Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

D&D Never Even Came Close to Vancian Magic

Okay y’all, this week’s reading is a real doozy. Jack Vance is of course the common denominator between (at a minimum) Dungeons & Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, and Infocom’s Enchanter series. I suppose it’s “obvious” now that I bring it up… but seriously, this is something that could stand to be noised abroad a little more forcefully. Add to that the fact that not only is the Dying Earth magic system inherently apocalyptic and almost inevitably going to destroy any setting where it emerges, but it also incorporates skill checks and critical failures that are more in line with some of D&D’s competitors than with D&D itself. Add to that the fact that the Dying Earth stories are so chock full of insanely powerful magic items that it would make even Monty Hall blush in shame, that high level magic-users have more stuff than spells at their disposal, and the fact that scrolls didn’t come into the scenario until Gygax & Arneson cut them from whole cloth… well, what do you get once you’ve added that all up? I know my mind is reeling anyway. I’m downright staggered by these revelations. Why didn’t anyone tell me?! Seriously, this is on par with the time that Hilkiah found the book of the Law in a trash heap. What is up with us that we aren’t talking more about Jack Vance’s contribution to the hobby? The man is a giant and you can’t understand anything about the history of gaming without reading him…. So read him already!!!!

This week’s post is right here, y’all:

RETROSPECTIVE: The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance

Oh, and if I lose you after the second paragraph because of my excursions, then come back and read this guy instead:

“There are certain novels that you never really finish. You turn the last page, but are aware that it must be re-read, preferably several times, before you can truly appreciate it…. Both The Dying Earth and Eyes of the Overworld fall into this category, as they reveal more of the ‘soul’ of D&D than perhaps anything I’ve seen so far, and yet also promise so many unique possibilities that it seems a shame so much has been left behind.” — Rogues and Reavers

That’s just beautiful. That’s some seriously beautiful writing that is the exact thing that ought to be said after a reading of those two books.

So read the posts! Read the books! They’re just plain fantastic.

I’ve got mail!

I’ve gotten some really good responses to last week’s post on Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade. A couple of game blog heavyweights even put their two cents in on two very different points I brought up in my ruminations:

Prototypical FRPG Character Classes? — Pulsipher Game Design

An Article Worth Reading…. and my own comments — Don’t Split the Party

I’m sure Lewis Pulsiper’s reputation preceeds him. I mean, he only wrote some of the best gaming articles that could be found in the pages of Dragon and The Space Gamer back in the day. Rick Stump you might not know, though. He’s actually one of Lew’s disciples and a graduate from Lew’s D&D sessions in the eighties! Rick has written many quintessential gaming posts that bring up things from a very unique perspective. They’re well worth the time, so go read his blog if you haven’t already!!

(Man, I’m bossy this week. Forgive me. I blame it on being completely overwhelmed by gaming awesome. Staggered, I tell you…! Staggered I say!)

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8 responses to “D&D Never Even Came Close to Vancian Magic

  1. Alex July 29, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Sadly, I could find none of the books you’ve been talking about at the Library sale last weekend. I think my parents might have some of those Poul Anderson books, though, unless they were in the attic box that got moldy and thrown out when I was 12.

    • jeffro July 29, 2014 at 9:45 am

      The Appendix N books by Poul Anderson and Jack Vance are (in my opinion) well worth the four to six bucks it would take on average to get them in paperback format from Amazon.

      Hint: They’re not in the library because they all got stolen at some point!

      • Alex July 29, 2014 at 9:47 am

        I just have a hard time spending more than I would at a library sale or goodwill, if only because of the massive stack of unfinished books I have (though buying in bulk at library sales just makes it worse!)

        I’ll probably ask my dad about the Poul Anderson stuff after I finish all of the Hainish books I got recently.

  2. Alexis Smolensk July 30, 2014 at 10:42 am

    I think the main problem is that Vance is simply an embarrassingly bad writer. Bad. As in, I will lose respect from people by just admitting I’ve ever read him, much less liking him or promoting him. No question, some good ideas there, a good mechanic that has survived the abuse it’s received. But Vance as a writer?

    Gawd, it’s a wonder he managed that in the age of the Editor. Someone was boinking someone.

  3. JSpace July 30, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Yeah. I have the same problem with the german musical group The Can. Originally they had some “sculpter” as their lead singer. BS. Get a real singer! Of course he broke down on stage one night chanting endlessly “upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs”, etc., so they just took the first bum they could find off the street to replace him. Really? That “bum” could barely even speak english. I could swear he was singing backwards on one song. Just awful. Why couldn’t they just play proper rock n’roll like The Dave Clark Five or something? I think that they’re all on some kind of drugs.

    Psss, don’t tell anyone, but I think I like these german fellows and their far out music.

    • Alex July 30, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      Damo Suzuki is awesome. Though it’s kinda weird that one of the most iconic Krautrock bands after Kraftwerk was fronted by a Japanese guy.

  4. JSpace July 30, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Krautrock and late-60’s/ 70’s speculative fiction go together like pinto beans and white rice. You can practically hear Hallogallo playing while watching The Cloud-Sculpters of Coral D. Both Traveller and Dungeons & Dragons seem to fit well into this gritty post-psychedelic paranoid atmosphere.

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