D&D 5e Appendix E: initial thoughts

It was nice to see an inspirational reading list included in the 5e PHB, Appendix E, but I found its contents mildly disappointing.  It’s only one page long, so of course they can’t include everything, but I have to wonder about some of the choices they made.  It was a grand gesture to include Gygax’s Appendix N from the 1978 DMG, but did they really need to include all of it?  People have been wondering for years why certain authors were included in the first place.  Why should anyone take the time now to track down the long-OOP S&S anthology Swords Against Darkness III?  Why that one and not the others in the Swords Against Darkness series?  Not to say that Gygax’s list should be edited, but some brief annotations would be extremely helpful to newcomers to the game, even if it meant expanding Appendix E to two pages.

The added material feels hit-and-miss, and is similarly in desperate need of annotation.  Although there are some additions that I was delighted to see (Alexander, Hodgson, Cook, Wolfe) and some unfamiliar names that I look forward to investigating, there are a few additions and noticeable omissions I found puzzling:

  • How on earth did Stephen King’s wretched Eyes of the Dragon make this list?  Did someone unearth an awesome alternate version that I somehow missed?
  • Why include the mediocre Shannara series (yes, I’ve heard it gets better after the original trilogy) but not the very entertaining and obviously-D&D-inspired works by Raymond Feist (Riftwar series, Krondor series) or Elizabeth Moon (Deed of Paksennarion)?
  • Doorstop epic fantasy series have been in vogue for quite a while now (for better or worse), so on that level I understand the inclusion of stuff like Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones.  The glaring omission in this category is Steven Erikson’s excellent (and complete!) Malazan Book of the Fallen, which feels much more “D&D” than the other two — understandably so, since the world was originally Erikson and co-creator Ian Esslemont’s RPG setting back in the 1980s.
  • Given the generally-politically-correct tone of the Players’ Handbook, I’m a little surprised that there aren’t more “non-Western” fantasy settings represented.  Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon is a nice addition, but why stop there?  Whither Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro, Milton Davis’ Changa stories, and other ancient-African-inspired “Sword & Soul” tales?  What about Jessica Salmonson’s Tomoe Gozen series or other Asian-inspired works?
  • Props to the writers for only including two entries for actual D&D novels (Salvatore and Hickman/Weis), three if you include Norton’s unofficial Quag Keep.  The absence of Gygax’s Gord the Rogue novels is disappointing, which were IMHO far more entertaining.
  • It is unfortunate but not altogether surprising that C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books didn’t make the Appendix E cut.  Although they are often (wrongly) dismissed as unimaginative Christian “allegories” for children, Oakes Spalding astutely notes that, based on the monster lists found in OD&D vol.2, the “default” D&D campaign setting has a lot more in common with Narnia than with Middle-Earth.

I could go on, but to what end?  As I contemplate the difficulty of the unenviable task of creating Appendix E, I’m struck by the notion that it’s really kind of odd.  A lot of virtual ink has been spilled in the past few years about the “sources of D&D,” examining the Appendix N material to see how those stories informed the development of the game.  For example, Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions?  The Paladin class and alignment.  Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books?  Alignment, intelligent swords.  Tolkien?  Hobbits and ents (halflings and treants, post-C&D.)  Vance?  The magic system (kind of) and some magic items (Ioun stones, etc.)  Which leads me to wonder: if, hypothetically, one of Gygax’s motivation for the inclusion of Appendix N was to provide insight into the game’s design decisions, what’s the point of 5e’s Appendix E?  “Here are some cool fantasy novels we dig, but don’t ask us which one has tieflings in it.”  It makes good sense to prepare an inspirational reading list for a new D&D setting, but to do so for a new edition of the rules seems unnecessary to me.

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One response

  1. I agree about Eyes of the Dragon. I did a double take when I saw that on the list. I like what you’ve said, as it seems like sorely needed footnotes fo the modern appendix. I feel like recent attempts at “read this to inspire your game” entries in various RPG titles read more like “this will show you how to be a cool guy or run cool games with lots of great description.” Some, but not much, thought is given to substance and underlying themes.

    09/08/2015 at 08:47

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