Friday, July 24, 2009

Recommended Reading - Tales of the Dying Earth

One of the most beneficial outgrowths of my passion for RPGs has been my love of reading. Prior to my introduction to D&D I read comic books almost exclusively. Do not get me wrong; I LOVE comics. I also feel that reading comics is reading. Many of the superhero comic book stories I read growing up are still near and dear to my heart. I could not imagine anything better. That is until I started reading background material for playing D&D.

When I started playing D&DB, and later AD&D1, I really had no idea what it was all about. There were humans (ok, I can relate), elves (Santa's little helpers?), Dwarves (Grumpy? Sleepy?), and Halflings (huh?). All the primary classes were understandable enough except for the Cleric (which, ironically, was the first AD&D1 PC I played). I could relate to all the swords and sorcery in only the most general sense. I still enjoyed the game, but it still did not have a lot of depth.

I eventually came to learn that Halflings were modeled after Hobbits. Unlike most of my fellow freshmen, my English class did not read The Hobbit. It was not until my sophomore year that I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even then, only as an extra credit assignment. I do have to thank Bro. Joseph (I went to a high school run by the Brothers of the Holy Cross) for pushing me to read those books; it plunged me into the sea of fantasy (and science fiction) literature that I so love to swim in.

Later (probably when I was a junior or senior in high school), as I explored the Deities & Demigods rule book, I chose to look into Elric as well as Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I have the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club to thank for most of the compiled editions of these books and others. And later still I discovered the Inspirational and Educational Reading list in the back of the AD&D1 Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG Appendix N: pg. 224, if anyone is interested). From here I read about the Paladin in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. My list continued to grow from there.

In an effort to embrace the concept of Back to Basics that this blog is about, I decided to go back to this reading list and start working on items I have not yet read and revisit the ones I have to plunge beneath the service of this rich and creative sea of source material. I'll be sharing my experiences as I read these classic works of fiction. To start things off I have selected Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth. This tome is actually a compilation of four novels in the series.

This series of books is most significant because it provides the source for early D&D's approach to magic. Spell casters must memorize or imprint the spells they wish to cast into their mind. Once the spell is cast it is gone from memory and must be memorized again if the Wizard or Cleric wishes to cast that particular spell again. This process has become dubbed 'fire and forget'. In addition, each caster may only retain a certain number of spells in their mind; this number increases with the level of the spell caster, equating level with real-world experience and practice. It is also known that Venca (of lichdom fame) is an anagram for Vance.

I picked up the book yesterday from the library and started reading it immediately. I was hooked before I finished the first paragraph. I'm only two chapters into it at this point, but I am thoroughly enjoying this read. I'll be sure to post more as I delve deeper into it's copious pages. Look for updates and more recommended reading suggestions in future posts.

Follow Your Bliss,

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