Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Appendix N

Why Pulp Revolution Needs a George Will

I got some advice from a (former) fan today. Or maybe it’s someone that was almost but not quite a fan.

Anyway, these are some deep, deep thoughts here and you will want to pay attention to this:

Hey Jeffro, I enjoy your thoughts on gaming occasionally and (marginally) your advocacy for Pulp with all of its old-timey sexy T’n’A babes and even its presentation of ‘old fashioned values.’

I even agree that SJWs are noxious to free speech and to academic discourse, and I warn them of that. I do so by being involved in the continuum of ‘normal culture,’ and I’m I’m not particularly keen on being tuned in to your alt-right cirlcle jerk.

The Alt-Right is ‘weird’ because y’all embraced Milo the Pedo, you even MISSED for a whole year his ‘pedos are all right by me’ comments (which, unlike much of his ‘performance art’ did not seem to be in jest), all the while holding him up as a mascot for everything (whatever that is?) that you stand for.

you’re at once libertarian and NationalSocialist…you are multifarious and unfocused in any way besides your rage, which offers few perscriptions and even fewer attempts to reach out and grow your ideology or base. The antifeminism lacks focus, if you stayed close to Camille Paglia’s crtitique of modern feminism then you might be on to something, but you’re all over the place including into red (or is it blue?) pill nonsense. My grandmother and her neice are veterans of Korea; she worked her way into management at the phone company, and the whole ‘women are parasites’ narrative of the MRM movement is noxious to the truth that men’s reproductive rights could be far, far better protected and grown with outreach and awareness than they would through unfocused ‘male nationalism.’

I don’t want to paint the Alt-Right as monolithic, and I’m sure that there are some parts of its platform that you don’t support, but it sure seems like you are all-on for woman-hating/’cultural downfall’ as the basis for your men’s rights polemic; it seems that you are full-on for advocating for free speech by using an ‘eye for an eye’ strategy of doxxing and shaming…your ‘light’ will never go out using these ideas as rallying cries, but it also surely won’t grow beyond the conspiracy board in OP.

In other words, you are every bit as much of a mess as the regressive left. I like your gaming stuff, I like your dilligence in looking at Appendix N, I like that you stick up for big damn games like Harnmaster. I can’t really stand these posts where you circle jerk with your buddies about the fall of western civilization and if you’d like to sell more copies of your book (you won’t being on your hatemongering Castalia imprint), you might want to tune up your social media image or create a separate G+ for ‘author Jeffro’

I tried putting you on my feed for a month, I like hearing alternate perspectives, but I don’t have the energy in life to tune into an echo chamber like this. Not all your ideas are bad (even your political ones), but they are made better ideas when you come up with a plan for how anyone beyond your very limited circle could adopt them. In other words, The Alt-Right is ‘Weird:’ it has no plan to –and doesn’t care to–make any friends or allies.

As a kid, there was a soft-spoken man in a bowtie named George Will on the Sunday morning politics shows. And he opened my mind to how goverment and regulation can be stifling, and how liberty is an essential partner with rights and freedoms. He did so as I sat there among my very liberal household, my feminist mom and my military-skeptical father. Some people do care enough for their ideas to present them in a way that can help them grow; while I am not sure there is much that you hold in common with George Will you might take a page from his book when it comes to tactics as a public figure.


Okay, let me get this straight. I would be more popular if I disavowed somebody that the narrative machine would like to destroy. I would be even more popular if I distanced myself from my own publisher. My ideas would be better received if I offered up a critique of third wave feminism from something closer to what, a second wave sex positive feminist perspective…? And a person that is unfriending someone for having outré opinions is accusing me of creating an echo chamber.

Did I miss anything? Oh yeah. Bow ties are cool.

I really am tore up about this. My reputation! It’s in tatters….

What to do?!

Update: this gif just came in from Sky Hernstrom.


That Time I Did ALL the Podcasts

Okay, this week was crazy. I put in three podcast appearances. Whew! I’m exhausted.

Here they are!

Geek Gab’s All-Pulp Episode:

Geek Gab’s All-RPGs Episode:

SuperversiveSF’s All-RPGs episode:

More Feedback on Appendix N

First up, we have Ken Hite… easily among the biggest names in rpg design:

“Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons (Nonfiction, Jeffro Johnson, 2017) Compilation of game-advice, critical, and ludohistorical blog entries inspired by or reacting to titles and authors in Gary Gygax’ ‘Appendix N’ to the AD&D DMG. I’m broadly sympathetic to Johnson’s grumpy conservatism, and likely guilty of the same structural sins in my own lit-crit-book-from-blog, so I won’t address those. It does need a stronger edit for misprints and malapropisms, but its real value depends on where you are in your own reading. If, like they were for Johnson, Fritz Leiber and Tarzan are unexplored country for you, this is Recommended; for me, it was Okay. –KH”

You know, that comes off a bit on the “meh” side, but as Alex points out…  recommended [for people unfamiliar with the works described] is still Recommended.

Meanwhile, we have truest of the true-fans Cora Buhlert weighing in with this:

“Johnson is one of the better puppy fan writers and his Appendix N project was actually sort of interesting…”

Given the amount of bad blood in the fandom scene, this is actually pretty high praise all things considered.

Not to give the wrong impression, there are hard core Appendix N fans out there. Why them and why me…? Well… for people that are sick to the back teeth over derivative, “pink slime” fantasy from the past thirty years or so, Appendix N is sort of a de facto textbook on how to create something new. Which is ironic because it’s entirely focused on something old.

If that doesn’t make any sense, well… read the book! And then go read Cirsova! It’ll all make sense, trust me!

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.