I've been perusing a lot of Dungeon Crawl Classics content lately, and one commonality in the DCC community is a reverence...nay, borderline obsession with Appendix N. This is obviously relevant to DCC, which is a game which has staked its success on depicting fantasy gaming as one might imagine it would look in the 70's based on the fiction at hand for the time. When you read Mutant Crawl Classics and notice it's own Appendix "M" references a movie like Zardoz and a seminal work like Hothouse, you know they're not kidding! MCC drips Zardoz and Hothouse from its pores.
In the course of this, however, it becomes incredibly clear that Goodman Games' two amazing OSR works have something in common: they are really damn readable, filled with interesting content, discussions on their respective genres and play styles, loaded with rules that somehow aren't a slog to process, and have a ton of general and specific flavor.
You would think this sort of approach to game books...making them fun to read....would make sense, right? But not every game can accomplish this, for a variety of reasons. Even my own personal favorite system these days, Pathfinder 2nd edition, is at best described as a true utility/resource. I read it to execute the game I want, but I don't sit down and read for--you know--fun. Ugh! I've yet to find a single Pathfinder tome from Paizo (sorry Paizo!) that was actually a pleasure to read. They all feel a bit like work, even when I am digging in the details of their mechanical systems. Pathfinder 2nd Edition's only really fun to read tomes so far are the Bestiaries* and the Gamemastery Guide, which do have some engaging content; but try reading them against the evocative and gripping narrative in Dungeon Crawl Classics, and you will see a difference. PF2 is interesting to read, yes, but the other (DCC) is fascinating to read. Every game book should hope to be the latter.
I recall distinctly that the very first time I encountered this sort of evocative, fascinating writing was actually Gary Gygax's own musings and ramblings in the 1E Dungeon Master's Guide. Despite how much content and how exotic and interesting it was the DMG was never a particularly easy read, nor was it so much fascinating as exotic and esoteric, a thing apart for being the first of it's kind, but it definitely set a bar for future game designers to achieve.
It would be pretty much a decade+ later when I snagged Cyberpunk 2020 that I found a book which outdid the DMG in terms of sheer nerve in its writing, presentation, attitude and sheer efficiency at describing its own mechanics seamlessly with its setting. Mike Pondsmith made a book which I feel has not to date been toppled by any other work, and I eagerly wait to see if the upcoming Cyberpunk Red can actually pull this off a second time.
There are other games out there that thrive thanks to their evocative writing, but far more lean toward the utility as their key value. Even literary works such as Call of Cthulhu work better as a resource for gaming than as a tome to read for pure enjoyment (baring any fiction segments). Some exceptions to this norm include most everything ever published first by White Wolf and then Onyx Publishing. Say what you will about White Wolf, but their books are (mostly) indisputably readable if you're into the stuff they write about. But...even then....most of what makes White Wolf and Onyx distinct has been the fiction elements, and the actual rules are often quite dry.
Anyway.....just some musings I thought I'd put to blog since I have neglected this poor thing for the better part of a month now. Family just moved recently and things are finally settling down, we have a nice house with plenty of room to enjoy social isolation!
*For an example of a well-written, evocative and arguably fascinating Bestiary, look no further than 13th Age. Pathfinder's Bestiaries are resources; 13th Age's Bestiaries are art.