Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Different Worlds: Issue #11

Issue #11 of Different Worlds (February/March 1981) is an interesting issue to me, because its content continues to differentiate the magazine from its contemporaries, like Dragon or White Dwarf. For whatever reason, Different Worlds published a significant number of "theoretical" articles about roleplaying, which is to say, articles about roleplaying rather than simply articles providing additions and options to existing games. If I had to guess, I imagine this reflects the local culture out of which Chaosium and, by extension, Different Worlds, grew. I've noted on a couple of occasions that California, like the Midwest and the East Coast, was distinctive in its approach to RPGs, so I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to see this distinction reflected in its periodicals. 

The issue begins with "Running Low Level Dungeons" by Robert Plamondon, which offers some advice to referees on the necessity of taking beginner dungeons seriously, as a means of "hooking" people into the hobby. Plamondon's concerns are twofold. First, he feels strongly that even low-level dungeons should be every bit as interesting as high-level one. Second, he feels equally strongly that low-level dungeons should be accommodating to the inexperience of new players and thus not "killer" in their approach. Mind you, Plamondon seems generally opposed to dungeons designed to kill characters, seeing this as somehow antithetical to the purpose of RPGs. 

"A Change of Hobbit" by Ronald Mark Pehr is an odd piece. It's a critique of D&D's portrayal of hobbits (halflings) on the basis that it differs from they way Tolkien portrayed them in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Beyond that, Pehr's main complaint is that D&D pigeon holes halflings as thieves and doesn't acknowledge their skills as warriors. These are fair points, if being true to Tolkien, is one's goal, but I'm not sure that was ever the point of including halflings in the game. (I resolve the matter by dispensing with halflings entirely.) Part two of "Gems & Magic" by Steve Marsh and Margaret R. Gemignani is also here, completing what began last issue. I'm a big fan of "natural" magic items like this, so the article was most welcome to me.

"A New Computer System for Traveller" by Martin Connell is an attempt – in 1981, I remind you – to offer new rules for computers to make it "truly representative of the far future." More amusingly, Connell notes that his rules are based on his experiences with an "IBM 360, and IBM 3033, a PRIME, and several hobby computers." He also consulted with "several friends who are computer science majors." I don't mean to mock Connell, whose larger point about how outdated Traveller's computer rules have always been is sound, but only to point out that, when it comes to technology, predicting the future is not always easy. Personally, I've generally found Traveller's somewhat retro approach to computers less problematic than trying to import the moving target of "realistic" far future computer rules into the game.

"The Fourfold Way of FRP" by Jeffrey A. Johnson is a follow-up of sorts to the articles by Glen Blacow and Lewis Pulsipher in issue #10. It's another stab at trying to describe types of gamers and approaches to roleplaying. Johnson offers a diagram consisting of two axes, one relating to personal goals (power gaming vs storytelling) and realism (pure fantasy vs simulation). Honestly, this isn't a bad approach, though, as with most such articles, I marvel at gamers' desire to try and codify everything into neat categories (I am as guilty of this as anyone).

There is a huge collection of lengthy reviews in this issue, starting with a positive one for Azhanti High Lightning. Also covered are Tunnels & Trolls (also positively) and DragonQuest and several smaller adventure publications of which I've (mostly) never heard. What stands out about these reviews is how lengthy they are, something I appreciated, since, if nothing else, they afforded the reviewer to explain his own perspective in detail. This is particularly useful in the case of case of the T&T review (by Ken Rolston) and the DQ review (by Michael Stackpole), since there are multiple points where their own opinions differed with my own. Even more interesting is that the review of DragonQuest was followed by a rebuttal of sorts by the designer, Eric Goldberg. Good stuff!

John T. Sapienza reviews Beasts of Antares and several other novels in the saga of Dray Prescot. Sapienza also provides D&D game statistics for some of the magical items and monsters that appear in the series. "The Cult of Kali" is a "gateway" cult for RuneQuest by Greg Costikyan. Meanwhile, "The Sword of Hollywood" by Larry DiTillio is a new column about fantasy and science fiction movies, this time focusing rumors of the D&D movie, a new Star Trek TV series, and pre-production of the third Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Jedi. 

Lewis Pulsipher's "Personalities of Role-Playing Gamers" presents fifteen types of roleplayers, ranging from "The Barbarian," who always plays fighters and likes combat, to "The Puppet," who does what other people tell him to do, and "The Entrepreneur," who's always looking for ways to make money in an adventure. It's a fine, if limited list, but, much like Johnson's article earlier in this issue, I'm not quite sure the point of all these attempts at codifying the hobby and its players. Ending the issue is another column by Gigi D'Arn, which sadly doesn't contain any remarkable bits of gossip worth mentioning here. Oh, well.


  1. Another issue I owned and can actually recall parts of - mostly the Kali cult and the gemstones article, the latter of which I used for years.

    The "Fourfold Way" article is dimly familiar, but those are weird choices for each axis. "Realism versus pure fantasy" would make more sense to me as "simulation versus abstraction" and even that wouldn't be prefect. "Power gaming versus storytelling" is just bizarre, the two aren't mutually exclusive IME. Heck, I'm not sure I even know how you'd define either of them universally rather than subjectively.

    As far as predicting future computer tech, I've pretty much given up at this point and am perfectly willing to accept that by the time we really get off this planet in any numbers (or develop true AI while still on it, as seems probable) computing tech will pretty much be magic even from a 2021 POV. As a child in the 60s or 70s today's internet and smart phones would absolutely have been unbelievable as something that could exist within my lifetime. What a few hundred years could produce is likely to be even more stunning.

  2. Cool cover on that issue. That might be the first sci-fi piece by Jaquays I've seen.

    Also, I thought it cool that in the T&T review Rolston mentions how it was his first RPG and not D&D. And at a little over 2 full pages it is a pretty detailed review.

  3. Second the appreciation of the cover. Jaquays has talent and versatility.

  4. Wow, I thought that cover was by Phil Foglio! The posing is very reminiscent.