Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Appendix N Review Roundup

My book on the literary roots of the Dungeons & Dragons game has been out for some time, but a steady trickle of people continue to stumble upon it and get their minds blown. Here are a few reviews from around the web that capture the thrill of discovery that awaits intrepid readers!

Over at Goodreads, Trevor writes:

I found this absolutely fascinating, but it’s only going to appeal to a VERY select group of people, namely those who played D&D in the 70’s and grew up reading voracious amounts of fantasy and SF from the 40’s-60’s. The author methodically covers each writer and novel recommended in Appendix N of the original Dungeonmaster’s Guide, and talks a great deal about how they relate to the founding elements of D&D and also about the huge tonal shift that occurred in fantasy fiction as it moved from the 70’s to the 80’s and beyond. I remember finding most 80’s fantasy novels to be bland photocopies of LOTR, to the point that I eventually just lost interest in the genre, and this book details why that was, and candidly discusses how LOTR came to dominate the fantasy landscape style where only 10-20 years before, there was a much wider range of “fantasy” out there. Martian princesses and six-armed green giants and Amazon women on Venus and Pellucidar and Stormbringer all slowly mellowed into an infinite series of books about the apprentice/villager guy who is the only one who can defeat the Dark Lord and they meet some wise elves along the way.

Maybe one person out of 25,000 will enjoy this book, but that one person will probably be as fascinated as I was.

Over at reddit:

I never knew how pulpy & weird the origins of RPGs were—until I read Appendix N
I just finished Appendix N: The Literary Antecedents of Dungeons & Dragons, by Jeffro Johnson, and I highly recommend it.*

His argument is that the literary antecedents of D&D (and therefore RPGs in general) is SO MUCH weirder and pulpier than “Lord of the Rings, but a GAME.” He suggests that fantasy was often “science fantasy” at the time when D&D and its early competitors were created, a blended mishmash of what we now consider separate genres. This proto-genre turns out to have been WAY WAY out there, full of just plain batshit ideas, and that we lost something as a geek culture when Tolkien became dominant, especially in the world of roleplaying games.

The book is a great introductory smattering of the “greatest hits” of 70’s pulp sci/fantasy, and since each chapter is a self-contained essay on a particular book in the form of book review/analysis of effects on D&D, it’s really easy to pick up and put down.

4/5 stars, especially if you’re looking to understand the origins of RPGs and maybe infuse some weirdness into your game.

Finally, the Shrew Review has this to say:

Knowing the literary antecedents to some of the obscure rules decisions Gygax made has helped me realize the potential for creating drama within my game and for detailing my world in a way that will give my players plenty of awe inspiring moments. Too often I resort to using bad ass monsters and game play mechanic hacks to try to instill fear and wonder in my players. Let me give you a great example: my 3.5 edition troll war band leader that dual wielded a whip and a scourge. 25ft. reach with improved trip and disarm. Wow, a very dangerous foe. But what’s the point of me pouring over stats, feats, and class abilities to munchkin a villain to scare my players with, especially if there is no building tension behind the monster. I can instead give him a literary inspired description and backstory that will actually do more to inspire the players. Rumors in town persist of Yaldow, the scourge, the only gladiator banned from the empire on the grounds of being too brutal. It’s all too common in the land to find a flayed man or woman nailed to a post beside the road, a length of barbed wire wrapped around its mouth. Setting up this villain sessions before the players actually take him on does more to make him a true villain than any amount of mechanics hacking I could do.

Appendix N explains the D&D Vancian magic system in all of it’s exciting drama. It makes looting scrolls and ancient books from lost tombs become more exciting then finding a +1 sword. I’ve fallen too hard recently on making every campaign a weak copy of Game of Thrones. Political intrigue and grey morality is great. It should be in your campaign. But so should high adventure, foul villains, noble heroes, beautiful princes and princesses, and terrifying beasts.

Now… I do take a bit of flack occasionally for getting carried away talking up just how great the older, weirder pulp novels are compared to today’s fantasy fare. But the thing is… when you rediscover the literature of the superlative, you’re naturally going to start speaking in superlatives!

And yeah… inject this stuff into your game and it’ll happen to your players, too!

Thanks for the comments, y’all. Keep on gaming!

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One response to “Appendix N Review Roundup

  1. Pingback: Amazon Women, Pulp Fantasy, and Old School Game Mastering Advice in The Fantasy Trip | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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