You know, it was always a bit of a mystery to me why it was that Appendix N discussion seemed to arbitrarily evaporate several years ago. Just like it was strange to me when the audience for my material turned out to be much more the sort of people that were looking for decent fantasy and science fiction to read rather than the folks that might be looking for insight into getting a better game out of their Dungeons & Dragons material.
Granted, every Dungeon Master knows more about running Dungeons & Dragons than every other Dungeon Master. That’s the nature of the beast!
That said, now that the book has been out for a while, we’re starting to hear comment from regions of the game blog scene that had until now been silent on the explosion in Appendix N related discussion and analysis. The nature of this new discussion is, I think, quite telling. Let’s take a look!
Here, then, are a few choice bits from a recent thread at the OD&D Discussion boards:
cadriel: I haven’t read it cover to cover, but it makes the same mistake that a lot of Appendix N analysis makes when it tries to link books in Appendix N to specific ideas and mechanics in D&D. The connections are as often as not errors of pattern-matching; D&D didn’t pull that directly from its literary antecedents.
Right. Right! It’s an error of pattern-matching to surmise that the AD&D Thief skills owe a significant debt to Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows. It’s an error of pattern-matching to think that the AD&D spell system owes as much to Chronicles of Amber and also the Harold Shea stories as it does to the Dying Earth Series. It’s an error of pattern matching to think that the architecture of the OD&D mega-dungeon owes more to Margaret St. Clair’s Sign of the Labrys than it does to the Mines of Moria. It’s an error of pattern matching to recognize the D&D green slime in the work of Sterling Lanier, D&D’s white apes in A Princess of Mars, and AD&D’s trolls in Three Hearts and Three Lions.
Of course! The Alignment system has nothing to do with the work of Poul Anderson and Michael Moorcock. And it’s just a coincidence that Steading of the Hill Giant Chief resembles situations and locations from The Roarding Trumpet. It’s all errors of pattern-matching. Yes!!!
cadriel: It has a bit of charm in its enthusiasm, but there’s a lot of rambling, for instance in Jeffro’s attempt to score points against Star Wars by comparison to things in A Princess of Mars that are, frankly, cliches. There’s never any reflection on how a lot of the authors, including Burroughs, wrote with such transparent formulas that you could see the tracks in the story halfway through. (That doesn’t mean Burroughs isn’t a fun read, but you have to put that aside to enjoy him.) So I mean, I wouldn’t at all equate it to a work of serious history like Playing at the World.
Ah, this is a good one. A guy who parrots the party line regarding the writing of Edgar Rice Burroughs poo-poos the guy that is bringing positive attention to John Carter, Tarzan, Pellucidar, and Carson Napier– to a generation that has only every heard bad about them if they’ve heard anything at all! Yes, my book emphasizes the positive for the vast majority of the Appendix N authors. And no, it doesn’t repeat the nonsensical talking points of the weenies that are responsible for memory holing them. This is a book for the people that are going to go read these authors and then exclaim, why didn’t anyone tell me how good these people were?!
hedgehobbit: Appendix N is just a list of authors and books that Gary liked. They are inspirational reading, not the “literary history of D&D”. These works were, at the time, contemporary fantasy. D&D wasn’t a game about “classic fantasy”, that’s just all they had at the time.
And Gary Gygax was lying when he wrote that “the most immediate influences on AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, REH, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, HPL, and A. Merritt….” And understanding how fantasy and science fiction tended to be viewed by the designers of role-playing games in the seventies is of no use whatsoever to people that are interested in why early versions of D&D are so strange to most people under the age of forty.
cadriel: Ernie Gygax said of Appendix N, “These are just the novels that Dad had on the wall in his den.” (Sanctum Secorum podcast, quote around 2:11)
There are a few places where D&D obviously steals from – particularly The Lord of the Rings and Three Hearts and Three Lions. But when people start to try associating X mechanic with Y putative literary antecedent, without documentation of clear inspiration, it’s as likely to have come from wargaming or movies or history or some other source in parallel. Treating Appendix N as the key to D&D is a poor way to do D&D history.
Oh, this again. Because this error in pattern matching argument is so good, we don’t need any examples where the author we are criticizing actually made this error. Seems legit!!
Oh, but yeah. It’s an error in pattern matching when you realize that the Cubic Gate magic item being made of carnelian is an homage to a book by de Camp and Pratt. I’m with you here, man! Totally just some books on the shelf in Gygax’s den!
hedgehobbit: Nobody is suggesting that Gary lied. Just that the list is simply inspirational and not the basis of D&D. Sure, an idea from a book here or there might have been plucked to create a monster, magic item, or spell, or even a whole adventure plot. But that doesn’t mean that these books hold some special power today, 40 years later.
For example, Gary used Vance’s idea about spells being memorized to create a simpler mechanic to replace Dave’s more complicated item-based spell system. But that doesn’t mean that Gary sat down to design a “Vancian” magic system nor does it mean that we can learn anything of significant about D&D’s spell system by reading Vance. Memorization is an idea to explain a game mechanic that was designed primarily for simplicity, not genre emulation.
I’d go so far as to say that the spells, items, and monsters in OD&D/AD&D hold no special significance other than being an example of how such create such things. You can, and should, remove them all and replace them with spells, items, and monsters of your own creation that have meaning to you and your players. Why let Gary do your imagining for you?
Tricksy, hedgehobbit! So tricksy!
But yes, the argument you’re making really does hinge on Gary Gygax being a liar. Also, it would take an entire book to explain what got looted from the science fiction and fantasy canon and knit together to make the Frankenstein’s Monster of a game that is AD&D. (
That last bit is more of a challenge, I admit. And yep… that is the spirit with which OD&D was delivered to us. For people today that have no idea why classic D&D editions are the way they are and where so many chunks of the rules originally came from, it’s actually danged hard to take the skeleton of the game and go off in a totally original direction.
Someone that’s only recently become familiar with the literary underpinnings of the game will have a tremendous number of options for revisiting the elements of the game and tuning them up in order to go do something completely different with them. Here’s why: a breakdown of what got lost in the translation from pulp story to rpg design is essentially a treasure map leading readers to a whole range of awesome and mind-blowing things.
cadriel: I find Jeffro’s ideas fairly repulsive. For instance, bashing Star Wars on the grounds that it is not sexist enough (as he does in his paean to A Princess of Mars) is the kind of thing that would make me throw the book violently if it were in print. It makes me feel unseemly for liking the adventure literature that I like.
Okay, let me tell you: this is serious business here. Making someone feel unseemly for liking a book? We gotta nip that in the bud right now. Let’s start by not making people feel unseemly for liking my book. Bwa-ha-ha!
cadriel: He complains that Princess Leia wasn’t in a metal bikini until Return of the Jedi, and that a better space princess would have worn nothing but skimpy outfits like Dejah Thoris.
I have a daughter to raise, I can’t put up with that stuff, man.
Hey, if you wouldn’t want an alternate reality Star Wars where Princess Leia is in a metal bikini for the entirety of all three movies, then we’re just going to have to agree to disagree!
strangebrew: Having read PatW and the chapter you posted above, I think the comparison is doing Peterson’s book a disservice. PatW was a meticulous work full of research and a lack of subjectivity (to the point where he only used contemporaneous interviews, since memories can’t be trusted over time). This chapter reads as a dude ranting about his opinions and preferences (essentially a long blog post) with a new cringe-worthy lines thrown in.
Might be a good book, but based on your sample I don’t see how it compares to PatW in the way you describe (“precisely the same thing” – seems almost an opposite approach), nor that it contributes to the hobby in nearly the same way (which you didn’t directly claim).
Excuse me, sir. Your monocle seems to have popped off.
Rafael: No offense to you, personally, Brother Oakes – you know I always appreciate your input: But on this premise alone, Johnson shows he has no clue what he is talking about, in my opinion. I’ve read the book; it’s not without entertainment value, but its premise is just plain wrong.
Had Gygax written D&D ALONE, then, yeah, a list like Appendix N would be generally useful in a direct way, as a literary history. But he was not alone – because if had been, we wouldn’t need all the Braunstein, Chainmail, and Blackmoor discussion any more, or would we?
There are a few titles right away that I can name that demonstrably had a massive impact on D&D that the Appendix N doesn’t list:
– A. E. van Vogt, “The Voyage of the Space Beagle”.
– Robert Adams, “The Coming of the Horseclans”.
– John Norman, “Tarnsman of Gor”, and “Nomads of Gor”.
– Robert Silverberg, “The Tower of Glass”.
…And, obviously, there’s that critical, almost comical underplaying of the importance of “The Lord of the Rings”.
Why so? – Because Mr Gygax didn’t know about them, or considered them unimportant for his version of D&D, or rather AD&D – or, and don’t underestimate that, because he had just lost a lawsuit against Saul Zaentz. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Mr Gygax was being completely untruthful – but it’s an appendix of HIS D&D; he certainly does not speak for the entire generation of “the founding fathers”.
And the funny, yet terrible thing about this topic is that, pretty much since the publication of the AD&D DMG, most of these founding fathers have most decidedly – and consistently – spoken out against this version of D&D’s literary tradition. Like, plainly said it wasn’t so, and provided ample explanations, and proof.
Yet, in 2017, we get a book that essentially cherry-picks the facts on the matter yet again, in order to fabricate a catchy sales pitch for itself.
– What shall I say? The title makes me feel nostalgic, too. But that’s about everything this book can offer; a catchy title.
Look, man. I’m reliably informed that these connections are as often as not errors of pattern-matching. And hey, I want to hear about the bad old days as much as anybody. But if anyone is going to pay attention to these “founding father” types, they are going to have something a little more substantial than Ernie Gygax’s claim that Appendix N is just a bunch of books his dad had on the wall in his den.
Certainly, argument from authority isn’t going to persuade a whole lot of people. Especially when so much of what people assume about how fantasy even works can be traced back to a collection of hardback books with Gary Gygax’s name on the spine!