Monday, April 26, 2021

Different Worlds: Issue #12

Issue #12 of Different Worlds (July 1981) is the first monthly issue of the magazine, all previous ones being bimonthly. It also features cover art by William Church, whom I will always associate with RuneQuest and the wonderfully evocative map of Prax that appeared in the game's rulebook. 

"Meaningful Names for Characters" by Jane Woodward is the issue's first article and it's a big one – eight pages – consisting largely of lists of names and name elements from a variety of languages, both real (Old English and Welsh) and imaginary (Quenya and the Black Speech). The idea behind that article is to encourage players to come up with better names for their characters than "bad puns or meaningless constructs." I'm deeply sympathetic to this perspective; I think character names are important. At the same time, I prefer names to be rooted in a game's setting rather than by recourse to whatever language catches one's fancy, regardless of how appropriate it is (and it's never appropriate, in my opinion, to use Tolkien's languages, unless one is actually playing in Middle-earth).

"The Full Circle" by Robert Lynn Asprin is a preview of the upcoming Thieves' World RPG supplement, based on the anthology series of the same name. Asprin talks not just about the supplement itself but the ways that his experiences as a referee and player affected his decisions in putting together the anthologies. The article's title is thus a reference to the way that roleplaying games were influenced by literature, only for literature, in turn, to be influenced by RPGs. Though brief, Asprin provides some fascinating insight into these matters and I was glad to have read what he had to say. "Bersekers" by Laurence J.P. Gillespie is an overview of Norse berserkers from the perspectives of history and myth, with a few suggestions on how to use them in roleplaying games. 

John T. Sapienza reviews several new sets of Zargonian paper miniatures from Bearhug Enterprises. As in his review of earlier releases in this series, Sapienza thinks highly of these miniatures. The issue also includes many other, generally shorter reviews, most notably those of The Isle of Dread (for D&D), Plunder and Rune Masters (for RQ), Thieves' Guild, and the D&D Basic and Expert sets. All these reviews are positive, though, perhaps unsurprisingly, the review of the Basic and Expert sets include a number of cavils about Dungeons & Dragons and its approach to both rules and presentation, even though D&D clearly appeals "to a lot of happy adventure gamers." 

Larry DiTillio's "The Sword of Hollywood" column continues, focusing this time on the still-untitled second Star Trek movie, Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer, and Conan the Barbarian. There's also mention of multiple fantasy films supposedly in the works, almost all of which DiTillio believes will never see the light of day. His instincts were indeed correct, as the only one that seems to have seen the light of day was The Beastmaster, unless "The Dragons of Krull" was a working title of 1983's Krull. 

Gigi D'Arn makes another appearance, providing some interesting gossip, chief among them being that TSR was rumored to have laid off "a dozen or so employees for 'bad attitude.'" This is no rumor but fact: starting in April 1981, TSR fired Paul Reiche, Evan Robinson, Bill Willingham, Jeff Dee, Kevin Hendryx, and others. There's mention, too, that Dave Arneson "settled (happily)" with TSR and that Greg Costikyan "hasn't been heard from in a while," followed by an appeal to "people who know his whereabouts" to contact the Game Designers' Guild. I have no idea what this might have been about. Gigi also references a "Troll Ball" game from Greg Stafford, which will have miniatures sculpted by Steve Lortz. I assume this never came to pass and that the rules were later incorporated into Trollpak.

Issue #12 is unusual in that, although it's the same length as previous issues (48 pages), it feels shorter. I suspect that has to do with the fewer articles in this issue and the presence of huge numbers of advertisements. Now, I actually like seeing these ads, since they're a terrific way to remind oneself of the state of the hobby in 1981, but, in terms of actual gaming content, this issue seems a slight downgrade to past ones. Here's hoping future issues will see a return to previous form.


  1. The rules for Trollball were published in Wyrm's Footnotes before being included in Trollpak. I don't think the miniatures were ever produced.

    1. Think you're right about the minis. There was also a very limited run (100 copies) of the rules as a fundraiser back in 2008:

  2. William Church's map of the Young Kingdoms that came with the 1st edition of Stormbringer remains one of my favorite RPG political maps of all time, ranking right up there with Darlene's Greyhawk.

    I had never before heard that artists Jeff Dee and Bill Willingham were fired from TSR for "bad attitudes." Is there any other info on that subject?

    1. Think it's the same map (albeit without color) from the earlier Elric board game. Not sure whether I prefer it with or without the color, honestly. Striking either way.

      Never heard anything about Dee or Willingham being fired for "bad attitudes" either, but their careers outside of TSR were both starting to take off around this point (for ex, V&V 2nd ed dropped in 1982, and the Elementals comic in '84 was a big deal for Bill) and they might have been de-prioritizing TSR assignments in favor of their own work.

      I suppose there might have been some clash over personal views, too. They're both pretty ardent about their beliefs - Dee self-describes as an outspoken atheist, and Willingham is strongly pro-Israeli. Whether either of those gave someone at TSR a headache I don't know, but "wrongful firing" wasn't the thing it is now back in 1981. But that's just speculation.

  3. Yes, the working title of Krull was indeed The Dragons of Krull.

  4. That bit about Greg Costikyan is odd. In 1981 he should have still been at SPI, although they were in iffy shape at that point. TSR killed them by calling in their loan late that year and were selling their stock and assets by early 1982. Greg was at West End Games by 1983 along with Bug-Eyed Monsters and Paranoia, so he landed on his feet pretty well.

    I wonder if "Gigi" was looking for him to pass along a job offer or something. I don't recognize "Game Designers Guild" from that era, does anyone else know who/what it was?