Saturday, January 31, 2009

Getting Fantasy Literate

Alright, so here's a confession...

When it comes to the source material for old school D&D, I am quite illiterate. The thing that really drew me into D&D was the Dragonlance novel Time of the Twins, which I happened across randomly at the public library when I was in fifth grade. At the end of the book, an afterward by the authors mentioned AD&D, and it wasn't long before I was prowling the Adult Oversize Nonfiction section and taking home the AD&D1 Dungeon Master's Guide and Oriental Adventures.

I started reading Dragonlance novels as fast as I could. I read just about every damn one, no matter how spun-off from the original Chronicles and the Twins trilogy. I tried to read Forgotten Realms novels but just couldn't get into them. A friend in high school got me to read several Ravenloft novels. At any rate, aside from a couple of David Eddings novels and the first Lord of the Rings book, all the fantasy literature I read from grades 5-12 was AD&D fiction. My image of D&D fed into itself in sort of an awful little feedback loop, which is maybe why I walked away from the game circa 1995 and didn't return until 3rd edition was out. (I was still gaming, but as far away from high fantasy as I could get)I had really only seen D&D from one paradigm and I was totally burned out on it. (Yes, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Ravenloft were different settings, but a lot of the style of AD&D novels was pretty homogeneous after awhile.)

With my recent shift back to the gaming that I cut my teeth on, I've become quite interested in the source material that inspired it. Also, I haven't touched a sword-and-horse fantasy book since I was in high school. I'm interested in seeing the pulpy goodness that I missed all these years, and I also hope to gain a greater understanding for D&D.

For my primer, I have ordered a collection of Conan stories and a compilation of the Jack Vance Dying Earth novellas. (Courtesy of an unused Amazon gift certificate) After I finish the two library books I have checked out, it will be old school fantasy time. I am trying to rid myself of any preconceived notions, and I am also ready for the possibility that I might not like it at all. Hell, I'd have checked them out from the library, but this city seems to have nothing in the way of Vance and only one Howard book, but it's not Conan. It will be quite interesting to see how this turns out. (Well, for me anyway.)


  1. From reading all these old school D&D blogs, and from chatting with my old metal buddy Jim Raggi, I found myself knee-deep in classic fantasy these past six or seven months, and I've now read Howard, Vance, Moorcock, and Leiber. Hands down, the best of this bunch is Leiber, and I HIGHLY recommend you get yourself some Fafhrd and Grey Mouser to read. Dark Horse has reissued all of Leiber's Lankhmar stories and they're all fantastic. The first couple novels of the Dying Earth series were awesome, but by the third it started really becoming a slog, if only because it was always just more of the same. Conan is sometimes great but again, you can look forward to diminishing returns as you read more stories. Elric I haven't properly gotten into, but all I've read so far is the Stealer of Souls collection, which represents Moorcock's earliest explorations of the character. But in any event, you're in for a treat, as there's a primal fun encoded in these classic pulp stories that I've not encountered really in any of the latter-day fantasy I've read, enjoyably though that stuff sometimes is. Enjoy!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Read The Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. Then hit the stacks of Lieber's works for Fafhrd & The Grey Mouser.

    (sorry, was logged into Wife's computer there, hence the deleted comment)

  4. Thanks for the advice, guys!
    I did try to look for some Leiber at the public library, but I totally struck out. I might have to go on amazon instead.

    The mention of Moorcock caused me to remember that I did read one of his novels in high school; I don't remember the title but it was one of the Eternal Champion stories and involved a fellow transported from the modern world into a fantasy world. I might have to revisit him and also check out some of his Elric stuff.

    I've never heard of Poul Anderson (except on blogs I've been reading recently, plus he gets a nod in OSRIC) so I'll have to look for him at the library as well, and failing that, amazon.

    I would hit the library today, but I'm going to be playing Swords & Wizardry all afternoon. :)

  5. You've never heard of Poul Anderson?!

    Poul Anderson's Three Hears & Three Lions = (A)D&D: trolls, alignment system, swanmays, holy swords, paladins, nixies, ...

    Getcherself educated, d00d! :D

  6. I tried my local library (I work right across the street), and while they seem to have a ton of Anderson stuff involving sci-fi, they don't have that particular book. Looks like there are plenty of used copies for sale on the internet. Maybe I need to start looking in some of the local used book shops...

  7. Used bookstores plus a copy of "appendix e" from the 1e DMG and you're pretty much set. :)