White Box Archaeology: The Pyrologist

Let’s set the wayback machine to the ’70s, at the dawn of Dungeons & Dragons. For you kids out there, this entirely predates the Internet as we know it; there were no blogs or forums on which to share ideas. Gamers who wanted to broadly disseminate gaming material would submit their work to fanzines, which were compiled on a typewriter, printed via photocopier or mimeograph, and sent out via snail mail.

One such fanzine was “Liaisons Dangereuses,” a Diplomacy ‘zine run by Len Lakofka. As an early D&D player, Len used his ‘zine to print up some D&D material that he and Gary Gygax had written. There are a few gems to be found here, such as the Pyrologist, a new character class appearing in LD #74 (September 1976). The class is a gonzo mess, allowing for Pyrologist/Cleric dual classing, psionic abilities, spells and bonus powers, weapon choices varying by level, and other oddball rules. Well worth looking at for a peek into how idiosyncratic things could get in old-school play!

You can read the original ‘zine here. More recently, an old-school fan transcribed the whole thing up on the forums at The Delver’s Dungeon, a 1e AD&D fan site. The transcription can be found here.


9 Responses to “White Box Archaeology: The Pyrologist”

  1. August 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I also remember reading that the author of Liasons Dangereuses had made the whole thing up. It wasn’t actually Gary Gygax’ article: “I wrote the articles and added E. Gary Gygax’s name to preserve his copyright to D&D. He was in control of D&D and any material I published was not “official” unless Gary blessed it. He did not see the text prior to me publishing it in LD. Some of what I did to in LD ended in up The Dragon — issue #1 actually. […] Gary did not author anything in LD.” http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/11/interview-len-lakofka-part-i.html

  2. August 12, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    I remember because at the time these were rediscovered by Randall I had submitted some elementalist pictures to Fight On! — I was surprised at how loosely people treated copyright back then. I guess those days are over… :(


    Click to access ld74.pdf

  3. August 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Very interesting! Grognardia is, as always, the place to go for the straight dope. Thanks for the update!

  4. August 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    In any event, Len Lakofka is an important fixture in early D&D; witness his everpresent “Leomund’s Tiny Hut” column in The Dragon. Even if this isn’t Gygax’s work, it’s noteworthy as a window into some of the earliest OD&D kitbashing.

  5. August 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Hmm. Steven Brust based his Jhereg series off a D&D campaign of some sort that he was in; one of his prequel books has a character explicitly termed a pyrologist, whose job consisted of (among other things) setting fire to the bodies of plague victims. Doesn’t bear too much relation to the class presented here in terms of abilities, but I can’t help but wonder if this is where Brust nicked the name.

  6. August 12, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Doesn’t bear too much relation to the class presented here in terms of abilities, but I can’t help but wonder if this is where Brust nicked the name.

    It’s possible, but the word does have a long lineage. Here’s a newspaper reference from 1909, and it seems to have appeared in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.

    (Also, it’s good to see you, Allandaros!)

  7. August 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Thanks for the link-back. I know Rusty put a lot of work into the transcription and appreciates the nod.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

August 2010

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