Fantasy Books Recommended For Dungeons & Dragons Players

The 1979 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide is a milestone in the history of the roleplaying hobby. A quantum leap in terms of scale, scope and information on Dungeons and Dragons from previous offerings and editions, it was an essential volume for any Dungeon Master at the time.  The book is a folio of wonders, and is a delight to flip through, even if I have not run a straight Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game in many years.  For example, the art of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is a real treat, from small illustrations like a farmer running from a giant insectoid Ankheg, to bits of humor (The mickey mouse ear wearing adventurers are hilarious, to some absolutely gorgeous full page illustrations.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide, as you might expect, includes information on an often bewildering array of subjects that I’ve used then, and now. Magic item lists? Check. Strange Artifacts (including how to roll your own)? Yep. Want to create a random dungeon? Rules for that. Random encounter table for a fantasy city? Got those, too. [You, too, can have your player characters run into a Weretiger. 1 percent chance!] How long does it take for an armorer to make plate mail? Yep, a chart for that. [90 days].

There is also some extremely weird information that never entered any game I ran or ever heard of anyone using. Saving Throws for magical and non magical items. Types of Insanity. The Humanoid Racial Preferences Table [Did you know that Trolls and Hobgoblins hate each other and your Evil Overlord should not be keeping them near each other?] The chances of your player’s characters getting a parasitic infection. [base 3 percent chance per month, before modifiers.] And much more.

And then there is the heart of the matter for today’s column, Appendix N.

Appendix N is labeled “Inspirational and Educational Reading”. It’s a list of fantasy works that inspired Gary Gygax and company in their creation of D&D. Paul S. Kemp has an appreciation, and a list of the books from the original Appendix N.

After he posted his blog post (which was partly inspired in turn by a conversation on Twitter that he and I were a part of), it occurred to me that Appendix N is an extremely valuable resource for going “old school” with your fantasy fiction. However, since the Dungeon Master’s Guide was written in 1979, that leaves a couple additional decades of books modern readers and gamers may not have heard of, are not in Appendix N, but are worthy of attention. And especially for Game masters, source material to beg, borrow and steal from.

So, herein, I set to lay out an add-on for Appendix N, and cover more recent books that, if Appendix N were written today by Gygax, would be in it. Appendix “N-Squared”. These are books that have influenced my gaming, books from which I have plucked kernels.

My boundary conditions for selection are heroic fantasy books intended for fantasy gamers that were written from 1980 to 2007. I don’t think more recent works than that have had the time to firm themselves up as classics. Some of the series listed below extend beyond 2007, of course, and some are still ongoing. And yes, I am aware that in the last few years, a swath of authors that may be on a “Appendix N-cubed” have emerged, especially in the resurgent subgenre of sword and sorcery. Time will tell.

  • Joe Abercrombie: The First Law and sequels
  • Greg Bear: The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage
  • Steven Brust: The Vlad Taltos series, and the Khaavren duology
  • Jim Butcher: The Furies of Calderon
  • C.J. Cherryh: The Morgaine Saga: [Gate of Ivrel and sequels]
  • Glen Cook: The Black Company series [The Black Company and sequels]
  • Steven R. Donaldson: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant [Lord Foul’s Bane and sequels]
  • Dave Duncan: The King’s Blade series [The Gilded Chain and sequels]
  • Kate Elliott: The Crown of Stars series [King’s Dragon and sequels]
  • Steven Erikson: The Gardens of the Moon
  • Raymond E. Feist: The Riftwar Saga [Magician and sequels]
  • Mary Gentle: Grunts!
  • Robin Hobb: The Farseer Trilogy [Assassin’s Apprentice and sequels]
  • J.V. Jones: The Sword of Shadows series [A Cavern of Black Ice and sequels]
  • Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora
  • George R.R. Martin: A Game of Thrones
  • Julian May: The Saga of Pliocene Exile [The Many Colored Land and sequels]
  • L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: The Saga of Recluce [The Magic of Recluce and sequels]
  • Elizabeth Moon: The Deed of Paksenarrion [Sheep Farmer’s Daughter and sequels]
  • Joel Rosenberg: The Guardians of the Flame series [The Sleeping Dragon and sequels]
  • Fred Saberhagen: The Books of the Swords and The Books of the Lost Swords sequences
  • Martha Wells: The Element of Fire and City of Bones
  • Tad Williams: Memory, Sorrow, Thorn [The Dragonbone Chair and sequels]

So what books have I missed? What books of mine should NOT be on this list?

25 thoughts on “Fantasy Books Recommended For Dungeons & Dragons Players”

  1. I think the Pathfinder Tales and Forgotten Realms tie-ins are pretty good. I was impressed. They bear mentioning despite being obvious tie-ins to the games. I found the several I’ve read to be good S&S/fantasy reads that would stand on their own. Good list, though, Paul!

      1. Well, the reason I mention it is they get stigmatized. And I used to do that. Until I read one. I couldn’t conceive how a decent novel would come out of a game with dice. But I was suitably impressed and have found a lot of really good stuff coming out since then and wanted to point out that if people really like the D&D style adventure, they might want to give them a shot.

  2. I’m wondering what your criteria was. Is it books with cool worldbuilding ideas, or with great plots that would translate well into table-top, or something else?

    1. If it has stuff to inspire players and gamemasters, it’s in.

      To give some examples from the works above, I’ve borrowed ideas on magic from Erikson, invented a race of intelligent small Wyverns inspired by Loiosh, and the idea of invading one reality with another via portals is a motif inspired by Feist.

    1. Yes, I agree (it gave me such interesting ideas) but Ari’s work is too recent to make my list. This list, anyway. In a few years, the rise of S&S from him, James Enge, Jon Sprunk and others will change the list.

  3. Not D&D, but Professor M.A.R. Barker wrote several novels set in his world of Tekumel. While Tekumel was “gamed” over the years (Empire of the Petal Throne, Swords & Glory), I think these books stand very much on their own, so if you can come across at least Man of Gold, give it a try.

    I’m pretty sure that 1980-2007 would encompass several works by Jack Vance, the man who gave D&D it’s magic and wrote many wonderful books (and characters and settings). I’m pretty sure at least one Dying Earth book falls in the 1980 end range as well as his Arthurian-inspired fantasy series and several SF books.

    1. Vance was mentioned in the original list in the DMG — the first two Dying Earth books in particular.

      Cannot agree strongly enough about Professor Barker and Tekumel.

  4. A friend of mine, Aviva Rothschild, wrote a book called With Strings Attached that plays with the conventions of gaming. Four very real people are taken to an alien planet, given supernatural powers, and sent on a mission, which they pursue with unorthodox methods. I’d recommend this book even if I didn’t know the author.

  5. In books to take off your list (gasp! horror! shock!) I would not recommend Lynch’s “Lies of Locke Lamora” for gamers. While I love the book, adore it in a way that should have me licking the cover, the (deliberate?) lack of consistency in magic and alchemy is a bad basis for a system. That said, why isn’t Rothfuss’ stuff up there?

  6. I would recommend the Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy with reservations. It is bloated with filler. Characters show up and linger for volumes without doing much of anything and then are gone. Main characters go on strange side journeys which seem designed for no other purpose than to get the characters in trouble for a chapter or two. Plus for me it had a terrible ending.

    I got through book one of the Paksenarrion books but barely – I was honestly bored by it.

    Black Company was excellent as was Abercrombie. The Riftwar books are excellent but after that there are diminishing and repetitive returns.

  7. As you mention Joe Abercrombie who won a Gemmell award for his books,

    David Gemmell – His Waylander, Druss or Jon Shannow series are standouts in the area of heroic fantasy

  8. An excellent list, Paul. Especially pleased to see Greg Bear’s The Infinity Concerto/The Serpent Mage AKA SONGS OF EARTH AND POWER. I read that one years ago and enjoyed it immensely.

    I think you could also add Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN novels, too. The first two fall into your criteria(2006 & 2007) – the magic system is exceptionally thought out and has inspired a licensed RPG. In fact, my brother-in-law created a character for our campaign (which doesn’t meet nearly enough) based on the magic system in MISTBORN.

  9. Not fiction but:

    Histories by Herodotus

    The Travels of Marco Polo

    The Gallic War by Julius Caesar

    The Persian Expedition by Xenophone

    Reading through this short list it is pretty obvious many fantasy writers borrow heavily for these book.

    After rereading parts of the Game of Thrones series and then reading Marco Polo right after it is very obvious George R.R. Martin borrowed more then a little from Marco Polo for Easteros.

    Anyway you really can’t get more old school then reading books from 700 to 2400 years old and undoubtedly inspired fantasy fiction in the first place.

  10. I think tie-in fiction should definitely be on the list here. Warhammer Fantasy, Forgotten Realms, Magic The Gathering, Dragonlance. These are all settings inspired (in part or full) from D&D there is some absolutely stellar fiction in each (although I can’t really comment on MtG as I haven’t read anything set therein).

  11. I’d also add Michael Reaves’ Shattered World and its sequel, which have my vote as some of the all-time underappreciated gems. (And more importantly, if you read those books and don’t immediately want to campaign in the Shattered World, your soul is dead.)

    And Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books.

    And maybe Michael Shea — the Nifft books or In Yana.

    And last but not least, I can’t believe Gygax left H. Rider Haggard off of his original list, especially since he did include A. Merritt.

  12. The Imaro sequence from Charles Saunders

    The Traveller in Black from John Brunner

    Various by Clark Ashton Smith (I think he was left off Appendix N)

    The Cossack series by Harold Lamb (huge influence on all sword-and-sorcery)

    The Pastel City by M. John Harrison

    Cyrion by Tanith Lee

    Darrell Schweitzer The Mask of the Sorcerer

    The Bard series by Keith Taylor (very under-discussed, very good)

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