Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Jeffro Johnson Story

captainNo no no, I’m not talking about the story of the guy that stumbled into the Pulp Fantasy Canon and then broke the astounding news of the true history of fantasy and science fiction.

That’s last year’s news!

People have been double dog daring me to step up and write a story with increasing frequency. I have no idea if I even have it in me as I’ve only even tried doing it once. But hey, writing is writing. And if the fans think they can actually get excited about it (and by that I mean buy it and link to it and write reviews about it on Amazon) then I’m happy to try something different.

So what do you want…? What itch do you have that is just not being scratched and which you think I could conceivably step in and do something with…?

Or maybe you could look at it from the other direction… if I happened to have thrown up a 99¢ short work up on Amazon that people would totally dig… what do you think it would be like…?

I’ve never really given this any thought, so if you have any input… please lay it on me!

History of Role Playing Games and Early Fantasy Author Recommendations

This latest review from Avery Abernethy is just plain astonishing. Wow!

Interesting book with multiple goals.

Mr. Johnson read the references in appendix N of the original D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. He then ties each of these references into how it influenced the game design decisions in D&D and how those decisions related to decisions made in other role playing games. Both the specific nature of the influence and the importance of each influence on the game design is provided. I started playing D&D in the late 1970s and kept up with the game system and other RPG systems through about 1990. His observations are well thought out, researched, and fit together.

Next Jeffro critiques each book for modern day reader interest. This was also fascinating. Some of the books in Appendix N were largely unavailable in the 1980s but are available now in ebook. The book reviews were right on the money and inspired me to purchase multiple other books which were highly appealing. Individuals unfamiliar with Pulp fantasy and SF will find a good source to some excellent reads. Abraham Merritt, some of the Robert E. Howard non-Conan books, and others were also very enjoyable.

Mr. Johnson has strong opinions on both game designs and fantasy literature. His opinions are based on fact and he provides enough detail that the reader can determine if the recommendation fits their individual tastes. He does so without giving away the major plot or book results.

Few books provide history, critiques and recommendations in one package. Doing one well is a challenge and attempting all three would be a disaster for most authors. But Mr. Johnson pulls this off. If you are interested in RPGs in general, D&D specifically, or want some reading recommendations from authors from the 1910s to the 1970s this is an excellent place to start.

Update: Fantastic Insight, Doing the Hard Stuff, and Problematic Titles

Okay, a lot going on right now. But here are a few highlights.

First up, the latest rave review on Amazon:

On one level, this book provides some fantastic insight into the stories that influenced the development of the granddaddy of all role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons. If you are a gamer, it succeeds on that level alone. Jeffro Johnson provides plenty of advice for gamers based on the ideas from these stories. This was fascinating to me as a gamer, because I always believed that Appendix N of the Dungeon Master’s Guide was there more as cover for Gary Gygax as his company drew fire from the Tolkien Estate’s Lawyers. As it turns out, a lot of the criticisms leveled against D&D for how poorly it simulates Tolkienesque fantasy (which, after around 1980 or so, became something of the definition of the fantasy genre) is probably because it was never intended to do that. The game drew from a wealth of source material, I now believe, and as Johnson illustrates in great detail here.

But the book succeeds spectacularly on a completely different level, and that is shining a light on the wealth of fantasy stories of the early-to-mid 20th century which was largely forgotten about, hidden by Tolkien’s shadow. In the 1950s, it was unimaginable that some of these classic stories could be forgotten, and yet a couple of decades later, these pulp classics (and, admittedly, some less-than-classics) have been largely forgotten and lost in an era of the new. We’ve forgotten our roots as fans of fantasy stories, and Johnson helps us rediscover them. While I was familiar with some of them, especially the awesome Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (and others), Burrough’s Barsoom series, and Leigh Brackett’s space opera, there’s a lot more to be discovered here.

You’d think a book consisting mainly of book reviews wouldn’t be all that great, but I was thoroughly intrigued.

Next… a truly epic interview with Schuyler Hernstrom has this nugget:

I found out about it from Jeffro Johnson’s blog . That was a piece of luck right there. I’ve never gotten in on the ground floor of anything. We’ve been talking about my writing but nothing ever happens without guys like Jeffro and Alex of Cirsova doing the hard stuff. Jeffro has been pounding the pavement, hunting for stuff and boosting signals for years. And it has culminated in the Appendix N book. What a great story that is. And Alex just wakes up and decides to make a magazine. I’m happy if I make it to the gym. A couple other high energy guys, Jon Mollison, Jasyn Jones, big brains like The Frisky Pagan and Nathan Housely, other writers and bloggers, and something exists which didn’t before. When I started writing it was purely for me. I doubted I would find an audience. Now I find myself involved in a whole movement. It is a beautiful thing.

Finally, a couple of questions from Havard, a respected name in the old school game blog scene if there ever was one:

I always find it interesting when people are making a serious effort to research the early influences of our hobby. I might check this book out. It does look like this person (whom I have never heard of?) has take his time to do the research.

I do find the title somewhat problematic for two reasons:

1) If you are going to look into the origins of D&D, you need to investigate both D&D co-creators and probably some of the other people involved as well.
2) To what extent was really literature the most important influence of D&D? My impression is that Gary was a gamer much more than a literate. Elements found in books surely appear in D&D, but based on some of his statements, it also seems that Gary had a tendency of evaluating literature based on what would be useful in a game or not.

Many of Gary’s later statements about fantasy literature are clearly influenced by the commercial interests of TSR, including his negative opinion on Tolkien (TSR was involved in a legal battle with the Tolkien estate at the time) and his high praise of Fritz Leiber (Leiber was Gary’s friend and allowed him to use the Lankhmar stuff in D&D). I wonder if one of the primary functions of Appendix N might not have been to send the Tolkien Estate a message?

I wonder if this book goes into any of these issues at all, or whether it simply takes the appendix and investigates the novels listed there?

Okay, answers!

This is a big book focused entirely on the stories that inspired the game. Nothing like it has ever been done before. Meanwhile there are more than a few books that dig into the game’s co-creators. If I’d covered that ground again, I would not have done as good a job as some of the other historians and biographers out there… and I probably would not have brought much of anything new to the table.

As to the question of how much the literature influenced D&D and how much of that was a smokescreen to throw off the Tolkien estate… well, my book is the most comprehensive treatment of that subject you’ll find anywhere. The fact that this is even a question is really why this book even needed to be written in the first place.

People that don’t look into source material of D&D just see something that is “hardly original” and that “lifts liberally from Tolkien.” There’s so much more to the genesis of the game and the history of fantasy and science fiction than that!

And yes, it did take an entire book to break the story that was bound up into all of this.

Critics Criticize Best Selling Literary Critic for Critiquing: News at Eleven!

With this past week there has been an uptick in criticism of my criticism. The subtext is “all you do is tear down” and “you’re not cool like us actual content creators.” This is not only unnecessarily insulting, it is baloney. I will prove it to you.

I am recovering a canon for a field that has been destroyed. The problem with my critics is that they do not actually care about the field I work to build up. If they did, they would be able to list off fiction published in 2016 that is as good or better than what is on my list. But they can’t and they won’t because they are here to keep me in check, not to do the time consuming and exhausting work that I do.

What do I do exactly? I read science fiction and fantasy and then I get up at two o’clock in the morning to compare it to forgotten classics and current cultural trends. And this goes right past you. “Nothing to see here,” you declare. You see the critical aspect of what I do without acknowledging the building that goes on. And like basically every professional author right now, you act like creating a rival to the establishment sff blogs is a useless or even unworthy endeavor.

You think it’s nothing. But you can’t or won’t do what I do. You can’t point to specific works of fiction from 2016 that people really ought to read. Why is that? Well one, the field has been destroyed so you don’t read. Two… you are inherently bigoted towards criticism in general. You think it’s a non-activity or an anti-activity.

So you show up to someone that is doing something in order to lecture him on how he’s not doing anything. It’s pure projection. You either think that nothing should be done… or else you think that something ought to be done but it has to follow some sort of hyper-unrealistic script that you choose to judge me by. What I’m saying is… this script that you’re pushing is equivalent to “nothing should be done.” And you don’t see it. You won’t see it.

I don’t understand why you feel impelled to do this. But it really doesn’t make sense. For as long as I keep talking… the only true counter to what I’m saying is to do what I do, but do it better. Which you can’t do, because you don’t actually care. So you essentially retreat into, “stop doing what you’re doing, Jeff.” Which is the only way you win this exchange, isn’t it?

Not a very compelling argument, y’all.

Looking for More Short Fiction Suggestions

Hey y’all. Fancast, Fanzine, and Fan Writer are all getting appropriate amounts of love in the shortlists this year. BUT THE SHORT FICTION CATEGORIES DESERVE MORE. Please give me your recommendations for the best Pulp Revolution short fiction of 2016. And if somebody groks the Hugos, please let me know if the suggestions are eligible and are in the right slot. WARNING: I did not ask permission to do this!

P. Alexander reminds us of the Cirsova eligibility post.

Jon Mollison suggests “Athan and the Princess” from Schuyler Hernstrom’s collection Thune’s Vision, though Alex prefers “Saga of Adalwulf”.

Misha Burnette’s “Hill of Stars” is another favorite.

Current lists of stories that I know of right off are the Planetary Awards, Sad Pookas, and Rabid Puppies… but I want MOAR!!!

Please mention your favorites in the comments here.