📘 Turjan of Miir
🌎 A Tale of the Dying Earth, by Jack Vance
📖 The perils of a torn/badly bound book
As I alluded to in my previous blog post, the copy of Tales of the Dying Earth that I purchased on Amazon was a little lacking in quality, with the pages irregularly cut and some of them not glued properly to the spine. Much as I'd like to claim that the production of the book didn't affect my enjoyment of the contents, unfortunately it did, it's difficult to be enthusiastic or become engrossed in a book whilst trying to balance it on your knee and hold it together with one of your free hands.
However I was determined to read it since these tales are so often mentioned in Appendix N and other such lists of roleplaying inspiration. Luckily I was able to find an audiobook version on Youtube that I listened to whilst making a few notes.
The audiobook version I listened to can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fP9EBZBvbhw
Below is an expandable brief summary of the plot, but obviously it does contain spoilers, despite being pretty short, so consider this your spoiler warning if you plan to read the book.
Plot summary (warning spoilers)
Turjan is a mage making creatures, his latest--a hideous creature with a large head and spindly limbs--dies as have so many of his other experiments.
He remembers a sage telling him how--long ago--many spells were knows to ancient mages, and how there is one great mage remaining, known as Pandelume, a mage who will bargain for knowledge but extracts a high price.
Using a spell to carry him to the strange realm of Embelyon, where he enters the service of Pandelume after encountering the beautiful created woman T'sais who he later discovers was created by Pandelume.
In return for Turjan retrieving a magical relic he agrees to pass on the secrets of false-life, he also reveals that the woman T'sais was created with a flaw, causing her to find everything and everyone loathsome in her sight.
After stealing an amulet from Price Kandive the Golden, Turjan returns to Pandelume and is tutored in many of his magics, eventually creating a an artificial woman called T'sain, created using the same pattern of T'sais but who does not share her flaws.
When T'sais encounters T'sain the elder of the women is able to control her instinctual hatred and asks Pandelume to send her to earth so that she can attempt to find a cure for her ailment.
🎲 RPG Inspiration
Listening to/reading the story it's pretty obvious how the works of Vance influenced the spell-casting system that bears his name in D&D even today, in the Dying Earth spells are almost living things, even the most talented mage can only contain a few of them in their head at a time. Magic spells need to be beaten into submission through ritual and knowledge to prevent them from turning and biting the hand of the sorceror who seeks to master them.
In a way it's almost a shame that D&D didn't lean more heavily into the works of Vance, because there are some intriguing descriptions of magic, but perhaps what worked for a story required some tweaking to function well in a game?
I also thought that the setting was very interesting, as I've said before in blog posts I find the idea of a Dying Earth, set incalcuably far in our future, but also adrift and fallen back to the arcane ways of the past, incredibly interesting and exciting. It has the ring of the familiar but there is also contrast with strange customs, magics and people.
🧠 My thoughts
I found the story Turjan of Miir enjoyable--having read it before--but I think that I enjoyed listening to someone read it more than I enjoyed reading it myself, I'm not sure why since I'm no stranger to reading books and love a good short story; but there's definitely some useful stuff here that I can apply to future settings and games that I run.
Especially D&D, after all, the magic system has Vancian in the name 😉