Not too long ago I finally got through Sterling Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey. Although it undeniably put forth some creative and inspiring ideas, I wasn’t overly impressed. Jeffro’s noted that the book was one of the primary influences of Gamma World, and though I’ve never played it, reading the basic description of the game’s setting is indeed evocative of the 1973 post-apocalyptic adventure story.
And though I’m no Jeffro when it comes to early D&D, I’d venture it’s that element of exploration and adventure that really explains the inclusion of Hiero’s Journey in Appendix N and its influence upon the game. Oh, and the monsters. There are plenty of mutant humanoids and beasties for your Monster Manual.
Those considerations aside, I didn’t really get a strong “D&D feel” when reading the book. For one thing, the mind powers wielded by Hiero and other characters in the story felt like a poor substitute for magic. They didn’t really seem to do a whole lot, aside from letting the characters walkie-talkie with each other, induce paralysis, or mind-control enemies and unwitting animals. I never was a big fan of psionics, though, and as a DM I always threw them out.
But you know, that doesn’t mean they can’t ever been done well.
I recently picked up a rather worn copy of Andre Norton’s High Sorcery short story collection and this week I read its first entry (and my first Andre Norton story!), “Wizards’ World.” I’m not sure if it’s in any way related to her famous Witch World series; having read the description it appears that there may be some common elements, but perhaps do not share universe.
The story began in media res, which is always welcome, but it took a little while for me to get into what was going on and really develop an interest in the protagonist. So shortly after being “meh’ed” by the psi powers of Hiero’s gang – here was another story with people putting up “mind shields” and sending out “mental probes.” Ugh.
To my surprise and delight, however, Norton was able to craft something a lot more interesting and closer to traditional magic than Lanier. “Wizard’s World” presents us with a universe in which those gifted with “the power” control a sort of sorcery that is, yes, primarily a weapon of the mind, but not nearly so one-dimensional and limited as “mind-radio” or else “mind control.” Wielders of the power (the protagonist is referred to as an “Esper”) can generate vast brushes of thorn, fireballs, loyal warrior-servants, and serpents, among other conjurations. One gets the impression that the imagination of the wizard dictates his limitations. There are rules, of course. We don’t learn them all, but one such is that nothing can harm you unless you believe in it. At one point our hero was singed by an illusory orb of fire because of his unpreparedness in defending against it.
Norton’s world-building ability and imagination really impressed me here, and struck me as a lot more “D&D.” Not to be too hard on poor Lanier, for there is a lot to admire about Hiero’s Journey, but he’s just outclassed when it comes to mind magic.