Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Interview: Len Lakofka (Part I)

Len Lakfoka needs no introduction to long-time readers of Dragon, who will remember his recurring column from that venerable periodical, "Leomund's Tiny Hut." Indeed, Mr Lakfoka began writing articles for Dragon in its very first issue and continued to do so until after the magazine had reached over 100 issues. He is also the author of several AD&D modules, most notably The Secret of Bone Hill, a personal favorite of mine. Mr Lakofka kindly agreed to answer some questions about his involvement in the early days of the hobby and his many replies will appear here over the next three days.

Thanks to Allan Grohe, who supplied many of the Greyhawk-related questions that appear in later parts of this interview.

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1. How did you become involved in the hobby of roleplaying?

I started playing Avalon Hill Games and answered an ad for the International Federation of Wargamers. Gary Gygax was vice President of that group. So many of the PBM groups sounded like warmongers that I was not interested in them. Terry Stafford introduced me to Gary at Farmers Insurance where Gary was an underwriter. We had played Battle of the Bulge or some other AH game.

I was told that the IFW was having a convention in the near future in Lake Geneva, so I decided to go and to help. I helped a bit with set up and tear down. It was a one day event. On Sunday, however, we took some time before locking up the Horticultural Hall and played a handwritten sent of medieval miniatures rules. This set later became Chainmail. Gary was seeking a publisher.

Once he did publish it, he added the "fantasy supplement" which had some Tolkien references, like Hobbits, Ents, a Balrog etc. It became the tail the wagged the dog. The fantasy supplement became very popular. I traveled to Gary's home a number of times to play various games on the sand table in his basement.

It was the popularity of the fantasy supplement that led to Dungeons & Dragons. Gary and I also played PBM Diplomacy, which was very popular back then.

2. You were also involved in Diplomacy fandom and issues of your fanzine Liaisons Dangereuses recently caused some excitement in the old school gaming community because they included some hitherto unknown D&D articles under your byline with Gary Gygax. Can you provide a little historical context for these articles?

I wrote the articles and added E. Gary Gygax's name to preserve his copyright to D&D. He was in control of D&D and any material I published was not "official" unless Gary blessed it. He did not see the text prior to me publishing it in LD. Some of what I did to in LD ended in up The Dragon -- issue #1 actually.

3. So, none of the material in LD was actually the work of Gary Gygax?

Correct. Gary did not author anything in LD.

4. Given the large volume of material produced for LD, it'd be great to see it all reproduced in a single volume from high-quality scans. I understand that Tadashi Ehara is doing this with Different Worlds. Is this something you'd ever like to see happen?

LD was a fanzine which was not profread or spell checked. If it were retyped and those things done that would be awesome. I would not want it produced "as is". My grammar, spelling and proofreading skills bite! I don't want to reveal that to world.

5. The Pyrologist class appeared in two places, your own LD fanzine and in a Chicago-based one called The Wizard. Are they variants versions of the class or the same class appearing in two different places?

It should be same but without seeing the text I can't be sure.

The Wizard was from a local group in Chicago, the name of which I've lost.The president of that group had a connection to FASA if I remember right. I'd have to kick myself in the head a few times to remember. If I'm right, his father financed FASA to produce a large generation interplanetary space ship. You would have to look at the first things from FASA and that would jar my memory.

The Pyrologist was an attempt to do special Magic-users. There was an Illusionist already. We were looking at a Magic-user specializing in fire spells. We did not do anything with earth, water and air. We were considering combining those three under one heading.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for this, James. Len Lakofka is one of those names from the era of proto-D&D that I've heard relatively little about(okay, I would be slightly more excited if you'd got an interview with Brian Blume, but that's noever going to be on the cards). And thanks also for the news about Tadashi Ehara and DW - I'd buy that book in a New York minute!

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  2. I absolutely loved his article for cloistered clerics. In fact, they are they only clerics in my present campaign!

    MJB

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  3. nice piece. i feel a need to unpack some of my old dragons now

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  4. Great interview thus far!

    "Given the large volume of material produced for LD, it'd be great to see it all reproduced in a single volume from high-quality scans. I understand that Tadashi Ehara is doing this with Different Worlds..."

    More information on this Different Worlds project, please!

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  5. With regards to specialist magic users, I recall reading about the Elementalist and Summoner classes in the 1980s issue of the White Dragon magazine.

    The two AD&D module series I haven't played or looked at yet (and won't until I find a DM to run me thorugh them) were the Lekofka's modules set on Lendore Isles and the Desert of Desolation series.

    Word verification - Margen = mystical concept used in the casting of Evocation spells.

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  6. @G. Benedicto: "More information on this Different Worlds project, please!"

    Yes, please, I want to know more about this! Link?

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  7. The info on a DW compilation comes to me from Allah Grohe. I have no further details on it, except that it's in the planning stages. Perhaps Allan could fill us in?

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