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:
- Appendix N was just filler.
- Appendix N will not make you enlightened.
- Appendix N will not make you cool.
- No one cared about Appendix N back in the day.
- The veneration Appendix N is humiliatingly stupid.
- 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.