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D&D DCC RPG Tabletop RPGs

Debauchery & Dragons: Carousing for XP, 1977 to 2015

It’s 1977. D&D is wild and wonderful and everyone’s doing their own thing.

So much so, in fact, that in that same year two people published alternate versions of one of the core mechanics of old-school D&D: earning XP for treasure.

In 1977, Dave Arneson, co-creator of D&D, and Jon Pickens, who later became an editor at TSR, each published alternate systems for earning XP.

While the baseline was 1 XP for every 1 GP of treasure recovered and brought back to civilization[1], Arneson did things differently in his Blackmoor campaign, and Pickens proposed much the same alternative in Dragon Magazine #10.

I love this stuff, so I want to talk about it here — and about its modern descendants.

Special Interests

Here’s Dave Arneson in The First Fantasy Campaign (which — a crying shame! — isn’t legally available in PDF, and tends to command high prices in print), under the heading “Special Interests”:

Instead of awarding points for money and Jewels acquired in the depths of the Dungeon or hoarding items against the indefinite future, the players will receive NO points until they acquire the items listed below unless it happens to already fall within the area of their interest.

The “items listed below” are:

  • Wine
  • Women
  • Song
  • Wealth
  • Fame
  • Religion or Spiritualism
  • Hobby

The wine rules are entertaining, awarding XP only until the PC is drunk. After recovering, she can drink more to earn more XP. “Song” is basically a big-ass party, with rules for how damaging the tavern impacts XP earned. Wealth covers hoarding gold, which would be a bit of a cop-out (doing that in vanilla D&D earns you XP, too) except that here, if it’s stolen you lose that amount of XP.

Fame is based on dueling and gladiatorial combat — basically picking fights for glory, but you have to go to a big party afterwards. Religion covers donations to churches, as well as quests, and “Hobby” is just that: Pick Your Thing, do Your Thing, and earn XP for it. (One suggestion is “the devising of better Torture machines,” a peculiar hobby indeed.)

“Women” is problematic. Sleeping around for XP, sure — that sounds like fun, and it’s true to the source literature (more on this in a moment), but it assumes the PCs are male and straight, and that all prostitutes are women.

Appendix N is rich with examples of carousing in action, notably in the Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales and Robert E. Howard’s Conan yarns. Lankhmar’s duo and the fearsome Cimmerian are frequently broke, and rarely shy away from wine, companionship, or song. But just that simple shift, substituting “companionship” for female prostitutes, costs nothing and admits all comers[2].

And then there’s this bit:

Slaves of the appropriate type (left to player) may also be purchased with the funds and utilized to fulfill this classification. These slaves may then be sold at reduced value, the difference being credited to the players account.

That crosses a line for me, and it’s something I’d strike before using Dave’s carousing system in my game.

Apart from those sour notes, though, this is a neat system. “XP for GP blown in Conan-like excesses” is a fantastic concept, and despite sharing a publication year with Pickens’ article in Dragon #10, I think it’s fair to credit Arneson as the first, as he’d been running Blackmoor for years prior to 1977.

Orgies, Inc.

Pickens’ article in Dragon #10, “Orgies, Inc.,” proposes basically the same thing:

Instead of receiving experience for gaining treasure, players would receive experience only as the treasure is spent.

He lists five options for accomplishing this expenditure of wealth:

  • Sacrifices
  • Philanthropy
  • Research
  • Clan Hoards
  • Orgies

Salacious title aside, Pickens leaves “Orgies” at “Lusty indulgence in wine, women, and song.” You can orgy for a number of days equal to your Con score, with a cost per day (earned as XP, and then you have to rest for a like amount of days. Set aside the “women” assumption, and I like this version better than Arneson’s.

Philanthropy is about the same as in Blackmoor, and “Research” and “Sacrifices” likewise map pretty well to Hobby and Spiritualism, respectively.

Clan Hoards is a much cooler idea than plain ol’ hoards, and it’s very Tolkien: Dwarves are called out specifically, and they must return home and consign the treasure to the clan’s vault (no withdrawals!). That’s awesome.

The artwork for the article is great, too (though uncredited[3]), depicting an interspecies Bacchanalian revel. I’ve trimmed out a safe-for-work portion, but it’s worth seeking out the whole picture.

Ale & Wenches

Fast forward to the 2008, and we get the best-known OSR system for carousing, published by Jeff Rients: Party like it’s 999. Here’s an excerpt:

At the beginning of a session if a PC is hanging around Ye Olde Village Inne with nothing better to do, they can roll 1d6 and spend 100gp times the roll on liquor and/or lechery. The character gains experience equal to the gold spent. The d6 x 100 standard applies to villages only. A PC could travel to a town or city and debauch much more efficiently.

Where Arneson and Pickens assign categories and break things down in more detail, Jeff simplifies everything down to carousing/debauchery and adds a glorious d20 table. If you fail a save vs. poison while blowing your gold, you roll on the table.

A 10 is “Beaten and robbed. Lose all your personal effects and reduced to half hit points.” A 14 gets you “One of us! One of us! You’re not sure how it happened, but you’ve been initiated into some sort of secret society or weird cult. Did you really make out with an emu of was that just the drugs? Roll Int check to remember the signs and passes.

It’s a light, easy-to-implement system, and it looks like it’d be a hoot in play. Again, I’d substitute “Companionship” for “Wenches.”

Carousing, orgies, and their alternatives

Claytonian JP mashed up “Orgies, Inc.” and Jeff’s carousing system and designed a DCC RPG version tied to Luck. His table is also fantastic. My favorite carousing result is 20, “An evil magic user has some of your hair and flesh… you wake up with a gash and covered in strange runes.

He also spun off systems for martial training, research, and sacrifices, each with its own fabulous, quirky table of delights/horrors. (They’re collected in a free Google Doc.)

  • A 4 on the martial table is “You lose a hand, but now have a wicked hook and intimidation rolls are easier for you.
  • Roll an 8 for sacrifices, and you get “Thou must feed my sheeple. 3 Idiots join you. They fight as henchmen, but they are bumbling fools and will constantly give away your position. Killing or turning them away is bad luck.
  • The table for research is pretty brutal. An 11 is “You attract ghosts like the dickens. Whenever you are in a haunted locale, wandering ghost are twice as likely to show up and primarily target you.

Unlike its predecessors, this system also assigns no gender specifics and makes no assumptions about the PCs — anyone can feel welcome to carouse.

Claytonian’s take is my overall favorite. It’d be easy to port into your own campaign (or out of DCC, or both), and it encompasses a variety of activities without adding much in the way of rules overhead. It’s slick.

Carousing in Marlinko

I wrote a bit about carousing in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, but I want to expand on it here.

What Chris Kutalik and company have done in Marlinko is really neat: Carousing is based on which city quarter you do it in, and unless I’ve missed something it’s an optional addition to the normal XP-for-GP arrangement.

The different quarters of Marlinko are quite different from one another, which gives this system a lot of flavor. In one quarter, the PCs can hit the bathhouse, booze it up, and visit lotus powder dens. In another, a variety of pleasures — from savory to unsavory — can be indulged.

Spend the gold, earn the XP . . . unless you Lose Your Shit, which happens if the carousing roll exceeds your level. Out come the tables, also divided by quarter, and they’re awesome (spoilers):

  • Lost your shit in the Golden Swine quarter? You just joined the Church of the Blood Jesus, and are being held by nun-maenads in their private dungeon.
  • After a bender in the Domesman quarter, you took a purgative and shat your room at the inn so badly that it’s going to cost you some cash.
  • You thought Mercator would be better? You wake up while being serenaded by “horrifically disfigured serial murderer Taurus the Clown.”
  • In the Apiarian quarter, you spilled beer on the wrong woman’s dress, and she’s going to make you pay — hard.

Like Claytonian’s system, the one in Marlinko makes no assumptions about the PCs. As Humza Kazmi, one of the book’s editors, said on G+, “We tried to make sure that the carousing table in FDM was gender- and sexuality-neutral, to avoid the idea that all PCs are straight dudes.

It’d take new tables to adapt Marlinko’s carousing to another city, but the bones are all there.

2016 and onwards?

These are the five published carousing systems I’m aware of, but I bet there are others (and I’d love to hear about them in the comments!). Almost 40 years on, this idea is still going strong and being used in play, so I’d also bet there will be other takes on it in the future.

I’ve never run or played in a game that used carousing-for-XP, but it’s on my list of takes on D&D that I’d like to try.

[1] Plus XP for defeating monsters, of course.

[2] Pun intended.

[3] According to commenter Tony Rowe on G+, the artist is Dave Trampier.

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Books Reading Appendix N

Reading Appendix N: The Chronicles of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

My high school girlfriend introduced me to the Amber series back in the early 1990s, and shortly thereafter to Amber Diceless Role-Playing (paid link), the RPG based on the books.

Zelazny, like a lot of Appendix N authors, writes with economy and punch. Nine Princes in Amber grabbed me with its opening sentence, “It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me,” which hooked me on the whole 10-book series. From there, Zelazny goes on to sketch one of the series’ best characters, Corwin, in just a few pages, establishing him as tough, dirty, quick to heal (very quick, you discover later on), and missing his memory. It’s a great opening chapter, and it sets the tone for a series that’s full of surprises.

My Amber books are a mix of different printings, the sort of mass market paperbacks I devoured growing up:

The core concept of the Amber books is fantastic: Amber is the one true world, and it’s surrounded by an infinity of other worlds whose laws of physics vary from Amber’s. Earth is one such world. The Amberites, the family chronicled in the series, can walk between those worlds in Shadow, and by pursuing specific ends they’ve each become the best at what they do.

If an Amberite wants to learn to play the guitar, she travels to a world where time passes much more slowly than it does back in Amber, where years pass for every minute, and spends a century learning to play. Then she returns to Amber, less time having passed than it takes for a cup of coffee to cool, as the best guitarist in the universe.

Life as an Amberite is a constant political game of one-upsmanship and underhanded scheming. The series is full of backstabbing, skullduggery, politicking, magic, and memorable, larger-than-life characters. My three favorites have always been Corwin, the voice of the whole first series; Benedict, the master of warfare, who is such a skilled warrior that he constantly anticipates every possible threat to his person; and Random, Corwin’s younger brother, an upstart in a family of squabbling gods.

I’ve read the first five books at least twice, but it’s been years since I last read them — probably close to 15 years, I’d guess. Long enough, in any case, that the specifics I recall vividly are spoilers of the first order, and things I don’t want to spoil for you. But it would be a shame to write this post without sharing some of Zelazny’s prose, so here’s a passage from late in Nine Princes of Amber that doesn’t give anything away:

The climate was warm and the colors bewildering, and everyone thought we were gods.

Bleys had found a place where the religion involved brother-gods who looked like us and had their troubles. Invariably, in the terms of this mythos, an evil brother would seize power and seek to oppress the good brothers. And of course there was the legend of an Apocalypse where they themselves would be called upon to stand on the side of the surviving good brothers.

I wore my left arm in a black sling and considered those who were about to die.

I thoroughly enjoy Zelazny’s writing, and his talent is on full display in the Amber books.

Post-Appendix N

The second series, five books that comprise the back half of the Chronicles of Amber, begins with 1985’s Trumps of Doom. It’s post-Appendix N, and not quite as good as the original series, but still excellent and enjoyable. It introduces all sorts of cool things to the Amber universe, and it’s worth reading.

The Chronicles of Amber and AD&D

The strongest connection I see between the Amber books and AD&D is the similarity of Shadow, with its infinite panoply of “shadows” of the one true world, Amber, and AD&D’s planar cosmology, with its Material Plane, Limbo, and many other planes of existence. The planes are described, briefly, and diagrammed in Appendix IV of the Monster Manual (paid link).

Nearly a decade later, the Manual of the Planes (paid link) covered the planes in much greater detail.

More generally, there’s plenty of stuff in the Amber Chronicles that D&D characters engage in all the time: fights, magic, backstabbing, politics, artifacts, wars, schemes, and much more. Parts of the Amber books feel like D&D in a way that’s hard to pin down, and I can see how AD&D drew inspiration from them in fuzzy-yet-signficant ways.

The Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game

Worth a quick sidebar is a game much more closely tied to the Amber books, Eric Wujcik’s Amber Diceless Role-Playing (paid link), and its lone supplement, Shadow Knight (paid link), which covers the second five books.

Amber Diceless is brilliant both as a game and as a translation of the novels into game form. I’d never played a diceless game before trying Amber, and its mechanics are both sound and perfectly suited to the feel of the series. I’ve also never played a game quite like it since.

You start the game by bidding for attributes against the other players. Whoever bids highest in, say, Warfare, is the best in the group at fighting. If you challenge him at warfare, you simply lose; the trick is to shift the terms of the contest to bring your strengths into play.

That notion — that the best cannot be challenged at what she’s best at — is pure Amber. The same goes for the attribute auction, which pits the players against each other in a way that mirrors how they’ll wind up pitting their characters against one another as the game progresses.

Which edition?

I recommend The Great Book of Amber (paid link), an inexpensive paperback volume that collects all 10 books — Appendix N and post-Appendix N — of the Chronicles of Amber.

If I didn’t already own the whole series in individual paperbacks, this is the version I’d buy. At $25 or less, it’s cheap enough that you could decide not to read the second series and still get more than your money’s worth out of it.

Whatever edition you choose, the Amber books are ripping yarns, fast-paced, consistently inventive and surprising, and highly engaging. You should read them, and I envy you the pleasure of reading them for the first time.

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Books Reading Appendix N

Grognard Games’ introduction to Appendix N

Martin Brown from Grognard Games produced a great short video introduction to Appendix N, the influence the works therein in had on D&D — from thieves and paladins to plane-hopping and alignment — and the inspiration those works can provide today.

It’s a bit surreal for me, though: He’s called Martin as well, and is also English, and I recognize an awful lot of the books on his shelves, but he’s handsomer than me and introduces Appendix N much better than I could. I’m also officially jealous of his bookshelves.

All that aside, you should watch this. It’s quite good.

(Thanks to Erik Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern for the link.)

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Books Reading Appendix N

Appendix N: 20 down, 80 to go

I finished Fritz Leiber’s The Swords of Lankhmar this morning — my 20th Appendix N book. I’m not a fast reader, or perhaps more accurately I’m not a hurried reader, so tackling all 100 books of Appendix N is going to take me a while.

“Swords” took longer than the other Lankhmar books to date because it’s over-long, slow in places, and was competing with a minor detour: The Annotated Hobbit (paid link). I’ve read The Hobbit before (and posted about it for this project), but never this edition and not for many years.

After that, it’s back to Lankhmar for the last Appendix N Leiber tale, Swords and Ice Magic, and then most likely on to the post-Appendix N volume of the series, The Knight and Knave of Swords. 20% complete might not sound like much, but it’s a fun milestone — and I’m looking forward to the other 80%, too!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!