The Dungeon Master's Guide's famous Appendix N has long been the subject of much discussion in old school circles, but has lately cropped up again with a recent Grognard Games video, Cyclopeatron's recent post of his own personal Appendix N, and Aaron Steele's insanely extensive personal Appendix N listed in his recent post on A Paladin in Citadel.
Consequently, I've been giving a lot of thought, lately, to not only the literary sources that influenced Gary Gygax, but also those that influenced by understanding of D&D and inspired my style of play.
When I first discovered D&D by way of the Holmes Basic Set, I didn't have an extensive background in fantasy, and my understanding of the game was very heavily influenced by the small number of books I had read (plus a smattering of Ray Harryhausen movies, particularly the Sinbad movies, and Jason and the Argonauts):
Alexander, Lloyd, The Prydain Chronicles
Burton, Sir Richard, Arabian Nights
Homer, The Odyssey
Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
That was about it for my early gaming inspirations, and, many other people, I leaned very heavily on Tolkien as my primary source of inspiration for fantasy role playing.
The funny thing about our literary inspirations - what people are calling their own 'Appendix N' - is that the list changes over time. The DMG's Appendix N list is static: these are the books that most affected the development of the game; but the books that affect how we understand and play the game changes over the years. At least mine has.
Even after switching to Advanced D&D, I wasn't particularly influenced by the Appendix N reading list as so many other people were. About the only books that I was introduced to specifically because of Appendix N were Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, and Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, and I didn't find them particularly inspirational at the time - I continued to use Tolkien for my crutch all through high school, and for many years after.
During the late '80's to 1990's I was inspired by the many epic high fantasy series by modern fantasists such as David Eddings, Robert Jordan, and Raymond Feist, and so my list changed again. It wasn't until the dawn of the 21st century that I fully embraced the pulp fantasy stories that inspired D&D to begin with, and my style of play changed with my reading list. These days my campaigns are dark sword & sorcery adventures so filled with mad cultists, evil sorcerers, cosmic horrors and naked slave girls that the heads of post-Gygax TSR executives heads would explode with the politically incorrect wrongness of it.
So here is my current list of literary sources of inspiration that most directly influence my play style and campaign - some are very conventional, common to most of the OSR community, others may be less so. It is worth noting the absence of Tolkien from the current list; although I will always love his work, I'm not currently drawing upon it for my gaming inspiration.
Asprin, Robert L. (ed.) Thieves' World et al.
The shared world anthology beginning with Thieve's World introduced us to the city of Sanctuary as presented by some of the most prominent fantasy authors of the late '70's and early '80's. It will come as no surprise to any reader of this blog, that I have high regard for these books, as the blog title and masthead are inspired by the second book in the series, Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn. Much of my campaign city of Catapesh was inspired by the stories of Sanctuary, particularly the poor quarter known as The Maze and its infamous tavern the Vulgar Unicorn.
Burton, Sir Richard, Arabian Nights
This 19th century classic, which influenced my early gaming, is the only book from my first list of literary influences to remain on my current list. This edition was intended by Burton to titillate Victorian readers with salacious tales of the exotic Middle East. As such, it is a gross parody of actual Middle Eastern culture, but as an inspiration for fantasy campaigns with a near-eastern flavour it is an indispensable staple: bold heroes, evil djinnis, wicked sorcerers, and compliant slave-girls aplenty.
Herbert, Frank, Dune
The great houses of my campaign city of Catapesh and the political intrigue that infuses the city, owe their genesis to feudal structure of the empire of Frank Herbert's classic, Dune. There is much to admire about this book, but the internecine struggles for power between the Houses Atreides, Harkonnen, and Corino always fascinated me, and though I've never consciously tried to emulate Herbert's milieu, the influence is undoubtedly there.
Howard, Robert E., Conan stories
These have, for the last several years, had the most impact on my gaming. Howard's antediluvian Indo-European/African continent, with its familiar-but-different cultures, the intrinsically evil nature of sorcery, the self-interested protagonist, and the plethora of scantily-clad dancing girls have all contributed to my current milieu. Also, the fact that no matter how big a score Conan takes, he always begins the next story dead broke, which is a facet that has directly contributed to my house rules designed to keep the players forever treasure-hungry.
Leiber, Fritz, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories
Along with the Thieves' World novels, Leiber's Lankhmar is an excellent source for city-based adventures. The protagonists battle the city's thieves' guild, drink and wench in the Silver Eel, battle evil sorcerers, and try, usually unsuccessfully, to strike it rich. Although Leiber's influence in the development of D&D cannot be understated, the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories are, perhaps, the least important influences on my current list of literary inspiration.
Lovecraft, H.P., The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
While I like all of Lovecraft's work, with At the Mountains of Madness, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, being two of my favourite stories, it is Earth's Dreamlands that have been most influential in my fantasy gaming. Dream Quest was the very first Lovecraft story I ever read, and while it was very different from the horror that I was expecting, it has had a profound and lasting impact on my gaming since 1984.
McNaughton, Brian The Throne of Bones
This is a relatively recent addition to my personal 'Appendix N.' I bought The Throne of Bones, shortly after it was published, about ten years or so ago, but didn't get around to reading until just last year. I was immediately sorry I had put off reading it so long. This book is a collection of very dark stories filled with tomb-robbers, necromancers, and ghouls that inhabit the necropolis of McNaughton's fantasy city. It has been immensely influential on the development of the necropolis of Catapesh, which is where most of my current campaign's adventures have been set in the past year.
Moorcock, Michael, especially Elric and Hawkmoon novels.
I'm a great admirer of Moorcock's prose style and I love his anti-hero, Elric of Melnibone. Reading the Elric stories is essential to really understand the nature of D&D's alignment system as more than just an artificial code of behaviour, but as side your character takes in the eternal cosmological struggle. Hawkmoon I like mainly for it's darkly fantastical real world setting, the likes of which I am becoming increasingly fascinated with.
Smith, Clark Ashton, any, but especially his Averoigne stories.
I'm becoming increasingly interested in real-world historical fantasy settings, and the dark fantasies of Smith's fictional French province of Averoigne have been tremendously influential.
Vance, Jack, Dying Earth stories (The Dying Earth; The Eyes of the Overworld; Cugel's Saga; Rhialto the Marvelous)
I'm not sure if it's possible to truly appreciate D&D's magic system without reading Vance. I certainly never did until reading the Dying Earth stories just a couple of years ago, despite having played D&D for more than 35 years. Moreover, a great deal of Vance's exquisite prose style can be seen reflected in Gary Gygax's style, not the least of which in the many evocative spell names. In many ways a fantasy milieu's tone depends largely on the nature of magic and for this reason, Vance is tremendously influential on my current style of play.
That pretty much rounds off my list of most important literary influences to my current gaming. Of course many other excellent books have contributed to my gaming style, but not as obviously and directly as those presented above. It will be interesting to revisit this list in ten years and see how much it may have changed.
Welcome Back to the Labyrinth
"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."
"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."
"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"
"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"