Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Appendix N

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!

The Penultimate Men is Here!

I know exactly how you feel.

More than once I’ve caught myself looking out the window to check for roving motorcycle games. Checked the news for the latest updates on the food riots. Wondered just how I would manage to get home in the event of taking a wrong turn.

The future I was weaned on is has arrived. Scenarios I’ve played out countless times at the tabletop routinely show up in my twitter feed as footage from somebody’s phone.

I won’t lie, it’s rather alarming.

If you are reading this blog, then you already know what to do. Shut off the media whose only purpose is to demoralize you and denude you of your culture. Get stronger, get tougher, and become a harder target. And stand with those that will not bend the knee to whatever false god is being peddled this week.

One way you can do the latter is by picking up this latest book put together by my friends at Pilum Press. Experience again the thrill of reading stories by people that share the same ideals and visions as yourself. People able to inspire you, to lift you up. To remind you of what you are and who you are.

And there’s more. It even includes a couple of pieces from myself: a deep dive into the foundations of the Gamma World game, with an eye towards recovering the sort of lost arcana that can propel your campaigns to unparalleled heights.

It’s a fantastic collection that you are sure to revisit time and again. And you will never have more fun re-colonizing your bookshelf.

Get your copy today.

It’s Coming!


Get ready, y’all. This one’s gonna blow you away!

The Emergent Fantasy World of AD&D

Tam Robinson is a babe.

I’ve been tough on the players.

I just had no interest in running a game featuring kobolds and goblins like happens so often when you run Keep on the Borderlands by the book. But you know, with three healing spells at first level for each cleric, high powered rangers and paladins holding things down, and with enough money in the game that the fighting-men can afford plate armor now… hoo boy, they can hold their own up against some pretty tough opposition. Tougher opposition means bigger payoffs– a tradeoff that seems quite satisfactory, at least when the players are winning.

The magic-users are kind of hysterical. Gone are the predictable Sleep-tossing special weapons units of my B/X games. We really are seeing a lot of weird stuff crop up in play: Spider Climb, Burning Hands, and Read Magic have been the spells that been used so far in the game. Such off the wall spells! The players are one spell scroll away from fundamentally changing the balance of power between the classes, but even if they do they still have to make the “chance to know” rolls to get the good stuff. Spell books and spell components add yet another limitation to the magic-users. Magic is strange and weird and mysterious again!

Meanwhile one cleric is very, very close to leveling up. Several others of the tough guy types are maybe halfway to second level. Another good haul could could cause characters to take a break from adventuring in order go take care of their training requirements. Guys that drop to zero or less hit-points miss out on both the big scores and the experience.

The effect of finding significant treasure last session can’t be understated. I had worked up new rumors and new NPC’s for the tavern but nothing else mattered the moment that a significant treasure haul was discovered. Talk about having a motivation for your characters! It was so intense it was palpable.

And the collision of the wandering monster tables with the encumbrance rules made for a surprisingly elaborate scenario– one that came out of nowhere, really! Weird magic-user spells combined with relatively elaborate morale rules added a lot of color to stuff that would have been a little more predictable under B/X.

The game has its own internal logic and it sure does assert itself quite strongly. My desire to create a sort of auteur type monster setting is overruled by the capriciousness of the dice, the rapaciousness of the players, and eclectic specificity of the rules. (And on the player side, my smart aleck spin on the AD&D half-elf begins to look ludicrously out of place.) As I revise my rough notes for the game, refresh and restock areas, and ponder what is needed, the AD&D game begins to shape me much more than I anticipated.

The rules are ponderous, sure. But once the essence of the game is extracted from the manuals, I have to say… it sure does work. AD&D is alive. It is packed with gaming insight. Random tables like the city/town encounters matrix are a godsend, solving longstanding game design problems with just a few rolls of some percentile dice.

Most of all, Gygaxian wisdom brings a depth, breadth and scope to your game that is far richer than the stories that you might think to impose on it. You can do a lot worse than take a chance and see where all of this stuff leads.