Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Appendix N

History of Role Playing Games and Early Fantasy Author Recommendations

This latest review from Avery Abernethy is just plain astonishing. Wow!

Interesting book with multiple goals.

Mr. Johnson read the references in appendix N of the original D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. He then ties each of these references into how it influenced the game design decisions in D&D and how those decisions related to decisions made in other role playing games. Both the specific nature of the influence and the importance of each influence on the game design is provided. I started playing D&D in the late 1970s and kept up with the game system and other RPG systems through about 1990. His observations are well thought out, researched, and fit together.

Next Jeffro critiques each book for modern day reader interest. This was also fascinating. Some of the books in Appendix N were largely unavailable in the 1980s but are available now in ebook. The book reviews were right on the money and inspired me to purchase multiple other books which were highly appealing. Individuals unfamiliar with Pulp fantasy and SF will find a good source to some excellent reads. Abraham Merritt, some of the Robert E. Howard non-Conan books, and others were also very enjoyable.

Mr. Johnson has strong opinions on both game designs and fantasy literature. His opinions are based on fact and he provides enough detail that the reader can determine if the recommendation fits their individual tastes. He does so without giving away the major plot or book results.

Few books provide history, critiques and recommendations in one package. Doing one well is a challenge and attempting all three would be a disaster for most authors. But Mr. Johnson pulls this off. If you are interested in RPGs in general, D&D specifically, or want some reading recommendations from authors from the 1910s to the 1970s this is an excellent place to start.

Update: Fantastic Insight, Doing the Hard Stuff, and Problematic Titles

Okay, a lot going on right now. But here are a few highlights.

First up, the latest rave review on Amazon:

On one level, this book provides some fantastic insight into the stories that influenced the development of the granddaddy of all role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons. If you are a gamer, it succeeds on that level alone. Jeffro Johnson provides plenty of advice for gamers based on the ideas from these stories. This was fascinating to me as a gamer, because I always believed that Appendix N of the Dungeon Master’s Guide was there more as cover for Gary Gygax as his company drew fire from the Tolkien Estate’s Lawyers. As it turns out, a lot of the criticisms leveled against D&D for how poorly it simulates Tolkienesque fantasy (which, after around 1980 or so, became something of the definition of the fantasy genre) is probably because it was never intended to do that. The game drew from a wealth of source material, I now believe, and as Johnson illustrates in great detail here.

But the book succeeds spectacularly on a completely different level, and that is shining a light on the wealth of fantasy stories of the early-to-mid 20th century which was largely forgotten about, hidden by Tolkien’s shadow. In the 1950s, it was unimaginable that some of these classic stories could be forgotten, and yet a couple of decades later, these pulp classics (and, admittedly, some less-than-classics) have been largely forgotten and lost in an era of the new. We’ve forgotten our roots as fans of fantasy stories, and Johnson helps us rediscover them. While I was familiar with some of them, especially the awesome Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (and others), Burrough’s Barsoom series, and Leigh Brackett’s space opera, there’s a lot more to be discovered here.

You’d think a book consisting mainly of book reviews wouldn’t be all that great, but I was thoroughly intrigued.

Next… a truly epic interview with Schuyler Hernstrom has this nugget:

I found out about it from Jeffro Johnson’s blog . That was a piece of luck right there. I’ve never gotten in on the ground floor of anything. We’ve been talking about my writing but nothing ever happens without guys like Jeffro and Alex of Cirsova doing the hard stuff. Jeffro has been pounding the pavement, hunting for stuff and boosting signals for years. And it has culminated in the Appendix N book. What a great story that is. And Alex just wakes up and decides to make a magazine. I’m happy if I make it to the gym. A couple other high energy guys, Jon Mollison, Jasyn Jones, big brains like The Frisky Pagan and Nathan Housely, other writers and bloggers, and something exists which didn’t before. When I started writing it was purely for me. I doubted I would find an audience. Now I find myself involved in a whole movement. It is a beautiful thing.

Finally, a couple of questions from Havard, a respected name in the old school game blog scene if there ever was one:

I always find it interesting when people are making a serious effort to research the early influences of our hobby. I might check this book out. It does look like this person (whom I have never heard of?) has take his time to do the research.

I do find the title somewhat problematic for two reasons:

1) If you are going to look into the origins of D&D, you need to investigate both D&D co-creators and probably some of the other people involved as well.
2) To what extent was really literature the most important influence of D&D? My impression is that Gary was a gamer much more than a literate. Elements found in books surely appear in D&D, but based on some of his statements, it also seems that Gary had a tendency of evaluating literature based on what would be useful in a game or not.

Many of Gary’s later statements about fantasy literature are clearly influenced by the commercial interests of TSR, including his negative opinion on Tolkien (TSR was involved in a legal battle with the Tolkien estate at the time) and his high praise of Fritz Leiber (Leiber was Gary’s friend and allowed him to use the Lankhmar stuff in D&D). I wonder if one of the primary functions of Appendix N might not have been to send the Tolkien Estate a message?

I wonder if this book goes into any of these issues at all, or whether it simply takes the appendix and investigates the novels listed there?

Okay, answers!

This is a big book focused entirely on the stories that inspired the game. Nothing like it has ever been done before. Meanwhile there are more than a few books that dig into the game’s co-creators. If I’d covered that ground again, I would not have done as good a job as some of the other historians and biographers out there… and I probably would not have brought much of anything new to the table.

As to the question of how much the literature influenced D&D and how much of that was a smokescreen to throw off the Tolkien estate… well, my book is the most comprehensive treatment of that subject you’ll find anywhere. The fact that this is even a question is really why this book even needed to be written in the first place.

People that don’t look into source material of D&D just see something that is “hardly original” and that “lifts liberally from Tolkien.” There’s so much more to the genesis of the game and the history of fantasy and science fiction than that!

And yes, it did take an entire book to break the story that was bound up into all of this.

Critics Criticize Best Selling Literary Critic for Critiquing: News at Eleven!

With this past week there has been an uptick in criticism of my criticism. The subtext is “all you do is tear down” and “you’re not cool like us actual content creators.” This is not only unnecessarily insulting, it is baloney. I will prove it to you.

I am recovering a canon for a field that has been destroyed. The problem with my critics is that they do not actually care about the field I work to build up. If they did, they would be able to list off fiction published in 2016 that is as good or better than what is on my list. But they can’t and they won’t because they are here to keep me in check, not to do the time consuming and exhausting work that I do.

What do I do exactly? I read science fiction and fantasy and then I get up at two o’clock in the morning to compare it to forgotten classics and current cultural trends. And this goes right past you. “Nothing to see here,” you declare. You see the critical aspect of what I do without acknowledging the building that goes on. And like basically every professional author right now, you act like creating a rival to the establishment sff blogs is a useless or even unworthy endeavor.

You think it’s nothing. But you can’t or won’t do what I do. You can’t point to specific works of fiction from 2016 that people really ought to read. Why is that? Well one, the field has been destroyed so you don’t read. Two… you are inherently bigoted towards criticism in general. You think it’s a non-activity or an anti-activity.

So you show up to someone that is doing something in order to lecture him on how he’s not doing anything. It’s pure projection. You either think that nothing should be done… or else you think that something ought to be done but it has to follow some sort of hyper-unrealistic script that you choose to judge me by. What I’m saying is… this script that you’re pushing is equivalent to “nothing should be done.” And you don’t see it. You won’t see it.

I don’t understand why you feel impelled to do this. But it really doesn’t make sense. For as long as I keep talking… the only true counter to what I’m saying is to do what I do, but do it better. Which you can’t do, because you don’t actually care. So you essentially retreat into, “stop doing what you’re doing, Jeff.” Which is the only way you win this exchange, isn’t it?

Not a very compelling argument, y’all.

JimFear138 on Pulp Revolution’s Irrepressible Conflict

dallasFirst up, just got a rave review from the uber-cool Jon Del Arroz:

Read this over time, slowly digesting each of the articles. It’s a great “in between other books” read on that level as the articles are fairly standalone. It goes over every work in Appendix N from the original Dungeons and Dragons game, giving expert analysis from both a fantasy literature and a gaming perspective. It’s opened my eyes to a whole new world and I can’t recommend it enough for SF/F enthusiasts, writers and gamers alike.

The timing on this is interesting, as there are fears brewing over the potential of the Pulp Revolution to descend into the same tedious cliqueishness that all the previous movements seem to have descended into.

Well let me allay your fears on that: it’s just not going to happen. People that show up on our doorstep have had their contracts canceled or been run out of the convention scene. Some of them have just been way too into it for even the Sad Puppies to be able to handle. If we start getting picky about who gets to sit at our lunch table, we would very rapidly cease to exist.

Which brings us to JimFear138’s latest podcast. Just go listen to the whole thing. I can wait.

Okay, you back…?

Let me just add a couple of things to that. There are private conversations, but they are rare. Every private meeting or email thread means we lose a half dozen blog posts. It eats our momentum and I can’t get excited about it. When we do end up kibitzing around on Skype or something, I always regret not recording and releasing the conversations. There’s so much awesome stuff we don’t have time to write up! It’s just a shame to keep it to ourselves.

Pulp Revolution is not a group you associate with. It’s something you do. It’s reading old books and discussing them. It’s blogging and podcasting. It’s continuing the conversations that spring up on social media. It’s writing new pulps and putting them up on Amazon.

It’s not anyone’s place to tell anyone else they’re pulp revolutioning wrong. There is no gatekeeper. This whole thing is happening because there are no gatekeepers! And unlike the Sad Puppies, there is no one that can imperiously tell anyone, “hey… we built that.” Nobody built it. It just happened. When people find out the truth about the pulps and start reading them for themselves, they are overcome with a desire to create. Games. Stories. Criticism. It’s awesome. Nobody orchestrates this.

You know what you do when you make someone a leader of this…? All it does is paint a big fat target on their back. Please don’t do that.

I called Jon Mollison last night and hashed some of this out. He told me I sound paranoid. Maybe I am. Do you have any idea what it would feel like to live in the world of 1984 and break a story that is diametrically opposed to everything you hear in the media and in academia? And more than that… to go hang around the meanest, roughest, most radical bunch evil-doers in the science fiction and fantasy scene… only to convince a good chunk them that they are just as blue pill as anyone…?

It’s nuts. It’s dangerous. It’s unprecedented. It shouldn’t be possible. It overturns everything in your head about how you’d think these things should play out.

And while it sure seems like the audience for this is growing like gangbusters, the social reaction to this in online spaces outside of the bubble make me feel like I’m the monster in the space movie that causes the lights to go out wherever he prowls. It’s freaky.

JimFear138 is right. There is liable to be a response to what we’re doing. And it may come sooner than you think. Get ready for it.

Appendix N Nabs Another Rave Review!

You know, I honestly didn’t expect to get quite this intense of a reaction back when I was writing these, so really… just check it out:

Outstanding trip through the stories that were the impetus for Dungeons and Dragons, and likely other early role playing games from the 1970s. This book helps answer the questions behind the curious choices and rules of early D&D designers, namely why don’t the rules and milieu look more like Tolkien and his world? At the time, Gygax denied Tolkien was a primary influence to D&D, though many didn’t believe him. After reading Jeffro Johnson’s book, which describes what he found in researching Appendix N (in Advanced D&D’s Dungeon Master Guide), you’ll see that Gygax wasn’t kidding around! Appendix N, Jeffro says (and confirms through his research), shows the world of The Pulps drove D&D more than a single track within Fantasy (Tolkien) did. On top of that, Johnson opens the reader to explore some of these historical influences, both the good and the bad, as well as the stellar and the — well, not-so-stellar. Regardless, Jeffro’s book opens the Lost World of the Pulps for a new generation to view via his window of Appendix N! 5 stars! Highly recommended!

Man, do you have any idea how hard it is to disabuse of the idea that Tolkien has been the end all be all of fantasy for freaking forever…?! You can bring up fact after fact, evidence after evidence… and they still won’t see it.

It really is a relief to see someone getting it.

Meanwhile, I keep getting letters from people that drifted away from science fiction and that are back into it again. Reading the old stuff, it’s become clear: they didn’t leave science fiction. Science fiction left them! They have something just mind-numbingly awesome back in their life again and it’s crazy… but they really do blame me for it!

I don’t think I will ever stop being astonished by this kind of reaction. But man… it’s not just a meme:


Oh… and I should mention, I did another podcast last weekend. This one with the uber-cool JimFear138.

Warning: it’s long! It’s unedited. Unfiltered. Unplugged. If you want to hear all the stuff that I haven’t taken the time to convert into actual blog posts, it’s all there!