Tuesday, August 31, 2021

White Dwarf: Issue #7

Issue #7 of White Dwarf (June/July 1978) represents something of a milestone for the British gaming periodical. Firstly, it marks the start of the second year of its publication. Secondly, it's the first issue to feature a full-color cover (by the ever-amazing John Blanche). In his opening editorial, Ian Livingstone draws the reader's attention to both of these facts – facts he believes serve as "a reminder to traditional wargamers that we (i.e. roleplayers) are a serious part of the hobby and not just a weird, temporary deviation from it." As ever, I find such comments very strange, but then I was never a wargamer (take a drink), nor did I much care about their opinion of what seemed to me to be a related but wholly separate hobby. Mind you, I was a 10 year-old child when I discovered D&D rather than an adult like Livingstone, so I suppose I can be forgiven for not understanding his seemingly interminable concern about the reputation of roleplaying in wargaming circles. If nothing else, it's a reminder that the past truly is another country.

The issue begins with an article written by Ed Simbalist entitled "Feudal Economics in Chivalry & Sorcery." It's an interesting enough piece, especially for those who want to more "realistically" model the economics of the European Middle Ages in their campaign settings. More interesting than its content, though, is the fact that it's penned by one of the creators of C&S. If nothing else, Simbalist's appearance in WD's pages show that, after only a year of publication, it had already begun to attract significant attention on the other side of the Atlantic. "Fiend Factory" offers up nine new monsters for D&D, several of which would later appear in the Fiend Folio. None of those featured could be called "classics," even by the odd standards of the Fiend Folio, though a handful deserve comment. The first is the Rover, based on the bouncing ball from The Prisoner. The second is the Gluey, which was renamed the Adherer in its published FF form. Finally, there's the Squonk, based on the legendary monster of northern Pennsylvania, which the text calls "more of a pet than a monster; perhaps the female D&Ders would take more to this beast than the hard-headed males."

The "Letters" column is notable for one letter, commenting on Roger Musson's article in issue #6. I reproduce it here in its entirety.

One of these days, I'll need to collect together as many Gary Gygax quotes as I can find regarding the matters of "realism" and "heroism" in D&D to see how consistent his position on the matter remained over the years. For now, I'll simply say that, as he often does, Gygax speaks here in such an argumentative and disingenuous fashion that, even if one were inclined to agree with his points (which I mostly do), he makes it hard to do so, lest one be seen as similarly intemperate. I can't help but wonder how different the history of the hobby might have been if the younger Gygax had possessed even a small portion of the equanimity his older self possessed.

John T. Sapienza's "Carrying Capacity" offers a short and relatively simple new encumbrance system that uses a character's Strength to determine what percentage of his body weight he can carry in equipment and treasure. Meanwhile, Brian Asbury provides Part III of his "Asbury System" for experience. This time, he gives readers the means to determine the XP value of magic weapons and armor, based on their types (sword, mace, chain, plate, etc.), bonuses, and other abilities. I can see no obvious problem with his system as such, only that it seems like more trouble than it's worth, especially when the Dungeon Masters Guide already does the work for the referee (though, to be fair, at the time of publication of this issue, the DMG was still more than a year in the future).

"Molten Magic" provides photographs for eight different sets of miniature figures, including those by Ral Partha and Asgard. "Open Box," meanwhile, features reviews for The Warlord Game, The Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor, Bifrost Volume 1, Lords and Wizards, The Sorcerer's Cave, and Cosmic Encounter. There's also another installment of the "Kalgar" comic strip, which continues to do little for me. I find myself looking forward to the future, when other strips more familiar to me will appear, but those won't, I fear, appear for quite some time still.

Don Turnbull's "Lair of the Demon Queen" presents a "difficult but rewarding section" of his Greenlands Dungeon for the delectation of readers. The lair is a fairly small section of said dungeon but it's quite well thought out, with an elaborate trap that requires deciphering a poem (spoken by statues with magic mouths) to overcome. I simply adore rooms like this in dungeons and I'm ashamed when I consider how much more straightforward my own chambers tend to be these days. In my youth, I'd devote much thought to tricks and traps, not to mention riddles, rhymes, and other bits of fantasy nonsense intended to aid and befuddle the players. Reading this article reminded me of how far I've fallen in the years since. Perhaps I shall have to rectify this in my future work.

The issue ends with "Thoughts on the Proliferation of Magic Items in D&D" by none other than Gary Gygax. As one might expect, Gygax is very much opposed to what he calls "magic on the cheap," something he claims is quite common in "hobby publications" at the time. He suggests that, since D&D is "designed for a long period of active play," the referee would be wise to give out magic items sparingly and with an eye toward ensuring that the game remain challenging over time. He then offers many strategies for separating PCs from magic treasure so as to maintain the appropriate balance. Everything he says here comports with his writings on the subject elsewhere, but, as I commented earlier, his tone is condescendingly off-putting at times and I fear it might sometimes get in the way of what he intends to say (Physician, heal thyself).

Issue #7 of White Dwarf was, by and large, enjoyable to me. It's definitely step up in terms of presentation and quality over its immediate predecessors and it gives me hope that the upcoming issues will be equally enjoyable. 


  1. I think that you are perhaps being a bit harsh on Gygax here. I took his letter as more of a warning of what can happen if you forget that it is a game and go down the simulationist route.

    Incidentally the Grognard Files podcast 50th episode is with Ian Livingstone and he mentions the Asbury system as being a lot of trouble to implement in practice.

  2. I also felt this was tame for Gary.I didn't get the condescending tone here.

    1. Comes through loud and clear to me. Telling simulationists to go join the military (in a parenthetical aside, no less) is just plain rude, and the big stretch of CAPS LOCK TYPING about always give players a chance is about as hypocritical as can be from the guy who invented save or die mechanics and magic-users who start with d4 hit points.

    2. "Save or die" is exactly the same as "you have a chance to live".

      Different people have different expectations from a chance.

  3. I used the Asbury system well into the 1980s (and it was the standard in my university club as late as 1985) and never had many problems with it. However, I never used to award XP for magic items, so didn't bother with this instalment.

    The editorial may have something to do with this only being about a year after the Sheffield war-games club had a schism over RPGs being included and the members who felt that RPGs, boardgames, skirmish games and pretty much anything other than 25 mm Napoleonics weren't real war-games went off and formed their own club.

    1. That sort of schism happened to the local community several times in the 80s and at least once in the 70s (although I was too young to really notice that one). Historical wargamers of the era seemed particularly prone to declaring their preferred period, theater, and even scale the only true gaming, usually followed by arguments and people taking their toys and going home.

      Still, it isn't just history buffs who act that way. D&D edition wars are a thing, as are feuds over limited table space being split between competing RPG systems. White Wolf's Vampire caused a great deal of commotion around these parts when World of Darkness was new, with existing groups claiming VtM storytellers were "stealing" players and hogging space, etc, etc. And the classic Battletech guys all had a hissy fit about 40K crowding out one of their groups in the 90s - it was almost 10 years before I saw any of them in a local store again.

      And then there's CCGs starting with Magic, which in the mid-to-late 90s were regarded as the doom of the hobby and possibly a sign of the Apocalypse by far too many people. I had a couple of friends from an old RPG group attempt a literal intervention when I started dabbling in them, and i know I wasn't alone.

  4. Hi Grognardia, I have enjoyed your various posts about RPG and the 1970's. I was there - Took the Hammersmith Line to get to Games Workshop - bought some Ral Partha - quite stunning alongside my bloated minifigs. And I was a member of a Traditional Wargames Club. We were doing historical - ACW, Napoleonic, Ancients,lord of the rings - the battles, AWI, ECW, boardgames etc. but not Sci Fi or it seems medieval! Then one day "the radical" turned up with D&D in a shallow A4 blue box? Then it was - come round for a quick trial, then it was, we all got some figures, then a few dungeons later and it was all nighters and no sleep. As it happened I left the club and moved away and ended wargaming for about 20 years! my last figures painted were some minifig orcs. During that time - late 1970's though, we painted historicals one day and did fantasy the next - all mixed up. As a club we had absolute fall outs over everything from rules to scenery, fought casual games, ran club competitions, did displays - the whole gamut - I don't ever remember there being an argument about fantasy and historical being incompatible. More like aerial and naval being disliked by the landlubbers! (ok I was a landlubber) I will post some of my 1970's figures as a thankyou Grognardia for your posts. Happy Memories of simply gaming........... my site is called thewargamingerratic https://thewargamingerratic.home.blog/2019/12/16/welcome-to-my-blog/

  5. I think Gygax is exaggerating on his point here... Half of the things you usually do in OD&D were grounded in realism, Musson's suggestions aren't so outrageous.

  6. This was a special issue for me: White Dwarf 6 through 8 were the first RPG magazines I ever saw. My parents bought them for me at Games Workshop in Hammersmith during a trip to England. I must have read them 20 times.

    I ran "Lair of the Demon Queen" in late 78, incorporating it into my dungeon. It worked very well, though I had to give a few extra hints to prevent a total party kill (our ages were only 11-13).

    The encumbrance system I didn't use, but one neat thing was it listed a few weapons (crossbow types, I think) with damage and other stats that weren't in the standard D&D lists, and I ended up using them.

    White Dwarf 6-15 really is a good spot for following the classic RPG debates. Roger Musson's Combat and Armor Class article continued to resonate for several issues, and he'll do a follow up piece. His original article in 6 was the first time I was exposed to the idea of defensive saving throws (e.g., parry roll as in runequest) rather than raising hit points.

    If that doesn't sound very D&D, consider this from FIRST FANTASY CAMPAIGN as Dave Arneson discusses how combat evolved in Blackmoor:

    "As the player progressed, he did not receive additional Hit
    Points, but rather he became harder to Hit. All normal attacks were carried out in the usual fashion but the player revived a ''Saving Throw" against any hit that he received. Thus, although he might be "Hit" several times during. melee round, in actuality he might not take any damage at all. Only Fighters gained in these melee saving Throws."

    The system Dave Arneson describes having used is pretty much the same one Musson advocates, and which Gygax trashes. Yet it's also the system that would appear in Runequest and later GURPS...