Saturday, September 15, 2012

Appendix EJ

Anyone whose spent more than five minutes on the various gaming blogs associate with the OSR had, no doubt, encountered the words "Appendix N," which refer to the list of literary influences Gary Gygax published in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. 

Now, I must confess that I've read very few of those books. I've not had an impulse to track down those that were out of print, and have only seen a few of the others. At various times, I've read works by Leiber, Zelazny, Burroughs, Howard, C.A. Smith, Vance, and Lovecraft. The rest, not so much. 

However, I have read literally thousands of other books, millions and millions of words, in fantasy, sci-fi, and other genres. I've also (and this is an important point), had the opportunity to experience a variety of films and music which have influenced my aesthetic preferences, and they, in turn, have helped to influence my overall approach to gaming. 

So, let's break down a few of them, an Appendix EJ, if you will.


Literary Influences

Glen Cook--He is definitely at the top of my list. His series of books based on the Annals of the Black Company are among my favorites of all time. A lot of people think the series is uneven, rambling, and goes off on lot of tangents. I think the same could easily be said of Tolkien's LoTR. Very easily, in fact. I have another interpretation, though. Cook's tale is one of the oldest of all: The tale of two people in love, whose lives make that love all but impossible. In this case, we're talking about Croaker and The Lady (Dorothea Senjak, a name I'd use in my WH40K Dark Heresy games), and the various paths that a mercenary and an evil sorceress had to travel in order to find their places in creation. I've read all of these books probably a dozen times, and will do so again.

James Cavell--Here, of course, I'm talking about Shogun, a novel that became a 1970s miniseries of the same name. It's about an Englishman in Japan during the time of the samurai. I loved this on a lot when I was growing up, but haven't read it in a long time. It taught me that history is malleable, and that all stories don't have to have happy endings in order to be satisfying. 

Llloyd Alexander--The Chronicles of Prydain books were among the first I read with serious intent (starting in 4th Grade). I still have a copy of them. This is a tale based in Welsh mythology, and concerns the journey an assistant pig-keeper must make on his way to becoming High King. Really great books for a kid. 

Neil Gaiman--I know that he has become quite the mainstream fantasist of late, but damned if the man doesn't deserve some fame. He really does a wonderful job of articulating fully-realized worlds of wonder, and peopling them with well-constructed, believable, flawed and charismatic characters. He also manages to make the mundane world magical in ways that are subtle and surprising. He's one of my favorite authors, and I'm glad to say, one of my daughter's as well. My favorites include Coraline, American Gods, Anansi's Boy, The Graveyard Book, and Stardust. I like his comics as well, but I'm not as much a comics guy. However...

Robert Crumb/The Guys Who Wrote The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers--Crumb was an American comic artist most well-known for his "underground" comics of the 60s and 70s. He, and others in that genre, made comics "adult" in nature. I, of course, because my parents let me (not sure what they were thinking, frankly), read them from a very early age. They shaped my sensibilties, as well. While his content isn't something you see in my campaigns, his eye for the mundane details of life most certainly are, as is his sense of the urges (however exaggerated or comical) that drive people to do what they do. The sheer madness of Shelton and Mavrides Freak Brothers comics... well, they inject a lot of absurdity and fun. You can't have too much of that.

Stephen R. Donaldson--His was a negative influence. From his Thomas Covenant series of books I learned how NOT to do good fantasy. I hated those books, because I hated their main character. The man was an ass, and I wanted him to die in a fucking fire. He was emo before there was emo. Screw that guy. The books themselves were pretty standard fare, as well, and really have little to contribute I've not seen done better, elsewhere.

Harlan Ellison--Ellison is a subtle influence, and one from whom I learned to expect the unexpected. He also would go on to be involved in the production of Babylon 5, one of my favorite space operas.

Guy Gavriel Kay: This is one I was turned onto by my friend Karin. He's a Canadian author, and in some ways seems to have been doing the same sorts of things Gaiman does, but started much earlier. I started with Tigana, and move on to others in his oeuvre. His language use is... simply amazing. The man doesn't simply tell the story, he uses words like a master smith, always subtly, always beautifully, like a balm for your brain. His characters are complex and interesting, and his tales worth hearing. Go and get something by him today. His latest, Under Heaven, is very, very good as well. Others include A Song for Arbonne and The Last Light of the Sun, both of which were wonderful. Go get some of his stuff today. Right now. Seriously, do it.


Musical Influences

English Dogs

This was a British punk band who took up the punk-metal crossover style in the early 1980s. Their guitarist, Gizz, was influenced by Classical forms (especially Rachmaninoff, he told me in an email). Their speed metal stuff is full of fantasy themes and imagery. The guitar work is ripping. The energy is mad. I love them, and have for 28 years. Damn, I'm old. Anyway, here are a few songs, and a sample of the lyrics (note that the song is about fulfilling a quest)





Ordeal by fire death takes a gripWhen there's no one aroundForward in fear, waiting aloneFor the final commandFaced by a trial that takes me awayTo the limits of painI fear the task that I am to faceWon't let me comeback againFlame that burns in the skyKnows I prepare to dieKnow that I face them aloneOne of the many heroesFlame that burns in the skyKnows I prepare to dieKnow that I face them aloneOne of the many heroesSent by the king alone to returnFor the flame that gives him the powerGuardian the door of death I will returnWithin the twenty-four hoursStealing the flame from keeper who guardsWith all its evil reserveRun for my life return to the hellIf I only have the nerveOn trough the forest of lightOn trough the caves in the nightUntil I can reach the domainAnd then I return with the flameOn trough the forest of lightOn trough the caves in the nightUntil I can reach the domainAnd then I return with the flameSlaying the beast who's guarding my prizeThat it tries to denyRunning back to the kingdom of menA warrior fearless and highFacing a welcome fit for a kingI come back in proud victoryPower in my hands I now realizeThat the tru king is meRuling the land by the swordPower in my every wordThe flame of the gods is held highImmortal now I'll never die...



Motorhead

Lemmy is possibly a Metal God, an avatar of the purest essence of rock and roll. He is also a hell of a story teller, and touches on the topic of war and its impacts very often in his songs. Two of my favorites:

Stoneface dog, swirling fog, gates open on the dark dark night
Standing stone, skull and bone, dead witness to an unseen fight
Beat the drum, beat the drum, beat forever on the endless march
Stricken dumb, cut and run, someone is screaming and the sky is dark

Chrous
Sword and shield, bone and steel, rictus grin
Deaf forever to the battles din

March or croak, flame and smoke, burn forever in eternal pain
Charge and fall, bugle call, bone splinter in the driving rain
Horses scream, Viking dream, drowned heroes in a lake of blood
Armoured fist, severed wrist, broken spears in a sea of mud

Repeat chorus

Mother earth, mother earth enfold you in her cold embrace
Sinking down, killing ground, worm crawling on your cold white face
Win or lose, nought to choose, all men are equal when their memory fades
No one knows, friends or foes, if Valhalla lies beyond the grave

16 years old when I went to war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes,
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Counting my days down to zero,
And I marched and I fought and I bled and I died,
And I never did get any older,
But I knew at the time that a year in the line,
Is a long enough life for a soldier,

We all volunteered, and we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history's pages,
And we fought and we brawled and we whored 'til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun, we were food for the gun,
And that's what you are when you're soldiers,

I heard my friend cry, and he sank to his knees,
Coughing blood as he screamed for his mother,
And I fell by his side, and that's how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other,
And I lay in the mud and the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder,
And I called for my mother and she never came,
Though it wasn't my fault and I wasn't to blame,
The day not half over and ten thousand slain,
And now there's nobody remembers our names,
And that's how it is for a soldier.

Judas Priest
Judas Priest, for me, was always about the pagentry. How did 15 year old me not realize that Rob Halford was gay? What, were we blind? This only makes this band more precious to me, for, like Queen, they pushed the limits between rock and roll and theatre, which is a really cool place to be.

Their album covers were the best, and the guitar work (esp. the dual solos) were aesthetically pleasing to me on some level. Screaming for Vengeance is still one of my favorite metal albums.

The Doors
This was dark music, and possibly was the influence that sent me in the direction of the harder, heavier stuff I'd later come to love. 

I especially like Spanish Caravan, because of its flamenco guitar stylings. And the voice... Jim Morrison had such a voice!

You know this band, I presume, and and find other links and lyrics elsewhere.

Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, and countless other punk bands
Yes, I'm an old punk, from the age of 14 until now (age 43), his has been my foundational music. What I take from it is the simplicity and rawness of youthful emotion, motivations, and ambitions. The us-against-the-world mentality, and the sense that even when we can't do anything else, we can still our outrage to the heavens.

This was one of the first Black Flag songs I heard. That opening guitar riff is so dark and weird, i was instantly attracted. (an excerpt)

Society's arms of control
Rise above
Were gonna rise above
Think they're smart
Cant think for themselves
Rise above
Were gonna rise above
Laugh at us
Behind our backs
I find satisfaction
In what they lack

Rage. That's what I hear. Against the Machine? Most definitely.

High on Fire 

High on Fire is a metal band I've only recently discovered, but they've been around for many years. They do fantasy very very well.

Plateau of Leng
Winter in veins Hammers arise
To melt through the ice
Dream being thrown down 
aloft from the icy sky
Careful what to seek for 
inside the frozen mind
Permaglaze reflects this 
world distant to the thawed life
Frost clan blows the war 
horn without a fear or guise
Messiah of the glacian heir cold born to rise
Sullen boots impact upon 
deep the tundra ice

Dax Riggs

Right now, this is the biggest influence in my musical life. Dax Riggs is the real deal. He combines rock, metal, blues, and folk in very interesting (to me) ways. This is some great, great stuff. He combines what is especially good about American rock. Dark, brooding, and rocking.

Scaring the Ghosts away...
wake me when i'm ...
... i'm sane
on Mardi Gras day

the cold of death
it may... tear you from my breast
yet I know you are...
... the smoke that is my breath
under the sky...
to live is to die...

raven black the night and I
opel on the highway side
as we pass her a million times this night...
don't seem ... ... like no sun exists that could eclipse this ...

scaring the Ghosts away wake me when I'm ...i'm sane
... again

you are the smoke that is my breath

this bouquet of... ...regret
under the sky to live...
... is to die
radiation black... ... the night and I
don't seem like no sun exists that could ever eclipse this ...

... just wake me when I'm sane


And they'd better play this one at my funeral: Dethbryte.

All this fades and reappearsand we will always be everywhere everythingdreams tonightdon't bleed it so whitethe fragile waves of daysthey break against the shoreof all these yearsdon't scream and bitedon't bleed it so whiteif all death is as bright


TV & Film

This is running long, so I'll make this last section a bit quicker.

Babylon 5--Loved this show. Loved the complexities of the characters as they emerged over time, especially the relationship between G'Kar and Lando Molari. Also, Harlan Ellison was involved.

Stardust (Neil Gaiman adaptation)

Conan movies (duh)

LoTR (duh)

Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) I loved this so much. Yeah, the ending was odd, but I don't care. I still love it.

There are  a lot of TV shows and films that should make this list. There's just too many of them.
These are the big ones for me.


So, there we go: Appendix EJ. It's not a complete list, as my love of media is vast and diverse, but these are some highlights.