Lets take a look at the table of contents. I will be tackling the book in the order it is presented (which i will opine about more than once, i expect).
2. The Lyonesse Saga
3. The Ten Kingdoms
4. Society & Religion
5. Character Generation
7. Passions, Oaths and Luck
9. Towns, Villages and Feasts
10. Game System
15. Heroes & Villains
16. Notes for Gamesmasters
Before i get into the nitty-gritty of this read-through, i will note that although i read the Lyonesse books many moons ago (we're probably talking about the mid-nineties) i am not an expert on this setting or the books that inspire it. This is good IMO as my opinions will test how useful the book is to people who have not purchased this mighty tome because they already know the setting but because they are fans of The Design Mechanism - of which there are many on this board. I must admit that for my purposes, i didn't read this book in order. That might be because i like to see how things are put together, or simply that i'm not a fan of walls of text before i learn what i can do as a character and how. However, the read-through will progress from beginning to end in the order it has been arranged.
Each chapter header has the bottom half of the world map as a background and the first one up is, of course, the introduction. This helpfully tells you what you are holding in your hands and gives a brief run-down of the contents of the book, with a paragraph covering each chapter contained herein. It's here where you can make the decision of what to bone up on first. I went to Character Generation (as that's the first thing i always do with a new system, or system variant). I suspect many of those that are setting fans will come back to that info later on to refresh their memories. Anyhoo, never mind what i did, here's what is next in the introduction...
There is (what i'll call) a brief overview of the source material for this mighty tome - the Lyonesse books by Jack Vance. Here we get a grounding in themes, names, and the (a)historical nature of the tales. I lift a fair use paragraph below for this section's conclusion. The eagle-eyed among you may notice a passing resemblance to another of Vance's classics in the way it covers three different layers of society (and thus, power).
Thus, Lyonesse gives us a
sweeping tale on three
separate levels, ranging from
the base ambitions and drives
of humans, through the
strange compulsions of
Shimrod, Melancthe and
Carfilhiot, and up to the
dreadful magics of the true
sorcerers. And if this wasn’t
enough, Lyonesse gives us
knights, battles, whimsical
humour, broad comedy, clever
schemes and cons, faeries,
goblins, ogres and trolls, curses, trans-dimensional
travel, humanoid constructs that are representations of
metaphysical ideals and, to gift-wrap it all, an extremely
good revenge story
I think that now would be the time to mention that the borders of each page feature some lovely artwork, featuring strange creatures, animals, and vines/thorns.
After the overview we come to what we all expect from an introduction by now, the amusing (to us veterans) run-down of what a roleplaying game is, the dice we use, how to use them, and more often than not an interminable example of play. Well, we get all of those, but thankfully the example hits the right note of being informative without taking up half the chapter - kudos for that. The basic system will be known to fans of The Design Mechanism (TDM) as a simple roll under percentile skill system - which is great for new players as the basics can be explained within a few paragraphs. As it is here.
You also get a handy list of materials you'll need to play and a section entitled Should We Have Read Lyonesse? which straddles the line between of course you should! and maybe it would better to discover it during play (that handily covers everyone who had probably picked up the book) well.
That's the introduction. Nice and tight. 12 pages to get you going before you swim towards the deep end.
This chapter is a summary of the Lyonesse books written by Jack Vance. Presumably, you already know this or you wouldn't be here? Well, this serves as a good refresher for those (like myself) who may have read the source material some time ago or it creates an overview of the saga for people who are coming in blind. It's always awkward trying to summarise a book (it's a skill in itself) and a book series as complex as this one, doubly so. If you start from the premise that Lyonesse is a fantasy alt-history and go from there, you won't be far wrong. Some fair use text below for Lyonesse virgins.
Vance mixed English, Irish, and European
folklore with the myths of the Age of Chivalry and the
romantic Arthurian saga, and then twisted everything
towards his own brand of fantasy storytelling.
These are complex tomes and the problem was always going to be summarising the essence of the tales without ending up with name-soup. Well, you can't avoid name-soup with Lyonesse, so those coming cold are going to have to study this section more than once to get to the bits and pieces of setting that will be relevant to their own tales once they start playing.
Within moments we learn there are fairies and changelings and artificial beings with all the intelligence and flaws of mortal men.