This article on the Dying Earth RPG originally appeared on DyingEarth.com between 2004 and 2007.
Turjan-Level Gaming and the Lands of the Near East
by Lynne Hardy
Abandon now your witty banter and your lightning repartee for they will only serve to mar your progress through a world no longer colourful but deadly dark for the unwary. The difficulties you had before are but pale shadows of the challenges that now await you. Welcome to the Dying Earth as it was originally written: hard, cruel and at the mercy of natural justice. Welcome to Turjan level play.
“So what’s the difference?” I hear you ask. It’s a good question, especially for those who may only have a passing acquaintance with Jack Vance’s work. The original Dying Earth stories were written in 1950 and are very much darker in tone than the later cruel but oddly comedic Cugel stories and concerned far more with epic yet intimate struggles than the grandstanding of the Rhialto tales. In them, characters struggle on quests (often seeking lost knowledge) and are often called to task by fate for their actions along the way.
For instance, there is Liane the Wayfarer. Beautiful but cruel and callous, he appears to have everything his way until an encounter with the mysterious witch Lith, who sends him to his just desserts in the company of Chun the Unavoidable. Then again, there is T’sais. Flawed and violent, she craves understanding and yearns to know beauty and love. Through harsh experience she meets a man as flawed as herself who helps her in her quest to become whole. Justice is weighed and measured and meted out accordingly.
Okay, okay, but how does that affect your game? As described in Turjan’s Tome, the latest sourcebook from Pelgrane Press, there are several mechanical adjustments. These include the down-grading of Persuasion and Rebuff to the status previously held by Attack and Defence (of secondary importance and only to be relied upon if all else fails) and a way of maximising your magical capabilities (although with suitable constraints for those who feel the need to let fate truly take a hand). They also allow for more in-depth development of allies and adversaries and bolster the possession point system, providing an interesting mechanism for trading up all those lovely toys you have gathered throughout the course of play for even bigger and better ones with which to impress your friends and cow your rivals.
But perhaps the greatest change is in the overall tone of the game. Gone are the tales of flashy bravado and erudite linguistics (although please feel free to keep them if you wish; after all, this is for your entertainment). Instead there is danger, intrigue and great reward for those brave enough to search for it (as long as they are prepared to pay the often heavy price). The boundaries are less clear, the morals potentially more dubious. The noble succeed and the wicked fall prey to their vanities. Are there shades of grey? Perhaps, but perhaps the world is more clear-cut than you previously thought.
It was with this in mind that I set about writing “Fields of Silver”. This book contains both background on the lands of the near East and a campaign in the tradition of the legendary Call of Cthulhu supplements. Most of the locations are detailed by Vance in The Eyes of the Overworld, which provided a handy springboard to immerse Turjan level characters in a world where even less than before was what it once seemed.
The lands around Erze Damath are mostly ignored in the currently available support material, which tends to focus on Kaiin and Almery. Yet there is a wealth of descriptive material on the eastern lands in the original stories (which, trust me, is quite a rare thing!). The book is divided into seven chapters, which are split between source material and campaign details. Five of the chapters detail locations mentioned by Vance in his stories to enable you to explore them fully even if you do not wish to use the adventure as is. In case that isn’t enough, there’s also an appendix with a few extra titbits in case you use everything in the main sections. There are strange peoples and mysterious ruins to explore and where there are mysterious ruins, there are bound to be hidden secrets.
And that is what the campaign sections of “Fields of Silver” are all about – solving mysteries, uncovering hidden secrets and dealing with ancient evils. The story takes your characters right across the continent, from Almery to Erze Damath, taking in a host of wonders along the way. It pitches them against dangerous foes in their quest to put right a misdeed so great that it could shake the very foundations of a mighty city. Who is responsible for the slaughter of the characters’ friends? Who is the mysterious Lady and why does she need their help? Will they face up to their responsibilities, or will they leave the dark legacy of history unchallenged?
Now you’re thinking, “But it doesn’t seem like our style. Why should we even look at it?” It’s a good point, even taking into account all that lovely source material. After all, who wants to buy a book to only use half of it? My group has their own distinct style of play, which is usually humorous and free-flowing. Turjan level play is darker and much more menacing. Would they enjoy a game written in that style? Could they be persuaded to enter into the spirit of this grimmer world?
Well, yes, they could and they thoroughly enjoyed it. They even enjoyed the change of pace. The secret was to get them hooked, then build suspense and finally let them realise (too late, of course) that they were in a huge amount of trouble and there was only really one thing they could do about it (see it through to the bitter end, of course). Paranoia was rampant, but so too was a desire to find out what was happening to them and why. Not that I can give too much away here – it would be a great shame to spoil the surprises lurking there between the covers!
Hopefully after you’ve read “Fields of Silver” you’ll realise that there is so much more to the Dying Earth than Kaiin (exciting as it may be) and that Turjan-level play is just as entertaining as Cugel level, but for very different reasons.
The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.