On A Change in View

I used to think D&D was stupid.

The magic was dumb, and the setting was inconsistent, and nothing made any sense.

What happened?

I read The Dying Earth, and other Appendix N works.

It became very very clear.

"In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."
"Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."
So Turjan applied himself to the study and learned many of the simpler routines.
"I find herein a wonderful beauty," he told Pandelume. "This is no science, this is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."


  1. Magic as science is my favorite kind of magic.

    Perhaps the great irony is that those with a penchant for learning are drawn to the study of magic, rather than to the more familiar sciences we know. They spend their entire lives banging their head against the impossibly complex fabric of the universe. If they're lucky, they progress their society's understanding of the universe one tiny iota.

    So many devote themselves to magic, that the natural sciences are neglected. If magic disappeared, and those powerful wizardly minds were applied to fields such as geology, biology, chemistry, etc. then progress would leap forward. Within a few centuries technological advancement could be as dramatic as magic ever was.

  2. That's exactly what happened to me, too.

  3. My feelings were mixed. Never thought the setting was inconsistent. And after actually reading Vance the magic made a bit more sense.

    But even doing so didn't entirely assuage my discontents:

    * I'm hard pressed to think of any other magic system in fantasy that works the way D&D's does. Even the tie-in fiction for D&D usually glosses over how spell-casting works. Not that D&D has to represent some majority (or arguably "more intuitive") take on magic. But it's easy to see why newcomers who haven't specifically read Dying Earth would feel it's an odd system.

    * My reading of the fiction isn't exhaustive, but in the D&D fiction books I've read (Dark Sun being a notable exception), for the most part I just don't get that esoteric science/wondrous art vibe that somehow comes across in Vance. Magic spells generally either seem ordinary (well known to civilization and heavily used among the right circles, but not of interest to most), or regulated to plot-devices (threats, McGuffins, etc.).

    * D&D magic is NOT Vancian! Dying Earth spells were tricks that came in the form of self-contained packets, yes. And some were powerful tricks, but importantly even a powerful magician had a limited supply at one time and had to rely on other clever measures when the supply ran out. This system was generally about an order of magnitude short of what the most powerful D&D spellcasters can do.

  4. I like the idea that Vancian spellcasting doesn't constitute the entirety of magic - it's just the entirety of magic that human beings can comprehend and control. Like, in the Dying Earth there's all sorts of magic items, portals, curses, blessings, bound spirits travelling through time, none of which conform to the regulations of 'Vancian spellcasting'. That's the vast unknown iceberg of magic. Spellcasting is just the tiny tip of the iceberg which human beings have haphazardly, haltingly charted.


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