24
Apr
10

In AD&D You’re Always Stepping on 1d100 Woefully Encysted Creatures

cr0m’s recent comment to James’ post about Grand Motholam reminded me of a Gygaxism that I find utterly mind-blowing. He notes, justly, that:

In Vance’s stories, the spells available are much more wondrous, powerful or ridiculous than Sleep, Charm and Magic Missile. You’ve got incantations like the Spell of the Macroid Toe (victim gets a giant toe!), The Spell of Woeful Encystment (victim is in stasis deep beneath the earth), the Spell of the Sequestrous Digit (caster’s hand appears elsewhere, usually poised for groping someone attractive and/or picking their pockets). Is it really memorization/resource management that makes magic boring?

I quibble that The Spell of Woeful Encystment is, in AD&D, a ninth-level spell named Imprisonment. But yes, simply lifting a spell from Vance is boring in its own way. Gygax’s unique genius comes in this added detail:

The reverse (freedom) spell will cause the appearance of the victim at the spot he, she, or it was entombed and sunk in the earth. There is a 10% chance that 1 to 100 other creatures will be freed from imprisonment at the same time if the magic-user does not perfectly get the name and background of the creature to be freed.

Perhaps Maldoor will contribute a calculation of exactly how many creatures have already been encysted, on average, at each and every spot in the Prime Material Plane where you might choose to cast an incompletely-specified freedom spell. I will merely note that what these rules say about the world –  that wizards of the 18th level or higher have been sealing people in small spheres far beneath the earth for so many aeons that now the main problem is losing track of which particular one you’re looking for – that the globe is an over-stuffed filing system for people who rubbed Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter and his buddies the wrong way –  is why session reports of a peyote/crack/LSD binge are indistinguishable from just playing D&D.

For my money, imprisonment is as brilliant a riff on Vance’s themes as any of Gene Wolfe’s, that other acolyte for whom The Dying Earth was the Book of Gold. In The Book of the New Sun, Wolfe tells us that no delver can turn a spadeful of earth that does not contain some artifact of the past, and his viewpoint character Severian so takes it for granted that every mountain there is has been given the Mount Rushmore treatment in some past age that this fact is never directly stated. Which is awesome and all, but is it mundane of me to be even more amazed by the suggestion that, armed with my trusty polyhedrons, I could determine just how many artifacts there are in each spadeful?

EDIT: To avoid the promulgation of error among those who might not read the comments, Eric writes there:

Oh, Tavis! That isn’t Gygax’s genius at all! It’s pure Vance. When we see Cugel the Clever get the spell of forlorn encystment backwards in The Eyes of the Overworld, the ancient earth coughs up dozens of time-lost encystees.

Oops! While I’m doing my penance and re-reading Tales of the Dying Earth (with the fitting Brom cover instead of the out-of-place Berkey one, natch!), y’all can discuss whether this means that the idea of a reversible spell is also a lifted Vancism.


4 Responses to “In AD&D You’re Always Stepping on 1d100 Woefully Encysted Creatures”


  1. April 24, 2010 at 4:38 am

    Oh, Tavis! That isn’t Gygax’s genius at all! It’s pure Vance. When we see Cugel the Clever get the spell of forlorn encystment backwards in The Eyes of the Overworld, the ancient earth coughs up dozens of time-lost encystees.

  2. April 25, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Tavis, I agree that the interpretation you propose is hilarious and intriguing, and therefore likely true.

    But the “freedom” spell doesn’t have to be read that way.

    “Freedom” has neither a stated range nor a specified area of effect (like a 20 x 20′ square). Possibly you can cast “freedom” from continents away–it is, after all, a 9th level spell. If that’s true, then there’s only 1d100 other guys stuck down there.

    That’s kind of disappointing, but then, maybe all of those guys are stored IN THE SAME PRISON, which would be a crazy high-level dungeon complex located in the center of the earth, staffed by titans or something…

  3. April 25, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Yes, an unstated premise in my assumption is that the D&D world is flat or otherwise non-spherical. Otherwise wherever you go that spot is directly above the center of the earth, where it’s not nearly so crazy to think 1d100 encysted dudes have accumulated.

    Overall I think my “honest, judge, it’s just D&D I’m smoking” stance is hard to defend. The other day I was thinking how many five-mile hexes of desert would I have to search before I found any peyote, and could I use this datum to calculate what level ranger I am?


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