Tuesday, October 5, 2021

White Dwarf: Issue #12

Issue #12 of White Dwarf (April/May 1979) features a cover by Eddie Jones, who had previously done the cover for issue #10. According to Ian Livingstone's editorial, Jones was the favorite cover artist in the poll he commissioned in the previous issue. For myself, I am regularly struck by how commonly 1970s fantasy art include spaceships and other elements we might today consider science fictional. It's a reminder of just how fluid those two categories were once upon a time. 

Livingstone also comments on a couple of other interesting topics. First, he notes that, thanks to the increase in its readership, White Dwarf is expanding to 32 pages from 28. By my lights, though, it doesn't seem as if those extra four pages are being used for content but rather for more advertising. Second, and relatedly, he notes that "the hobby industry" is not "mass market" and its prices will be accordingly higher. Livingstone then takes aim at "photocopier fanatics" who make copies of rules or magazines rather than buying them. He encourages his readers to give such miscreants "a bad time" and to support game companies by buying their properly printed products. 

"The Fiend Factory" presents eight more monsters for use with Dungeons & Dragons. Five of these are creatures I recall from the Fiend Folio, including the githyanki. Notable too is the fact that many feature illustrations by the inimitable Russ Nichsolson. Indeed, some of the illustrations look identical to those that would later appear in the Fiend Folio itself, though it's possible that my aged memory is simply playing tricks on me again. Lew Pulsipher's "Useful Dungeon Equipment" is a short article presenting a collection of pieces of specialized equipment he feels would be of use in dungeon exploration, such as a crowbar, an eyepatch, and noseplugs. I remember reading many articles like this over the years and have a strange fondness for them. They reflect, I think, a real culture of play, in which players regularly came up with inventive solutions to equally inventive obstacles created by referees. Articles like this speak to D&D "as she was played" back in the day and they're every bit as important to understanding the history of the hobby as the ins and outs of designers and companies.

"Open Box" presents five reviews, only two of which are of products with which I am familiar. The unfamiliar products are FGU's Rapier & Dagger (rated 6), Conflict Interaction Associates' Pellic Quest (rated 7), and Gametime Games's Spellmaker (rated 6). The last review is interesting, because the game's creator, Eric Solomon, is given a small space in which to reply to the review's criticisms. The two familiar reviews treat Chaosium's All the World's Monsters (rated 5) and The Arduin Grimoire, Volumes I, II, and III (rated 4). The review of the Arduin books ends with the following comment:
All this issue's reviews are by Don Turnbull, who, in my estimation, tends to be quite harsh in his judgments on non-TSR products. As I've commented before, I can't help but wonder if the combination of his obvious industry – he is one of early White Dwarf's workhorses – and his largely uncritical promotion of TSR played a role in his being made head of TSR UK in 1980.

"Pool of the Standing Stones" by Bill Howard is a "mini-dungeon" for 5th and 6th-level characters. Like so many dungeons of the past, it's an odd mixture of elements. There's a druid who's interested in maintaining the balance between Law and Chaos, bandits, martial artists, mad scientists, and more. There are a few genuinely imaginative elements, like the talking entrance doors, but it's mostly a bizarre mishmash that, while not bad, is still far from good. The best I can say is that it's certainly no worse than many dungeons I created in my youth, though that's very faint praise indeed. 

Part five of Rowland Flynn's "Valley of the Four Winds" appears in this issue, though, as with the previous installments, I can't say much about it, as I lost interest in it several issues ago. "Treasure Chest" offers up a large number of new magic items, a few of which are decent, if not necessarily inspired. Brian Asbury also offers some modifications to the barbarian class that appeared in issue #4, in light of the publication of the Players Handbook. On that very front, Don Turnbull's "A Dip into the Players Handbook" is a two-page examination of certain aspects of the AD&D Players Handbook from the perspective of its innovations over OD&D. I found the article strangely enjoyable. It's a piece of history and provides some insight on how the piecemeal publication of AD&D was received by the existing players of D&D. Turnbull, as one might expect, is a fan of most AD&D's changes, but, even so, his comments are useful bits of data for anyone with an interest in the hobby's history.

6 comments:

  1. "It's a reminder of just how fluid those two categories were once upon a time."

    Well, the cover does proudly announce this is "the science fiction & fantasy games and miniatures magazine" so they certainly are betting on cross-genre appeal. I don't really see any fantasy elements in that (quite nice) cover piece though. Interesting and peculiar that they bother to explicitly differentiate between games and miniatures like that, though.

    Always wondered what issue had the first appearance of the githyanki in it. Definitely one of the generally acknowledged hits in the Fiend Folio.

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    1. You're correct that this particular cover doesn't mix fantasy and science fiction elements. I was simply using it as an opportunity to riff on the topic.

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    2. Ah, thought I was missing something. The previous cover by this artist certainly did mash them up a bit, what with the spaceship hovering over a lower tech fortress.

      Digging deeper it looks like Eddie Jones did the cover art on an awful lot of the James Blish books I read as a kid, as well as many others. Kind of surprised more of his work didn't show up in the Terran Trade Authority series or one of its imitators, his style's a good fit for that sort of project.

      Good gallery pages here:

      https://www.scifivintage.com/the-art-of-eddie-jones-1-10-images/

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  2. White Dwarf 12... yeah, I enjoyed the Players Handbook review as well. Reading old reviews, if they're well written, can be quite interesting. I still like reading those in Different Worlds, White Dwarf, Space Gamer, Dragon, and Adventure Gaming of products from the 70s and early 80s.

    Oddly enough, the Dungeon Equipment article didn't do much for me. It's fine, but D&D specialized equipment never made much of an impression on my group - it just didn't really feel like "fantasy" gear and more like 20th century people being anachronistic (or time traveling). On the other hand, I used to love all the Traveller gadgets, so there you go.

    I keep promising myself I'll read another installment of Valley of the Four Winds, but in 44 years I still haven't brought myself to. I did read the one where the statue blew everyone away (as illustrated in WD 8), which actually wasn't that bad, but gave up half-way through the next one. Maybe if they hadn't named the lead character "Hero" (how self-referential..).

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    1. You ever read Snow Crash? 1992 Neal Stephenson novel, sort of a parody of cyberpunk from the era. The main character is named Hiro Protagonist.

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    2. I've read Snow Crash. I think the name was a bit over the top, but the book is, as you say, at least half a parody of the genre (high speed pizza delivery run by the mafia, etc.) so some humor is justified. Valley of the Four Winds, however, seemed to be taking itself seriously, so the name kind of came of as someone either being lazy or having read the Hero's Journey too many times...

      One nice thing about Valley, though, was the line of quite imaginative miniature figures that were produced to go along with it, including some nifty demons and other special characters.

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