I think DCC judges might be interested in how Jack Vance actually had a coherent theory of how Dying Earth magic worked, but Gygax mostly ignored it.
Vance's Dying Earth clearly emphasizes the importance of knowledge, analysis, independent thinking, research, empiricism, as opposed to rote memorization.
From Grognardia, http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2010/10/ ... llous.html
quoting the foreword to Rhialto the Marvellous:
A spell in essence corresponds to a code, or set of instructions, inserted into the sensorium of an entity which is able and not unwilling to alter the environment in accordance with the message conveyed by the spell.
Vance likewise states that
"Magic is a practical science, or, more properly, a craft, since emphasis is placed on utility, rather than basic understanding."
What are these "entities" that are psychically linked to all humans?
Since Blikdak is a demon .. ."
"Consider him!" spoke Kerlin. "His lineaments, his apparatus. He is nothing else but anthropoid, and such is his origin, together with all the demons, frits and winged glowing-eyed creatures that infest latter-day Earth. Blikdak, like the others, is from the mind of man. The sweaty condensation, the stench and vileness, the cloacal humors, the brutal delights, the rapes and sodomies, the scatophilac whims, the manifold tittering lubricities that have drained through humanity formed a vast tumor; so Blikdak assumed his being, so now this is he. You have seen
how he molds his being, so he performs his enjoyments.
So Vance was not a crusading materialist like L. Sprague de Camp. Vance was aware of humanity's endless preoccupation with occult topics, and regarded them as meaningful on some level, but inferior to rational thought.
Vance's magical spells, then,
now, in the last fleeting moments, humanity festers rich as rotten fruit. Rather than master and overpower our world, our highest aim is to cheat it through sorcery…. I am dissatisfied with the mindless accomplishments of the magicians, who have all their lore by rote."
The heroes of The Dying Earth, particularly Turjan, were essentially technicians who had never received proper training in scientific thinking. Once those technicians received the rudiments of critical thinking and education, they tended to discard the ethos of magical memorization.
Rhialto was a considerably more decadent figure, who was much less heroic, because he was content to exercise power without understanding, without intellectual curiosity.
For most of his eponymous novel, Rhialto the Marvellous does not cast spells! For most of his adventures, Rhialto had a servant-spirit whom he ordered about like a slave. This "entity" was a condensation of real human psychic energy, just like Blikdak the demon. However, Rhialto's slave was easy to coerce and generally unmotivated. Blikdak was hard to coerce, and highly motivated to harm humans.
The third chapter of The Dying Earth, T'Sais, includes a witches' sabbath, wherein witches summon demons by acting in ways that would please demons. This reinforces the notion that demons have independent existence, but are fundamentally linked to human consciousness.
The same story includes the following notion of a god:
...a race of just people lived in a land east of the Maurenron Mountains,
. . . These people had no god, and presently they felt the need of one whom they might worship. So they built a lustrous temple of gold, glass and granite, wide as the Scaum River where it flows through the Valley of Graven Tombs, as long again, and higher than the trees of the north. And this race of honest men assembled in the temple, and all flung a mighty prayer, a worshipful invocation, and, so legend has it, a god molded by the will of this people was brought into being, and he was of
their attributes, a divinity of utter justice.
So, in Vance's world, the kind of gods that are worshipped appear to be just as much creations of human consciousness as demons. Gods of virtue can be created by many virtuous people who dedicated themselves to virtuous thoughts.
So, in Vance's world, magic could be unlimited, if only the people of the Dying Earth could summon up the ambition to learn some math and gather in cooperative colleges.
In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."
"Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."
So Turjan applied himself to the study and learned many of the simpler routines.
"I find herein a wonderful beauty," he told Pandelume. "This is no science, this is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."
If Turjan and Pandelume had concentrated their efforts on recruiting loyal apprentices, they might have built a new civilization with unlimited magic. The greatest conflict would be human irrationality.
Kandive brought forth a crackling scroll, and, whipping it open, read:
" 'Ampridatvir now is lost. My people have forsaken the doctrine of strength and discipline and concern themselves only with superstition and theology. Unending is the bicker: Is Pansiu the excellent principle and Cazdal depraved, or is Cazdal the virtuous god, and Pansiu the essential evil?
" "These questions are debated with fire and steel, and the memory sickens me; now I leave Ampridatvir to the decline which must surely come, and remove to the kind valley of Mel-Palusas, where I will end this firefly life of mine.
" 'I have known the Ampridatvir of old; I have seen the towers glowing with marvellous light, thrusting beams through the night to challenge the sun itself. Then Ampridatvir was beautiful—ah my heart pains when I think of the olden city. Semir vines cascaded from a thousand hanging gardens, water ran blue as vaul-stone in the three canals. Metal cars rolled the streets, metal hulls swarmed the air as thick as bees around a hive—for marvel of marvels, we had devised wefts of spitting fire to spurn the weighty power of Earth . . . But even in my life I saw the leaching of spirit. A surfeit of honey cloys the tongue; a surfeit of wine addles the brain; so a surfeit of ease guts a man of strength. Light, warmth, food, water, were free to all men, and gained by a minimum of effort. So the people of Ampridatvir, released from toil, gave increasing attention to faddishness, perversity, and the occult.
" 'To the furthest reach of my memory, Rogol Domedonfors ruled the city. He knew lore of all ages, secrets of fire and light, gravity and counter-gravity, the knowledge of superphysic numeration, metathasm, corolopsis. In spite of his profundity, he was impractical in his rule, and blind to the softening of Ampridatvirian spirit. Such weakness and lethargy as he saw he ascribed to a lack of education, and in his last years he evolved a tremendous machine to release men from all labor, and thus permit full leisure for meditation and ascetic discipline.
" 'While Rogol Domedonfors completed his great work, the city dissolved into turbulence—the result of a freak religious hysteria.
So magic in Vance's Dying Earth is even better than super-science. With super-science one might need some copper or electricity to get started. With magic, one does not even need a toy chemistry set to bootstrap civilization - IF one has incorruptible dedication. The problem of magic is that because it is nearly infinite in power, it is nearly infinite in its ability to corrupt.