Appendix N for the handsome & conscientious no-nonsense GM.

I’m taking a small break from reviewing RaPl but i promise to finish it after this post. I’m currently reading through the excellent collected stories of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser by Fritz Leiber and was reminded of the Appendix N. For those rare few of you not in the know, the Appendix N refers to an appendix of inspirational and educational material in the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, containing a plethora of authors and works that inspired the creation of Dungeons and Dragons. While I would not go so far as to say that reading these works is a prerequisite for running any sort of Dungeons and Dragons game of more then abysmal quality, I always find it helps to have a basic understanding of the source material before commencing the running of a game. However, Appendix N is fucking large, and not everyone likes reading THAT much. Thus this list to quickly get into DnD with a minimum of fuss.

1. Faffhrd and the Grey Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber.  If there is anything like an essential work, this might be it. A series of short stories chronicling the escapades of the two loveable ruffians, I think few novels capture just what an adventurer is quite as much as Faffhrd and the Grey Mouser. Motivated by greed and a lust for adventure, the two travel around the perilous world of Nehwon in search of all manner of delicious treasure. Establishes many DnD tropes such as thieves guilds, wizards(usually massive creepy weirdo-freaks), crime-ridden and filthy cities, old ruins and what have you. As in many stories of the sword and sorcery genre, Faffhrd and the Grey Mouser are not stereotypical good guys, but instead loveable and occasionally tragic rogues with a fondness for drink who have no problem stealing, robbing merchants or what have you.

2. Conan by R.E.Howard. One of the founders of Sword and Sorcery stories, Conan’s exploits of blood-splattered swordplay and daring-do are filled with old temples to steal gemstones from, cunning traps, formidable cliffs, underground rivers, secret doors, thrown daggers and giant snakes.  Cities are havens of corruption, most people are treacherous jerks motivated by greed, envy, hatred or lust(simple, human motivations, appropriate for pulp villains), Magic is weird and dangerous and supernatural threats are carefully balanced against foes of a more mundane but no less menacing nature(e.g humans, tigers, ape-men). Every time Conan gets himself a giant fucking gemstone he spent the money or lost it the next story. When I think of fighters I think of Conan(or maybe Faffhrd), which is why the Barbarian class in later editions pissess me off.

3. Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance. Probably my favourite of all the works mentioned here, Vance describes a strange, perilous earth millions of years into the future, when the sun has swollen and has but decades left and humanity has been reduced to a few hundred thousand living in tiny sociopathic enclaves with bizarre cultures. Whimsical and filled with barely described horrors born from wizard’s vats, the Dying earth is littered with old places filled with extremely strange and wonderous magical shit to pilfer. In particular the exploits of Cugel, an almost Archtypical rogue, are a must-read. Cugel is absolutely a manipulative but loveable sociopath motivated solely by his lower impulses, and his adventures consist mostly of a hilarious series of intricate scams and counter-scams as he inevitably works himself in and out of trouble. Tales of the Dying Earth is also the origin of the Vancian magic system used in most editions of Dnd. If you want wondrous magical shit with a touch of whimsey this is the place to get it.

4. Elric series by Michael Moorcock.  Moorcock’s Elric is not equally liked by everyone but his influence on DnD and many fantasy games of the era(I am looking at you Warhammer Fantasy) cannot be overstated (though some voices of ill-repute and dubious character whisper that many of his concepts may be inspired in turn by the works of Poul Anderson). Taking place in the mutable and demon-haunted Young Kingdoms and following the exploits of the brooding sorcerer Elric, last Emperor of the cruel half-human realm of Melniboné, the Elric series is filled with artifacts of sorcery, planar shenanigans (that is to say, travel to other dimensions), powerful sorcery, interaction with elementals and lords of extra-planar nature and, of course, demon-sword friend-murdering against a backdrop of a vast and perpetual multiverse-spanning conflict between two diametrically opposed factions(Law and Chaos).

In theory I should add Lord of the Rings to this list since so many things within DnD were pretty much transported wholesale from Lord of the Rings but almost everyone with even a slight interest in fantasy roleplaying games will probably have seen if not read Lord of the Rings, so the recommendation is moot. Lord of the Rings has had such a crushing influence on fantasy it is impossible to overlook. The works above help one to see Lord of the Rings and its influences in better contrast.

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6 thoughts on “Appendix N for the handsome & conscientious no-nonsense GM.

  1. I’m a little surprised to see a Fantasy Lit 101 post here, but maybe I am a jaded old man. And while the blOwSR fetishizing over Appendix N is a tired trope, I realize this post is certainly not in that vein, and this would be very informative to someone unfamiliar with the solid works in the field. I agree with your assessment of all four authors and their creations.

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    1. I of course love litfagging but yeah, not a lot of people in my circles read that many books, especially not S&S, thus this post. I thought back to times when i first read these authors and how they changed my D&D for the better, so i figured why not, some of those people do indeed occasionally read my blog and might benefit from it. I needed a break man, RaPL is getting me down in the weirdest ways(and also time-displaced weekend for great justice).

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  2. My favorite Appendix N author is Jack Vance- you just can’t go wrong with anything the man has written. Even lesser Vance is better than most authors at their best. My favorite Vance novella might be The Miracle Workers, I love the pulp cover with the painting of the jinxman– gotta dig the circuit diagrams on his vestments.

    (though some voices of ill-repute and dubious character whisper that many of his concepts may be inspired in turn by the works of Poul anderson)

    Michael Moorcock being one of those disreputable voices… the Law vs Chaos struggle was a feature of Three Hearts and Three Lions. Anderson’s amoral elves come across a bit like Melniboneans.

    In my estimation, the one H-U-G-E Appendix N figure who tends to be forgotten is Abraham Meritt, with Dwellers in the Mirage being the most Gygaxian thing I’ve ever read, barring Gygax. There’s a bit in DitM which was cribbed for G3.

    Now, because you are the fair-haired Prince, I will reveal the key to Appendix N goodness… STeven ChanG may be great, but margozap is better. It’s almost all there.

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    1. (my spam filter got angry at you again)

      I cannot provide anything but wholehearted agreement with your assesment of Jack Vance, ive liked pretty much everything he has ever written, including Lurulu, and Lurulu is far from his best work. My favourite remains Tales of the Dying Earth, though Emphyrio and To Live Forever were fucking great aswell. Ive been trawling bookstores for second hand copies of his Demon Prince series but so far no luck, ill be taking Durdane on surf vacation with me at any rate.

      [Moorcock]

      Yah, i can see how not just the struggle between Chaos and Law but also the very concept of the Eternal Champion found its genesis in Three Hearts and Three Lions(a fun read but nothing special imho). Were those immoral elves from ThaTL or the excellent Broken Sword?

      [Meritt]
      I had heard of some of his works and i’ll check some of his shit based on the recommendation if i visit the science fiction/fantasy lady on the market for my bi-weekly second hand book binge. Currently reading more Leiber, its been a bitch to get his collected stories and almost no bookstore has them. I got a lucky find and now possess volume 1-2, 4-5-6 of the stories of the Mauser.

      [Doctor N]
      Hahaaa! Thats awesome.

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  3. Ive been trawling bookstores for second hand copies of his Demon Prince series but so far no luck

    People tend to hang on to their Jack Vance books. I know mine won’t end up in the second-hand market until I croak.

    Here’s a link for the Demon Princes books– I don’t know why “The Palace of Love” is such a big file. If I recall correctly, there’s an omnibus. I’ll let you know when I find it. The Demon Princes books have some of Vance’s best villains, and there are a lot of really funny incidental dialogues with various weirdos throughout the books. It also has hadaul, which in this day and age of MMA and reality show fandoms, would become a huge hit if someone were to organize a league.

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