Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

Appendix N, Past Mid-Way

I’m about two-thirds of the way through my haphazardly completed reviews of Appendix N authors. Andre Norton is in the batter’s box. I’ve not read much of her output, so I’m taking in a few of her Witch World novels before writing up my assessment. But this seems a good time to look back on what I’ve covered so far.

I’m comfortable in saying that I can understand why each of the authors made the list. I can either point to a specific instance in a novel (an item, monster, concept, etc.) that filtered into the rules of D&D or I can see how the tenor or flavor of the writing influenced the style of play Gary Gygax was attempting to encourage and the archetypes he was attempting to emulate through the character classes.

Most of the tales are adventure stories, sitting in varying positions along the pulp-to-literary stylistic spectrum. Importantly, most were entertaining. I can see the influence of a few of these writers in my own output (for better or worse, depending on how you perceive my work.) These are deep-seated influences. I’ve been reading this stuff for a long time. I’ve only rarely had to hunt up a book or two in order to familiarize myself with an Appendix N notable. Most of the authors have had works sitting on my shelves for years.

Now, if someone were to ask for three authors one must read from the first two-thirds of the list in order to get a handle on what D&D is all about, I’d suggest (in alphabetical order) Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock. This is not intended to slight any of the others (in fact, most of the others are, in my opinion, better writers than Moorcock) but to single these writers out as having the greatest influence on the game. Of course the final third will include some heavyweights. Might Jack Vance knock one of these off the podium?* You’ll have to wait.
* What about Tolkien, you ask? J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence on D&D is a matter of some controversy. I’m not sure I want to weigh in on that one. Not yet anyway.

Michael Moorcock, Appendix N’s Prince of Angst

It is only fair that I begin my web log post on Michael Moorcock with the positives of my assessment. He deserves recognition for his contribution to the field and I’m the last man to withhold his just due. Moorcock’s Law/Chaos dichotomy, along with Poul Anderson’s, was a seminal contribution to the alignment system of Dungeons and Dragons. Elric sits among the pantheon of notable fantasy characters. And while Moorcock did not invent the cursed sword, Stormbringer has become the epitome of the trope. In fact Dungeons and Dragons pays homage to it with the inclusion of the sword Black Razor in the funhouse adventure White Plume Mountain.

So Michael Moorcock’s deserved position in Appendix N remains undimmed, whatever I might think. And I do have an opinion. For whatever that’s worth.

Appendix N is Cosmically Indifferent to Your Opinion: HP Lovecraft

So we come to HPL himself, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Much anguished ink has been spilled over HPL in recent years. You want to delve into that, you’re on your own. I’m just writing about stories here.

HPL is best known for his Cthulhu Mythos tales, his stories of men driven to madness upon coming face-to-face with cosmic horrors. The kicker, and the thrust of HPL’s philosophy, is that these cosmic horrors — and by extension, the universe itself — are completely indifferent to the fate, and even the existence, of humanity.

Fritz Leiber, The Touchstone of Appendix N

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I intend to write today about Fritz Leiber. But first, I want to acknowledge Jan’s Paperbacks for once again arranging a book signing for me. My hat is off to you ladies.

What more can be written about Fritz Leiber? He was one of the giants of swords and sorcery. Among the genre’s congnoscenti, he is recognized as a peer of Robert E. Howard. Of course, to the casual reader he’s less likely to be a household name. For those of you who have played Dungeons and Dragons, Leiber has influenced you whether you’ve heard of him or not.

August Derleth, Cthulu Wrangler

Today I continue considering the authors of Appendix N. August Derleth managed to escape my voracious reading attention for a very long time. That is surprising, considering the volume of material he produced. Derleth wasn’t an Asimov-class churner of words, but with over 100 published books to his credit, he was respectably prolific. And, like Asimov, he covered a lot of subject territory in both fiction and non-fiction.

What August Derleth is best known for is his championing of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos. He published collections of Lovecraft’s stories and even wrote a biography of HPL. Additionally, he dove into the Mythos himself, writing several stories of Elder Gods, forbidden books, and the questionable inhabitants of New England.