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!
Anderson, Poul. THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH
CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
Bellairs, John. THE FACE IN THE FROST
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
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)
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.
Wellman, Manly Wade.
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.”
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:
- Read every book cited by name
- Read every book in every series cited by name
- Where no titles/series are cited, read at least one book by that author
- 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.
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!