Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Appendix N: The Eyes Of Sarsis

Last week, as part of my exploration of Appendix N of the Dungeon Masters Guide, I reviewed Demon In The Mirror by Andrew Offutt and Richard Lyon, the first of three books in the War Of The Wizards trilogy. Demon In The Mirror was written in 1978, one year prior to the publication of the Dungeon Masters Guide, and introduced several Wizards, several of whom fit the stereotypical sorcerer archetype from swords and sorcery pulp fiction. Those Wizards are introduced below:

Derramel: The antagonist of the first book, Demon In The Mirror. The sorcerer Derramel killed and imprisoned the family of our heroine, Tiana Highrider. Her quest to recover Derramel's severed body parts and reassemble them, in order to finally kill him and rescue her brother, is chronicled in Demon In The Mirror.

Ekron: We see very little of Ekron the sorcerer in Demon In The Mirror, although he is the catalyst for the first tale, setting off a chain of events that leads to Tiana's quest.

Sulan Tha: The White Wizard. Tiana was directed to kill Sulan Tha to obtain the head of Darramel. Instead, Sulan Tha offered the head freely to Tiana. Sulan Tha makes everyone uncomfortable, as he can see into their souls, and all the bad things they have done in their lives.

Pyre: Through much the first book, Demon In The Mirror, the sorcerer Pyre dogs Tiana and interferes with her attempts to retrieve the severed body parts of Derramel. He is ultimately unsuccessful in preventing her quest.

The second book in the War Of The Wizards trilogy is entitled The Eyes Of Sarsis. Again, it is co-authored by Andrew Offutt and Richard Lyon, and is published in 1980. It is about 205 pages, so about the same length as Demon In The Mirror, and is a brisk read.

As the story opens, we find our heroine, Tiana Highrider regaling a tavern full of pirates with a tale of high adventure regarding her victory over the dark wizard Derramel. As she reaches the climax of the story, she is simultaeneously interrupted by an attempt on her life (directed by a white cat wearing an ensorcelled gem), the introduction to a clue to the mystery of The Eyes Of Sarsis, and an attempted arrest by the town guard on a trumped up charge. It is really not her day.

The reason for the trumped up charge: her King wishes her to quest on his behalf, to rescue his daughter, who was been taken prisoner by Ekron. A classic Dungeons and Dragons adventure hook – how many times have we used the trumped up charge as an excuse to force the party to take up an adventure?

The title of the book refers to Sarsis, serpent of the world, which Ekron is trying to awake. For what purpose, we do not know. Tiana's ally in preventing the awakening of Sarsis: none other than Pyre, her nemesis from Demon In The Mirror!

This book series is called the War of the Wizards trilogy for good reason. There is a battle waging between Ekron and Pyre, and Tiana becomes a pawn in their struggle. The second book suffers for it: like a bad Dungeons and Dragons adventure, Tiana and the reader feel themselves railroaded in this second chapter of the War of the Wizards trilogy. The first and third books are much better in this regard. The principle cause of the railroading is due to the Eyes Of Sarsis conceit itself. The possessor of the Eyes of Sarsis is able to create convincing illusions, so much so that Tiana is constantly being misdirected and manipulated. You feel like the reader of a tale, at the end of which, the author declares, "and then I woke up."

If you intending to read this series by Offutt, there is little opportunity to avoid this weak middle chapter. Despite its failings, however, there is some value to reading this book, from an adventure-building perspective. There is a human-populated jungle-city, ruled over by the last vestiges of the serpent race that once dominated the world. There is also a secret death cult operating near the docks of another city, that Tiana defeats.

Having already read the third book in this series, The Eyes Of Sarsis is worth the read, if only to set you up for the final chapter, Web Of The Spider.


Anonymous said...

It's also, IMHO, worth reading for the truly kickass magical battle near the end, and to a much lesser extent for Offutt/Lyon's unsubtle dig at the author of the Gor books.

Aaron E. Steele said...

I'm admittedly ignorant of the Gor references, but I do have several Gor books that I picked up at a local charity book-sale. I will be watching for the connection when I finally get to those books.

The battle is an interesting affair, viewed, as it is, from afar, via Pyre's "magical sandbox".