Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Secrets of the Dirdir By Jack Vance For Your Old School Space Opera

Personal copy of the Dirdir by Jack Vance 

The Dirdir by Jack Vance is considered to be one of the corner stones of our hobby. The book is listed in appendix N of the original Dungeon Masters Guide by G. Gygax.
The book according to wiki concerns : Written by Jack Vance, it tells of the efforts of the sole survivor of the destruction of a human starship to return to Earth from the distant planet Tschai.
The actual plot with Major Spoilers Ahead From Wiki 

Adam Reith is stranded on Tschai, a distant planet shared by four alien, mutually hostile, advanced species (the Chasch, Wankh, Dirdir and native Pnume). On his quest to get home, he acquires two human companions, Traz Onmale, a teenage barbarian chieftain, and Ankhe at afram Anacho, an outcast Dirdirman.
Reith has failed twice to acquire a spaceship (as recounted in City of the Chasch andServants of the Wankh). His exploits bring him to the unwanted attention of the Dirdir. As Anacho explains, his former masters are rarely subtle: they want to question and then kill him. Reith manages to wipe out the first "Initiative" sent after him, but sooner or later, there will be a second.
He decides to build a ship from scratch, a task requiring vast amounts of sequins, the universal currency of Tschai. The only way to raise that much quickly is to brave the Carabas, the Dirdir hunting preserve, where sequins grow as crystalline nodes. Men prospect for the nodes, while the Dirdir hunt the men. Those they catch, they eat.
Reith turns the tables on the Dirdir. He ambushes their hunting parties and takes the sequins they acquired from their victims. When the Dirdir finally take notice, Reith and his friends barely manage to escape, but they have amassed a fortune; in fact, they have so many sequins, they are forced to leave behind a substantial hidden cache.
They journey to the cosmopolitan city of Sivishe, where there are shipyards. They find that they must deal with Aila Woudiver, an enormously obese man with monstrous appetites. The construction of the spaceship progresses satisfactorily, but Woudiver demands ever more money, threatening to turn them over to the Dirdir if he is not paid. Finally, Reith has no choice but to go back to the Carabas to retrieve the hidden sequins, leaving Traz and Anacho to keep watch.
When he returns however, he finds that Woudiver, who desires above all else to be a Dirdirman, has betrayed Anacho to the Dirdir. Reith risks his life rescuing Anacho. Then he goes to confront Woudiver, but the arch-criminal is too clever for him and all three are handed over to the Dirdir.
However, Reith demands arbitration, invoking a tradition too strong for the Dirdir to ignore, even from a "subman". When the judgment goes against him, he challenges the Dirdirman arbitrator. By Dirdir custom, the victor of hand-to-hand combat wins the case. Reith dispatches his foe, only to face a second set of charges. This time, he has to fight a Dirdir. When he forces the creature to concede, Reith and his friends are absolved of all crimes and freed. Needing Woudiver to complete the ship, they do not kill him, but take him captive.

The book is actually part of a triliogy of books called Planet Of Adventure & concern the planet Tschai. The way they are written is for a low powered sword & science fantasy campaign actually a blue print for a DM to follow. They are then woven into a greater plot of the series. Vance handles it like the true professional he is. The adventures are a well written & paced exactly like a table top game. Seriously this is a great pulp style blue print to follow.
There's further information to mine as well. The series goes through the whole "campaign" Tschai is an interesting & very exciting world set in a little known empire crumbling apart at the seams 
UK Grafton cover
The series basically shows the adaptability of humanity under the yoke of various alien cultures & how it shapes us as a species. DMs should take note here how the traditional OD&D races could be shaped into a science fantasy campaign Wiki goes into some details about Vance's work 
Tschai is a planet orbiting the star Carina 4269, 212 light-years from Earth. It is populated by three alien, mutually hostile species; the displaced, native Pnume; and various human races, some of whom live as slaves or clients of the aliens. Each of the four novels relates Reith's adventures with one of the species, and is named after that species. In order, the books are:
The insect-like Pnume are the original inhabitants of Tschai. Their history goes back ten million years and they view the invaders as welcome additions to the pageantry on their world stage. They were forced underground by the coming of the more powerful species. Related to them are the Phung, solitary sentient predators with bizarre habits. The somewhat reptilian Chasch arrived a hundred thousand years prior to the tale's start, and are divided into three warring factions, the decadent Old Chasch, the Blue Chasch, and the barbarian Green Chasch. The birdlike predatory Dirdir and the amphibious Wankh (or Wannek) are comparatively recent arrivals and had warred with each other in the past, but subsided into an uneasy peace due to their relative military parity.
The human client races, the Pnumekin, Chaschmen, Dirdirmen and Wankhmen resemble their alien patrons to some degree, due to selective breeding, surgery and the desire of the humans to emulate their respective masters. The Pnumekin are kept docile by drugs; the Gzhindra are ostracised and exiled Pnumekin who act as agents for the Pnume. The religious fiction that their dead are reborn as Chasch keeps the Chaschmen obedient. The Dirdirmen view themselves as degenerate Dirdir and strive to minimize their differences. The Wankhmen, on the other hand, act as the sole interpreters of the Wankh and as a result, are able to manipulate the alien race to their own advantage. Vance's depiction of the human race after tens of thousands of years on Tschai aims to show how foreign humanity can become in alien surroundings.

More Spoilers Ahead 

Adam Reith is sent with another scout in a small ship to investigate a distress signal sent centuries before from the previously unknown planet. The mother ship is destroyed and the rest of the crew killed in a surprise missile attack. The two survivors are forced to set down on Tschai and soon enough, Reith is alone. The four books describe the attempts of a man of singularly strong will and resource to return to Earth. He overcomes the obstacles of dealing with four different alien races and various human groups in his efforts. In the process, he profoundly disrupts several of the societies, human and alien, with which he is forced to deal.
Reith acquires two faithful human companions in the course of his travels: Traz Onmale, the dour, proud boy-chieftain of a nomad race obsessed with emblems, and the renegade Dirdirman, Ankhe at Afram Anacho, loquacious, fastidious and flamboyant. (Vance has said that the novels were commissioned as a juvenile series, which was why he included Traz; but the action is no less ‘adult’ than in his other works.) The third novel also introduces a villain in the enormously fat, petulant, pedophilic, shamelessly avaricious contractor Aila Woudiver.
The vast teeming planet with its clashing civilizations and multifarious cultures affects Reith to the point that he realizes that if he succeeds in returning to Earth, his life will seem dull and colourless in comparison.

I've had an obession with the Dirdir for a long, long time & I've collected the whole series ever since I saw them in Barlow's Guide To Extraterrestrials.

The Dirdir in OSR games 

Didir Warrior
Number Appearing :1 or 1d4 for hunting party
Armor Class:5(14)
Type: Other 
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks:By Weapon or Claw 1d6
Saving Throw 17 
Special: +1 on Iniative
Move :12
Challenge level /XP :1/15

Make no mistake the Dirdir are apex predators & they are as deadly as it comes. When using them in any OSR games. They gain a +1 on all initiative rolls. They have natural weaponry in the form of claws on their feet & hands that do 1d6 points  damage with each strike. They fight as second level fighters.

Mr. Wayne Barlow's Dirdir from 1977 
Whip cord lean & a well muscled species they are insectoid with mammalian overtones. These folks aren't ones to forget a slight or a debt either. They rule their territoriality with an iron hand & are know to kill for pleasure & kill for the sport of the hunt. They have migrated all over the known universe & are known throughout several systems with the known space  time continuum & beyond. The race favors power weapons of a precise nature & melee weapons of incredible deadliness.

Morbius from late 80s
Dirdir loath Deodanths & will attack them on sight considering them both an inferior species & a top level threat.
 Using The Dirdir 

Since I've been role playing the Dirdir have been appearing in my games from OD&D to Travller. They & there men have always been haunting some God forsaken corner of the campaign world. These guys & their men could appear anywhere & any when  Though tied to their specific corner of the multiverse their too good not to pop up as warriors in Terminal Space.
Background menaces in Carcosa & its environs or stalking the wastelands of Mutant Future testing their mettle against the mutant beasts of the plane. They could well appear within Labyrinth Lord as a hazard of some haunt or be employed as exotic mercenaries.
With the release of Star Ships & Space Men second edition ships blundering into their worlds is a likelihood with lots of dead red shirts happening during game time.
These guys are practically made for SWN
This is simply a blog entry & in no way a slight at the various copyright holders or artists here in. 


  1. Cool! I've read Vance's Dying Earth books, of course, but never heard of this series before. I'll have to look for them next time I'm at a used book store.

    -Ed Green

  2. They're very well done as most of Vance's stuff is Ed! Thanks for the comment & there's more to come!


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