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”:

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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 TPB (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.

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.

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.

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 3 – Fritz Leiber’s “Swords and Deviltry”

Swords and Deviltry (Ace Books, 1970) by Fritz Leiber was originally published in paperback as part of Ace Books’ complete seven volume saga of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Although Swords and Deviltry is first in the series chronology, it was actually the fourth book published.

Leiber and his lifelong friend Harry Otto Fischer created Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in an exchange of letters in 1934, basing the pair loosely on their own friendship, with Fischer as the diminutive Mouser and Leiber as the towering Fafhrd. The first story featuring the Twain (as they are often called) to appear in print was “Two Sought Adventure” AKA “The Jewels in the Forest” in 1939 in Unknown magazine. A handful of further Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories trickled out over the next two decades until Cele Goldsmith commissioned brand-new stories for Fantastic magazine starting in 1959, which lead to the Ace paperback collections of the late 1960s.

Other than the continued interest in Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, this new appreciation of Leiber’s fantasy fiction was one of the biggest contributors to the sword and sorcery renaissance of the 1960s. In fact, Leiber is credited with coining the term “sword and sorcery” in 1961 when Michael Moorcock called for a name for the type of fantasy fiction that Howard, Leiber and others were coming to exemplify.

By the time Swords and Deviltry was published Leiber had been writing tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser for over 30 years, but it is only in this book that he revealed their full origins in the stories “Induction” (1957), “The Snow Women” (1970), “The Unholy Grail” (1962), and “Ill-Met in Lankhmar” (1970).

Swords and Deviltry featured a typically moody Jeffrey Catherine Jones cover, although the effect is compromised by the trade dress of later printings:

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Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s gaming history actually predates their first publication, as Leiber and Fischer created a complex three-dimensional board game in 1937 to amuse themselves and help them visualize the Twain’s stomping grounds of the city of Lankhmar and the world of Nehwon. This game was later re-developed and published by TSR as Lankhmar in 1976.

Leiber and Fischer weren’t mere hands-off IP licensors, however. Leiber would contribute a witty conversation with Fafhrd and the Mouser about wargaming in the very first issue of The Dragon (1976), followed by the short story “Sea Magic” in issue 11 (1977). Fischer’s short story “The Childhood and Youth of The Gray Mouser” then appeared in issue 18 (1978).

Lawrence Shick and Tom Moldvay gave Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser their first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons write-up in issue 27 of The Dragon (1979). The Twain and various other denizens of Nehwon were given a whole chapter in James M. Ward’s and Robert J. Kuntz’s Deities & Demigods (1980), with memorably gritty illustrations by Jennell Jaquays.

Future notes on the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series will cover later TSR Lankhmar publications, post-TSR licensees and other games that have been directly influenced by the city of Lankhmar. Stay tuned!

Reading Resources:

Swords and Deviltry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Book 1) (trade paperback/Kindle ebook)

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser publication order reading list – Some cognoscenti feel that Swords and Deviltry is not the ideal introduction to the Twain and recommend that their stories be read in original publication order instead. Michael Curtis and the Goodman Games crew have compiled just such a reading list for the DCC Lankhmar Kickstarter, helpfully highlighting stories they consider “essential reading”.

Further Reading:

Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Cloud of Hate and Other Stories collects the 1973 DC Comics series Sword of Sorcery, featuring adaptations and original tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by comics legends Denny O’Neil, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, and Jim Starlin.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (Dark Horse, 2007)

This is a trade paperback collection of the 1991 Epic Comics series scripted by Howard Chaykin with pencils by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. In the mid 1990s Mignola would also go on to provide the cover art and interior illustrations for White Wolf Publishing’s four-volume collected edition of The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

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 2 – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter’s “Conan”

It’s time to pull the divan by the fire (or to turn on the lava lamp inside your wizard van), crack open an old paperback, and join us as we explore the fiction of the Appendix N….

Downloadable episode available here.

Conan (Lancer Books, 1967) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter was part of first comprehensive paperback edition of the Conan saga. Conan was the fifth volume published, although it is first in the internal chronology–later printings of the series numbered the books in chronological order. When Lancer went out of business in 1973, Ace Books picked up and completed the series, keeping it in print until the mid 1990s.

In a now controversial move, 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, thus jump-starting the Conan pastiche era.

For the purist, the Howard-only stories in this collection are “The Hyborian Age, Part 1” (1936), “The Tower of the Elephant” (1933), “The God in the Bowl” (1952, Howard’s original version first published 1975), and “Rogues in the House” (1934).

Regardless of the editorial controversies, the Lancer/Ace series was the only widely available source of Howard-penned Conan stories for nearly three decades, sustaining the sword and sorcery boom from the late ‘60s to the mid ‘90s. Robert E. Howard’s furious prose and the now-iconic Frank Frazetta cover illustrations on many of the volumes have cemented Conan the Cimmerian in popular culture. Frazetta had clearly read and internalized the dynamism of the Conan stories, as shown by his cover painting of Conan’s epic struggle with Thak the apeman from “Rogues in the House”:

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As Dungeons & Dragons was created in the era of peak Conan, it is natural that Conan’s presence would be felt, starting with a write-up in Robert Kuntz and James M. Ward’s OD&D supplement Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976). Gary Gygax himself would write up Conan as he appeared in various stages of his career in Dragon magazine issue 36 (1980)–a treatment that presaged the eventual AD&D Barbarian class in Dragon issue 62 (1982) and Unearthed Arcana (1985).

Conan the Cimmerian has since remained a perennial roleplaying game property, both with TSR and other publishers, but that’s a story for another day….

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:

Daniel J. Bishop’s terrific write-up of Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is here.

Update 07/16/2017 – I mentioned Talbot Mundy and Howard Fast as adventure fiction predecessors to Robert E. Howard, but I was thinking of Mundy and Harold Lamb. This won’t be the last time that I’m wrong on the internet:-) – Hoi

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 1 – L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt’s “The Compleat Enchanter”

It’s time to pull the divan by the fire (or to turn on the lava lamp inside your wizard van), crack open an old paperback, and join us as we explore the fiction of the Appendix N….

Downloadable episode available here.

The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt is a compilation of the first three novellas in the Harold Shea/Enchanter series, “The Roaring Trumpet” (1940), “The Mathematics of Magic” (1940), and “The Castle of Iron” (1941, revised 1950). The Compleat Enchanter was first published as a Nelson Doubleday/Science Fiction Book Club hardcover in 1975 before being released as a Del Rey paperback in 1976, featuring a charming Brothers Hildebrandt cover painting:

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The three adventures in this book take place in the worlds of Norse Mythology, Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene, and Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso.

De Camp and Pratt would later team up for two more Harold Shea stories, “The Wall of Serpents” (1953), and “The Green Magician” (1954). These stories fall outside of the Appendix N Book Club reading list since they were not collected in paperback until 1979, but Gary Gygax and Tim Kask must have been big fans since “The Green Magician” made its first reappearance in print since 1960 in issues 15 and 16 of The Dragon (1978)!

In any case, the Harold Shea series undoubtedly left its mark on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, most obviously in the magical spell component requirements in The Players Handbook and the Against the Giants series of modules.

Reading Resources:

The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of de Camp and Pratt is a hardcover omnibus of the de Camp and Pratt Harold Shea stories, along with the solo stories written by de Camp after Pratt’s death.

Further Reading:

The Enchanter Reborn (Baen Books, 1992)

The Exotic Enchanter (Baen Books, 1995)

These anthologies from the 1990s feature de Camp’s solo Enchanter stories along with new contributions from other writers including former TSR game designer Tom Wham of Snit’s Revenge and The Awful Green Things from Outer Space fame.

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.