Robert E. Howard and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D

Robert E. Howard and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D

Weird Tales July 1936 Red NailsGary Gygax’s famous Appendix N, the list of titles he considered essential reading for Dungeon Masters hoping to create authentic adventures for their players, is perhaps the purest distillation of the literary recipe at the heart of modern adventure gaming.

Gygax put Appendix N in the back of his Dungeon Master’s Guide in 1979. Read all the writers on that list and you’ll understand the creative gestalt underlying 20th Century fantasy that eventually exploded into Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.

That’s the theory, anyway. Plenty of people have tried it. It’s sort of the gamer’s version of going walkabout. Immerse yourself in Appendix N and spiritual understanding will be yours. Plus, as a bonus, you end up with a rockin’ library.

Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode are attempting this spiritual journey together, and they’re chronicling it at They begin with a look at Robert E. Howard’s Conan story “Red Nails,” originally published in the July 1936 issue of Weird Tales:

There is a giant mega-dungeon; it hardly gets more D&D than that. The two elements that really strike home here in terms of inspiration are the populated dungeons as its own character of rivalry and strife, and black magic. The city as one massive labyrinth is great, as is the characterization of its architecture & embellishment — gleaming corridors of jade set with luminescent jewels, friezes of Babylonianesque or Aztecish builders — but it is the logic of the city that shines brightest to me. “Why don’t the people leave?” There are dragons in the forest. “What do the people eat?” They have fruit that grows just off the air. “Where do all these monsters come from?” There are crypts of forgotten wizard-kings. There is a meaningful cohesion to the place; Howard manages to stitch dinosaurs, radioactive skulls, Hatfields and McCoys, and ageless princesses into something cogent.

The two have promised to “look at Gygax’s favorite authors and reread one per week, in an effort to explore the origins of Dungeons & Dragons and see which of these sometimes-famous, sometimes-obscure authors are worth rereading today.”

Well worth a look. Check out the first installment here.

The list of authors Mordicai and Tim have covered includes:

Leigh Brackett and J.R.R. Tolkien
Margaret St. Clair and Andrew Offutt
Lord Dunsany and Philip José Farmer
H.P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt
Manly Wade Wellman and Fletcher Pratt
Fredric Brown and Stanley G. Weinbaum
John Bellairs and Fred Saberhagen
Jack Williamson and Lin Carter
Andre Norton and Michael Moorcock
L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, and Gardner Fox
Roger Zelazny and August Derleth
Jack Vance
Fritz Leiber and Edgar Rice Burroughs
Sterling E. Lanier
Poul Anderson
Robert E. Howard

See the complete list here.

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Joe H.

I recently picked up a book by Margaret St. Clair — I think she’s the only author on the list I haven’t read (even if I haven’t necessarily read all of the specific titles he listed).

Not all of the recommendations hold up, but it’s still a pretty solid list, at least for when it was compiled.

Joe H.

>But it does beg the question: what would a modern APPENDIX N look like?

That’d be a list I’d love to see. I’d be very happy if they included something like that in whatever they’re calling 5th Edition these days, although I’d be even happier if said list didn’t consist exclusively of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance books.

Jeff Stehman

I think Three Hearts and Three Lions and Jack of Shadows were the only two I read because they were on the list. (Not that I’ve read most of the list. A third maybe?)

J.A. Woods

I came around in the post D&D/pre-console gaming era- or I was at the very least at the absolute tail end – and am always fascinated to see the absolutely integral part that it played in the formation of modern fantasy. It seems
that folks who missed out on that generation of interactive gaming missed out on a colossal piece of the surprisingly complex sword ‘n’ sorcery puzzle


That list was a HUGE part of my formative years as a reader. I didn’t ever read all of the writers, but many of them. If someone suggested etching that sucker into my tombstone, I’d probably be down with it!

Nick Ozment

I think they should reprint that WT cover for the next installment of the SFWA newsletter.

This sounds like a fun list, Appendix N does. Maybe Required Reading for future DMs. Kinda like the lists of canonical works we English profs foist on incoming freshmen?


>> The Dragonlance books were a gateway to fantasy literature for a great many readers in the 80s, but I doubt they’d make a modern Appendix N compiled by any serious editor.<<

The first 3-6 DL books (chronicles/twins) are fine, sure Autumn Twilight is a bit clunky, but no more than most other "first time author" efforts are, certainly not worse than Salvatore.

My personal opinion, is if a "serious editor" would leave them off a list of books for "gaming inspiration"…then maybe serious editors need not apply. 😉

Jeff Stehman

John, did you see the The Caves of Androzani episode of Dr Who and say, “Wait a minute, that’s Shadowjack”? Made it an instant favorite of mine, even though it’s a bit silly.

Ken Lizzi

It seems that at any given moment someone, somewhere, is writing about Appendix N. Me, for example.

Jeff Stehman

John, Caves is a Peter Davison episode. The last Davison actually. (Sadly, that means you have to put up with Peri in order to watch it.)

[…] noticed this is third in the Appendix N series at We linked to the first, their discussion of Robert E. Howard, but somehow missed the second. doesn’t trouble […]

[…] suggested readings in Appendix N of the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide (the first two are here and here). The authors in this list are the usual suspects in fantasy literature: Robert E. Howard, […]

[…] miss previous episodes on Sterling E. Lanier and Robert E. Howard, or see the complete list […]

[…] Robert E Howard and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D […]

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