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

Friday, June 14th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

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 Tor.com. 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.

23 Comments »

  1. 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.

    Comment by Joe H. - June 14, 2013 8:12 pm

  2. > it’s still a pretty solid list, at least for when it was compiled.

    Joe,

    I agree. It’s not just a fine list of recommended fantasy, it’s also a snapshot of the best in fantasy circa 1979 [at least, the kind of fantasy that fueled Dungeons and Dragons. You won’t find LITTLE, BIG or Charles de Lint on it anywhere, for example].

    So it’s useful for that reason as well. But it does beg the question: what would a modern APPENDIX N look like?

    Comment by John ONeill - June 14, 2013 9:44 pm

  3. >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.

    Comment by Joe H. - June 14, 2013 10:51 pm

  4. 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?)

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - June 14, 2013 11:17 pm

  5. 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

    Comment by J.A. Woods - June 15, 2013 1:43 am

  6. 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!

    Comment by chrislatray - June 15, 2013 12:59 pm

  7. 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?

    Comment by Nick Ozment - June 16, 2013 6:37 pm

  8. > 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.

    Joe,

    Indeed. 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.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to overlook the entire body of work put out by TSR Books, either, especially the books of R.A. Salvatore, Elaine Cunningham, and others. I’d be curious to see which ones WotC’s editors considered worthy of a modern Appendix N.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 16, 2013 9:36 pm

  9. > I think Three Hearts and Three Lions and Jack of Shadows were the only two I read because they were on the list.

    Jeff,

    Funny thing about Jack of Shadows… I read it when I was 14 and quite enjoyed it. Jack was a strange hero, but a fascinating one.

    It wasn’t until two decades later, when I re-read it, that I realized with a start that Jack is the villain. He’s selfish, violent, and wholly unforgiving. His redemption comes only in the final seconds, as he’s falling to his death.

    It twisted the whole narrative around in my head. Great stuff. Zelazny was a genius.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 16, 2013 9:39 pm

  10. > 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

    J.A,

    Absolutely. The impact of the major CRPGs of the era — I’m thinking of BALDUR’S GATE, PLANCESCAPE: TORMENT, ULTIMA VI – VII, POOL OF RADIANCE, the later WIZARDRY titles, and a handful of others — made on Western fantasy was enormous.

    This is something I’d love to examine in much more detail here at Black Gate. Time, of course, is always the demon at my heels. But someday…

    Comment by John ONeill - June 16, 2013 9:46 pm

  11. > 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!

    Chris,

    It’s odd, but I envy you. I’d read a great deal of Appendix N before coming across it in the DMG, so it never really impacted me (other than maybe to nudge me towards Jack Vance.)

    But in retrospect, I wish I’d used it to guide my reading in my late teen years, rather than just buying paperbacks as they arrived at The House of Speculative Fiction in Ottawa. I’m sure I would have had a better experience!

    Comment by John ONeill - June 16, 2013 9:53 pm

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

    Nick,

    Now you’re just stirring the hornet’s nest, fella. :)

    Comment by John ONeill - June 16, 2013 9:54 pm

  13. >> 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. 😉

    Comment by TW - June 16, 2013 11:21 pm

  14. 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.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - June 17, 2013 1:06 am

  15. It seems that at any given moment someone, somewhere, is writing about Appendix N. Me, for example. http://kenlizzi.wordpress.com

    Comment by Ken Lizzi - June 17, 2013 6:41 pm

  16. > 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.

    TW,

    I defer to your opinion, as I never managed to read them. Tried, and failed. But I have lots of friends who really enjoyed them.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 17, 2013 10:48 pm

  17. > John, did you see the The Caves of Androzani episode of Dr Who

    Jeff,

    I have to admit I haven’t. I’m not watching the broadcast episodes of Dr. Who. I’ve been spoiled by watching my favorite TV series on DVD/Blu Ray, and I’m planning to catch up on Dr Who as soon as I’m done with Battlestar Galactia!

    Comment by John ONeill - June 17, 2013 10:50 pm

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

    Ken,

    That’s a terrific post! Thanks for sharing it.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 17, 2013 10:52 pm

  19. 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.)

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - June 18, 2013 12:28 am

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

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Sterling E. Lanier and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D - June 29, 2013 1:40 pm

  21. […] 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, […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Cosmic Horror Skills at Novel Length: A Review of Laird Barron’s The Croning - July 8, 2013 1:15 am

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

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D - July 17, 2013 4:11 pm

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

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in June - July 30, 2013 12:51 pm


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