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.