On page 224 of the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, we find the notorious Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading. This is where the patron saint, Gary Gygax, laid out the bibliography for dungeon crawling.
I got to thinking about this because I got a hankering to re-(re-re-…)read the Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories. I was scratching around, trying to locate my long-since-loaned-out copies, and happened to mention to one of my players that they’re among the original inspirations of D&D, and thus, the whole hobby of forcing paper men to go into holes in the ground for to fight monsters for treasure.
There’s a list of authors and works, but afterwards, Gygax said “The most immediate influence upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, REH, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, HPL, and A. Merritt…”
By “de Camp & Pratt”, Gygax meant L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, the authors of the “Harold Shea” stories. I used to see them on the used book store sci-fi shelves as the “Compleat Enchanter”, but never actually read them. I might have to correct that, some time soon.
“REH” was Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan. There’s a clear line of descent from those stories through D&D and Schwarzenegger movies to the Dungeon Fantasy Barbarian. (Speaking of, why were AD&D Barbarians afraid of magic? I re-watched “Conan the Destroyer” the other night, and there’s one moment where Conan reacts to hearing that they’re facing magic. “Are you afraid?” he’s asked, and he answers that his fear is rational, and later recruits his own wizard – played by the incomparable Mako – to counter that magic. That’s not a Phobia, that’s a successful Tactics roll!)
Fritz Leiber, of course, wrote the Lankhmar books. This guy invented so much of the genre, it’s amazing. Why is there a Thieves’ Guild in every Town? Fritz Leiber. Magic item shops? Fritz Leiber. The whole idea of a giant, decadent city where anything adventurers could want it for sale? Leiber. One of his stories centers around potions of shrinking. One could argue that one of his stories involved one of the first depictions of the Underdark, with Quarmall. His heroes, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, act even more like PCs than Conan. They drink too much and make bad decisions. I love ’em, and I’m not the only one.
Jack Vance wrote the Dying Earth stories, which are really more D&D than D&D itself. The whole idea of wizards “memorizing” spells came from Dying Earth, along with a lot of iconic spells (like “The Excellent Prismatic Spray“) and magic items (like IOUN stones). Vance’s stories really convey that “murder-hobo” vibe.
“HPL” was H. P. Lovecraft, creator of Cthulhu, and he’s the only author in Gygax’s short list that appears in the bibliography section without any titles listed. Apparently, Gygax considered anything written by Lovecraft to be D&D material. Lovecraft, of course, is why we have Elder Things.
I’m sad to say I know nothing about A. Merritt, but I see that the three works mentioned by name in Appendix N – “Creep, Shadow”, “Moon Pool”, and “Dwellers In The Mirage” – are all available online, so I might have to correct that soon.
I find it interesting that Tolkien’s work is probably the most well-known of all the authors mentioned in Appendix N, thanks to the movies, but those works are not on the short list. What does appear, both on the short list and over and over in the longer bibliography, is Lovecraftian-inspired horror. All those weird Erol Otus illustrations back in the day weren’t just a quirk. Dungeon delving was always a job that might bring one face-to-face with Elder Things.