Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

File770’s Reponse to “Appendix N Matters”

Okay, this is breaking now, but I’ll go ahead and answer some of it here.

Brian Z:

I’m curious whether others accept his assessment that ultimately Le Guin has little to offer to gamers.

I don’t make that assertion. What I do say is that Earthsea really doesn’t fit in with the Appendix N books, Gary Gygax would not care for the hero any more than he did Gandalf, and people that want to replace Lord Dunsany with Le Guinn do not really have a sense of what the Appendix N list is all about.


From when Jeffro writes of the Earhsea books with:

…defeating Lovecraftian terrors with the power of friendship

it is clear he doesn’t understand the world Le Guin created at all. Any DM worth a damn could turn The Tombs of Atuan into an epic game easily.

It is true the Earhsea books aren’t typical Sword and Scorery but that is a point in their favour since mostly S&S was relegated to forgettable pulp magazines and it took someone like Moorcock to pull something interesting from the genre.

Yes, a good DM will know what to do to turn Le Guinn’s second Earthsea book into an awesome adventure. But a mediocre DM will have less work translating Leigh Brackett to the tabletop. The reason for the difference is that one was a major influence on the formation of D&D and the other wasn’t.

And as for the remark about “forgettable pulp magazines”, I have answered that sort of thing a few times:

Please continue in that vein as you are making my point for me.

Next up, Ed:

Sadly, for people like Jeffro, the basic tenet of political correctness (try to treat everybody with a modicum of respect) is just too high a hurdle to get over.
So we have to put up with their incessant whining instead.

That’s a lie followed by projection. Too bad he didn’t double down.


As a Millennial, I love it when yet another not-Millennial writes something about how all Millennials suck. Really. I’m so interested in reading about how Millennials don’t live up to previous generations, and are also a homogenous mass. It never gets old.

I’ll do more productive engagement later, but goddamn am I tired of reading that sort of crap.

Get off my lawn, Meredith!

And Johan P:

Also, I think his classic “why don’t people read the classics?”-harangue is a bit weird coming from someone who’s written a long series of posts based on the concept “I haven’t read any of these classic works until now.”

“Shut up”, he replied.


If Jeffro thinks UKL offers nothing to gamers then he’s an eejit, but then again, he seems to think that someone’s trying to ban him from reading older books, which is a sign of an eejit.

Well if you’d read my piece, you’d know that I recommended the first Earthsea book for people that want inspiration for running “talking with dragons” sequences.

Steve Wright:

I’m sure it’s very nice that Jeffro Johnson is enjoying the SF of the 1960s and 1970s… I remember enjoying it myself, and a fair amount of it does still stand re-reading.

Thing is, though, I read last century’s SF… well… last century, and now, selfish lout that I am, I would like to read new stories. Different stories. Maybe, even…diverse stories, by new writers with different perspectives and different literary cultures from the ones I’ve seen before.

So you’ve moved on from the classics and now want something “diverse” to replace them…?. Say… you’re not gonna try to ban me from reading older books are you…? Because I would like to read old stories. Different stories. Maybe even… politically incorrect stories, by grandmaster authors with different perspectives and different literary cultures from the ones I’ve seen before.

From ray:

When you take away the raging at straw liberals who want to burn all books that don’t contain perfect female multi-racial characters, there isn’t much left of Correia or Johnson.

If you think someone’s trying to ban you from reading newer books, you are some kind of “eejit” or something.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned!


20 responses to “File770’s Reponse to “Appendix N Matters”

  1. Brian Z December 16, 2015 at 9:24 am

    I apologize if I overstated your objections to Le Guin, but I did find them a little surprising. I read those books as a child and, clearly interacted with them in a different way. At some point I’d be I interested to hear you elaborate further on your sense of what should be filed with Appendix N and what shouldn’t. I note that Gandalf was.

    ps. Keep Dunsany.

    • malcolmthecynic December 16, 2015 at 9:56 am

      My understanding is that Jeffro doesn’t object to LeGuin at all, but merely thinks she doesn’t fit with the Appendix N books – a different thing.

    • Cirsova December 16, 2015 at 10:09 am

      I’m realizing now that my childhood love of LeGuin was somewhat tempered by the fact that I hadn’t read a lot of other writers. I still have a soft spot for Earthsea, but having read a lot more of the Appendix N authors now, I just keep thinking “Wow, but these were so much better!” After Vance’s Gaean Reach books, for instance, LeGuin’s Hainish cycle just feels dead and drab. With all of the Appendix N authors on my shelf waiting to be read, I feel bad that I’ve got a big stack of LeGuin I got from a library sale earlier in the year that’s just not a priority at all any more.

      I’ve also reached the point where I no longer make excuses for LeGuin’s newer works; once upon a time, I would’ve tried to say that Tehanu was a more meditative and introspective look at the later lives of heroic fantasy adventurers*. Now I just call it “the boring one”. I’m still trying to figure out why the hell Studio Ghibli thought that mashing up Tehanu with Farthest Shore was a good idea for an Earthsea anime. Tombs of Atuan would make a great dungeon crawl if your party was okay with the big climactic fight be killing a fat effeminate eunuch.

      *:RE Howard set the bar for this with Kull.

    • Cirsova December 16, 2015 at 10:29 am

      Also, even as a kid, I felt disappointed how The Farthest Shore kinda fell apart at the end. It wasn’t as big a let down as Silver on the Tree, but it was still a muddled mess.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool December 16, 2015 at 11:49 am

        I re read Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising recently, as an adult. The ending of the last book makes more sense now that I see the religious themes throughout the whole series.

    • jeffro December 16, 2015 at 12:06 pm

      See this post at Grognardia referencing what Gygax calls ‘heroic figures of the Conan ‘stamp'”.

      This is a very different family of sff, a trend running from ERB to A. Merritt to REH and Leigh Brackett and E. C. Tubb. This strand of the sff tradition is a primary influence on both D&D and Traveller. People invoke critics from the fifties all the time as hating it, but the sff fandom of the seventies did not get the memo.

      Earthsea is an early example of the literary tradition that would ultimately blot out the seventies sensibility in the eighties. It’s okay to love Le Guin’s work if you like it, but the older tradition is what Appendix N preserves and she really does not fit in with the sort of writers that most inpspired Gygax.

      • Brian Z December 17, 2015 at 3:45 am

        Thanks for explaining. I still don’t think Appendix N “as written” was a full or entirely honest accounting – particularly the general absence of children’s tales.

        (By the way, on the subject of child’s play, I realized recently that just down the street from Gygax at the time, Paul Sill and the early Second City players were adapting Brothers Grimm for improv – that can’t have gone unnoticed.)

        Le Guin’s Rocannon was more in the high heroic mode, and while it seems minor placed on the shelf next to some of the works you’ve discussed, it did have whatever small share of influence. I suspect that the probable motivation for giving Le Guin and Earthsea the cold shoulder was not so much that it was unread or uninspiring, but that it was for kids, since Gygax generally didn’t want to go there.

        Also, on the spiritual side, Le Guin was noteworthy for explicitly drawing on inspirations from non-Christian, non-Western traditions. The connection between D&D magic and Daoist magic might be tenuous, but I’d have a hard time arguing it’s not there at all.

        And I’m not convinced it should be grouped with later works on the basis of it not being the kind of thing Gygax says that he was looking for. You could say the same about The Fellowship of the Ring.

        So without trying to kick anybody out of the Appendex N Club, and granting your point that the stories in The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore are not that readily adaptable, I’d still be inclined to leave Le Guin on a supplemental list.

        As for the explosion of derivative fantasy from the 80s to the present day, how people can even stand reading most of that stuff is beyond me.

      • Bz December 17, 2015 at 8:02 pm

        Those who want Chinese influences in the Appendix N style could always read Journey to the West, or Outlaws of the Marsh. Of course, as I recall the Monkey King beat up a lot of taoists after his conversion, so maybe it doesn’t quite fit Le Guin.

    • jeffro December 17, 2015 at 6:56 am

      Fair enough.. Though I do find the inclusion of Le Guin combined with the exclusion of C. L. Moore from 5th Edition D&D’s “Appendix E” to be particularly insulting. Between that and the increase in thief hit dice, there’s plenty to be outraged about there!

    • Gaiseric December 17, 2015 at 10:24 am

      Although there’s a lot of overlap between the Appendix N and a generic list of good, inspirational and foundational fantasy that might have been current in the early to mid-70s, it’s not really exactly the same thing.

      I’m more miffed that the list is missing William Morris or E. R. Eddison or REAL classics like Malory or Bulfinch than I am Le Guin. But then again—that’s me projecting my own preferences on to the Appendix N rather than accepting what Gygax was trying to do. Plus, back then, I suppose he didn’t need to note that kind of stuff, but it was more assumed that people generally—whether genre fans or not—were familiar with them.

      • jeffro December 17, 2015 at 10:47 am

        This is about as hard to get people to go with as Leigh Brackett’s exact level of contribution to Empire Strikes Back, but here goes:

        1) Yep, it’s Gary Gygax’s **personal** list of inspirations for D&D.
        2) But it certainly wasn’t as arbitrary as some people want to make it out to be.
        3) The key thing about it is that it’s Edgar Rice Burroughs was the primary source for fantasy, not Tolkien and definitely not Tolkien pastiche. This is very hard for some people, but if you don’t get this, you won’t grasp what Appendix N is.
        4) That the really old stuff is on there is not an accident. This is typical of the times. (See The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series and it’s overlap with Appendix N. Also see the fact that A. Merritt was on the same rack as Zelazny’s Amber and Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy– all three were published by Avon!)
        5) Print sff was the primary influence of role-playing games. Not TV. Not movies. Not comic books. Print sff ceased to be a primary influence on *anything* thanks to changes in publishing starting in 1977.
        6) Role-playing game designers and the audience for those games would have been representative of sff fandom of the day. I’ve shown that Ken St. Andre read pretty much the same sort of books as Gygax. Marc Miller was also firmly within the ERB-Merritt-REH-Brackett strain of sff thanks to his embrace of E. C. Tubb as a primary source for his Traveller game.

        This is a level of unity that is inconsistent with the “official” narrative of how sff fandom developed. Rather than accept the truth, people will instead diminish the contributions of rpg pioneers and spin a narrative in which early rpg players were out of step with their own times! These people basically bypassed the tastemakers and gatekeepers of their day and ours. For that reason, this is an inconvenient truth to some very noisy people.

      • Cirsova December 17, 2015 at 10:54 am

        To me, Swann is the surprising omission. I mean, Swann’s heroes fight stirges. STIRGES! But rather than be miffed, I sort of look at it like that underground band that even the guy who digs underground bands hasn’t heard of. “Yeah, those guys are pretty great, but you should really check this out; pretty badass but they only have 186 plays!”

      • Cirsova December 17, 2015 at 11:12 am

        Welp, Gygax admits he never read any Swann. He’d’ve probably dug him.

    • Cirsova December 18, 2015 at 10:12 am

      RE: Chinese influences
      I’ve always been under the impression that the “oriental” aspects of D&D owed more to chopsocky films that were growing in popularity in US by the 80s than to any actual specific works of literature. I haven’t actually had my hands on a copy of Oriental Adventures for well over a decade, so I can’t remember if there was an appendix or not. The absence of eastern lit and mythology from Appendix N goes pretty well hand in hand with the absence of oriental elements from OD&D. Samurai and Ninja’s weren’t really a part of the western fantasy canon that Gygax drew from, so they weren’t in the game and weren’t in the list. Of course Samurai and Ninjas were getting hella popular and demand for Ninja and Kung-Fu adventures led to the product.

      • jlv61560 December 18, 2015 at 1:09 pm

        For that matter — if we’re going to address books that weren’t on the N listing, but undoubtedly had major influences on some aspect of D&D, then I’ll put in a vote for Rafael Sabatini!

  2. Kull December 16, 2015 at 9:55 am

    There is something of a teensy conundrum addressing the question what should be in Appendix N and what shouldn’t.

    Firstly, what is the purpose of Appendix N? Educational and Inspirational right? So Gygax was listing his influences so that people could understand the choices he made. If you wanted, you could read stuff from the list and gain a deeper appreciation of the game as he made it. You could let the works in the list inform your choices about world building and mechanics, if you so desired.

    How does that statement sit with everyone? Comfy? Or is the wool scratching the back of your neck?

    I’ll assume we are ok with that. So then, when we talk about revising the list, what is the purpose? Would it be to document the influences of various books on the designers of the current edition? With the original Appendix N you can read Vance and then you understand where Gygax got the idea to have spells go away after they are used. Direct connection. So, with a new list, what are the items including telling us about the game as it is now constructed?

    I think in the new Appendix N or whatever it is called now, the designers listed Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by Jemison. What facet of that game, 5e, is influenced by that book? What design choices or mechanics come from that book? I got it out of the library and didn’t really get into so I can’t tell you. If it is just extremely general inspiration then so be it. The original Appendix N is a time capsule for what gamers and SFF nerds were reading at the time. That’s neat and interesting for its own sake, but how it relates to D&D is what makes it important. How are the books in the new appendix, or another list people would make now, related to how D&D is played? I know people that play D&D that haven’t read anything besides Tolkien and Song of Ice and Fire. That’s fine. But we are talking about the relationship between fiction and game design. In that sense, to serve the same purpose as the original, a new appendix should be centered around the relationship between the fiction and the game. Does the new one do that? I don’t know, its not in front of me at the moment. An appendix N that simply lists what SFF fans who play D&D read now doesn’t tell me much about how the game is constructed. If it is just inspiration then it really doesn’t carry much weight. The internet is not wanting for lists. There are plenty out there about the best fantasy books or whatever.

    • Brian Z December 16, 2015 at 10:06 am

      Kull: my understanding was that we are considering pre:1980 works that did, do or could bring insight into RPG world building and gameplay.(Not replace anything.) That’s why I was a little surprised.

      • jlv61560 December 16, 2015 at 3:19 pm

        But that wasn’t the point of either Appendix N OR of Jeffro’s review of Appendix N.

        The point of Appendix N was to provide the D&Der with a list of books that informed and influenced GARY GYGAX’s design decisions with regard to the game.

        The point of Jeffro’s review was to discover those sources and see how they influenced the game as originally designed.

        UKL wasn’t included in the N listing. Why? Because she didn’t have much influence on the game design. Really, it’s that simple. If you like her, then read her — no one is saying you can’t or shouldn’t.

        Likewise, who says that you can’t read modern SF/F if that’s what you want to read? Certainly not Jeffro. He merely makes it clear that SF and F were both “different” back then, and that many of the “innovative” new authors are merely rehashing old themes explored in the long ago by those reviled older authors. Whether the new authors “innovating” those concepts are doing so plagiaristically or ignorantly is a matter of opinion, but merely pointing the fact out has led to numerous diatribes against the “evil” Jeffro. Really? I mean, REALLY?

        Is considering a different opinion so far beyond the “in” crowd that they find it necessary to automatically attack anyone who dares to voice a separate opinion? Is that the intellectual outcome that self-proclaimed “diversity” virtue leads one to? If true, that’s possibly the saddest part of this whole tempest in a teapot — that anyone would be so afraid of “old” ideas that they must try to shame others for seeking them out…

    • BobtheRegisterredFool December 16, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Hundred Thousand Kingdoms directly inspired the vicious racism, sexism, and class-ism of Fifth Edition. It is vital for understanding why Fifth Edition is so obnoxiously bigoted. Consider Fifth Edition’s problematic nature, and why the socially responsible instead play ACKS, DCC, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, or retroclones of Original D&D.

  3. Pingback: Sorry for the Slow Week | Cirsova

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