Update. Next Publication is: Under Strange Suns, available digitally August 2015, print version due December 2015, Twilight Times Books.

Andrew Offutt, Gary Gygax’s Guiding Genius?

I think, as far as reading sensibilities went, Gary Gygax shared the most with Andrew J. Offutt out of all the Appendix N authors. They were contemporaries and from the available evidence enjoyed similar tastes in fiction. Andrew Offutt was a prolific writer and editor. (And an interesting fellow, as one can discover from reading his son Christopher’s memoir. But such biographical details are beyond the scope of this web log.)

Andrew Offutt wrote, among other things, Howardesque pastiches, including a series of books featuring REH’s character Cormac mac Art. Many readers might be most familiar with Offutt from Shadowspawn, the cocksure thief he created for the Thieves’ World shared world series. But Appendix N lists only (and quite specifically) Swords Against Darkness III.

Why only volume III? (Note that volume III doesn’t even have an Andrew Offutt story in it, circumstantial evidence of a strong sympatico between Offutt and Gygax, a ‘brother from another mother’ quality, though I don’t know if the two ever met.) I had only a copy of volume I until recently. There isn’t, in my opinion, an increase in the quality of the stories. In fact, for my money, volume I contains a higher proportion of superior stories, with Poul Anderson’s The Tale of Hauk, David Drake’s Dragon’s Teeth, and Ramsey Campbell’s The Sustenance of Hoak (no relation to Hauk) as standouts in a strong lineup. Volume III offers some excellent contributions, with a strong run starting with Drake’s The Mantichore and carrying on through most of the rest of the collection, with Manly Wade Wellman’s The Guest of Dzinganji a personal favorite. (I wonder if volume III represents an epochal mark of sorts, the point at which Swords and Sorcery* was supplanted by the incoming wave of Tolkien clones.)

My theory as to why Gygax selected only volume III is based on chronology. The copyright date in volume III is 1978. Appendix N of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is dated 1979. My speculation is that volume III is included because that’s what Gygax was reading as he penned the DMG. Maybe the book was sitting on his desk as he wrote. Perhaps he even referred to Poul Anderson’s essay On Thud and Blunder at the end of the book as he wrote his advice on building a campaign world. While I was reading volume III I couldn’t help but wonder if some aspect of the story at my fingers directly and immediately influenced the new edition of the D&D rules.

So, want to get a sense of the spirit imbuing the game of D&D? Don’t have the time to read Leiber, Moorcock, and Anderson? Well, Andrew Offutt’s anthology Swords Against Darkness III is the shortcut you’re looking for.

*I prefer ‘Swords and Sorcery’ to ‘heroic fantasy’ — or hf — which is the term Offutt pushes in his editorial remarks. Sheer semantics, I suppose, but I don’t consider the prototypical Swords and Sorcery protagonist to be particularly heroic. That isn’t a slight, just an observation.