Q&A With Tim Kask

June 2013

This article was originally published in & Magazine, Issue 4 in February 2013. Recorded by Bryan Fazekas.

Tim Kask, one of the people who helped create OD&D and AD&D, posts frequently to a Q&A forum on Dragonsfoot. Tim is kind enough to answer a lot of questions and has graciously permitted & Magazine to reprint select portions from his forum.

Tim Kask is one of the proprietors of Eldritch Enterprises (now defunct), a new company formed by some of the great minds that produced D&D.


BF: Tim — got another one for the Wayback Machine. Do you recall the rationale for placing a cap on the levels for the druid, assassin, and monk? They stand out oddly (IMO) and I’ve been wondering about this.

TK: To answer that question we must, indeed, utilize the Wayback Machine (with a nod to Rocky & Bullwinkle), and set it on Original Mid-Set. So grab your hot chocolate and settle back for a strange tale, a tale of times when RPG’s actually had end-game goals.

End-game goals? What a novel idea, at least for what seems to be a majority of contemporary players. Just what were those novel ideas? Same as you and me in real life: make a stack of cash, buy or build the home/castle of our dreams on our own substantial property where nobody is likely to mess with us and retire to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

Yes, Virginia, we really did play like that. All of us had PC’s that were “retired” or “semi-retired”; we did not use them except for special circumstances. Learning at Gary’s knee, so to speak, as I did, I had a whole stable of PC’s because he did, as well as the rest of the original players. It seems today that too many players get way too involved in just one PC; to say that some seem to obsess over their PC’s is fair, I think. When you had a stable of PC’s, as we did, you could view the PC’s as you might a pack of fine hunting dogs. Each dog in the pack had its strong and weak points, but you seldom develop a deep attachment with more than one or two of the pack. Certainly it hurts to lose any of them, but the pack endures.

Part of the reason we had multiple PC’s had to do with injury, healing and timelines; if my currently-favorite Fighting Man was laid up recuperating (I hated those original healing rules and argued with Gary about them several times.) but word had just come at the tavern that a new menace was in the offing with a promise of loot, I “played” my next-best-for-the-situation character. We were gathered together to play, after all.

Having tried to explain the prevailing mindset, the following answers may make a little more sense.

The Druid class actually had a bit of historical research behind it so setting a level limit that corresponded to historical thought about druids (we really know very little outside of the Roman propaganda) seemed a logical thing to do. After all, years and years of study working their way through the druidic and bardic ranks meant that most high level druids would be fairly old men. Gary had done a prodigious amount of research and had planned on a druid of his own, well before Dennis sent his excellent take on it to us. The mists of time make it a big foggy, but I do not recall making much alteration to the druid to meet Gary’s OK to publish. (One of the very few cases of running anything past him first was anything that might become construed as canon, and that only in the beginning.)

The assassin was, in my opinion, an experiment that went wrong. In those early days of negative publicity and much of the public misunderstanding exactly what we were doing, we were careful to downplay the fact that yes, you could do some pretty evil or wicked things in the game if you were of a mind to. We seldom published maleficent spells. The spells were what they were; how they were used and against whom and what was more important. We did state that a good number of spells could be reversed, with pretty nasty consequences. But honestly, we never saw the hired killer as much more than an exotic NPC to be hired to do “wet work”. (Gary never understood how Thieves could be tolerated on a daily campaign basis, or how “real thieves” would refrain from stealing from party members if the chance arose. He saw them as the true N/N alignment: “me first”.)

Being a subset of thieves, assassins become Hollywood killing machines at high levels; all those adds and boni (“from behind” or “backstab”, etc.) meant that they had the capability to take out rather high-level PC’s and NPC’s willy-nilly. We saw that as too much of a campaign “un-balancer” and did not wish to inflict it on the already long-suffering DM’s. We actually made a lot of decisions in the early days from a perspective of not burdening the DM’s with more than they needed or could assimilate. Yes, we felt very paternalistic.

TSR was more or less forced to come out with a monk class. We fended off everyone with a mimeo machine that thought we had screwed it up and that they could do it better. David Carradine’s Kung Fu resonated with a lot of gamers and particularly RPG’ers who all saw themselves as Caine, kicking butt across the Western US. Sadly, one of the principals (not Gary) was so in love with the whole fighting monk crapola that it was inevitable that we would do one. I have made no bones about the fact that I hate the class. As written, these guys cling to walls and ceilings like Peter Parker and kick butt like Bruce Lee taking on the local toughs and bullies. The D&D monk is a joke in a historical sense. Yes, there were monasteries full of warrior monks in several periods of Japanese history; they were spear-carriers like infantry, not squads of death- and gravity-defying hyper-efficient killers.

So, having elucidated on our mind-set of retirement as the ultimate and totally honorable goal of the game, it comes to this admission: we could not see any good reason why players would not retire old PC’s and then foster other PC’s to greatness and retirement. This was pre-MM; there just was not that much stuff to kill and it should have gotten boring. We naively thought that most players enjoyed the struggle to survive and thrive as we did. We should have seen that greed would prevail; it always does.

Hope that answers your question. It was a different gaming climate then. That was over 35 years ago, man. A lot of you were not even born then. You had to be there …


BF: Why did magic users have 9 levels of spells while the other classes only have 7?

TK: Over a period of time the conceptualization of clerical “spells” morphed into prayers, rites, and rituals. We reasoned that there was a relatively finite number of ways to pray or otherwise invoke divine favor.

Magic, on the other hand, was infinitely mutable and malleable, limitless in what it might achieve. When those mega-spells came out in GH, we had a couple of different motives. First, we were ramping up the lethality of the potential foe. Second, we were introducing mega-magic in the form of scrolls that might be possibly used by lower levels, though sometimes with unfortunate or unforeseen results.

As a DM I have always entertained and encouraged original spell research. I once had a player that had researched fire so thoroughly that he had six legitimate variations on the common fireball spell, for which he paid dearly in research costs and times.

That is another argument in favor of multiple PC’s; you can burn months of game time researching while out adventuring as someone else.


BF: Do you recall where the term “module” came from, in reference to packaged dungeons/ adventures?

TK: “Scenario” was linked to boards, with a little reference to minis. “Modular” was a hot buzzword; modular this, modular that, modular design, spacecraft modules etc. As to which of us, Gary, Brian [Blume] or me, came up with it? Probably consensus.

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