Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Different Worlds: Issue #7

Issue #7 of Different Worlds (April/May 1980) features a cover by Cora L. Healy, an artist known for her work on science fiction periodicals throughout the 1970s and early '80s. The issue proper begins with an installment of the "Beginner's Brew" column that lists "all the more popular role-playing games (RPGs) and magazines available." The games and magazines are divided up by publisher, sixteen for RPGs and fourteen for magazines. There are also fifteen miniatures manufacturers listed. The list are interesting, most especially for the "forthcoming" games mentioned, such as Chaosium's Dark Worlds and Elric RuneQuest and Heritage USA's Heroes of Middle Earth. 

"Ten Days in the Arena of Khazan" by Ken St. Andre is a seven-page outline of a campaign for use with Tunnels & Trolls. More than that, though, it's an overview of a portion of the game's setting of Trollworld, with lots of interesting tidbits about its history and peoples. I really enjoyed this article, because it gave me some insight into what it's like to play in St. Andre's home campaign, a topic that never ceases to interest me. 

I find it hard to disagree with Richard L. Snider's effusive review of Cults of Prax, one of the truly great RPG supplements of all time. He rightly deems it "the best extant cosmology designed for use with any FRP" – which was probably true in 1980 and, even today, it stands head and shoulders above most other treatments of similar topics. "Gloranthan Birthday Tables" by Morgan O. Woodward III is a series of random tables to determine when a Gloranthan character is born, with special attention given to those during Sacred Time (and the special abilities that might come from such an auspicious birth). 

Part two of the "Vardy Combat System" by John T. Sapienza appears in this issue. A variant combat system for use with Dungeons & Dragons, this article provides expanded rules and tables for handling parries, shields, hit points, and more. What I appreciate about the system is that it strives to be genuinely compatible with D&D's existing combat system rather than simply replacing it. The article even offers a further option that uses D20 rolls rather than percentile ones, for even further compatibility. As I said previously, I have not tested this system and have no idea how well it works in practice, but, from reading it, I think it might be worthy testing out in play.

"Foundchild Cult" by Sandy Petersen is a cult for use with RuneQuest and its setting of Glorantha. Meanwhile. Steve Perrin reviews In the Labyrinth by Steve Jackson. Perrin thinks very highly of the game, his main complaint being that, like Tunnels & Trolls before it, allows characteristics to increase as a character gains experience, something that he thinks inevitably leads to an "incredibly strong, lightning fast, cosmically intelligent character who seems to have stepped directly from the pages of Marvel or DC Comics." I think that's a fair criticism and one of the reasons I prefer the more grounded approach taken by many older RPGs. 

James M. Ward offers "Power Groups and Player Characters in RPGs," in which he talks specifically about the importance of factions in a campaign. He then provides examples from his home Metamorphosis Alpha campaign, showing how the characters became involved with them and how this involvement affected the development of the campaign. It's a solid, though short, article, covering a topic that is increasingly near and dear to my heart. "Two from Grenadier" by John T. Sapienza is a lengthy, five-page article that reviews in detail two AD&D boxed sets from Grenadier Models, Woodland Adventurers and Tomb of Spells. His review is quite positive overall and a nice bit of nostalgia for me, since I once owned both of the boxed sets in question.

"System Snobbery" by Larry DiTillio is an early entry in the now well-worn genre of "there are no bad RPGs, just bad GMs" articles. It's fine for what it is; its main interest to me was DiTillio's recounting of his experience with various GMs over the years. Gigi D'Arn's gossip column this month mentions the departure of Tim Kask from the editorship of Dragon and eludes to "dubious circumstances." There's further mention of a D&D movie, as well as a reference to something called the "AD&D Companion," a collection of variants for use with D&D and AD&D. I suspect this is either simply untrue or a garbled rumor of something like the Best of Dragon anthology, the first of which did appear in 1980. Concluding the issue is "Oriental Weapons for RuneQuest" by Sean Summers, with additional material by Steve Perrin. It's pretty much what you'd expect for this type of article, a staple of the '70s and '80s, when all things Asian were the rage in RPG circles.


  1. In fairness to The Fantasy Trip/In the Labyrinth, they really don't have a way to represent getting better at combat or spellcasting beyond improving your three basic stats. You can spend XP to buy skills/talents/spells as well, but actually using them generally requires a stat test, so you aren't automatically any good even if you have a lot of talents or spells. It might rightly be called a design flaw, but the actual rate of improvement of your stats is much slower than T&T's is IME, despite having only half as many stats to actually improve.

    The Grenadier boxed sets are a real piece of nostalgia, I had them myself. For those who didn't and are curious about what fairly cutting-edge figs in this era looked like, the immensely useful Lost Minis site has them here:


  2. When TFT was reissued a couple of years ago in a "Legacy Edition," Steve Perrin joined the Facebook group dedicated to it and made a comment about how Chaosium saw TFT at the time. That comment seems to be gone now (and maybe Perrin's account too), but the gist was that although Chaosium felt threatened by the potential of TFT Metagaming "didn't know what they had" and failed to capitalize on it.

    As for the potential for TFT superheroes...TFT had no healing spells and was based on microgames of arena combat, and as a result it was a bloodbath. If you didn't cheat you'd lose dozens and dozens of characters before one ever got near the level where it could be called overpowered. And even then there were 14-hex dragons and giant octopuses wielding eight magic weapons at once. The superhero was only a theoretical problem.

  3. Speaking of the Legacy Edition of TFT, Steve Jackson reworked the system specifically to address the problem of stat bloat. I haven't played it enough to judge how well the changes work, but they are clear improvements. Alec Semicognito is also right that TFT is pretty bloody, so the problem is lesser than one might think.

    1. We wrapped up a Legacy TFT campaign about a year ago. One of my observations is that with the tamp down on stat bloat, that things like 7-hex dragons become things you really never want to fight. I lost my interest in the game when it became clear that advancement had essentially stalled. And our one attempt at dungeon adventure cost us more in healing potions than the take. In fact, that dungeon adventure was financed by a combination of starting cash and my animal trainer having caught, trained, and sold some horses...

      True, part of the problem was the campaign really didn't offer much in the way of advancement outside XP, like I said we barely got any treasure. And the one thing we gained, a high tech fort, we basically had to try and spike because a local leader with resources we couldn't counter (including his own high tech) wanted it.

      I'm curious if I would have found the original XP system to have produced more rewarding play.

      I'm glad I tried out TFT, but I definitely don't see it as a system for long term play, though I'm sure others would be happy with the system.