I have to start with Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain.
My first brush with an epic fantasy series, This was initially read to me, and I finished the series myself at a young age. Enchanters, Oracular Pigs, the first undead I had heard of that were not Universal Monsters like Dracula or the Mummy, this series had the Cauldron Born and a Lich. Seriously, someone takes ego damage from a sword in this series, and the Ranger has an Animal Companion. Awesome character arc, from assistant pig keeper to the High King. I later got hold of the rare children’s books that provide backstory to the tales, The Foundling, Coll and his White Pig, and The Truthful Harp, definitely the tale of how hard it is to become an old school bard. Also worth recommending from Alexander are The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha, The Wizard in the Tree, and The Westmark Series.
The War Eagles of Arawn, King of Anwyn in The Chronicles of Prydain are also where I drew my moniker Gwythaint from.
A book we had knocking around the house, which a recent conversation with Zeb Cook informed me was actually inspirational to the Monster Manual, is Barbara Ninde Byfield’s The Glass Harmonica, A Lexicon of the Fantastical. Since republished as Book of the Weird, it can be got used from Amazon with some difficulty, as all kinds of gamers are trying to snatch this baby up. It is an Encyclopedia of weird and witty entries of all kinds of things medieval and really fits with the style of gaming I like. I loved the art and the complexity of the entries.
The 1978 Dawn of the Dead, with everyone trying to survive zombies in a shopping mall got me on the Zombie train early. I had always loved horror, but I saw this one with my Dad, and it resonated as gaming inspiration immediately. I could not get enough of this genre, much to the disgust of my wife. I even tried to incorporate some of it into B2, keep on the Borderlands, and have been statting out every building I worked in in a variety of systems for Zpoc survivability.
My Dad’s Pulp Collection
Most of Appendix N was on that set of shelves, from Fritz Leiber to Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter, Sprague De Camp, Robert E Howard, A. Merrit, and H.P Lovecraft. When my folks split, I swallowed these things whole, embarking on a multi-library quest to read through the list in the back of the DMG. The Goblin Tower, The Unbeheaded King, The Clocks of Iraz, The Tritonian Ring, all of it awesome stuff. And then there was this.
Elidor, the Owl Service, and the Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Gardner.
The Owl Service was more Welsh Mythology, Like the Chronicles of Prydain, and Elidor was pretty Narnia-esque. Brisingamen on the other hand, gave me the willies. I have very mild claustrophobia, but this like few other things (The Descent and As Above, So Below) gave me heart palpitations.Such a visceral read for a piece of YA Fantasy. A really great depiction of both Dwarves and Goblins in this thing.
Originally intended as a gift for my Fantasy loving older sister, I claimed the Moldvay Basic set with the Erol Otus cover as my own, along with the Trampier covered PHB that we got at the same time as my own. That shit made ideas explode in my head, and I just loved all of the art. I wanted to be Tramp! I love the Willingham dragonstrike, and the Erol Otus giant snake. What really flipped me out though, was
Man, I love me some Russ.. My whole drawing style is cribbed from him. I won a costume contest back in college dressed as a Githyanki, and I am going out on a limb here, and saying that that dude on the cover is wearing a helmet, the line pattern that Russ uses for hair is hella tight compared to that thing. I loved the weirdness, the warty, age spotted creep factor of Nicholson’s art in that book, and when I made the mistake fifteen years ago of giving my stuff away, the Fiend Folio was one of the first that I bought.to back to rebuild my collection. Absolutely one of those times when the PDF does not cut it..
Peter Dell’orto wrote a blog that got me back into gaming, called Dungeon Fantastic. Since then I have gone whole hog into this game system, which is now a standalone game . I played a lot of 3e GURPS in the eighties and early nineties, mostly playing horror games using the Chaosium Call of Cthulhu sourcebooks and the GURPS ruleset, but this is something different, Old school feel with what I think of a better mechanics. The henchmen book is full of templates for building lower power characters, and Peter wrote that too. Regular DF runs at 250 points, roughly equivalent to characters who are 6-th to 8th level in AD&D, and the lower point templates bring back the feel of the kind of games I was always starting with my friends. We rarely made it past 5th level, and only once did I make it to 8th. A while back I put out a supplement for it.
Steven Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars
This book, by the same author who brought us the D&D inspired Vlad Taltos series, is a frame story about a group of artists in a shared studio, wrapped around a Hungarian folk tale told by one of them about a fantastic quest,. The fairy tale is interesting, the description of the process of painting was really striking to me, having read the book while studying fine art, and the chapter headings are all titles of paintings that establish a third layer of story. There is a lot of other good work by Brust, including Brokedown Palace, and To Reign in Hell, The Phoenix Guard, to say nothing of Agyar, one of the best stories in its genre that manages not to tell you what genre that is until three quarters of the way through the book.
Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Cycle, featuring Kvothe the…bard?
Not only is it superior to both Harry Potter and The Magicians for describing life in a magical university, and mind you I love both Rowling and Grossman, but it is the most epic telling of the building of a multiclassed character. Kvothe is introduced as an innkeeper, and was a travelling performer, a professional musician, skilled alchemical artificer, magician, swordsman, and he knows the secret name of the wind. None of these accomplishments came to him easily, and his attitude keeps him from getting things his way. There are elements of Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster series here, but unlike the protagonist of that series, Rothfuss’s character drives his own fate instead of having it written in the stars.