The Overworld and the Undertale

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As I make my way through the Dying Earth stories, Jack Vance remains one of my newly discovered favorite authors. And yet, I didn’t enjoy Eyes of the Overworld overmuch, and I find Cugel’s Saga thus far to be the same. Still, there are multiple layers to this.

First off, why am I not a big fan of Vance’s Cugel stories? Jesse (in a separate conversation) puts it nicely:

Cugel is a dick. And not one of those guys who’s a dick but then actually has a heart of gold, a ‘la Han Solo. For example, in one incident, Cugel is interacting with some clam-men (yes, they’re dudes who live in clams). They play a trick on Cugel by “gifting” a shirt made of water, which holds together initially, and then…falls apart and drenches him. He retaliates by killing one of the clam guys, who places a curse upon Cugel with his dying breath.

Cugel also abandons smoking hot babes to servitude and death, and murders (or arranges accidents) for various wayfarers he encounters when he can profit by doing so. And he is remorseless for all of these misdeeds.

Now admittedly there is some good fun in some of this. It’s satisfying to see Cugel outsmart even bigger heels than himself. But it does get tiresome to follow the adventures of a d-bag. He often gets some form of comeuppance, but I’d be happy to see him finally bite the dust. Vance’s first Dying Earth book contained several interesting and heroic (or at least sympathetic) characters. I’d have preferred to read more about them. Cugel is all well and good for a few tales, but two novels all about him just feels excessive.

Why do I keep trudging through, then? Well, why did I make myself read the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide series? Maybe I’m an idiot.

Actually, there’s still a lot to appreciate in the Cugel books, even without really liking the protagonist. Vance’s writing style and technique remain masterful throughout, and I love reading through his descriptions and dialogues. I haven’t learned so many new words in ages! Furthermore, the Dying Earth itself remains a fascinating setting, full of wondrous and memorable characters, artifacts, and situations.

For any DMs out there, these books are just overflowing with ideas ripe for the plucking. How about Magnatz, for example? A small town sits beside a mountain range and a lake. Long ago, a wizard cast an enchantment to protect the town from the terrible giant Magnatz : so long as a Watchman is posted to look out for the return of monster, the town will be safe. The townspeople don’t realize, but Magnatz is actually asleep at the bottom of the lake. You can probably guess what happens after Cugel (thinking he is being Clever) accepts the role of Watchman.

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This is just one interesting situation of many. And so I’ll keep reading. But I’m looking forward to being done with Cugel.

In other news, I was able to breeze through Undertale pretty quickly the past ~week. In case you aren’t familiar with this one:

The creator is a big Earthbound fan, and it shows. The music, graphics, and tone of the game are largely reminiscent of the SNES SMAAAASH-hit. It may not look it, but Undertale is able to adeptly hit alternatingly silly, serious, and creepy notes and that really makes nailing it down a challenge. On the surface I suppose I’d call it an RPG, but many of the traditional RPG elements are stripped away or turned on their heads. I don’t want to give away too much here, as I think the discovery involved in this one is a big part of the fun, but I got through it without gaining any EXP or LVLs. Also there are a lot of dogs, if you’re into that.

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The bottom line is that Steam and the opening up of the indie game market has been a tremendous boon for gamers. If you’ve got any interest, I highly recommend Undertale.

-Bushi

bushi

 

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12 thoughts on “The Overworld and the Undertale

  1. I just finished Cugel’s Saga myself. I was going to say that Cugel is thoroughly unlike able.
    The plotting isn’t bad. It kind of got a little old how he’d do something really smart to get a bunch of money, then do something really stupid and contrived to lose it all.
    Also, it was jarring to have him be nice and helpful to some people and a jerk to others for no discernible reason for difference of character.
    Plus, I didn’t really like Vance’s use of obscure words. Mixed in with his made-up words, it just seemed like being obtuse for being obtuse’ sake.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I played through Undertale recently and found it enjoyable. The bullet-dodging combat is a nice system, and the game is just very charming. I can’t bring myself to do a “genocide run” through it. I did find the whole game show section a bit longish. The way the game remembers your saves and reloads is pretty neat, also. Early on I accidentally killed a character and quit the game, reloaded, then did the encounter nonviolently. Flowey then appeared and accused me of bending the laws and space and time to suit my whims and said that we both know I’m a murderer. It was creepy and funny at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You might give Michael Shea’s “Nifft the Lean” series a chance. Nifft is sort of Cugel crossed with Fafhrd. He’s no Boy Scout, but he does have his own moral code, despite being a thief. The setting is very much in the “Dying Earth” vein. In fact, the books just might be crypto-Dying Earth pastiches. Very well-written and fast-moving. Vance thought highly of Shea.

    Liked by 1 person

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