Renowned and influential fantasy author Jack Vance passed away at the age of 96 on May 26, 2013. Jack Vance’s books were highly influential on several aspects of Dungeons & Dragons, as Gygax explained in “Jack Vance & the D&D Game”:
When I began to add elements of fantasy to medieval miniatures wargames around 1969, of course the work of Jack Vance influenced what I did. Along with Robert E. Howard, de Camp & Pratt, A. Merritt. Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Poul Anderson, J.R.R. Tolkien, P.J. Farmer, Bram Stoker—and not a few others, including the fairy tales Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang, and conventional mythologies—his writing was there in my memory. Happily so. What I devised was based on the fantastic creations of many previous writers, an amalgam of their imaginations and my own, and it was first published in 1971 as the CHAINMAIL Medieval Miniatures Rules, the “Fantasy Supplement” thereto. Not much later, in 1972, I wrote the first draft of what was later to become the first commercial Role-Playing Game, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, published in January, 1974.
Vance’s official web site gives a proper eulogy:
Jack Vance passed away at home on the evening of Sunday May 26, 2013, ending a long, rich and productive life. Recognized most widely as an author, family and friends also knew a generous, large-hearted, rugged, congenial, hard-working, optimistic and unpretentious individual whose curiosity, sense of wonder and sheer love of life were an inspiration in themselves. Author, friend, father and grandfather – there will never be another like Jack Vance.
See the list for four ways in which Vance’s creative work was a major influence on Dungeons & Dragons.
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Dungeons & Dragon’s spell system, which would come to be known as Vancian Magic, was described in The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games:
The Dungeons & Dragons wizard is actually inspired by the wizards of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series. Gygax explained the four cardinal types of magic in literature: those systems which require long conjuration with much paraphernalia as visualized by Shakespeare in Macbeth and Robert E. Howard in Conan, those which require short spoken spells (like Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series), ultra-powerful magic typical of DeCamp and Pratt in the “Harold Shea” stories, and “generally weak and relatively ineffectual magic (as found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s work).” Taking into account the need for speed and balance, Gygax chose the most expedient form of spell casting, Vancian magic. (1976:3).
Vance was also influential in helping shape the nature of the Dungeons & Dragons-style thief:, according to The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games:
Beyond Tolkien, Gygax drew upon several sources for the Dungeons & Dragons-style thief. There is the adventurer in Fritz Leiber’s Grey Mouser, who debuted along with his barbarian ally Fafhrd in Two Sought Adventure (1957). The Grey Mouser shares the thief’s penchant for daggers and the ability to wield them against unwary adversaries. There is also Jack Vance’s “Cugel the Clever” (Wetzels) and Roger Zelazny’s “Shadowjack”. This varied heritage explains the thief ability to read scrolls in the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s evident that the thief archetype harkens from a more cynical, pulp-like fantasy setting, a setting that certainly inspired Gygax, who was a fan of Vance’s work (Gygax 2001).
Co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons Gary Gygax explained how Vance gave permission to use his ioun stones in the game:
Anyway, later on when I got in touch about the Ioun Stones, permission was graciously given, and so a new and unique set of magical items was added to the AD&D game. Indeed, what mage did not long for those 14 different colors and shapes to be circling his head? Mordenkainen, my own chief spellcaster PC, went on many a harrowing expedition searching for them, eventually wound up with an even dozen. What did the creator of the concept for these marvelous magical stones ask in return for adding them to the game? Only what I was planning to do in any event, mention his books in the work. Not only is Jack Vance a great author, but he is a very nice guy too.
Jonathan Drain further explains in “The History of the Ioun Stone”:
There’s a surprising amount of background story to the ioun stone. The ioun stone actually predates Dungeons & Dragons, appearing in Jack Vance’s 1973 short story “Morreion”. Vance’s works had a major influence on D&D and the ioun stone made its way into Dungeons & Dragons through The Strategic Review, TSR’s gaming magazine:
Bart Carroll & Steve Winter explained in their D&D Alumni column the true origin of Vecna, an infamous lich who would become a deity in Dungeons & Dragons:
While Vecna’s first iteration was solely through his eye and hand (all that remained of him after being destroyed in battle), he progressed throughout the editions from arch-lich all the way to god of undeath. But why, it must be asked, did his eye and hand remain? Something of his story, no doubt, owes to the game’s literary influences (not to mention his very name, anagram of Jack Vance).
The Eye and Hand of Vecna owe much of their inspiration to Michael Moorcock’s first trilogy of short novels on the eternal hero Corum: The Knight of the Swords, The Queen of the Swords, and The King of the Swords. Corum is the last survivor of his race, a vaguely elf/sidhe-like people who were hunted down and butchered by the humans. Corum himself is captured by humans, whose idea of fun is gouging out his left eye and chopping off his left hand. Corum escapes before they can finish him off and survives with the help of a different (and much kinder) group of humans.
And now you know Vecna’s secret: “Vecna” is an anagram of “Vance”.