The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Whereas Vance's previous volume in the The Dying Earth series was composed of several short stories, each featuring a different character, The Eyes of the Overworld focuses on one character, Cugel the Clever. Though the book is episodic in nature (each story was published separately over the course of a couple of years before being compiled in this volume), the character is consistent. And while the characters in The Dying Earth were capably presented in their individual stories, Cugel the Clever is featured in every story in this volume.
And rightfully so! The character that Vance has created here deserves, nay, needs a more lengthy format to shine. Vance is able to extrude the subtleties (if they can be called that) of his main character with this form because Cugel is, if not clever, complex. Well, he is clever from time to time or, more appropriately, cunning, but there are several times when he fancies himself much more clever than he actually is. Still, he is no clown. This presents a wonderful Wodehousian dynamic to the whole book. In a nutshell, it is rather funny throughout. The section that I will call "The Lodermulch Ruse" had me laughing aloud, and demonstrated one instance in which Cugel's ability to improvise proved brilliant. Still, his mis-steps make me think that Sergio Aragones must have read this work before penning his comic Groo The Wanderer. If anything, the title "clever" should have been reserved for Vance, not Cugel, though Vance's use of the title for Cugel shows some genius.
Cugel, caught in the act of thievery from the powerful magician Iocounu, The Laughing Magician, is forced on a quest for items of interest to Iocounu. To ensure cooperation, a small demonic, alien being named Firx is affixed to Cugel's liver. Firx, a'la the bomb implant in Snake Plissken in the movie Escape from New York, keeps Cugel "on task" by torturing his liver whenever he became distracted. This enforced quest is a sort of Grand Tour of the Dying Earth, introducing the reader to several strange peoples and customs. I was about to say "magic," as well, but in this setting, the line between magic, as thought of in most fantasy settings, and technological artifacts, as one would find in a science fictional setting, is blurred and sometimes altogether erased. There is a sense of deep time here. Not just of ancient magics, but of even more ancient technology whose creators are forever lost in the dull light of the giant red sun that once glowed bright yellow when these artifacts were first conceived.
Vance continues in the wonderful writing voice from his first volume in the series. Not too baroque or flamboyant (as, I admit, my own work can sometimes be), but with enough flair to keep one enthralled and engaged. The more I read Vance's style, the more I like it. It strikes a great balance: not too presumptuous, but not treating the reader like an idiot.
He's saved the idiocy for Cugel, and the world, whether out own or that of the Dying Earth, is better for it!
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Saturday, October 22, 2016
Monday, October 10, 2016
It may remain forever unknown whether the Ancient One who became MoldMother suffered The Grand Transformation at the hand of a cabal of mad scientists or voluntarily biohacked her way to immortality. Perhaps she was the victim of some accident of self-experimentation that resulted in the amalgam of human flesh, circuitry, and eukaryotic organisms of which she is now composed; a sort of biological super-computer. In any case, those shadowed years don’t matter now. What is of importance is the incontrovertible fact of MoldMother’s survival of the Great Disaster. While most technology ceased to operate, and much of life with it, MoldMother persevered. And still, She lives!
He who seeks knowledge about the Ancient World from her lips will find her mute. She concerns herself with the present and the future, rather than the past, and her followers are also forward-looking, using the technology of the ancients as a tool to build the colony for the future. Still, her goals are inscrutable – her erstwhile human motivations garbled with the cold calculations of her bio-computer brain; the whole electro-organic field subsumed under the soft silence of the enormous gray fungal blooms that have enveloped her once-human frame. Veins of yellow slime mold marble the gray heap of her form. Somewhere in that slow-shuffling mound, a pair – or more – of once-human eyes might be seen peeking out from under the eukaryotic cascade. In the darkness, MoldMother casts a slight glow from the combined light of phosphorescent mushrooms that bloom at the surface and the blink of co-processor indicator lights seeping out from within.
While MoldMother’s aims are alien and ultimately unknowable, it is certain that she rewards faithful followers who do all they can to spread the good mold of the colony, especially when it involves the mating of mold, man, and machine.
Followers of the MoldMother are collectively known as “Spore-riders”.
Invoke Patron Check Results
12-13 MoldMother is busy tending to her slime molds. A mycelial mat covers the shaman’s skin, giving +2 to AC and completely ablating radiation for one turn.
14-17 A column of mold spores arises from the ground, affecting the shaman’s enemies, but not affecting the shaman’s allies. Enemies are blinded and cough violently, suffering -4 to all attack rolls and moving at half speed for 1d4 rounds.
18-19 Hyphae tendrils shoot up from the ground, wrapping around the feet and lower legs of enemies. All enemies on the ground must make a DC 20 REF save or be immobile for 1d6 rounds. The hyphae excrete enzymes that break down biological polymers, causing a further 1d6 points of damage each round. This also damages organically-based materials such as leather, plant fiber, etc.
20-23 Mycelium shoots thrust up through the ground and into one target, causing an automatic 4d6+1d6 GL damage. If this kills the target, it causes the corpse to act as a minion under the control of the shaman. The minion moves at ¾ speed of the erstwhile-living host and any mutational or wetware-imparted abilities are at half-strength in all regards. This mushroom-zombie is under the complete control of the caster (who does not need to concentrate on the control – MoldMother knows the caster’s bidding and will communicate all that is needed) for 1d6 hours. It has Hit Points equal to half the Hit Points it had in life. The Shaman can also opt to forego this effect, taking a lower Invoke Patron check result, as desired.
24-27 Bright neon-orange, highly phosphorescent mold spreads over the bodies of all enemies in a 30’ radius. This mold completely covers the enemy’s skin/chitin/bark and bonds to it. Completely removing the mold causes 2d6 of damage and a series of DC 20 FORT saves to avoid passing out. A total of 10 removal “treatments” are needed to fully remove the mold. If the mold is not fully-removed, it grows back at the rate of an extra full “treatment” each day. It must be 100% removed to be rid of. While subject to the mold, enemies are at -2 to Armor Class and can never surprise an opponent, meaning that those skilled at hiding and sneaking will always fail their checks. Those affected also leave behind glowing footprints, fingerprints, and traces that last for a full five days. The victim’s personality score also suffers a -3 penalty, as their visage becomes obviously hideous, unless the victim is a disciple of MoldMother, in which case they are granted a +3 bonus to personality. The Shaman can also opt to forego this effect, taking a lower Invoke Patron check result, as desired.
28-29 Within a 40’ radius, a large Yellow Slime Mold rears up from the ground and attacks the Shaman’s enemies. Each is 10’ X 10’ and suffers half damage from cutting or piercing weapons. They are immune to radiation and electricity regenerates them at the rate of 1 Hit Point per point of electrical “damage”. When they first appear, each enemy must make a DC 20 REF save or be fully enveloped by the slime. The slime inflicts 1d6 points of dissolving damage each round the target is enveloped, from enzyme-induced polymer breakdown. Also, all plastic/plasteel, glass, and metal objects on or held by the target are destroyed if the yellow slime mold is not removed within three rounds. An opposed strength roll vs STR 16 is required to break free or to take any action, once engulfed. Once freed, a subsequent “to hit” result of 19 or 20 means that the target is once again engulfed. The Yellow Slime Mold may also attack using its two pseudopods for 1d4 damage each + 1d6 acidic damage. For every five points of damage the Yellow Slime Mold inflicts, it grows 5’ square, gains another pseudopod, and gains 5 Hit Points. Each Yellow Slime Mold fights until either it or its target is dead. Those who flee the fight will be pursued by their “assigned” Yellow Slime Mold until one or the other is dead. If a Yellow Slime Mold kills its victim and another of the shaman’s enemies remains alive, that Yellow Slime Mold will join with another member of the colony to fight remaining enemies. If these enemies flee, the combined Yellow Slime Mold will pursue them until either they or the targets die. Those who invoke this level of wrath from the MoldMother tend to sleep with one eye open, as the slime will slowly, inexorably pursue the offender to their doom. Some victims have been known to have been attacked years later by a Yellow Slime Mold that they had completely forgotten in the intervening time since their initial encounter. All are well-advised to stay out of the path of these children of the MoldMother! (Yellow Slime Mold: Init (always attacks last, except on initial summoning), Atk 2 x pseudopod +4 melee (1d4 +1d6 acid damage); AC 10; HD 2d8; MV 5’, climb 5’; Act 2d20; SP: half-damage from slicing and piercing weapons, envelop attack, polymer-dissolving enzymes; SV: Fort +6; Ref -8; Will -6; AL N). The Shaman can also opt to forego this effect, taking a lower Invoke Patron check result, as desired.
30-31 The MoldMother sends an avatar to aid the shaman (MoldMother Avatar: Init +6; Atk 2 fists +12 melee (dmg 3d8+6) or mycelium tendril shoots +10 missile (dmg 2d8+10, range 100’) or spore cloud or scare. AC 17; HD 12d10; MV 40’; Act 1d24+1d16; SP: Spore cloud, crit on 20-24; SV: Fort +12; Ref +6; Will +12, AL N). The Avatar rolls ono the Giant Critical Hit table if she hits with a 20-24 on the attack die. She can choose to attack twice per round with two fist, two tendril shoots, or a spore cloud, but may only use the spore cloud once per round. The spore cloud is a choking cloud of acidic organisms that shoots out from the avatar to a distance of up to 200’ away, where it expands and envelops all within a 30’ radius. For 3d4+6 rounds, targets in the cloud suffer -4 to all attack, damage, skills, mutations, and save rolls. They also take 8 points of damage each round and must make a DC 12 Fort save when first exposed or be poisoned (-3d4 Agility, -1d4 Strength, and -1d4 Stamina for 1 full day). The Mold Mother Avatar may also, once per day, exude an airborne fungus that spreads 100’ from her body, which automatically frightens all creatures of 2 HD or less. Others receive a Will save of DC 30 to resist the effect. Frightened creatures suffer 1d4 points of damage from shock and flee at top speed for 3 turns. They will be unable, form utter terror, to go in the direction they encountered the MoldMother Avatar, for one full day. Because of the avatar’s use of electrically-charged and enhanced fungus, these effects work not only against organic opponents, but inorganic enemies, such as robots, as well. The Shaman can also opt to forego this effect, taking a lower Invoke Patron check result, as desired.
32+ The Great Bloom awakens! The shaman has found such high favor in the eyes of MoldMother that she declares the ground on which the shaman and their allies fight sacred, a place worthy of growing a new colony! She sends her Avatar (as in result 30-31) and three of her Yellow Slime Molds (as in result 28-29) to secure the area and rid it of her enemies. She weaves a great mycelium mat, approximately 100’ in radius, on the ground and all objects on the ground. A forest of giant mushrooms, from the height of a man to the height of a tall building, springs up in the area. Any structures in the area are partially (in the case of skyscrapers and their ruins) or totally (in the case of four-story or smaller buildings) embedded with mushrooms large and small. Clouds of spores (harmless) float in the air, and any detritus of corpses are immediately covered in quick-growing hyphae tendrils that eat the dead and weave themselves into the colony’s great mycelium mat. Shamans of the MoldMother in this area are at +2 AC, are immune to radiation of any strength, and gain +5 to all patrol AI check results while in the area. If the shaman and his allies leave the area, they trail spores in their footprints behind them for another 200’ beyond the border of the colony. Within 3 turns, these spores bloom, fruiting into giant mushrooms and extending the colony’s area even further. Unlike many other results, the shaman cannot forego this effect. It is the MoldMother’s will, which is all the shaman needs to know.
Patron Taint: MoldMother
When Patron Taint is indicated, roll 1d6 on the table below. When a shaman has acquired all six taints at all levels of effect, there is no need to continue rolling any more.
1 Any food touched by the shaman immediately spoils, covered with gray fuzzy mold. He may eat it, but anyone eating it who is not a follower of the MoldMother must make a DC 20 Fort save or grow violently sick for 1 hour, unable to do anything but vomit and groan in pain. The second time this taint is rolled, all food that comes within 10’ of the shaman is so affected. The third time this taint is rolled, all food that comes within 50’ of the shaman is thus affected.
2 The shaman’s hair falls out and scores of tiny mushrooms sprout up on his scalp. The second time this taint is rolled, the tiny mushrooms spread to cover the shaman’s face like a mask and the entire head and neck, dropping the personality score by -1 permanently. The third time this taint is rolled, one large mushroom cap covers the shaman’s head like a hat, further lowering the personality score by a point.
3 Hyphae form under and on the shaman’s skin, spreading into permanent masses of mycelium. If this taint is rolled again, mycelium branch out from the shaman’s body whenever he is motionless for more than a few seconds. After a full sleep cycle, the shaman must literally peel himself up from his bed or the ground, suffering one Hit Point of damage. If this taint is rolled a third time, any flesh or organic material that the shaman touches begins to decompose, causing a sharp, stinging sensation to any living being he touches.
4 Black mold spots dot the shaman’s eyes. The second time this taint is rolled, the eyes become completely black. The third time this taint is rolled, the eyes remain black and the shaman becomes permanently blind.
5 Gray spores are continuously discharged from the Shaman’s pores. The second time this taint is rolled, the spores are jettisoned out, creating a cloud of spores surrounding the shaman’s body at a distance of 1’. Anyone who comes within this cloud begins sneezing uncontrollably until they leave the cloud. If this taint is rolled a third time, the mass of the shaman’s muscles become a loosely-bound cloud of spores orbiting the skeletal structure. Movement is halved, the shaman’s personality score drops by 1/3 (round down) and actions that require grasping or physically manipulating objects become impossible. Any previous changes to the shaman’s physical form are superseded by this one, as the body has effectively become a mold spore cloud gravitating around a skeleton.
6 Yellow slime mold oozes out of the shaman’s ears, nose, mouth, and tear ducts. The personality score permanently drops by one point. The second time this taint is rolled, yellow slime mold crawls between the orifices and all over the shaman’s body, permanently dropping the personality score by another point. The third time this taint is rolled, any attempt to speak is accompanied by yellow slime mold vomiting forth from the shaman’s mouth and nose, permanently dropping the personality score by yet another point.
Patron Wetware: MoldMother
Spore-riders eventually download three unique versions of wetware, as follows:
Level 1: Agar Affinity
Level 2: Sporecloud
Level 3: Quantum Meld
MoldMother is munificent to those who are dedicated to the growth of the colony. Spore-riders who are willing to “lose themselves” for the greater good of the whole will be rewarded.
Roll Glowburn Result
1 Hyphae tendrils shoot up from the ground and into the supplicant’s feet and legs (experienced as stat loss)
2 The shaman is granted the glowburn bonus, but sacrifices a chunk of flesh, which drops to the ground and immediately tunnels into underground mycelium and sprouts mushrooms, forming another toehold for the colony (expressed as stat loss)
3 A cloud of spores blows past and rakes the shaman’s body, tearing microscopic bloody troughs across his body (expressed as stat loss)
4 A portion of the shaman’s inner psyche is decomposed and the resulting quanta are redistributed to nearby fungi and molds in the soil (expressed as stat loss)
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Yes, it's official: I am a podcaster! I'm happy to announce that co-host Bill Hamilton and I have released the first episode of Glowburn a podcast dedicated to the Mutant Crawl Classics RPG and post-apocalyptic roleplaying. You can hear the first episode by going to podcast.glowburn.org! I have to acknowledge the many hours of work put in by those behind the intro/outro/bumpers and sound engineering, so thanks to Bob Brinkman (of the Sanctum Secorum podcast) and Hector "The Missile" Cruz of Hectophonic productions.
You can also access Glowburn via iTunes. If you listen to it there, please leave a rating! And be sure to tell your friends!
You can also access Glowburn via iTunes. If you listen to it there, please leave a rating! And be sure to tell your friends!