Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Appendix N

An often referred to thing in old school role playing game discussions is the fabled "Appendix N". This is the list of "inspirational and educational reading" that Gary Gygax included in the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide, the third and final book of the holy trinity of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. The list included most of the sources from which D&D was cobbled together, oftentimes lifting thoughts and ideas wholesale.
My original 1979 DMG, worn and yellowed

My exposure to the books and authors on this list was relatively sparse back in 1979, when the DMG was published (and purchased). I was somewhat of a fantasy geek back in junior high and high school (yes, before junior high became "middle school"), but apparently my geekdom was minor league at best, everything being relative. Of the things on the list, I could (and still can) claim to have read Tolkien, Robert E Howard (Conan the Barbarian), HP Lovecraft (Cthulhu, supernatural horror), Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser) and Michael Moorcock (Elric of Melnibone). Not on the "Appendix N" list, I had read the first several of the Piers Anthony Xanth series books (of which Amazon says there are now 35!!), as well as the first few of Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey's Thieves World series. Maybe a few other things. And that was about it.
Appendix N, with the patina of age...

Thirty years or more having passed since I read most of the books noted above (Tolkien being the exception, as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings get a re-read every half dozen years or so), so I have begun taking an extended literary stroll down memory lane and revisiting some of these books. I've gotten through the first book and a half of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser... Very entertaining.
Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

I'm partway through the first Conan book... Very entertaining as well.

...and am partway through one of the new ones I want to read; Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. The idea of Law and Chaos, the foundation of alignment in D&D (a 3 by 3 grid of lawful/neutral/chaotic and good/neutral/evil), is based on this book and its battle between the forces of Law and the forces of Chaos. I'm only a night's reading into this, so it's too early to tell what my final opinion will be, but it is not an easy read - too much phonetically exaggerated "dialect" that detracts from the story. But that being said, I am reading this for the historical perspective with regards to the foundations of D&D and not so much the quality of the read itself (although, of course, I do hope it turns out to be a good book). More to come on this one.
Three Hearts and Three Lions

Lastly, and I haven't picked these up yet, I want to read some of Jack Vance, specifically The Dying Earth. The system of magic user spell-casting in D&D is so directly lifted from Vance that Gary Gygax asked Vance if he could use the concept in his game, and the resulting way of regulating spell use in fantasy role playing games has become known as "Vancian magic". Basically, magic users memorize spells, and after they cast them, they forget them, and have to memorize them all over again before they can use them again. I think this will be another interesting one to read...

Funny the ebbs and flows of things, and how this particular rekindling of an interest has led me back around to a time that seems so distant it is almost like the shadow of a memory of something that happened to someone else entirely. Up the stairs and to the left to my room. Light blue walls. Hardwood floors and light tan carpet. Bookcases on the outside wall. Little student desk under the window overlooking the back yard. Bed tucked into the corner next to the desk. Homework is done and nothing particular to do. Grab a book. Flop on the bed. Take a journey to somewhere else...

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