Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Lankhmar Lore --found

So, thanks to Jeff G's comment on my previous Lankhmar post, I now know where a lot of the questions I had can be answered. Jeff pointed me towards a string of articles about the LANKHMAR Game that had appeared in DRAGON Magazine in late 1979/early 1980.

In all there were seven pieces in this series, all of them written by Dr. Frederick MacKnight:*

DRAGON #30.  p.16-17 (Oct 1979)

DRAGON #31. p.32-34 (Nov 1979)

DRAGON #33. p.12-15 (Jan 1980)

DRAGON #34. p.32-33 (Feb 1980)

DRAGON #36. p.46-47 (Apr 19800

DRAGON #37. p.31-32 (May 1980)

DRAGON #38. p.44-45 (June 1980)


MacKnight's claim to fame is that he was the person who introduced Fischer to Leiber. He also played the original version with Fischer and Leiber and can (and does) describe it in exhaustive detail. Unfortunately he rather confusingly describes and discusses the original game ('LANKMAR'), the new game ('LANKHMAR'), and his own proposed re-design of many features of both. Here's what MacKnight has to say (emphasis mine):

I am one of the few people ever to have played the original game of Lankhmar

other than its original authors, Harry Fischer, Fritz Leiber, and Martha Fischer

There was also Prof. Lawrence (Larry) Howe of the University of Louisville,

and that is all. Harry owned the board and hadn't had many games-minded

friends since college days.

Perhaps the most interesting thing here is learning that Martha Fischer played a crucial role. Indeed, she created the map board, which had a 3D element to its terrain. MacKnight says he was Ningauble and suggests that Martha F. was Sheelba (Leiber and Fischer were Fafhrd and The Mouser, of course). And apparently there was a good deal of roleplaying when the characters came into conflict.

Playing the game took a major time investment of several days --at least a weekend. But in MacKnight's opinion it was more than worth it:

I played the game only three or four times but it was enough to convince me

that it was the greatest, most fascinating game ever invented by man.

In addition, we learn some worthwhile misc. facts:

That the board was six feet tall and three feet wide.

That the map was oriented North / South, unlike TSR's East / West, which had created blank areas that Gygax et al had filled with inserted place-names of their own devising. 

Each square was 1&1/2 inches across. 

The landbridge was twice as wide in the original. 

As for the War Cat, MacKnight sheds light on this when he groups it with mounts:

The beasts are horses and camels. In [the original game] these were represented

 by checkers: black for horses, red for camels. There was also the War Cat, 

represented by a furry button. In [the new game] the War Cat plays no 

active role. He must be too old now too leave his lair!

I admit to being curious whether the original survives and if so where it is now. We know the board was in Fischer's keeping, and that it must have survived intact down to the mid-1970s, when Gygax et al must have borrowed it to work from when creating their stripped down version. The chief reason given by Gygax for not publishing the original game as is was simply cost: the game wd have to be priced at fifty to a hundred dollars, in a day when the EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE box was considered extravagantly expensive at twenty-five dollars.

Nowdays, of course, things are different. A deluxe Kickstarter might well have a good chance of getting funded, assuming the original survives to serve as the template.

--John R.

*MacKnight's first name is given variously as Franklin and Frederick; I'm not sure which is right.

Coda: Fafhrd's Dilemma

Before moving on, I wanted to mention the seventh and last of the pieces MacKnight inflicted on DUNGEON editor Tim Kask, which was unlike the rest in that it was a logic puzzle. Here's a quick summary:

Fafhrd is in a death trap. 

The Gray Mouser has five minutes to disable the trap and free him. 

The person to whom the puzzle is posed asks questions 

to create the scene and reveal what to do to save his partner.



David Bratman said...

I've found references in a couple articles by Leiber ("How I Grew Up to Write Horror Stories," Fantasy Newsletter 57, 1983; "Lovecraft in My Life," Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark, Wildside Press, 2003) that say the name was Franklin, as well as several other sources, so that would appear to be definitive ... yet could Leiber have misremembered in later years? On the other hand, should one trust a magazine from a publisher which, as you noted, consistently gave credits in the original D&D to a writer called "Tolkein"? Or could he have changed his name?

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David

Thanks for establishing that FRANKLIN is v. probably the name.

The by-line for his pieces in DRAGON vary between Franklin, Frederick, and F. C., with the initials being the most common.

I'm inclined to blame the magazine's editor (who usually did a better job than that) for the glitch.

--John R