Monday, August 13, 2018

Teleport Traditions

I do get a little weirded out when SF gets deeply injected into my fantasy. The top examples in OD&D for me are probably the spells ESP, telekinesis, and teleport. In particular, that latter spell's instant-death possibility always looked out-of-synch with other spells or pulp fantasy traditions (e.g., consider spell-casting screwups which land Cugel the Clever on a different continent, or Harold Shea in the wrong plane of reality). I previously wrote about it 4 years ago this month. From Vol-1:

Teleport: Instantaneous transportation from place to place, regardless of the distance involved, provided the user knows where he is going (the topography of the arrival area). Without certain knowledge of the destination teleportation is 75% uncertain, so a score of less than 75% of the percentile dice results in death. If the user is aware of the general topography of his destination, but has not carefully studied it, there is an uncertainty factor of 10% low and 10% high. A low score (1-10%) means death if solid material is contacted. A high score (91-100%) indicates a fall of from 10 to 100 feet, also possibly resulting in death. If a careful study of the destination has been previously made, then the Magic-User has only a 1% chance of teleporting low and a 4% chance of coming in high (10-40 feet).

For some time I've wanted to identify what part of the literature most inspired this. It certainly seems more SF than fantasy, but tracking that down in Appendix N is foiled because it doesn't list SF sources, only fantasy. Some of my top prospects previously have been Arthur C. Clarke's Travel By Wire! (his first short story, 1937), de Camp and Pratt's Harold Shea stories (listed in Appendix N as the first among the "most immediate influences upon AD&D", 1941-), and possibly Star Trek, especially their "Day of the Dove" episode (1968). See also many other entries at TVTropes' Tele-Frag article.

But at this point I'm pretty confident in theorizing that the most immediate influence on the teleport spell itself is Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination (1957). Having recently read it, I'd say that it has at least a 90% correlation with the D&D spell. Crucially, we know from other places that Gygax definitely read Bester: on ENWorld he wrote, "That list was just a sampling of the SF authors I have read. Good grief, Poul Anderson, ERB, Alfred Bester, Eando Binder, Edmond Cooper, and a host of others aren't on it..." And this book was one of really just two novels for which Bester is known. (Major thanks to capvideo on the OD&D Discussion board for digging this quote up.)

Here are some bullets in which Bester's The Stars My Destination synch up with the D&D spell:

  • Teleporters ("jaunters") have a strict need of exact knowledge of their destination. Chapter 3 details people taking a class in that exact skill, opening with:
    "Bravo, Mr. Harris! Well done! L-E-S, gentlemen. Never forget. Location. Elevation. Situation. That's the only way to remember your jaunte co-ordinates. Etre entre le marteau at l'enclume. [Being between the hammer and the anvil.]"
  • Furthermore, the custom/requirement is that people visit a certain location in person, traveling there by conventional means the first time, and make a detailed study of the place, before being able to teleport there. Again from Chapter 3:
    The men were brought down from General War Hospital to the jaunte school, which occupied an entire building in the Hudson Bridge at 42nd Street. They started from the school and marched in a sedate crocodile to the vast Times Square jaunte stage, which they earnestly memorized. Then they all jaunted to the school and back to Times Square. The crocodile reformed and they marched up to Columbus Circle and memorized its co-ordinates. Then all jaunted back to school via Times Square and returned by the same route to Columbus Circle. Once more the crocodile formed and off they went to Grand Army Plaza to repeat the memorizing and the jaunting...

    As their horizons expanded (and their powers returned) they would memorize jaunte stages in widening circles, limited as much by income as ability; for one thing was certain: you had to actually see a place to memorize it, which meant you first had to pay for the transportation to get you there. Even 3D photographs would not do the trick. The Grand Tour had taken on a new significance for the rich...

    The bandaged C.P.O. nodded dubiously and stepped up on the raised stage. It was of white concrete, round, and decorated on its face with vivid black and white patterns as an aid to memory. In the center was an illuminated plaque which gave its name and jaunte co-ordinates of latitude, longitude, and elevation.
  • Teleporting blindly without awareness of the co-ordinates (including co-ordinates of the point of departure) is almost sure to land one in solid matter, resulting in explosive death. Chapter 5 is set in a lightless, labyrinthine prison under Gouffre Martel (a real-world cavern complex in the French Pyrenes), so situated because it's the only way to keep prisoners unaware of their bearings and thus unable to teleport. Nonetheless, some try it out of desperation and this is called a "Blue Jaunte":
    But every so often... once or twice a week (or perhaps once or twice a year) came the muffled thud of a distant explosion. The concussions were startling enough to distract Foyle from the furnace of vengeance that he stoked all through the silences. He whispered questions to the invisible figures around him in Sanitation.

    "What's them explosions?"

    "Explosions?"

    "Blow-ups. Hear 'em a long way off, me."

    "Them's Blue Jauntes."

    "What?"

    "Blue Jauntes. Every sometime a guy gets fed up with old Jeffrey. Can't take it no more, him. Jauntes into the wild blue yonder."
  • Finally, there is at least one case of the protagonist believing that he has mis-teleported high, resulting in falling from a significant height and being injured. Now, this turns out not to actually be the case -- the building to which he's teleporting has been ruined and the particular floor gone missing -- but his first sure instinct (combined with emphasis on remembering "elevation", above) indicates that this is a well-known possibility. From Chapter 8:
    He jaunted to Robin Wednesbury's apartment in the lonely building amidst the Wisconsin pines. It was the real reason for the advent of the Four Mile Circus in Green Bay. He jaunted and arrived in darkness and empty space and immediately plummeted down. "Wrong co-ordinates!" he thought. "Misjaunted?" The broken end of a rafter dealt him a bruising blow and he landed heavily on a shattered floor upon the putrefying remains of a corpse.

Some other minor details in Bester's work that may or may not match the D&D rules: (1) The teleporter is self-motivated, that is, they can only move themselves, not stay in place while forcing another object to jaunte. This matches OD&D and the AD&D line; B/X allowed the possibility of teleporting another target instead, but no other edition followed suit. (2) That said, a teleporter can carry with them as much as they can physically pick up. There are at least two instances in the book of characters struggling to lift another person and hence teleport with them. B/X mentions the caster's normal encumbrance as a limit, 1E introduced a formula for how much extra weight can be touched and taken with the caster (e.g., 700 pounds at 13th level), and later editions sequentially increased that limit (e.g., in 5E any caster can take 8 other creatures). (3) There is an acknowledged limit of 1,000 miles per teleport for any person, and longer trips are made in sub-jauntes of this length (explained in the Prologue). This also implies no extra-world teleports, not through space, and not across the planes.

Can you think of any work other than The Stars My Destination, of which we can document Gygax's prior knowledge, which better parallels the D&D teleport spell?

4 comments:

  1. I think you've nailed it ... great scholarship!

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  2. The 1,000 mile limit reminded me of something, so I flipped through Monsters & Treasure. Sure enough, one of the cursed scrolls is "Transportation 1,000 miles, random direction". (Although the next one is "...to another planet".)

    Actually, come think of it, "transportation" seems to be the more baseline term in OD&D.
    Teleport begins "Instantaneous transportation from place to place".
    The Helm of Teleportation "is good only to transport the Magic-User himself".
    The sample dungeon's 5E "is a transporter, to ways, to just about anywhere the referee likes, including the center of the earth or the moon". (5F is a one-way transporter.)

    The one time that Teleport is used as a verb, it's capitalized as Teleport - clearly verbing a noun.

    When did "teleport" as a verb enter the D&D vocabulary, I wonder?

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    Replies
    1. That's a great catch, especially about the cursed scroll! Great question.

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