Friday 13 January 2023

Appendix N.

"Classic : a book which people praise and don't read."
 – Mark Twain

The Appendix N.
I expect there are few persons of a certain age with a predilection towards tabletop gaming who are unaware of what that descriptive refers to.
For those who don’t, the question need be asked: What, exactly, is it? In short, it’s a list of fiction cited in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, books and short stories that “inspired” the creation of Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s best described by its creator, E. Gary Gygax:

Inspirational Reading
Inspiration for all of the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a lad, 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.
[DMG 1e – 224]

* I presume this to be “Entertaining Comics,” published from the 1940s through the mid-1950s, notable for Tales from the Crypt.

He continues:
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. […]

Appendix N.
Inspirational Reading:
Brackett, Leigh.
Brown, Fredric.
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 Camp & Pratt. "Harold Shea" Series; CARNELIAN CUBE
Derleth, August.
Dunsany, Lord.
Farmer, P. J. "The World of the Tiers" Series; et al.
Fox, Gardner. "Kothar" Series; "Kyrik" Series; et al.
Howard, R. E. "Conan" Series
Lanier, Sterling. HIEROS JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz. "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" Series; et al.
Moorcock, Michael. STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; "Hawkmoon" Series (esp. the first three books)
Norton, Andre.
Offutt, Andrew J., editor SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III.
Pratt, Fletcher, BLUE STAR; et al.
Saberhagen, Fred. CHANGELING EARTH; et al.
Tolkien, J. R. R. THE HOBBIT; "Ring Trilogy"
Weinbaum, Stanley.
Wellman, Manly Wade.
Williamson, Jack.
Zelazny, Roger. JACK OF SHADOWS; "Amber" Series; et al.
[DMG 1e – 224]

E. Gary Gygax’s list has provoked much discussion over the decades – in print, on YouTube, in person – as it should, insofar as, I believe, no other game book had ever done such a thing before it. That, itself, was groundbreaking. Moreover, it inspired others to build upon it, as Tom Moldvay did in 1980 in the initial B/X Boxed Set, expounded upon again in 5e’s Players Handbook’s “Appendix E.”
Shall I weigh in on Gygax’s, or Moldvay’s, or the lengthy 5e list? I shall not – except in that the 5e list did not edit those original inclusions that are no longer accessible. I, unlike maybe some of you, have not read the list in its entirety, nor will I ever, for the reason noted above: A number of its entries are no longer in print. I have read Robert E Howard’s “Conan” series to completion, so to Fritz Leiber’s "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" series. I’ve read a great deal of Moorcock (Elric and Corum, and a couple other Eternal Champion stories); Tolkien’s “Hobbit,” Ring trilogy, “The Silmarillion,” and “Unfinished Tales;” and I believe all H.P. Lovecraft’s published works. That’s not much, considering the breadth of Gygax’s list, some of which I have read nothing at all. Thus, I cannot present myself as an expert. Nor will I ever be. To read his list in total would take more months than I would care to invest, now. The 5e expanded list could, in fact, take years; moreover, it is likely that a great deal of it will probably not be to my present taste. Fantasy literature took a turn in the 1980s towards ever faster, more explicitly violent fare than I preferred. That’s not necessarily bad, per say (I was a big fan of the Black Company), but it’s not necessarily good either, if one is inclined towards the mythic, as I was (I read a great deal of Celtic fantasy and what might be called eldritch fiction). TSR novels, interesting at first, being what they were, soon paled in my imagination for just that reason. I moved on, returning on occasion; but my TBR wish is long, and time seems rather more finite now than it once was.

Something piqued my interest, recently, though. I saw a title that drew my eye: Peter Bebergal’s “Appendix N. The Eldritch Roots of Dungeons and Dragons”. Eldritch? That was right up my alley! Full disclosure, I agree with Mr. Bebergal assumption. Is he right, though? Gary Gygax never once actually described the works he cited as eldritch. Not explicitly. To explore Bebergal’s presumption, we first need to define what “eldritch” is. Something eldritch is “strange or unnatural especially in a way that inspires fear: weird, eerie.” [Merriam-Webster]
By that definition, Bebergal got it right, judging from this paragraph from the eponymous appendix:
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. [DMG 1e – 224]
I was curious to see what Bebergal chose to illustrate his point.

Published in 2020, Bebergal’s book is a collection of short stories – 17 in all – that claims to explore that very eldritch nature of the list. It does, to my mind … to an extent. It is by no means inclusive: Not all the authors cited above are included, but one might suggest that the most important are: REH, Leiber, Vance, and HPL. Notable exclusions are Camp & Pratt, and Merritt. Why were they omitted? Perhaps their estates declined his request to include them in his collection. But where their works are missing, others – who many might suggest ought to have been in Gygax’s list – are, specifically Clark Ashton Smith. As are more contemporary authors like Tanith Lee. Most are from the 1930s and 1970s, the most recent from 1983 (a poem), the oldest from 1908 (Lord Dunsany).

Adventuring in a Bygone Age
Are the stories good? That might depend on what you like. The selected stories are not High Fantasy. They are not tales of heroes engaged in heroic feats. They are, for the most part, about flawed, vengeful, greedy reavers who are more interested in survival and ill-gotten-gain than daring-do; they are about sinister sorcerers and horrifying elder evils, very much, to my mind, in the vein of OD&D, B/X, and 1st Edition AD&D, where characters delve deep into decidedly dangerous dungeons, unearthing tombs, and killing all manner of grotesque and mythical monsters. Some read as myth or fables, others are akin to parable; all are written in a style older than those today, as one ought to expect, given their age; although a couple might be described as “cinematic.” One or two might be inspired by higher morals, but none are what I might describe as Tolkien-esque.

Did I like them? I did. I’d read a few before. Most were first reads. I did not, however, care for Fred Saberhagen’s poem, “The Song of Swords,” nor Frank Brunner’s graphic comic, “Sword of Dragonus,” which seemed a pale and paltry version of REH’s Conan, in my opinion. I suspect I liked those I did because, as noted, I’ve always liked “eldritch” fiction. Leiber, Moorcock, and Lovecraft were especial favourites of mine in my youth. Not Conan, you ask? No. I’ve only recently read REH’s Conan stories, and my being more mature, and more widely read now than I was then, found many of them “shallow,” and “childish.” (Granted, they are pulp fiction, and one might call pulp an artform in its own right. Not all are childish, though. I thought “Beyond the Black River” extraordinary.) Most of these stories are not shallow or childish; most are exactly what appealed to my younger self, and thus appeal to my older nostalgic self, although not all are as artful or skillful as others.

Is this collection worth the money? I believe so. It is a good time capsule, certainly, a nice cross-selection of literary styles across decades. Younger readers beware, though; I imagine that these stories are not your usual cup of tea. Maybe that is a good thing.

The Art:
Appendix N. cover: When the Mind is Open the Tower will Appear, by Arik Roper
B3 The Palace of the Silver Princess cover art, by Erol Otus, 1981

Appendix N. The Eldritch Roots of Dungeons and Dragons, Peter Bebergal, editor
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979


  1. I recently picked up the Gardner Fox Kothar and some of the Kyrik e-books because they were on the list. He's known more for his comic book writing, but they are interesting sword and sorcery novels. In particular, he gives a narrative reason for why Kothar is always on the move and seeking new adventures (his sword is cursed, but it's too good of a sword to get rid of). You can also watch the growth of Gardner Fox in the genre because he starts off describing everything in the first story, but he introduces companions in the rest of them to give Kothar someone to talk to. This led to me picking up Howard's Conan stories to give a proper comparison. So much to read, so little time...

  2. Algernon Blackwood was included in the original version of the Appendix N works from TD#4, but was not in the DMG version of the list.

    See for some additional analysis.


  3. My list of what Ive read from Appendi N matches yours, except Lovecraft which I could never get into when I was younger. Maybe I should try again, or revisit the list...