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Appendix N (2021)

Funny thing: I’m not really a big fan of fantasy fiction. I’ve always liked Leiber, and I appreciate a fair amount of Howard and Moorcock, and I was really into Tolkien for a spell, but for the majority of my life, I mostly enjoyed fantasy in the context of RPGs. I’ve read far, far more horror fiction. In recent years, I’ve been trying to read more science fiction and fantasy. I find sci-fi easier, honestly, especially since I find the modern fantasy genre’s obsession with world-building and complex magic systems tedious in the extreme. It was not always so! As Appendix N, edited by Peter Bebergal, illustrates, fantasy can be short, zippy and still work when it implies a world instead of painstakingly detailing one.

The idea here is to present a taste of the fiction from Gygax’s Appendix N in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Gygax mostly recommends novels, which is a bit of a complication for an anthology of short fiction. Gygax’s list is also not entirely sensical, too. Why on earth did he only list volume three of Swords Against Darkness? Why did he mention Lin Carter’s World’s End books and not the Thongor books, or just the third volume of Fred Saberhagen’s Empires of the East series? And no Clark Ashton Smith at all? Bebergal addresses these odd oversights with his selections — my favorite in this regard is the reprinting of Frank Brunner’s “Sword of Dragonis,” a gorgeous 1971 comic story. Gygax cops to being influenced by comics, but doesn’t get into specifics, so Bebergal shows us something from the period that could have been on Gygax’s mind.

It’s a fantastic, clarifying anthology. Perhaps less useful for finding the secret source of D&D and more for getting a full and varied look at the fantasy of that moment. It should be on your shelf, probably. And I hope we get a volume two.

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