Roleplaying, was RE: I'm back!

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at
Thu Aug 22 22:09:03 EDT 2002

--- Philip.Belben at wrote:
> >>  There was no
> >> explanation of how magic was supposed to work -
> we
> >> guessed "Vancian magic" and were right.
> >
> > Ah? I'm probably showing huge gaps in my knowledge
> of fantasy basics, but im
> > curious... What's that?
> I was wondering that.  I'll take a guess (and try to
> get it in before someone
> posts the right answer).
> I think it means the system Jack Vance used in a
> long series of books ostensibly
> set in the very distant future.  I've read a couple
> of these books, and don't
> like them very much, but Vance actually explains the
> system in "Rhialto the
> Marvelous".  This is an attempted reconstruction,
> not a quotation, of the
> passage concerned:
> | Magic spells consist of coded messages inserted
> into the sensoria of
> | beings able and not unwilling to manipulate the
> material world.
> | Since these beings are alien to us, and may not
> even be sentient [1]
> | by our standards, magic holds considerable dangers
> for the tyro
> | practitioner.
> [1] I'm pretty sure Vance used the term Sentient,
> but he doesn't seem to mean
> the same by it that I do - to me a being that can
> receive and respond to a coded
> message is sentient.  Presumably he means
> intelligent/rational/thinking...
> Is this what you meant?  Do tell...
> Philip.

You are right in the reference to Jack vance's "dying
earth" books (particular favourites of mine) as the
basis for the magic system used in D&D - and hence our
term for it (I can no longer recall if this term was
used elsewhere). In game terms it refered to the fact
that a magic user "knew" a limited number of spells,
which he could add to from various sources such as
more advanced mentors or defeated opponents, in order
to be able to cast a spell the magic user had to
impress the spell into his mind where it remained
until released. The number of spells he could hold in
his (or her) nmind depended upon the magic user's
ability and experience. None of this was actually
explained in the rules.

Jon Noble

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