Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Appendix N: I’m Telling You, Something Happened!

Three more data points for your consideration here.

The first from Sarah Newton:

It’s recognisably the same game, with that very specific T&T fantasy vibe (very swords and sorcery, much more Fafhrd and Conan than D&D’s slightly more po-faced Tolkienery), yet with a rules set that was quite revolutionary even back in the 1970s, when, to be honest, we didn’t really realise quite how revolutionary it was.

T&T has retained its pulp fantasy flavor while D&D has been successively reinterpreted so many times it has very little in common with its own literary antecedents.

Something happened. OD&D and T&T were both the product of the same literary inspirations. They both, for instance, treat Jack Vance and de Camp & Pratt as authoritative in ways that do not come naturally to children of the eighties or to people whose views of fantasy are strongly colored by the Sword or Shanarra/Thomas Covenant/Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms/Wheel of Time school of thinking. But even playing the most recent edition of T&T, you get the same pulp fantasy flavor that Gary Gygax prized so highly.

And about Gary Gygax…. Was his taste in science fiction and fantasy all that offbeat? It is now, certainly. But check out these recordings of the Mind Webs radio segments that began in the seventies. They’ve got Appendix N authors Philip José Farmer, H. P. Lovecraft, Roger Zelazny, Fritz Leiber, Fredric Brown, Poul Anderson, Stanley Weinbaum, Jack Williamson, and Fred Saberhagen right in there with all the other greats, giants, and grandmasters that are far more recognizable to present day fans.

Would those guys make it into a similar series begun in this century? Not likely. Because something happened. Maybe the publishers’ decision to drop Fritz Leiber’s back catalog in the mid-eighties explains his lapse into obscurity and maybe it doesn’t. My question is, who decided to retire/exclude/drop/exile/excommunicate Stanley Weinbaum from these sorts of things…? Is his work any more dated or any less original now than it was in the seventies…?

But now you’re like, “hey… calm down Jeff. You’re raising your voice over something trivial.” The maitre d’ is prepping his “excuse me, sir” speech. But I’m telling you something did happen in both science fiction and fantasy. And I’ll tell you how I know it happened, too: because it didn’t happen in the time travel subgenre. Check out the literary inspirations list to GURPS Time Travel. Look at how Poul Anderson and a whole raft of the usual suspects are still authoritative both there and in GURPS Infinite Worlds. Do you see what I’m talking about…? Do you?!

But excuse me for a moment, here. Someone’s come over to my table to speak to me…!

13 responses to “Appendix N: I’m Telling You, Something Happened!

  1. Cirsova September 30, 2015 at 9:32 am

    D&D including its own franchise fiction in its suggested/inspirational reading list is incredibly illustrative of the problem that has been afflicting D&D since 2nd edition.

    Also, I’ve seen some talk about the new Appendix E, but very little on the new “Appendix D: Dungeon Master Inspiration” list.

    Admittedly, I’m not familiar with a lot of these titles, but the names alone of several of these do nothing to instill confidence in a DM shaped by them. Most of this list screams “Dungeon Mastering for Failed Writers”. Also, I find myself strangely enraged by Dave Ewalt’s inclusion.

    It is interesting to see other game products included in this list, though. Microscope is the one title on here that I could say with certainty “Yes, this will help you as a DM,” except reading it is useless; you would actually have to PLAY Microscope to get any benefit out of it (it’s a collaborative world-building improv game).

    Leiber’s The Jewels in the Forest is really all any fledgling DM needs to read to understand the core concepts and narrative structure behind a good Dungeons & Dragons adventure. It should be Chapter 1 of a DMG. Once a DM has “heroes look for and find dungeon with treasure, fight guys trying to stop them” down, everything else is just window dressing.

    • jeffro September 30, 2015 at 9:43 am

      What the heck does story have to do with D&D?!

    • H.P. September 30, 2015 at 1:49 pm

      I think there is a lot to that. The D&D books sold a lot of copies and the cart got put before the horse. The books influenced the rpg modules, etc. going forward, and the books were influenced by a much narrower fantasy market rather than the old, broad, speculative fiction market that influenced Gygax.

      • Cirsova September 30, 2015 at 1:58 pm

        It’s sort of the literary equivalent of several generations of cousin-marrying: everyone has horns and tails and are playing tieflings and dragonborn.

    • jeffro September 30, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      I saw David Ewalt’s lecture on the origins of the game. While I admit to reacting to his D&D 3.5 type session reports as being BadWrongFun not representative of “real” D&D, he struck me as being sufficiently reverent towards the game’s origins and early development that I felt I could dial down my nerd rage towards him just a little. (Man, I’m such a nice guy.)

      • Cirsova September 30, 2015 at 2:51 pm

        It’s kind of like this: Of Dice & Men is like a McDonald’s McDouble Cheeseburger. It’s not terrible, especially for what it is, and there is enjoyment and pleasure to be had in it. But then suddenly you start seeing it pop up on everyone’s lists of “Best” and “Most important” hamburgers and gets pointed out as the hamburger to look to for relevant commentary on the history of hamburgers!

  2. Cirsova September 30, 2015 at 9:45 am

    They may not have Leiber on that list, but hey, there’s a guy who wrote one episode of Spenser: For Hire!

  3. Pingback: Recommended Reading for DMs | Cirsova

  4. MishaBurnett September 30, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Oh, dear. You’re going to get me all wound up and I’ll start raving about how Star Wars Nerfed science fiction and then I’ll go off on one of my Phillip Dick, George Alex Effinger, Michael Moorcock, and Norman Spinrad rants. Science Fiction used to be about dangerous ideas, damnit! When I was kid we read books that messed with our heads–and we liked it!

  5. Cirsova September 30, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Y’know, I found this exchange on TVTropes particularly illuminating:
    People today tend to look at [Shannara] and see a blatant rip-off of The Lord of the Rings. At the time, people wouldn’t have, due to Brooks’ other innovations, including Elves that were human and known to be fallible, a Mentor who was a whopping example of Good Is Not Nice, the aversion of Always Chaotic Evil, the After the End setting and of course, the twist ending (The Sword convinces The Big Bad of his Dead All Along status). The series had the first high fantasy novel (Sword) not written for children to be a commercial success in its own time (that’s right; The Lord of the Rings was not a commercial success until many years after it was published), and Elfstones and Wishsong were numbers two and three, respectively; all three spent weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. This was largely what convinced publishers that fantasy could be a commercially viable genre separate from sci-fi, causing an explosion in the publication of fantasy. Nowadays this is forgotten and the novel’s innovations are so common that modern readers tend only to notice the flaws and the similarities to Lord of the Rings, instead of the differences.

    -When Shannara first appeared in ’77, fantasy fans did see it as a LOTR ripoff. It came in for a lot of derision by the SF&F crowd. Its success came from younger and more casual readers, disappointed because The Silmarillion (also published in ’77) wasn’t like the earlier Middle-earth books. These readers picked up on Shannara because at the time there wasn’t much else in the genre.note The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series reprinted classic works of high fantasy (see note on William Morris, below) but most were complex narratives in old-style English, which may have been too difficult for casual readers.

    I remember reading the first book and 3/4s of the Shannara series right after Tolkien and found them to be quite the hackey slog, right down to the knock-off Nazguls (the “skull bearers” or somesuch). If I could hold up one book and say “This contains examples of everything done wrong in fantasy” it would be Sword of Shannara. Maybe what has been blamed on Tolkien may be more rightly placed at Terry Brooks feet.


    • jeffro September 30, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      This contains examples of everything done wrong in fantasy. Ouch,

      • Cirsova September 30, 2015 at 12:31 pm

        Oh, cool, Lin Carter agrees!
        “In 1978, the influential fantasy editor Lin Carter denounced The Sword of Shannara as “the single most cold-blooded, complete rip-off of another book that I have ever read”. Elaborating on his disapproval of the book, Carter wrote that “Terry Brooks wasn’t trying to imitate Tolkien’s prose, just steal his story line and complete cast of characters, and [Brooks] did it with such clumsiness and so heavy-handedly, that he virtually rubbed your nose in it.”.” – From wikipedia.

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