S&S & Appendix N


Appendix N to the Dungeon Master’s Guide is an ever full well. Each dip of the bucket brings up something thirst quenching. Gary Gygax’s pulp influences were as broad as they were deep. Some feel that D&D is best seen as an immersive plumbing of pulp Sword and Sorcery. There is probably much to support that opinion. But even a cursory reading of Appendix N indicates that he did not limit himself to the sub-genre. He mined science fiction, historical fiction, and epic fantasy.


If, however, we want to investigate the S&S roots, we’d need to filter out anything extraneous. So, let’s sift through Appendix N and see what remains.

The introductory paragraphs to Appendix N are suggestive, and much can be surmised from them. But for the purposes of this post, I’m limiting the field to the itemized authors/titles.

He starts off with a bang. Poul Anderson gets three titles mentioned. Shall we quibble as to whether some or all of them are high fantasy rather than S&S? Sure, why not have at it? Let’s say the stakes are too high and the main characters insufficiently motivated by personal gain. I’m open to persuasion, but let’s say this isn’t S&S. Now, if Anderson got an et al, I could make a good case for him. But, Gygax did not. So I won’t.

John Bellairs Face in the Frost is a delightfully whimsical — and occasionally disturbingly horrific — fantasy. Not S&S.

Leigh Brackett gets the nod, I think since the line between S&S and Sword and Planet is nebulous to the point of non-existence. So, such works as The Sword of Rhianon I consider to constitute part of the S&S rootball of D&D.

Frederic Brown was a prolific and gifted SF and crime fiction writer. Not S&S.

Edgar Rice Burroughs gets credited for three distinct series. The Sword and Planet rule can be invoked again, and Pellucidar is an example of the Lost World genre. What think you: Do Lost World tales count as S&S? There is an outré element that borders on supernatural in that any science fiction veneer is so thin that it might as well be fantasy. The motives are usually survival (often instigated by cupidity.) I can see an argument for it. The Venus stories are, perhaps, closer to SF than are the Barsoom tales. But I think we can give ERB the S&S nod for John Carter, the immortal gentleman from Mars, by way of Virginia.

Lin Carter. World’s End series. You know what? I was already to give Carter an instant pass, thinking of his Thongor stories, which are clearly pulp S&S in conception (and, I think, execution.) But the thing is, I’ve never read any of the World’s End books. This is the series Gygax mentions and no others. Can anyone chime in? S&S or not?

L. Sprague de Camp gets a laundry list. One is a time travel book; his Sword and Planet Viagens Interplanetarias series gets no mention at all; and the Harold Shea stories and The Carnelian Cube (co-written with Fletcher Pratt) aren’t S&S. The Fallible Fiend books perhaps qualify, though as usual, de Camp is marching to the beat of his own drummer. Not everyone likes his particular syncopation. I do (and, apparently so did Mr. Gygax.) You might notice the absence of The Tritonian Ring or any of the other related Pusadian books, which de Camp deliberately wrote as his contribution to heroic fantasy. Interesting absence.

August Derleth. No titles mentioned. I’m assuming the Solar Pons books weren’t a D&D influence. So, it’s the Lovecraftian element. And so, not S&S.

Lord Dunsany. Again, no titles. I don’t think the King of Elfland’s Daughter qualifies. But such stories as The Hoard of the Gibbelins and, perhaps, one or two of the stories printed in The Sword  Welleran qualify. (I’ve considered much of the material I’m discussing here previously, but I’m too lazy to link to all of the relevant web log posts.) So, yes, S&S.

Philip Jose Farmer gets a title and an et al. We can cast a broad net, then. A prolific pulp-influenced writer like Farmer can’t help but have at least dabbled in S&S. I’d give it to him for the Opar novels at a bare minimum. His contribution to Thieve’s Word, alas, can’t be counted due to chronological impossibility. I don’t think I’d consider the World of Tiers books to qualify, but I think we can count Farmer in the S&S column.

Gardner Fox. Kothar and Kyrik. Check and check. Unquestionably. Fox was leaning into the S&S.

REH. Conan. Drinking direct from the S&S hose here.

Sterling Lanier. Post apocalyptic SF. Fantastic stuff, but not S&S.

Fritz Leiber. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, et al. What, I wonder, did Gygax have in mind with the et al.? Clearly the man who coined the term Sword and Sorcery and who gave us two of its iconic heroes qualifies as S&S. But Leiber otherwise was mostly known for SF and some weird tales. So, probably some of that, such as Gather, Darkness. Like de Camp, Leiber influenced Gygax through multiple genres.

H.P. Lovecraft. No titles. But again, I don’t think there’s much doubt what Gygax had in mind here. Not S&S.

Abraham Merritt. (I wanted to type A. Merritt, but my computer, which thinks it knows better than I do what I intend to write, keeps tabbing over every time I write it and I don’t feel like figuring out the formatting issue.) Merritt gets multiple titles and an et al. Oddly, Ship of Ishtar isn’t one of them but perhaps gets in under et al. Moon Pool raises the Lost World issue again. But in this case, I’d say the evidence weighs against it’s admission as S&S. Dwellers in the Mirage, however, I’d say qualifies.

Michael Moorcock gets a few of the Eternal Champion novels mentioned. And the first three books of the Hawkmoon series are called out. Interestingly the Hawkmoon books use a far future, quasi-post-apocalyptic setting. But that’s quibbling. They are clearly as S&S as any Elric story, and it is trite at this point to mention that until rather recently neither writers nor publishers felt any compunction against freely mixing fantasy and SF elements. Anyway, S&S yes.

Andre Norton. No titles. But I assume Witch World was on Gygax’s mind with this pick. Witch World rather defies categorization, encompassing SF, portal fantasy, epic fantasy, horror, etc. But I think, with such Witch World stories as the Toads of Grimmerdale, Norton gets her Appendix N S&S spurs.

Andrew Offutt, as editor of Swords Against Darkness III. Why only this volume, I couldn’t say. But there can be no doubt of his S&S bona fides with this one.

Fletcher Pratt. Blue Star, et al. As I mentioned in regard to his collaborations with L. Sprague de Camp, I don’t consider the wonderful Harold Sheas stories to be S&S. Blue Star is too much of a political novel and intellectual exercise for me to consider it S&S. But the terrific novel The Well of the Unicorn? Sure, I can see that. One might take the position that it is an epic fantasy. And I can see that as well. So, being on the fence, I’ll go with not S&S.

Fred Saberhagen, Changeling Earth, et al. As with Pratt, I’m uncertain here. The Changeling Earth (The Empire of the East) books are must-read. But there is the post-apocalyptic aspect to consider and the suggestion that the stakes might be too high for proper S&S. There is the et al. to consider, but other than the Berserker stories and the Book of Swords series, I’m not well enough versed to opine on the et al. I can easily see how The Empire of the East influenced Gygax, but not from a purist S&S angle.

Margaret St. Clair. The Shadow People and Sign of the Labrys. I’ve read both. Not S&S.

J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit, Ring Trilogy. Certain classical elements of the D&D adventure can be found adumbrated in The Hobbit. But I don’t think there is much room to dispute the statement “Not S&S.”

Jack Vance. The Eyes of the Overworld, The Dying Earth, et al. While The Dying Earth stories are set in the unbelievably far future, it is hard to argue that they are SF. On rare occasions a bit of technology makes an appearance, but for the most part the fantastic elements are magical. The characters are almost stereotypically driven by avarice and the main chance. I won’t say this is a slam dunk on par with the classification of, say, Conan. But it’s at least an easy layup.

Stanley Weinbaum. Cerebral, inventive SF. Not S&S.

Manly Wade Wellman. No titles, but for the Kardios of Atlantis stories, Wellman has to be given the nod. (I hadn’t properly appreciated, or remembered, the Kardios stories when I wrote my Appendix N entry on Wellman. For this I apologize to anyone who cares.)

Jack Williamson. No title. I think we are in de Camp and Farmer territory again. I’d say Reign of Wizardry is S&S, but Gygax might have been just as influenced by the pulp SF of The Legion of Space. But, yes, S&S.

Roger Zelazny. Jack of Shadows, Amber series, et al. Certainly the Dilvish the Damned stories get Zelazny in, even if you want to argue about the status of much of his other work.

So, what can we glean from this? There are twenty-eight authors listed in Appendix N. Of these, perhaps sixteen, just over half, arguably wrote sword and sorcery. That’s at least grounds to argue that the game itself does tilt toward an S&S foundation. It also reinforces the fact that Gygax’s influences were hardly limited to S&S, given that almost half of Appendix N roster consists of authors who did not write S&S and those that did often were multi-genre writers. I’d say that, even limiting ourselves to this provisional list of S&S writers, we can presume that Gygax wasn’t a purist, not beholden to labels. And I think that’s an admirable attitude. Trying to shoehorn something into a genre is limiting and stultifying.

If you need a lesson from this: read what you like.

Might I suggest you try my new series Semi-Autos and Sorcery, which I announced a few weeks ago? Books one and two are out, while book three is available for pre-order. I’d like to promote my earlier works more often, but it is customary to push the current releases, so I’ll follow the beaten path. (But you can browse for yourself here, if you’d like.) Remember, reviews are gold. I’d love to hear what you think about my stories, good, bad, or “meh.” (On second thought, limiting feedback to “good” would be preferable. Yeah, let’s stick with good. Who’s got the time for negativity?)