Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Appendix N

Appendix N, Frank Mentzer, and Phantom Jeffro

Pretty good show here from the Wandering DMs that demonstrates that Appendix N is still the talk of the town:

I feared the worst for this one when I turned it on today. This bit “Our Appendix N” typically means “here is my list of crappy video games, blockbuster movies, Japanese cartoons, and bloated post-1980 pink slime fantasy series that most influence the derivative rpg products I make which nobody plays.”

But no! Delta Dan and his co-host pretty well go down the line with everything that I would want said on this topic:

  • Short stories from before 1970 are a better match for what most people tend to do in D&D sessions than the big epic fantasy series that are today synonymous with the genre
  • Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories are more in line with the D&D rules than practically anything else in existence.
  • If you’re going to play real D&D, it is going to help a great deal if “your” Appendix N includes Howard’s Conan stories, Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories, and Jack Vance’s Cugel stories.
  • Delta gives a suggestion that if you are playing G1, be sure to read “The Roaring Trumpet” by de Camp and Pratt.

For that last one, I don’t know who the first person in the game blog scene to call that out. Whoever it was is definitely a very perspicacious individual that deserves our gratitude!

Now, I bring up this show not so much because these guys are able to speak at length on this particular topic without ever mentioning my name. But I will say there is a very good gloss on 2016 Jeffro baked into this show. A set of claims that brought an endless stream of gross nerds out of the woodwork to challenge me back in the day is clearly now just the way most people in gaming understand this topic.

What’s really interesting is where they drop the ball. Now… as one of the players in the Trollopulous game has said, the only person that can defeat Jeffro on an rpg topic is FUTURE JEFFRO. This is a jibe at my very famous switch from endorsing Moldvay Basic to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the reasons for which I have elaborated at length on this blog and on Twitter.

But notice how these Wandering DM guys claim that The Lord of the Rings is not really the best fit for D&D. And notice how both they and 2015 Jeffro would say that there are easily five or six other authors that are more influential to the nature of the game than even J. R. R. Tolkien.

What’s missing from this take is something that was uncovered by 2021 Jeffro. And that is– of course!– you cannot run a fantasy campaign that works the way that The Lord of the Rings does if you have not mastered both 1:1 timekeeping and the integration of Chainmail battles into regular D&D play. And note that this topic has consumed the #BrOSR’s efforts since my January 2021 Chainmail scale adventure session, Chanticleer’s pioneering of patron play, and then my massive month-long Braunstein in July 2021. All of this has culminated now into a FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT WAY TO PLAY D&D that is best detailed on many of Jon Mollison’s recent videos on the topic.

Now, the Greek Chorus of gross nerds that relentlessly heckles me as I attempt to share the good news of great gaming? They are always on my heels saying that not even Gygax himself played the way that we do. This is of course preposterous, inconsistent with everything in the rules. Nevertheless, these guys desperately beg anyone that knew Gygax personally to please please please tell them that not even Gygax played Real D&D™.

Which is where this Frank Mentzer quote comes from.

Check it out. Frank Mentzer says here that Gygax kept his characters in some kind of “training jail”. Man… I wonder how Gygax knew how long he should keep Frank’s characters out of play? If only there were a rule in the DMG which nobody has explained over the past 40 years which gives the referee a consistent, clear duration for working that out!

The answer is of course… 1:1 time correspondence between sessions.

And while we are on the topic: who else besides the #BrOSR has endorsed the concept of Training Jail over the past forty years. I can’t think of any!

And who else has put the word out that Training Jail… somehow… someway… incredibly even… is the key to unlocking the D&D game as Gygax played it and as Gygax intended YOU to play it? Well, hey, that is my bag. Though it would not be the sensation that it is right now were it not for the dozen or so gaming geniuses that all embraced and continued to explore these ideas after playing in my Trollopulous campaign.

Which, finally, brings us back to this Wandering DMs show.

The most interesting thing about it is what is not said. And that is that there is a big big story here, as big or bigger than that of Appendix N itself. And the amazing thing about it is that Delta doesn’t make any offhand comments on this point even though he has himself worked up a pretty solid and well-tested set of Chainmail rules!

But don’t worry! He’ll get there eventually.

And whoever he credits for this stunning discovery, you can rest assured that Phantom Jeffro will be there quietly guiding his talking points on whatever show he does for this.

How to Get All the Mortu & Kyrus Stories

Okay, you know you need to get in on this.

We’re talking about Sky Hernstrom’s phenomenal Mortu & Kyrus stories. In a nutshell, these are pretty much in the spirit of Fafhrd & The Grey Mouser but dropped into The Dying Earth and written by Robert E. Howard. All those years where I said, “don’t read anything before 1980”?? All those times I felt that NOBODY was able to write anything even half as good as what I came across doing Appendix N?

I was wrong.

This is it. These are the stories people are raving over. AND YOU NEED TO HAVE THEM ALL. Here’s how to get them:

  1. Pick up The Eye of Sounnu from DMR Books. This volume has the very first Mortu & Kyrus story in it, “Mortu and Kyrus and the White City”.
  2. Grab The Penultimate Men from Pilum Press. This volume has the second Mortu & Kyrus story, “The Judgement of Daganha”. (Note: this only recently came out in ebook format, so if you were waiting on that… now’s the time to get it!)
  3. Back Sky’s current Kickstarter for the new edition of Thune’s Vision. It will include the third Mortu & Kyrus story, “Servants of the War God”.

You will not rest until you have ALL OF THESE STORIES, so get on board with this right now!!! This is the most exciting thing to happen in publishing for the past three years. Seriously, you’re going to read them all right after one another and then you’re going to tell people, “I can’t believe it, but Jeffro really was not exaggerating about how good these are!!!”

BE A BRO AND PULL THE TRIGGER ON ALL THREE RIGHT NOW!!!

And don’t miss Sky’s appearances on these EXCELLENT shows:

Guest Post: Trollopulous Reloaded Sessions 4 and 5

Akira Kurosawa
Ray gun designed by Brian Elliott.

The previous session featured the party on an extended float trip down the river to Trollopulous. Using 1 to 1 time this river journey was not yet complete by the time Session 4 began. So, the players rolled up new characters and had the pick of the map as a starting place. It so happens that one player had chosen to play a dwarf and that there was a dwarven village in the mountains a couple hexes to the southwest of the Adventurers Aid Society Octagon. The players were curious to see how things had turned out at the Octagon, which a couple sessions ago was the site of a mass battle between invading interdimensional giant beetles, the Shoggoth Ambassador Hastoth and his snake men assistants, and the golden mercenaries of the Three Regiments, so they chose to start at the dwarven village. The new first level PC are:

  • Steiner Goldnose dwarf fighter
  • Ricki female elven fighter/magic-user/thief
  • Ambergris – human druid
  • Ovardub — monk

So, the new PCs, wet behind their ears set out to see what the beams of light in the night sky to the northeast are all about. The journey through the mountains is uneventful. Coming out of the mountains the party stops to look down at the grassy plain in which the Octagon resides. What they find is that the whole area is, well, changed in a shocking manner. Where once there sat a modest caravanserai now is the site of a massive construction project. Lines of giant beetles trundle about bearing large basalt blocks in their mandibles. Already the site around the Octagon is adorned with multiple growing towers and sprawling hexagonal lower building structures. 

Making their way down to the endless activity they cautiously enter the newly growing city of beetles. One of the beetles stops its activity and contacts them telepathically, “Greetings worthless vessels. You are welcome here but please try not to interfere in the construction. It is imperative that our domiciles be constructed quickly. Even now, more of our race prepare to flee our enemies and temporarily inhabit this unusual abode.” Thus begins a short question and answer period with the giant insect in which they learn.

  • The Yithians have inhabited the giant beetles as more suited to the current environmental situation.
  • They are distressed to learn that their ancestral enemies, the primordial ones and their shoggoth servants already have made a foothold in this coordinate of spacetime.
  • Because of this they plan to flee as soon as possible. Their tenure here will be transitory and temporary – perhaps lasting as little as ten thousand years or so. 
  • They are not hostile if not interfered with. 
  • The party is welcome to scrounge around the remains of the Ambassadors of the Five Cities camps (destroyed in the past battle)
  • The AAS is still open but currently the proprietors are desperate for clientele.

Scouring the site of the Ambassadorial camps the party finds several sets of golden plate armor, a number of ray guns abandoned by the defeated snake men as well as a substantial box of jewelry. Rolling on the jewelry tables (DMG p. 26) identifies a good dozen pieces of rather high valued items. The players are surprised at their easy find getting ready to leave the area. Nonetheless they buy one of the higher priced pieces for several thousand gold pieces. Tucking the piece in their pack the former rulers of the AAS say, “So long suckers, don’t take any wooden nickels” and head out of town. This leaves the players realizing that they now have to lug the pile of gold back to the dwarf village. Which, grumbling they do with no rolled encounters for the journey.

And that was session 4. Short but sweet in that the new PCs gained sufficient treasure to level with zero risk to themselves. Sometimes it’s like that. 

Session 5 (9/16/21) begins with the same players deciding what to do next. They have options now. They can go back to the “A Team” in the outskirts of Trollopulous and the invading army. Or, they can stick with the “B Team” back at the dwarven village. They choose the B Team. During the down time the village has been busy reworking the golden plate armor to fit dwarves and building boats to explore downriver. In addition, the dwarfs have been keeping an eye on a settlement of Ogres they had discovered. But, the thing that really got attention is the dwarf guard scout who came running in shouting “Giants! Giants!”

It is giants. Six fire giants ambling through the mountains. However, the brutes pass the dwarf village obliviously. The party decides to follow them. And, follow them they do for several days at least until the fire giants come to Hobgobiton.  There, like the Hill Giants before them, the Fire Giants extort a good lunchtime snack from the Hobgobs and keep heading south. The PCs decide to give it up and backtrack the giants path back north – perhaps the giants have a hidden lair that can be looted while they are away. They make their way back north through the mountains only to lose the trail as it heads north into the desert wastes of the Tharks. Frustrated, they return to the dwarfs.

Next, they decide to check out the group of dwarfs that has been staking out the ogre den. On the way they are surprised by a large group of extremely friendly Picts. The party distrusts their intentions and flees. Otherwise they get to the stakeout unscathed. 

Looking at the Ogre lair, it is domestic. The dwarfs inform them that a couple ogres head out each day hunting and the woman and children ogres mostly stay inside until the hunting party comes home with dinner. They decide to try to capture the ogres with a pit trap. The dwarfs quickly dig a deep and wide hole and disguise it with boughs and dirt. They set up a campsite nearby and the monk poses as a camper cooking his meal over a smoldering fire. Meanwhile the party and the dwarves lay in wait. The smell of cooking draws the ogres to the camp. But, they are wary, the brutes can smell the dwarves. “Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of dwarven scum!” The trolls stop short of the pit and demand the monk tell them where the dwarves are. 

It takes some taunting, but the ogres eventually charge the monk and are captured in the pit. The dwarfs come out of hiding and surround the pit. One defiant ogre tries to climb out and gets filled with arrows which convinces the other to beg for his life. The remaining ogre relays to them that their tunnel leads further into the mountain and warns that they don’t want to go down there. There are darks elves, spiders, and goo down there. He also describes to them two other possible entrances into the realm of the dark elves. Then the dwarfs summarily execute the talkative ogre, and the party returns to the dwarven village to contemplate their next moves. 

The Lands of Trollopulous

Diluting Appendix N

So there is a new Appendix N book out. Which makes sense, I suppose. After all, who can get enough of the authors that Gary Gygax so famously listed in what was once an obscure corner of the 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide?

Mind-bendingly stellar authors like A. Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, Roger Zelazny, L. Sprague de Camp, and Fletcher Pratt– authors who not only had a direct impact on the development of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but who defined fantasy for ALL of the game designers creating the first big wave of role-playing games. And I have to say, it is nice to have a big bunch of Appendix N packed within the pages of spiffy paperback. Or it least it would be, anway. As none of the INCREDIBLY INFLUENTIAL YET CRIMINALLY OVERLOOKED authors I just mentioned appear within these pages. 

In their place are three authors that are “sorta kinda almost” Appendix N authors due to their appearance in the anthology Gygax gave a nod to, Swords Against Darkness III.Omissions are one thing and borderline inclusions are another. And I suppose it would be fine if that were the end of it. But for some reason, stuff that doesn’t even have a tenuous connection to Gygax’s list shows up in here.

I don’t get it.

Why are C. L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith present in a volume that purports to be a compendium of Appendix N stories? The Appendix N list is the compelling time capsule that it is precisely because of its idiosyncrasies. There are no valid grounds for embellishing it– unless the book isn’t really about Appendix N as it is, but rather Appendix N as someone would like it to be. Appropriating the title and subtitle of my PHENOMENALLY SUCCESSFUL book would seem to argue for the former, but the sleight of hand here of casually introducing new literary landmarks as if they had always been present is another thing entirely. Bebergal wants it both ways. I doubt he bothered to read my book before co-opting its title to his purpose.

Anyone who had read it would know why the hatchetmen associated with traditional publishing are INCAPABLE of shedding any light on this topic at all. They are, after all, the ones responsible for suppressing the fantasy canon in the first place!

How Much Does Appendix N Matter in Actual Play?

Well it took a while to get an idea about this, but I think we are finally starting to get a clearer answer on this one: “Does Appendix N really change the way you play D&D all that much?”

Speaking for myself, reading all those pulp stories kindled a thirst for real life adventures. Maybe not quite on the same scale as the sort that guys like Burroughs and Merritt and Hodgson would take for granted, but nevertheless still a significant leap forward in the adrenaline chasing department. For sure, people that have been brainwashed into being ashamed of their pioneering heritage are definitely missing out.

Dipping back into role-playing games at a somewhat more infrequent tempo, I did feel far more comfortable running off of, say, the core Gamma World first edition rules with no little else than a rough map and a few random encounters. Certainly, knowing what the rule set is made of grants a unique sort of confidence when it comes to the matter of elaborating on it.

Introducing a real life gaming group to Moldvay Basic D&D and Keep on the Borderlands, I found myself being far more willing to range off the starting map that comes with the module. Swaths of Lovecraft and Solomon Kane stories were dropped side by side into the play area and the weird world of my campaign setting took what could have been its foundation. But this potentially rich vein of gameplay– the whole original Appendix N infused homebrew campaign would have to wait. It remained an experiment, very much overshadowed by the usual D&D activities of players getting outwitted by goblins, kobolds, and gnolls.

The current AD&D game is another matter entirely. This one was presaged by an investigation into just how exactly James Ward prepared for his Metamorphosis Alpha games. With nothing more than an unkeyed sketch similar to what James Ward would have done, I was off in a quixotic effort to imitate the Dungeon Mastering style of Sky Hernstrom.

Sitting on this side of fourteen AD&D sessions, everything is pretty clear now. If you’d asked me a few weeks ago I would have said that Appendix N is only going to account for maybe 20% of our play. The reason for that is that it is very hard to approprate from these books any more than one vivid scene, one big tent pole idea here or there, or maybe just characters or situations ripped completely out of context and dropped into play as needed. But there really is more to it than that.

For one thing, it’s not just me that is fluent in Appendix N in this game. It is the whole game group. Not only does this allow us to trust the often strange and weirdly hyper-specific AD&D rules and just see where they lead, but we are also all of us extracting a lot more of excitement out of them. Knowing where all the bits and pieces come from and their original contexts, we are equipped to play everything to the hilt. This by itself is orders of magnitude more fun than what used to be the default po-faced naturalistic approach to framing the game back in the eighties.

Just as important is the fact that the campaign setting we developed together is a heterogeneous mess that works far, far better in practice than I think anyone would would want to believe. We have a Melnibonéan ruling over Lankmar… with a Clark Ashton Smith story next door and bits of a Margaret St. Clair novel in the dungeons below. To the north we have the lost city of Opar courtesy of Edgar Rice Burroughs and another dungeon concept taken wholesale from H. Rider Haggard and A. Merritt.

There are scads of rpg supplements out there that steal the same sort of things, but this is different. All these things taken from incompatible sources and placed side by side…? Well, when you have that you end up with a campaign setting that reflects the exact same overall Frankenstein’s Monster approach to fantasy that the rules themselves exemplify. And there is a unique kind of synergy that emerges when you are creating in tandem with the rules and in the same way that the rules are conceived.

The thing that the people that are striving for “realism” and elaborate rules and overproduced campaign settings are missing out on is that when you have a game that is as stupid and eclectic as mine, it results in a gaming premise that is very easy for players to engage with. None of them are limited by realism or ponderous “ecology of…” articles. None of them have to worry about getting things right. If it’s exciting, if it’s intriguing, if it’s consistent with any one of hundreds of old pulp stories where awesome things happen in every chapter, then it’s totally on the table as something that can be added in to the mix.

That’s probably the most important discovery of all, for once you end up in a place like that you’ll never again need to rack your brain coming up with an idea for what to do for the next session. It’s more than just a game at that point, really. And you’re not just running an “adventure” anymore, either. You’re bringing a living, breathing campaign world to life and all of your players are engaged with making it great.

The results truly are a product of your imagination. THIS IS HOW THE GAME WAS MEANT TO BE PLAYED!

Unlock the wonder of the earliest role-playing games. My books will show you the way!