Goodman Games Announces Creative Team Visit to the Vance Family Home

Goodman Games recently released Dungeon Crawl Classics Dying Earth, a rich boxed set that adapts Jack Vance’s world of querulous wizards to the DCC rules set. We are honored to announce the next step in that creative journey: an inspirational visit to the Vance family home, which we have dubbed the Vance Manse.

Earlier this year, John Vance graciously invited the DCC Dying Earth creative team to his family home. The fruits of this visit will be borne in the form of another DCC Dying Earth supplement, which Kickstarter backers will receive a PDF copy of as fulfillment of one of the project’s stretch goals.

The Vance Manse visit was so impactful that it will take many posts to share the full scope of the visit. Each visitor took away different inspirations. We’ll start by sharing Marc Bruner’s essay on his experience with the visit, and other essays will follow in the coming days.

But first, a photo. Here is the team assembled at Jack Vance’s hand-built home bar. Left to right: (backrow) Julian Bernick, John Vance, Doug Kovacs, Erol Otus, (front row) Jen Brinkman, Bob Brinkman, Joseph Goodman, Marc Bruner.

A Visit to the Vance Family Home

by Marc Bruner

In the last days of the Dying Earth Kickstarter, we announced an exciting final stretch goal: a visit to the Vance family home, graciously extended by John Vance, son of Jack and Norma Vance. This amazing opportunity was realized earlier this year when several members of the Goodman Games Dying Earth project team travelled to the Bay Area to spend an afternoon touring the house while John regaled us with wonderful food, drink, and stories of his father and family. It was the culmination of our work on this project going back several years, and it was such an honor for those of us fortunate enough to attend.

The Vance family home is nestled in the forest of ferns and soaring trees that cover the hills east of Oakland, California. Bay laurels and towering redwoods intermingle with pallid manzanitas and oaks, providing a lush canopy for the steep ridges and valleys that lie underneath. (Perhaps not unlike Mazirian’s garden of exotic plants that he tends to, without the more voracious varieties!) Our trip coincided with the recent historic rains were inundating the region, making driving up the narrow, and now stream-covered, roads leading to the house somewhat challenging. Fortunately, our visit was timed with a break in the weather, and instead of a downpour, a lovely veil of mist covered the surrounding woodlands, creating a charming sense of even further remove from the busy city extending beyond the foothills below.

The Vance family home is perched on the side of a hill, where a beautiful labyrinthine terraced box garden is under construction. The house itself has the appearance of long being lived in and continually built and extended over the years, matching its organic growth going back to when Jack and Norma first moved their family over half a century ago. A grand porch that wraps around the second story of the house offers remarkable views of the valley, while a lovely bower extending off the main structure gives a sense of peaceful isolation within the natural surroundings.

Inside the house, the warmth and coziness are immediately evident, as well as the little touches that contribute to its unique character – the hand-carved wooden ceiling tiles above the dining room and adjoining elaborate bar, alcoves above the dining nook that used to house birdcages in which the family cats now recline and lazily watch visitors from above, a spiral staircase that leads to the upper floors, and the custom windows with stained glass that the family installed years ago.

While we were visiting, we had a chance to tour the house and see the memorabilia that invoked John’s father. Among the items I was most excited to look through were Jack Vance’s personal dictionary and thesaurus, something I felt a deep connection with after immersing myself in so much of the language used in the Dying Earth novels. Other items in the collection included several pieces of unique art and objects he had picked up during his travels – including various masks and even his preferred fountain pen ink (Pelikan 4001, for those wanting to purchase their own stock). John Vance also has a library of books that his family has collected and kept over the years, including novels that he read as a young child, and books that were favorites of his father. (See the abridged reading list at the end of this article for some suggested reading based on their collection.)

The Vance family home is an amazing window into the life of a writer who was the inspiration and catalyst for our project. In one display were the many awards and recognitions that Jack Vance had received over his career, including his Hugo award, which was placed alongside a personal favorite of mine – a certificate making him and honorary Texas citizen, signed by the then-governor of the state!

The height of conviviality was the home-cooked meal that the Vance family graciously prepared for their visitors, accompanied by glasses of wine and wonderful conversation. All during the visit, John also shared pictures of his family and his father’s many friends throughout the years, highlighting some of the eclectic journeys and pursuits that enriched their lives, including building a houseboat with fellow science fiction authors Frank Herbert and Poul Anderson, which was used to host gatherings that always seemed to include much music and merriment.

John was more than generous with his time, and we were able to spend several hours visiting and finding inspirations in our surroundings. It was an amazing experience, and certainly a highlight of the project for us. Everyone on the project team came away inspired by the visit – be assured that we are working on ideas for additional DCC DE material inspired by our trip to bring back as we revisit the project!

Selected reading list inspired by our visit:

  • Jack Vance’s dictionary and thesaurus, American College Dictionary, 1962 printing and Rogets International Thesaurus, 3rd edition, 1962
  • Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • P.G. Wodehouse, Young Men in Spats
  • Mervyn Peake, Gormenghast, Titus Groan, Titus Alone
  • Jeffery Farnol, Martin Cosby’s Vengeance
  • P.C. Wren, Beau Geste
  • Robert W. Chambers, The Maker of Moons
  • Arthur M. Winfield, The Rover Boys series
  • Lord Dunsany, Tales of Wonder
  • Medieval Costume and Weapons by Jan Durdik and Eduard Wagner, 2nd edition, 1962

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