GrogHeads Reviews Appendix N
Review of “Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons and Dragons” from Jeffro Johnson ~
Avery Abernethy, 12 April 2017
Appendix N is the list of books in the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide that Gary Gygax referenced as primary influences on the development of Dungeons and Dragons. Jeffro Johnson secured these books and read them. Mr. Johnson had two goals for Appendix N. First, identifying how each novel inspired specific aspects of D&D and other early role playing games. Second, Jeffro’s observations on how each specific novel inspired an aspect of D&D and the enjoyment that a modern reader would have with these books which were published from the 1910s to the 1970s.
I’d read many of the books listed in Appendix N both prior to the invention of D&D (Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Tolkien, Zelazny) and read several more after the publication of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. But some of the books were largely unavailable in the 1980s. Additional books from Appendix N had fallen out of print since the 1980s were difficult to obtain prior to the rise of ebooks. I started playing D&D as a Dungeon Master and a player back in the 1970s prior to the release of the hard back books.
Jeffro both uses the original source material and published interviews and articles from Gary Gygax and others which were published in the 1970s and 1980s to identify specific aspects of D&D inspired by each novel. The magic user magic system is credited to Jack Vance The Dying Earth novels. Jack of Shadows by Zelazny is credited with hiding in shadows. Three Hearts and Three Lions is the inspiration for the alignment system and so on. Jeffro thinks that pulp writers like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber were more of a primary inspiration than Tolkien. Though halflings clearly derive from Tolkien.
Anyone interested in how various D&D game conventions evolved and how those conventions differed from other Role Playing Games will have an interesting time digging into Appendix N.
The other goal of Appendix N is even more interesting. Jeffro Johnson thinks that current fantasy writers lack the power, impact and clarity of the pulp sword and sorcery writers of earlier decades. He also believes that many of these source books provide excellent hooks and inspiration for modern D&D and other role playing adventures. Mr. Johnson had not read a number of these authors prior to his project and he became a big fan of many of the adventure pulp writers and fantasy writers of the 1970s as a result.
Johnson is not a fan of all of the Appendix N books. In his opinion, some have lost their appeal to major audiences. Others are somewhat flawed. Still others are great reads, but lack in adventure hooks for a role playing campaign.
I was inspired to pick up a number of books based on Mr. Johnson’s overview. I found a lot of things in the pulps that make great hooks for a present day Call of Cthulhu campaign. Mr. Johnson is also familiar with many role playing systems and his book implicitly compares the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary games.
Appendix N is only available in ebook format. Amazon has the book for $6.99. I found this book to be both an interesting read, a recommendation list of a few authors who have come back into print, and an interesting historical commentary on the development of both D&D and other role playing systems. Many of the books recommended by Jeffro are inexpensive ebook purchases today.
If you are interested in how D&D was developed, how other role playing systems developed, for literary sources of adventure hooks for your role playing game, or just a list of authors who wrote gripping adventure and swords and sorcery novels which have faded from notice, Appendix N is an excellent purchase. I ripped through this book in three days and made a number of notes for future reference during my reading.