Episode 17 – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter’s “Conan of Cimmeria”

(Please also see the Episode 2 show notes for additional details about the Lancer/Ace Conan books.)

Conan of Cimmeria (Lancer Books, 1969) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter was part of first comprehensive paperback edition of the Conan saga. Conan of Cimmeria  was the seventh volume published, although it is second in the internal chronology–later printings of the series numbered the books in chronological order. When Lancer when out of business in 1973, Ace Books picked up and completed the series, keeping it in print until the mid 1990s.

As with Conan, series editors de Camp and Carter filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories. For the purist, the Howard-only stories in Conan of Cimmeria are “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” (written in 1934, first published 1953, definitive version published 1976), “Queen of the Black Coast” (1934), and “The Vale of Lost Women” (first published in The Magazine of Horror, 1967).

The de Camp and Carter originals in Conan of Cimmeria are “The Curse of the Monolith” (first published in the magazine Worlds of Fantasy in 1968 as “Conan and the Cenotaph”), “The Lair of the Ice Worm”, and “The Castle of Terror”. “The Blood-Stained God” is a de Camp rewrite of a then unpublished Howard story “The Curse of the Crimson God”, with de Camp changing the setting from early 20th century Afghanistan and adding the fantastic elements to turn it into a Conan tale. “The Blood-Stained God” first saw print in the hardcover collection Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955). The final story in this volume “The Snout in the Dark” was completed by de Camp and Carter from synopsis and story fragment found in Howard’s notes. For the curious, the untitled synopsis and fragment can be found in the appendices of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2003).

Frank Frazetta once again contributes an unforgettable cover painting, this time of Conan’s battle with Atali’s brothers from “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”:

2 - Conan_Cimmeria_Lancer_1970

In addition to the Conan influences on Dungeons & Dragons cited in Episode 2, Conan of Cimmeria was the probable source of the Monster Manual’s remorhaz, a sort of ice centipede inverse of the remora from “The Lair of the Ice Worm”. “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” probably deserves equal credit along with the first Harold Shea story “The Roaring Trumpet” for the Dungeons & Dragons treatment of frost giants, which first appeared in the original 1974 edition and were fully detailed in the Monster Manual (1977). Frost giants would become iconic D&D foes with the publication of TSR’s second D&D module, 1978’s G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, the middle module of the Against the Giants trilogy.

Reading Resources:

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan of Cimmeria Book 1) (Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2003) is the first of a 3-book trade paperback series collecting the Conan stories in the order they were written by Robert E. Howard, often going back to his original typescripts. Also included are many of Howard’s Conan story drafts, note, and fragments, but none of the posthumous revisions and new stories by de Camp, Carter, et al. This volume also features numerous evocative interior illustrations by Mark Schultz.

http://freeread.com.au/@RGLibrary/RobertEHoward/REH-Conan/@Conan.html is an online public domain repository of all of the Conan stories that were published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime and several posthumously published works that are out of copyright.

Gaming Resources:

G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

Monster Manual (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 16 – L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall”

L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall first saw light as a short story in the December 1939 issue of Unknown magazine before being expanded into a full novel for hardcover publication by Henry Holt & Company in 1941. Unknown was the companion magazine to Astounding, both of which were edited by John W. Campbell, the godfather of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction”. Campbell had taken the reins of Astounding in 1937 and had almost immediately turned it away from its freewheeling high adventure origins towards more scientifically plausible and therefore “realistic” stories. In 1939, Campbell launched Unknown with a very similar mandate towards fantasy fiction; his direction to writers was “For Astounding I want stories which are good and logical and possible. For Unknown, I want stories which are good and logical.”

As an aeronautical engineer by training and a paleontologist, historian and educator by inclination, L. Sprague de Camp was an exemplar of the new breed of scientifically savvy writer that Campbell was cultivating. De Camp’s essentially rationalist worldview seems to have given him trouble in depicting the truly impossible, at least in his nominally science fiction works. It makes sense then that he’d quickly gloss over the mechanics and metaphysics of time travel in Lest Darkness Fall in favor of playing to his strengths, in this case a deep knowledge of Late Antiquity, specifically the Gothic War (535-554) that devastated the Italian peninsula and sent it into a state of decline that was only reversed with the coming of the Italian Renaissance.

Lest Darkness Fall was de Camp’s first solo novel, but even then some of his tropes were in evidence, such as the highly educated and rational protagonist making his way in a strange new world, both aided and opposed by often comical or even buffoonish locals. De Camp’s writing can be compromised at times by the feeling that he’s holding himself above the material or at least failing to fully embrace it, but thankfully that’s not the case with Lest Darkness Fall. Padway’s dry wit rarely devolves into snark, and his 20th century education and native intelligence aren’t always enough to carry the day–ultimately Padway relies on persuasion as much as intellect.

Lest Darkness Fall’s balance of well-developed characters and careful extrapolation of history made it a cornerstone of the Alternate history sub-genre of fantastic fiction to this day as witnessed by its frequent reprintings over the last 80 years. It has also drawn reponses in the form of the short stories “The Man Who Came Early” (1956) by Poul Anderson, “The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass” (1962) by Frederik Pohl, “To Bring the Light” (1996) by David Drake, and “The Apotheosis of Martin Padway” (2005) by S.M. StirlingThe current king of alternate history fiction Harry Turtledove recently tweeted that the book changed his life: “ L. Sprague de Camp’s LEST DARKNESS FALL. Without It, I wouldn’t have studied Byzantium, and my whole life would be, well, an alternate history.”

The Ballantine Books 2nd paperback printing (1975) feature a Darrell K. Sweet cover illustration, but the groovy typography steals the show:


Gary Gygax prided himself on being an amateur medievalist, so it’s not surprising that he cited Lest Darkness Fall in Appendix N despite the only overtly fantastic element being the lightning bolt that sends Martin Padway back in time. Padway’s efforts to keep the light of civilization burning are not dissimilar from the “domain game” aspect of Dungeons & Dragons. Aside from that, Padway’s depiction as the lone rational man in an uncouth world echoes is the essence of nerd self-image, and de Camp and Gygax are essentially proto-nerds made good….

Reading Resources:

Lest Darkness Fall & Related Stories (trade paperback/Kindle ebook)

Additional Reading:

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (public domain ebook) – Mark Twain’s 1889 novel is the most obvious antecedent to Lest Darkness Fall, although it is overtly satirical rather than an exercise in alternate history.

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 15 – Lin Carter’s “Giant of World’s End”

Lin Carter has a multi-faceted reputation in the world of fantastic fiction. As an editor and critic, he is virtually indispensable, most notably for his role in editing the landmark Ballantine Adult Fantasy series (BAFS), as well as the subsequent Flashing Swords!, The Year’s Best Fantasy, and Weird Tales anthologies. Carter’s legacy as a writer is considerably more muddied by his “posthumous collaborations” with Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, which often consisted of creating entirely new stories from unfinished drafts and story fragments. These stories were presented as newly rediscovered works, with Carter carrying the torch for Howard and Smith. Lin Carter was hardly alone in his “posthumous collaborations” however, as he was following a precedent set in the 1950s by August Derleth and L. Sprague de Camp. It can be argued that this practice is distasteful or outright literary defacement, but it could equally well be seen as a precursor to today’s “remix” culture.

What about Lin Carter’s solo fiction then? His breakthrough Thongor series, starting with The Wizard of Lemuria (Ace Books, 1965) has been characterized as heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Carter was incredibly prolific over the next four years, knocking out roughly 25 more books along with his editorial work and scripting episodes of the Spider-Man animated series. Carter’s work on the BAF series starting in 1969 may have re-awakened his interest in the denser, more allusive prose styles of the likes of Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, and William Morris. This interest would come to the fore in Carter’s Giant of World’s End (Belmont Books, 1969), set 700 million years in the future in The Eon of the Falling Moon. In the far future Earth of Giant of World’s End, the continents have drifted back together into the supercontinent of Gondwane and the Moon has fallen in its orbit to the point where it will soon collide with and destroy the world. The warrior construct Ganelon Silvermane and his companions Zelobion the Magician and Arzeela the War Maid must traverse this vast continent in an attempt to find a “counter-lunary agent” that will prevent the Moon’s fall and the end of the world.

In Carter’s introduction to Giant of World’s End he considers his book in the same End of Time tradition as Clark Ashton Smith’s “Zothique” cycle and A.E. van Vogt’s The Book of Ptath (1947), but curiously he omits any mention of Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth” books. Smith and van Vogt’s works were far enough in the past to be safely acknowledged, but it’s likely that Vance’s The Dying Earth (Lancer Books reissue, 1962) and The Eyes of the Overworld (Ace Books, 1965) were too recent to cite comfortably as open influences. In any case, Giant of World’s End is undeniably Vancian, from the odd customs of the various cultures that the protagonists encounter, to the strangely petty ancient powers of the world such as The Seven Brains of Karchoy. The attempts at quirky humor and deliberately formal dialogue also owe a lot to Vance, but can seem a bit forced.

Another perhaps less obvious influence on Giant at World’s End is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with Ganelon Silvermane’s amnesia and inability to love echoing the Scarecrow’s missing brain and Tin Woodman’s missing heart respectively. Also the band of adventurers’ disappointment at the reveal of the senile Last Technarch of Vandalex calls back to Dorothy’s peek behind the screen at the “humbug” Wizard of Oz. Carter’s nods to the Oz books are less surprising when you consider that he wrote five Oz novels that were published posthumously as The Tired Tailor of Oz (2001) and the collection The Merry Mountaineer of Oz (2004).

Nothing in the text of Giant of World’s End indicates that it was originally intended to be part of a series, especially considering its downbeat ending. Nevertheless, Lin Carter must have felt that the supercontinent of Gondwane remained rife with story possibilities as a prequel, Warrior of World’s End was published in 1974 by DAW Books. Four more books in the “Gondwane Epic” would appear through 1978. Supposedly there were to have been nine books in the Gondwane Epic, bringing the story around full circle to Giant of World’s End but the series was cancelled because of low sales. It’s interesting to note that the five prequels were reissued by Wildside Press in the early 2000s, but that Giant of World’s End has never been reprinted aside from a U.K. paperback edition in 1972–perhaps the reissues did poorly too or there’s an obscure publishing rights issue involved.

Giant of World’s End features a Jeffrey Catherine Jones cover that doesn’t depict any scene in the text, but may be conveying Arzeela’s despair over her unrequited love for Ganelon Silvermane. It’s a literal “brown study”:


Out of Lin Carter’s quite large body of work, only the “World’s End” books are cited by Gary Gygax as influences on the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. Many of the works in Appendix N are superior on their literary merits, but Giant of World’s End doesn’t lack for memorable creations such as the Talking Ship Mannanan MacLear, the Myriapod at the arena of the Piomazians, Zelobion’s magical system of Phonemic Thaumaturgy, and the ruined city of Grand Phesion. The somewhat cobbled together nature of Carter’s book makes it easier pull out the eminently gameable bits that would be harder to extract from more original, dramatically unified works. And gamers, from Gary Gygax down to present day DIYers are nothing if not tinkerers….


If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.


Episode 12 – Michael Moorcock’s “The Stealer of Souls”

Michael Moorcock’s first five Elric of Melniboné stories appeared in the British magazine Science Fantasy in 1962 and were collected in hardcover the next year as The Stealer of Souls, followed by a U.S. paperback edition from Lancer Books in 1967. Savage and sardonic, the Elric stories must have seemed like a fantasy off-shoot of Great Britain’s “Angry Young Man” movement of that era.

At first glance, Elric of Melniboné appears to be the very antithesis of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian: a physically weak sorcerer, addicted to drugs, symbiotically linked to the malignant black sword Stormbringer, and the rightful emperor of a cruel and decadent pre-human civilization. Moorcock and Elric are often characterized as a negation or rejection of Howardian swords & sorcery, but that’s a drastic oversimplification of Moorcock’s relationship to pulp fantasy.

Moorcock was precocious fantasy talent, creating fanzines as a schoolboy and becoming editor of the professional magazine Tarzan Adventures by the age 17 in 1957. Moorcock was a notable contributor to AMRA, a fanzine that was a hotbed of discussion about fantasy fiction and counted among its many notable correspondents Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, and Roger Zelazny. As mentioned here, the term “swords and sorcery” was coined by Fritz Leiber in dialogue with Moorcock, although Moorcock has always preferred the term “epic fantasy”. Moorcock has at times minimized but never totally denied his appreciation for Howard, most likely hoping to let the Elric saga stand on its own two feet. He’s also held up his deep regard for the works of Leigh Brackett, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber, and Fletcher Pratt among others and was later a founding member of the Swordsmen and Sorceror’s Guild of America, none of which indicates someone contemptuous or indifferent to fantasy fiction.

Moorcock has cited Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions and The Broken Sword as influences on the Elric saga, especially in the former’s depiction of the struggle between Law and Chaos and the latter’s savagery, sense of doom, and titular accursed sword. Another lesser-known antecedent to Elric is Sexton Blake’s nemesis, the opium-addicted master criminal and anti-hero Monsieur Zenith the Albino:


Moorcock not only borrowed Monsieur Zenith’s appearance and sardonic demeanor for Elric, he would later concretely link the two as incarnations of each other in The Metatemporal Detective (Pyr, 2007), although it can be hard to tell at times whether Moorcock is merely amusing himself or playing it straight.

There have been countless visual interpretations of Elric over the years, but the Jeffrey Catherine Jones cover for the Lancer Books second printing of The Stealer of Souls (1973) is the first distinctly modern depiction of the albino swordsman and sorceror:


Moorcock continued to write Elric stories in the late 1960s and the 1970s that were set prior to the events of Stormbringer. DAW Books republished the Elric Saga in 1977, arranging the stories by internal chronology, splitting the stories from The Stealer of Souls between The Weird of the White Wolf and The Bane of the Black Sword, the third and fifth books of Elric’s saga respectively. With Moorcock’s approval, Del Rey/Ballantine began publishing the “definitive” version of Elric’s saga in 2008, once again collecting the stories in publication order.

Elric’s saga clearly had an impact on Gary Gygax as he specifically mentions Elric as a playable figure in the “Fantasy Supplement” to Chainmail (1971). The Law vs. Chaos alignment system in Chainmail and original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) may have originated with Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions, but there’s a distinct Moorcockian flavor in practice, although that would obviously vary from gaming group to gaming group.

Rob Kuntz and James Ward wrote up Elric and the Melnibonéan mythos in the fourth Dungeons & Dragons supplement, Gods, Demi-Gods, & Heroes (1976). Four years later, Kuntz and Ward would detail the Melnibonéan mythos for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in Deities & Demigods (1980). Although TSR had permission from Moorcock to use Elric for D&D, their West Coast rivals Chaosium secured the official Elric license in 1981, leading TSR to remove the Melnibonéan section (and Cthulhu Mythos section) from the third printing onwards of Deities & Demigods. As a result, the first two printings of Deities & Demigods are now highly sought after collector’s items. In the meantime, Elric’s gaming presence has remained tightly bound up in the RuneQuest/Basic Role-Playing system for over 25 years, with the exception of Chaosium’s D20 System adaptation Dragon Lords of Melniboné (2001). There is currently no gaming license for any of Michael Moorcock’s works, so it remains to be seen if Elric will ever make an official reappearance at the gaming table….

Reading Resources:

Elric: The Stealer of Souls (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné, Vol. 1) (trade paperback/Kindle ebook) – includes Moorcock’s preferred texts of The Stealer of Souls and Stormbringer and supplemental materials, all presented in publication order.

Moorcock’s Miscellany – The official website of Michael Moorcock & friends.

Further Reading:

Monsieur Zenith the Albino (Savoy Books, 2001) – a reprinting of the only novel of Monsieur Zenith, which had been out of print since 1936. Features a foreword from Michael Moorcock himself.

Gaming Resources:

Stormbringer! – a website dedicated to all Moorcockian roleplaying games.


If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 10 – Roger Zelazny’s “Jack of Shadows”

Roger Zelazny stated that he wrote Jack of Shadows as a “first draft, no rewrite”, which might account for the occasionally elliptical nature of the narrative. Any lack of cohesion in the plotting is compensated for by the dark majesty of Jack AKA Shadowjack’s world. Zelazny is clearly echoing Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories here, at least in the weirdness of the creatures and landscapes of the darkside if not in the playful ornateness of Vance’s prose. Jack of Shadows also emphasizes the interplay and conflict between magic and science, and the borderline immortality/superhumanity of its protagonist, themes that would play out in many of Zelazny’s other works such as The Lord of Light and The Chronicles of Amber.

Jack of Shadows was originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1971 and was immediately reprinted in hardcover by Walker & Company, followed by a paperback edition from Signet in 1972. That first Signet paperback edition features Bob Pepper’s semi-abstract and moody gouache cover, which succeeds in capturing many of the story elements of Jack of Shadows such as the Great Machine and the bound dark angel/devil Morningstar that a more literal treatment might have glossed over:


Jack of Shadows was well-received from first release, garnering Hugo and Locus Award nominations in 1972–it did not achieve the lasting popularity of The Chronicles of Amber or many of Zelazny’s other books however, and was out of print for over 25 years until it was recently reprinted by the Chicago Review Press in 2016.

Gary Gygax wrote in issue #2 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray (2001) that Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever and Zelazny’s Shadowjack were the greatest influences on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons thief class as described in the The Players Handbook (1978). The thief’s abilities as written though are rather mundane and have a low probability of success for beginning characters. If the thief’s skills are re-imagined as being a quasi-mystical version of Jack’s powers, then even a 10% chance of utterly disappearing into shadows becomes a very powerful ability indeed! Of course, Jack as he appears in Jack of Shadows is not a mere skulking footpad but a magician of unsurpassed power, so it makes sense that he was written up as such in Wizards (1983), part of Mayfair Games’ Role Aids line of unofficial Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplements.

It’s worth noting that although a thief-type class is considered core to Dungeons & Dragons today, the class was not included in the original 1974 box set and only made its first appearance in the first D&D supplement Greyhawk (1975). In some gaming circles this has kicked off a 40+ year debate over whether the thief deserves to be its own character class or if being a thief is properly a role that all adventurers play….

Reading Resources:

Jack of Shadows (Rediscovered Classics) (trade paperback/Kindle ebook)

Further Reading:

Last Exit to Babylon – Volume 4: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny (hardcover) includes a prequel short story “Shadowjack” (1978). Also reprinted is Zelazny’s character outline for Shadowjack from the Wizards supplement from Mayfair Games.

The Road to Amber – Volume 6: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny (hardcover) includes “Shadowland”, an outline of the origins of Jack’s world, ruled half by magic, half by science.

Gaming Resources:

OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk (0e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

Players Handbook (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)


If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 9 – Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions

Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions was originally serialized in 1953 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction–eight years later a revised and expanded version of the tale would see print in hardcover from Doubleday, followed by an Avon paperback in 1962. It has remained sporadically in print ever since, largely overshadowed by Anderson’s more famous science fiction works.

Although Anderson was best known during the first half of his writing career as a science fiction author, Three Hearts and Three Lions and his following fantasy work The Broken Sword (1954) had a strong impact on knowledgeable fans and fellow writers, perhaps most clearly with Michael Moorcock’s adoption and reinterpretation of the cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos in the Elric of Melniboné stories, which began appearing in 1961.

It’s interesting to speculate how much of himself Anderson put into Holger Carlsen, the hero of Three Hearts and Three Lions–they are both Danish-Americans, trained in science and engineering, and apparently wholly rational and pragmatic. Holger rises to adventure though, rediscovering and embracing his true identity as Ogier the Dane, paladin of Charlemagne and one the great heroes of medieval European literature. In a similar vein, perhaps Anderson’s romantic side led him to become a founding member of both the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Swordsmen and Sorceror’s Guild of America.

Throughout its publishing history Three Hearts and Three Lions never had an iconic cover, and the Appendix N-era 1978 Berkley Medallion paperback is no exception, featuring a serviceable cover by Wayne Barlowe, who would later become more well-known for his anatomically realistic depictions of fantastic creatures and truly alien life:


That Three Hearts and Three Lions is one of the most significant influences on early Dungeons & Dragons is undeniable. For example, Gary Gygax specifically cites the book in the listing for the “True Troll” in the “Fantasy Supplement” to Chainmail (1971), although a full description of the Andersonian troll (and the nixie) would have to wait for the original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) box set. The original 1974 rules would also feature the most famous borrowing from Three Hearts and Three Lions, the Law vs. Chaos alignment system, although perhaps filtered through Michael Moorcock’s interpretation in the Elric books.

Certain Lawful fighters could elect to achieve Holger Carlsen-esque paladin status with the publication of the first D&D supplement, Greyhawk (1975). Paladins would evolve into their quintessential D&D form as a fighter sub-class in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (1978)

The troll and the nixie would receive much more detailed write-ups in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977), with the Swanmay finally making her first D&D appearance in the Monster Manual II  (1983). A close reading of Three Hearts and Three Lions and the various early Dungeons & Dragons would undoubtedly reveal more direct influences on the game as we know it today.

Update 10/08/2017: Holger Carlsen and Hugi the Dwarf were written up for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in Dragon magazine #49 (1981) by TSR stalwart Roger E. Moore. Hugi was depicted as an AD&D gnome fighter though–evidently the AD&D dwarf was seen as sufficiently Tolkienian by then as to be a poor model for poor Hugi. 

Reading Resources:

Three Hearts and Three Lions (Kindle ebook)

Further Reading:

A Midsummer Tempest (Kindle ebook) – Holger Carlsen makes a cameo in Poul Anderson’s 1974 fantasy set in a 17th century England where all of Shakespeare’s characters are real.

Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson’s Worlds (trade paperback/Kindle ebook) is a Poul Anderson tribute anthology featuring original stories set in Anderson’s many fictional worlds, including one each from Harry Turtledove and Tad Williams in the universe of Three Hearts and Three Lions.

Gaming Resources:

Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures (0e)

OD&D Dungeons & Dragons Original Edition (0e)

OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk (0e)

Players Handbook (1e)

Monster Manual (1e)

Monster Manual II (1e)

(all of the above are RPGNow affiliate links)


If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 4 – Jack Vance’s “The Dying Earth” with special guest Gavin Norman

Special guest Gavin Norman (author of The Complete Vivimancer and Theorems & Thaumaturgy) joins us to discuss Jack Vance‘s The Dying Earth!

Jack Vance originally wrote the loosely connected stories that comprise The Dying Earth while serving in the United States Merchant Marine during World War II. Vance’s fiction had started appearing in pulp magazines as early as 1945, and The Dying Earth marked his first book publication when it was released in digest-sized paperback in 1950 by Hillman Periodicals, best known as a comic book and magazine publisher.

The Dying Earth appears not to have been particularly successful at first, as it was not reprinted even as Vance’s career went on an upswing in the late 1950s & early 1960s. Hillman ceased publishing in 1961 and Lancer Books snapped up The Dying Earth, reprinting it in paperback in 1962 with a cover by the ever-versatile Ed Emshwiller depicting the denouement of the story “Ulan Dhor”:


The Dying Earth did well enough that Lancer kept it in print until they went bankrupt in 1973, by which time its reputation was such that it has remained in print to this day through a series of different publishers. No doubt the continued success of The Dying Earth led Jack Vance to revisit the setting starting in the mid 1960s. These new stories that would eventually be published as The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), followed by the post-Appendix N books Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984).

Gary Gygax wrote in issue 2 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray (2001) that he first became a fan of Jack Vance after reading The Big Planet (1957) in the pulps in the early 1950s and then was “absolutely enthralled…as no work of fantasy had done for a long time” with the publication of The Eyes of the Overworld in 1966. The Dying Earth further cemented Gygax’s love of the setting.

When it came time to devise a magic system for Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax felt that a “Vancian” system of memorized spells that are expended when cast and that then must be re-learned before casting again was the best way to provide flavor and balance the magic-user against other classes. The Enchanter series by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt would provide the situational pre-conditions for spellcasting in D&D, but these spell components were often glossed-over, as Gygax laments as early as 1976 in issue 6 of The Strategic Review, the predecessor to Dragon magazine.

Oddly, D&D’s publisher TSR appears never to have tried to license the Dying Earth setting even though Gary Gygax remained a huge fan of Jack Vance and actually had significant contact with him after Dungeons & Dragons took the world by storm. The first time gamers would get to officially adventure in the Dying Earth was with the publication of Pelgrane Press’ The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game in 2001. Goodman Games has since licensed the Dying Earth setting for its Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, with a target release date of late 2017.

Reading Resources:

Tales of the Dying Earth collects all four books in the Dying Earth series and is available here:

Tales of the Dying Earth (trade paperback)

Tales of the Dying Earth (Kindle ebook)

Gaming Resources:

Gavin Norman’s The Complete Vivimancer reads as if David Cronenberg had decided to create a D&D magic-user class, please check it out if you’re looking to add some mad scientist/body horror flavor to your games. (RPGNow affiliate link)

Theorems & Thaumaturgy is a broader treatment of alternative magic-user classes, including the Elementalist, the Necromancer, and a pared-down version of the Vivimancer. A free, no-art version is available here(RPGNow affiliate links)

Gavin Norman’s The City of Iron gaming blog is very much worth your time as well.

Greg Gorgonmilk’s excellent Vancian Magic Supplement compiles many of Gary Gygax’s writings on the origins of the Dungeons & Dragons magic system from Dragon magazine and other sources. Definitely check it out as well as the rest of his terrific OSR blog.

Labyrinth Lord from Goblinoid Games is one of the first “retro-clone” D&D emulations published under the Open Game License (OGL). It closely models the 1981 Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert  (“B/X”) rules sets by Tom Moldvay and Dave Cook. A free no-art version is available here(RPGNow affiliate links)

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.