Nine Princes in Amber (Roger Zelazny), and Dwellers in the Mirage (A. Merritt).

I started reading Appendix N before I knew there was an Appendix N, and long before I became a gamer and bought a copy of the 1e DMG, by reading The Hobbit in second grade. I was introduced to Lovecraft in high school, and he quickly became one of my favorite authors. I got into Zelazny’s Amber series around the same time, and loved his work as well. I tried and failed to read The Lord of the Rings several times as a kid, and eventually succeeded in my 20s; its volumes are now among my all-time favorite books.

In January 2012, Troy Taylor blogged about running red box D&D for his kids on Gnome Stew, sparking my interest in delving into the roots of gaming as a hobby. That led me to Appendix N, and in turn to Conan. I’d never read any Conan tales, and they were excellent — as well as totally not what I had expected. By the time I read the last Conan story, I had decided to read all of Appendix N.

When I finally carved out time to write this post, I was midway through the second Lankhmar book, Swords Against Death, which is part of the omnibus edition in the banner. A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage was acquired when I narrowed my initial reading list to Appendix N’s Tier One, but I haven’t read it yet — a nod to the long road ahead.

What’s next?

For me, what’s next is a whole lot more reading. In terms of this blog series, what’s next will likely be a couple of posts about the Appendix N titles I’ve already read. Going forward, I suspect I’ll post every time I start on a new author’s work, or whenever I have something Appendix N-y I think is worth sharing.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading this post! I wanted to cover all of the foundational stuff up front, and put the basics in one post I can link back to later, which is why it’s so long.

Happy gaming — and happy reading!