Appendix N is an essential reading list created for DMs by Gygax in the Advanced D&D Dungeon Masters Guide. Created in 1979, it’s still a critical resource for DMs in many formats. Now we present to you Appendix N++ essential reading for the D&D players! Enjoy!
Playing Dungeons & Dragons is like starring in your own fantasy drama—almost. The thing is, it’s like that for everyone else at the table as well! It’s an ensemble drama, not the story of one lone hero up against forces of evil. You all have to work together to explore the strange new world, each with your own unique skill set—and that world could be one of adventure, comedy, horror, or just flat-out weirdness! With that in mind, here are a few books that can help get you in the proper mindset for Dungeons & Dragons heroism. (Of course, anything can help set the mood—your favorite power metal album or a rewatch of the dragon fight scene from Sleeping Beauty—but there’s nothing like the full scale immersion of a good novel.)
The books in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series by Fritz Lieber are, in many ways, the ultimate Dungeons & Dragons novels: so much so that the company purchased the rights and put out official maps to locations in the books and statistics for the characters. Author Lieber lived comfortably off the royalties in his later years!
The titular characters—a barbarian-bard and a magician-rogue—live off their wits as they go thieving for treasure, often accidentally stumbling into heroism and just as often running away from the terrible creatures they encounter and losing all the treasure they were after. It’s the perfect mixture of light and gritty, with well-rounded characters and funny dialogue, almost as if the Coen Brothers were making a sword and sorcery movie. (Incidentally, the term sword and sorcery? Lieber coined it!) Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser themselves make for an (albeit small) adventuring party, saving and endangering each other regularly, gaining treasure and then wasting it as soon as they get back into town. The novella “Ill-Met in Lankhmar” (collected in the anthology Swords and Deviltry) tells how the pair met, while the book Swords Against Wizardry may be the best of the lot.
Any discussion of modern pseudo-medieval fantasy would be remiss without mentioning the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. This is another great example of an ensemble cast, especially the books about the City Watch (beginning with Guards, Guards! and hitting high points with Feet of Clay and Night Watch.) While your Dungeons & Dragons adventures aren’t likely to be much like that of the City Watch (unless it’s a mystery focused game—in which case, have fun and be clever!), but from the golem Dorfl to the werewolf Angua to the dwarf Cheery to the all-too-human Vimes, it’s a great and varied cast of fantasy characters and races to inspire your own player characters.
The setting of Discworld is a great model for that of Dungeons & Dragons, with tech running on magic, magic itself being sorted into a variety of methods, regular events that threaten the fate of the world itself, and cities teeming with opportunity—to get rich or to get robbed blind!
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede also feature a beautiful and varied world of magic with a satirical bent. Have you ever wished you could befriend the monsters in Dungeons & Dragons rather than kill them? So does Princess Cimorene of Linderwall! From her decision in the first book to run away from an arranged marriage to live with the dragons comes a series that skewers fairy tale and fantasy cliches mercilessly while also building up an intriguing magic system of its own.
Witches, magicians, and wizards all use magic differently, and there are creatures with magic in their veins and chosen ones allowed to wield artifacts of power. The way magic is organically woven into the very fiber of the world is a great model for the places encountered in Dungeons & Dragons, and the heroes of these books—whether princesses, kings, witches, or adventurers—would all make for great player characters.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman contains another classic example of an adventuring party—Inigo, Fezzik, and the Man in Black. (Perhaps you could count Miracle Max as the party’s healer, too!) Plenty of people have seen the movie, but fewer have read the book, which is a more intensive adventure with sharper satire.
The novel makes a running joke of how impossible it is to pin down the exact time period, much like the deliberately anachronistic worlds in Dungeons & Dragons, and the scenario will be familiar to anyone who has played a session: rescue the hostage, defeat the villain. But it’s also a world in which even bumbling henchmen can rise to become epic heroes, a world where miracles can happen with the right spirit and enough pluck, and a world in which the narrator's interactions with the listeners greatly impacts the plot (as seen through the framing device of the editor remembering being read the book as a child).
And for you new players about to experience the thrill of stepping into a magical world for the first time, few books capture that like Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Due to a curse, the heroine Sophie ends up living in an ever-shifting, demon-infested house with the temperamental wizard Howl—or is that Howell Jenkins, from a mundane world?
This is another case where more people have likely seen the movie than read the book; and again, the satire is sharper and the worldbuilding deeper in the novel. Our bickering romantic interests are plenty of fun in their own right, but players can draw the feel of Dungeons & Dragons from the gigantic steampunk mess that is the titular moving castle, as well as the way spirits and curses work. And Howl/Howell is almost a metaphor for a player of Dungeons & Dragons discarding their ordinary life for one of magic and power—and Sophie is that player who wants to keep things on track!
Depending on your setting or your dungeon master, your game also may be influenced by authors such as H. P. Lovecraft or J. K. Rowling, but these books are a good start for players searching out the right mood—or just sparks of influence from which to craft a character. Have fun reading, and—even more importantly—have fun playing Dungeons & Dragons!
Written by: Mira, edited by: Irenee