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Category Archives: Appendix N

Not Brand X: Dracoheim, 3d6 in Order, Fantasy Vietnam, and the Beating Heart of SF/F

Fantasy (Misha Burnett) American Fantasy — “That’s what I set out to do with Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts. Dracoheim is not on any version of Earth–the Settled Lands are on a world with a different year and a different climate than Earth, the physical/metaphysical laws are different there. Yet the setting is recognizably American (despite a sprinkling of UK terms to describe the government and courts). Dracoheim is Los Angeles in the middle of the 20th Century in the same way that the Shire is rural England at the end of the 19th Century.”

Books (Jon Mollison) Bad Dreams and Broken Hearts — “Erik Rugar makes Harry Dresden look like a chump, and makes Discworld look like a set from Scooby-Doo. Imagine if Bright wasn’t so preachy and had some solid romance subplots. It’s that good.”

D&D (E. Reagan Wright) The 3d6 Grease Trap — “Guys who run Big Boy D&D understand that how a character is rolled has no impact on the way the game runs. The best DMs do not craft worlds and challenges for characters, but for players. The sandbox gets stocked with high challenge areas and low challenge areas. The wheels of the campaign churn away with neutral efficiency. It is up to the players to determine which is which by throwing bodies at the campaign with the same reckless abandon as a Soviet lieutenant yeeting prisoner units at German machine gun emplacements.”

Brand Echh (Jon Del Arroz) Is Publishing Just A Scam For Power? — “Alan Moore is right. Editors don’t have taste. Publishers don’t have taste. They have no idea. It’s why the comic stands are filled with crap, it’s why there’s nothing even worth picking up when you make a Barnes & Noble trip. Everything that’s worthwhile is on the new frontier of self-publishing.”

Brand X (Kairos) The Fap Cult — “One thing both cults have in common is their elevating of personal preferences over the good. Fundamentally, they do away with the concept of objective value altogether and seek validation solely from their choice of weird sexual hangup or entertainment product. Nor will they countenance neutrality. You must join in their liturgies and partake of their sacrifices. Just try pointing out that transsexuals are mentally ill or that Big Brand X is a shame ritual that bilks money from paypigs for the pleasure of insulting them.”

Short Fiction (Rawle Nyanzi) The Persistence and Promise of Cirsova — “Though fiction writing in general is a tricky business, one stands to make more through a series of novels than through any number of short stories. I often wonder if he is wasting his time due to the poor economics of the enterprise, and yet, he continues to publish. The short story used to be the beating heart of SF/F, but now, it is little more than an appendix; through continual publication of short stories, P. Alexander may be able to revive the form.”

Brand Zero (Cirsova) Rawle Nyanzi’s Brand Zero and a Look at Some Cirsova-Published IPs — “The short version of it is a mindset to put fully behind the failing corporate fiction brands that continue to disappoint and instead focusing on new brands, new properties, either by creating them or supporting them. Talk up these new IPs instead of spending time and effort on complaining about how let down you are by the old brands. Brand Zero has picked up a lot of traction in the last few weeks, but it’ll be interesting to see if it gains real momentum beyond a few writing circles.”

Fantasy F***ing Vietnam (Brain Leakage) Kitbashing D&D: Skills, Resolution Mechanics, and Combat — “Every patrol to and from the Keep should be a tense cat and mouse game, as the PCs watch out for goblin ambushes, senses alert for any sound or sign that the enemy is near. Meanwhile, they’re trying to move like ghosts through the underbrush, staying to the darkest shadows they can find. Every snapped twig or dropped water skin should cause their little hearts to race, wondering if they’ve just given themselves away.”

Canceling Fantasy (RMWC Reviews) Pink Slime Review: The Man Who Came Late — “In short, everything about the world and characters that made them unique and loveable, from the magic to the culture to the weirdness to Holger’s blockheaded goodness, are stripped away and replaced by stewpots, housework, and boring people living boring lives. Faerieland and the forces of Chaos have been replaced by something far more sinister: ‘Realism.'”

Brand Zero (Paul Lucas) BrandZero Reviews of Indie and Self-Published Authors — “Here you go folks, copies of the reviews I’ve posted to Amazon for the work of independent and self-published authors. All of these people publish work that at least verges on the Weird, however you want to define it, and some of them roll around in Weirdness, completely naked. This is my small attempt to help support non-mainstream creators by focusing on them and not on the products of large media companies – naming no names. Go #BrandZero!”

Appendix N (The Charmed Circle) What’s in Your Appendix N? (Memories of the First Books #4) — “Appendix N was a list, written by Gygax himself, enumerating the works of fantasy and science fiction which were influential in the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. These were the books which shaped Gygax’s imagination, what he brought to the creation of the game, and what the game would become over time. Some of the authors are considered icons of the field, and some of the works are seen as classics. Others are less known, obscure, even out of print. All of them are, in a sense, part of the game’s DNA.”

From the Comments (Sacnoth’s Scriptorium) The New Arrival: APPENDIX N (The Book) — “As other reviewers have mentioned, his reviews revolve around creating strawmen who somehow ‘hate’ classic sci-fi/fantasy (because it is too politically incorrect or features male protagonists) and then he encourages the reader to ‘fight the power’ and read the classics anyway. It’s nonsense, none of these authors are ‘condemned’ by his mythical ‘them’ who are out to destroy fantasy and keep him from reading books about ‘heroic’ characters like himself.”

Life After 1980: RPG Consent Forms, Broken Elfs, and No Concept of Economy

D&D (John Blacktree) The Nature of Consent Forms in Role Playing Games — “There are great DM’s and awful ones. It’s a roll of the dice. (pun intended) but when something like a consent form is brought forth you are exerting an unearned level of control over others fun. They didn’t sign up to be whipped and burned with candle wax. They just want to play a game.”

Fantasy (Dutrope) Editor Interview: Cirsova Magazine — “For some reason, we get a lot of elf stories. Unless you’re doing something Dunsanian, no elves! Look, we can fix formatting, we can add page numbers to the footer of your manuscript, but we can’t fix a story that has generic D&D elves in it.”

Writing (Dean Bradley) Fighting Style and Character — “Before the renaissance in traditional European martial arts, a katana conveyed a much more seasoned and developed fighting style than a bastard sword. We now know that the fighting style of European knights was every bit as systematic and developed as that of the samurai, but the truth mattered less than the viewer’s impression of skill and study.”

Books (Castalia House) Swords & Dark Magic — “The better sword and sorcery writers who came out of the 1970s got their start in the small press. They started out writing short stories, then novelettes. A few then made the jump to mass market paperbacks that were generally 80,000 words long. Now it is backwards, the writers of the past ten to twenty years start out writing 700 page novels for seemingly never ending series. They have no concept of economy.”

Appendix N (Grey Dog Tales) Tarzan Reborn! — “I have no way of knowing exactly how the late Fritz Leiber approached the job, but I can easily imaging him watching the movie over and over, along with reading the original script treatment, making copious notes on what did and didn’t work. Frankly, he did an astonishing job of it. I was recently reliably informed that Philip José Farmer considered this to be one of the best Tarzan novels he ever read. I can’t disagree with that appraisal.”

D&D (The Alt-right DM) How Consent Works — “When you sit down to my D&D game, you consent to play my games. Both the RAW B/X game, and the head games that are part and parcel of dealing with a maniac like me. Like my second ex-wife’s ass cheeks, there a lot of overlap between the two.”

Talking AD&D, Tolkien, and Edgar Rice Burroughs on Twitter

Okay, this might be danged hard to follow but it’s also a lot of fun.

A lot of good points are made in here, so click on through for the rest of the discussion!

Amazon Women, Pulp Fantasy, and Old School Game Mastering Advice in The Fantasy Trip

The year was 1980 and Steve Jackson’s first complete role-playing game design hit the market. A pivotal time in gaming to be sure!

Sign of the times: there are no amateurish drawings of naked women in the pages of this module. But take heart! This game nevertheless has its foot firmly planted in the staggeringly awesome days of gaming’s primordial past. A scantily clad Amazon chick not only appears on the cover but also as an explicit option for unironic play:

AMAZON: The beautiful, dangerous female warrior. She probably has high DX and wears little armor. Talents
include Sex Appeal, Unarmed Combat, Bow, and Thrown Weapons — plus several other weapon talents.

Nice!

If you shelled out big bucks for the recent monster-sized Kickstarter edition of this game, don’t bother to look for this. This was evidently expurgated for being way too spicy for the high strung pearl-clutching gamers of today. (Fortunately for us pulp fantasy fans, Tarzan remains in the archetype list for the Woodsman “class”– though the name was character type was updated to “Ranger”.)

One surprising bit that was left 100% intact, however, is this choice bit from the game’s background setting of Cidri:

This enormous polyglot world was chosen as a background for two very good and totally opposite reasons. The first is variety. Cidri is big enough to hold thousands of Earths; it has room for the world of every Game Master who’ll ever put pencil to hex-paper. There’s room here for every sort of fantasy adventure to coexist — in a logical manner. And it provides a workable rationale for the weird melange of legend, historical fact, prehistory, science fiction, and sheer wild imagination that characterizes the work of the best fantasy gamers.

What an astonishing line there!

Granted, anyone that is familiar with role-playing games of the 1970’s could see why Steve Jackson would say such a thing. And Cidri is truly a bizarre game setting. It’s like Philip José Farmer’s World of Tiers series mashed up with Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. It’s like a weird inversion of the default setting of the much later Steve Jackon  release of GURPS Fourth Edition– instead of “Infinite Worlds” it’s Infinite World!

Rough sketch for the cover of the Melee MicroGame? A stray illustration from the 1980 edition of In the Labyrinth? No on both counts! It’s a picture of Dejah Thoris by Frank Frazetta!

But look at that sentence again. It is very much like how I have (on many occasions) attempted to describe the best work of A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Leigh Brackett to a generation that is almost entirely unfamiliar with the pulp era. And here Steve Jackson in 1980 casually declares the work of the best fantasy gamers to be JUST LIKE THAT. He had no idea that there was about to be a sea change in how people even conceived fantasy to even work!

Incredible. The intrinsically weird/pulpy foundations of fantasy gaming confirmed!

But wait, there’s more treasures to unearth in this old game!

In Steve Perrin’s review of it from the April/May 1980 issue of Different Worlds, he says this: “Perhaps the best part of the book is a column by publisher Howard Thompson, describing the story-telling requirements of being a GM. Truer words were never spoken.” Story-telling? Sounds potentially heretical to me! Too bad purchasers of the new edition will not have the benefit of this awesomely TRUE gaming wisdom from the dawn of the hobby. Steve Jackson deleted it for some reason!

But don’t worry. I have the text right here:

NOTES ON SUCCESSFUL GAME-MASTERING

Most of you will eventually want to design your own labyrinths and take a turn at being Game Master. A fantasy role playing game is certainly more enjoyable when you can provide fun and adventure for your friends. In our experience, there is one philosophy of game-mastering that consistently leads to success. That is this: A GM is a solo entertainer of an unusual new variety. He is a writer, performer, and group facilitator rolled into one. Players participate in an adventure campaign for entertainment — not to let the GM be a petty god and manipulate their characters at will. It takes practice, attention, and sensitivity to lead a group through an adventure and leave them feeling good (win or lose) when it’s over. Thinking of yourself as a semi-professional entertainer like a bard or other
small-group yarn-spinner will help.

Don’t try to control the action or predetermine specific outcomes for everything. Your labyrinth and its supporting environment must be flexible enough to evolve as a result of the players’ actions, be they successes or failures. There must be room for players to build, destroy, live and die as they choose. This doesn’t mean that things should be easy. Player characters will get killed — fairly regularly, for the careless or headstrong. As a GM, you must be firm – but not so attached to your creation that it doesn’t also become something of the players’.

You needn’t bully your players or allow them to intimidate you. There will be points of disagreement during play, of course – but the best way to handle them is to postpone any
real discussion until a “critique” period after the game session. Players should feel free to ask questions or make comments about the GM’s actions, but it shouldn’t go farther than a few brief comments while play is going on. If you goof, and a player catches it immediately, you ought to fix it then and there IF you can do it without breaking the “feel” of the adventure. The ability to do this is a mark of the experienced GM. Real disagreements should always be discussed AFTER an adventure, in preparation for the next. You can stand by your actions and refuse to discuss them — but to the detriment of your campaign.

Remember – you are an entertainer. The adventure unfolding is your “act.” Nurture the story, let it build, involve players in the action. Within the framework you’ve constructed, let events happen as they will. What you and your players will create is a spontaneous experience that can be a rewarding entertainment “high.”

— Howard Thompson

This is solid, straight ahead advice. If all you had were a bunch of fantasy game materials from the seventies you’d probably hit on this eventually. The Hickman Revolution was a not even a glimmer in anyone’s eye at this point, of course. And Steve Jackson’s own particular brand of role-playing philosophy (which would fully flower in the mid-eighties with GURPS) was not yet in evidence in any of The Fantasy Trip’s material.

Of course the approach to role-playing that would become dominant in this century in the aftermath of TSR’s demise was even further off. Which is intriguing. One thing that sets The Fantasy Trip apart from original D&D that it has in common with D&D 3.5 is the hyper-regulated combat and movement system.

Here is Steve Jackson’s own rationale for why he developed it from his designer’s notes in The Space Gamer 29, July 1980:

It started in early 1977. I had just found out, much to my surprise, that I could design games… people were buying Ogre, But the game that I was playing a lot of myself was Dungeons & Dragons. And like everyone else who tried an early version of D&D, I wanted to make some changes. The polyhedral dice were irritating– but the biggest problem was combat. The D&D combat rules were confusing and unsatisfying. No tactics, no real movement– you just rolled dice and died. T&T was the same way. Monsters! Monsters! was more detailed in some ways, but still allowed no tactics. So I did something about it.

Amazons from the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons and 4th Edition Tunnels & Trolls. If your game doesn’t have them, it sucks!

Indeed he did. Steve Jackson would end up making two of the greatest microgames in history, which is pretty cool given that he’d already created the definitive microgame with his debut game design.

Steve Jackson is far from being the only person that could look at the first two role-playing games and declare the combat system to be completely broken. Of course at the time he wrote that, we were decades away from anyone being able to provide a cogent argument for why the nature of those early systems were a feature, not a bug. But given everything we’ve seen in five decades of role-playing at the tabletop, we have to ask. Is a hyper-regulated combat system intrinsically bad for rpgs? Is that the root cause that made D&D 3.5’s completely linear “everybody wins nobody dies” adventures the gaming travesty that it is…?

It’s a reasonable question, really. After all, the Melee/Wizard adventure “The Lost Lair” published in The Dungeoneer 11 in 1979 did not embody the design principles outlined in Jaquaying the Dungeon even though it was created by the person whose name would become synonymous with the idea.

The seeds of destruction really are there, perhaps. But given Howard Thompson’s spot on game mastering advice included in the original edition of In the Labyrinth, I have to say…. It doesn’t have to be that way!

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!