In 1979 a company called Tactical Studies Rules published Dungeon Master’s Guide, which was the third hardcover book in their extensive reworking of the Dungeons & Dragons game.
The growth of the game’s popularity had been explosive, considering that the original set of rules had been published only five years before.
Those five years had seen the publication of several officially authorized supplements to original rules as well as an officially authorized monthly magazine.
The wealth of unofficial and unauthorized material for D&D published during those same years is hard to estimate. It seemed as if anyone with access to a mimeograph machine and a copier was producing adventure modules, collections of monsters and treasures, and pamphlets of optional rules.
At this same the authors of the original game, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, had a falling out, with Gygax remaining with TSR and Arneson moving on to other projects.
All of this led to Gary Gygax deciding to reboot the game, producing the three hardcover books that would become Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax wanted to set down the definitive rules. These books were a stark contrast to the ad-hoc garage shop feel of many of the mimeographed “supplements” with construction paper covers that were circulating at the time.
To get back to the original question, though, “Appendix N” refers to the Nth appendix to the DMG. Titled “Inspirational And Educational Reading”, it is a listing of the fiction that inspired Gary Gygax to create Dungeons & Dragons in the first place, and that he recommended to players of D&D.
So that’s what it is. Why you should care is a little more complex. In fact, it’s complex enough that Jeffro Johnson wrote a book on the subject. How that happened is, well, kind of a funny story, because he didn’t set out to write a book.
Jeffro Johnson is gaming blogger. His blog is called Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog. Despite the name, he doesn’t limit himself to space gaming, he writes about all manner of subjects relating to gaming as a hobby, as well as a wide selection of games.
A while back he had the idea to do a series of reviews of the books listed in Gygax’s Appendix N. As near as I can figure it, (and I’ve been reading his blog for some years now) that’s all it was. He was going through his old DMG and saw the list of recommended reading and wondered if anyone had ever sat down to do a series of reviews on those particular works, as a sort of companion piece to the original appendix.
When he didn’t find one he decided to do it himself.
And therein hangs a tale.
Over the course of the project Jeffro discovered not only a number of neglected classics of the Fantasy genre, but also a tradition of adventure-oriented storytelling. His observations regarding those traditions have helped to spark the current Pulp Revival movement in genre fiction. They have certainly had an influence on my own work.
While this collection of reviews is unapologetically written by and for role playing gamers, with numerous specific examples of how a particular narrative was adapted as a particular set of rules, the insights into what makes good storytelling are applicable to fans of genre fiction in general.
What’s more, the press that his series has garnered, both positive and negative, has helped to introduce new readers to older works that have unfairly forgotten. As such, I can recommend this book to anyone who is interested in discovering the roots of the Fantasy genre.