Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

A Very, Very, Very Stupid But Harmless Man

I had a feeling of deja vu reading this one– and then I realized that this guy reviewed my fan writer entry last year. I still feel like I should know this guy from somewhere else, but hey… here’s his take on my “Best Related Work” entry for this year:

“The First Draft of my Appendix N Book” by Jeffro Johnson is the only one of these five that I will link here. Johnson writes for Castalia House too, but there is nothing in his work that is particularly offensive, apart from rants about “political correctness” and similar. It is, however, an utterly tedious work — Johnson going through all the books that inspired the original version of Dungeons & Dragons and looking at them from a gaming-inspired point of view. This might even be worthwhile, if Johnson showed any sign of having any analytical ability, insight, awareness of any literature that *doesn’t* relate in some way to role-playing games, or ability to craft a sentence. Fundamentally Mr. Johnson is just a very, very, very stupid but harmless man who is being used for the second year running by “Day”.

Eh… touché?

You know, I get it that not everyone wants to know more about just why it was that thieves were able to climb steep surfaces so well, why rogues so often had spell-casting abilities, why fighters used to be called “fighting-men”, what books were looted to provide D&D’s alignment system, where AD&D psionics and Gamma World mutants came from, and what series provided gaming with High Passage, Low Passage, “fast” and “slow” drugs, the premise of travelling, and even the name “Traveller.” For people that didn’t spend countless hours playing these games and poring over the rules to the many rpgs that were designed in the seventies, yeah… this is going to be tedious.

And I know that not everyone is keen on learning more about the obscure female science fiction author that provided the template for the Gygaxian mega-dungeon or the woman whose work made significant contributions to the each of D&D, Gamma World, and Traveller. Heck, every dedicated feminist that I’ve ever talked to has had zero interest in these accomplishments. But they don’t want to discuss such a pivotal figure as Francis Stevens, either, so I try not to let it bother me.

I will say, though, that I don’t think very many people grasp just how big the body of literature that relates to role-playing games really is. There’s the planetary romance stream that begins with Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1911 and then blossoms with the careers of Leigh Brackett and E. C. Tubb. There’s the weird fiction scene that would have been nothing like what it had been had a Miss Alice Hamlet not invited H. P. Lovecraft to hear the Irish poet Lord Dunsany– a scene that blossomed under the influence of such greats as Robert E. Howard, A. Merritt, and C. L. Moore. There’s the astounding nine decade long career of science fiction grandmaster Jack Williamson and– at the other extreme– the sea-change in science fiction that was a result of Stanley G. Weinbaum’s incredibly brief career. There’s the second wave of “Mythos” tales overseen by August Derleth, the second wave of swords and sorcery writing exemplified by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and Fritz Leiber, and the “new wave” authors ranging from Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny to Michael Moorcock.

All of these names would have been familiar to the earliest role-playing game designers and the people that played their works. They were as familiar then as they are now obscure. That in and of itself is a story that’s worth digging into. But you’re right, the target audience for this sort of thing is probably somewhat narrow. Certainly most people have moved on from such things, no…?

But there is more. There is the whole gamut of mythology and classic literature that would have been a direct influence on writers like Lord Dunsany, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Poul Anderson– some of which would have been referenced directly in the works of de Camp and Pratt and Michael Moorcock and which would have been both preserved and brought back into print by Lin Carter’s work with the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series.

And you know… fantasy fandom of today really isn’t all that interested in this sort of thing. I get it. And I look at the panels and the speakers at the various conventions, and really… I just don’t see too much that’s focused on delving into this sort of thing. Times really have changed!

It really is a fantastically large body of literature. And like I said, the scope of what directly influenced the first generation of role-playing games is tremendous enough as it is, but you don’t have to dig too much deeper to get in touch with an even larger body of myth, legend, history, and literature like Spencer’s Fairie Queen, the Orlando Furioso, and the Kavela.

I think it’s awesome.

But hey, what do I know? I’m just some guy that likes to play vintage games, really. I had no idea that this topic could be this huge and far ranging when I started into working on it. Looking at some of the things my detractors are saying, though, I don’t think they are aware of it even now. Maybe they just aren’t that interested in fantasy or science fiction. If that’s the case, then I can’t help them.

Everyone else, I hope you’ll join me as I continue to delve into this topic over at the Castalia House blog. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface here…!

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4 responses to “A Very, Very, Very Stupid But Harmless Man

  1. Cirsova May 7, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Reblogged this on Cirsova and commented:
    Critics of Jeffro Johnson’s Appendix N series fail to understand why his reviews of classic SFF focus so heavily on their relevance as they pertain to RPG gaming.

  2. Doctor Locketopus May 7, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    “This might even be worthwhile, if Johnson showed any sign of having any analytical ability, insight, awareness of any literature that *doesn’t* relate in some way to role-playing games, or ability to craft a sentence. ”

    According to a guy with a mighty 2.5 million Amazon Sales Rank.

    My advice would be to ignore him. He’s a non-entity.

  3. BobtheCertifiedIdiot May 11, 2016 at 1:43 am

    Keep having fun. Maybe you’ll get upgraded to nefarious mastermind, careful planner of all the world’s ills. If not, you’ll have kept up with the important things.

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