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Tolkien, J.R.R. "The Lord of the Rings" Series; The Silmarillion; The Children of Hurin
The Lord of the Rings should be read by every gamemaster. Six decades after it first saw print, it remains unparalleled for the depth and scope of the world that Tolkien created, complete with its own Bible (The Silmarillion), languages (Quenya and Sindarin) and epics (The Children of Hurin). So complete was his immersion that J.R.R. Tolkien saw himself as a historian documenting a world - he wasn't writing fiction, he was bringing to light something which was real. When Tolkien was once asked a question about Middle-Earth to which he had no answer, he wrote in his diary, "Must find out." That's the viewpoint I take when I stumble onto something in my own campaign worlds that I don't have an answer to: not "must make up," but "must find out."
Vance, Jack. "Dying Earth" Stories
The magic system used in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons is called Vancian magic, and it's named after Jack Vance, author of the Dying Earth stories. These tales, set in a future so distant that our sun has begun to dim and technology has become like magic, feature wily rogues and powerful magic-users in pulpish adventures. Not only did the Dying Earth series provide the basis for the world's most famous magic system, it also gave us many of the most memorable spells, monsters, and magical items to appear in role-playing games, including portable holes, prismatic sprays, Evard's black tentacles, robes of eyes, ioun stones, and Grues! And if you've ever heard of a lich named Vecna, it won't take you long to figure out who he's named after. Read the Dying Earth stories, and you'll understand D&D in a way you never did before.
I have one final reading recommendation to close out this column, although it's not quite available yet. It's called Adventurer Conqueror King, and its co-written by yours truly. It's essentially my version of the classic fantasy RPG. If you've agreed with the game design concepts I've shared in this column - such as top-down/zoom-in design, gazetteers, player agency, and so on - I think you'll like Adventurer Conqueror King. The first versions will be available at Gen Con this year, and I'll be there running demo games if you're around.
Hopefully, this is enough reading to keep you busy until then!
Alexander Macris has been playing tabletop games since 1981. In addition to co-authoring the tabletop games Modern Spearhead and Blaze Across the Sands, his work has appeared in Interface, the Cyberpunk 2020 fanzine, and in RPGA AD&D 2nd Edition tournament modules. In addition to running two weekly campaigns, he is publisher of The Escapist and president and CEO of Themis Media. He sleeps on Sundays.