Appendix N Part 1 - FictionAppendix N Part 1 - Fiction

James at Grognardia wrote a good post about the problems of D&D’s Appendix N, namely that it’s just an un-annotated list of works that doesn’t really give any indication as to how they influenced the development of the game. It makes for a good reading list, especially if you’re interested in looking at some works that are largely forgotten in the present day (I’m particularly fond of Margaret St. Clair’s Sign Of The Labrys), but that’s about the extent of it. James has gone on to begin posting a much more focused Appendix N for his own game that talks about why the works he’s picked are included.

I’ve been meaning to put together a list of influences and inspirations for A Dungeon Game for a while and haven’t got round to it. These posts on Grognardia have inspired me to finally get around to doing it, and to do it in a similar manner. I think this will be four posts: fiction books (or authors more broadly), other roleplaying games, films, and non-fiction books.

Today I’m talking about fiction. The actual mechanisms/systems of A Dungeon Game may not have been impacted by fiction hugely, but the way I think about writing adventures very much is. There’s only one extant full-length adventure for ADG at the time of writing this - The Moss Mother’s Maze - but you’ll see the influence of these texts in much of my work both for ADG and outside of it.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tombs Of Atuan

ADG is a game primarily about dungeon exploration. It’s right there in the title. Dungeons and their contents are a staple of fantasy gaming but there is, perhaps surprisingly, not a huge amount of extant fiction focused exclusively on dungeon delving. Of the ones that do exist The Tombs of Atuan is the best one, and probably my favourite Earthsea novel in general.

Tombs does something I’m very interested in, which is that it shows us the violation of, exploration of, and attempted extraction of treasure from the dungeon from the point of view of the residents/guardians of said dungeon. In many ways it’s home invasion horror, and this is something I have at the forefront of my mind every time I run a dungeon crawl or write a dungeon-based adventure.

Joe Abercrombie, Before They Are Hanged

The second book in the First Law trilogy is also the best book in the trilogy. The entire series - and the grimdark movement in general; I consider ADG to be a grimdark game - very much informs my approach to blending fantasy and horror, but Before They Are Hanged is the novel that has the most impact on ADG.

There’s one section of the book in general that stands out in my mind. Logen and his companions are travelling through the ruins of the Old Empire when the floor of the building they’re in collapses, plunging Logen and Ferro into a series of crumbling chambers filled with Shanka (functionally the goblins of this series). It’s a very short section in the grand scheme of the novel but it sticks out to me as one of the highlights. It really presses home the terror and helplessness of finding yourself in crumbling, cramped corridors, with all the weight of the earth hanging over your head and no light source. It’s terrifying and the threat of sudden, brutal violence runs through the entire sequence as the pair try to sneak past massive groups of Shanka that they would have no hope of fighting off. That sense that adventuring” is actually really scary and really dangerous is something I’ve tried very hard to inject into ADG.

More broadly, Abercrombie’s work in general is concerned in large part with the physical and mental toll a life of violence takes on people. His novels are filled with characters bearing the physical and emotional scars of violence, who more often then not come to grisly and premature ends as a result of them. That’s something that’s directly in the text of ADG in the form of Scars and the death mechanisms.

Mark Z. Danielewski, House Of Leaves

Where The Tombs of Atuan shows us what it’s like you have your sacred ancestral murderhole invaded by outsiders hell bent on extracting riches, House Of Leaves shows us the psychological impact of spending your free time straying into hostile, impossible otherspaces that absolutely do not want you there. The phrase mythic underworld” is often used when talking about dungeons, and it’s a phrase that definitely informs the way I think about them. It’s had much less impact on me than the contents of the Navidson house, though. The constantly shifting geography, impossible dimensions, complete lack of explanation or - in many cases - internal logic, and the space’s constant attempts to frustrate mapping and exploration had a profound effect on the way in which I write dungeons. House Of Leaves very much gives us a dungeon that is less a space to be explored and more a character in its own right, with corresponding agency, desire, and power.

Susanna Clarke, Piranesi

If you ever needed evidence that empty rooms and no encounters are actually the opposite of boring, it’s right here in this book. The crumbling, ancient, unknowable labyrinth that Piranesi calls home is utterly devoid of life, but it’s through that absence that it comes to utterly dominate every aspect of Piranesi’s existence.

In many ways Piranesi’s labyrinth is the opposite of the Navidson house. It absolutely does not care that Piranesi is there. It probably doesn’t even know. It lacks intelligence, motion, feeling, it just simply is. And yet it is in a way that makes it clear it has always been here and will continue to be here long after Piranesi - or any other intruders - have departed. Time moves on but the labyrinth remains. It insists upon itself, and gives the characters no option but to try and understand its secrets. And the less explanation they find, the more they hunt for answers.

Somewhere in between the Navidson house and Piranesi’s labyrinth lies my ideal of what a Dungeon should be.

Robert Swindells, Room 13

This may seem an odd choice. A children’s horror novel from 1989, Room 13 takes us on a school trip to Whitby where a group of children discover that something unnatural is lurking inside the B&B they’re staying in. At night a seemingly normal linen cupboard turns into a much larger room that contains the resting place of Dracula, who preys on guests at the B&B.

Over the course of the novel the kids all become drawn to seemingly mundane objects: a large stone found on the beach, comfortably heavy in the hand; a stick of rock, not chewed or crunches but slowly sharpened to a wicked point; a cheap plastic kite, the sails falling to tatters immediately to reveal just the crosspiece. As the kids take their final trip into the strange room they come to realise that these seemingly mundane items are exactly the tools they need to kill a vampire: a cross, a stake, and the rock needed to drive it home.

I first read this as a child in the 90s and I go back to it every few years. There’s something really compelling about a group of kids who don’t really like each other coming together to delve into a weird, unnatural space armed only with mundane items and their wits in order to slah an ancient enemy. When I think about OSR-style play, about looking at your character sheet and seeing a wheelbarrow, a pound of salt, and a whistle, and figuring out a way to make that equipment useful, I think about a kite, a stick of rock, and a heavy stone.

In the next post I’ll talk about some games that have had an influence on ADG. The game is very much an amalgamation of lots of cool stuff from other games alongside a few things of my own, and I think the DNA of those games will be much more obvious in the text of ADG than the influence of these novels is.

Up next Dungeon Generation and Treasure Tables After a lot of work, I’m happy to report that A Dungeon Game now has robust dungeon generation tools and treasure tables for dungeons up to level 9.
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