Thursday, November 19, 2009

Interview: Len Lakofka (Part III)

Here's the third and final part of my interview with Len Lakofka.


13. Can you please explain the publication process for L3? My understanding is that you had performed extensive revisions and expansions to the original version but that TSR then either lost them or never used them, or something like that? Do you have any plans to "fix" L3 and to make your updated/expanded final version available?

I sent TSR L3 at same time as L1 and L2. They edited L1 and L2 and we talked back and forth. Then the dark days came and L3 went into a bottom drawer to rot for 20 years.

Of course AD&D had evolved significantly in 20 years. So I went through the laid-out material and updated it. (I don't recall my editor's name... sorry). We were on the same page. Then someone lost the whole thing. They did not tell me they lost it of course. So it went to print and someone else edited it and put stuff in. I had no input. Could I tell you what was put in? I don't think so. I don't think I have the orginal layout and the changed material either.

14. You created a large number of spells for OD&D for Supplement I: Greyhawk, various PC/NPC character classes and spells in fanzines, as well as the whole of the Suel Pantheon for the published Greyhawk campaign. Your contributions to the game via "Leomund's Tiny Hut" were also quite extensive. What do you consider your most valuable additions to the game, and why?

Actually it's something that didn't happen. In the orginal AD&D manuscript (typed double space -- about 800 pages or so) Gary had said that if a person was held (via hold person) he/she had to make a system shock roll! I said to Gary that this would become a "Little Finger of Death." Certainly many NPCs as well as a few characters would have a Constitution score of 14 or lower. A system shock would kill quite a few folks. Since hold person is a 2nd-level cleric spell and 3rd-level magic-user spell, those spell casters needed very little experience to gain access to the prayer/spell. A gaggle of four 3rd-level clerics all throwing hold person at once on the same person would have a very high chance of not only holding him but killing him/her as well. I talked Gary out of it.

15. Given the vast number of rules expansions and additions that you created over the years, can you please describe how your D&D games evolved from when you first discovered the game, and then through your correspondence with Gary, into writing for TSR? Were you playing a proto-AD&D in some form, for example, or were your games always very OD&D-based (or Holmes Basic based, etc.)? Did you regularly use variant rules like spell points, or other variant sub-systems of your own creation?

I stuck to D&D which became AD&D. I wrote quite a few pages that ended up in the Players Handbook and DMG, with Gary inspecting each and tweaking it, as was his wont. As I played D&D, I discovered so many things that were not really explained. How did you get trained for a new level being one of those.

I was at the playtesting of Chainmail (without the fantasy supplement). TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) became the parent of the D&D booklets with time. I played the fantasy supplement of Chainmail on Gary's sand table. It was a simple developement to take it to pen & pencil.

16. From your perspective as one of the key originators and developers of the AD&D system, what words of wisdom would you share with the Old School Renaissance readers, tinkerers, designers, and publishers: words that would speak to your vision for the best possible legacy for D&D?

Well I was there at the beginning but I was not in Lake Geneva. So I had some influence but not a tremendous amount. I got my finger in the pie and no one bit it off. I got a lot of freedom in Dragon. For some number of years I put my stuff in. How much went into later editions or other people's games I have no way of telling. Now and then I hear someone tell me they used this and that but the vast majority of readers never said anything.So who knows?

17. Are you still active in the hobby today?

I have written modules "L4 and L5" and await publication from Dragonsfoot. I will begin L6 once L4 sees actual print. I do not play in any campaign at the moment.


  1. Whoa, so Hold Person was very deadly in it's original form? Interesting. I guess it was something of a "Hold Heart" spell at that point.

    Neat bit of trivia!

  2. Hmmm, Hold Heart!
    I like it, a fine fine Necromantic school spell, one level below Finger of Death to work on corporeal humanoids.

    I got your beating heart in my fist! You move, you die!!!

    More significantly, this shows that there WAS game balance in AD&D, just not in the form of later editions or the Companion/Master set DMs book.

    With reagrds to leveling up, I always said that characters must find books/teachers/organisations, who would train them, accept them, and accord a higher level in exchange for gold or services rendered (thus requiring quite a bit of role playing outside adventuring to attend to their character development). I went as far as to have higher hit points and iproved combat abilities accorded ina separate process fro magical learning or class based skills: All charcaters can have a fencing isntructor drill them for battle. In a tight situation between two adventures, a second level thief and wizard were able to get higher HP buy spending five days with their fencing instructor, but had to wait for the adventure to end to study the new spell and to imrove thieves abilities (abiout 2-3 weeks to level up to scond).

  3. Brooze . . .
    fencing is a martial art??
    I understand what you meant,
    but Sword master or weapons expert would be more appropriate for training

    Fencing is a SPORT that involves a flimsy prop that is incapable of stopping a blow from a real sword, mace or baseball bat . . . If you were to apply the parries learned in fencing against a real weapon (claymore?); you would die.

  4. As I played D&D, I discovered so many things that were not really explained.

    This builds on my belief that AD&D is one possible House Rules doc for D&D. It's Gary's D&D, but it doesn't have to be yours.

  5. clovis: yes, fencing is a martial art. one may speak of broadsword fencing as well as Olympic fencing (which is mostly what you are thinking of, and which derives mostly from smallsword fencing), or spear fencing, or bayonet fencing. the word derives from "The Art of Defence", which was the normal term used in England for any body of hand-to-hand martial technique up into the 18th century (though by that late date, for whatever reason, wrestling was not normally included, being thought of entirely separately, though it was certainly considered to be part of the Art in the late 16th century).

  6. Clove,
    FENCING started in Germany in 13th-14th Century. It was known as FECHTSPIEL (fencing play). It was the art of fighting with Two-Handed swords, using all parts of the sword as weapons for all types of strikes. Pummel blow to the side of the head. People who taught squires to fight with these swords were known as fencing masters. At that time it also started being practiced as SPORT, when the fencing masters and others would duel each other with two handed swords dressed only in their UNDERSHIRTS (no armor).

    So yeah, it was a fencing master who was teaching the players survival skills in a dungeon melee.

    BTW, there were also fencing schools (involving swords used at the time) in Italy and in Spain and an argment as to who and when started the tradition that became later known as fencing, but I was talkign about the fechtspiel involving two handed swords.


  7. " In the orginal AD&D manuscript (typed double space -- about 800 pages or so)" - WHOA. Maybe that's just the PHB, MM, and DMG with some minor editing, but it sounds like some other changes occurred along the way. I wonder if any of this material still exists.

  8. Clovis, to belabor the point a little further, most sport fencing techniques (aside from a few adapted purely to the current rules and “weapons”) are directly taken or adapted from actual smallsword dueling skills, smallsword v. smallsword. But hundreds of years ago it was much more common for fencing schools to teach you how to fight other weapons. Read The Three Musketeers, or (even though it’s fantasy) Stephen Brust’s The Phoenix Guard. Of course you don’t really parry a claymore with a smallsword. You step out of reach or stop-thrust the bugger. Check out Tim Roth’s duel scenes in Rob Roy sometime. I’ve fought rapier v. claymore with padded weapons. If the guy with the claymore got his angular momentum properly working, there was no way I could parry. But if I slashed his arms or thrust to his neck or torso while his sword was to one side (at either end of his swing), he was meat.