Originally this was a vast laundry list of novels that have had some influence on what inspires me when I run, read, write and play rpgs but it was rewritten to both A) reflect material that has had an enduring influence on my writing and gaming over a prolongued period of time B) parse it down somewhat since time is limited and there is only so much you can read on this earth.
What follows is a list of classical works of history and mythology, which serves as the primary inspiration for my gaming. This is supplemented by a fairly standard list of supplementary works, the majority being derived from Appendix N. Non-appendix N fantastic works are arbirarily divided into pre- and post 70s year of publication.
Of the Classics I will recommend Homer’s The Odyssey as the most all encompassing in terms of giving an impression of living in an ancient world of kings, honor, mythological creatures & the whims of fickle gods.
Of Appendix N I can heartily point to R.E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance & Abraham Merrit as the quartet of writers that strike most at the essence of what DnD is about. To this I would add the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien as essential supplementary material.
If there was one pre-70s author of fantastic fiction that I could recommend, it would probably be E.R.R. Eddison, whose mastery of language and stirring heroic tales are second to none.
In terms of post-70s authors, I would point to the writings of R.Scott Bakker as being most influential on my gaming and writing.
Homer – The Illiad, The Odyssey
Luo Ghuanzhong – The Romance of the Three Kingdoms
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Werner Goëthe – Faust
Dante – The Inferno
John Milton – Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained
The Ramayana (abridged version, R.K. Narayan)
Alexandre Dumas – The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Christo
Thuycidides – History of the Peloponesian War
Tacitus – Germanica
Snorri Stürleson – Egil’s Saga (E.R.R. Eddison translation)
Sir Gawain & the Green Knight
Appendix N(or affiliated)
H.P Lovecraft – (The Mound, At the Mountains of Madness, Call of Cthulhu, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Shadow Out of Time, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Within the Walls of Eryx, The Shadow over Innsmouth, Pickman’s Model et. al.).
Fritz Leiber – Faffhrd & the Grey Mouser series (ignore Knight and Knave of Swords collection)
R.E Howard – Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn (“Worms of the Earth”), Kull, “Children of the Night”, “The Black Rock”, “Wolfshead” et. al.)
J.R.R Tolkien – The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin
J.Vance – The Dying Earth series, Lyonesse trilogy
F.Pratt & L.S. de Camp – Harold Shea series
A. Merrit – Dwellers in the Mirage, The Moon Pool, The Ship of Ishtar, The Metal Monster, The Fox Women
R. Zelazny – Amber series, Lord of Light
M. Moorcock – Hawkmoon (first trilogy), Corum, Elric (Elric of Melniboné, The Dreaming City, Fortress of the Pearl, While the Gods Laugh, Sailor on the Seas of Fate, the Sleeping Sorceress, Stormbringer), Erëkose, “The Greater Conqueror”
P.Anderson – The Broken Sword, The High Crusade, Three Hearts & Three Lions
Lord Dunsany – The Gods of Pegana, Time & The Gods, The King of Elfland’s Daughter
S. Lanier – Hiero’s Journey
Misc. Fantasy/SF (pre 70s)
E.R.R Eddison – The Worm Ouroboros
M. Peake – Ghormenghast series
D. Lindsey – A Voyage to Arcturus
William Barton – Vathek
B. Strugatsky – Roadside Picnic
W.H. Hodginson – The House on the Borderland, the Night Land
B. Stoker – Dracula
Robert W. Chambers – The King in Yellow
J.Verne – Journey to the Centre of the Earth
C. Smith – The Instrumentality of Man
C.A. Smith – Zothique, Poseidonis, Xiccarph, Averoigne, Hyperborea
B.J.Bayley – The Garments of the Caean, The Grand Wheel, the Seed of Evil, Knights of the Limits, The Fall of Chronopolis, The Soul of the Robot
J.G. Ballard – Vermillion Sands, The Crystal World, Chronopolis (collection)
A.E. Vogt – World of Null-A, Players of Null-A
Misc. Fantasy/SF (post 70s)
R.Scott Baker – The Prince of Nothing Series, the Aspect-Emperor Series
M. J. Harrison – Viriconium, The Centauri Device
G. Wolfe – Book of the New Sun
F. Herbert – Dune series
C. Mevielle – Perdido Street Station
L. Sharp – God Killers
P.K.Dick – Valis, Ubik, Eye in the Sky, the Penultimate Truth, The three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch et. al.
R. Aspirin – Thieves World (first 2 books)
M. Chrichton – Eaters of the Dead
K.E. Wagner – Dark Crusade, Bloodstone, Darkness Weaves, Death’s Angels Shadow
L.Niven – Ringworld, Ringworld Engineers, The Legacy of Heorot
T. Lee – Storm Lord, Anackire, Birthgrave
O. Gluhkovsky – Metro 2033, Metro 2034
R.Pinto – Stone Dance of the Chameleon series
G.R.R. Martin – Game of Thrones series
D. Simmons – Illium, Olympus, Hyperion, The Terror
A.H.Smith – Grey Maiden
P.Watts – Blindsight, Echopraxia
S. King – Dark Tower series, The Shining
J.C. Wright – Null-A Continuum
A. Sapkowski – Witcher series
Alistair Rennie – Bleakwarrior
C. Mcarthy – Blood Meridian
Comics & Manga
Kentaro Miura – Berserk
Tsumoto Nihei – Blame!
Hiroya Oku – Gantz
D. Lawrence – Storm (original run)
Philipe Druillet – Loane Sloane
S.Abernathy – Atomika: God is Red
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (animu)
For more lowbrow or derivative works that nevertheless manage to convey and sustain a great deal of atmosphere and flavor in their make-up, I would be remiss if I did not point people to Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy, the Dark Souls series, the Castlevania series and the Darkest Dungeon video game.