Silver Age Appendix N: I is for (The) Iron Lords

One key difference between Appendix N in the DMG and the Suggested Reading in Moldvay Basic is the inclusion of a number of contemporary books. Among them are The Iron Lords by Andrew Offutt. It is the first of a trilogy of novels although only the first two are listed by Moldvay, I believe because the text was prepared before the last book was released.

The Iron Lords begins the story of Jarrik the Blacksword. It begins when Jarrik is eight and his village is destroyed by Viking like raiders leaving only him and his sister alive. Setting out in a rowboat to gain he revenge (he heard the name of the attacker’s commander) he and his sister are picked up by another longship of the same people. Jarrik lives among them as an outcast but grows to manhood. One thing that is continually noted is Jarrik’s fair hair is more like that of his adopted people and the people who killed his family.

Jarrik, however, is not able to fit in and over time moves to another village before being taken by three of the Gods on Earth, the Iron Lords, and enlisted in their war against The Lady of the Snowmist, patron deity of those who slay his family.

Along the way Jarrik has visions and displays a non-warrior side. Both his visions and much of the Gods on Earth display scientific elements giving a small science fantasy air to the novels. While from the late 70s it is clear the books are in the same vein, if not quite the same quality, of much of the material in the original Appendix N.

Silver Age Appendix N: H is for Hawkmistress!

In the late 70s and early 80s when I started to play D&D my reading ran to female authorized science fantasy such as Pern, Witchworld, and Darkover. The Darkover novel Hawkmistress! is second only to Dragonsong/Dragonsinger as favorites in this period.

Like most of these novels Hawkmistress! is a coming of age story. Romilly is the tomboyish daughter of minor noble. More interested and proficient with bow, hounds, and hawking than embroidery she feels an arranged marriage. Along the way she discovers her inherent laran (psionic) powers, joins an order of female mercenaries, befriends a king, and saves a kingdom.

For a gamer it is probably not the best Darkover novel. I drew more from The Shattered Chain and Two to Conquer. There are a few interesting ideas, such as women mercenaries, the Sisterhood of the Sword (a group that was one of the two ancestors of Order of Renunciates in later novels), and nuclear contamination from psionic weapons. It also lead to my interest in falconry as a sport, although I’ve never been in a position to gain my license or train a bird.

Most of the Darkover novels are now out of print or in omnibus editions (as the links above show). That said, I’ve had little problem finding them used, including wonderful DAW yellow spines.

Silver Age Appendix N: B is for The Book of Three/The Black Cauldron

The very first entry in Moldvay’s Basic’s Inspirational Source Material are three books by Llyod Alexander, the first three of his Chronicles of Pyrdain (interestingly the last two are not on the list, despite having been in print). The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron. The books, fitting true D&D tradition, are part of a coming of age series whose primary character is the newly appointed Assistant Pig Keeper Taran. At the beginning of The Book of Three Taran is a young man tired of his duties as a farm hand caring the oracular pig Hen Wen. When Hen Wen flees as the evil Horned King, a servant of the Dark Lord Arwan, is seeking her Taran takes off to find her. His adventures bring him various companions including the semi-bestial Gurgi and the Taran’s hero, Prince Gwydion. After capture by Queen Achren and the undead Cauldron Born they are imprisoned in Spiral Castle. Aided by her “niece”, the Princess Eilonwy, Taran escapes with yet another individual the king turned wandering bard Fflewddur Fflam (who Eilonwy mistook for Gwydion). The three head to warn the High King in Caer Dathyl with the Horned King in purpose. In the process of the resulting adventures Taran determines that caring for Hen Wen isn’t quite as bad as it seemed or adventure as fun as he thought.

The Black Cauldron begins with Arwan sets out to recover from the loss of the Horned King by creating even more undead Cauldron Born. Gwydion determines to end the process by destroying the Black Cauldron which is their source. His council gathers our companions from the prior book. An additional quester in the form of the arrogant noble Ellidyr sets off with them. Ellidyr eventually abandons the companions seeking glory in recovering the Cauldron himself. It is eventually destroyed but character is revealed and sacrifices made.

The books are aimed at young adults. In fact, The Black Cauldron is a Newbury Honor Book and the final book of the series, The High King, was a Newbury Award Winner. Disney would make an animated movie called The Black Cauldron based on the first two books.

The books draw heavily on Welsh mythology. Alexander was researching Wales for a different book and saved the research for this series instead. I would recommend these books, as well as Castle of Lyr mentioned by Moldvay and Taran Wanderer and The High King which he didn’t, for anyone interested in flavor for a Celtic campaign that eschew’s the New Agey Celts of modern fantasy novels. They are quick reads and engaging even for adults.

In terms of gamable material they are rich. Eilonwy’s bobble, the sword Taran wields at the end of the first book, and the Black Cauldron itself are interesting ideas for unique magic items. The Cauldron Born are interesting takes on zombies both in their capabilities and creation. Another set of Arwan’s servants, the Huntsman, who gain strength as their fellows die were a standard in my early 80s campaigns. I was apparently not alone as a version appeared in the Dragon’s Bestiary in Dragon issue 40. Fflewddur Fflam’s only rival for my model of a bard back then was the Harper Menolly from the Pern series.

I know they had a huge influence on my Silver Age gaming. I think a similar influence on modern games of OD&D could be a good thing.

Lost post: Okay, another project to not get around to…

In looking for links I found this draft which I thought I’d actually posted. It’s the genesis of the never really followed through which means the title was very accurate. Still, I figured it was worth posting as I have yet to see anyone discuss the kinds of books I brought up. Plus, Diadem of the Stars has been staring at me as I get ready to run Stars without Numbers at the D&D Meetup.

Over at Grognardia the wonderful Mr. Maliszewski asked for review suggestions.

Inspired by having recently purchased Jo Clayton’s Duel of Sorcery I suggested reviews of fantasy contemporary to the early editions of D&D because it became incestuous with fantasy fiction. There were, after, a lot of fantasy writers active in the 70s and early 80s who wrote neither pulp fantasy (which was the primary D&D inspiration) or Tolkien pastiche. Some fine examples are Bradley with her Darkover novels, Andre Norton who wrote a great number of Witch World books in the 70s, McCaffrey’s Pern, the afore mentioned Clayton and her numerous series (Diadem from the Stars (Diadem, Bk. 1)
was first published in 1977), the Deryni books, LeGuin’s Earthsea (and her excellent “The Language of the Night”, essays on fantasy writing well worth reading), Xanth, and the entire Ballentine Adult fantasy line (some of which did influence D&D).

The reason I asked is one thing I’ve realized in getting into the old school movement (and I remarked on this when discussing why “Swords of the Red Sun” failed) is my D&D experience wasn’t fueled by Conan et al. The more important realization was my inspiration comes from another line of fantasy (excluding my love of John Carter and his descendants) but something different. When I first got my basic set I read mostly sci-fi and looked for fantasy to fill the gaps. As currently hot I read lots of Pern, Darkover, Witchworld, and so on. While some might argue romantic fantasy owes its roots to these authors I’m disinclined to put them in that school.

Regardless, there are an equally valid influence for old school gaming in the sense that those of us who played back then read them. James said it would be a useful project but passed on it saying he lacked the knowledge (and, although he didn’t say as much, I suspect interest in acquiring it).

Silver Age Appendix N: The Coming of the Horseclans

Prophecy written in blood!

After two hundred years of searching for other immortals, the Undying High Lord Milo Morai has returned the Horseclans to fulfill an ancient prophecy and lead them to their destined homeland by the sea.

The first Horseclans novel,The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams, was early enough that it barely misses pre-dating the original Dungeons and Dragons. While the author, Robert Adams, would average a book a year in the seventies the series really hit its heyday in the early eighties. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that many of those fans were D&D players looking for something to inspire or feel like playing their favorite game.

The world of the Horseclans is a post-holocaust United States ranging from later this century (World War III having happened in 1980) to the cusp of the third millenium. In this future humanity has two races: normal humans and mutants whose aging stops in roughly their thirties and who are immune to most wounds. At the beginning of The Coming of the Horseclans Milo Morai, one of these mutants, is leading a migration of the Horseclans from the Sea of Grass to their mythical home city of Ehlee on the east coast of North America. In the aftermath of the war, Milo rescued a group of children who will become the ancestors of the Horseclans and instructs them in the ways of horse nomands before leaving them to search for a mythical land inhabited by people like him. Accompanying them are their allies the Horse clan (horses are free citizens of the Horseclans, not owned beasts) and the Cat clan of sabertooth tiger like praire cats. The Horseclans communicate with their animal allies and each other by a ubiquetous telepathy.

In the the centuries since the war the world has changed both due to natural diasters and human migrations. The most dramatic of these migrations revealed in this book is the Ehleen invasions of North America. The Ehleens are Greek speaking people from Europe. Dwelling along in several kingdoms along the Atlantic seaboard they are the principle opposition to the migration of the Horse Clans. Coming of the Horseclans plot centers on the conquest of Kehnooryos Ehlas, until a few years before the novel the most powerful of these kingdoms. Several battles, raids, and duels make up the novel. Finally, one of the more interesting aspects of the Horseclans’ world, the mysterious witchmen, make a brief appearance.

If I had to select one word to describe this book it is violent. R. E. Howard and Jack London’s belief that civilization is a corrupting influence is writ large. While the Horseclans keep slaves and look down on the dirtman farmers they conquer they maintain a strict code of honor and morality that disdains killing and lying. However, the corruption of civilization goes very deep and many of the Ehleens are pedophiles among other perversions. In fact, the sexual aspects, especially of the depraved characters, are not completely glossed over and the reader should have fair warning that sexual multilations are described with some detail in a few sections. The book also portrays homosexuality as a corruption of civilization. It is certainly openly offensive to modern sensibilities. It was, even in its time, a bit of a throw back to early 20th century in morality and ideals. It added in the graphic description available to a 70s author.

Adams would go on to write seventeen more Horseclans novels over the next thirteen years as well as two shared worlds anthologies with fans. The first book, however, was no clearly the first of a series. Later copies, in fact, added two short preludes to set up Milo’s return to the Horseclans that were not in the original printing. Given it’s age and content it might be surprising that I consider it appropriate for Silver Age Appendix N. There are three reasons I do. First, the series it spawned would hit its height of popularity about the time I graduated from high school in 1985 and stay there through Adam’s death in 1990. It first gets reviewed and discussed in The Dragon in the mid-eighties. Second, it would be one of the first GURPS source books and the first of their very successful run of one shoot licensed source books. Finally, for a men’s action series it has an unusually large female fan base. The best theory I have heard on this is many women bought the fourth book, A Cat of a Silvery Hue, based on the title.

Until recently Coming of the Horseclans has been out of print, but in the past couple of years Mundania Press brought the first book back into print. It used to be easily found at used bookstore, as well, but in the past five or so years it seems to have gotten rare. If you want some “new” swords and sorcery fiction to inspire your game I can’t recommend it enough.

Silver Age Appendix N: The Belgariad

Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

So reads the back cover of a Del Ray fantasy novel released in 1982. That book, Pawn of Prophecy, would kick off one of the most successful fantasy series and fantasy writing careers of the past twenty years. David Edding’s Belgariad is the epitome of the world saving quest fantasy series that would dominate fantasy literature in the 80s and the 90s. While lacking the grand depth of Tolkien’s singular achievement it contains the major elements of medieval quest literature (Eddings held a Masters of Arts in Middle English) and is firmly rooted in fantastic literature from the medieval world on.

My personal relationship with the series is mixed. I got into it between the publication of the third and fourth book, having resisted due to two teenage trends, rejecting the popular and idealism (the quickness they came out seemed fake). At the time I devoured them and awaited the fifth book anxiously (the fourth having come out while I was reading the third). About a decade later an attempt to reread failed to get me through the first book and I put them in the “things that didn’t having staying power from my youth”. However, I recently reread them prepping to run a game for some people I know in the local music scene and consumed them in either seven or eight days and enjoyed them thoroughly.

The series follows a fairly standard path. Garion, a farmer boy, spends his early life in the care of his aunt until one evening an old storyteller reappears and leads them off on the quest to recover a magic gem. Along the course of their journey they travel every land in the obligatory maps at the front of each novel, ancient prophecy is fulfilled, a war is fought with the followers of an evil god, a fated group of companions is assembled, and Garion finds a destiny much greater than that of a farm boy. You’ve read it a dozen times. It was old even before Eddings wrote it and has become downright cliche since he did. Yet he was able to fashion a very good novel with only a handful of flaws, mostly of language and slight omission, especially in the last book.

What then makes Eddings in my mind the epitome of the 80s fantasy quest to save the world and an huge influence on those who took up D&D at the time it was published. In my mind there are two main influences he brought to bear on fantasy RPGs: a literary realism and a knowledge of pre-Tolkein influences which imparted a fairly formalized structure. Although there are many other influences he had, especially on the path of fantasy literature, I want to concentrate on these two.

Eddings had earlier published a mainstream novel in the early seventies and spent most of that decade trying to publish more. In his later book of series background, The Rivan Coex, he admits the success of Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson lead him to take up a mythical map he had placed away in a drawer to not distract from serious work. While earlier writers had introduced politics, weather, and other travails of everyday life these had fallen into two broad categories. The first, exemplified by the storm on Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings, treated even mundane items as part of the magical framework. The second, exemplified by Kurtz’s early 70s novels, placed the mundane in charge and basically put a fantasy patina on fairly conventional novels. The later was common enough by the mid-70s to inspire Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay From Elfland to Poughkeepsie on what made fantasy more than trapping. Eddings’s succeeds in walking a line between the two.

Eddings admires Tolkien but has knowledge of the same sources that Tolkien drew on and was influenced by them as well. In fact, in the above mentioned Rivan Codex, he criticized later fantasy writers for thinking the genre began with Tolkien. The result was a kind of formalism that later fantasy literature would imitate. This shows most directly in two ways. First, each and every country on his map is visited. In fact, he uses this fact to structure the books into segments that, with two exceptions, carry the name of someplace on the map. The second is the usage of character archetypes. Instead of the fighter, magic-user, cleric, etc that D&D players know he used types more familiar to mainstream and medieval literature: “the wise man”, “the knight protector”, “the princess”, and “the questing knight”.

Which brings us to Eddings’s role in influencing Silver Age D&D and later fantasy literature. As James M has pointed out the Silver Age was about realism. The Dragon had many articles in the same time frame about weather, encumbrance, what horses could really do, and so on. Each reflected the same concern with making sure the world seemed real while being magical that the Belgariad did. Up until that time a common refrain in the letters column and around game tables was fantasy couldn’t be real. I think the power of a popular, well written fantasy series showing the exact opposite weakened that camp and gave their opponents some justification.

The most easily seen influence on fantasy literature, however, is in his character archetypes. Unlike Brooks or even Dragonlance he uses historical archetypes directly instead of through the lens of Middle Earth. It is also here that I lay down my opposition to an idea that game writers as diverse as Ron Edwards (in Sword & Sorcerer) and James Maliszewski (in How Dragonlance Ruined Everything) have championed. Their argument is fantasy literature, as a commercial genre, is now dominated by the influence of D&D and similar games. Maliszewski even goes so far as to specifically reject claims that the blame rests with Brooks by saying Dragonlance was known to more D&D players who went to become the next generation of fantasy authors.

My counter argument is simple. In drawing on medieval archetypes directly Eddings wound up with an all human cast (although one member was technically a Dryad) where the archetypes expressed national differences, not race ones. If Dragonlance was the dominant later influence, or even Tolkien or Brooks, then we would expect a party of elven archers, dower dwarfs, and so on just as we see in D&D all the way down to fourth edition. In literature, however, the names that would dominate the best seller lists and just the genre section are overwhelmingly human centric with the diversity of types provided by nations and cultures. Excluding Eddings, who would be a best seller through the 90s, we have Mercedes Lackey, Robert Jordan, Anne Bishop, Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Haydon, Katherine Kerr, and L. E. Modesitt, Jr just to start. Lackey and Jordan alone would argue that Dragonlance was not the major influence on the period. In fact, outside of the RPG based novels such as Dragonlance and The Forgotten Realms the only major elvy/dwarfy writers in the period are Brooks and Dennis McKiernan who both pre-date Eddings by several years.

There is also the fact that Eddings was a published mainstream author who turned to fantasy for commercial reasons, at least in part. He did this in 1978 and would publish his first fantasy novel as the Dragonlance project was just beginning.

What is my final judgment? Anyone interested in the evolution of fantasy literature or gaming during the 80s should read The Belgariad. When Eddings passed away last June it didn’t raise much of a fuss. Many people saw him as another forgettable author of bog standard post-Brooks fantasy. Yet, I think he is as important in the establishment of fantasy as a separate commercial genre as Brooks and Donaldson were. While the latter two proved that the success of the Lord of the Rings was no fluke Eddings proved that quest fantasy that didn’t slavishly imitate Tolkien could be successful without being weird or edgy like Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant whose main character was so reprehensible that many people couldn’t get past a certain incident in the first book. The Belgariad created the pattern for fantasy series up through Jordan who finally abused the form to the point is fell out of favor (modern quest fantasy seems to have smaller horizons). I can’t promise you’ll like it but I can promise that if you read it in context with its times you gain a lot of understanding of modern fantasy.

Silver Age Appendix N: Intro

One of the more interesting ideas James M has followed over at Grognardia is his Pulp Fantasy Library which concentrates on literature that influenced Gygax and others at the beginning and similar literature.

What is in interesting is the pulp fantasy revival of the late 60s and 70s was part of a much larger fantasy literature revival. While Gygax’s tastes may not have drifted heavily into the realms of non-pulp fantasy the tastes of many who took up D&D were decided non-pulp fantasy. I think taking a look at the fantasy literature in broad print from 1974 (when D&D left home for school as it were) to 1984 (when Dragonlance ushered in the Silver Age of D&D).

With that in mind I’m adding a new irregular set of posts (given my reliability in posting I’m loathe to call it a series) called Silver Age Appendix N. It will focus on those fantasy and science fantasy books and authors who had a broad presence in the late 70s and early 80s. These authors not only shaped how people in the second and especially third generation of D&D players approached the game they influenced fantasy literature at large. Some grognards like to claim that gaming fantasy novels of the late 80s irrevocably changed fantasy literature. They fail to appreciate how these authors directly and indirectly influenced influenced the path of AD&D II and fantasy literature at least into the 90s and even to today. To the degree that gaming literature such as Dragonlance changed the fantasy literature market it did so in the context of authors like Terry Brooks and David Eddings.

We’ll be starting off later this week with what I consider the perfect 80s quest fantasy series (for both good and ill), The Belgariad.