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by Dr. Franklin C. MacKnight

F. C. MacKnight is a Ph.D, Professor Emeritus from the State University of New York and happens to have had the rare privilege of having been friends with Fritz Leiber and Harry Fischer for many many years. The three of them go back together to before the first prototype of Lankhmar. The author is in the enviable position of having been around for the birth of the entire Nehwon cycle, and so can offer some rare insights. MacKnight introduced Harry Fischer and Fritz Leiber to each other as young men and was intimately involved with development of the original game from which the present-day version of LANKHMAR sprang. —ED.

I: The Formative Years of “Fafhrd” and “The Mouser”

The Dragon #30, October, 1979, Vol. IV, No. 4, pp. 16–17 • This is the first of two parts. The second part will appear in an upcoming DRAGON. —ED.

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.

It wasn’t the casual sort of contest that one could dash off like a game of backgammon or even chess. Lankhmar couldn’t be finished in a few hours. It was difficult to finish it in a few days! At least a weekend was needed unless one played an abbreviated version involving only two cities and two players (or two partnerships). I played the game only three or four times but that was enough to convince me that it was the greatest, most fascinating game ever invented by man. And, unlike chess, that noblest of board games which had an evolution over centuries, Lankhmar sprang directly from the minds of Harry and Fritz, aided by a map of Lankhmar done by Martha. Now Lankhmar has undergone a mutation to adapt it to the habits of wargame players and to become commercially viable.

Lankhmar wasn’t just a game, it was an adventure. The pieces were not mere abstractions, but heroes with personalities with which one identified. It provided an esthetic thrill unequaled in my experience in any other game anywhere.

What I wish to do in this article is to explain how the game was originally played and how the new board can be adapted to the original game if one wishes.

I feel that I have a duty in this. Though I am not one of the game’s authors, I am indirectly responsible for it. The game came about as a development of the Lankhmar Mythos in its early pre-publication days. And I am also indirectly responsible for the Mythos itself. If Fritz Leiber and Harry Fischer are the “parents” of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the people without whom the pair would never have been invented, I might be considered a “grandparent” since I am responsible for the meeting of Fritz Leiber and Harry Fischer. Without me there would have been no Fafhrd, no Grey Mouser, no Lankhmar. I am the “mutual friend” mentioned by Moskowitz in his chapter on Leiber in Seekers of Tomorrow (p. 216), who introduced them. But for me they would never have met (or, there is no reason to believe they would have). So, as a prelude to the description of the Lankhmar game it might be of interest to tell how this came about.

* * *

When Harry Otto Fischer entered Louisville Male High School as a freshman, he was known to everyone because he was so spectacularly small. A year accelerated in school, he was far below normal stature even for his age group. He would sit on the laps of football players on the streetcar and became the center of attention-a curiosity because of his size and personality. Harry not only looked like Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy but had a similarly extroverted temperament and wit. The famous puppet could have been copied from him!

Harry never felt any disadvantage or had any feelings of inferiority because of his size. Quite the contrary, he was proud of being small because it got him attention. He never got over this feeling of superiority even though eventually as an adult he attained the not-unusual height of 5′2″.

Harry was in the class of 1927 but ahead of the class in some subjects. I was in the class of 1926¹⁄₂ and our paths never crossed until we met in English 6 and 7 where we spent a year under the tutelage of Mr. H. B. Calpha. I was as recessive socially as Harry was aggressive, but we had a mutual friend through whom Harry learned I had a fine collection of Weird Tales and Edgar Rice Burroughs books, so Harry took it upon himself to cultivate me in the hope of being able to borrow books. He didn’t succeed in this since I was reared in the tradition of “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” In spite of this barrier, by the end of the school year we had become as thick as thieves, and spent the next summer in close contact. Though everyone knew Harry, and Harry knew everyone of any consequence, he had few close friends, and I became the principal of these. Our association persisted and strengthened throughout our senior year and two years of college at the University of Louisville.

Having grown nearly a foot since he entered high school, Harry was no longer a curiosity in college, though he may have been the shortest freshman. He lived an active social life with professors and fellow students; played bridge and chess at the student cafe. But there was also an inner coterie of Harry and me plus a few others who were particularly close.

Harry was an extremely imaginative person; he had ability in English and science but his weakness was mathematics. Like many of high intelligence and imagination he spent time in omnivorous reading that would normally be spent in study.

He got through two years at the University of Louisville and had made the tentative decision to become a botanist, but he dropped out quickly in his third year. It was the fall of 1929. I had quit the U. of Louisville and entered the University of Chicago. Perhaps it was the absence of my “steadying” influence, but I think it would have happened anyway.

Many, if not most, people drop out of college not because of intellectual disability but because their creativity has been stifled too long. They get tired of absorbing; they want to put it out instead of taking it in. They want to be physically and mentally active. Such it was with Harry (though the beginning of the depression was not a good time to make the decision to “go to work”!).

Whatever influence I had on Harry or he on me was probably limited to our cultural, literary, esthetic and philosophical environment. Through me he became acquainted with Weird Tales, M. R. James and science fiction. Through him I learned of Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen and James Branch Cabell. And we both owed much to our mutual friend, the learned Bernard (Barney) Newburg (later my class valedictorian), who introduced us both to Sax Rohmer, Talbot Munday and others. Also influencing us with his literary knowledge was Benedict Johnstone, who worked at the Louisville Public Library and had an enormous knowledge of its resources. He helped us both get jobs there when we were seniors in high school. There is nothing like stack-browsing to broaden one’s horizons!

* * *

And now to Fritz. We met at the University of Chicago when I entered there in 1929. He then often signed himself Fritz Richmond Leiber to avoid being Fritz Leiber Jr. (He had been given no middle name.) “Henry Richmond” was his alias used in billing in Fritz Leiber Sr.’s Shakespearean performances. Fritz could play adult parts at an early age because of his above-average height and had joined the touring company during summers.

It would seem that Fritz and I were destined to meet. Look at this set of coincidences:

We were both Psychology majors.

The normal load at Chicago was three courses per quarter. We were together in two of our three, Calculus II and pre-med Physiology. (Physiology was a requisite for psych majors, but I think he and I were the only ones to be taking calculus.)

We both entered the chess tournament and were both chosen to play on the University team.

Most improbable of all was that somehow we had been assigned adjacent seats at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts; particularly improbable since he had ordered his tickets in Chicago and I by mail from Louisville.

Despite all this going for our acquaintance, it took five or six weeks and two symphony concerts before we ever got on speaking terms. We were both that socially reticent. Then it happened in a hurry. It was the first chess match, and at the celebration thereafter at the team captain’s apartment, general conversation somehow revealed that he and I seemed to have read the same things of a non-academic nature, particularly Sax Rohmer and science fiction. After this meeting of minds, Fritz and I became fast friends and intimates. Fritz, it seemed, had never met anyone who had similar tastes: He had lived in a sort of intellectual vacuum.

It was during Spring Vacation time (March 1930) that Harry, who had just quit the academic grind, came to Chicago to visit me. Knowing from my description of Harry that here was another person of his own intellectual tastes, Fritz had none of his usual reserve, and he and Harry hit it off immediately. During that visit of about a week, I think Harry saw as much of Fritz as of me. After he returned to Louisville his correspondence with Fritz started. Fritz accepted Harry because he was a kindred spirit, and he reacted favorably to Harry’s outgoing charm. Harry was attracted to Fritz’s intellectual stature, his personal charm, the glamor of his theatrical experience, and, not least, his height of 6′4″.

It was that last aspect that started the Mythos. Fafhrd and the Mouser were the apotheosis of the big man and the small man in team.

The Grey Mouser represented Harry, idealizing himself, but not too much. Harry was not only mentally like the Mouser, but was physically wiry, quick, and strong (far stronger than I), though he excelled in no particular sport. Fencing he learned from me after my first year at the U. of Chicago, but he never competed. With time and practice I think he could have been as good a swordsman as the Mouser himself!

Fafhrd was the idealization of the big man, with Fritz as a physical model: strong, wily, brave, Nordic or Norse, with all the fighting ability of the epic hero. That wasn’t the real Fritz by a long shot; his strong points at that phase of his life were in the mental rather than the physical sphere. Fritz was of gigantic intelligence, and when I first met him in his sophomore year at college, he had a perfect academic record. He continued close to perfect throughout his college career and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year.

Temperamentally, he was a far cry from the roistering and belligerent Fafhrd. I think Fritz’s introversion and socially reticent attitude may have been a reaction to the overpowering extroversion of both his father and mother. But as a trained actor, Fritz could disguise his normal reserve successfully when the occasion demanded.

I think Harry had an important effect on Fritz in that he nearly forced him to become a writer by answering Harry’s formidably long letters, responding fiction with fiction, fantasy with fantasy, and character sketch with character sketch in their correspondence. Fritz’s identification with Fafhrd may have had some personal effect in modifying his self-image to a slight extent. And I think the Lankhmar epic may be Fritz’s greatest claim to permanent literary fame, though by no means the only. Some may say that his masterpieces are non-Lankhmar works (e.g. Conjure Wife). Probably Fritz’s literary style itself owes much to Harry’s influence.

My own influence on Fritz is indirect and is mainly that but for me he wouldn’t have known Harry, who may have been the most important influence in his life. But there are two other indirect influences.

I introduced Fritz to Lovecraft and Weird Tales. In the early ’30s there were no Lovecraft fans outside the readership of Weird Tales.

And I was instrumental in Fritz’s knowledge of fencing. When I met him he was a tennis enthusiast and had spent his physical-education credits at Chicago in that sport. He was, I believe, very competent but not expert or “varsity” caliber. My enthusiasm for fencing caused him to switch his last two P.E. credits to that noble sport. Like me, he also became a student of fencing lore, history and theoretical tactics. Like many large men, he was temperamentally a defensive fighter, and as in many other sports the attacker has the advantage in fencing. Nevertheless, Fritz did win a few medals in league competition and probably ranks higher as a fencer than as a tennis player. As a writer of swordplay, Leiber is the most competent I know of because of his personal experience and historical study.

* * *

The background of Lankhmar locale is, I think, rooted in the northern European epics, the works of Robert F. Howard and Lord Dunsany, plus the general effect of the various Edgar Rice Burroughs sagas. It is of interest that the name was originally spelled Lahkmar. by Harry and is so spelled on the early maps by Martha. On one of these sent to Fritz, the “h” in Lahkmar was constructed with a fancy slant making it look much like an “n”. This confusion may have caused Fritz in his first story to spell the name with an additional “n” and a misplaced “h”. (Fritz says the change of spelling was not deliberate.)

The original mythos also contained other subsidiary characters (Pulgh and Movarl are now immortalized in the published game), most important of whom were the mysterious magicians and semi-deities Ningauble and Sheelba, who figured more prominently in Harry’s conception than in the early stories by Fritz. Ningauble was (originally, at least) pronounced NING-ga-BULL, with accents primarily on the first syllable and secondarily on the last. If the spelling “Ningauble” doesn’t properly reflect this, I understand it is Harry’s fault: He, not Fritz, originated that spelling. It looks as if it should be pronounced Nin-GAW-ble.

Early in the days of the saga I asked Harry, “If you are Mouser and Fritz is Fafhrd, how do I fit in?’

“You are Ningauble,” he replied, probably just to satisfy me! (He might have said, “What makes you think you should be in it?”) I always assumed that Sheelba represented Martha, but I don’t recall any statement to that effect. It was quite a shock to Harry and me to find that Fritz had made Sheelba’s gender masculine when she-he (or it) eventually entered the written record (Sword of Lankhmar). Fritz had always attributed masculinity to “Sheelba of the Eyeless Face” and was surprised to learn otherwise after the book was printed!

II: The Original Game and What It Became

The Dragon #31, November, 1979, Vol. IV, No. 5, pp. 32–34 • Part 2 of Prof. MacKnight’s story deals with the differences between the two versions of the game. —ED.

In discussing differences between LANKHMAR and the original game from which it was adapted, it may be necessary to start with a few words for the benefit of any readers who are unacquainted with LANKHMAR, as produced by TSR Games in 1976.

There are four main Citadels (Lankhmar, Kvarch Nar, the Mingols and the King of Kings), each of which is commanded by one of the players of the game, plus two minor citadels of mercenaries that occasionally enter the contest, aiding one of the main citadels in their struggle.

Each major citadel has a force of eight warriors and one “hero” with super powers. There are weapons, horses, camels and boats for transportation. A citadel is lost when it is overmanned by an opponent.

This is the basic set-up for the TSR game and the original. Of necessity, there are differences, and these are now to be elucidated. In the following discussion, the new game will be referred to as LANKHMAR, while the original game will be designated as LAHKMAR, which was its name when originated, predating the first publication of the Fafhrd and Mouser stories in 1939 when the name Lankhmar first appeared in print. This may cause some confusion, but seems better to me than repetitious referrals to the old and the new game. The city or citadel itself will be referred to as Lankhmar, after the precedent set by Leiber in his stories.

The Board

The original LAHKMAR board was about five feet long and two and a half feet wide. It was constructed from several layers of corrugated paper and was colored according to type of terrain. It was three-dimensional, in that the land was one layer above the water, and the steppes were one layer above the surrounding lands. The Sinking Land was a separate block of paper that could be removed every ten turns and replaced after the same interval. (A simpler solution than having a space beneath into which it could sink below sea level!)

In LANKHMAR, mountains, water, and other terrain distinctions are merely indicated by color, as is necessary in a commercial product. LANKHMAR is arranged as a conventional map with South at the bottom, with compass points there to emphasize it. The “Sea of the East” seems a misnomer, being at the south of the map, but it is understandable in that it is east of Lankhmar City.

In LAHKMAR, orientation is less clear in that the long axis of the board was the N-S axis, so that the ratio of NS to EW is 2 to 1, whereas in LANKHMAR the same ratio is 7 to 8. Thus the original topography has been much squeezed in the NS axis and greatly expanded EW, though the relative positions of the principal features and citadels are unchanged.

The only feature of LAHKMAR eliminated in LANKHMAR is the great extent of the “Cold Wastes” at the north. A bit of it remains in the NE corner of the map, the white (ice) terrain. The home of the Northern Mercenaries was at the extreme north end of the LAHKMAR board in the Cold Wastes, the extent of which had the function of keeping them at a proper distance from both the Mingols and Kvarch Nar, as well as offering an alternate battleground between those two citadels. In LANKHMAR the Northern Mercenaries are located in the forest south of the Trollstep Mountains and dangerously close to Kvarch Nar if the mercenaries should chance to be allied to a citadel hostile to Kvarch Nar.

The NS constriction of LANKHMAR also lessens the distance between the King of Kings and the Mingol Citadels, and that between Lankhmar Citadel and the Quarmal mercenaries in the SE sector.

The EW expansion of LANKHMAR allowed some new features not present in LAHKMAR to be added. These are the Frozen Sea, the Claws, the Sea of Monsters, the City of Ghouls, the Lake of Pleea and its canal, the SE extension of the Outer Sea, an extension of the Quarmal Barrens desert (unnamed in LAHKMAR), a new forest near Quarmal, and some islands in the Inner Sea. Minor locations adorning the new map, not present in LAHKMAR, are Earth’s End, No Ombrulsk, Ool Hrusp, Klelg Nar, Sarheenmar, and Ilthmar. Unnamed mountains also acquire names on the new map. Some of these places have no obvious function, but can be used in optional Geases and Rewards.

The Sinking Land is but a narrow isthmus in LANKHMAR, and must serve as a mere passageway. In LAHKMAR it was a more sizable area two to four squares wide, allowing plenty of room for combat on it. I found it puzzling that Harry and Fritz did not consider it to be swampy when out of water, but they classified it as normal terrain, possibly thinking of it as bare rock. (The Sinking Land is obviously some rare, natural periodic subsidence rather than a result of periodic drought.)

In LAHKMAR the Cave of Ningauble lies well off the probable campaign routes in the region now named the Mountains of the Elder Ones, which is good for those who come to collect rewards for successful completion of geases. In LANKHMAR, Ningauble’s Cave lies too close to the approach to Lankhmar for anyone’s comfort, Sheelba’s Hut borders the Inner Sea and the Sinking Land in both games.

The Citadel of the King of Kings is located in Normal terrain in LANKHMAR. In LAHKMAR it was entirely surrounded by the desert that occupies the entire eastern quadrant of the board. (When I played LAHKMAR, this citadel was called the City of the East. “King of Kings” was an alternate name I didn’t even remember, though it was on the early maps. It seems to have the implication that its ruler considered himself as higher than other kings who were subordinate to him, an attitude which might easily lead to war-as one can easily imagine! “King of Kings” also has modem religious connotations which may be thought undesirable. I prefer “City of the East” for this Citadel.)

In LANKHMAR each major citadel comprises nine hexagonal spaces. Those of LAHKMAR had sixteen square spaces which allowed more room for fighting within the citadel, but that wasn’t the reason for the size. Originally Harry and Fritz tried out using sixteen men for each citadel force, but this number proved so unwieldy that it was reduced to eight plus the hero.

The original LAHKMAR used conventional squares, which worked out well enough. The modem use of hexagons is theoretically preferable but I don’t think it was really necessary in this game.

Not that I am opposed to hexagons; I was a pioneer in their use. Back in 1936 Lawrence L. (Larry) Howe and I, while students at the University of Chicago graduate school, invented a naval warfare game which used hexagons (board constructed by Larry) as well as dice for effectiveness of fire, which seems to have been years ahead of its time. But in the case of warfare on the Inner Sea, the square units and rectangular boats made for very interesting maneuvering. Repeatedly Harry would outmaneuver me on the water. He seemed to be able to get closer to me than I was to him, a tactic advocated by the 17th-century Spanish swordsman Narvaez as the proper way to gain advantage in a duel! But this necessitated the slower motions of the LAHKMAR game.

The Men and Their Moves

In LAHKMAR the pieces were corks. Those of the heroes had a diameter equal to the side of the square; the others were the next smaller size cork. (Not being sure of the exact size of the squares, I can’t be more specific.) The corks were colored to distinguish their affiliation. The weapons were pins, toothpicks or anything that could easily be stuck into a cork.

In LANKHMAR the pieces and weapons are squares of cardboard, a weapon being stacked atop its wielder. It is my experience that this arrangement is very difficult to handle because of their small size, and it is my recommendation that small corks be substituted in this game too. ⁵⁄₈-inch corks will fit the hexagonals and could be used for heroes, with half-inch corks for the other warriors. Pins with varying heads and toothpick points can be used for the various weapons. The corks can be glued to the regular cardboard square, to make a firmer base for the cork.

The weapons are the same in both games: swords, spears, axes, bows (and arrows), and a sling for Mouser.

There are also boats, large and small, in both games. The small boats hold one man plus his weapons; the large boats two men, or one man and one beast.

The beasts are horses and camels. In LAHKMAR these were represented by checkers; black for horses, red for camels. There was also the War Cat, represented by a furry button. In LANKHMAR the War Cat plays no active role. He must be too old now to leave his lair!

The moves and capture methods in LAHKMAR are simple. The ordinary warrior moves one space in any direction; the hero, two. Wounded warrior is immobile; wounded hero moves one space. Horse goes two spaces but may not move on desert, marsh or forest. Camels move three spaces on desert only. (I never knew the reason for this advantage in speed on the desert.)

To attack occupies a move. A player may not attack and move simultaneously. All men on a side may move at the same turn.

The weapon ranges: Sword kills an opponent on adjacent square, spear or ax kills at two, arrow or sling wounds at three. Two wounds kill a warrior, three wounds kill a hero.

Note the implication of this. If a man moves within weapon range of an opponent, he may not attack till the next move, by which time he may be slain by that opponent. But in this case the opponent may not move and is subject to attack by any enemy in range. Thus one does not approach an opponent without a back-up and a willingness to trade one for one. All of this requires a different strategy than in the new game.

In LANKHMAR a move consists of the utilization of so many points; six for a warrior, nine for a hero, twelve if either are mounted, and fifteen for boats with occupants. If all these are used in moving, speedy travel will be accomplished in normal terrain and steppes, but movement costs more points in the other terrains. The Movement Points are also expended in attacking, changing weapons from what is “at hand,” mounting or dismounting, embarking or disembarking. Defense against attack does not consume MPs. All this makes for a great complexity that only wargame players are accustomed to, and there isn’t any easy way to explain it further except to refer to the LANKHMAR Game Manual.

The range of the weapons is the same in both games with these weapons. In LANKHMAR a sword can kill with one space between adversaries. (How this is supposed to happen I don’t know. Is the sword thrown?) And the arrow is not regarded as potent if the adversay is adjacent. In LAHKMAR that doesn’t matter. Presumably the arrow would gain in accuracy what it would lose in force. Perhaps it should also be explained that (in both games) the spear and ax are supposed to be thrown when they are used at a distance of two spaces. In LAHKMAR, this involves the loss of the weapon which must be retrieved before being used again.

The Geases

The Geas is, as I understand it, a sort of religious quest—religious in that it usually has some divine force behind it, in that the one who is “under” the Geas feels compelled to carry out the quest with single-minded intensity and despite any obstacle, and can concern himself with nothing else until the Geas is accomplished.

The Geases are much the same in both games. The prevalent religion compels the inhabitants of Nehwon to submit to the irrational whims of two semi-deities (one isn’t sure if Ningauble and Sheelba-of-the-Eyeless-Face are truly divine or merely very old and powerful sorcerers). They demand that some warrior must make some utterly insignificant journey to accomplish some trivial task, the accomplishment of which allows the successful supplicant a reward after he has reported to Sheelba or Ningauble, whichever commanded the Geas, at their lair.

The reward is seldom worth the effort put into the Geas, but such are the uncertainties of religion. (In LAHKMAR I recall one reward that specified the miraculous appearance of three arrows and one camel in your citadel. The camel was useless unless the citadel was that of the King of Kings, and there never seemed to be any bowman about to use the arrows!)

The rapid movement of men when unconcerned about attack will help the success of a Geas in LANKHMAR and even allows the possibility of a Geasman making a trip to a mercenary citadel to pick up some aid from them. And the new additions to the fighting force actually make it to the fight! But in LAHKMAR, such a trip would take so long that the services of the mercenaries would probably be unneeded by the time they arrived at a position to do any good. Hence, it was never specified in LAHKMAR that the Geasman had to personally summon the mercenaries. They were alerted magically by Ningauble or Sheelba.

In LANKHMAR the acquisition of mercenaries by reward is permanent. In LAHKMAR it was a temporary arrangement. One got to use them for 10 moves, which was one of the exasperations of the game. At the end of that last turn, the mercenary forces became stationary until they were again allotted to someone by reward, in which case they would fight again, usually against the force to which they formerly owed allegiance! They might be placed so that they could quickly take the fortress that they had previously been defending.

Some of the rewards in LANKHMAR allow a claimer to have free access to an enemy citadel if he is collecting the reward from that citadel. When he arrives within four spaces of its walls he becomes inviolate, until he collects the reward and leaves, which he must do immediately. After he is four spaces away he can be slaughtered and the booty kept by the citadel he collected it from! The old LAHKMAR had a lot of dubious and idiotic rewards, but it didn’t have one that almost surely involved the demise of the rewardee with material advantage to the enemy! I would say that this kind of Geas would be against the principles of the earlier game. A Geasman was fair game any time, but he wasn’t asked to walk into a death trap like that, nor would a citadel be subjected to the indignity of having an enemy walk freely in to receive a gift even though he would have trouble leaving with it.

If a Geasman is slain in the line of duty, a new man must take his place in LAHKMAR. This seems to be optional in LANKHMAR. The Geas may be cancelled or another Geas may be substituted if a Geas was regarded as impossible.

Examples of impossible Geases are mentioned in the LANKHMAR manual as “if the Mingol player is commanded to venture to Earth’s End and he has no boats and the Sinking Land is submerged (or will submerge before he can cross).” In LAHKMAR that would be regarded as no excuse. If he had no boat it was up to him to get one or use the Sinking Land. If the land sinks, he sinks with it if he can’t get off, and if it is going to sink he will wait it out Ningauble and Sheelba didn’t accept feeble excuses like that!

A word about Quarmall. In LANKHMAR the Quarmall mercenaries are depicted as mere soldiers. The Quarmallians were magicians, and I always imagined them as going forth in their robes and peaked hats while carrying other weapons. When they were killed they were immediately reincarnated back at their fortress and could start out again! However, the Quarmall fortress was so far from the “action” (on the old board with its great N-S extent) that at their rate of travel they seldom got anywhere in time to be useful except against the Citadel of Lankhmar. If they were in the service of Lankhmar, they would get as far as the Sinking Land before their obligation was over. When that happened they would be left to drown there so that they could not be used by an enemy if he got hold of them by a reward. The Quarmallians didn’t mind. They preferred to be reincarnated in good old Quarmall and get happily back to their researches on new spells with their retorts and alembics, mummy dust and dragon scales, amber and lodestones!

But if the Quarmallians were magicians, why should they bother to use weapons? Why not just use an immobilizing spell when they get in distance of their opponents? Ethics of warfare, I imagine. But they may have propelled their weapons by magical means to attain equality of skill with their expert adversaries. And there was a theory that they never actually left Quarmall: They merely made a simulacrum that they sent out in their stead, meanwhile managing it by remote control back at Quarmall!

How about the Northern Mercenaries, those bearded ax-swinging Vikings? Unfortunately, none of the games I participated in ever had their card drawn, so that I never experienced the problems of dealing with them. But they were far enough from Mingol and Kvarch Nar to give their “aid” the same dubious quality as that of the Sorcerers of Quarmall. Did the Norsemen stay quietly on their squares when their time was up, waiting for another to take command? I have a vague memory that they were supposed to start home. Certainly it wouldn’t have been in keeping with their character to remain on and go down with the Sinking Land unless they were fighting at the time in someone’s service. Released from service at the expiration of their allotted time, they wouldn’t have passively remained there. They wouldn’t mind dying while fighting because then they would be transferred forthwith to Nehwon’s Valhalla, but no Norseman wants to die with an idle ax! As for the Sinking Land, the Norsemen were so far from it to start with, their service time span so short, and the probability of having several service periods during a game so slight that one might play LAHKMAR a year and never have them reach the Sinking Land. In LANKHMAR they could reach the Sinking Land easily, but the problem doesn’t arise because they are bonded to a citadel for the duration of the game.

It is also possible in LANKHMAR for mercenaries of the same kind to be on opposite sides of the fight, since rewards of one or two mercenaries can be awarded to different citadels. There is no provision for marking these men differently. Using corks, it is easy to devise something. A colored thread on a needle might serve as a banner showing the cause to which he is bound.

In LANKHMAR some Geases may be rewarded without the necessity of reporting in to Sheelba or Ningauble, and some Geases do not specify for whom the service is performed. Not so in LAHKMAR. All Geasmen must always report to whomever gave the Geas, and that was always known. But we don’t remember how, it was known! I think that each player alternated his Geases between Sheelba and Ningauble. How was this supposedly handled? Bach citadel may have had a priest or soothsayer who was in telepathic communication with the demi-gods.

[The final installment will discuss a way to change the rules to play the original game on the LANKHMAR board, make some suggestions to improve the new game (continuing to use the combat tables) and some attractive compromises.]

III: Converting the New Game into the Old Lahkmar

The Dragon #33, January, 1980, Vol. IV, No. 7, pp. 12–15 • This is the third of five parts. —ED.

The Board

Whereas the board may be used as is, I have these recommendations to increase similarity to the original.

  1. Move Ningauble’s cave to a more inaccessible place. I suggest the north slope of the Mountains of the Elder Ones south of the Sea of Monsters. Any of these spaces would do. Sheelba’s hut is also centrally located, but so it was in the original game. (The position on the Sinking Land renders it less so than it seems, and it is usually best approached by sea.)
  2. Expand the Sinking Land area by about 20 spaces, for reasons stated previously.
  3. I think that the position of the Northern Mercenaries’ Fortress is too close to Kvarch Nar for comfort. It might be better placed on the other side of the Trollstep Mountains about midway to the Mingol stronghold to be equally embarrassing to both the Mingols and Kvarch Nar. This would put it off the board proper and on the white space to the north, but since the fortress itself would be used only as an exit for the Norsemen it wouldn’t matter.

The Pieces

No change, of course, except replacing the cardboard squares with corks as previously described. (⁵⁄₈″ corks for the heroes, ¹⁄₂″ for the warriors.)


It is essential that movement be restricted to a better approximation of the original speed of travel between citadels. I suggest the following rules:

Warriors—2 spaces per turn on Normal terrain, Desert and Steppes. One space in Woods, on Ice and crossing rivers. However, Kvarch Nar warriors go 2 spaces in woods. (This is Harry’s suggestion. Making woods more difficult to travel in than open country was one of the early ideas, I understand, but was abandoned because of the agreement on one square as the ordinary move. It should work better on the new board.) Lankhmar warriors move in the salt marsh at 1 space per turn. Other warriors do not enter the swamps. No warriors cross mountains or go on the seas without a boat.

Heroes—3 spaces per turn on normal terrain, steppes and deserts; 2 on ice and when the move includes a river crossing. Pulgh moves 2 in the salt marsh; other heroes, 1. Fafhrd crosses mountains at 1 space per turn; others do not move on mountains. Mouser swims at 2 spaces per turn; no others swim.

Quarmallians—2 spaces per turn like the warriors. (They could go faster, but they really aren’t interested in getting anywhere faster, swimming or climbing.) Their robes impede them in the forest, but they can travel over the marshes like the Lankhmarians.

Northern Mercenaries likewise move as ordinary warriors, but I think they should be able to move in the mountains and on ice like Fafhrd, who, after all, is also a Northern Mercenary! I do not favor giving them superior forest speed like the men of Kvarch Nar even though their fort lies in the forest on the Lankhmar board as printed. (A temporary camp, perhaps? I prefer their fort to be placed north of the mountains as explained above.)

Animals—Horses move at 4 spaces per turn on normal terrain and steppes. They do not move on other terrains but move in the forests at a rate of 2 when ridden by men of Kvarch Nar only! Camels move at 3 on desert only. (Why may not horses move to some extent on desert, or camels on ordinary terrain? Matter of religion, perhaps. The Gods decree that it be not permitted!) Animals are not killed in battle and are presumed to remain where they are if the rider is slain. Movarl has the power to call loose animals to him, by telepathy one supposes, since the distance might be too great for subsonic whistles to penetrate. In this case the animals start to go to Movarl at 4 spaces per move.

Boats—2 spaces per turn. One man moves the boat. In two-man boats, the second man may attack since he hasn’t moved, technically.

As in the new game, all pieces are moved or fight in one turn, or as many pieces as the player chooses. (This, as far as I know was an innovation when the game was invented, though several games now use this system, I believe.)

If a man uses a weapon, it counts as a move. He cannot both move and fight at the same turn.

The Weapons

Sword—kills at an adjacent square.

Spear—kills at an adjacent square or at a distance of two squares. In that case the spear is taken from its bearer and placed in the space of its erstwhile victim, from which it must be recovered in order to be used again. It may be picked up by anyone who passes through that square next.

Ax—same as spear, but none but Fafhrd and the Northern Mercenaries may use it at two spaces as a throwing weapon.

Arrow—used only by bowman. Wounds at three spaces or less. A wounded man is restricted to the space on which he is hit and there he remains until and unless he is cured by a Reward. (Harry suggests that wounded men be allowed to move one space every other turn, an optional variation to be agreed upon.) The arrow is removed from the cork of the bowman and thrust into the side of the wounded warrior. Two arrows kill a warrior and are left on the square of his demise. (All corpses are removed from the board!) It takes three arrows to kill a hero. A wounded hero moves 1 space at a time. A hero twice wounded is immobile, like a wounded warrior.

The fact that each bowman is allowed only three arrows seems an odd artificiality. A quiver holds quite a supply of arrows; why not allow a dozen or so? I think this rule was for practical reasons of holding the “arrows” on the cork. (The pointed end of toothpicks were used, about ¹⁄₂″ long or less.) In order to make sense of this I always thought of the “bowman” as not using the usual bows, but crossbows, and the arrows as metal bolts, which could explain the limited supply.

Sling—Only the Mouser has a sling. Like the arrow, it wounds at three spaces but it has the advantage of having unlimited ammunition, except on water. While swimming, the Mouser can’t use it, and on the boat he is considered as carrying only two rocks of dangerous weight. Otherwise he is presumed to always be able to find a suitable missile. I think that limiting the number of arrows to the ordinary bowman served the purpose of giving the Mouser an advantage befitting a hero. The advantage limited to land, however, as in boats the warrior-archer may still have three bolts.

Disbursements of Weapons and Other Equipment.

Swords: It is recommended that each warrior and hero of the four citadels wear a sword. In the original game there were 8 swords per citadel to be apportioned as the player prefers, with the result that the hero got one and the Geasman went unarmed, trusting that he would be allowed to pass near possible armed foes in safety.

But every Geasman is a threat to his adversaries in that the reward for a successful Geas may react to their disadvantage and that the dispatching of the Geasman would necessitate another put on the Geas and the loss of an active warrior. Since another Geas must be dealt with every five turns, it would be possible to deplete a force to the point of easy access to the citadel, so it is to the advantage of each player to impede a Geasman of his adversary when it may be done without depleting his own active force. An unarmed Geasman may fall easy victim to anyone who catches him, and surely deserves some defense. In the game of LAHKMAR, the player had a high regard for the safety of his warriors. Indeed they were heroes all, led by a super-hero! It goes against the grain to send a worthy, unarmed man to his death. At least he should require more than one of an enemy force to stop him, thus providing some slight military benefit whilst performing his Geas. And the 8-sword limit is a bit of a mystery anyway. (Steel shortage in Nehwon? Metallurgy a lost art?)

Parenthetically, it should be pointed out that this high regard one has for his own force is not also reflected in his attitude toward the adversary warriors. The minions of the opposing citadels are regarded as vile, degenerate, perverted dastards who delight in pillage, rape and the dismemberment of small children, and who have no more idea of manly honor than a slime-mold. They are blights on the face of Nehwon who should be exterminated without mercy! And to effect such an extermination is the worthiest cause for which one could die!

I recommend that the Norsemen and the Quarmallians receive no swords, not because of a steel shortage but because of their preferences. The Northerners consider swords effeminate. They like a weapon they can really get their back into, the two-handed ax. The Wizards, on the other hand, do not regard the use of swords as properly befitting their dignity. A spear can be defended against with a minimum of personal force and a maximum of magic. And if these fellows are given too many weapons, they would attain the stature of heroes.

Spears: Kvarch-Narians are allotted four spears; hence they have four spearmen who also carry swords. Lankhmarians and Easterners are allotted two spears each. It would be possible to have one man carry two spears, which might be sensible if the number of swords were limited, but there is less reason if all warriors carry swords. The Quarmall magicians each carry a spear, which they probably propel by magic without the necessity of flexing their muscles too much or causing them to assume an undignified posture ill befitting their intellectual stature. No spears for the Mingols or Norsemen!

Bows (or Crossbows, if one prefers): Four bowmen, each with three bolts or arrows to the Mingols. Two bowmen with similar supplies to each Lankhmar and the City of the East. Strangely, the foresters of Kvarch Nar prefer the spear and get no bows, contrary to the tradition of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. If one thinks that they deserve the bows rather than the spears, their equipment may be traded with that of the Mingols.

Why shouldn’t the Mingols be the spearmen? I don’t know why Fritz and Harry arranged it the way they did, but as I recall, Fritz did allow the bow prominence in Mingol warfare in his stories. No bows to Quarmall or the Northerners.

Axes: No axes to anyone but the Northerners and Fafhrd. They like to give the old two-handed swing with a satisfying, crunching meat-ax thud!

Sling: No one but the Mouser uses this. If Mouser perishes there is no value in picking this up because no one else has the expertise to handle it effectively.

The Heroes’ armament: Originally, only Movarl got a sword in addition to the eight alloted to a Citadel, but it was usual for a player to assign a spare sword to the other heroes too, which brings up a point to which we all seem to have forgotten the answer: If Movarl has only a sword, then Kvarch Nar is a bit short in its offensive strength compared to the other citadels. In addition to the regular assignment of weapons, Fafhrd has an ax, Pulgh a spear, and Mouser a sling which is the near equivalent of a bow (and the bow is regarded as the equivalent of the spear or the ax).

A sword can’t be the equivalent of these because it is only effective at one space while the others have an additional range. Nevertheless, Harry is convinced that a sword is all Movarl got And it might be that since Movarl’s was an additional sword that it was considered compensatory. But if we allow all heroes to have a sword plus their special weapon, then it obviously is not. So unless we have forgotten something, Kvarch Nar seems to have a built-in disadvantage. The other three heroes have abilities to go faster on certain terrains; Movarl doesn’t. (To give him three spaces per move in the forest would seem to have him swinging through the trees, Tarzan-like!) His ability to call animals only compensates for his lack of heroic advantage in movement, not in weapon weakness. Could he do anything with his sword that other heroes couldn’t? Harry is positive on that: No!

And this leads into the problem of why the heroes don’t have superior fighting powers. All the superiority of the hero lies in his endurance and fleetness. This may be explained using the hypothesis that all warriors are fighting specialists and the equivalent of the heroes in their art. We allow the man who awaits the attacker to be the winner by virtue of his presumed readiness giving him a slight advantage over the just-arrived attacker, and to win, the latter must have help, but also must die in the attempt. Then too, the game was invented before Fritz had built Fafhrd and the Mouser into well-nigh invincible supermen. It did not seem out of place to allow the possibility of their being conquered.

Nevertheless, though Harry is sure that such is the case, Fritz and I have the memory that the heroes did have some sort of fighting superiority. Should the spear of Pulgh and the ax of Fafhrd kill at three spaces? And Mouser’s sling kill rather than wound? Even so, what could Movarl do with a sword that would be comparable? Throw it? Nonsense! Be an expert in handling two swords at once? If that were true we should certainly remember it. Be permitted to win on an attack against a plain warrior? Again, no.

After brooding about this enigma, my memory regurgitated an answer that I think was correct; and if it isn’t, it could have been! A hero is only wounded rather than killed in an adjacent swordfight with a warrior, and perhaps against a thrown ax or spear of a warrior or mercenary. Why wasn’t this remembered? Probably because we played with such care that heroes were rarely disabled. If trapped they were usually terminated.

But this still doesn’t solve the inequality of Movarl; hence I recommended that he, like Pulgh, be issued a spear over the normal amount allotted for the citadel.

(It is of passing interest that in the later Saga, both Fafhrd and the Mouser are primarily swordsmen. Fafhrd did use an ax but it is not his usual weapon, and Mouser rarely used a sling at all. Nor is he famed for swimming. It is also of interest to note that neither Fafhrd nor Mouser is allied to Lankhmar in this game, though it is their most frequent locale in the Leiberian saga. But this isn’t surprising since they are never more than outlanders in Lankhmar and usually at odds with the authorities.)

Boats: Two large, one small to Lankhmar. One large, one small to both Kvarch Nar and the City of the East. We never found this to be a great advantage to Lankhmar, being between the other two. The game supplies 6 large and 6 small boats, of which only 4 large and 3 small are assigned. Geas rewards mention gifts of a large boat and two small, allowing more rewards to be invented. Since there are sufficient boats, Harry recommends that one boat go to the Mingols and be placed on the shore of the Sea of Monsters. The Mingols got no boat in the original game because there was no such sea on the old board. Now there is, and such a boat is apropos. It is true that if Ningauble’s cave is placed where I recommended it to be, then a Mingol archer could be dispatched to patrol the south shore and shoot any hostile Geasman showing up for his reward. But the game thrives on such situations. The Geasman will need an escort to shoot the Mingol boatman; that’s all! The Mingol boat should be a small one. Then there is Sheelba’s boat, which may not be used without her permission. (What if someone should try to steal it? It wouldn’t move, and her wrath would be too frightful to contemplate!)

Animals: Mingols are allowed 4 horses, Kvarch Nar 2, Lankhmar 2, City of the East none. Camels: City of the East 4, other citadels none. Riders may be spearmen, bowmen or merely swordsmen if desired. Men of the City of the East must leave their camels at the edge of the desert, and get horses by slaying enemy riders. Likewise, enemies invading the desert citadel must get camels the hard way if at all. (But if Movarl is there and there are any loose camels he could get them.) The camels are evidently dromedaries, since no Bactrian camels are available in the Mingol camp. Extinct in Lankhmar, no doubt.

The Geases

There are three alternatives, all equally in the spirit of the old game.

  1. The Geasman is always in danger and should avoid hostile adversaries at all times. (Same situation as described above under sword allotment.)
  2. The Geasman is sacrosanct as long as he is on the quest. This is based on the idea that once the Geas hits him he is incapable of thinking of anything else. He goes toward his destination in the shortest possible route even if it is between warring factions, who let him by without harm. But having accomplished the Geas, he is on his own to return to get the reward.
  3. The Geasman is also sacrosanct on the way to get his reward, but after having visited Sheelba or Ningauble he is subject to any hostile action and can start acting as an active agent of his city.

In all of these cases it is important to have a sword, as recommended above.

Players are invited to try all variations to see which works best or pleases most.

The Geas is particularly important in the game, being the only intrusion of luck into the otherwise chess-like format. Losing can always be blamed on the fickle dispositions of Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, and thus the game is always “upbeat” for the contestants.

(And, in passing, one might wonder where Ningauble’s other five eyes are. Since he usually goes hooded, reliable witnesses are rare. Some say that all seven eyes are on stalks, as befitting someone from an outer world; others that he has two normal eyes, the other five being in the heads of vultures flying above Nehwon so he can see what’s going on. Or maybe in his brain opening on to other worlds if he is interested in events elsewhere. Sheelba, on the other hand, doesn’t need eyes to know what goes on anywhere!)

How do the Geases given in the Lankhmar game serve in a return to the old game? Those which do not specify either Ningauble or Sheelba as the giver should be apportioned between the two, “Ningauble” or “Sheelba” being written on the card so that the recipient may know where to report for the reward.

Of those printed, eight are from Sheelba, eight from Ningauble, one for either, and seven unspecified.

There is nothing fair about the Geases. Ningauble and Sheelba evidently don’t know what the word means. But there is a definite favoritism built into this assortment which is uncharacteristic of these rulers of fate.

7 of the Geases definitely favor Lankhmar in that they are easily accomplished by a native of that Citadel and difficult or nearly impossible for others.
5 similarly favor Kvarch Nar.
3 favor the Mingols.
3 favor the City of the East.
2 are equally easy for Lankhmar and the City of the East.

Adding these last two makes the score: Lankhmar 9, City of the East 5, Kvarch Nar 5, Mingols 3.

It would probably be best to add some Geases favoring the Mingols and eliminate two that favor Lankhmar.

The tabulation above does not include two Geas cards that postpone the Geas and two that cancel it. These, I think, seem to be out of the spirit of the Geas, but not necessarily, considering the unreliability of the two principals.

One Geas that might require alteration is the one about putting a sword in the river Tilth. With swords for all and no necessity of a physical symbol for one it would be a matter of special handling to see that the Geasman acquired an additional sword for the purpose. If he departs from his own citadel, it could be assumed that he takes a spare sword along for the purpose of putting it in the river. If he is alerted on the battlefield, it would be up to him to pass by a dead warrior who doesn’t need his any more, or give up his own and then be swordless till he encounters such a corpse or returns to his own citadel.

The Rewards

For reasons already stated, the four Rewards involving going to a citadel other than your own to get weapons should be withdrawn. It also seems silly to be getting swords from citadels that don’t have enough to completely outfit their own men, if we suppose that only 8 swords are allotted; and if we allow all men to have swords, the reward is meaningless and would be refused anyway. The one about adding to your dice roll would be omitted since in this game there is no dice roll.

In getting aid from mercenaries it must be decided whether to allow the rewards as given, or to substitute some which give the entire mercenary force to the player for a certain number of moves. I favor the latter course, because it has made for very interesting situations and does not require any special ways to indicate a mercenary’s allegiance. The later possible realignment of the mercenary forces was one of the likable uncertainties of the game. I suggest 15 turns of servitude. After their term is up, the Quarmallians stay on their spaces indefinitely, and the Norsemen may start back home at a slow pace of one space per turn in the hope that they will be recalled. They too can stay in place if desired, unless it is on the Sinking Land, in which case they should move off it. The permanent acquisition of a mercenary or two would entail some sort of banner on the cork to indicate the citadel to which he owes allegiance.

More important is the fact that such a Reward is one of the few that would really give a long-term benefit that might be the deciding factor in a game, since the award is permanent and can’t recoil against the recipient, as most Rewards may if they are not just useless.

In other words, it is too good a reward! It might be thought that such a situation would be psychologically unsound: a mercenary fighting against a comrade. Not so. The Quarmall wizards would spear down a fellow sorcerer because it only means his immediate arrival back to the comforts of home in his reincarnation there. And a Berserker would chop the head of an erstwhile companion with a cheerful “See you in Valhalla!”

Otherwise the Rewards are typically exasperatingly useless in most cases. The blanks may be written in with equally disappointing boons and maybe a few helpful ones, but not too helpful. (Some suggestions will be appended.)


I don’t recall ever finding a new board game that didn’t have some ambiguity in the rules as printed, or something completely missing that should have been covered. It is a great advantage to play with the originators of a game. Then if something like that comes up, an authoritative judgment may be made forthwith! In the old game of Lahkmar, at least one such authority was always present, so such unevennesses were promptly and effectively ruled on. But the rulings may not have been well remembered later if the situation was one that occurred infrequently, perhaps just once.

A case in point is what happens when a man gets into the range of a wounded enemy. Can the wounded man repulse as if he were in normal condition? First attempts at reformulating Lahkmar rules neglected this, but conference with Harry yielded the following.

A wounded warrior who is unable to move must be regarded as unable to withstand combat with a sound opponent and is killed in situations where he would normally be victor.

A once-wounded hero can still kill a warrior but will lose to another hero. A twice-wounded hero can wound a warrior.

The above applies principally to sword play on adjacent spaces, but also applies to the use of the spear at similar distance and long range, since a good throw of the spear requires the use of both legs, which the wounded man doesn’t have. It may be agreed that a wounded man can operate the bow which requires only the arms. (This ruling can lead to an argument, thus:

“How do you know he is wounded in the lower part of the body? Why not on the arms or shoulder, which would rule out using the bow?”

“Because according to the rules he doesn’t move. Therefore he must be wounded so as to prohibit his traveling on foot. If he were just hurt on the arm the rules wouldn’t provide for it.”


But having rules like this seems to be the way it must be handled unless dice are used to determine a degree and type of injury.

If the wounded man is mounted it would be more likely that he would be unable to use his arms. A functioning wounded archer mounted would still be a bad threat, but I think this is too great a complication. At least the wounded man can move when mounted.

Harry wanted a wounded warrior to be able to finish off another wounded warrior at close quarters. O.K., but how would one wounded man be so close to another since being wounded keeps them from moving? The suggestion of allowing a wounded man to move one space every other turn could do it. But is it likely enough to make a rule of it? How about this?

Scenario: One wounded warrior crawls feebly toward another. “Black Blaghor,” he gasps, “I’ll drink your blood if it’s the last thing I do!” And he staggers forward with outstretched sword only to be impaled by Blaghor’s feebly raised spear!

I say forget it. Let wounded men be mutually impotent with the larger weapons.

I think matters like this can be decided on the logic of the thing, albeit with many arguments. Another such problem is whether a mounted man should have any advantage over a man on foot in combat. The mounted man moves as a unit, not as a man riding upon a independently moving horse. It is conceivable that a mounted man with spear might be considered to have enough advantage over a walking swordsman to disallow the normal outcome of such an encounter, but I think that if the players feel strongly about it they can decide on an exception. It might be best for such players to add the element of probability to the old game and make a compromise between the old and the new.

[Next part will give a summary of the above regulations, and propose a compromise game, adding combat probability to the older game.]

Special Editor’s note:

After Prof. F.C. Macknight had sent Part 2 of his series on LANKHMAR to The Dragon, he again contacted the creators of the original game, LAHKMAR. Harry Fischer and Fritz Leiber provided some extra information and corrections, but Prof. Macknight’s revisions did not reach our office in time to be incorporated in the issue (TD 31) in which Part 2 was published. Here, for the record, are the bits of new information:

The original LAHKMAR board was six feet long and three feet wide, not “about five feet long and two and a half feet wide,” as indicated on page 32, paragraph 5.

The squares on the original LAHKMAR board measured 1¹⁄₂ inches on a side (page 33, paragraph 2).

“The moves and capture methods” (page 33, paragraph 7) should be changed to the following, which provides more detail: On normal terrain, steppes, desert, forest and ice, the ordinary warrior moves one space in any direction; the hero two. No one moves on salt marsh, mountains or sea (except in boats) but some heroes. Fafhrd can cross mountains, Pulgh can move on the salt marsh and Mouser can swim, one square at a time. (Movarl had no extra mobility but had the talent of being able to call animals to him, telepathically, I think.) A wounded warrior is immobile; a wounded hero moves one space. A horse goes two spaces but may not move on a desert, forest, marsh land, or ice. Camels move three spaces on desert and are restricted to desert. (I never knew the reason for this advantage in speed for the camel.)

Insert the following between paragraphs 11 and 12 on page 33: In addition to the terrain advantages of the heroes on LAHKMAR, LANKHMAR allows Movarl an advantage on desert. (For compensation, I suppose. No other reason since he is a forest dweller!)

In the section about the Quarmallians (page 34) insert the following: In LAHKMAR the Quarmall wizards were armed only with spears; in LANKHMAR they are given swords and bows.

In the section about the Northern Mercenaries (page 34), insert the following: In LANKHMAR these northern berserkers are armed with swords, spears and axes, making them formidable indeed! In LAHKMAR they carried only axes.

IV: Converting to LAHKMAR in a nutshell

The Dragon #34, February, 1980, Vol. IV, No. 8, pp. 32–33 • Editor’s note: When Prof. MacKnight began writing articles for The Dragon about Lankhmar, neither he nor we suspected that the tale would take so long to tell. You are now reading Part 4 of what may, when it’s all down on paper, amount to a seven-part series.

And the last part will be worth waiting for. In his most recent communication with us, Prof. MacKnight described the unfinished manuscript as “an epilog or postscript giving an unpublished Fafhrd-Mouser adventure in the form of a puzzle, by (Fritz) Leiber and (Harry) Fischer.” We hope you’ll enjoy reading the original words of Lankhmar’s creators as much as we’ll enjoy publishing them. But in the meantime, the professor has a lot more to say...)

The following is a summary of moves, weapons, etc. for playing the original game of LAHKMAR on the LANKHMAR board produced by TSR Games.

(Matters not covered here are similar in the two games. i.e. rules for the Sinking Land, partnerships, object of the game and such.)

Board Changes

Enlarge the Sinking Land.

Move Ningauble’s Cave to the north side of the Mountains of the Elder Ones.


Warriors and Mercenaries

2 spaces per turn on Normal Terrain, Desert and Steppes.
1 space per turn on Ice, in Woods and crossing rivers.
May not move on Marsh, Mountains or in water without boat.


Men of Kvarch Nar move normally in woods (2 spaces)
Men of Lankhmar and Quarmall move 1 space per turn in marsh.
Wounded men do not move.


3 spaces per turn on Normal Terrain, Desert and Steppes.
2 spaces on Ice, in Woods, and when the move includes a river crossing.
Exception: Movarl goes 3 in woods.
1 space per turn in Marsh.
Exception: Pulgh goes 2 in Marsh.
May not move on Mountains (except Fafhrd, who moves 1) or in water (except Mouser, who swims 2)
Singly wounded hero moves as a warrior.
Doubly wounded hero does not move.


4 spaces per turn on Normal Terrain and Steppes.
No move on Desert, Woods, Ice, Swamp and Mountains.
Exception: Horses move 2 per turn in Woods when ridden by men of Kvarch Nar.


3 spaces per turn on Desert.
Loose horses and camels move toward Movarl at their usual speed when he calls, but they may not move in areas foreign to them.


2 spaces per turn. One man moves the boat The passenger may attack.


May be made instead of a move. A man may not move and attack on the same turn.


Effective at 1 (adjacent) space only.
Hero – kills opponent.
Warrior or mercenary – kills another warrior or mercenary; wounds a hero.


Effective at 1 or 2 spaces as above.
If used at two spaces (thrown), the spear is placed on the target space, where it may be recovered by anyone passing through or landing on that space subsequently, unless the recipient of the spear is a hero, in which case the spear is retained by the hero (if that is his first wound.)


Effective at 1 space like the sword or spear.
May be used at 2 spaces (thrown) by Fafhrd or Northern Mercenaries like spear.

Arrow (bolt) or stone from sling

Wounds at 1, 2, or 3 spaces. (Unnecessary at adjacent space in which case a sword would be used unless the bowman is wounded.) The arrow or bolt lies on the target square and is recoverable from a dead man but not from a wounded man. Stones are always considered available except on water.

2 wounds kill a warrior or mercenary; 3 wounds kill a hero.

A wounded hero is considered to have the power of a normal warrior.
A wounded warrior may use only the bow.
Horses and camels are never killed but remain where their rider leaves them and are recoverable like a weapon. Animals on the move responding to Movarl may also be captured in transit.
Dead men are immediately removed from the board, leaving their weapons behind

(Place wounding weapons in the side of the cork, others issued or collected in the top of the cork. Mapping pins are suggested for spears, axes, bows; regular pins for arrows. Pinhead color indicates kind of weapon, cork color the Citadel.)

Apportionment of materials

Every man carries a sword except Quarmallians and Northerners.

Spears-Carried by Quarmallians.

4 allotted to Kvarch Nar.
2 allotted to Lankhmar and City of the East.
0 to Mingols and Northerners.
1 to Movarl
1 to pulgh

Bows (crossbows)

4 to Mingols.
2 to Lankhmar and City of the East.
0 to others.
Each bowman carries 3 arrows or bolts.


1 to Mouser: that’s all. Only the Mouser is proficient in its use. If he perishes, no one else can use it. Suitable missiles are considered always available. He carries two with him, which can be used on a boat. He cannot use the sling while swimming.


l to each Northerners and to Fafhrd.


Lankhmar: 2 large, 1 small.
Kvarch Nar: 1 large, 1 small.
City of East: 1 large, 1 small.
Mingols: 1 small (on Sea of Monsters).


Mingols 4.
Lankhmar 2.
Kvarch Nar 2.
City of East 0.


City of East 4.
Others 0.

(Mercenary fortresses are allotted no boats, no animals.)


Allot to all Citdels by chance very five turns.

One man is chosen to accomplish the geas. He must be replaced if killed en route. Geasman may defend himself but not go out of his way to attack.

After the geas is accomplished, the geasman proceeds to the lair of Sheelba or Ningauble for a reward.

It is not necessary to inform the other players as to the nature of the geas until it has been accomplished.

It is not necessary to announce the reward until it is actually put into effect.

There are three options for the handling of geases. Whichever is chosen must be in effect for the whole game.

A. Geasman is always subject to interference and/or attack.
B. Geasman is immune to attack or interference while on the gease. He must go directly to his goal since he can not be interfered with. He is subject to attack on his trip to Ningauble or Sheelba for a reward.
C. The geasman is free from interference until the reward has been awarded at Ningauble’s Cave or Sheelba’s Hut After that he is fair game.

Other recommended options

Place the fort of the Northern Mercenaries north of the Trollstep Mountains rather than south of it in the forest.

Have an equality of armament of warriors of each citadel, rather than the preponderance of spears to Kvarch Nar and bows to the Mingols. Give 2 spears and 2 bows to all citadels. This option may help equalization of forces, but it will also eliminate the special strategies used by Kvarch and the Mingols appropriate to their weapon use.

Further remarks

The most uncertainty I have about these new rules concerns which of the options for treatment of geasmen is best. It may well be that option (c) must be adopted or the award for successful geas accomplishment may never be given, which would be unfortunate. The game might degenerate into guerrilla warfare of geasman-hunting parties following armed escorts to geasmen. But that might make a good game, too!

The timing of new geases every five moves makes several overlaps necessary. Each player will have several geases in progress at once, and it would seem difficult to ever terminate a quest completely and successfully claim the reward. Yet even with the greater distances of the old game, geases were finished and rewards put into effect despite all difficulties. Probably because the games lasted so long!

How about doing away with the geases? It should be worth a try to make Lankhmar a pure game of skill to see how the adversary relationships work out without the interference of those vile old miscreants, Ningauble and Sheelba. Let them go on a long sleep or a vacation back to whatever frightful world they may have emigrated from. It could yield clues as to what alterations need be made in the comparative strengths of forces. And perhaps to illustrate how the game really does need these unpleasant characters.

The game as invented by Harry Fischer and Fritz Leiber was a marvel of balance and consistency as far as I could tell in the playing of the game (even though later analysis for this paper casts doubt on the theoretical adequacy of the Kvarch Nar fighting force). There are two fundamental points that must be given primacy in conversion of the new game board to the old game:

1. Increase of the distances between points by lessening the normal traveling times of the men as allowed by the new Lankhmar rules, which, it seems to me, demean the game by reducing distances so that a mounted man can race across the Sinking Land in one move, and the Inner Sea is reduced to a mere puddle! The citadels themselves are only a few turns’ journey from each other.

2. The elimination of chance in combat outcomes, and a substitution of chess-like calculations therefore.

Otherwise, the game owner is encouraged to try his own ideas of modification. My attempts to adapt the old game to the new board need to be validated by practice which I haven’t been able to have yet, and it may prove to be that I have overcompensated Kvarch Nar.

V: “MacLankhmar”: A Compromise Game

The Dragon #36, April, 1980, Vol. IV, No. 10, pp. 46–47

Suppose one considers that the probability method of deciding the outcome of a battle is better than the rigorous, chess-like decisions of LAHKMAR. Must the defender always win? Normally one would think that the attacker would have a slightly better chance in close combat (adjacent squares). But in LAHKMAR a horseman with an ax is going to be defeated by a standing swordsman upon whom he rushes. Always! So he doesn’t do so unless he has help.

Two-on-one between peers is necessary to take out a defender, and one of the attackers must die, regardless of the logic of the situation. So there must be a more careful attitude toward free-for-all brawls. One must try to use spears and arrows at distance to gain an advantage before wading in at close quarters, and the victory will go to the more cautious strategy, as perhaps it should. But there are those who object to this as being out of harmony with the basic, adventurous atmosphere of the game. I was no party to originating LAHKMAR, but if I had been I would have advocated the use of dice in deciding the outcome of a battle.

As I remember some research I did some 40 years ago, the first advocacy I found of battle decisions by probability, rather than cold logic, in wargames was in the era of World War I by an American naval officer who advised the use of probability tables and dice in simulated naval engagements played by naval strategists on their large tables with miniature ships.

One cannot be completely confident of position and fire power, he argued. There is the chance that something may go wrong even in superior positions. Sometimes the superior fleet loses in actuality, but never in their theoretical battles, so there should be a guard against bad luck by allowing the possibility that it could happen. And then, of course, there may be a victory for one side even in positions that seem completely equal and should be a stand-off.

So it is in war games like LAHKMAR-LANKHMAR. A warrior might defeat a hero by a lucky thrust even though the chances are 20-1 against it And a rushing horseman should have a better-than-even chance against a man on foot.

But if you want a probability game, why not just play the new game as it is?

For me there are these reasons.

Regardless of how combat is decided, there is a need to “increase” the size of the board by cutting down the maximum movement of men and mounts by ²⁄₃ to ³⁄₄ of that allowed in the LANKHMAR rules, as argued earlier in this series.

The Movement Points cost system which includes engaging in combat, embarking, mounting, changing weapons and picking up weapons (why not disembarking and dismounting, too?) is dismaying to all but dedicated wargame players, I would think I won’t submit to it! All this may reasonably be dispensed with. For instance, dropping a bow to draw a sword takes no more time than merely drawing the sword. And in theory a man should be preparing himself against the next onslaught when it arises.

The straying of animals and drifting of boats has some realism but is not essential. Beached boats may be moored and animals tethered when mounted. Only animals that lose their riders in battle and boats depopulated in open waters need to be considered, and could be neglected without damaging the game.

The probability tables as given in the Rules for LANKHMAR need rigorous revision. If the reader has played it the faults will probably have been noted. Here are some:

There is no distinction between the attacker and the defender. Perhaps there should be.

There is no allowance for the weapon the defender has at his disposal.

There is no allowance for one man being mounted and the other being on foot

There is no allowance for one adversary being wounded. It is possible for a hero to fail to kill or even wound a wounded or even an unarmed adversary. How is this supposed to happen? Does the hero have sudden qualms about the sportsmanship of it? Does he recognize his adversary as a distant cousin by marriage? Or is he suddenly afflicted by a seizure of some hereditary malady that renders him temporarily incapacitated?

My conclusion is that while Movement Points are too cumbersome, the LANKHMAR Combat Tables are too simplistic, and my “Compromise Game” will require new tables. With this goal in mind I shall examine separately the cases of attack at a distance, and attack from an adjacent space.

Attacks at a distance: arrows, spears and thrown axes:

One of the more objectionable features of the old LAHKMAR game was the assumption of the deadlines of attack at a distance. When Nehwon warriors threw a spear or shot an arrow, they never missed! In the execution of their craft they were experts of heroic proportion (led by a super-hero who didn’t miss either)! I find this inhuman accuracy a bit hard to swallow, and would prefer to be more realistic about it. At a distance of 2 spaces the odds should favor a fatal hit but not mandate it Wounding and a clean miss should also be represented on the tables. The dice throw for a hero should be even more favorable to him, even eliminating the miss at two spaces. And the hero should be given a better chance of surviving a spear throw because, having quick reflexes, he may dodge or possibly parry the cast with his own sword, pushing it aside, diverting it or turning an on-target fatal throw into a wound.

Extended probability tables also allow us to consider spear throws at greater distances with less chance of success; even at 4 spaces, though at that distance only Fafhrd and Pulgh should be allowed any possibility of success. The Mouser, for example, might cast an accurate spear, but his physique would not be adequate to handle a very long cast He should lose his hero rating even at 3 spaces.

(Note that I do not suggest the probabilities in actual numbers. I think the player would be more satisfied to construct his own tables after such discussion as I bring to bear on the subject, and that such tables would depend on how many and what kind of dice he uses. One normal die as suggested in the LANKHMAR Rules is insufficient to properly appraise the probabilities: 2 dice are better. And he may wish to use octahedral, dodecahedral or icosahedral dice from a D&D set.)

To continue, the thrown ax should be only for Norsemen and Fafhrd. If others throw the ax they should have a very small probability of success. Fafhrd should be allowed a 3-space throw with fair success; possibly the other Norse also, but with significantly smaller chances. Generally the Northerners should avoid a cast with improbable success because they are left defenseless unless a corpse is handy from which to pick up another weapon.

It is with the bow that the probability tables give a definite advantage in reasonableness. The three-arrow rule of LAHKMAR may be dispensed with and the holder of the bow may be considered as having a quiver full of arrows. Probability of success should be high at 2 spaces, and successively less at 3, 4 and 5 spaces. Some slight possibility should exist for a fatal wound at the shorter distances, but the probability of a miss should always be high. It seems doubtful that a hero should have a greater likelihood of avoiding an arrow than anyone else except maybe the Mouser who is a small man, offering a smaller target. Mouser’s sling effectiveness should be something like that for an arrow, with perhaps a little more probability of a fatal throw.

Shooting from a horse or camel should be a shade less effective than when the archer stands on solid ground, unless one thinks that the added elevation would compensate for the less certain aim.

Another benefit of the full-quiver concept vs. the three-arrow rule is the elimination of the necessity in LAHKMAR of using arrows taken out of a dead man. A messy business, pulling them out, since at least one must have penetrated a vital spot! And we know too that the corpses are quickly removed from most localities by the Pleistocene Vulture, or the giant Nehwonian Condor, which would doubtless carry them off, arrows, swords and all, even maybe a protruding spear! An optional rule, then, might be that all fatally thrown spears would be eliminated with the corpse, and the only weapons left for recovery would be the victim’s own spear, ax or bow which could have been carried rather than worn. Of the death-dealing weapons thrown at the victim, only an ax would remain after the victim has been flown off to the nearest mountain. Allow two moves for the giant scavengers to get there. Swords might be left if the victim dies with it in his hand, but since only the Norsemen would need one it isn’t important.

Hand-to-hand combat, at adjoining spaces:

This is an even more complex situation. First, take the case of combat with the same weapon. There would be a table for peers and one for unequal fights. Between peers there should be the same chance for either contestant to kill, wound, or no-decision unless you think that the attacker has a slight initial advantage. If there are enough numbers on the chance-mechanism used, this can be taken care of. It also assumes that the combat throw (of dice) will be made as soon as the attacker moves into position, rather than waiting for the defense to decide whether to move or fight as in the non-chance LAHKMAR. (I would favor this in the Compromise Game but the other way is equally possible. ) If a no-decision throw is cast, the “defender” has the option of continuing the fight on his next move or retreating out of range.

The table of hero vs. warrior-or-equivalent should give the hero a heavy advantage with a very small probability of anything other than total victory.

If the engagement involves one man who is already wounded, I see no reason to allow any hope in close combat, and he should be considered eliminated without a throw.

How about disparity of, weapons? Is sword vs. spear an equal contest? Sword vs. ax? Spear vs. ax? In sword vs. spear, if each contestant carries a sword it may be considered that the spearman may use his sword if he considers his spear would not give him an equal chance, so I see no reason to worry about that If the spearman is a Quarmallian that is all he has, but since he is aided by magic he should be at no disadvantage anyway.

So, only if one considers that the spearman has an actual advantage over the swordsman (which I do not) would one need a special table for spear vs. sword. As I see it, the only advantage a spearman has is to make a strong cast as soon as he gets just beyond the reach of his opponent’s weapon, and if that is deflected he is beaten before he can bring his own sword into action (unless he is ambidextrous!) If he chooses not to do this I think the spearman is at a slight disadvantage at least.

In sword vs. ax, there should be a slight advantage to the ax if the ax-man is on the attack; not otherwise. This is based on the premise that the ax is a long-handled, two-handed type; not the short, one-hand variety Fafhrd holds in his left hand like a parrying dagger on the LANKHMAR box lid. Ax vs. spear may also warrant a slight advantage for whichever is the attacker.

In all these cases the hero should have a great advantage over the warrior.

How about a mounted man vs. a peer on foot? I must admit ignorance here. How important is the horse? Can it be trained to charge and strike with the hooves against an armed man? If not, it may be as much a disadvantage as an advantage. It may aid the foot warrior if the horse becomes difficult to manage. And unless the horse is regarded as an efficient fighting force, a hero should get his usual assist from the probability tables even if he is on foot

I think camels would be more of a hindrance than a help and would favor the foot warrior.

If both contestants are mounted, the odds for no-decision should be raised since it will be more difficult for men to get at each other unless they use their spears as lances and run together.

Finally, there is the case of a two-on-one combat. Unless the single is a hero, there should be no chance for the single fighter. Hero vs. 2 warriors is a complex matter and would depend on the weapons used and which of the contestants is mounted, if any. By this time the reader may have decided that the whole thing is too involved and one had best stick to the regular LAHKMAR convention! And it should be more apparent why I prefer to leave the actual making of the tables to the player.

It should help if in a game of this complexity there were a third, fourth or fifth party who is not an active player but a referee who would be in charge of such tables, and when a special situation comes up invents a compromise between two other tables. Or quickly makes a new one!

Such a referee would also be in charge of the cycles of the sinking land, and these other responsibilities:

Be sure the weapons left on the board by a dead man are the right ones.

Remember how long a body remains on the board before being carried off by a giant vulture.

Remember where there might be a sword lying about for a Norseman who has thrown his ax and can’t easily recover it.

Give out and keep account of geases and rewards; decide if a geasman is proceeding most directly on his quest and still in accord with safety.

Be in charge of movements of loose boats and animals as per directions in LANKHMAR, and animals being called to Movarl.

Decide on points that rules don’t cover.

It should possibly be mentioned that geases are the same in this Compromise Game as in the others.

Finally, I would like to comment on and protest against this statement on the cover of the Rules Pamphlet of the LANKHMAR game:

“… but while this combat is seemingly on a man-to-man basis, the pieces actually represent whole companies of men. …”

No! Spell it anyway you like. Lankhmar is a game of single men; heroes led by super-heroes. Even if it doesn’t make much sense to have 8 men and a leader going out to conquer another citadel, that’s the way it is! To make it otherwise would change the whole game. And the statement is obviously out of harmony with the directions contained in the Rules pamphlet, seemingly written by someone, other than the authors of the Rules, for the benefit of diehard wargame players who like to think in those terms and are uncomfortable without masses of soldiers. If they can’t adjust, the game is not for them.

LANKHMAR (LAHKMAR) is a game of personal involvement with individuals. It is also a game involving verbal banter, bombast and braggadocio on the part of the players.

Some examples:

At the onset of the game from the Lankhmar player:

“Pulgh is making a statement to his constituents and all enemies: ‘Let it be known that it is my intention and pledge to end the nefarious existence of that loutish boor Fafhrd. I shall feed his liver by hand to my pet vultures, and hang his dismembered carcass on the walls of Lankhmar. And as for that disreputable cutpurse and varlet known as the “Mouser” …’”, etc., etc. Or “‘Aided by my honored ally, the Mouser’”, if that be the case!

An intergame conversation:

“That was a dastardly deed truly worthy of your thoroughly corrupt regime— to deliberately attack and finish off a heroic wounded warrior to no advantage.”

“Would you deny that that ‘heroic’ warrior was none other than the infamous Grotch who vilely and gratuitously slaughtered that group of children in your expedition against Ilthmar?”

“What else would you have had him do with the little vipers? They would only grow up to be like the rest of those basilisks that inhabit that den of thievery, debauchery and every iniquity! It was a blessing to Nehwon to dispatch them.”

This sort of thing doesn’t go with massed armies!

VI: Combat in the compromise game

The Dragon #37, May, 1980, Vol. IV, No. 11, pp. 31–32

In developing a game which compromises between LAHKMAR (the originally conceived game) and LANKHMAR (the commercial product made by TSR Hobbies, Inc.), one aspect which leaves much room for elaboration is the mechanics of combat and the development of tables to determine the outcome of that combat.

To avoid (or cause?) more confusion, I shall hereafter refer to the compromise game as LAKMAR, a hybrid name. LAKMAR will use the moves and other rules given for LAHKMAR in the article in TD-33 (January 1980), but the compromise game involves a more detailed system of alternatives for what takes place during combat, and it assigns the first throw of the dice to the attacker, that is, the player who initiates the combat.

Let us first examine a simple encounter of swordsman against swordsman, neither of them heroes and presumably both of equal skill. Should there be any advantage in initiating the engagement?

In a fencing bout, the attacker may have a temporary advantage as long as he is in the attack, but this doesn’t hold here. The initiator of the engagement may approach his adversary but the latter may be the one who first attacks, so that the one who initiates the engagement by moving into proximity is only the “attacker” by the definition of his intentions, and should derive no odds advantage for such a role.

Referring to the contestants as A and B, we can list the following possible outcomes of an exchange of blows:

A wins, B perishes
B wins, A perishes
A kills B but A is wounded
B kills A but B is wounded
A wounds B
B wounds A
A and B wound each other
No decision; neither is wounded, and the combat continues.

Of those eight possible outcomes, two can be discarded as impractical. If one contestant wounds the other without himself being wounded, it may be presumed that the wounded warrior would soon succumb to a second blow. So, eliminating the fifth and sixth items on the list above, we have six possible events:

1 = A kills B
2 = A kills B but A is wounded
3 = A and B are both wounded
4 = No decision
5 = B kills A but B is wounded
6 = B kills A

This “table” lists the outcomes in progressive order from the most beneficial result for A to the most beneficial result for B, though the relative positions of the third and fourth items are uncertain.

To adapt such a table for hero vs. warrior combat, one should attach a higher probability to the hero (A) killing the warrior—perhaps by subtracting two from the roll of a six-sided die to determine the outcome. In so doing, “A kills B” will be the recorded result on a roll of 1, 2 or 3. However, perhaps there should be a chance for a warrior to kill or wound a hero—no matter how slight a chance that may be (say, 1 in 20). To incorporate that element of chance, there would need to be a way to generate a wider range of random numbers-most easily done by using a different type of die (d8, d12 or d20). ...could require a special table. Possibilities here can be most complex. How about a desert-edge combat with Fafhrd on camel with ax against a horseman with sword aided by a warrior on foot with spear?

Other types of combat encounters must also be planned for. Things are not always evenly matched, as is the case with two similar swordsmen. In many cases, the initiator is actually attacking, and should get some benefit because of this. An onrushing spearman might be such an example, and certainly a horseman with spear or upraised sword qualifies for this advantage. An approaching ax-wielder would probably be rushing in, with his ax in a position to cleave his enemy at the first blow, and a swordsman adversary must decide whether to try to parry the blow with his weaker sword, or to try to avoid it by stepping back or dodging, then pressing to thrust before the ax-man can resume attack or take a defensive posture. In short, there will be cases when the probabilities ought to be “loaded” slightly in the favor of one of the contestants, perhaps heavily when one combatant is mounted and has a longer-reaching weapon, and perhaps very heavily, when one combatant is a hero-and still allow the weaker party to have at least a slight chance of success. This is where the more sophisticated polyhedral dice come in.

Simply put, the procedure for developing a combat table for any given set of circumstances is as follows: Determine the entire range of possible outcomes. Attach relative probabilities to each single possible outcome (i.e. one outcome may be twice as likely to occur as another, and that should be reflected). Then, determine which polyhedral die gives enough variation in numbers to allow for all possible outcomes, and attach each outcome to a certain number (or numbers) which, when rolled on the die or dice, will cause that outcome to occur.

* * *

Returning to LAKMAR, what have we that needs these multiple possibilities in varying degrees of probability? These types of tables are to be considered:

Attack at a distance (thrown or propelled weapons);

Hand to hand combat, Attack and Reprise;

Wounding tables.

Attack at a distance

Weapons under consideration are the spear, arrow, stone (from Mouser’s sling) and ax thrown by Fafhrd and the Northern Mercenaries. There will be tables for two-space throws or “shots”, three spaces, and four spaces with decreasing probability of success as the distance increases; and possibly additional tables for heroes especially adept at either propelling the weapon or avoiding it. It must be considered whether “shooting” from horse-, camel-back, or shipboard would have the same accuracy as from solid ground, and also a factor is the effect of forest trees and shrubbery on missile accuracy.

Combat at adjacent spaces

Here we have Warrior against Warrior, Hero against Hero (possibly the same table would do, but maybe not), and Warrior against Hero. There would be tables for swordsman against swordsman, swordsman against spearman, swordsman against ax-wielder, spearman against spearman, spearman against ax-man, and ax-man against ax-man. Also, contestant on foot vs. one mounted on horse or camel, with the same permutation of weapons. Horseman vs. horseman and camel rider vs. camel rider, likewise. It is unlikely but possible that there could be a combat between a camel rider and a horseman at the desert edge! And combat at sea (adjacent boats) could involve a different set of possibilities.

In each of these combats, there is the problem of whether the instigator of the engagement may be considered as having an advantage. If so, there should also be a Reprise table for continuing combat with no attacking advantage. When there is no attacking advantage, there is no need of a special Reprise table. In combat between diverse weapons, the attack may give advantage to one weapon and the continuation to the other.

Then there is the problem of two men against one. Usually the two would win a complete victory, but a hero against two warriors

Wounding tables

LAKMAR should also pay more attention to the nature and effect of wounds. In LAHKMAR and LANKHMAR all wounds have the same effect, but a throw could determine just what and where the wound may be, and how it affects the recipient’s further activity. He might be able to handle a bow but not travel (leg or hip wound), or he might be unable to fight but could travel (arm wound). He may or may not be able to handle his mount or the boat in his charge. Severity of wound is a factor: He may be able to continue fighting at a lower degree of effectiveness.

The Heroes in combat

Each hero has a terrain in which he has an advantage, either by being able to move where others cannot or being able to move more swiftly there. Fafhrd can cross mountains, Mouser can swim as rapidly as a boat, Pulgh moves faster than others in swamp, Movarl likewise in the forest.

How about combat? Here too each hero has a specialty that must be taken into consideration. Originally the favorite weapon was the ax for Fafhrd, the sling for Mouser, the spear for Pulgh and the sword for Movarl. This is complicated by Leiber’s near deification of the swordsmanship of Fafhrd and the Mouser in their printed saga to the extent that Fischer’s original specialties were neglected.

To maintain equality of forces it would seem that we should either raise Pulgh and Movarl to the same level of fighting power as Fafhrd and the Mouser, or strengthen the terrain advantage or warrior power of Lankhmar and Kvarch Nar with respect to the Mingols and the City of the East. I think that this latter has been done to some extent with respect to the terrain. Lankhmar has the advantage of the Sinking Land and the salt marsh; Kvarch Nar has the forest which slows down the movement of adverse forces. The other Citadels are more easily available to attack. So, a bit of combat favoritism for Fafhrd and the Mouser is not out of line.

Ax: Fafhrd is the only hero proficient in the use of the war ax; except for him, only the northern mercenaries use it. Fafhrd, as a hero, should have a higher proficiency than the other northerners. The ax can also be thrown, with far less accuracy than the spear but a greater likelihood of a severe wound if it hits. Fafhrd may be allowed some possibility of a hit at three spaces (as well as 2, the range of the other Vikings), and since he carries a sword he is more likely to use the ax as a throwing weapon. (Remember that the ax remains where it lands, either in the adversary or on his space if there is a miss. This leaves the mercenaries weaponless, so they must be way of throwing their axes away.) If anyone besides Fafhrd and the northerners uses or throws an ax, their success should be rated very low.

The spear, Pulgh’s specialty: He must be rated higher than Fafhrd, Mouser and the common warriors both in distance and accuracy. But since Fafhrd is now well-known as a strong spearman, I suggest that both Fafhrd and Pulgh be allowed 4 spaces for possible spear throws, but Pulgh be given greater accuracy.

Missiles: No hero is particularly good with the bow, and if they use one, the success should be only that of a warrior. But Mouser has his sling, which rates somewhat higher than the bow in putting opponents permanently out of combat. It does seem a bit too much to allow the sling to be more accurate than the bow, but the skull-crushing possibility may give the Mouser better effect at each distance (2, 3, and 4 spaces).

Sword: Can we allow Fafhrd and Mouser to dominate swordplay as they do in Leiber’s saga? Or must we use sword proficiency as a means of equalizing any superiority Fafhrd has in spear and ax? Pulgh is already behind Fafhrd in power, since the two are nearly equal in spear but Fafhrd has his ax too. Mouser’s effectiveness with the sling is difficult to equate, but it seems that he may be behind both in non-swords. And so far, Movarl has no special powers except being able to call animals, which seems insufficiently compensatory.

The sword was originally Movarl’s strong point. Should we make him superior to Fafhrd and the Mouser in this category? “No way!” says Harry, who, if chance enters the game, wants Fafhrd and Mouser to be preeminent in swordplay, too. My suggestion is that all heroes be given strong probability sword preference against warriors, but Pulgh slightly less in hero-vs.-hero combat. I suggest that Movarl’s ability with the sword be given in his relation to warriors. Let us make Movarl ambidextrous, able to handle a sword in each hand simultaneously and thus able to successfully fight two warriors simultaneously, which however would not help him greatly against another hero.

Heroes in Defense

It has already been pointed out above and in part 5 of this series (TD-36) that the hero gets preferential treatment in hand-to-hand combat with warriors and is allowed a bit less vulnerability in missile attack with spear or ax because of presumed greater quickness in reaction time. The hero can occasionally dodge, avoid or fend off the slower-moving missiles that would reach an ordinary warrior, and the Mouser gets a greater speed allowance than the others because he is a smaller target as well.

How about arrows? This is a general problem for heroes and warriors alike. What garb do we imagine the Nehwonian military to wear? Do they have a costume that offers any protection against arrows? Do they wear any metal or heavy leather that could change what would be a fatal shot into a mere wound? The probability table for LAKMAR must describe just how devastating the arrow attack should be; what proportion of wounds and fatalities there are to misses or non-registering hits.

The Leiberian saga is imprecise about all this, often allowing the reader to use his own imagination for precise details. Certainly the Lankhmarians had gone past the stage of using shields defensively, because they used lighter swords that permitted “fencing.” Parrying with the sword was in vogue, with the occasional use of the dagger in the left (non-sword) hand or cloak on the left arm. In this out-of-town situation with bowmen aiming at you, some additional protection would be natural. The use of a buckler would be sensible and would enable the fast-moving Mouser to often parry an arrow. So it would not be amiss for there to be an adjustment to the arrow tables when Mouser is the target.

* * *

In review, then, it would seem that the number of probability tables, including special adjustments, might be nearly astronomical, restricting the game of LAKMAR to diehard probability gamesters. And their victims! The probability freak could act as referee for a good contest between players who need not worry about such matters. The function and advisability of a Referee (a term obviously related entymologically to Banshee) has been promoted in Part 5 of this series, and I think that this last section (6) demonstrates that the need for one in LAKMAR is almost as great as that for a Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons!


This series of articles was originally intended merely to describe the origin of the game (part 1) and how to modify the TSR board and rules to play the original game as conceived by Harry Fischer and Fritz Leiber (parts 2, 3, 4). This resurrection of the original game I designated as LAHKMAR (Fischer’s spelling); Leiber’s spelling, LANKHMAR, I reserved for the new TSR game, its board and the Citadel from which it was named. Having accomplished that task, I then became fascinated with the idea of adopting the chance or probability-outcome of combat, as used in TSR’s LANKHMAR and most current war games, to the longer, slower-moving LAHKMAR, along with elaborations and what I regarded as improvements on the combat tables. That project has occupied the last two sections of the series.

(Editor’s note: The next, and last, article in Prof. MacKnight’s series about LANKHMAR and its creators will be a special postscript. Fritz Leiber and Hurry Fischer, writers of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books and the creators and developers of Lankhmar, created a puzzle for MacKnight to solve when the three men were cohorts more than 40 years ago. “Fafhrd and Mouser in the Dungeon” is the name of the game. It, and its solution, will appear in TD-38.)

VII: A Fafhrd-Mouser adventurein puzzle form

The Dragon #38, June, 1980, Vol. IV, No. 12, pp. 44–45

As a postscript to this series I shall append a previously unpublished Fafhrd & Mouser Adventure—of a sort!

Be it known that I was once (and still am, though less active) a collector and constructor of a sort of puzzle-game, which as far as I know has no definite designation. It can be described as follows:

A mystery is stated which is to be solved, not by immediate rational analysis, but by asking questions which may be answered by yes or no. The mystey may be simple or complex; it may be stated in a few words, or even by a short story. The goal, or questions to be answered, may be single, compound, or several. Answers may, in addition to positive and negative, also include intermediate statements such as “Immaterial”, “Irrelevant”, “Begging the question” (involving an unestablished assumption), and occasional supplementary explanations to get the questioning back on the right track.

On one of our rare three-way get-togethers in the ’30s after having inflicted several of my inventions on Harry (Fischer) and Fritz (Leiber), I challenged them to make me one. It was a compound type, and follows here. It never had a title, so I shall give it one:

* * *

Fafhrd and Mouser in the Dungeon

Composed by Leiber and Fischer, and dedicated to McKnight for his delectation (or exasperation) and to exercise his expertise.

Fafhrd has been overpowered and imprisoned by a certain king and placed in a dungeon with three thieves. He has been spread-eagled against a wall and fastened thereto by iron bonds about his neck, chest, waist, thighs, arms, ankles and wrists. He is up to his neck in water. He can hold his breath for five minutes.

At the same time the Mouser is about a thousand miles away in a desert looking for something. He finds it, and shortly thereafter is beside Fafhrd in the dungeons, releasing him. They contrive to open the dungeon door. The three thieves immediately escape through the door, but the king, who has been alerted, has the doorway surrounded by archers.

Says the king to Fafhrd and Mouser, “If you come forth, you shall be slain!”

Nevertheless, Fafhrd and Mouser do leave the dungeon safely.

How do all these things happen?

* * *

In this puzzle the questions to be answered are:

Just what is Fafhrd’s predicament? What is the significance of being able to hold his breath for five minutes?
What is the Mouser looking for?
How does he reach Fafhrd?
Why aren’t Fafhrd and Mouser killed by the archers?

The recipient of the puzzle is not appraised of these questions. He should understand what he must learn for a satisfactory solution.

In this case the question could start with either the first or the second of the points listed above. It might go as follows (an example of how the game works):

Q. Would Fafhrd die if the Mouser didn’t arrive?
A. Yes.
Q. Could the three thieves release him?
A. Probably not. Anyway they didn’t try.
Q. Were they in the water too?
A. No.
Q. Were they in another part of the dungeon?
A. Yes.
Q. Do they have any importance?
A. Yes
Q. Is Fafhrd able to break his bonds?
A. No.
Q. Does the “five minutes” mentioned mean that Fafhrd would die in five minutes unless rescued?
A. Yes.
Q. Was there poison gas in the dungeon?
A. No.
Q. But he will die if he takes a breath?
A. You may be making an assumption here that does not apply.
Q. Is Fafhrd positioned vertically?
A. Yes.
Q. Water up to his neck? (Checking.)
A. Yes.
Q. Can he breathe in this position?
A. No, but again there is the possibility of a wrong assumption.
Q. Is the band about the neck too tight?
A. No.
Q. Is he gagged and his nose held shut?
A. No.
Q. Could he breathe if he wished to try?
A. Depends on your definition of breathing.
Q. Could he take air or gas into his lungs if he tried?
A. No.
Q. Would he drown if he tried?
A. Yes.
Q. Is the water rising?
A. No.
Q. (Inspiration!) He is upside down!
A. Yes!

The first hurdle is now cleared; and so on to the others. That’s the way the game goes.


As revealed above, Fafhrd is bound upside down in the water. The water may be stated as anywhere from 1 foot up, if the depth is questioned in specific amounts. (If one chooses water in excess of six feet the solution is not hinted at; if at a lesser distance it pushes the puzzle taker toward the right solution.)

Mouser is seeking the Seal of Soloman which gives power over the Jinn (or Jinni, as the plural is often spelled). A “magic talisman” will also do as an answer. (And perhaps “Soloman” should be spelled “Suleyman”. I understand that it is claimed that they are the same, but they may not be; I have no opinion.) By compelling the aid of a jinn (djinn, ifrit, genie, whatever) Mouser arrives at Fafhrd’s side instantly, by teleportation, higher dimensions or whatever means jinni use to get places fast without going through doors. Mouser need not know where Fafhrd is; he just commands, “Take me to my friend Fafhrd” and the deed is done.

Releasing Fafhrd may be done by the jinn or by Mouser’s own skills, though it must be fast! But the jinn doesnt stick around after his mission is accomplished.

The jinn does not help in the escape, though he might be obliging enough to open the dungeon door before departing to Jirinestan. Fafhrd and the Mouser escape by simply walking out the door! They don’t use a cloak of invisibility, cloud the minds of their adversaries by a spell, exit through another door (there aren’t any) or a secret passage (likewise) or have the jinn make one for them, or levitate themselves over the heads of the king’s men, or disguise themselves, or burrow a hole in the floor or under water to await the departure of all, or any such complex methods. They just walk out free. The king’s threat was, “If you come forth (fourth) you shall be slain.” Fafhrd and the Mouser came fifth and sixth! The king, whatever his faults, was a man of his word, and he believed that a man should say what he means, and mean what he says! Who did come fourth? (The three thieves came 1st, 2nd and 3rd) Another hitherto unmentioned person, either another prisoner or a gaoler.

This is a dastardly solution and one which tempts the puzzle-ee to murder the puzzler, so don’t use this on anyone who doesnt appreciate a pun (and who does?). And not only that, but there is information hitherto concealed from the puzzle-ee. Altogether a foul blow and completely illegitimate: a puzzle that could only have been formulated by puzzlers utterly without regard to ethics, morals, or any human decencies. Such are Leiber and Fischer!

The puzzle above is presented here as it was given to me. An alternate and perhaps better way would be to merely state, “He is up to his neck in water and will shortly die unless rescued.” This would eliminate the hint that Fafhrd must hold his breath, and the puzzle-ee must investigate other methods of being dispatched.

It now occurs to me that there is at least one unanswered question in the solution as given. Why didnt the Mouser use the Seal of Soloman again to get out of the dungeon?

I don’t remember!

It may have been that the seal was immovably fixed in the desert where Mouser found it and he couldn’t actually carry it away with him. It may have been that the ifrit stole it as he left for Jinnestan while Mouser was getting Fafhrd out of the water. Or perhaps the Seal was still operative and had a magical effect on the king’s judgment! Anyone who has the audacity to give the puzzle can take his choice!