The secret legend of Appendix N

I’m going to dare to say that it’s not a novel observation to point out that there are different kinds of nerds.

Nerdom (or you may prefer the “geekdom” nomenclature) is a broad and varied discipline, spotted with perhaps as many rabbit holes as there are stars: comic nerds, yes; game nerds both tabletop and video; train nerds and figurine nerds and audio/visual nerds and computer nerds. For many of us, these fascinations bleed over and encroach upon other territories. I think most nerds come to find a broad range of interests.

There are also Deep Nerds, one might call them; distinct in some ways from the Deep Ones. Trekkies and Star Wars nerds; Babylon 5 nerds; LARPers and that guy who’s read every Stephen King novel five times. In Japan some of these people fall into the otaku category, which in the native culture largely remains a pejorative despite attempts in the West to appropriate the term as a badge of fandom. Being super into Naruto is cool if that’s your thing, even if some people might find it a little weird. Hibernating for weeks at a time in the dark recesses of your sleeping place is anti-social and ill-advised.

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My own nerdacles have been growing out steadily and grasping at various objects. Sometimes the stickers stick, and sometimes there’s just no suction. What can you do?

Repeatedly I have found myself surprised or amazed and certain previous perceptions smashed to bits. I’ve had to do a lot of gluing.

Over the past several months, I’ve discovered a number of nerd-bloggers who belong to a somewhat aged and well-established enclave. This group is welcoming but quiet. Largely unassuming but deep in tradition. While some of these folk do dabble in video games and more mainstream nerd media, their main focus is upon either tabletop gaming and/or classic SFF.

I thought my love of Herbert and Asimov and Lewis qualified me as a classicist of sorts, but there are older and deeper magics still. I’ve only recently come to know the works of Vance and Burroughs. Robert E. Howard remained at my periphery for far too long. And there’s a much longer reading list.

Upon infiltrating the society of which I speak, one encounters references to a mysterious text known as Appendix N. At first I glossed over these mentionings. I’ve played a few tabletop games, but my interest in the older incarnations of D&D is thin, though respectful, and mostly academic. As you linger, however, these rumblings will continue, and will be invoked not only in the context of gaming, but of literature and great works.

This blog entry provides a fair explanation, along with a list of the works. Or you can see here for the original words and block-of-text sources of Appendix N.

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In short, Appendix N is a list of works at the end of the original Dungeon Masters Guide for Dungeons and Dragons. It lists the major influences of game creator Gary Gygax, and includes authors who are well known today and some who have fallen into obscurity outside of most circles. For my part, once I finish with the John Carter stories, I’m excited to seek out more Vance and discover this Poul Anderson I keep reading about. With Appendix N as a reference, my reading list has expanded substantially.

Alex at Cirsova sometimes predicts that a new pulp SFF Renaissance is either approaching or has already begun. Given the resurgent popularity of Tolkien and Lewis in recent years and the expansion and mainstreaming of the genre by Hollywood and authors like Rowling, he may be right. I certainly hope he is, and I hope his efforts at bringing back business-sustainable pulp SFF magazines is a roaring success.

I also hope that through my own current awakening and whatever meager influence I have as a blogger and Twitter denizen, I can contribute to this rediscovery of great SFF by others, before it is lost to antiquity.

-Bushi

bushi

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12 thoughts on “The secret legend of Appendix N

    1. Haha, I just checked out his post. He certainly is an angry fellow.

      It’s funny, because I’d certainly consider it a good thing for worthwhile SFF authors be be discovered by a younger generation of fans. Even if the list isn’t exhaustive and even if one doesn’t like some of the contents, it’s at least a useful starting point for those of us who have missed many of the groundbreaking forefathers of the genre. Sure, Gygax wasn’t a literary critic, but he was a respected nerd and creator. Maybe I’ll draft a rebuttal piece.

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      1. He (and other people I’ve seen) just cannot grasp that no one is actually looking at Appendix N in search of “True D&D”; at most, those looking at it from a gaming perspective have been looking for where from literature particular bits of inspiration, flavor and mechanics may have originated. In my recently started series on the history of “Read Magic”, it’s noted that OD&D’s magic system is less like Vance’s actual fiction than the later AD&D system.

        Urbanski is a frustrating dude; I agree with a lot of his gaming and political sentiments, but he’s such an incorrigible fellow intent on playing the full theatricality of the heel.

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  1. Very interesting. I wonder what our idea of ‘nerd’ would translate back to at earlier points in human history: scholar? Cult member?

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    1. That’s an interesting question and would make for a fascinating study. I’m speaking without any real expertise here, but I’d venture to say that nerdom as we know it is a luxury byproduct of industrial revolution. I don’t image common folk of older times really had much leisure time, and if/when they did I bet commonly accessible forms of entertainment were things like simple games. Literacy hasn’t always been widespread, so perhaps as you suggested, scholars and scribes who took an interest in fiction, myths, and/or philosophy might have been closest. Perhaps there were opera or stage afficianados, but I image they’d have to have been people of means.

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  2. ‘Pundit’s’ blog post isn’t about ‘N’, it’s about envy… he is incredibly jealous of James Maliszewski, in whose shadow he has cringed and griped for years. Pundit’s published works never approached the success of JMal’s. He published a poorly illustrated, poorly researched B/X clone that lifted Professor MAR Barker’s ‘Tekumel’ magic system in its entirety without attribution, while JMal is publishing a Tekumel fanzine with the blessing of the professor’s estate.

    Pundit’s ‘Dark Albion’ was rejected by James Raggi’s LotFP publishing group, which has now published another ‘gritty grimdark England’ title, England Upturn’d, which promises to blow ‘Dark Albion’ out of the water. LotFP has also re-released JMal’s ‘Cursed Chateau’, which promises to sell a lot more units than any of ‘Pundit’s’ works ever have.

    Definitely a case of envy, though one cannot spell envy without that ‘N’.

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    1. Looking at his stuff, it increasingly seems that way. It’s a shame. It’s a shitty feeling to be eclipsed by someone you feel doesn’t deserve the success, which may be the case with him. Still, the way to deal with it is to adjust and strive to do better, not to shit talk your colleagues and fellow fans. Oh well.

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