Furthering Appendix N

I have to admit that although I played D&D a lot[1] back in the day that I never really knew about the famous Appendix N. Part of that is we were playing AD&D 2nd edition and part of that is I was always a player in TSR games[2].

But also I think as responsible nerds we had just accidentally read most of the list. I admit I still have yet to read Margaret St. Clair or Manley Wade Wellman, but we were pretty deep into Leiber, de Camp, Moorcock, Burroughs etc[3]. The one exception from the immediate influences was Jack Vance, whom I’ve only started reading relatively recently. Vance is fucking awesome, but I personally hate how his magic has become codified into spellbooks and daily memorizations. Magic shouldn’t be mundane. Magic shouldn’t’ be math.

Anyway, my guess is that Appendix N is valuable because it was small enough to be manageable, so many people grew up on it, and it wasn’t just a list of best-sellers but had some variety. It’s hard to remember now, but in a pre-Internet era, it wasn’t easy to get recommendations. Now we have too much to read, too many games to play; far too much information at our hands. It’s a nice obstacle to have, but it is (or can often be) a bit of a problem.

So I propose my own supplemental list to Appendix N, consisting of recent books, which I’ll define as having been published in this century. (Which leaves out the area between 1975-2000, which excludes some wonderful authors indeed.[4] I’m also not limiting my list strictly to high fantasy, as I think most RPGS can support the breadth of the speculative fiction milieu.

Disclaimer time. I read a lot, but I’ve never read particularly for this purpose and I’m sure I have a lot of blind spots. If you question an inclusion or exclusion, please let me know in the comments. Like the original Appendix N, this isn’t a comprehensive list but rather a place to discover works you may enjoy. (And unlike Appendix N, this isn’t actually accompanying anything so it’s really a list of books that gamers may enjoy[5]

While Gygax didn’t justify his inclusions, I’ll try to add a sentence fragment to each entry to explain why I included it. There’s no particular order to this list and when I list the first book in series the rest of the books probably get a default recommendation too.

Appendix N Augmentation

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch Lovable rapscallions in fantasy Venice.

Everything by China Mieville, but especially the Bas Lag untrilogy. More ideas in one book than most writers have in a lifetime.

Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones There are others, but for me this is the best medieval Arabian fantasy around today

The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers Clerics and magic and intrigue and ancient civilizations oh my

The 5th Season by NK Jemisin Her books are all a bit too YA for me, but there is world-building and cool volcano magic aplenty here.

The Last City by Nina D’Aleo How can any gamer resist a book billed as “Bladerunner meets Perdido Street Station”?

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald Nanotech in near-future Istanbul

The Croning by Laird Barron Possibly the best bit of cosmic horror since old HPL himself

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton Fantasy world with superheroes…

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi  Biopunk, Shadowrun-esque with genetically engineered elephants providing energy to the cities

The Road by Cormac McCarthy Bleak, grey, depressing, grey, bleary, grey and so good

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko Cool urban fantasy in Moskva-written in the late 90s but I think not translated into English until the 2000s

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan Flintlock fantasy–perfect for those RPGs set in 17th century Europe

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham High fantasy for adults

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie Western Fantasy, two great tastes together at last and in my opinion his finest work

Oryx and Crate by Margaret Atwood Dystopian biopunk starts slowly but is thought-provoking and gameable

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold All the drama, intrigue, and tension of a fantasy trilogy in one efficient novel

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer Pretty much a Trail of Cthulhu campaign in novel form.

Tales of Dunk & Egg by GRR Martin. Cheating because the first one came out in 1998, but these are far more focused and fun than ASoIaF, like Lieber writing in Westeros

Children of Hurin by Prof. Tolkien Ha! Cheating, I know. But seriously read this again. Or better yet, listen to Christopher Lee read it to you


[1] My high school went to something called block scheduling my senior year and we had a free 1.5 hours every day called Focus. It was meant to be used for studying or homework or some shit, but let’s just say that we played enough D&D that I got my cleric Jorlan to level 20 in Dark Sun. I don’t think I’ve ever even got another character as high as level 5 in any game, ever.

[2] In case you’re wondering, Hobie ran Star Wars, Earthdawn and Buck Rogers, Wind ran Rifts and Kara-Tur and TMNT and a bunch of other stuff, Oreon ran Werewolf, and I ran Elric. We weren’t cool enough to play MERP with the older kids.

[3]  It was admittedly high school and I still thought David Eddings wrote great dialogue and the Death Gate Cycle was the bomb  so I’m not claiming much of anything other than possession of a library card.

[4] This is beyond the scope of this modest blog post, but writers like Frank Herbert, Ursula K. LeGuin, Tim Powers, Guy Gavriel Kay, Fred Saberhagen, William Gibson, and Steven Brust belong in any discussion of RPG related material. On the other hand, these writers are all highly successful and don’t necessarily need additional attention.

[5] Although  I won’t list books like those of Patrick Rothfuss or Suzanna Clark, for instance. Even though I quite like their stuff, I don’t think they do anything new or interesting enough to warrant inclusion.




So if I had known how much time it would take, I might not have gone ahead and made this book, which I’ve been working on since February. Not even counting the writing, I’ve probably put 100 inefficient hours into this, and honestly it’s probably closer to 200.

But I’ve learned a little bit of formatting, some Photoshop, some patience (probably the most important thing of all) and overall it was probably a worthwhile process.

And now it’s done. Over 70,000 words, 20 stories written in 12 different countries, and each story comes with an original illustration. I really owe a lot especially to Wind Lothamer, who allowed me to use that amazing image for the title plus provided the art for the title story, and to Nahid Taheri, who hand-painted so many of the great images.

And it’s entirely free!

The PDF is free/ PWYW on Gumroad and totally free on Smashwords. In the next coming days, hopefully, it will appear for free on Amazon and B&N and Itunes, etc.

Top 5 books for 2015

Unlike 2013 but just like in 2014, I did not manage to read 100 books this year. I will end up at around 70, which isn’t bad but I could have read a lot more.

I also don’t really have any good excuses. I had a kindle this year, and Seoul has a couple of good English language book stores. Both What the Book and Aladdin always have books that I want to read.

As always, these are books that I read this year not necessarily that were published this year.


5. The Water Knife

Think Margaret Atwood meets Michael Crichton. A scarily realistic future where the American southwest is ravaged by lack of water. Vegas mafia and California syndicates and others battle for the ultimate commodity: water.


4. Shaman

A slow book where the first half is really only setting and characters. Several hundred pages later, the plot kicks in. But for anyone interested in prehistoric times, this is as good as it gets. Such a rad book; it’s one of my favorites of all time but it’s not higher on this list because for many it will be too slow.




Barry here presents an exploration of topics like the power of language, identity, suggestibility or privacy. There is so much to like here: great characters, fascinating world-building (the Poets!), thrilling action sequences, plot twists galore, settings ranging from the PDX airport to the Ozzy outback. Overall, it’s a book that’s too smart to be a good thriller and yet so thrilling that the thought-provoking elements fade to the background. It’s really an exception to all the rules and maybe my favorite book by Barry.


at home

2. At Home

It should be called Bill Bryson goes on 1000 different rambling tangents. Not every chapter will speak to everyone but this is one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time. It’s filled with awesomely interesting facts, such as:

To avoid smacking into the unyielding, or being waylaid by brigands, people often secured the services of linkboys—so called because they carried torches known as links made from stout lengths of rope soaked in resin or some other combustible material—to see them home. Unfortunately, the linkboys themselves couldn’t always be trusted and sometimes led their customers into back alleys where they or their confederates relieved the hapless customers of money and silken items.
Within the animal kingdom only humans and guinea pigs are unable to synthesize vitamin C in their own bodies. Why us and guinea pigs? No point asking. Nobody knows.
Thomas Coryate, an author and traveler from the time of Shakespeare who was famous for walking huge distances—including once to India. In 1611, he produced his magnum opus, Coryate’s Crudities, in which he gave much praise to the dinner fork, which he had first encountered in Italy. The same book was also notable for introducing English readers to the Swiss folk hero William Tell and to a new device called the umbrella.
Bats are also critical to the survival in the wild of avocados, balsa, bananas, breadfruit, cashews, cloves, dates, figs, guavas, mangoes, peaches, and saguaro cactus, among others. The world has far more bats than most people realize. In fact, about a quarter of all mammal species—some eleven hundred in all—are bats.
People who drank milk in America sometimes grew delirious and swiftly died—Abraham Lincoln’s mother was one such victim—but infected milk tasted and smelled no different from ordinary milk, and no one knew what the infectious agent was. Not until well into the nineteenth century did anyone finally deduce that it came from cows grazing on a plant called white snakeroot, which was harmless to the cows but made their milk toxic to drink.

That is only a very small sampling of a most interesting book. Highly recommended.



1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

This book for me ranks just under Kafka and Windup Bird in the Murakami canon. I think this is the most emotionally charged of all his works, as the theme of loss of friends and growing old and lonely is more universal than the suicide of close friends.  (Though that crops up too, of course). Others have been less impressed, but for me the experience of reading this was superb, as I read this on a weekend visa run to Japan and finished it in an overnight Manga Cafe.