Exploring The Dying Earth With DCC ‘Pilgrims Of The Black Obelisk’

by Anton Kromoff

Welcome to the table,

In 1962, in his book Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated his famous Three Laws*, of which the third law is the best-known and most widely cited…

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

The feeling of sword and sorcery, coupled with the strangeness of a bygone golden age is really showcased in the work of Jack Vance and his Dying Earth novels.

The stories of the Dying Earth series are set in a far-flung future where the Sun is close to burning out and magic has become the dominant force over technology. The civilizations of Earth have long collapsed, and as the sun flickers in a now moonless sky the mostly barren world teams with beasts who could have been the results of spellcraft or leftovers from bygone ages.

It’s a place where the remaining species take a fatalistic view of life and most live and die by the spell or the sword. The magic system in The Dying Earth is very much aligned with the way magic works in Dungeons & Dragons, where the mind of a wizard can only memorize a certain number of words of magic at a time and once those are spoken and alter reality, creating a magical effect, they vanish from the casters mind until they are restudied and learned once more. In The Dying Earth, magic has loose but identifiable links to our modern science, and advanced mathematics is treated like arcane lore.

All these trappings provide ample setting material for a tabletop role-playing game and Goodman Games has capitalized on that with their Dungeon Crawl Classics(DCC) Dying Earth series.

Pulling inspiration from Jack Vance’s Dying Earth works, the DCC Dying Earth TTRPG offers players and storytellers a pathway to new adventures that pay homage to Vance’s most notable body of work.

You can traverse the lands in search of the mighty keeper of artifact lore Pandelume the Wizard, or embark on treacherous quests, risking encounters with indifferent grue creatures while scavenging the remnants of the ancient Earth for tressures imbued with strange otherworldly power.

The best place to start your adventures in the Dying Earth comes in the form of the Pilgrims of the Black Obelisk adventure module.

This adventure is perfect for a party of 0-level characters looking to find their way in this strange and unforgiving landscape. Setting out on a quest to the much-respected city of Erze Damath the party finds themselves surrounded by other pilgrims heading to the city for a once-in-a-lifetime journey to pay their respects as devout followers of one of the ancient godlings that the many faiths of The Dying Earth follow.

However, not all on this quest are devoted followers on a journey of enlightenment. Some of the travelers on this pilgrimage are simple merchants, cunning cutthroats, and devious debutants who have only banded together with the pilgrims because there is safety in numbers.

The option to seed conflict between players from the start provided an opportunity for players to engage in Vance-like banter between themselves arguing over faith and the nature of belief while fighting for survival in this strange and horror-filled landscape.

One of my favorite encounters in this particular adventure comes from the shadowy Callowhag and her swinebone wand. The setup is well-seeded storywise, with plenty of opportunity for long-lasting role-playing ramifications. It’s really masterfully built out, and as far as modules go, one of the coolest I have seen in a while.

The Dying Earth is a rich setting full of strangeness that breaks away from a lot of the traditional high fantasy tropes making it a perfect new offering if your table is getting a little tired of the normal dragons and dungeons they inhabit.

I plan on diving into all of these Dying Earth books as Goodman Games has been kind enough to send them to me to take a look at but I can say from this inaugural offering I am excited to re-explore the Jack Vance-themed setting and the strangeness that it holds.

Until next time, Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws are – 

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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