Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Different Worlds: Issue #15

Issue #15 of Different Worlds (October 1981) features a cover by Rick Becker, who had previously done the covers for issues #6 and #10, as well as The Gateway Bestiary. Paul Montgomery Crabaugh's "More Citizens" kicks things off by presenting six new professions for use with GDW's Traveller: cavalry, artillery, technician, engineer, reporter, and civilian, along with three new skills. In my youth, when I was playing Traveller regularly, I used to adore articles like this, so reading this one was a nice blast of nostalgia for me.

"Tournament Role-Playing" by Ken Rolston is a lengthy, 10-page piece that covers a great many topics relating to the refereeing a adventure scenarios at gaming conventions. The topics range from styles of play to the creation of characters to judging players. He provides a lengthy example of a RuneQuest scenario he has designed that nicely demonstrates the principles he puts forward. Of particular interest to me was his assertion that one's "best bet" is "basing your tournament scenarios in the campaign you are currently running." As someone who's long felt that too many game writers aren't even playing the games for which they are writing, I couldn't agree more.

"Calandra and Aurelion" by Charles Huber is a Gloranthan cult for use with RuneQuest. Even though I don't play RQ regularly, I nevertheless enjoy these cult write-ups. Religion is a topic that's near and dear to me; I find its treatment in most fiction (including RPGs) to be laughably simplistic. RuneQuest makes a much better effort to take religion seriously and many of these cult articles demonstrate that quite well. David F. Nalle's "Favorites of the Gods" is another article treating religion, specifically the ability of characters to gain the favor of deities through sacrifices and quests. Nalle's treatment is simple and mechanical in its approach, but I nevertheless appreciate his attempt to grapple with the topic of divine intervention.

"A Modest Proposal for The Fantasy Trip" by David R. Dunham is a short article suggesting the splitting of the game's attribute scores into related pairs to deal with both the over-importance of certain attributes and the "unrealistic" nature of combing, say, one's physical strength and endurance into one score. This is a long-standing complaint about not just TFT but also its descendant GURPS. "Man Bites Dog" is Ken St. Andre's rather peculiar article that's ostensibly about "role-playing in the future." Instead of a prognostication of how the then-new technology of computers might change the face of the hobby, St. Andre instead offers a half-serious, half-parodic account of what roleplaying might be like in a post-apocalyptic world when only the aged remember "the good old days back in the 1980s." 

Lewis Pulsipher's "Making Life Hard for Magic-Users" is another entry in the ancient genre of "cutting magic-users down to size," the belief that magic-users in Dungeons & Dragons are too powerful compared to other character classes. To correct this supposed imbalance, Pulsipher offers numerous possible fixes, such as spell points, spell failure, spell interruption, and more. I appreciate the range of options he suggests, even if I've never been of the opinion that magic-users needed fixing to make them less potent and flexible.

This issue's reviews are lengthy and mostly critical of the products reviewed, starting with SPI's Universe. Actually, the review of Universe is quite measured and fair. The review of Aftermath is similarly fair, but notes that the complexity of the rules militates against wading through its rules to get to the genuinely good material in the game. The poor Fiend Folio gets the most abuse, such as the following passage that mocks the monsters contained therein.

Harsh but not wholly incorrect.

Gigi D'Arn's column is shorter, owing to the fact that it's now monthly, a fact Gigi draws attention to at the start of her piece. Nevertheless, there are a few notable tidbits, such as further rumors about the insolvency of SPI and that Chaosium is working on a King Arthur RPG (though it's rumored that Ken St. Andre is working on it with Greg Stafford). Gigi also says the following, which I found amusing.
Ouch! Equally amusing, I think, is that not everyone who read Different Worlds liked Gigi's column, as this letter to the editor makes clear.
I guess there's no accounting for taste.


  1. I remember this one better than most, perhaps because of the snazzy cover art. Damn fine example of the "sex toy as a spaceship" trope there. The Traveller professions were pretty great, and several later groups I played in featured engineers (or maybe techs) and reporters. The RQ cults were fun too, who doesn't love volcano worshippers?

    The TFT article I found less useful despite the fact I was playing it quite a lot in this period, and I disagree with the basic premise that some stats are too important relative to others. Simply not true, that, even for the most boneheaded of warriors.
    Inclined to agree that Pulsipher's insistence on restricting magic-users more than they already are is kind of nuts. They rarely last long enough to outshine other classes IME, at least prior to 3.0.

    Refreshing to see someone picking on the Fiend Folio without mentioning the flumph. :)

  2. Yeah, Fiend Folio. Was never really fond of it but still used some stuff from it (and the disenchanter can still evoke cries of horror [and rage] from my players after one of their strongest fighters lost his only magic weapon to it).

    And I love crunchy stuff like Aftermath, but, literally each player has to own a copy of the basic and players' manuals; otherwise, it takes hours to track down a rule or go through even a few rounds of combat.

  3. Hoo-boy...shades of teal and lavender. We are definitely entering the 80s here.

  4. I'm with the review of the FF.

    I'm sort of in agreement with Lew P. I don't like the caster vs. non-caster disparity once mid to high levels are achieved. However, I don't f feel casters need toning down, but rather the non caster's (specifically Fighters and Thieves) need beefing up! Low level casters need some help too.