Rivalry and Betrayal in the Dying Earth

Welcome to the wondrous far-future world of DCC Dying Earth! The DCC Dying Earth Setting is an all-new gaming universe for Dungeon Crawl Classics, inspired by the classic sword-and-sorcery works of Jack Vance. To celebrate the release of DCC Dying Earth, we are showcasing a series of articles that looks at the many unique classes, spells, equipment, mechanics, and themes that go into making DCC Dying Earth a completely new experience!

Rivalry and Betrayal in the Dying Earth

By Julian Bernick

There’s a lot to love in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth fiction. But my favorite element of Vance’s Dying Earth work is the ever-present rivalry encountered by the characters in this hyper-civilized yet still duplicitous and underhanded world. Especially in the Cugel books (The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel the Clever), every stranger that Cugel meets is a potential mark, a potential threat, or, usually, both.

There are far too many episodes that could be used for illustrating this point, but take the second chapter in The Eyes of the Overworld (“Cil”). Cugel meets an old man looking for a lost heirloom, finds it, won’t give it up, misuses the artifact, and finally is forced by impending doom to yield it back to its rightful owner, who summarily puts him out of his stronghold at the mercy of the local monsters. And this is just one chapter! Each of the characters gives no quarter and expects none, all of them being at cross-purposes from the very beginning of their encounter.

How to replicate this never-ending cynical power struggle in DCC Dying Earth? The rules are going to do some of the work because DCC Dying Earth is designed to replicate Vancian skullduggery!

First, you have the grudge token. In a twist on the fleeting luck of DCC Lankhmar, the grudge token works almost in reverse: When a PC rolls a natural 1, they gain a grudge token, which can be used to force the Judge or even a rival PC to reroll any roll! This is an optional mechanic—unless you want to replicate the reversals of fortune that make Cugel’s adventures so memorable, in which case it is required!

Next, the wayfarer’s luck. This class, replicating the fiction of Liane and Cugel, has a variable die used for luck checks. The luckier the wayfarer gets, the harder it gets for him to make a luck check—and when the luck check fails, the luck die increases, and the winds of fortune blow in the wayfarer’s favor. But in addition to this… the wayfarer steals luck from their own party members.

That’s right, the more luck the party burns, the faster the wayfarer eventually ends up stealing their luck! But sooner or later the reverse is true, and the party members who burn luck may end up stealing luck back from the wayfarer! No one knows what way the wheel of fate will turn—but it always turns sooner or later.

Similarly, the PCs, NPCs, and even the monsters who populate their world should be rivals—for treasure, for prestige, even for fine meals or a better tier of passage on a ship. None of this is required, and DCC Dying Earth can be played in a very traditional old-school collaborative way. But if a judge and their players really want the Vancian feel, adventures should be designed—and judges should endeavor—to keep a healthy competition going between party members, as well as everyone else that they meet. In the world of the Dying Earth, betrayal is not a question of if, but a question of when.

Check out the All-New DCC Dying Earth line:

Author: pandabrett

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