Discworld Read-a-thon 2 — The Light Fantastic

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.

Opening lines of The Light Fantastic, by Terry Pratchett

Time to delve into book two in the Discworld series! To the best of my knowledge (or more accurately, my memory) this is the only time when a book in the series is a direct follow on from a previous novel. If this is your first encounter with the Discworld, then you should probably check out the first post in the series (The Colour of Magic) first, mainly because it points to my suggested jumping off points to start your adventure. For everyone else however, lets settle in for part two.

Cover image of The Light Fantastic, written by Terry Pratchett. Cover by Josh Kirby. It depicts the main characters, Rincewind and Twoflower, riding the luggage, accompanied with several of their acquaintances.
You know, even after reading the book again, I still don’t quite understand what’s going on here. Cover image by Josh Kirby.

Potential spoilers below this point !


Saved by the book

The other skeletal hand held small cubes of cheese and pineapple on a stick. WELL? said Death, in a voice with all the warmth and colour of an iceberg. He caught the wizard’s gaze, and glanced down at the stick. I WAS AT A PARTY, he added, a shade reproachfully.

They never teach you about the dangers of summoning otherworldly beings outside of work hours. Quote from The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett.

Much like the Colour of Magic, the plot is not so much a coherent story arc but a series of disparate events as Rincewind tries to return to Ankh-Morpork, while the Wizards of the Unseen University try to capture him. On information received from Death (see the opening quote of this section), the Wizards are sure that the Discworld is going to be destroyed unless all 8 spells from the Octavo are read at the right time, including the one that has escaped into Rincewind’s cranium.

The story picks up where The Colour of Magic leaves off, with our “heroes” heading to a long demise as they float of the edge of the Disc. However, they are saved by the magic spell inhabiting Rincewind’s head, who very much needs him alive so that it can continue to hitch a ride until it’s finished its job. To save them, the spells of the Octavo being to change the entire world, and transports them from their current trajectory to the Forest of Skund, beginning a series of jokes about talking trees (and also a series of jokes about the preoccupations of the Gods, there really are quite a lot of running gags in this one).

And so we travel through a series of scenes as various bounty hunters and barbarian heroes either help or hinder our hero’s journey. We meet a cast of character’s including Cohen, the oldest barbarian warrior around (and a fan of the finer things in life, such as soft lavatory paper. Can you guess who he’s based on?), computer geek druids, the first glimpse of Death’s adopted daughter (who will play a slightly bigger role in a future book), a wandering shop (or to give it it’s scientific name, tabernae vagantes), and Herrena, the red-haired badass warrior woman that doesn’t have time for your tropes.

It’s again a strong satire of the fantasy genre, an I prefer it to the first installation in it’s slightly more subtle takes. We’re still not yet at peak Pratchett, but his voice is still present and flows through the pages. It consistently hits the punchlines, and keeps you questioning every possible trope and fantasy cliché. The message isn’t particularly deep, and yet even at the Discworld’s lowest level of social commentary it’s somehow more progressive than a surprising amount of the current internet.

Travel(ling) Luggage

‘I often don’t know where my Luggage is, that’s what being a tourist is all about’.

Twoflower in The Light Fantastic, Terry Pratchett

The infamous Luggage. Rarely has so much character has been breathed into a a wooden trunk. The Luggage is a chest made out of sapient pearwood, the rarest wood in the world and highly prized by wizards for making magical staves and such. The Luggage is Twoflower the tourists travelling companion, incredibly loyal to its owner, it ignores the laws of logic and magic in its dogged determination to always catch up with it’s owner at some point (carried as it is on hundreds of little legs) and is more than capable of showing a different interior dimension every time it opens, providing plenty of room for everything from gold coins to folded laundry. It has also been known to swallow would be thieves whole.

So how do we translate such an iconic character into a TTRPG? The best fit game wise is likely to be something in the D&D or Pathfinder vein, fitting as it does with a lot of the general fantasy tropes. While not impossible to include in other games, it will likely stick out greatly in other games that try to take on a more “realistic” world (such a Call of Cthulhu or Monster of the Week), and also lake coherence in a game that pays less attention to carrying loot (like Blades in the Dark). It could however imagine some sort of technological cross over with a more sci-fi game, especially one that has some magical elements like Numenera. Lets stick with D&D 5e for now, for ease of use, which can probably serve as a decent chassis for any adaptations.

What are the Luggage’s characteristics? An infinite (or at least very large) carrying capacity, very sturdy and resistant, able to follow its owner anywhere (including across realties and into other dimensions), and a slightly homicidal streak. What have we got to work with currently that might fit? The loyal, and occasionally aggressive, companion seems to be quite close to the Battle Smith Artificer’s Steel Defender companion (though this is far less dangerous than how the Luggage is described), while the carrying capacity is of course very close to the always helpful Bag of Holding. Of course, the most direct link is likely to be with the iconic “Mimic”, fitting both perfectly the visual aspects of the Luggage, and its delight it trying to swallow things. I think that between these elements you can probably work out a quick and easy hack without too much work, simply by giving a steel defender, or a mimic, the ability to also function as a Bag of Holding (or a Handy Haversack). If you’re looking for something a bit more tailored however, check out my take in this PDF (it is however, considerably weaker than the Discworld’s Luggage, however, as I’m not sure that a DM is ready for anything with the Luggage’s power).

Unbound Magic

There are of course many famous books of magic. Some may talk of the Necrotelicomnicon, with its pages made of ancient lizard skin; some may point to the Book of Going Forth Around Elevenish, written by a mysterious and rather Llamaic sect; some may recall that the Bumper Fun Grimoire reputedly contains the one original joke left in the universe. But they are all mere pamphlets when compared with the Octavo, which the Creator of the Universe reputedly left behind — with characteristic absent-mindedness — shortly after completing his major work.

The Light Fantastic, Terry Pratchett

I’ve always enjoyed the dynamics between Rincewind and the Great Spell living in his mind. It is both a hindrance and a help to Rincewind, messing with his magical power (though whether he actually has any innate magical ability to begin with is up for discussion) but also saving his life on certain occasions. I wanted to explore this theme through a subclass, and I immediately gravitated towards a warlock subclass, with the Great Spell being a very personal patron to the player, living in their head, pushing them to complete the spells goals. After some thought however, I decided to free it up slightly. I didn’t like the idea of having the Spell gain too much power over the player’s character, and also wanted to provide something that could actually be used as a D&D subclass, rather than something that would completely strip a warlock of their spell casting for example. In the end, I wrote the The Unbound Magics Patron that you can find here. I suggest you check out the PDF first, before delving into my explanations of the different features below.

Expended Spell List. I tried to include “wizard” spells here, to fit the arcane magic theme, picking spells that fit the theme. I’m not sure that they’re really actually all that useful or if the collection is good, but it’s what I felt fit. I don’t have any better explanation than that.

Hidden Knowledge. This represents the Great Spell granting some knowledge of the fundamental laws of magic that govern your world, granting proficiency in the Arcana skill, and the ability to cast the prestidigitation cantrip just for fun (I tend to house rule giving out the prestidigitation, thaumaturgy or druidcraft cantrip free to my players anyway).

Unleashed Magic. The main boon for choosing this class. I wanted to represent how these Great Spells transcend the normal magic of the world, and therefore when you channel the power of these spells you can ignore resistances. I also wanted to incorporate some form of “loosing control” to it, as the sheer power can warp the world around you, so I included rolling on the Wild Magic Surge table (again, this is also because I love the Wild Magic Surge table).

Last Words. This is a direct reference to the books, with the Great Spell living in Rincewind saving him from trouble until it can accomplish its goal. It’s in someway reminiscent of the level 14 feature for the Celestial Patron, though weaker (not causing any damage and healing for less). I also worded it so that you don’t have a choice in the matter, the Spell wants you alive, and will try and save you, no matter what your character would do. This isn’t generally something that is done in D&D, but I felt that it was fitting, and seems to be the least egregious way of showing that this particular Warlock Patron is particularly invested in the player character, as they are literally travelling with them.

One With The Weave. Again, this is a way of showing the mastery of the Great Spell (I should probably have called this subclass The Great Spell patron, but I felt that the word spell is already used a lot in D&D and it might have got confusing) over the other magics, granting the character resistance to magical effects. I should probably have worded this better (resistance to attacks? all spell effects? it’s not clear), but as I haven’t been able to playtest this subclass I’m not sure where to put the cursor yet (you’re seeing design practically in real time here!).

Limited Power!. I had a lot of trouble figuring out the logic behind Warlock features, but I felt like having the level 14 feature be an upgrade to the 1st level one works quite well. I improve it from ignoring resistances to also ignoring immunities, as characters of this level are also going to start coming up against enemies who might be immune to certain types of attack. I also decided to improve the critical hit range for spells, giving both a damage boost, and causing the number of time you’re going to be rolling on the Wild Magic Surge table!

This might be wildly unbalanced as a subclass, and it’s not meant to be perfect. It’s a first version that’s just meant to show of how you can go “oh this is a cool concept” and try and transform it into something usable in your games, even if it is something that seems so far separated as the incredibly cowardly Rincewind and the heroes of D&D.

Modern cover of the Light Fantastic, it depicts a stylized turtle, with an aged barbarian warrior lying on its back, holding a giant sword.
I really like the modern cover, which hides little bits of plot in it. Cover art by Joe McLaren.

Other thoughts and miscellaneous quotes

Actually, the philosophers have got it all wrong. Great A’Tuin is in fact having a great time. Great A’Tuin is the only creature in the entire universe that knows exactly where is is going.

We’re all lost folks. Sometimes you’ve just got to stare into the void and accept that.

‘To the upper cellars!’ he cried, and bounded up the stone stairs. Slippers flapping and nightshirts billowing the other wizards followed him, falling over one another in their eagerness to be last.

Even in the Discworld, wizards should be at the back of the group.

Cori Celesti, upon whose utter peak the world’s quarrelsome and somewhat bourgeois gods lived in a palace of marble, alabaster and uncut moquette three-piece suites they had chosen to call Dunmanifestin. It was always a considerable annoyance to any Disc citizen with pretensions to culture that they were ruled by gods whose idea of an uplifting artistic experience was a musical doorbell.

The first in a running joke about the Disc’s gods.

In fact the gods were as puzzled by all this as the wizards were, but they were powerless to do anything and in any case were engaged in an eons-old battle with the Ice Giants, who had refused to return the lawnmower.

The second in the run.

Gods don’t normally look at the sky and in any case were engaged in litigation with the Ice Giants, who had refused to turn their radio down.’ Persuasion is what keeps the whole universe together,’ said Belafon. ‘It’s no good saying it’s all done by magic’.

It just keeps going.

‘It’s a Change spell,’ said Trymon. ‘The whole world is being changed.’ Some people, thought Galder grimly, would have had the decency to put an exclamation mark on the end of a statement like that.

Good advice for your BBEG’s, sometimes someone showing a complete lack of emotion can be much more chilling than a maniacal laugh (and a lot easier if you have a sore throat).

Rincewind thought: I can’t be talking to a tree. If I was talking to a tree I’d be mad, and I’m not mad, so trees can’t talk. Several trees tried to strike up a conversation, but Rincewind was nearly certain that this was not normal behaviour for trees and ignored them.

This is also the beginning of another running joke about talking trees. If you want to rest you’ll have to read the book!

The universe, they said, depended for its operation on the balance of four forces which they identified as charm, persuasion, uncertainty, and bloody-mindedness.

This is about the level of physics I can understand.

Unseen University had never admitted women, muttering something about problems with the plumbing, but the real reasons was an unspoken dread that if women were allowed to mess around with magic they would probably be embarrassingly good at it…

Foreshadowing a future book here much?

This particular hero was a heroine. A red-headed one. Now, there is a tendency at a point like this to look over one’s shoulder at the cover artist and start going on at length about leather, thigh boots and naked blades. Words like ‘full’, ’round’ and even ‘pert’ creep into the narrative, until the writer has to go and have a cold shower and a like down. Which is all rather silly, because any woman setting out to make a living by the sword isn’t about to go around looking like something off the cover of the more advance kind of lingerie catalogue for the specialized buyer.

Realistic women characters? In a fantasy book? Never!

‘Sort of mad. But mad with lots of money.’ ‘Ah, then he can’t be mad. I’ve been around; if a man ha lots of money he’s just eccentric” (Yes Minister joke).

Feminism was bad enough, but now there’s politics too!

‘All the shops had been smashed open. There was a whole bunch of people across the street helping themselves to musical instruments, can you believe that?’ ‘Yeah,’ said Rincewind, picking up a knife and testing its blade thoughtfully. ‘Luters, I expect.’

The build up for this pun… *chefs kiss*.

Rincewind stared, and knew that there far worse things than Evil. All the demons in Hell would torture your very soul, but that was precisely because they valued souls very highly; Evil would always try to steal the universe, but at least it considered the universe worth stealing. But the grey world behind those empty eyes would trample and destroy without even according its victims the dignity of hatred. It wouldn’t even notice them.

This is a really interesting theme, and one that we’re going to come back to in a future book that explores it in greater detail, and will I think be quite an in-depth discussion about the infamous “alignment” charts.

‘The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you’ve got to go somewhere afterwards where you can remember them, you see? You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home. I think that’s what I mean’.

Epilogue

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first two parts of this exploration of the Discworld series, and how we can take inspiration from it. You will be able to find all my PDF creations from this series in this drive going forward, feel free to use it and share it, I’d love your feedback.

As per usual, don’t hesitate to reach out on twitter, or join the discord if you want to join in the bookclub (we also have a Storygraph challenge for it if you want to track your progress). See you next month for book 3.

Until next time, be more kind,

TTFN,

Sam

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