Monday, January 24, 2011

Visitation Upon the Dying Earth

Jack Vance’s the Dying Earth series remains one of my absolute favorite works of fantasy (or science fantasy) and has probably influenced the themes and settings of my games more than any other fiction.

I’ve played the Dying Earth RPG previously published by Pelgrane Press on occasion and I think it's a fine game with a lot of great supporting material but I've often felt that it would be a blast to adapt the setting for OE D & D. I'm sure that this is not an uncommon desire (e.g. and you need another reason to grok the Hill Cantons, check out the stats for the pelgrane and deodand posted some time ago) but, although it seems that such a thing would be already extant, I’ve yet to find a fully realized old school Dying Earth sourcebook.

As I will likely be running an old school game in the near future, set either in the Dying Earth or in my own setting that is heavily influenced by Vance’s masterpieces, I need to produce such a sourcebook. It seems to me that the Dying Earth could be run on the LL chassis pretty readily with the additions of a few new monsters and magic items, tweaking the classes, and, most significantly, an overhaul of the magic system that includes true Vancian spells, rules for the employment of sandestins, etc.

I've been working on the magic system and present below a few of the one hundred or so known spells of the Dying Earth. Most are derived directly from the novels, a few are based on original spells in the aforementioned Dying Eart RPG, and a few are of my own invention, based on classic D & D spells.

If all goes as planned a free pdf of old school Vancian weirdness is in the future. Of course this project treads even more precariously on the intellectual property of others than my other favorite project, Humanspace Empires, the EPT Space Opera game. (Work on Humanspace Empires will continue apace but I don’t want to be a one trick chlen). Dying Earth material published on this web site represent not for profit fan publications and there is no intent to infringe upon copyrights held by Jack Vance, his agents or assignees, Pelgrane Press, etc.

The Astounding Oral Projection
Level: 2
Duration: Permanent
Range: 60’
This spell imbues a chosen object or creature with a hallucinatory mouth. The caster can speak through this mouth as if it were his own or it may be cast so that the mouth remains closed and invisible until a specific condition stated by the spellcaster is fulfilled. The mouth will deliver a prepared speech of up to one hundred and eleven words in any language known by the magician. The spell is essentially permanent, lasting until it is magically removed or the spellcaster dies.

Call to the Violent Cloud
Level: 7
Duration: Instant
Range: 0
This most powerful transport spell summons a white wisp that quickly transforms into a pillar of boiling black smoke that will demand of the spellcaster the name of a destination. The magician must then inform the pillar of  his destination; the Cloud forms, and  instantly, though not gently, transports the magician and up to 12 associates with all that they carry and up to 12 riding beasts to the desired destination. The Violent Cloud will not transport others unless they are accompanied by the spell caster. It will transport its passengers to any location named including distant planets or other planes. Unless the exact location is specified in naming the destination, the spellcaster and any other passengers will be dropped in a random and often inconvenient location within the named area. In any event, the delivery is generally rough and unseemly; there is a 50% chance that each passenger will take 1d6 incidental damage in the landing.

Charm of the Duplicitous Face
Level: 2
Duration: 1 day
Range: Touch
The target of this spell will be transformed in appearance to exactly match any human or humanoid that the spellcaster has seen clearly. The target will look, sound, smell, and move exactly as the individual duplicated and even close friends, relatives, and the pets of that personage will be fooled. The target; however, gains none of the abilities, powers, or knowledge of one so duplicated.

Charm of Forlorn Encystment (Reversible)
Level: 9
Duration: Permanent
Range: 60’ (Special in reverse)
Through this terrible and dreaded Charm any one target in range is placed in thaumaturgical stasis and instantly transported into an arcane concavity 45 miles beneath his or her location. No saving throw is permitted. Within this cyst the victim will remained imprisoned until the spell is reversed. Over time, the clothing and possessions of the entrapped individual will slowly rot and decay; however the victim will not age. If the Charm is cast in reverse, all victims who were encysted within clear sight of the caster (approximately within one mile) are instantly returned to the surface. If the magician knows the name and approximate location of a victim, it is possible to cast this spell so that it frees only the intended. Failure in casting the Charm may lead to this reversed version.

The Excellent Prismatic Spray
Level: 5
Duration: Instant
Range: 90’
This deadly spell conjures hundreds of many-colored threads of blazing fire that will pierce a single target's body, instantly killing the victim unless a save vs. spells is made. The spray is effective on any creature up to the size of a large whale and will pierce any armor. The Excellent Prismatic Spray can be targeted upon an inanimate object and is capable of destroying any object that could be broken by a very strong man wielding an axe.

Felojun's 1st Hypnotic Spell
Level: 1
Duration: 3d4 turns
Range: 30’
This spell will place a number of living creatures with 4+1 Hit Die or fewer in a hypnotic sleep. The magician may only affect one creature if it has 4+1 HD, but the spell will otherwise affect up to 2d8 HD of creatures. Calculate monsters with less than 1 HD as having 1 HD, and monsters with a bonus to HD as having the flat amount. Creatures with the fewest HD are affected first. Sleeping creatures are helpless and can be killed instantly with a bladed weapon. Slapping or wounding awakens an affected creature, but normal noise does not.

Liberation of Warp
Level: 3
Duration: permanent
Range: 30’ radius
Upon casting this spell a strong etheric pulse is created that instantly dispels any and all magics that have been cast on a creature or object within a 30’ sphere surrounding the spellcaster, by any magician of equivalent or lower level. If the level of the caster of the effect to be dispelled is higher than the caster of the spell, there is a cumulative +5% chance per level difference that the attempt to dispel will fail. The effect of a spell with an instantaneous duration will not be dispelled. Magic items are not destroyed by the spell; however, effects produced by an enchanted item are negated for one round. Certain anti-magical charms, such as Laccodel's Rune, are proof against this spell and provide protection from its effects.

The Omnipotent Sphere
Level: 5
Duration: 12 turns
Range: Special
The Sphere produces a bubble of impenetrable force around the magician. The spellcaster can expand the bubble into a sphere up to 12 feet in diameter. The expanding sphere will push objects away from the magician; however if immobile objects are encountered the sphere and magician will be pushed away from these. The Omnipotent Sphere protects the caster from all physical damage, spells, cantraps, magic items, and direct attacks by sandestins. The caster remains vulnerable to environmental effects and disease. While within the sphere, the spellcaster may not cast any spells other than those that affect only him but may end this spell at any time before the maximum duration has expired.

Pho’s Re-Animation of the Worm Ridden
Level: 5
Duration: Permanent
Range: 60’
This spell turns the bones or bodies of dead creatures into undead skeletons or zombies that follow the magician’s spoken commands. The undead can follow the caster, or they can remain in an area and attack any creature (or just a specific kind of creature) entering the place. They remain animated until they are destroyed or until a Liberation of Warp spell is cast upon them. The caster may animate a number of hit die total of zombies or skeletons equal to five times his or her level.

Spell of Temporal Stasis
Level: 9
Duration: Concentration
Range: Self
The Spell of Temporal Stasis accelerates the spellcaster to a speed sufficient to render the remainder of the universe essentially static. All creatures and objects are immobilized; any portable inanimate objects’ however, will be freed of the spell if the caster touches such objects. As this spell requires great concentration to maintain, difficult or complex actions are impossible for the spellcaster. If an Arch-Magician's sandestin produces the effect, the magician can act freely. Note: the inherent laws of magic forbid magical actions including the enchanting of items, memorizing spells, or summoning sandestins, while under temporal acceleration.


  1. Excellent, my gut says you have the right mindset to pull this off.

    The most difficult part in introducing heavier Vance elements is less the trappings and more the elusive and all-important capturing both the tonal notes and themes.

    Dying Earth RPG was somewhat hit-or-miss when it came to that. You get the impression in the supplements that some of the game's writers thought it was just about using long antiquated words and phrases in a vaguely witty way. (Come to think of it a lot of the Dying Earth homage literature felt the same.)

    I have been sitting on a draft post about the Vancian elements in the Hill Cantons tabletop campaign for getting on six months now. (I also have a second drawing-board one about the touch of Vance in EPT.) Perhaps I should get my lazy rear going and finish it.

  2. I look forward to seeing those Vancian posts, certainly the Vance in EPT.

    I feel that this project is less intimidating than the Humanspace project and as both sourcebooks will be supported by a back-end melange of LL and 1975 EPT, some of the work will have crossover utility.

    I pretty much agree with your take on the Pelgrane Press treatment of the source material. I've enjoyed playing it but it does go on ad infinitum about some of the approach will assume that the players have the background, mindset and vocabulary to approach the setting in the manner they wish and access to all the great setting material out there; I will simply provide the framework.

    BTW...should I be expecting Domain Game updates in the near future? Can't wait...


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