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The Excellent Prismatic Spray (Issue 3)

Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell &copy:2002

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion


Issue 3 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray is the third in Pelgrane Press' series of adventure supplements for the Dying Earth RPG, cunningly disguised as innocuous periodicals, even to the extent of having two pages of amusing in-character "readers' letters" at the beginning. As this product is intended for GM's use on unsuspecting players, this review will look at each of the major articles without revealing too many of the surprises. 

In "Rules To Mock Your Vain Ambitions", principal designer Robin Laws reflects on how the Dying Earth saga differs from standard traditional fantasy, contrasting Vance's personal vision with the mass entertainment provided through the innumerable trilogies of Tolkien's successors and emulators. Laws' insightful article then considers how the design choices of the Dying Earth RPG ensure that it avoids the power fantasies and wish fulfillment of other role-playing games to remain true to Vance's setting. 

Paul Rhoads explains the raison d'Ítre of "The Vance Integral Edition", a brave attempt to elevate Jack Vance into the highest ranks of literature by publishing a complete set of his works that conform to the author's wishes. 

This is followed by the first of this issue's major scenarios, "The Gold and Amber Cabal" by MD Jackson. In the Dying Earth, an archmagician can summon chugs and hence compel the nearly omnipotent sandestins into indentured service; magicians cannot. Making this leap from Turjan-level to Rhialto-level is a momentous step and worthy of intricate game-play. Jackson's scenario is an entertaining story arc wherein potent characters may strive in magic, daring, and good manners to achieve entrance to a cabal whose leader promises to instruct successful candidates in the necessary rituals. GMs may easily fit other scenarios of their own devising into this framework. 

In this issue, Grashpotel's Arcana (written by Peter Freeman) looks at the region of "Tanvilkat and the Valley of Graven Tombs". Compressing several aeons of the area's history into a few pages of Vancian diction, Grashpotel explains how the burial places of Tanvilkat came to produce vines of unsurpassed quality. The worthy sage also illuminates the current society and settlements of the region. The second half of the article then explores how to use this learned treatise in the game with suggested adventure hooks, GM-level information on sites of interest, and a host of NPCs with essential game statistics, plus a set of appropriate and amusing taglines. Suitable for GMs who prefer to add their own twists and tweaks to an adventure. 

"Inspiration from Representation" (by James Maliszewski, Lynne Hardy, Ian Thomson) provides three quite distinct plot ideas based on a picture by Dave Bezzina. All are interesting - the difficulty is choosing which one to use! 

"The Glass World" (Lynne Hardy) is a Turjan-level (or at a pinch high-powered   Cugel-level ) mystery which mixes weird magic, bygone customs, and selfish desires in a completely standalone adventure, replete with maps, NPC statistics, and taglines -just add PCs. This is a truly excellent scenario with a deft and subtle plot - the issue is worth buying just for this article. 

Lynne Hardy and Ian Thomson present three "Cozener's Expedients", plot hooks for unexpected confidence games and delicious scrapes with which to entrap unwary characters. 

In other RPGs, PCs frequently become involved in epic campaigns. In the Dying Earth, adventurous rogues in their peripatetic wanderings suffer diverse and often temporary entanglements with varied folk and monsters. Steve Dempsey's "The Laughing Magician" is instruction by example on how to run an adventure series in the Dying Earth. In this first part, PCs become enmeshed in a river race, a trial, the Dying Earth's equivalent of a "Big Brother"-style soap opera, and encounters with a colossal pelgrane. If they survive all that, they might even be hired by the Laughing Magician himself ... and be able to treat such an event as just another idiosyncratic interlude rather than a hackneyed beginning to an adventure. 

"Lizard" explores more exotic locations in "The Regions of the Sousanene Coast". Part travelogue, part set of plot hooks, this is a useful selection of unusual places and attendant customs to bewilder and bemuse PCs. 

Jim Webster completes this issue with a description of a very odd bath indeed. 

Sprinkled with in-character advertisements for goods and services for sale or sought on the Dying Earth, handsomely illustrated by fine cover and interior artwork, and with respectful emulation of the Vancian prose style and humor, Issue 3 is a masterful addition to the series and well worth the terces. Instruct your factor to purchase a copy before the sun goes out!


Editor's Note: The Excellent Prismatic Spray is published by Pelgrane Press. They can be contacted via their website at


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