Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Day of the Dying Earth

Today is Canada Day, and in my house that means just one thing.  My family heads off to attend the Canada Day celebrations leaving me at home, blissfully alone, with an entire afternoon to myself.  Yes, it is the Day of Sean!  I'm even thinking of petitioning to have Canada's birthday officially renamed The Day of Sean in much the same way that I renamed my birthday Sean Appreciation Day - I still get cake and presents, I just don't get any older.

I spent the afternoon on my front porch with a carafe of coffee and a good book - namely, Jack Vance's classic, The Dying Earth, which I am only now reading for the very first time.  I can't believe I've been playing D&D for thirty years without having read this, one of the Appendix N books that Gygax cited as one of the most immediately influential upon AD&D.  And wow, have I been missing out.  I recently ordered Tales of the Dying Earth, which contains all four of Vance's Dying Earth books.  I've just gotten through The Dying Earth and I'm absolutely enamoured.  This book is fantastic!  If there are any other recalcitrant hold-outs out there, do yourself a favour and pick this up.

As I immersed myself in tales of self-centered protagonists searching the ancient ruins of our advanced civilization for artifacts of power, I couldn't help thinking that this would make a fantastic campaign setting or rpg, and sure enough, the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game is published by Pelgrane Press and their free quickstart rules can be downloaded here.

Now I'm to haul my barbequed hamburger-laden stomach off to the back yard to start on The Eyes of the Overworld, and bask in more Vancean goodness, so I bid you all a very happy Day of Sean!


James said...

Hmm. I haven't read it yet, but I do have it on the shelf. And I too, am all alone, as my wife and son went out of town to visit relatives, for the 4th.

Hmmm! I may just take your advice, though I was planning on working on my game all weekend.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I've read 3 of the 4 books (Cugel's Saga being the unread one).

I'm avoiding Cugel's Saga only because i'm afraid the tone will be different from the other three.

After reading Vance, you must read CA Smith if you have not already done so. I can't believe Smith didn't make Appendix N... Smith is every more inspirational and applicable than Vance.

Sean Robson said...

@James: Seize the day, man! We all know that a good game session comes from 1% preparation, 49% procrastination, and 50% last-minute-panic! Besides, you may find The Dying Earth so inspirational that it actually counts as game preparation.

@Paladin: I would have assumed that Cugel's Saga would have a similar tone to Rhialto the Marvellous since they were written within one year of each other (but more than thirty years after the first, so I imagine the last two will be much different than the first two).

I haven't read much Smith, other than a few of his Lovecraft Mythos short stories a long time ago. I've heard such great things, though, that I'm definitely adding him to my reading list.

Anonymous said...

I'm still not sure whether the G in Cugel is pronounced as a G or a J. Damn you, Enlish ambiguities!

Good reading, Sean!

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I guess what I mean is that Cugel is essentially unchanged at the end of Eyes of the Overworld, he is just as self-absorbed and selfish at the end as he is at the beginning.

I'm afraid that Vance has him learn his lesson in Saga. I don't know that for certain, just worried that this happens

Gavin said...

I too have only read very minimal Vance, and have just ordered this book on your recommendation. Looking forward to reading it!

Don said...

hah, I've got the Vance collection on order from lulu along with the soft cover OSRIC book right now. Now that the mail strike is over I'm eagerly anticipating their arrival. :)

Sean Robson said...

@Tequila: I prefer to pronounce Cugel with a 'J' as in KOO-jel for no particular reason other than I like the way it sounds.

@Paladin: Aw man, I love how the characters are all self-centered bastards; having an important character 'learn his lesson' would totally ruin the tone.

@Gavin: That's awesome, I'm sure you'll enjoy the stories very much.

@Don: I envy you. For me, the end of the mail strike merely resulted in a surfeit of bills :(

Pere Ubu said...

I'm so jealous. Being able to read Vance for the first time!

After Dying Earth you might try the Demon Princes series and Ports Of Call/Lurulu. Wyst: Alastor 1716, The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph, and Emphyrio are good as well.

Sean Robson said...

Thanks, Pere, I'm always on the look-out for more good books.

Anonymous said...

I also recommend the Lyonesse books by Vance. I've only read about a quarter of Vance's output, but those three books are my favorite of his so far. Also, as a little tidbit, in the first Alastor book there is passing mention to a minor character named Lord Gygax.

Sean Robson said...

Also, as a little tidbit, in the first Alastor book there is passing mention to a minor character named Lord Gygax.

Ha, that's awesome! I'll definitely check these out, I'm quickly becoming a Vanceophile. Thanks for the recommendation.

ClawCarver said...

I consider Vance to be the finest living writer of English prose. Seriously.

The Dying Earth books are my favourites. For sheer rollicking picaresque entertainment I'd also recommend the Planet of Adventure series and the novel Showboat World. Emphyrio and Maske:Thaery are both splendid too.

His latest works, Night Lamp and the "novel-in-two-parts" Ports Of Call/Lurulu are, in my view, works of sublime genius but not the best place to start. They are like a rich, fine vintage wine, best savoured once you've acquired the Vance palate to appreciate their subtle complexity. The only problem I find with reading lots of Vance is that everything else seems rather humdrum thereafter.

Oh, and I prefer Cugel to rhyme with Google, but the point is moot.

Sean Robson said...

It's been a long time since I've been as excited about discovering a new author as I am about Vance. This has been a 'where have you been all my life moment' similar to reading Lovecraft for the first time.

Now I'm caught between wanting to tear through the Dying Earth novels because I can't put them down, and rationing them to prolong the experience.