Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Okay, Yeah, I Saw That

So one of the consultants for 5th edition D&D has decided to take a swing at me over Appendix N. You know, I wouldn’t be inclined to respond to this at all given that it is merely a retread of a particularly mouldy edition war left over from many years ago; that doesn’t really have much to do with me. As far as I can tell, Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t really challenge a single thesis that emerged in the course of my surveying Appendix N.

But here, let’s look at the claims anyway, stripped of the profanity:

  1. Appendix N was just filler.
  2. Appendix N will not make you enlightened.
  3. Appendix N will not make you cool.
  4. No one cared about Appendix N back in the day.
  5. The veneration Appendix N is humiliatingly stupid.
  6. Buy more OSR product.

The first point there is clearly exaggerated, but to be clear… Appendix N was quite a bit more than just “filler”. It was an acknowledgement of where large swaths of the AD&D game came from, from spell components to spell memorization to alignment and even the planar cosmology. Traveller has a similar list of sources, and let me tell you… it kind of stinks that they were never cited directly within the game booklets. Arguably, that’s all academic, sure. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. Like Appendix N author Leigh Brackett’s contribution to Star Wars, it should neither be blown out of proportion nor artificially diminished.

But is gaming enlightenment in the cards for anyone that dives into the works that inspired D&D? Well look, there are a great many things in D&D that always looked weird to me back in the day. I kind of like having a better understanding of why things were done like they were. Just as one example of that, the white ape monster in my battered copy of Moldvay Basic went from lame to uber cool when my son pointed out to me where it came from. I wouldn’t characterize that as “enlightening” per se. And sure, you don’t need this sort of thing to make a good game. But if you’re looking to go back to the axioms of classic role-playing and then go in a slightly different direction… this sort of information is invaluable. How many people genuinely want to do that? You’re talking hundreds of people and not thousands– a small number of people within a small hobby that is dwarfed by video gaming. No big deal.

But is it cool? Well… we’re talking about D&D here. How cool can that really be, honestly? One thing’s sure… going all “cooler than thou” on the topic of how to play D&D is not cool. (If you don’t play thieves with d4 hit dice, you are doing it wrong, though. Really. D6 thieves? Totally UNCOOL!)

Did people care about Appendix N back in the day? Yes they did. Appendix N was synonymous with fantasy in the seventies. When people sat down to “play anything”, they wanted to play characters from those books. The books provided the frame of reference needed to explain the class archetypes when the idea of role-playing was brand new. And when designers decided that some aspect of the game was incorrect or needed development, it was the “authority” of those authors that often drove the creation process. Again, this is largely academic at this point. If it’s not fun for you, go do whatever floats your boat.

But for some people, this is a lot of fun. No need to harsh on them for supposedly venerating some musty old books.

So why are we even having this argument? I mean besides the usual explanation of someone needing to flame another blogger in order to get some attention? The reason Appendix N has to be demonized is that it is such an excellent resource for people that want to revisit an approach to the game that is in line with the “Afterward” of the original rules: why have us do any more of your imagining for you? People that would like the OSR to move on from “rulings not rules” to “product not rules” are necessarily going to feel threatened by it.

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26 responses to “Okay, Yeah, I Saw That

  1. Sky June 4, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    That was the one of the dumbest rants I’ve ever read. That guy is losing it. I’ve really been enjoying the appendix coverage. It’s neat. I never came away thinking it would help my game be more “pure” or something. Is he just taking a shot because he got mad you thought his source book should have had character generation? That’s the same guy right?

    • jeffro June 4, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      Yeah, it’s him. Good memory there! I think that’s water under the bridge at this point, honestly. The biggest source of conflict between us at this point is due to my associating with Catholic gamers and authors and occasionally praising their works. It’s a real sore spot for him– a bigger deal even than my positive posts on Ron Edwards.

      • Sky June 4, 2016 at 8:50 pm

        I don’t know anything about any of that. The guy hates Catholic gamers? Is he a vampire or in the Orange Order? Oh no what if he is a vampire in the Orange Order? You need garlic and some of those big tacky candles my Mexican bros had in their rooms in the barracks. Wal-Mart should be open.

        If the Orange Order vampires take you out there will be no one to lead us to the promised land of pure Gygaxian gaming.

    • jeffro June 4, 2016 at 8:58 pm

      You know, I’d rather not speculate as to what all is going on with it. It’s definitely a sore spot, though.

    • Cirsova June 4, 2016 at 9:49 pm

      Also, I think he wildly misinterpreted/mischaracterized PC Bushi’s last post “THE SECRET LEGEND OF APPENDIX N” which Jeffro shared in a few places; much like myself, the guy has gone from having at most heard of these works to fervently reading and reviewing them because he’s seeing game bloggers talking about them, which is awesome.

    • Cirsova June 4, 2016 at 9:53 pm

      Appendix N is now getting talked about on blogs that are outside of the normal gaming community, and I think some people are getting upset and want to deny that folks talking about classic SFF is a big deal.

    • Cirsova June 4, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      Lastly, fiction that can be quickly converted into adventures could potentially cut into the profits of a product-driven OSR. Who’s going to buy modules when they can drop Images of the Goddess into their game?

      • jeffro June 4, 2016 at 10:02 pm

        That’s a big one. I normally run modules as faithfully as possible with a lean rule set. (Partly because I review them. Partly because I’m not creative like the do it yourself guys.) If the best gming resource is on Project Gutenberg, though… yeah, that’s a conflict of interest.

      • Cirsova June 4, 2016 at 10:19 pm

        It could definitely hurt people whose business is selling setting fluff.

  2. jlv61560 June 4, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    THAT jerk again? I guess he’s got to defend his personal pig sty with all his power though; if it weren’t for that, he’d have NO claim to fame or even interest.

    Interesting how the whiny brigade, always manages to take things personally, isn’t it? And how DARE Jeffro have his own opinion on anything?

    Frankly, the only use I could possibly find for his drivel is to supplement the toilet paper when we’re running low and I’ve yet to make it to the store — but since that would necessitate wasting paper and ink printing it off, I guess I can’t find ANY use for his drivel.

  3. pcbushi June 5, 2016 at 12:06 am

    Alex brought his post to my attention and I was kind of surprised, but your response from a gamer/game maker’s perspective provides a little more clarity, I think.

    I’ve never really been an OSR guy and have limited experience in the tabletop gaming world (though I wish that weren’t the case). My outlook is more that of general nerd and SFF fan. For me, Appendix N having been put together by Gygax and its relation to D&D are cool, yet incidental. My main interest in it is as a list of SFF works/creators many of whom I was either unfamiliar with or knew very little about – as Alex noted. Regardless of how they relate to “pure D&D” or whatever, I am glad to know of their existence and that another prominent nerd enjoyed them.

    For a scifi/fantasy fan, it’s baffling to me why anyone would so trash a reading list that at the very least provides a starting point for people who never got into the pulp classics. From a gaming/game industry perspective, however, the reaction makes a little more sense. It’s not one that I personally sympathize with, but at least I understand how the gears may be turning in his head.

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughts, Jeffro.

    • jeffro June 5, 2016 at 11:52 am

      Okay, now that there is a thesis that emerged from the survey– that Appendix N is a time capsule that preserves a snapshot of what sff fandom was like during the seventies. (This is something a lot of people struggle with– their go-to counter is that “Appendix N is just a list of stuff Gary liked” or even “Appendix N is just stuff Gary liked from when he was a kid.”)

      That the old Dungeon Master’s Guide could end up being [note tongue in cheek here] a sort of modern day Necronomicon is kind of funny. Great post, man.

      • pcbushi June 5, 2016 at 1:48 pm

        Thanks! I’m grateful to have come across blogs like yours and Cirsova, which have helped turn me on to this stuff.

  4. Hooc Ott June 5, 2016 at 1:57 am

    “It’s also so fucking 2011.”

    New to me. And it has lit a fire in my head for sf/f that is far more appealing than most of what is currently being published and drawing me back to my RPGing days in a way that current editions of D&D hasn’t and if being perfectly honest looking at the current Wizards of the Coast offerings repulses me.

    Thank you for that Jeffro. By the way.

    I do find it funny though that the author claims 5 years ago was soooo long ago when Appendix N is a list of works and authors put to print in the cold war disco days of 1979 and contain some works nearing a hundred years old. But yeah sure 5 years has passed, history has obviously ended, better stop talking about it.

    I get the feeling five years ago the author lost a conversation and didn’t like how that felt one tiny bit.

    • jeffro June 5, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      Ah, now I’m blushing.

      But yeah, I did the series because I was convinced that people outside of the old school game blogging scene would want to know about this stuff. I’m glad they showed up, because I was gambling on the fact that they would!

    • Cirsova June 5, 2016 at 2:49 pm

      I do love the irony that he of all people is basically using Trudeau’s ‘It’s [the current year]’ argument.

  5. John E. Boyle June 5, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Well, I don’t know if I qualify as inside or outside of the old school game blogging scene, but you were right: I did want to know about this stuff. I was first drawn to your Appendix N articles because I’ve been a big fan of Ken St. Andre since his work on the Stormbringer rpg with Chaosium, and because so many of the authors listed in the appendix are still favorites of mine.

    Like John C. Wright, I had no idea that the chasm between older readers of SF&F and newer readers existed until you described it. I was staggered; ERB and Dunsany forgotten? Roger Zelazny sliding into obscurity? Andre Norton left off a list of the best 100 female SF& F writers? I have trouble believing this is all just happenstance.

    I just published my first novel, Queen’s Heir, on Amazon. If you think you might have the time to read it, may I send you a copy? More than one of the writers listed in Appendix N have influenced me; I’m curious to see whose influence you might see in my work.

  6. Brooser Bear June 5, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    I love reading about D&D and your writing about the books in Appendix N is one of the best! I only found out about your blog after Jim Cambias mentioned your writing as a reply to that idiot’s inane post about the Appendix N. Some good did come out of it!

    That guy is an ugly, ugly human being, who will post anything to get attention and promote his writing. I think that the root of his anger is that he is blaming political correctness after a failed academic career in the US or Canada, the root of his intellectual snobbery. He is a relatively young guy, in his thirties, who started playing D&D later than he implies in his writing, and he does not tolerate anyone taking the spotlight away from him, including the late, great Gary Gygax.

    Gygax had a lot of flaws, but his AD&D is the most sophisticated and comprehensive game of its type, and the version of AD&D written by him has vision and philosophy, which is why I picked his version of the game when I started running D&D again. The OSR D&D clones are lesser versions the game that he wrote. Your survey of the Appendix N is very apropos, because I was rereading his DMG appendixes recently, and it occurred to me that Gygax had a certain style of DM’ing, and if you follow the Appendices at the end of his DMG to design your adventure, you will end up duplicating his DMing style. In short, I think that there was a Gygax version of AD&D encoded in his Dungeon Master’s Guide, and it was gutted, when TSR re-issued the DMG book sans his writng and Appendices, and subtly turned AD&D into a different game, generating its own setting material as opposed to drawing inspiration from Appendix N.

    • jeffro June 5, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      AD&D is jam packed with useful things. I hate that that game in particular did not get the kind of editing, revision, and development that it would have under, say, a guy like Steve Jackson. There was a loss of vision when Gygax was pushed out in the mid-eighties. I think the transition to “books meant to be read” rather than “games meant to be played” is the touchstone of post-Gary TSR. And yes– the replacement of Appendix N with, say, Forgotten Realms novels and campaign modules was a big deal that had far reaching consequences in both fantasy and gaming.

    • Cirsova June 5, 2016 at 4:54 pm

      The technical writer in me has a lot of formatting and workflow rage for Gygax, and is why I’m such a big fan of Moldvay and especially Holmes, but the lit-nerd in me has had a growing fondness and appreciation for the man that has expanded boundlessly over the last couple years.

      • jeffro June 5, 2016 at 4:59 pm

        Yeah, Moldvay loses some points for that luke warm bibliography in the back of his Basic rules…! It’s one of those hard truths you have to face up to in life…. :sigh:

  7. Pingback: Appendix Wars – PC Bushi

  8. Daddy Warpig June 6, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Pundit didn’t make clear what he was arguing against, so I have no idea what he’s arguing FOR. Fact is, the books and stories on the list are generally excellent in and of themselves, and many contain eminently gameable material, or material that is inspirational for campaign backgrounds.

    More, they explain some of the more mystifying things about AD&D and its predecessors, like Law and Chaos. In fact, Appendix N is useful precisely because it DOES explain what Gygax was thinking about a number of things.

    Maliszewski may actually be Doing It Wrong, and most gamers may have just skipped over Appendix N, but that doesn’t mean the Appendix was useless. It’s primary weakness is this: Gygax assumed that people reading it could read the titles of the books and know what they were about, BECAUSE PEOPLE OF HIS TIME COULD.

    If I referenced “The Avengers” or “Watchmen” as inspiration for my Superhero setting, people of 2016 would pretty much know the feel I was going for. I wouldn’t have to explain either source. As an “Appendix N” a list of works like that would be pretty damn useful for my game.

    The same holds for the Appendix N works and Gygax’s generation. He couldn’t foresee that kids 10 or 20 years younger than him would never have read those books, and in fact wouldn’t know what any of them were or why they applied to D&D.

    Appendix N isn’t a proscriptive list of commandments about how to Do D&D The One Right Way, but it is pretty damn useful, *if you have read the referenced works*. Pundit’s got his panties in a twist and missed the point.

    Again, JMal may be everything Pundit says. That doesn’t mean Appendix N is useless.

    • jeffro June 6, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      My understanding is that whatever debt James owed gaming was paid for by Alexander Macris when he stepped in to finish the Dwimmermount project. Yep, that was a bad scene, but as far as I know it’s all water under the bridge. Before that, Grogardia was a top tier blog that got a lot of people reading cool books and playing cool games. I can’t think of any reason why someone would begrudge its popularity beyond being unable to compete with it. Even as a dead blog it’s still a valuable resource.

    • Cirsova June 7, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      I genuinely think that Pundit may be threatened by interest in Appendix N because familiarity with classic SFF poses a threat to a Product-drive OSR movement, particularly peddlers of settings materials. “Don’t read books” he says. “They’re useless to your game,” he says. “Now random encounters tables, those are what will spark your creativity and bring life to your game!” It’s almost like the reaction of some circus carny grifter who realizes that the jig is up.

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