Divine Right and Appendix N

Thursday , 28, July 2016 4 Comments

The design notes for the classic TSR game Divine Right contain yet another data point regarding the literary inspirations of game designers during the late seventies:

In the interim, we discovered the Chaosium game of White Bear, Red Moon. This game was something new in our experience – a game of heroic fantasy…. There was much in it we liked, though there was much which we couldn’t relate to. For instance, WBRM seemed to have no clear line demarcating the world of the gods and the world of men. As a reader of mythology I could understand this – sort of. The world order in Stafford’s Glorantha resembled that of The Kalevala or numerous primitive mythologies, including the American Indians, where characters grade from hero to sorcerer to god with hardly any warning were one ended and the other began.

But Kenneth was a J.R.R. Tolkien enthusiast and my own fantasy tastes leaned toward Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. In all these authors’ writings there was a difference between gods and men; fantastic things were possible, but an understandable barrier remained between the different states of reality. Further, as far as the conventions of WBRM went, it was hard for us to identify with heroes who could, like the Irish champion Cuchulain, or the Indian hero Arjuna, take on whole armies single-handedly. To our mind, a Julius Caesar might make the deciding difference in a battle with the Gauls, but could J.C. have faced the host of Vercingetorix all by his lonesome? Never! A man is as man and an army is an army.

Yes, Tolkien and Tolkien pastiche was well on its way to eclipsing nearly everything else at the time. But note how the “Big Three” of Weird Tales weren’t just inspirational to Glen Rahman, they also defined how fantasy really worked in his view. Note too the familiarity with the same myths that many pulp fantasy authors were in direct conversation with in their works.

A lot of people have told me over the past couple of years that Gary Gygax’s distinctive Appendix N list were merely the books he had grown up up loving. It’s not conceivable to them that fandom really was this different in the seventies, so they leap to the spurious claim that Gygax was uniquely sentimental about the old pulp stories. In reality, the rise of Tolkien’s popularity occurred in tandem with a revival of interest in several other authors whose work had formed the backbone of the pulp era. Glen Rahman here is yet another example illustrating just how typical Gygax really was.

And while it does make sense to tone down rpg-style “god” characters in a domain oriented wargame, if you’re talking about that other “J. C.”– the Confederate officer that went to Mars, that is– then treating a man like an army is going to be a much more reasonable proposition.

But that’s another story….

4 Comments
  • Very cool. I have great hope for this property for CH. Men have limits, and ignoring limits for characters hurts its realism amount. How much that matters is a matter of taste. And good writing can mitigate unrealism, by increasing suspension of disbelief. Of course, nobody has accused Solomon Kane of being a Mary Sue.

  • JEB says:

    Interesting. I picked up White Bear, Red Moon in 1976 and Divine Right when it came out in 1979, and played both of them extensively. They’re both a lot of fun, and I consider them to be at the top of their class, but Mr. Rahman was mistaken in his understanding of the hero and superhero counters in WBRM.

    Each of those counters represents a man or woman AND their personal followers/supporters, not just the hero himself. The designer of WBRM, Greg Stafford, clarified this in the late 70’s in either Different Worlds or Wyrm’s Footnotes magazine.

    All of which has absolutely nothing to do with this article of course.

    Chaosium published RuneQuest, their RPG set in the world of WBRM in 1978. It contained a bibliography rather than an Appendix N, but still might be of interest to you. I’ll send you a copy, or cut and paste it here, if you prefer.

    • Jeffro says:

      Thank you for clarifying this point. Also, it looks like you can get the first edition of RuneQuest in PDF format. It’s probably past time that I should take a look at it!

  • JEB says:

    If you pick up the PDF of RQ1, the bibliography is on page 116 of the book (126 of the PDF).

    Steve Perrin, who designed RQ with the aid of Ray Turney, Warren James and Steve Henderson, was a founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. He dedicated the book to Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax and Ken St. Andre.

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