Over the past week, there’s been something of a flame war heating up. We’ll see how far it goes; perhaps it will conclude as nothing more than a couple of Twitter rants and three or four blog posts.
Jeffro, of Castalia House and Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog, has been writing about Appendix N for some time now. Reviewing and analyzing its content has been an ongoing project of his, and so it’s no surprise that he periodically retweets or includes in blog post round-ups material that relates to said text. Last week, shortly after he reposted my own musings on Appendix N on his social media accounts, another prominent (?) game blogger, RPG Pundit, took to his own platforms to denounce Appendix N and its fans.
I think Jeffro’s sharing of my post was incidental; RPG Pundit has just had enough of hearing and reading about Appendix N!
Jeffro wrote up an answer on Saturday, basically saying that the Appendix is a cool and fun list to have, and asking why it’s even a topic worth arguing over.
Well, this morning RPG Pundit has doubled down with a new post – Appendix N is the Most Useless DMG Appendix. Nothing like a little drama to generate blog hits, eh? All aboard!
As for the usefulness or uselessness of Appendix N as it relates to tabletop gaming, I’ll leave that to people like Jeffro and Alex to hash if they are so inclined; it’s not my area of expertise and I don’t have many thoughts on it. I will offer up one observation, however.
From Jeffro’s response post:
“Did people care about Appendix N back in the day? Yes they did. Appendix N was synonymous with fantasy in the seventies. When people sat down to “play anything”, they wanted to play characters from those books. The books provided the frame of reference needed to explain the class archetypes when the idea of role-playing was brand new. And when designers decided that some aspect of the game was incorrect or needed development, it was the “authority” of those authors that often drove the creation process. Again, this is largely academic at this point. If it’s not fun for you, go do whatever floats your boat.”
I don’t see any claims here (or in the rest of his post) about Appendix N being an exceedingly important resource for DMs. Rather, it seems to me that the body of suggested works it contained was good for inspiration, both for DMs and players. Not exactly sure how your barbarian NPC is going to react to one of the players revealing he’s a wizard? Feel free to ask yourself WWCD (What would Conan do?). That’s not to say you can’t make your own decisions, but even great authors create derivative characters and works. It’s no great sin, then, for DM Jim to employ a pirate queen NPC reminiscent of Belit, or for Steve’s halfling rogue to bear a striking resemblance to Bilbo Baggins.
For my part, I see Appendix N as a reader and SFF fan. Allow me to share one of my comments to Jeffro expounding on the thought:
“I’ve never really been an OSR guy and have limited experience in the tabletop gaming world (though I wish that weren’t the case). My outlook is more that of general nerd and SFF fan. For me, Appendix N having been put together by Gygax and its relation to D&D are cool, yet incidental. My main interest in it is as a list of SFF works/creators many of whom I was either unfamiliar with or knew very little about – as Alex noted. Regardless of how they relate to “pure D&D” or whatever, I am glad to know of their existence and that another prominent nerd enjoyed them.
For a scifi/fantasy fan, it’s baffling to me why anyone would so trash a reading list that at the very least provides a starting point for people who never got into the pulp classics. From a gaming/game industry perspective, however, the reaction makes a little more sense. It’s not one that I personally sympathize with, but at least I understand how the gears may be turning in his head.”
For me, Appendix N is a fascinating list of stories that I’d like to familiarize myself with. RPG Pundit may or may not be aware, but many younger nerds, especially outside the OSR scene, have never heard of many of these writers. Poul Andersen? de Camp? Nope.
I have a handful of nerd friends who have read some Lovecraft. I think it’s safe to say they’re all familiar with Conan the Barbarian, mostly through the Arnold incarnations. But with the exception of Kaiju, who got me in the door to this classic pulpy stuff, I would be surprised if any of them had read Burroughs’ Mars books or had even heard of most of the others on the list. Hell, my friends and I are movie fans, but I’d never heard of Brackett before this year.
Am I guilty of appendix-worship? Are the other OSR bloggers I’ve become fans of? Not so far as I can see. There are studies on the influences on Tolkien’s works. I myself possess a collection of stories that inspired C.S.Lewis (Dunsany appears in this). Were other prominent nerds/writers to put forth lists of their own inspirations, I’m sure others would read and comment.
In the same way that some cinema buffs might be interested in movies and stories that influenced Star Wars (such as the Hidden Fortress), so too should it come as little surprise that game buffs would be curious about the stories and authors that inspired elements of Dungeons and Dragons.
In the comments we exchanged, Jeffro likened the Appendix to a snapshot of SSF fandom from the seventies. For those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and beyond, then, why should it be so scandalous or foolish to value a resource that introduces these works to new generations of nerds? You may argue that the list is lacking, but knocking those who are grateful to have it over nothing just strikes me as petty.