Tuesday, August 17, 2021

White Dwarf: Issue #5

Issue #5 of White Dwarf (February/March 1978) features a cover by Polly Wilson. Ian Livingstone's editorial is about copyright laws and their enforcement. The reason he broaches the subject is because several companies (including TSR) have had to remove their Middle-earth wargames and miniatures from the market, owing to the threat of legal action from the copyright holders. What's fascinating is that Livingstone takes the position that "nobody will gain from the strict enforcement of copyright laws." I'm honestly not sure how to take this, because he makes it clear earlier in the editorial that he believes copyright law "rightly exists to protect an individual or company from piracy." 

The issue kicks off with Lewis Pulsipher's extensive review of FGU's Chivalry & Sorcery. By and large, Pulsipher thinks very highly of C&S, in large part because it has a coherent philosophy and perspective, basing itself on a specific period of medieval history and society rather than the generic fantasy seen in other RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. That said, Pulsipher nevertheless opines that there is still a need for a game that combines the "versatility, variety, and simplicity" of D&D with the "clarity and completeness" of C&S. 

"Der Kriegspielers Fantastiques" by John Norris is a review of a series of 25mm miniatures based on the inhabitants of Middle-earth. Norris finds them a mixed bag, with some of the figures being excellent and others not so much. "Monsters Mild and Malign" by Don Turnbull is a collection of ten new monsters for use with Dungeons & Dragons. None of them are standouts, except possibly the Kzin, based on the cat-like aliens from the works of Larry Niven, and even then the only reason I remember it is because of how odd I found its inclusion. A much better article is the third part of Lewis Pulsipher's "D&D Campaigns." In this part, he discusses various aspects of the game – alignment, treasure, resurrection, etc. – that he feels the referee should consider before starting a new campaign. It's a good collection of advice and suggestions overall. However, I do find it amusing when he refers to the "revised rules" for D&D, by which I assume he's talking about those in the Holmes Basic Set (since the Players Handbook hadn't been released at the time this issue appeared).

"Open Box" reviews Book of Monsters, Book of Demons, and Book of Sorcery (all by Little Soldier), War of the Ring (FGU), and All the Worlds' Monsters (Chaosium). Interestingly, none of these products gets a solid endorsement. Instead, most are described as flawed in some way, particularly the Little Soldier books. There's a brief report about the events of Games Day III, a 1000+ person convention held on December 17, 1977. Included with the report are sample questions from a D&D rules quiz. I thought I knew the game's rules quite well, but, reading through these, I realized how little I actually new (to be fair, many of the questions are more about memory than anything else – how many potions are listed in the game? – so perhaps I shouldn't feel so bad).

"Food and Water on the Starship Warden" by Richard Edwards is an article supporting TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha. It's a decent article, providing lots of ideas (and examples) for the referee to use in establishing the ecology of the starship, as well as how to make use of it in his campaign. I continue to be struck by the presence of MA articles in White Dwarf. It's a game I knew so little about in my youth and yet, from the looks of things, it seems to have been quite popular in its time. The first installment of a fantasy comic called "Kalgar" appears in this issue, written and drawn by David Lloyd. Rounding out the issue are three new magic items by Joseph Nicholas and Brian Asbury's new experience point system. The system, which he facetiously dubs "the Asbury System" is based on hit points of the creatures defeated, not hit dice. This enables him to dole out XP to characters based on the amount of damage they do to an opponent. I can see some value in this sort of approach, but, as with most of Brian Asbury's articles in WD, the new rules seem more complex than they ought to be.

To my mind, this issue is a weak effort, compared to some of its predecessors. Overall, I was none too impressed by it, but such is the nature of periodicals. Here's hoping the next issue is better.


  1. One of my long standing DMs used the Asbury system throughout the 1980s.

    From a player's point of view, there was no obvious difference between it and the rules as written.

    So all that complexity was, in effect, wasted.

  2. The Asbury system was pretty cool, though I never used it for D&D. I did use the base calculations to compare WFB points, determining that a Rat Ogre was fairly rated, but an Empire Knight (also 39 pts IIRC) was many times higher than it should be. A typical Empire soldier would have been less than a point IIRC.

  3. "None of them are standouts, except possibly the Kzin, based on the cat-like aliens from the works of Larry Niven, and even then the only reason I remember it is because of how odd I found its inclusion."

    This was 1978, right? Niven spent the 70s winning Nebula and Hugo Awards for his work, and IIRC Ringworld Engineers (the first sequel to what was arguably his best-known work) was just starting serialization in one of the now-defunct scifi mags around then - that's certainly where I read it. He'd also had a slew of his ideas used in scifi gaming at the time, perhaps most openly in Gamescience's 1977 Space Patrol game (which would have made a copyright lawyer's fortune if anyone had cared about it).

    It's kind of weird doing kzinti as fantasy monsters, but back then Niven was a big influence and D&D has always borrowed heavily from scifi.

  4. I'm struck by the fact that the cover on this one would not have been out of place on a much older pulp magazine of the "weird tales" or "spicy" variety. Vaguely artsy mostly naked chicks with just enough naughty bits strategically covered to keep the censors out of it and just enough showing to titillate the rubes were pretty much their stock in trade. :)

  5. Yes-- this cover would have been unthinkable just a few years later.

  6. Maybe in North America. In Europe and the UK not the case. Remember Page 3 girls were a thing in the UK until only the last decade. Germany and other parts of Europe display nudity on magazine covers and on public television. Actually, so does the UK for that matter. USA would be the strictest, Canada less so.