Pre-D&D Swords & Sorcery
Or, Brought to You by Appendix N
For those of you who have been closely following the development of DCC RPG, the term “Appendix N” will come as no surprise. But to others, that term may be a mystery. What is this “Appendix N” and how is it related to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game?
If you look back at the origins of D&D, you find that Gygax and Arneson put together an evolving game whose goal was to enable fantastic adventures. The creators themselves were inspired by fantasy literature, as well as other sources such as movies and mythology. The specific literary works that most inspired them were codified most prominently in Gygax’s Appendix N, the now-legendary final entry in the AD&D DMG, in which Gygax enumerated the works that “certainly helped to shape the form of the game,” as he put it. One way to think of D&D is not as an entirely new creation, but an evolution of literary convention. After all, many elements of the early D&D rules were explicitly intended to provide rules for playing characters from classic literature: the “fighting man” inspired by Burroughs’ John Carter; the thief from Leiber’s Gray Mouser and Vance’s Cugel (with a dash of R.E.H.’s Conan); the paladin from Poul Anderson’s Holger Carlsen, and the barbarian from his Valgard; and so on.
Whether evolution or innovation, D&D was a cataclysmic event that defined a new hobby for millions of gamers. Now, 35 years later, nostalgia has led many gamers back to their earliest experiences of the game. The OSR, or old school renaissance, has generated renewed interest in Appendix N, and the works of the OSR have generated more content for the original version of the game than TSR ever published (by an order of magnitude). When I commissioned Erol Otus’s cover for Dungeon Crawl Classics #3 way back in 2003, interest in the origins of D&D was just beginning to blossom; now, eight years later, the OSR has multiplied into a host of high-quality product lines and thriving communities.
Several years ago, I set a personal goal of reading every book in Appendix N. This is a long-term endeavor, certainly not the kind of thing you can accomplish in a few months, but as I’ve worked my way through Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft, Vance, Leiber, Carter, Moorcock, and others, my understanding of D&D itself has grown. As I read Leiber I understood where the thief class came from, and as I read Vance I understood an important part of the origin of the D&D magic system (and witnessed the first published references to many D&D spells – published 25 years before D&D itself). As I grasped that D&D’s alignment system was directly inspired by Moorcock (who in turn adapted it from Anderson), and as many other pieces of the D&D puzzle dropped into place, I came to understand something about my own preferences. My favorite part of old-school role playing wasn’t the D&D rules. It was the fantastic adventures that D&D enabled – and those adventures themselves are very much independent of the D&D rules, given that they can be conveyed in literary form with no rules whatsoever. And that led to a question: What if I could re-create the sense of adventure that 1974 D&D promised – with a different rules set?
This, then, is the ultimate goal of the Dungeon Crawl Classics role playing game. It is not a retro-clone (in the OSR sense); even though the aesthetic is very much old-school, it makes no effort to re-create the 1974 rules. Nor is it a d20 clone (in the OGL sense); even though the rules are grounded in the d20 era, it makes no effort to re-create the 3E rules. Rather, DCC RPG is, as Harley has called it, “pre-D&D swords & sorcery.” It is an explicit attempt to create an RPG of old-school style and aesthetic, that captures the spirit of adventure not as presented in 1974, but instead as presented in the decades prior, when Gygax and Arneson were reading the literature that would later inspire D&D. The Dungeon Crawl Classics role playing game is sword & sorcery role playing as it could have been, based on the primary sources that inspired the original game. It is grounded in a modern, streamlined rules set, but allows your players to easily simulate the heroes and adventures of Appendix N: all of them, not a specific author or character, but the unified sense of adventure that later defined the earliest editions of D&D. DCC RPG is, perhaps, what D&D could have been, if the direct inspiration of Appendix N had taken a different course.
There’s a reason the DCC RPG cover design is based on fantasy novels of the 1960s and 1970s, not D&D cover conventions. Over the coming months, as more of the art direction becomes public, the “pre-D&D swords & sorcery” aesthetic will become visually more obvious. The DCC RPG line looks like a product that was published before D&D ever came into existence. An entirely new line of Dungeon Crawl Classics modules will be launched, featuring a graphic design that instantly sets them apart from the 3E and 4E modules – as well as from the myriad “TSR-clone” modules that now populate the OSR marketplace. I hope that the DCC RPG modules will be easily confused for the covers of Appendix N books published in the mid to late twentieth century. If, in five years, a used book store manager is uncertain where to shelve these adventure modules, then the graphic design will be successful: “Are these pulp fantasy novels or RPG adventures?”
The Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game: Brought to you by Appendix N.
Next time: more on how magic works in DCC RPG.