Before there were explicit fantasy games, there existed the inspiration for fantasy games. The reading list in the 1st Edition DMG appendices was meant to fuel campaigns, just as it fuled E. Gary Gygax's imagination as he wrote his classic rules. It has been used to fuel SOME games in the OSR (particularly DCC RPG) but is still absent from far too many gaming tables. The problem here came out of TSR itself, I believe during the 80's when they began to publish fiction based upon the game itself, and ignored vast amounts of the literature upon which the game was based. Let's look at the appendix as it stands in the 1st Edition AD&D DMG:
"APPENDIX N: INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING
Inspiration for all the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors [sic] and dauntless swordsmen. Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples. Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950. The following authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all of their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as any other imaginative writing or screenplay, you will be able to pluck kernels from which will grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!
Anderson, Poul: THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
Bellairs, John: THE FACE IN THE FROST
Burroughs, Edgar Rice: "Pellucidar" series; Mars series; Venus series
Carter, Lin: "World's End" series
de Camp, L. Sprague: LEST DARKNESS FALL; THE FALLIBLE FIEND; et al
de Camp & Pratt: "Harold Shea" series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE
Farmer, P. J.: "The World of the Tiers" series; et al
Fox, Gardner: "Kothar" series; "Kyrik" series; et al
Howard, R. E.: "Conan" series
Lanier, Sterling: HIERO'S JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz: "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" series; et al
Lovecraft, H. P.
Merritt, A.: CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al
Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; "Hawkmoon" series (esp. the first three books)
Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III
Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al
Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al
St. Clair, Margaret: THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; "Ring trilogy"
Vance, Jack: THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al
Wellman, Manley Wade
Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; "Amber" series; et al
The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, R. E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft, and A. Merritt; but all of the above authors, as well as many not listed, certainly helped to shape the form of the game. For this reason, and for the hours of reading enjoyment, I heartily recommend the works of these fine authors to you."
- E. Gary Gygax, 1979, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 224
"Inspirational Source MaterialA good D&D campaign is imaginative and creative. Sometimes a little research is useful to improve a dungeon, flesh out a scenario, and provide inspiration for a campaign. Books on folklore, mythology, fairy tales, bestiaries, and knightly legends can often help the DM fill in important details of a campaign, but fictional tales and fantasy novels usually provide the best sources of inspiration. The following list includes some books which might prove useful. A title list followed by “et al.” means that the author has written more fantasy titles than those which can be listed in the limited space available. Note that some books listed as “non-fiction" are about myths or legends, but are labeled as non-fiction because they are not on the fiction shelves of the library or bookstore.
Fiction: Young Adult FantasyAlexander, Lloyd — The Book of Three; Black Cauldron; Castle of Llyr, et al.
Baum, L. Frank — The Wizard of Oz; The Emerald City of Oz; The Land of Oz, et al.
Bellairs, John — The Face In the Frost; The House Without a Clock on Its Walls; The Figure In the Shadows, et al.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice — A Princess of Mars; At the Earth’s Core; Tarzan of the Apes, et al.
Carroll, Lewis — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass
Garner, Alan — Elidor, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen; The Moon of Gomrath, et al.
Le Guin, Ursula K. — A Wizard of Earthsea; The Tombs of Atuan; The Farthest Shore, et al.
Lewis, C. S. — The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”, et al.
Non-Fiction: Young AdultBarber, Richard — A Companion to World Mythology
Buehr, Walter — Chivalry and the Mailed Knight
Coolidge, Olivia — Greek Myths; The Trojan War; Legends of the North
d’Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar Parin — Norse Gods and Giants; Trolls
Hazeltine, Alice — Hero Tales from Many Lands
Hillyer, Virgil — Young People’s Story of the Ancient World: Prehistory — 500 B.C.
Jacobs, Joseph — English Folk and Fairy Tales
Macauley, David — Castles
McHargue, Georgess — The Beasts of Never: A History Natural and Unnatural of Monsters, Mythical and Magical; The Impossible People
Renault, Mary — The Lion in the Gateway
Sellow, Catherine F. — Adventures with the Giants
Sutcliff, Rosemary — Tristram and Iseult
Williams, Jay — Life in the Middle Ages
Winer, Bart — Life in the Ancient World
Fiction: Adult FantasyAnderson, Poul — Three Hearts and Three Lions; The Broken Sword; The Merman’s Children, et al.
Anthony, Piers — A Spell for Chameleon; The Source of Magic; Castle Roogna
Asprin, Robert — Another Fine Myth
Brackett, Leigh — The Coming of the Terrans; The Secret of Sinharat; People of the Talisman, et al.
Campbell, J. Ramsey —Demons by Daylight
Davidson, Avram — The Island Under the Earth; Ursus of Ultima Thule; The Phoenix in the Mirror, et al.
de Camp, L. Sprague — The Fallible Fiend; The Goblin Tower, et al.
de Camp, L. Sprague and Pratt, Fletcher — The Incomplete Enchanter; Land of Unreason, et al.
Dunsany, Lord — Over the Hills and Far Away; Book of Wonder; The King of Elfland’s Daughter, et al.
Eddison, E. R. — The Worm Ouroboros
Eisenstein, Phyllis — Born to Exile; Sorcerer’s Son
Farmer, Phillip Jose — The Gates of Creation; The Maker of Universes; A Private Cosmos, et al.
Finney, Charles G. — The Unholy City; The Circus of Dr. Lao
Heinlein, Robert A. — Glory Road
Howard, Robert E. — Conan; Red Nails; Pigeons from Hell
Lee, Tanith — Night’s Master; The Storm Lord; The Birthgrave, et al.
Leiber, Fritz — The Swords of Lankhmar; Swords Against Wizardry; Swords Against Death, et al.
Lovecraft, H. P. — The Doom that Came to Sarnath; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath; The Dunwich Honor
Merritt, A. E. — The Moon Pool; Dwellers in the Mirage; The Ship of Ishtar, et al.
Moorcock, Michael — The Stealer of Souls; The Knight of the Swords; Gloriana, et al.
Mundy, Talbot — Tros of Samothrace
Niven, Larry — The Flight of the Horse; The Magic Goes Away
Norton, Andre — Witch World; The Year of the Unicorn; The Crystal Gryphon, et al.
Offutt, Andrew — The Iron Lords; Shadows Out of Hell
Pratt, Fletcher — The Blue Star; The Well of the Unicorn
Smith, Clark Ashton — Xiccarph; Lost Worlds; Genius Loci
Stewart, Mary — The Crystal Cave; The Hollow Hills; The Last Enchantment
Stoker, Bram — Dracula
Swann, Thomas Burnett — Cry Silver Bells; The Tournament of the Thorns; Moondust, et al.
Tolkien. J. R. R. — The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings (trilogy)
Vance, Jack — The Eyes of the Overworld; Dying Earth; The Dragon Masters, et al.
Wagner, Karl Edward — Bloodstone; Death Angel’s Shadow; Dark Crusade, et al.
White, Theodore H. — The Once and Future King
Zelazny, Roger — Jack of Shadows; Lord of Light; Nine Princes in Amber, et al.
Some additional authors of fantasy fiction are:
Beagle, Peter S.
Cabell, James Branch
Cherryh, C. J.
Delany, Samuel R.
Haggard, H. Rider
McKillip, Patricia A.
Moore, C. L.
Myers, John Myers
Wellman, Manly Wade
Short Story Collections:Carter, Lin (ed.) — The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories (in several volumes); Flashing Swords (also in several volumes)
Offutt, Andrew (ed.) — Swords Against Darkness (in several volumes)
Non-FictionBorges, Jorge Luis — The Book of Imaginary Beings
Bullfinch, Thomas — Bullfinch’s Mythology: The Age of Fable, The Age of Chivalry
Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend"
Moldvay's inclusion of a young adult section (including at least three author's, whom I adore, Alexnder, Leguin and Lewis) as well as his inclusion of Mary Stewart and Clark Ashton Smith, the latter of whom I believe Gary mistakenly left off of his list, is most excellent. I also love his marginalizing of Gardner Fox, whom I have a strong distaste for.
Getting back to my point. These lists were created to inspire. In later years, TSR would publish a tremendous amount of tripe, that fans of the game were expected to swallow, in the form of it's own fiction, which drew upon the game (to a degree) as inspiration. The first result of this (I am not counting Quag Keep as it was a very early attempt) was "The Dragonlance Chronicles." This series of novels and railroady modules (in the opinion of many) began driving nails in the coffin of D&D as it was meant to be played. I won't dwell here, however. My goal is to praise the inspiration for D&D, not deride TSR's house organs.
Reading these two lists and their respective authors' opinions, it is clear that they were included so that the players of the game read from the inspiration and learn how were are properly meant to use the rules. I propose (as others have before me) that READING THE LITERATURE IS A PART OF PLAYING THE GAME. It is a part of the game to provide inspiration for the DM/Ref/Judge, but should also be read by the players to give them a better idea of what the "implied setting" of the game IS LIKE, and also as inspiration for knowledge that their characters might have and inspiration for playing the role of said characters. To encourage reading (which is something that I seem to recall roleplaying doing in the past, which seems lacking in the modern day) a rule should be allowed to encourage an understanding of the source material.
So what of this "Ur-rule?" The literature, presumably, dictated the game along with a bit of medieval history. I have, in the past, played in groups that used the literature as ad-hoc rulebooks (which is the inspiration for this ruling.) If "Rule 0" gives the Referee the power to override a rules for enjoyment of the game and common sense purposes, then Appendix N become Rule -1.
A player with knowledge of Appendix N literature may use proper references to Appendix N (as appropriate to the campaign setting) to accomplish deeds in which there are no rules, or as occasional exceptions to the rules as written.
Player: You're letting her be a halfling Cleric, and that isn't a part of the rules! Why can't I be a dwarf Assassin?
Ref: Dwarves are supposed to be LAWFUL as a race, per the rules.
Players: But in "The Hobbit" Tolkien says: "dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and ... and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don't expect too much
Ref: Alright, you've done your homework, and that seems fair.
As a referee using Appendix N as a jumping off point for my campaigns, I propose that any player who does their homework and utilizes the literature as rulebooks (a appropriate, not as a constant crutch) should be rewarded in some way, even if the ruling is shot down by the Referee. In most systems XP would be adequate, though other rewards, such as some sort of "inspiration point" or "fate point" which could be cashed in for a reroll or bonus to a roll would be equally acceptable.
Hopefully my house ruling thoughts on how to utilize the literature in your game is helpful, or at least thought provoking to you! Will the literature make you a better or smarter human being? Probably not, especially not the worst of it. But reading the best of it along with mythology and some history might just give a player a better understanding about the game, it's rules, why they are written as they are and what might be changed or added to make the game better.