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Get GMing Inspiration from Gary Gygax’s Appendix N

I recently started a side project on my personal blog, Yore: Reading Appendix N. The project entails doing exactly that: Reading every book Gary Gygax recommended in Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (1st Edition), and at least one book by every author in cases where he didn’t provide a specific recommendation.

That blog series isn’t happening here on the Stew because it involves blogging about books and not GMing, but I wanted to mention it here for two reasons: One, there’s significant overlap between GMs and folks who enjoy fantasy and sci-fi novels; and two, because Appendix N is a font of amazing books that are great inspiration for gaming and GMing.

If you don’t own the DMG and want to check out Appendix N, I’ve reproduced it here: Appendix N. And if you want to delve into it and check out some excellent books, I’ve created a reading list that breaks Appendix N down by title and provides notes, recommendations, and more to make that easier: The 100-Book Appendix N Reading List. (You can also download the list in PDF and Excel.)

I read all of Robert E. Howard’s Conan yarns when I was first investigating the roots of the hobby, and I’m now working on the second Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novel, and both those and the Appendix N titles I’d read before starting this project (Tolkien, Lovecraft, Zelazny, and others) have been great sources of ideas for games. And not just for things I can steal whole cloth (although they’re great for that), but also for ideas about mood and tone and setting that I wouldn’t have considered on my own.

If you’ve never checked out Appendix N, or the books Gary recommended back in 1979 — which, thus far, have held up as superb recommendations in 2012, 33 years later — I encourage you to do so. Whether you read one or a hundred, you’ll get something out of it you can use in your games.

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. You can find out a bit more about him on his personal website.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Get GMing Inspiration from Gary Gygax’s Appendix N"

#1 Comment By shortymonster On September 6, 2012 @ 1:30 am

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have been a huge inspiration for me even as a player, and without them I wouldn’t have played one of my most fun characters ever, a sneaky conman in a game that was also inspired by the entire Lankhmar series.

#2 Comment By Roxysteve On September 6, 2012 @ 8:45 am

Heh. Let me know how you feel after reading the Lord Dunsany stuff.

Insomniacs! Tired of being tired? Had a bellyful of Sleeping Pills and waking up in odd places with people pointing at you? Simply begin reading “The Complete Pegana”. Soon you’ll be in “The Dreamlands” for real!

Warning: Do not attempt to read this book while riding public transport or you may find yourself waking up in a bus depot or train yard with your wallet missing and “LUSER” written on your forehead in laundry marker.

The Complete Pegana is widely regarded as a classic of modern literature, but I suspect only by those who have never attempted to read it.

#3 Comment By Roxysteve On September 6, 2012 @ 8:57 am

May I suggest you should add the John Jakes “Brak the Barbarian” series of books to your list? You won’t be sorry.

#4 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 6, 2012 @ 9:03 am

That’s an excellent point. I haven’t “met” a character in Appendix N who couldn’t provide an interesting foundation for a PC.

#5 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 6, 2012 @ 9:04 am

It’s not part of Appendix N (unless Gary updated N later on?), but I’ll never turn down a reading recommendation. Unfortunately, it’ll have to join the queue at #84, as I still have 83 books to go for this project…

#6 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On September 6, 2012 @ 9:55 am

It’s interesting to me how much of the Appendix N flavor has been squeezed out of the game as it’s evolved into its own thing.

Also, there’s a similar list at the back of the ’81 red box Basic book; most of the titles are the same, but there are a few variations.

#7 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 6, 2012 @ 10:36 am

The Moldvay list was mentioned on G+ as well, and I’m planning to do a Yore post about it. Gary also published a sort of proto-Appendix N with a lot fewer specific recommendations in Dragon Magazine #4.

And I’ve heard that he commented after the fact on a couple of authors that he should have/meant to include in Appendix N but didn’t, although I haven’t been able to find those comments (if they exist) yet.

#8 Comment By kirkdent On September 6, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

This is the kind of list that I’ve been looking for for a while now! I stopped reading fantasy literature a long time ago for various reasons, and have been quite out of that loop. Now I have a source of books that basically tie right in to the mindset of the DnD creators/ Gary Gygax!

Thanks a bunch for the article!

#9 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 6, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

Martin’s little experiment inspired me to look at the Moldvay list, too. I noticed right off that I had somehow missed Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series in my D&D education. So Mrs. Gnome Librarian picked them up for me. I just finished The Book of Three and loved it. Black Cauldron is next. I learned something, too. Alexander was a founding editor at Cricket magazine, where my mother once worked. Strange how small the world is sometimes.

#10 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 6, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

Happy to help! I may hit a stinker at some point, but thus far (17 books in) Appendix N has been pure gold.

#11 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 6, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

I used to get Cricket! What a great magazine.

The Prydain books are great. I was fortunate enough to do a whole unit on them in grade school, including carving the medallion-thingies in wood and heading to Riverside Park to reenact one of the scenes from the book. One of my favorite classroom experiences.

#12 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 6, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

Old Cricket says …

#13 Comment By philipstephen On September 6, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

You are in for a treat with the Prydain Chronicles… Black Cauldron is an amazing book. My grade 6 teacher read The Book of Three out loud to our class and I ate the rest up… doing illustrated book reports for all of them.

I love how Lloyd Alexander manages to bring depth and development to characters across a series using fairly tight and poetic prose… just enough to get the story told and have us buy into the action and the heart of the story.

A great series for young boys. And of course youthful adults. The whole thing would make an excellent RPG campaign as well.

#14 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 10, 2012 @ 9:48 am

I used to read Cricket, and still say “Hello, everybuggy!”

Also: Terry Pratchett has a shout-out to Lieber in “The Colour of Magic”, his first Diskworld book, when the folks fleeing the burning city meet a large and small man sitting around a campfire.

#15 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 10, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

I’ve read CoM many times (it’s still among my favorite Discworld books), but would previously never have had a chance of catching that reference. Now I want to go back and read it again!