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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. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.

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!