The Fantasy Books that Inspired Dungeons & Dragons

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    • #296493
      • Total Posts: 2,133

      The Fantasy Books that Inspired Dungeons & Dragons
      Posted on March 27, 2020 by Jim Nelson

      Gary Gygax playing Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy role playing game he co-created in 1974.

      In a time when many of us are being asked to shelter in place and work from home, a hearty reading list can be invaluable. One intriguing list I recently rediscovered was drawn up by the late E. Gary Gygax toward the end of the 1970s. While formalizing the advanced rule set for Dungeons & Dragons, a game he created with Dave Arneson, Gygax added an appendix to his Dungeon Master’s Guide listing the books that inspired him to create his fantasy role-playing game. “Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy,” Gygax wrote, “being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950.” Over the years this reading list has become so well-known in the role-playing world that it’s merely referred to as Appendix N. Now the Internet Archive has created an online collection of Gygax’s famous list.

      If you’re unfamiliar with Dungeons & Dragons, it’s a role-playing game set in a universe of sorcerers, elves, dragons, and dank underground lairs. While D&D’s fantasy world might sound like J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Gygax’s Appendix N shows he drew from a wide field of fantasy and science-fiction authors: R. E. Howard (creator of Conan), H. P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber (whom it’s believed coined the phrase “sword & sorcery”), Michael Moorcock, and yes, J. R. R. Tolkien. Some names on the list might surprise you, such as Leigh Brackett, whose screenwriting credits include the film noir The Big Sleep and John Wayne’s Rio Bravo. (Gygax probably included her for her planetary romances set on Mars, however.) Others would have faded into obscurity if not for Gygax’s list.

      Forty years after it was published, Appendix N has taken on a life of its own within the role-playing community. Gygax’s list has been studieddissected, and emulated. There’s even an Appendix N Book Club. Blogger James Maliszewski called Appendix N the “literary DNA” of D&D.

      If you’re interested in expanding your diet of fantasy books, or you’re curious where the D&D phenomenon all started, you’re in luck. Internet Archive has many of the books on Gygax’s reading list available for borrowing. When Gygax was asked in 2007 if he would change any of the selections, he replied, “I wouldn’t change the list much, other than to add a couple of novels.” Internet Archive has a few of those later additions available as well. Happy reading!

      The people-to-cake ratio is too high.

    • #296501
      • Total Posts: 4,606


      Hi gryneos,

      My younger brothers still play to this day.


      “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
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      "The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it."
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      "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
      - Jiddu Krishnamurti

      "Sometimes a pessimist is only an optimist with extra information."
      - Idries Shah

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      • #296558
        • Total Posts: 2,133

        We meet about once a week, though not as regularly last month. I’ve done online Discord games in the past and they are at least as fun as in-person versions. But, I started playing with friends back in 1976. I don’t game with them anymore, though the desire to play RPGs has persisted. Most of the people with whom I play are in their 20-30s.

        The people-to-cake ratio is too high.

    • #296513
      • Total Posts: 3,203

      there’s also a LOT from Borges’s collection

      Gene Wolfe is sort of a successor to this list

    • #296574
      The Red Menace
      • Total Posts: 1,141

      Old school D&D drew surprisingly little from Lord of the Rings – its race setup (humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits halflings) is really about it, along with the idea of the ranger class. You won’t really find the sweeping epic fantasies and tales of heroism and moral lessons, there’s no great battles against orecish armies and evil wizards, civilization isn’t hanging in the balance of your actions.

      You’re a person (and the notion that 18/00 strength was male-only aside, early D&D was very gender equitable) who’s grubbing in a dungeon for loot. You’re an opportunist or a mercenary, and you live in a world that’s already collapsed (thus all the dungeons and ruins.) Thematically, original dungeons & Dragons (and 1st edition AD&D after it) completely ignore Tolkien, and lean HARD on Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth” series (right down to the magic system) and Fritz Lieber’s Lankhmar series (the crapsack decayed world, full of demons and dungeons.)  Throw on a sprinkle of Robert Howard and Edgar Rice Borroughs (gotta get dinosaurs from somewhere!) and you’ve got old school D&D


      later editions would lean harder into Tolkien; Ed Greenwood’s “Forgotten Realms” setting is a heavy pastiche of Middle Earth, but doesn’t really follow Tolkien thematically; you’re still a loot-hungry murder-hobo roaming the land for Adventure!™. Weiss and Hickman’s “Dragonlance” setting was way, way more Tolkien-y… in fact it even overshoots Tolkien and hits C.S. Lewis territory in how heavy-handed its moral themes can be. And then of course you have the 3rd edition of the game, much of which was released concurrently with the Peter Jackson films, so there’s some heavy dosage of Kiwi Tolkien in there too.

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